“Choosing” Jesus.

In April 2001, my mother took my brothers and I to visit my grandma in Athens, Alabama. We stayed the weekend, attending the morning service at Salem Springs Baptist Church, where my Grandpa served as pastor before passing away in 1997. I will never forget that Sunday. I wish I could remember the Pastors name, or even the text that was preached, the only thing I can remember is feeling Gods unmistakable call to repent of my sins and trust in Him. I began to weep during the invitation. My Mother and Grandma were a little alarmed, because I had already made a profession of faith several years prior. After church I told my Mom that I would like to speak with our pastor the following Sunday when we were home. We did, and I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ the next Sunday.

I’ve thought about that Sunday for many years now. What made me choose to become a Christian? By all accounts, I was already a Christian. I had already repeated the sinners prayer and was baptized. I knew Jesus was Gods son and that He died on the cross for my sins. I had been a church kid all of my life and possessed an adequate understanding of the Bible. Before that weekend I never questioned my salvation or even wondered if it was genuine. What was it about that morning service that shook me so strongly?

Is the decision to follow Jesus similar to all the other decisions we make throughout our lifetime? College or workforce? Netflix or exercise? Chicken or steak? Suv or Mini-van? Beard or no beard?  Did I simply desire to better my future by choosing eternal life instead of eternal suffering? If that’s the case, then why doesn’t everyone choose to follow Christ?

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. -John 15:16a

Jesus told His disciples that they did not seek Him out, but rather He sought them. The Son of God did not host a series of tryouts for those seeking to become His disciples. He did not even go to the tabernacle to pick from the best and brightest. Jesus chose twelve, and only twelve, and appointed them to be His Apostles. Ironically, those who desired to be his disciples were told to “Leave the dead to bury their own dead“.

In the same way, God chose Abram. There were many people to choose from, even after the destruction of mankind by the flood, and yet God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans. God promised Abram that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed“, even though his wife Sarai was barren.

God fulfilled His promise to Abram by choosing Israel. There were certainly many nations and people groups to choose from, and yet God chose one people to proclaim His glory. God tells His people,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Similarly, God chooses His church. When Jesus foretells His coming return, he refers to His children as the “elect“, which is another word for chosen.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

For the very same reason, the Apostle Paul is able to call the Christians in Colossae “Gods chosen ones.” They did not choose God. God chose them and called them to a life of holiness. After elaborating over Gods everlasting love, Paul rhetorically asks the church in Rome, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Meaning that whomever God has chosen will be justified by the blood of Christ.

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” -Rom 8:28

I do not believe that I choose to become a Christian. I believe that God chose me before I even came into existence. I do not say this with pride, I am simply admitting that God is sovereign over all His creation. This is in fact what the Bible teaches. Consider the beautiful introduction to the book of Ephesians,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

If you are a Christian, it is by Gods grace alone. It was not because of your intelligence, works, wisdom, social standing or cultural context that you decided to follow Christ. A Christian has no grounds for boasting in regards to his salvation.

 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Cor 1:26-29

We “choose” to follow Christ because He has chosen us. The effectual (Effective) call of Christ only comes to those who have already been chosen by God. This truth should overwhelm us with thankfulness and deep gratitude for the grace of God. We deserve death, and yet Christ has given life to all He has chosen. If you have been purchased by the blood of Christ, you were chosen by God.

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God hates.

I hate abortion.

I do not believe there is anything more indicative of man’s depravity than the acceptance of infanticide. In ancient times, parents with unwanted children would simply “expose” their children to nature (leaving infants in fields, wooded areas, or by tossing them into the sea). Today, we simply tear our children limb from limb with a vacuum for cheap in unclean facilities. We live in a world where an abortion costs 400 dollars, and adoption can cost 40,000 dollars. It’s much easier to end life than nourish it. All for the sake of convenience.

Over the years the arguments have changed. The argument that an infant is merely a fetus and not a living-functioning human being is being proven false as we continue to advance technologically. Ironically, science is our greatest ally in this respect.  Now, the Pro-choice argument is that it is a woman’s right to end the life of her child, so long as it is still inside her. Abortive rights have become a feminist issue.

I say all of this not to inform you on the horrors of abortion (hopefully you will educate yourself on this issue), or the sinfulness of Pro-choice advocates. I say this because I want to prove a point: You hate whatever threatens what you love. The greater the love you have for someone or something, the greater your hatred for whatever opposes it. The more you love, cherish and celebrate life, the more you will hate that which takes life away.

It’s the same with sin. God hates sin. Yes, God is full of grace and love (He is love), but He is not some sentimental being who overlooks sin and pardons the unrepentant. God sent His very Son to die for your sin. Sin brings death, and God hates death. Do not be like the Jews who presumed that God would save them simply because He was patient and merciful. They practiced external rituals in order to make themselves appear righteous, but deep down they knew they were not. They simply hardened their hearts and presumed that God would save them regardless.

Remember this, God forbids because He loves. God hates because He loves. He does not restrict for your displeasure. God is for your life.

Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgement of God?

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

-Romans 2:3-4 (ESV)

Imitation love

Love & tolerance.

Incredibly ambiguous words. We are starting to hear the term “tolerance” more and more in our postmodern culture. Tolerance is praised by the media landscape, the academy, and our government. Everyone desires to be known as tolerant. People who are deemed “tolerant” become instantly worthy of praise. But what does the word “tolerant” mean?

I’ll give you an example of what true tolerance is. My wife believes that steamed broccoli is delicious, even after I assure her it is not. Broccoli is disgusting. It becomes even more disgusting when it is steamed on the oven. I believe there is nothing in this world that can make broccoli taste more appealing. It smells bad, tastes bad, it even looks bad!

Marissa disagrees. She thinks that broccoli is delicious, especially with cheese. Marissa could have steamed broccoli with every meal…Marissa and I respectfully disagree. I believe she is wrong and broccoli is disgusting, and she believes I am wrong and broccoli is delicious. However, we both respect one another and can live with the fact that the other person is wrong.

Allow me to give a greater (and more serious) example. My Pastor Jake and I disagree on a few things in regards to scripture. Jake believes that Jonah physically died before being swallowed up by the great fish. Scripture never says that Jonah died, but it does hint around the fact that Jonah was “brought back from the pit.” And that could certainly be interpreted as meaning that Jonah was brought back to life. Another passage that supports his interpretation is Matthew 12, when Jesus tells the Pharisees that…

“No sign will be given to (this generation) except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Jesus certainly died and was laid in the earth for three days and nights, so it’s safe to assume that Jonah was dead as well, before miraculously being brought back to life by God. I believe that Jakes interpretation is reasonable, but I disagree with it. I do not believe Jonah died, because the text never specifically says that he did. We respectfully disagree with one another. This is not an essential issue, so we can agree to disagree.

But that is not the kind of tolerance that is being promoted in our society today. Our postmodern understanding of tolerance is very different than the examples I have provided. Tolerance today is understood as being “accepting” and “non-judgmental.” Tolerance no longer means that we can “agree to disagree,” it means that we must agree, affirm, and conform.

For example, Jake and I are not considered “tolerant” if we accuse each other of being wrong, even if we do so in a respectful manner. Jakes interpretation of Jonah is correct, and yet so is mine. Somehow, we are both correct in our interpretations. If we are to be considered tolerant, in today’s social climate, we must agree that both of our interpretations are correct, we must affirm that to be the case, and by doing so we conform to the idea that we may never know who is absolutely correct.

…Except one of us is wrong. Jonah could not have been alive and dead at the same time. Either I’m wrong or Jake’s wrong. We both cannot be right. Do you see the issue here? Postmodern tolerance is the enemy of truth. Postmodern tolerance would have the world sacrifice truth in order to be politically correct. I’m right, you’re right, everybody is right. There is no such thing as right and wrong, good or bad, truth or falsehood. It’s all a matter of opinion.

You have experienced this in our culture haven’t you? Spend a little time watching the news or surfing the internet, this false definition of tolerance is everywhere. To make matters worse, people who are considered to be the most “tolerant” are typically very intolerant. And those who are deemed intolerant are castigated, mocked and given little credence. Tolerance is promoted as being peaceful and non-judgmental, as long as you conform and stay in line. G.K. Chesterton, a British theologian in the 20th century, wisely remarked,
Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.

Unfortunately for the world, Christianity is a faith that requires certain convictions. We must believe in absolute truth because we have encountered the way, truth and life. To be a Christian, one must confess Jesus as God, Lord and Savior. There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

What’s most unfortunate is that many Christians, in order to remain culturally relevant, have jumped on the secular bandwagon and are misusing Jesus as their “tolerance” spokesman. How many times have you heard statements like these, “Jesus says “Do not judge,” “Come as you are,” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, so why don’t you all stop judging!” “Aren’t we supposed to love one another? Jesus commanded us to love people, no matter who they were.”
The only problem with those arguments is that they are half truths. J.I. Packer says this: “A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Jesus certainly did say “Do not judge,” but if we read that verse in its context we discover that Jesus was actually encouraging us to judge…only do so correctly. Jesus says we must first take the log out of our own eye in order to see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers eye. That is probably the most misused teaching of Jesus.

Jesus never said, “Come as you are.” Never. Not one time. In fact, Jesus’ first sermon was this, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) The biblical understanding of conversion always places an emphasis on repentance. We must confess our sins to God in order to be saved. Here is what Jesus truly said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to many Christians.

Did Jesus hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes? Yes. Did they continue in sin after encountering Jesus? Absolutely not. Matthew and Zacchaeus gave up their trade, and Jesus told the woman at the well to “Go and sin no more.” Jesus hardly gave approval to any sinful lifestyle. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging out with the undesirables, He said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)Did you catch that? Jesus ministered to sinners in order for their repentance. Jesus ministered to them; He did not party with them. Ironically, those who like to use this excuse have more in common with the Pharisees than the sinners.

Does Jesus command us to love everybody? Yes. Jesus even commands us to love our enemies. But what does that kind of love look like? This is where I believe many misled Christians get it wrong…They believe that love is synonymous with tolerance. They think that loving somebody means giving affirmation to their lifestyle. If they do not have the courage to do that, they simply keep their mouths shut. Although they know the truth, they refuse to voice it in order to not appear “intolerant.”

Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that love and tolerance are not synonymous. Is it loving for a parent to allow their children to continue in disobedience? No. A parent who fails to discipline fails to love. To Marissa and my horror, my daughter Evelyn loves to play with the electrical outlets in our home. We had to buy those little plastic covers that plug into the outlets like all good parents do. Do you think they deter my daughter? No, that’s my job. It’s my job to protect my daughter by keeping her away from the outlets. It would be incredibly unloving (perhaps evil) for me to allow my daughter to fool around with the electrical outlets.

And yet, I see so many parents “tolerating” their children’s disobedience. I often wonder if this false view of tolerance invading our society is simply an extension of bad parenting? Culture does begin in the home.

But love is not tolerance. And Jesus was not some dude who taught tolerance and political correctness…In other words, Jesus is not the Dalai Lama. Jesus is not a political pawn that can be misused and misquoted in order to push a worldly agenda. Jesus is love, and love can be hard…but it’s infinitely greater than tolerance.

Were.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. -1st Corinthians 6:9-11

In the Bible belt, church attendees are taught (verbally or otherwise) to dress presentably on Sunday mornings. I have often heard it said, “You must dress your very best for Jesus!” As if our omniscient Lords presence is relegated only to the gathering place of the church. Now I am not against dressing up for church gatherings; I myself tend to wear khakis and a button up. But I think many of us understand the absurdity of “dressing up” for Jesus. As God told the prophet Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

When the church focuses on external appearances instead of the internal conditions of the heart, legalism, which is a false gospel, tends to flourish. The Apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth (cited above) to pursue righteousness and holy living because of the radical salvation they have experienced in Christ Jesus. Notice what kind of people make of the church in Corinth-

  • Former sexual deviants
  • Former idolaters
  • Former adulterers
  • Former homosexuals
  • Former robbers
  • Former(ly) greedy/manipulative people
  • Former abusers
  • Former con-artists

Now I ask the question, would your church welcome these people on Sunday mornings?

Is a man or woman living in sin allowed to come as they are and hear the gospel message?

Does your community know that you accept people, all people, for worship services on Sunday morning?

Now I am not advocating that we allow unrepentant sinners to become members of Christ church, the church is the body of Christ. But do we open our doors to the lost in our community? Or have our church services merely become “echo chambers” in which the truths proclaimed are agreed by everyone in attendance?

When the church focuses on external appearances, we subtly teach our people that they must earn their righteousness before God. They must “dress up” or “clean up” their lives before coming to know Jesus. That is not the gospel. There is a reason Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”. Jesus invited them to come as they were, but they did not stay that way. Tax collectors became philanthropists. Prostitutes became missionaries. Murderers became apostles. Cowards became evangelists.

And such were some of you.