Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

The Philippian Jailer
"What must I do to be saved?"

This was the question of the Philippian jailer, and it seems like the simplest question. Ask any child in your average Sunday School class and they'll probably get the answer right.

Yet there are also a lot of people out there who would confuse and complicate the answer (some intentionally, others not so). But with lives literally hanging in the balance, clarity on answering this question cannot be overemphasized.

Recently I received this very question in response to a video I recorded last year for my church addressing the question, "How were people saved before Jesus died for our sins?"

He asked,
What exactly does the Bible say that a person absolutely must do in order to achieve salvation.  And could you cite the verses that confirm this?

( I can't figure out if a person needs to be baptized, or if he must believe that God in the body of a man was executed as payment for our sins, or of you just have to believe in God, or if you just have to try to be a good person.)
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but these are the most explicit verses I've found declaring what you must do to be saved. (Feel free to comment below with any I've missed!)
    But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:12-13 ESV)

    Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(Romans 10:9-13 ESV)

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 11:25-26 ESV)

    Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
(John 3:36 ESV)

    And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
(Acts 16:29-31 ESV)
It seems to me the harmony of these verses is this:

Believe Jesus was who he said he was and is (God) and receive (or trust in, which means you repent and turn from trusting in yourself) what he said he would do (die for your sins, rise again, give us his Spirit) to be saved, and consequently some of your first acts of obedience should be baptism and professing (confessing) with your mouth that "Jesus is Lord".

Or to be less wordy: Believe Jesus was who he said he was (God) and receive what he said he would do (die for our sins, rise again, give us His Spirit) to be saved. 

Feedback: How would you answer this question? What words or phrases would you add or omit to my answer? What verses might you add to my list? 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The dark day had to come first

When Jesus was crucified, there was darkness over the whole land for three hours. We know what it’s like when the power goes out, don’t we? But even when we had no power a few weeks ago because of the ice storm, we could see during the day. The “light” was still on. But at noon as Jesus hung on the cross, God turned off the lights. The darkness of the cross was magnified when God turned the sky black. Can I remind you for a moment of what Jesus was going through?

The punishment of crucifixion was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination and sedition. Among the Romans, scourging, undoubtedly to hasten impending death, preceded crucifixion. The victim then bore his own cross, or at least the upright beam, to the place of execution. A tablet, on which the feet rested or on which the body was partly supported, seems to have been a part of the cross to keep the wounds from tearing through the transfixed members. The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. The swelling about the rough nails and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were surcharged with blood and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding. The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths. The length of this agony was wholly determined by the constitution of the victim, but death rarely occurred before thirty-six hours had elapsed. The end was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victims and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. The sudden death of Christ evidently was a matter of astonishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

Jesus suffered more than any man ever has, not just because of the brutal killing instrument that He hung upon and the unspeakable pain He bore. He suffered the greatest pain because of the punishment He bore. Could this be another reason why God turned off the lights? The darkness over the earth magnified the separation between God and His Son.

Alistair Begg says that the basic meaning of sin is to forsake God. Before you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” stop and consider. To forsake God can mean to go through your days as if God is not important. It is to live life on your own terms and only fit God into the picture when it is convenient, to have Him as a sub-category in terms of what is really important to us. You are fine having him in the back seat. But you certainly don’t want him driving the car. The idea that He would take over and you would be under His authority in everything is offensive to you. If then, the essence of sin is to forsake God, the consequence of sin is to be God-forsaken. That’s why Jesus cried out as He did from the cross in His darkest hour, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”

Why was the perfect Savior God-forsaken? Because He was bearing your sin and my sin in His body on the tree. Peter wrote, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.” This is the mystery of Easter. The dark day had to come first, for the new day to dawn once and for all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Unbiblical Calling of the Pastor

Photo Credit: http://cheezburger.com/4402421504
How would you respond if asked, “What does Dr. Pepper taste like?” It’s hard to answer, because Dr. Pepper’s taste is the result of a blend, a marvelous blend mind you, of 23 flavors. And while the blend of flavors for this “DP” is outright amazing, there is another “DP” whose blend of flavors is downright stressing. I’m talking about what I like to call the “Deacon-Pastor,” a completely fabricated term, but a totally realistic thing, although it shouldn’t be.

You’re probably asking, “What is a Deacon-Pastor?” A “Deacon-Pastor” is an unbiblical hybrid position that merges the biblical responsibilities of the deacon and the pastor. The result is an expectation for the pastor to perform the responsibilities of both the pastor and the deacon, but often results in him not being able to do either.

Unlike Dr. Pepper, this is a dangerous concoction of flavors.


The “deacon” is first found in Acts 6, when a complaint arose in the church over the neglect of widows in the daily serving of food. The twelve disciples called the church together and requested that they select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who could be put in charge of the task.

And thus the deacon was created, or at least the proto-type. In fact, the English phrase translated “serve tables” in Greek is diakonia, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3 for the English word translated “deacon.”

What’s interesting about the Acts 6 episode is that a strong distinction is made between the responsibilities of the twelve disciples and the seven men of good reputation. Of course the twelve disciples aren’t suggesting that they are better than the seven men of good reputation, only that they have a different responsibility, one that should not be jeopardized.

The responsibility is clearly laid out in their response to the complainers: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The word “desirable” implies that it wasn’t “proper” or “right” that they sacrifice their study time to serve tables. It’s almost as if the very thought of adding extra “flavors,” regardless of their importance, is morally wrong for the early church pastor. While it’s obvious that both studying God’s Word and serving tables are important, the response highlights the disciples’ calling to focus on God’s Word, and, for fear of diluting that, it wasn’t wise to to even consider doing both. So they delegated the responsibility to a newly formed role–the deacon. And if this isn’t clear enough, after implementing the deacon role, they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).

In other words, the disciples emphasized their God-ordained responsibility both before and after their command to create deacons.


The disciples were essentially the pastors of the early church, and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.” And, likewise, the deacon’s primary responsibility is outlined too, which is to serve the needs of the congregation, especially the widows.

One focuses on the spiritual and the other on the physical. Together, both needs are met, the latter delegated so that the pastor’s responsibilities aren’t threatened.

But somehow, somewhere, the church reverted back to pre-Acts 6 and started expecting its pastors to wear a myriad of ecumenical hats. On top of prayer and studying for sermons, (and note that “sermons” is plural), the pastor is expected to do things like visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, cast visions, implement new ministries, develop missional strategies, and sometimes even water the flowers.

This isn’t to say, of course, that a pastor shouldn’t visit. And it’s certainly not to say that he is too good to water the flowers (I’ve been there). By all means, a pastor ought to do these things if necessary. It is to say, however, that the of doing this on a daily and weekly basis is, for the pastor, biblically unwarranted. And perhaps even egregiously sinful. Yet, many churches expect their pastors to do just that. It might even be in their job descriptions.

Biblically, there are certain “flavors” that belong to things like the deacon ministry, not the pastoral ministry. This frees the pastor to seek the Lord through prayer and study, instead of tying him down to what might well be described as public relations. One focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of the church, while the other focuses on meeting the physical needs. Both are good, but the pastor is called to do the former over the latter. Demanding that he do both is like adding uncomplimentary flavors to God’s recipe for the pastor.


The unbiblical “Deacon-Pastor” is, I believe, one of the greatest reasons for pastoral burnout.One source cites that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of their job, and that upwards of 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout.

Suffice it to say that many churches are decorated with the tread marks of burnt out pastors.

Pastors are often hired with the expectation of performing all of the ecumenical roles laid out in Scripture, although Scripture clearly details that even the twelve disciples–the guys that walked and talked with Jesus–were incapable of such a feat.

These guys could cast out demons and heal the lame, but they couldn’t serve tables alongside their prayer and Bible study.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the church that cultivates this mentality, it’s also sometimes, of all people, the pastor. Many pastors turn Acts 6 upside down by choosing to focus on everything else besides prayer and Bible study, such as chasing ambulances or honing leadership skills, both of which are good, but secondary things.

If the pastor says it’s okay to dilute prayer and study in exchange for serving tables, then we can’t blame the church when they expect the same.

As a pastor, I must confess that I find myself the most profitable whenever the church cultivates an environment for me to spend more time in prayer and in God’s Word. I’m less stressed, less overwhelmed, and, more importantly, I’m able to do precisely what I’ve been called to do, which is preach the word.

This is, as the old adage says, the epitome of quality over quantity, and it’s a far more refreshing beverage!

Monday, April 21, 2014

God is not dead

I’ll be honest, most Christian-message movies make me cringe. I get “embarrassed chills” as my kids like to say, at the bad acting. I sigh at the limp writing, and struggle with the Captain Obvious plot. But there are exceptions, and I would add “God’s Not Dead,” the surprising hit to the short list of good “Christian films.” As of last weekend, this$2 million movie had grossed more than $40 million at the box office. The movie follows the story of a college student named Josh Wheaton, played by Shane Harper, who has to decide whether to go along with his philosophy professor’s (Kevin Sorbo) challenge to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper and sign it. Josh is the only student in the class of 80 who refuses, and the rest of the movie tells the story of what happens when he challenges the professor. It is well acted and written, in my unprofessional opinion. It is a hit among believers, for obvious reasons. But there are some parts of it that are far-fetched. (spoiler alert)

It is far-fetched that two of the three most vocal atheists in the movie would convert, one in his final minutes after being struck by a car, and the other after interviewing the Newsboys backstage before their concert.

It is hard to believe that every single one of the students in the philosophy class would stand and say they believed in the existence of God, after Josh’s arguments. They had an atheist professor who had promised to make life miserable for any who challenged him. Josh’s argument is excellent, and worth the price of admission. But I’ve seen college students give excellent speeches on the existence of God, on the deity of Christ, on the evidence for the resurrection. In each case, some of the listeners were moved by the arguments, and others remained steadfast in their opposition.

There was much about the movie that was not far-fetched. It is not a stretch at all to imagine a college professor so brazen that he would demand students reject faith in God. It is fine for a religion or philosophy professor to challenge his students to read the works of Bertrand Russell or David Hume and consider their arguments against God. It is not fine, but it happens, for a professor to say on the first day of class, “My goal this semester is to separate you from your faith in an ancient book, written by men, and from a fairy tale belief in God.”

It is also not far-fetched to believe that taking a public stand for your faith in Jesus will cost you something, especially on a college campus. That begs the question: Are we training the next generation to know what they believe, and why?

It would be worth your while to go see the movie. Even better than that, go hear a sermon tomorrow morning on the resurrection. Best of all, call someone who doesn’t go to church and ask if you can pick him or her up on your way. Most of Alamance County plans to sleep in, watch TV, play golf, work in the garden, and do a number of other things tomorrow morning that do not include going to church. We can shrug our shoulders and head off bravely to hear about the greatest news the world has ever heard. Or we can give our friends a call and invite them to hear it, too.

Why would we do that? Because, God’s not dead. That truth changes everything.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen Indeed! (free album)

A few months ago, I and a couple fellow worship leaders set out to write and record a few songs for our churches that would tell the story from Good Friday to Easter. As I considered what I wanted to write about, Paul's argument from 1st Corinthians 15 kept coming to mind:
...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:17-22 ESV)
For the early church, this was more that an apologetic assertion, more than just a doctrinal tenet. No, this fact alone was the one thing standing between them and lives of utter meaninglessness and madness. Or as Paul put it, lives "in vain", "misrepresenting God", "futile" and "pitied".

For them it meant that the whole world had been turned upside down—or rather right side up—to declare in call-and-response fashion,

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

I've shared below the lyrics to the song I wrote for this EP. We hope you'll download this free album and, if you're blessed by it, we hope you'll tell your friends about it!

He Is Risen Indeed

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man
Died upon the cross for all of mankind
And in his wounds we find healing
Jesus, in our place, the grave could not
Hold the God of grace, our debt has been paid in full
He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Hope, we sing as those with hope
Not in this life only
But also the life that is still yet to come
The power of death was shaken
Our sins have been taken
And laid in an empty tomb

Joy, he is unsinkable joy
Though the trials and storms
Of this life still may blow and break on us
The power of grief was shaken
Our shame has been taken
And nailed to the rugged cross

In him we die, in him we rise
All righteousness is satisfied
In Jesus' life we find our lives
In Christ alone we're justified
In him we die, in him we rise

Friday, April 18, 2014

Free books and music to carry you through to Easter

Easter is impossible without Good Friday, and Good Friday is empty without Easter. Here are a few free resources to help you reflect on both this weekend:

Free Books
Okay, so I know that two of these books are actually one cent, but I figured you'd want to know about them anyway. Feel free to leave a comment below if you're like "No! One cent is too much to pay for a whole book!" and I'm sure some Good Samaritan will be happy to spot you the cash.
Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection
Crucify!: Why the Crowd Killed Jesus
The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus' Life Mean for You

Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God$0.01

Free Music
A three-song EP featuring an awesome treatment of The Old Rugged Cross and two originals including one I wrote called "He Is Risen Indeed".

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let's Get Drunk - Reflections on Maunday Thursday

Laura Kauffman of Shorthanding Sanity  

“Sit down and eat it,” I command in an increasingly intolerant voice. “Baby Angel” (the moniker he is exclusively responding to at the moment) climbs down from the stool and perches himself in front of his pb&j, glaring at me through the slits in the superhero mask that “Baby Angels” apparently wear.

“Superheroes have to be strong. How will you be strong if you don’t eat?” I coax.

Reluctantly, he nibbles a crumb – not joking, a crumb – off of the end of his sandwich, and smiles proudly up at me as though somehow he thinks he’s nourished himself for the next heroic battle.

“Why won’t this child eat?” I muse to myself as I pick up his half eaten sandwich and untouched apples from the table. But he’s off, slaying imaginary dragons and doing the more important things in life.

And as I hold the bread and watch my boy, I think of another loaf of bread and another Son who broke it on this very day so many years ago. Somehow the sun shine and the chirping birds and the giggles of my children don’t seem like the right backdrop for this day.

I sit down with the Words and get lost in the story. The stage is set, and you can almost feel the moment, you know? After three years of hard work, this is a night of rest. A room full of the best of friends. A celebration. A spring night and a cool breeze. I remember a backyard party that once felt the same way – a lot of laughter, special foods, outdoor tables, and soft evening lights. Soul-restoring.

Perhaps, the Savior mulled similar thoughts as he looked at his friends and said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Earnestly desired. This little phrase is an odd one – epithymia epithymeō. You can see it already, can’t you - the twin words (different only in two little letters) with twin meanings. He’s repeating Himself. According to the original Greek, this could be translated as “desirously desired,” “longingly longed,” or even – scandalously - “lustfully lusted.”

You know how scholars tell us that when Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say to you…” He’s using a repetition to catch our attention and emphasize His point? Same thing here, I think. And we definitely get His point.

He wanted this.

So He crushes the bread and pours the wine and passes around His body and blood.

And I wonder if He thought of Elijah. I do. In fact, I think of him every single Sunday when the music swells and we rise to our feet to take the elements.

I remember the Elijah of 1 Kings 19, who has just watched the fire of God consume the altar during his Baal-battle, who has brought the rain, who has literally run for his life. Barely escaping the murderous queen, he collapses on the desert’s hot sand for an entire day and begs to die.

Instead of the angel of death, God sends an angel bearing the things of life. Friendship. Food. Rest. He touches Elijah, feeds him, puts him back to sleep. When he wakes Elijah again, he says, “Get up and eat. If you don’t, the journey will be too hard for you.” (1 Kings 19:7 NCV).

If you don’t eat, the journey will be too hard for you.

This life is a hard journey. And I can honestly admit that it is too much for me. Cancer. Divorce. Depression. Loneliness. They are all too much. And sometimes, even everyday things like dishes and crying babes and unreturned calls and empty chairs can be too much for me. So every week at the communion table, I own my weakness and come to be fed. Because if I don’t, the journey will be too hard for me.

If anyone know about hard journeys, it’s our Man of Sorrows. Not too many hours removed from friendship and food and rest, we see Jesus bleeding prayers in a garden. The scene is so different now, isn’t it? No more sunlight and celebration. No more companions. No more peace. Just a horrified God gasping and bleeding under the weight of what He is about to do. It breaks my heart, and I epithymia epithymeō to be beside Him and to hold Him and to beg for mercy with Him.

And then an angel appears. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same angel who came to the despairing Elijah as he faced death. Luke 22 says that the angel strengthened Him and was with Him while He prayed His blood onto the ground. Moments later, Jesus rises to His feet and changes to course of humanity.

I nibble on the edge of the rejected pbj, weeping about Gethsemane, when an oddly motherly thought crosses my mind. “I’m glad He had eaten. He needed His strength.”

Perhaps He did.

Perhaps He needed to take the advice of Elijah’s angel - to eat the Passover bread and drink the foreshadowing wine so that the journey wouldn’t be too great for Him.

So today I’m praying that I’ll follow His lead. Because so often, I reject the example of this humble Savior and act more like a rebellious “Baby Angel.” I nibble at the edges of Him, consuming just enough to be allowed to leave the table, and arrogantly resume my attempts to save the world. Of course, it predictably falls apart. The marriage and parenting and writing dominoes that I stack and arrange so neatly fall steadily one by one when I operate on an empty spiritual stomach.

Because “how will you be strong if you don’t eat?”

So lets come to Him today. Let’s greedily snatch the cup and the bread that He passes around, and let’s get drunk on redemption of our God.

Jesus epithymia epithymeō the Passover feast.

So do I.