Monday, September 29, 2014

These became followers of the way

It was while Josh McDowell was on his way to examine the historical evidence of Christianity that he came to believe that the claims of Christ are indeed true. C.S. Lewis, the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” is in that same camp of former skeptics. Count Lee Strobel in that group as well. The former hard-nosed journalist and atheist is the author of a best seller, “The Case for Christ.” Francis S. Collins, noted scientist and a leader of the Human Genome Project, has renounced atheism and written “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” 

They are in good company. Perhaps the most famous antagonist of the Christian faith was none other than Saul of Tarsus. It was while he was on his way to arrest followers of the Way that he met the risen Lord, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul became a believer that day and spent the rest of his life trying to persuade others to follow Jesus.

Why did the early disciples refer to themselves as belonging to “the Way?” There are several reasons, one of which is that faith in Jesus was not a box they checked on Sunday, but a way of life. The strongest reason, however, was because of what Jesus had said to His disciples on the night before He was crucified. He told them He was going to prepare a place for them, and that they knew how to get there. Thomas said, “Lord we don’t even know where you are going. How could we possibly know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Though many religions may say they “believe” in Jesus, they reject His claims to be the Son of God and our only Savior.

Ravi Zacharias grew up Hindu, and as a young man in India came to believe that Christianity is true, that Jesus was and is the resurrected Lord. He wrote in “Jesus Among Other Gods,” “All religions, plainly and simply, cannot be true. Some beliefs are false, and we know them to be false. So it does no good to put a halo on the notion of tolerance as if everything could be equally true. To deem all beliefs equally true is sheer nonsense for the simple reason that to deny that statement would also, then, be true.”

In other words, dear reader, it is not intellectually honest to say that a Christian and a Muslim (or a Hindu or a Zen Buddhist) pray to the same God or believe the same things about God. It is also not wise to claim that it really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. It matters. What we believe about God shapes our daily choices and determines our final destination.

Ravi Zacharias said it like this: “I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny. I came amid the thunderous cries of a culture that has 330 million deities. I remain with Him knowing that truth cannot be all-inclusive.”

I urge you to examine the evidence for Christ yourself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Abundance: Learning to live between the steps

Every now and then, I hear a story that makes me smile and say, “I want to be like that!” Here’s one of my favorites.

A university professor was asked to speak at a military base one December, and a soldier named Ralph was sent to pick him up at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.

As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once he stopped to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Then he stopped to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus. He paused again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a big smile on his face.

“Where did you learn to do that?” the professor asked. 

“Do what?” Ralph said.

“Where did you learn to live like that? You have stopped to help three people with their problems, and to be honest, I didn’t even SEE them!”

“Oh,” Ralph said, “I learned that during the war, I guess.”

Then he told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, about how he served with a mine detection unit whose job it was to clear territory of mines left by the Viet Cong. He spoke of how he had witnessed some of his buddies blown apart or maimed for life.

“I learned to live between the steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it back down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve just been that way ever since.”

The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but how well we live. Those who can say, “It is well with my soul” know what I mean. God created us for fellowship with Him, to enjoy Him and all He created between the steps, even when life deals us a bitter blow. The great hymn of faith, “It is Well With My Soul,” was written by Horatio Spafford in 1873 after Spafford learned that the ship that his wife and four young daughters were on had sunk in the Atlantic, and his daughters had perished. As he sailed from America to England to join his wife, and his ship arrived at the very spot where his daughters and 220 others had died at sea, he looked at the waters, and went to his cabin to pen these words: 

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
 It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

These are the moments we never forget

Some memories are permanently etched on our minds. Others fade with time. Everyone who is at least 18 years old remembers where he was on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, when jetliners were flown into the World Trade Center. I was at college coffee at Elon, just after my 8 a.m. class, and oblivious to what had been taking place minutes earlier. Another professor mentioned the horror of it, and I asked her what she was talking about. Then I walked/ran back to the Communications building and watched with a group of 30 or so as the story unfolded before us on the plasma screen. A few students were crying, and when I found out they had relatives who worked in New York, several of us talked with them, to give comfort and to “weep with those who weep.”

I asked my college students last week how old they were when the terrorist attack happened, and most of them said they were in the first grade. I smiled and said, “When I was in the first grade, in Mrs. Miller’s class, our principal came over the intercom and let everyone in the school know that President John F. Kennedy, had just been shot in Dallas.” There was silence in the classroom for a second, and then one of the students said, “See? Bad things happen to us when we are in the first grade.” Well, that lightened the mood for a moment, but the thought lingered long after the laughter subsided: there are moments in all of our lives that shape us. Some are collective memories, as the day the terrorists attacked or the assassin struck or the space shuttle exploded. Others are personal memories.

I will never forget the moment when a camp counselor threw me off a dock. We were all swimming in the lake. Well, this little 8-year-old wasn’t, because I had not yet learned to swim. The counselor thought I was just being timid, so he decided to help me along with his form of shock therapy. He picked me up and said, “Let’s go Fox,” and threw me into the murky water. When I fought my way to the surface and spluttered, “I can’t swim!” the counselor had a totally different revelation about his technique. But I became a swimmer that day.

I will never forget getting the phone call at college that my grandfather had died. He wasn’t just my mother’s father. He was one of my best friends. As a teenager I liked nothing better than sitting under a dogwood tree in his front yard, talking about life, hearing his stories, and enjoying the love that we shared for each other. I became acquainted with grief that day.

I will never forget the moment when I met Cindy for the first time. We were both students at UNC, and though we lived in the same apartment complex, we had never met. Until a warm day in May of 1981. When a new friend took me to meet the four girls, I saw the others but not really. There was just Cindy, and though it was in the light of day, I could have burst into the Flamingo’s tune and crooned, “Are the stars out tonight? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright, cause I only have eyes for you.” It’s good that I didn’t. That may have forever marred the memory for both of us. As it is, I found my lifelong companion that day.

There are moments that shape us. Through it all, there is a God who loves us.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Should I watch the ISIS beheading videos?

“Watch the video,” The Five’s Greg Gutfeld tells the American public, in reference to ISIS’ video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley. For Gutfeld, watching the video is a justified act because it can arouse a better understanding of the terror ISIS pledges against our country.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if watching a barbarous assassination of an innocuous life is the best way to gain a better understanding of the terror ISIS pledges against our country. Aren’t the images and reports enough? Or do I really need to watch a terrorist decapitate a fellow American, one whom I’ve never met, in order to understand ISIS’ barbarity?

Is it the only way to come to grips with the severity of the situation?

One thing is sure: Such a video can never be unseen.

I once read a blog on the subject of pornography and sex slavery that I think provides insight into what we might be doing when we watch a video like the James Foley beheading. The blog’s title was something along the lines of, “Want to stop sex trafficking? Stop watching porn.” The thrust of the blog was that pornographers vigorously record every click one makes on their websites. It also detailed the fact that most pornographic videos include women forced against their wills (sex slaves), and so the idea is that when you watch these inappropriate videos, you support sex trafficking.

I tend to wonder if ISIS has the same mentality for their beheading videos. I wonder what their videographers think when they see countless clicks from American states. And I wonder what the opposite would mean. Between having thousands of hits versus not having any hits, I wonder which scenario would encourage them to consider making another video.

This of course isn’t to say that not watching the video would solve the problem, only to say that watching the video might embolden it.

The truth is, I’m not sure the American public should have to, as Greg says, “watch the video” to understand that ISIS is a barbaric organization thirsty for American blood. Is it unreasonable to say that the act should be reserved for our National Security officials? These individuals can verify the legitimacy of the video and report that information to the public and our governing officials. Isn’t this why these security organizations exist?

Watching these kinds of videos might counteract why we elect these kinds of officials at all.

As much as I think about it, I don’t know what advantage my watching of the beheading videos would accomplish. I can only think of disadvantages. I think of Foley’s mom and dad, for example, who have to go to bed at night knowing that a video of their son’s brutal death is floating, like a child’s lost balloon, in the skies of the internet. I think of Foley’s final legacy, where he is forced to repeat anti-American propaganda at the hands of his murderers, something he was obviously forced to do. And I think of how clicking “play” in the safety of my living room might be interpreted in the treacherous deserts of Iraq.

Some might agree with Greg in saying that watching the video will help us understand the lethal brutality of ISIS, I’m just wondering how it might be viewed from the other side.

With all of this said, some important questions arise concerning what we as the American public should view or not view when it comes to similar situations. The 9/11 attacks and the Holocaust are some good examples, but I’m also thinking of things like the Boston Bombing, the images of the Malaysian airplane that was shot down in Ukraine, which included dead bodies, or even the fatal Nascar accident that took the life of Kevin Ward, Jr. The latter example isn’t a terrorist attack, but some of the same questions can be asked concerning the video.

In light of these questions, I wanted to articulate some thoughts concerning the subject:

First, the video footage of the Twin Towers collapsing was an important moment in the history of our country. While I understand that censoring the video today can be a respectful gesture to the families that lost loved ones in the attack (think if you lost a father, mother, spouse, or child and had to watch that scene over and over again every year on 9/11), I also fear that such censorship might keep much of our younger generation ignorant of the significance of that day. Whatever your thoughts, it’s certainly an emotional memory.

Second, there is a big difference between watching concrete collapse, even if we know there are living people suffering in it, than explicitly watching a man burn to death in the building. To take this further, I think that showing said video with the man’s identity posted at the bottom of the screen begins to cross questionable lines. And if that man was forced to read a monologue that obviously goes against his beliefs while another man tortures him, and if this was done to try and viralize the event, I think even more lines would be crossed in the active participation of watching such a video.

This is why the news will show the collapse of the World Trade Centers, but it won’t show the beheading of James Foley. There is a significant difference between the two.

Third, it’s important for Americans to be fully aware of the evil that resides in our world, and sometimes this means seeing things that we would otherwise not want to see. I have personally seen Holocaust images that I can never unsee, for example, mostly in museums designed to educate people on the event. Some of these have been beneficial in helping me pop the bubble I live in and secure a healthy understanding of the real evil in our world.

Perhaps the main question that every person needs to ask before viewing an image or watching a video like the James Foley beheading is this:

“Why am I watching this?”

This is to say, what is your motivation for watching the video or observing the still image? Is it to be educated or to scratch some kind of ungodly itch? I believe that we ought to be cautious with these particular beheading videos, because some believe that ISIS wants to use them to garner worldwide popularity. Thus, googling the video might only encourage their sinister minds to recreate the situation with another hostage, which has actually recently happened. In this, we might actually be promoting the death of James Foley, which is the opposite of what any good American would want to do.

Maybe the guiding philosophy for such events should be to “dwell,” as Paul writes, “on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, [and] whatever is of good repute” (Phil 4:8). I’m just not sure watching these ISIS videos falls into any of these categories.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"All the Law and the Prophets..." in a piece of fruit

A million yeses, one no

We're all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you're probably so familiar with the story that there's no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don't know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil's drink. I'll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

"What's the big deal with the fruit?!!"

I mean, it seems so arbitrary. So piddling. So banal. My pastor once described the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve as "a million yeses and one no". But that one "no" seems so maddeningly trivial that some people are inclined to allegorize the entire story. "Surely the fruit represents sex" they say. (Right. 'Cause that makes sense after God puts two nekked people in Eden and tells them to "be fruitful and multiply". Sorry, try again. Better luck next time. Don't quit your day job.)

But if this world of typhoid and typhoons, racism and rape, gender wars and genocide, tyranny and tragedy, is all due to a literal little nibble on the no-no nectarine (say that five times fast)...well, then we've got a bigger problem on our hands: namely, a God who looks a whole lot like Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts tearing through the universe crying "off with their heads!" when someone sneezes on his backswing.

Is there any way to understand the fruit, the forbidden, the fall, that doesn't turn the entire story into a metaphor or turn God into a whimsical deity guilty of a cosmos-swallowing overreaction?

A long time ago in a Galilee (not so) far, far away...

I am reminded of another story in Scripture where there was a discussion about another singular rule, another solitary commandment.
And one of the scribes came up and ... asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)
From Jesus himself we are given the big E on the eye chart, the bullseye on the moral dartboard of life. Every other command, rule, prohibition, and exhortation uttered by God flows out of this one, including the one Jesus mentions immediately after ("You shall love your neighbor as yourself").

Or to say it another way, if you keep this one rule (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength) then by default you will have kept all the other rules as well...including that one way back in the garden. Yes, the one about the fruit. Yup, the weird one. We'll get there, but first, Jesus' one commandment:

Love the Lord with all your heart:
Do you desire God more than anything else? Or are there other things that capture your heart and steal your affections?

Love the Lord with all your soul: Do you find your deepest identity in who God says you are? Or are you tempted to find your identity in who others say you are and the identity you can create for yourself?

Love the Lord with all your mind: Do you trust an infinitely wise and good God? Or do you trust your own reasoning first and only turn your thoughts in God's direction when it makes sense to you?

Love the Lord with all your strength: Will the labor of your hands be used to show God as great, God as glorious, God as worthy of worship, praise, and honor? Or will you work and strive for that which will bring yourself glory and applause?

And now we are ready to return to the garden. Perhaps, by now, you see where I am going. Because the fruit didn't just represent some arbitrary no-no. No, no, not at all. It represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Heart - At Satan's flowery promises of an eye-opening meal, Adam and Eve desired what the fruit offered more than what God offered.

Soul - At Satan's charge that God was holding out on them and that they could be so much more (i.e. "like God"), Adam and Eve reached for self-created identities rather than the identities given them by God.

Mind - At Satan's alternative story (which included painting God as a liar), Adam and Eve trusted their own reasoning and wisdom more than they trusted God's.

Strength - At Satan's prompting, Adam and Eve lifted their hands to work for their own glory instead of God's.


So yeah. The fruit was a big deal. If I may be so bold as to say it again, it represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But fortunately for us, God didn't let the story end there. In the very same chapter of Genesis 3, God promises to send another, a singular offspring of woman, a snake-crusher.

And Jesus came. At every point where Adam and Eve failed (and we all continually fail), he did not. At every temptation for his heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus resisted and the full testimony of his life cried out:

"My heart is the Lord's, and he is my greatest desire. My soul is the Lord's, and he gives me my deepest identity. My mind is the Lord's, and he is the most trustworthy source of wisdom and knowledge. My strength is the Lord's, and my work is for his glory."
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17 ESV)

Monday, September 8, 2014

We are never alone

It happened in an instant. The accused was giving a defense for his actions, saying that he had a clear conscience about all that he had done, when the order came from the back of the room to strike him on the mouth. The blow was struck, and with bloody mouth the prisoner cried out, “God will strike you, you white-washed wall!”

There are several surprises in this story. First, the prisoner was none other than Paul, the first century Christian apostle. It is surprising because his reaction seems so…normal. That may shock us because we sometimes pretend that Bible characters, like Paul, Peter, Moses and Elijah, were all holy men who never sinned. No, they were human, just like you and me. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They lost their temper, got depressed, and struggled with doubts and fears.

Another surprise in this story is that Paul didn’t know the man he insulted was the high priest. Some have suggested that it was dress-down day in the court, and the high priest was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Funny, but not possible. There are many theories, so let me suggest the most plausible: Paul was extremely near-sighted. Remember he wrote to the Galatians, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” Maybe so he could see what he wrote? He also told the Galatians that he knew they would gladly have taken out their own eyes to give to him. It is possible, then, that Ananias was standing against a far wall, dressed in his white priestly vestments, and Paul just saw a white blob.

Alistair Begg wonders if later that evening, when Paul was trying to go to sleep, he replayed that scene and asked again for the Lord to forgive him, and perhaps wrote in his journal, “O wretched man that I am…the things I want to do, I don’t do. The very things I don’t want to do, I end up doing. Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

We do know this for sure. When Paul was perhaps at his lowest point, having been beaten nearly to death by an angry mob twice in as many days, and after having lashed out at the high priest, and while sitting under guard in a Roman barracks, Jesus appeared.

The posture Jesus took was important. He stood by Paul. To the casual observer in the courtroom that day, Paul had taken the stand all alone. But he was never alone. Jesus was there. Jesus reminded Paul, and you and me as well, that no matter how hard the trial, He is there. Not only that.

The prompting Jesus gave was important. He said, “Take courage.” That’s what Paul needed then, and that’s what we need now. We need the courage that can only come from the Lord. That’s what He offers to Paul, and to us. But that’s not all Jesus did.

The promise Jesus made was vital. He said to Paul, “for as you have testified to the facts about Me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Just when he needed His assurance the most, the Lord showed up to assure him that not only would he survive Jerusalem, but he would also testify about Him in Rome. The journey Paul took, and the one we take, will not be easy. But we will make it. God doesn’t guarantee safe passage, but He promises that all who endure to the end will make it to the other shore.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eat Up

Sometimes I like to imagine what it would have been like. I can hear the murmured roar of thousands of voices. I can feel the heat of the midday dessert sun and the compacted tightness of bodies. And I could probably smell it if I wanted to but...I probably don't want to. Loud noises, packed places, blinding heat - not really my jam. But I bet I would have been there anyway.

Because He had just named Himself as God. Greater than Moses, greater than the prophets, equal to the Father. Revolutionary, earth-shattering, enraging stuff.

A thousand miles and years away, I've been sitting in my air conditioned, jazz-accompanied, comfy Starbucks armchair. And I've been longing to feel the sting of that heat.

In John 6, He sits on a hill and screams His words out to thousands who push and shove just for a chance to hear a whisper of His voice. Despite the sweat and the smell and the crowd and the clamor, they refuse to leave. The hours pass, hunger sets in, and the sun blazes. But no one moves. It's like they've been lost in that Voice.

Because, as Peter would say a few chapters later, "Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life."

The Passover, one of the most significant and foreshadowing Jewish feasts, was descending. And here, when a Jew would be about to feast on the unleavened bread and salted parsley of remembrance, the Hebrews let the hours tick by obliviously.

Why feast on remembrance when you can taste the Bread of Life right now?

This festival was a big deal - months of preparation and days of celebration surrounded it. But the thousands stayed firmly rooted to the dessert ground. And He saw them.

"Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, 'Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?'"

You can almost see the corners of His mouth twitching with a suppressed smile as the next verse clues you it to what's happening. He's speaking of food but He's talking about nourishment. He's asking them for bread.

But HE is the Bread.

This is totally a test. And, true to form, the disciples respond with endearing obliviousness. "Where would we find enough bread for 5,000 people?! Even if we could, how could we afford it?" Philip sputters. "I mean, we have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish from this kid over here, but what's that?" Peter asks. What is that - sarcasm? Or is he aware of the glaring impossibility of what he's been asked to do? Maybe he's setting Him up to move.

"Make them sit down," He grins.

Quite a task in and of itself, when you consider the number of people. As the disciples scrambled among 5,000 people, trying to get them to the ground, I wonder if the magnitude of corralling them (let alone providing for them) sunk in with every yelled instruction and wandering child.

Then Jesus took a loaf, thanked His Father, and broke it. As He would do the night of His death. As He would do with His life.

And He handed it out to the masses. They ate His bread and were utterly filled. And then, in an overwhelming display of power and extravagance, they collected 12 baskets of leftovers. He didn't just satisfy. He overwhelmed.

Maybe it's the stupidity of the disciples, or their sheer inadequacy, or their childish attempts at loving Him, but I always find myself relating to those guys. In this story specifically, there is something oddly familiar. They are asked to do something that they are totally incapable of doing. He looks them in the eye and demands the impossible, all the while twitching the corners of His mouth. "Will they get it? Will they know it's a test?"

On no sleep, raise 3 Godly men and love them with patient selflessness. Sorry, God. I've only got 5 little loaves here. Not gonna happen.

Read the news. See the slaves? Hear the victims? Observe the poor? Now go fight the evil. Really?? Impossible.

Like disciples, I am only too aware of my inadequacy.

Recently, our church has issued a fresh call to evangelism. In a sweetly simple first step, our pastor challenged us to write down the names of people we want to see fall in love with God. People who are - as he says - "close to us but far from God." And I found myself smirking as I scrolled down my neighbors names. Because in the two years that they've lived in our neighborhood, I've tried "reaching out" to them countless times. I plan holiday bashes, I deliver baked good, all those things you're "supposed" to do to evangelize. And you know what I have to show for it?

A big fat nada.

My little loaves aren't quite enough in the evangelism department so even as I wrote their names down, I doubted.

Lee told us to pray over our lists. Which I totally did. I mean, like, twice. Half-heartedly. Almost like I was saying, "Yeah. I have two fish. But what's that going to do for these people?"

And then the doorbell rang. There he stood - the neighbor of two years. Inviting us to dinner. Asking us for connection. At my doorbell as I sat on my butt and did absolutely nothing.

I felt Him smirking again the next night when the doorbell rang yet again. The neighbor kids next door (who also made "the list") stood there with a football in hand, asking tentatively "would you play with us?"

As I watched my husband organizing a rowdy and makeshift game of neighborhood football in the backyard, I heard Him whisper it.


I have nothing. Just little crumbs.

I have everything. The Bread of Life.

So may our inadequacies drive us to the table. May we show up with our little loaves and expect the glory of God to descend.

Eat up, friends. The Feast is rich. All we have to be is hungry.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The story cannot be changed

Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge, and all the people walked across safely. He used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters and call in an air strike. They sent in bombers to blow up the bridge and the Egyptian army, and all the Israelites were saved.”

“Now, Joey, is that REALLY what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked. “Well, no, Mom, but if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!”

The temptation to change the story of the Gospel to make it either more exciting or less offensive is one we in the church have all struggled with. Even Paul the apostle may have been tempted to do that in Jerusalem when he was attacked by an angry mob. Given the chance to speak to them before the Roman authorities carried him away, Paul spoke about his journey from strict Pharisee to follower of Christ. He told the truth, starting with the fact that he was a Jew like his listeners, but unlike many of them, he had received the privilege of being trained at the feet of Gamaliel. That would have resonated with the crowd, much like hearing someone say today that he received a PhD from an Ivy League school. Paul also told them that he was once a persecutor of Christians, dragging them to prison, even consenting to their executions. Then the story took a turn, as Paul described his conversion that clearly came from heaven. He did not go looking for Jesus, but Jesus came looking for him. He was blinded by a light from heaven, and heard the voice of the resurrected Christ from heaven. He called Jesus “Lord” that day, and was led by the hand into Damascus where three days later he received his commission from God to go and be a witness. Ananias told Paul, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from His mouth; for you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”

Notice what is missing from this story that has often been added by those today who want to rewrite it. Jesus did not appear to Paul and say that he was fine in his Jewishness and just needed to be nicer to people and try to get along with everyone, no matter what their faith journey happened to be. Jesus did not “cross over to Paul.” He clearly invited, even commanded, that Paul cross over to Him. Paul would go on to write 13 New Testament books, and make statements like this: “But whatever gain I had (as a Jewish Pharisee), I counted as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul crossed over to Jesus and then spent the rest of his life telling others, no matter what their faith or religion happened to be, that they must do the same. He preached the Gospel to the Greeks, the Hebrews, the barbarians, the aristocrats, the slaves, and the free. Had the Islam religion existed in Paul’s day, I have no doubt he would have preached the Gospel to them, too. The story cannot be changed. It is the power of salvation to all who believe.