Can you follow Jesus if you are not a Christian?

IN A NUTSHELL, YES. I believe that following Jesus starts with taking seriously what Jesus taught; Christianity claims to do that but their actions tell a different story. I am far from perfect and do not do a great job following Jesus myself. However, Christian churches have proven to be more of a hindrance than a help in perfecting my journey. I do not believe that this should be done alone, we need community. That leads to the function that this blog can help with – following Jesus in community. If you have run across this blog somehow, and you are also looking for ways to follow Jesus in community – perhaps we should stay in touch! May God guide our thoughts, our meditations, our decisions and our relationships with each other and with God Himself.

What do I deny if I deny self?

Living On Tilt

Sunday’s readings:  Genesis 7:1-7, 15-16     Psalm 22:23-31     Romans 4:13-25     Mark 8:31-38

Today’s Gospel sounds very stark if we pay close attention. Imagine that someone you love told you that he or she was truly destined to be executed by the people in power in your country. That would be very hard to take. That is why Peter looked at Jesus and said, “No! Can’t be! We can’t let this happen!”

It sounds harsh when Jesus replies to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Why did he reply to Peter that way? One commentator explained it well. Satan did not want Jesus to go to the cross, because Satan knew that the cross was his Waterloo. On the cross, looking like a defeated warrior, Christ would finally and permanently defeat Satan. In the worldview from God’s throne in eternity and infinity, Satan would be finished if Jesus went to the cross…

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What Will It Cost Me to be a Christian?

What Will It Cost Me to be a Christian?

You said that, “it might cost you your life,” and you phrased it well. if it did not bring up and entirely different subject, I would have preferred that you had said something along the lines of being a Christian has already cost you your life; you are dead and you have no more to fear about dying. [Jesus said] “unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
(Mar 8:34-35)

Living On Tilt

“I have good news for you, but it might cost you your life. Would you like me to continue?”

Imagine that you answered a knock at your front door, and these were the first words out of the mouth of the man standing on your front porch. What would you do?

A pastor in Vietnam, who must remain nameless because of danger to his life, starts telling people about Jesus with these words. He might be eating dinner with someone, or walking down a street, or sitting in a grassy park. He strikes up a conversation, and when he feels led by the Holy Spirit to share Jesus with a person, he says, “I have good news for you, but it might cost you your life. Would you like me to continue?” He says that most people ask him to continue, because they want to hear the good news. Many…

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The Bible, Christians, and Capital Punishment (and by extension War)

Here is an e-mail I sent to a to a radio preacher in response to what he taught about the Bible and capital punishment. His name is unimportant, lots of preachers teach the same thing.

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Dear ______.      I have listened to your radio show at various times as a long haul truck driver and enjoyed the show; I have had a lot of respect for you. I managed to listen to it this morning, however, in my kitchen, and thus with opportunity to respond. You may have just lost my respect; time will tell.

I have had a lot of conversations with pastors and elders at churches I visited as a long haul truck driver. I almost never had a logical conversation about this subject, but rather the conversations fall into two basic categories.

The most common is that I quickly start impinging on the other persons idols, and they lose their objectivity. The vocal level and tones of voice always stay civil and polite, but logic is totally lost. They begin to respond to the conversation in really weird ways, and are obviously very bothered. The second type of conversation is the other person agrees with me, and I simply don’t learn anything. I would sincerely like to know why I am wrong. It would make it much easier for me to find a church home.

You did two things in this radio show that are disrespectful to your listeners.

Number one you set up a straw man argument on behalf of the believers who disagree with capital punishment, and then knocked that down. When we hear someone do that, we are likely to think, “this person is not a legitimate scholar”, and consequently everything else they say is suspect.

The second thing that you did in the radio show is to claim that the proper attitude toward Christians who disagree is respectfully disagree (I wish I had a transcript of the show so I could get the words exactly correct and respond line for line). Your attitude toward the Christians who disagree was not at all respectful. The listener to your show who has not investigated this issue for themselves will go away understanding that the other side to the issue is totally stupid.  1 Corinthians tells us to treat other people with respect.

I don’t have time to spell out the Biblical argument against capital punishment. You should have studied the issue before you preached a sermon on it, and you obviously did not do so. I will however outline the basic argument.

JOB DESCRIPTIONS FOR THE BELIEVERS.  The job description for the believer has changed. The Old Testament job description for the believer in Israel in the time of the judges and the kings was different from the New Testament job description. The difference is that for the former, in the OT, they were to do two things. They were to seek both the Spiritual Kingdom of God and the Physical kingdom of Israel. The New Testament job description differs in that we are to seek only the Spiritual Kingdom of God.  The New Testament believer is not seeking a physical kingdom, and does not have biblical instructions to go to physical war or to use capital punishment.

A basic outline for the New Testament job description.
I. Love God.
……A. Love God.
……B. Love People.
…………1. Love the brethren.
…………2. Love our neighbors.
…………3. Love our enemies.
II. Do not love the things of the world.
…………Our God is a jealous God and we can not serve two masters.

Yes, capital punishment is still the Biblical response to various crimes. The question is, “Should followers of Jesus Christ participate in capital punishment?” The quick answer is no, they should not. Let non-believers do that; God is perfectly capable of finding other people to do that job. The job of the believer is to follow the basic outline above. If we love God we love all people; we CANNOT love people AND kill them. To say that we can is totally illogical. You do not love someone and kill them and send them to hell; they may yet repent and become believers. The reason that we would kill them is to protect the things of the world which we love (remember, no greater love has any man than to lay down their life for their friends, if we lay down our lives for the things of the world we have committed the ultimate form of idolatry). We are not to love the things of the world. If we do not love the things of the world we have no reason to protect the the things of the world (like the USA and the American Dream).

The most important scriptures for this debate have to do with the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors. You know where they are. The water shed Bible passage is the beginning of Romans Chapter 13, where it talks about the authorities not carrying the sword in vain. The question to ask about this passage is, “does this passage describe or prescribe the actions of government officials on the one hand and the believers on the other.” The answer to this question separates the hawks and the doves. In the context of chapters 12 and 13 of Romans the passage is clearly prescribing the actions for believers and incidental to this discussion is a description of how government officials operate (it is merely descriptive of those in authority). This Bible passage does not at all attempt to tell government officials what to do; Romans is not written to them. Logic tells us that if the government officials were to become believers, then they may have to decide between following the New Testament job description and their job description as government officials.

This line of reasoning leads naturally to our understanding of how followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should respond to war. I have stopped calling myself a Christian and started calling myself a follower of The Lord Jesus Christ. If I look at what Christians have stood for historically I find that they have historically followed Jesus only until it interferes with their worldly idols. After that, President Bush was a great example of Christianity. You not only kill the enemy, but you torture them, take away their rights and do everything else it takes to protect the things of the world that you love.  This is not how the Bible teaches the believer to live.

If you have a logical response to my arguments I would love to hear it. I really doubt that you will respond logically. When idols are impinged upon the reaction is very emotional. I expect that your reaction will probably be to attack my character; I am not interested in engaging in that type of conversation.  I am also not interested in spending my time responding to people who have not carefully read what I have to say.  Again, I would love to hear your respectful, well reasoned responses.

Who am I? This e-mail tells a lot about me.

This is an e-mail that I sent (some time ago) to members of a particular church after deciding whether or not I could become a member. Please do not try to figure out which church or which denomination it was as that is not important, most churches and denominations in the USA fall into the same mold.

Dear [name of church] Church Friends,

As a lot of you know I had been working on making a decision about becoming a [member of your denomination]. I believe that I owe everyone an explanation concerning my decision.

One reason that this is an important decision for me is that there is a missionary / job opportunity teaching English in [name of denomination – NOD] in Korea and one job requirement is that one is an official [NOD]. That job, as it is basically a paid missionary position, sounds really, really exciting; there are simply not many jobs like this around.

I have come to a decision and all of you deserve an explanation as to what my decision is and what that means.

I have decided that I cannot in good conscience become [NOD]. Why? I do not have major problems with the official doctrine of the [NOD] church, but rather believe that as far as denominations go its doctrine is good. My problem is what the church culture teaches. The operative word is “culture”. A church’s culture does not necessarily teach the same things as the official doctrine. We have been designed by God to be social in nature. One thing this means is that the primary way we learn is through social modeling. Our values tend to be built primarily through peer example rather than through our intellects. We tend to learn more about being a Christian by watching other Christians than through studying the Bible, listening to preaching and teaching, praying and through song all put together. Peer pressure is a huge part of how every single one of us learns, no exceptions.

Jesus taught, as does the Bible as a whole, that the number one commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. One obvious result of doing this is that one has a passion for the things of God. “With all of our soul, heart, mind and strength” means a huge, powerful passion. A passion for the things of God results in a love for God’s word (the Bible), prayer (talking to God), and worshiping God (including worshiping through song). Some things that take place in social interaction between people with a healthy passion for God are Spontaneous prayer meetings, spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous ministry in applying the Bible to running the race God has put before us. Another thing that you will certainly see is that when people love God’s word, and live in a place like ours where it is perfectly legal and practical to have a Bible with us is that in anticipation to the Bible being a part of our conversations we have the Bible with us. This means anyplace where we gather together with other Christians. If passionate Christians gather together in a regular manner they have their Bibles with them because they do plan on talking about the Bible. People who have a passion for hiding God’s word in their hearts always want to know the Bible better, and they keep it close at hand. It is my observation that this is simply not true about [NOD] culture (or any denominational culture I have experienced). Here is what I do observe, and I have spent enough time with you to understand clearly the trends.

On a [church day] one starts out with 24 hours. From those hours subtract obligatory items to come up with discretionary time available on [church day]. Subtract ~8 hours for sleeping, ~1.5 hours for eating breakfast and dinner, ~1 hour for transportation time, and another 2 hours for various other demands on our time. That leaves about very roughly 11.5 hours of discretionary time. How do I observe that people use that time? The majority of [NOD] seem to put in a lackadaisical 2 hours at church (I say lackadaisical because most of you show up late or barely on time, don’t get much involved in singing, etc.) The rest of the day is spent with entertaining oneself (some time may be spent on a serving thing like feeding the hungry). That’s about a 1:5 ratio of God time to secular time. I reject the concept that all good things come from God and therefore everything I enjoy is a way to enjoy God. We are clearly told not to love the things of the world; there is a clear difference between passion for God and loving the same things non-Christians love and enjoy. What I observe in [NOD] culture is a major lack of passion for the things of God. The culture evidently does not allow one to break out into spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous prayer, or spontaneous worship (songs to God). If God is really the love of our life, if He is really our passion, then these things take place naturally and frequently.

Let’s compare passion for the things of God with other types of passion. Very few fishermen have ever claimed that they are totally sold out to fishing, that fishing is the center of their life, and yet you get two fishermen together and they will talk about fishing for hours. You can think of lots of similar activities that people will discuss passionately for hours at a time. How long will a typical [NOD] conversation last about the things of God? Not very long, anyhow that is my observation. I have to go by the data that I have, and that data tells me not much passion for God, which translates to “lukewarm”.

I really do not want to be judging individuals and am not at all trying to do so. I am talking about church culture. There is absolutely no particular person whose relationship with God I am willing to judge. I have seen bits and pieces of evidence about individuals that tells me that the church culture really does not represent their hearts. I am really talking about the church culture, and to a certain extent, maybe a large extent, the church culture does not reflect the individuals involved. It is, however, definitely where new church members will learn how to do relationship with God. For baby Christians that means that the church culture will inoculate them against a right relationship with God, and this is a huge problem. The Bible clearly teaches that we need to endure to the end, and a baby Christian inoculated against passion for God will not endure as a Christian.

Another problem however is that I do not know any of you very well. I do not know more than a few scant facts about the race that God has put before any of you and I do not know how to encourage you in that individual race that God has put before you. This is a major reason for church attendance; the passage most quoted about why attend church, “not forsaking our own assembling together” comes directly from the context of our encouraging each other in our individual races that God has given us. I do not know how to get to know you at this church. I simply do not know how. Every one of us needs to be wrestling with making the Bible become more our way of life, and we need to be wrestling with this as a team and as a family. We need to be working together at being conformed to the image of Christ and putting God first in our lives. Again, I do not know how to do this in [NOD] culture. My observations are that this is not what [NOD] culture is about. It is probably not permitted. (I do have a [relative] from a different [NOD] church with a prayer meeting that meets in his home. At their home, in this prayer meeting, is a different culture which is very good. There are undoubtedly many more exceptions to the rule, but I believe they are merely exceptions to the rule, that they are counter-cultural.) I have visited enough [NOD] churches to see a clear pattern. I have also seen it in other denominational churches. The difference with [NOD] is that they are better at community and thus the culture is easier to define.

Spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous prayer, spontaneous song to God, this is not part of [NOD] culture. [NOD] culture is not about loving God with all of ones heart, soul, strength and mind. [NOD] church is not only not THE remnant church, they are not even A remnant church. Here is what Jesus says to the lukewarm church. You know the passage. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” All of the data that I can come up with tells me that this passage is talking about [NOD] church culture. Jesus is saying to [NOD] culture that He is going to spew it out of His mouth. (The same thing also holds true to any other denominational culture that I have ever been a part of.)
My decision is that I can not be a part of a false church. The job teaching English, basically a paid missionary job is a very, very attractive situation. I cannot, however, become a part of a false church to take the job. (One problem is that as a representative of the [NOD] church I would be telling people by my example that [NOD] is a good way to do relationship with God.)
I wish that I could tell you an easy solution. I do not believe there is an easy solution. I am not [NOD]. I believe that just as it is wrong to marry someone planning to change them later it is wrong to join a denomination planning on changing it later. You are already married [are members of NOD]. I believe that the primary task put before each one of you is to pray and fast like your lives depend on it because your lives do depend on it. The word of God says that He is about to spew you out of His mouth.
I pray that God has not given up on you, that He can indeed make you into a people that loves Him the way He deserves to be loved. I do not know how I can be a part of your church. Every time I attend an [NOD] church function I give my consent to the [NOD] way of doing things. I do not know how to have personal relationships with you, and I do not know how to influence you very much to change. I simply do not know how to do it. I attended this church for about 6 months and more time would just have more of the same results. I do not know how to develop those relationships. Again, I pray that God has not given up on you, I pray that He will make you into a people with genuine passion for loving and obeying Him.
Daniel Brown.

Fire Insurance Christianity

Fire Insurance Christianity
This refers to the practice of saying a sinner’s prayer, understanding that you will now spend eternity in Heaven instead of Hell, then going about one’s life pretty much the same as before.

The misunderstanding stems, I believe from a wrong understanding of why Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus died to reconcile us with Him, with God and bring us into a right relationship with Him. In contrast, the Fire Insurance Gospel (FIG) says that the primary reason Jesus died is to save us from Hell. Here is an analogy of what that means in the outcome.

Think about I-70 going across the state of Colorado. I-70 goes over the Rocky Mountains. At the top is the Eisenhower Tunnel. The motorist who is not real aware of what is happening thinks that as they exit the Eisenhower Tunnel and start down the hill they have been over the top of the Rock Mountains. In contrast is the trucker that has a 14 foot tall trailer or is carrying a hazardous materials load. This trucker is not allowed through the tunnel, but instead exits I-70 and continues going uphill, zigzagging up and up and up until they come to the summit of Loveland Pass. From here it really looks like you are at the top of something.

The FIG Christian who has said the sinners prayer is like the motorist that has passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel. They think that they have been to the cross, and go merrily on with their life believing that they are now on the road to Heaven.

The person that is truly engaged with the PROCESS of salvation continues in the PROCESS until they get to the top of Loveland Pass and truly find the Cross and leave their old life there (actually not a one time experience).

The important question at this point is WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY about all of this. I believe that as a whole the Bible calls FIG a false religion. In order to see that to be so, however, the FIG follower is going to have to go through a paradigm shift because they have gotten so use to twisting Bible verses to say something they do not actually say.

There are some very commonly used Bible passages that are twisted by FIG followers. Let me show how I see them. The key word will be PROCESS. (I am using the New American Standard Bible).

JOHN 1:12 & 13. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Look at the phrase “He GAVE THE RIGHT to become”. This phrase is almost always ignored. The PROCESS is ignored. The common understanding of this verse is that one receives Jesus and is immediately converted into a child of God. That is not what this verse says. Consider this word picture. John and Don are sitting in a cafe in Hood River, OR about 50 or 60 miles east of Portland, OR. They are talking about the zoo in San Diego. They would like to visit this zoo, so John gets on the phone and calls up an airline and pays for tickets to take them from the Portland airport to San Diego. He then asks the waitress how long their food will take. She says, “Unfortunately, we don’t have any chicken so the cook is next door buying one. It will probably be an hour before you get your dinner.” John says “Nifty! So we have time to go visit the San Diego zoo. Come on Don, we can walk over to to the zoo, see the reptile collection and be back before the food gets here.” Don says, “John, the airplane tickets only means that after we go from here to Portland we HAVE THE RIGHT to get on the plane to San Diego. We are not in San Diego, we are still in Hood River!!!” Equally, the person who has received Jesus still needs to go through the PROCESS of becoming a child of God. They HAVE THE RIGHT to become a child of God.

JOHN 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” NEW BIRTH is commonly said to be put into practice by having someone say the sinner’s prayer and then telling that person they are now born again and on their way to Heaven. They ignore the obvious problem that birth is the end result of a 9 month long PROCESS which began with conception. Equally, to be born again, to be born spiritually, one must engage in a PROCESS. Check out the parable of the sower in like Matthew 13, Mark 4 or Luke 8. The word of God being planted in one’s heart does not make them a Christian. The seed needs to reach maturity and produce fruit. There is a PROCESS which begins but is not completed when the Word is planted in the heart. That PROCESS can not be entered into and completed by simply saying a prayer. If it could, then all three of the final types of soil would represent saved Christians. I believe that this does not agree with the Bible as a whole.

John 3:16. “”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The key word here is BELIEVE. We do not change our belief system by simply saying a sinners prayer. Changing our belief system is the result of a PROCESS. It is the result of the word of God being planted in our hearts, and then growing and producing fruit. It is extremely presumptuous to say that because we have said a sinner’s prayer that we have now believed. To know that we have believed and been born again we have to compare our lives and our hearts with the word of God, the Bible. See my comment below on I John 5:13.

ROMANS 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The way this verse is typically explained is like this. The person explaining the gospel will hold something in their hand (like a dollar bill maybe) and tell them this is a free gift. ¿What do you need to do to receive it? All you need to do is simply reach out and take it. Equally, all you have do do to receive eternal life is simply say the sinner’s prayer (and mean is with all your heart of course) and you will be on your way to Heaven. Remember the word PROCESS? To find the process look at the preceding verse, Rom 6:22. One should never memorize Romans 6:23 without also memorizing Romans 6:22. “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Eternal life is a PROCESS which begins with being “freed from sin and enslaved to God”, then continues with the PROCESS of “sanctification” and has the “outcome” of “eternal life.” Again, to decide if the PROCESS has resulted in new birth look at my comments about I John 5:13. The PROCESS is not engaged in by saying the sinner’s prayer.

ROMANS 10:9-11 “ . . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.'” The word “confess”. It fits the teaching of the Bible as a whole much better to understand confession as an ongoing practice rather than as just saying something one time. The word “believe”, go back to comments about it under John 3:16. Salvation is the result of a PROCESS.

ROMANS 10:9a “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord . . .” The word LORD is often misunderstood. The word LORD does not mean the same thing as the word GOD. The words LORD and GOD are not at all synonyms. LORD is what a slave calls their master. I once picked up a hitch hiker who believed that because he had said the sinners prayer that he was on his way to Heaven and could live any way that he wanted to. I asked him, “¿What would your wife mean if she were to call you Lord?” He gave an absolutely beautiful description of what our relationship with God is supposed to look like. I told him that his beautiful description is what our relationship with God is supposed to be. It totally shocked him. As we engage in the PROCESS of confessing Jesus as LORD, this is what we are learning to confess. (I am NOT saying that wives should call their husbands Lord.)

I JOHN 5:13. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” This verse is typically brought out in the gospel presentation with all of the emphasis on “You can KNOW that you are saved.” So once you have said the sinners prayer you KNOW that you have been saved. This understanding ignores the first part of the verse, “THESE THINGS I have written to you”. What things? We need to look at the rest of I John and find out what he (John) had written concerning knowing whether we have eternal life. We need to explore I John for a check list to compare our life and our heart against to decide whether or not we have eternal life. Have we engaged in the PROCESS that will assure us that we have eternal life? We do not know the answer because we said a sinner’s prayer, no matter how sincere we were when we said it.

I believe that the FIG (Fire Insurance Gospel) is not just inexact; it is not a teeny little problem. I believe that it results in FALSE RELIGION. To come to that conclusion we need to look at the Bible as a whole. But one verse that says it succinctly is JAMES 1:27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Focus on “ . . . keep oneself UNSTAINED by the world.” We do not keep ourselves unstained by the world by simply saying a sinner’s prayer and going merrily on our way living however we feel like living. The Fire Insurance Gospel produces individual Christianity in which God is only loved and obeyed while it is convenient and feels good. They continue to love the things of the world, and Jesus is not truly their LORD no how many times they confess it to be so. To truly know that we have eternal life we need to engage in the PROCESS until completion.