Blog Archives

Christianity 101: Personal Disciplines

[This is actually a bonus lesson! I didn’t teach this lesson at Crossroads because I was at my Grandma’s memorial. The incomparable Pastor Ashley Jennings filled in for me. These are the notes I would have taught from. Enjoy!]

Last week, we talked about holiness.God is a God of holy love, and He wants us to lead lives that please Him. That starts with our confession of Christ: accepting Him as our Lord and Savior. Then, the Holy Spirit indwells us, lives within us and changes us from inside out. He helps us to let Jesus truly be the Lord of our lives.

To be honest, it takes us the rest of our lives to work out, and we’re not even really done until we die. And as we discussed, that’s okay. God expects us to keep moving forward, though. We’re expected not to just stop growing. We should be secure in where we are with God, but not satisfied enough to just get comfortable and quit striving. Does that make sense?

To that end, God has given us tools to cultivate our own personal holiness. He wants us to engage Him, to cooperate with the changes He’s making in us. Let’s talk about some of those tools. I’ll also refer to them as disciplines. Read the rest of this entry

Christianity 101: Holiness

Christianity 101: Holiness (MP3)

Last week, we talked about God’s solution to sin: Jesus’ death and resurrection. He died as a sacrifice for us. He paid the penalty for our sins and restored our relationship with God.

Before the cross, we were enslaved to sin. We couldn’t avoid it. But because of the cross, we’re free to live lives that please God.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

-Romans 6:6

Now, people throughout history have been tempted to say that since God forgave us, we can do whatever we want. Even the Jews were tempted by that idea: after all, they were God’s chosen people.

But remember, God is a God of holy love. He loves us and accepts us and forgives us, and He also wants us to do what’s right. That’s why He gave the Law to the Jews in the first place: to show them right and wrong, to show them how to live a life that pleases Him. Read the rest of this entry

Why the Cross is the Most Epic Thing Ever

This last Saturday was the first Extra Life Ministries Bible Study. We’re off to a good start.

We spent about forty minutes talking about — as you may have caught in the title — why the cross is the most epic thing ever. I’ve posted my notes below, after the link to the recording.

After the study, we shared some lunch and hung out. I can heartily recommend Safeway-brand frozen lasagna, by the way.

Plans are already underway for next month’s study. We’re gonna try to have it in a local comic book shop. The lesson, I’m thinking, is gonna be about how holiness is practically a superpower. More details to come.

Until then, thank you so much to everyone who came on Saturday, and everyone else who follows XLM as it develops into what God made it to be. Here’s our first Bible study.

Why the Cross is the Most Epic Thing Ever (.mp3)

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We say things all the time like “Jesus died for your sins.” We call Him the “lamb of God.” We sing songs like “The Wonderful Cross.” All of Christianity seems focused around this one event: the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s a big deal. And today, I want to talk about why.

Read the rest of this entry

Apologetics Finale: Jesus

In the final lesson of the apologetics series, we touch on perhaps the most important question of all: how can Jesus be the only way to God? What about all the other religions of the world? And aren’t all religions basically the same anyway?

Apologetics: Jesus (.m4a | .mp3)

And thus ends my Sunday School series. I hope it’s been useful and enlightening to you.

After this week, I’ll be getting back to regular blog posts. I say after this week because I’m preaching this Sunday! I’ll be working on my sermon, which you’ll be able to hear on the Crossroads podcast.

In the meantime, check out the Extra Life Ministries Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. There’s already been a lot of cool news in gaming and technology this week, with more to come.

Also, my friends are trying to rope me into playing Warhammer 40k. And I’m tempted. Pray for me.

Below is the lesson as written.

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This morning, we’ll talk about our most central apologetic task: defending Jesus Himself. Without Jesus, there’s no point in discussing the rest.

Jesus says this in John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The term “lifted up,” according to my footnotes, also means “exalted.” Our job is to, in a manner of speaking, make Jesus look good. The best way to do that is to tell the truth about Him.

That means we’ll need to have answers ready for views that oppose Christianity. We need something to say when people ask, “how can Jesus be the only way to God?”

It may be good to start by asking for clarification. If someone asks that question, you still may not know their specific objection. Read the rest of this entry

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil

In this morning’s Sunday School class, I tackled one of the most troublesome questions in religion and philosophy: why is there evil in the world?

To hear my answer, click the links below. To save either file for later listening, right-click the link and select Save Link As… or Save Target As….

Apologetics: The Problem of Evil (.mp3 | .m4a)

Feel free to argue with me in the comments or send me an e-mail!

Below is the lesson as written.

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Today, we’ll talk about what may be the biggest philosophical question people struggle with day-to-day: the problem of evil. Whereas some people will look into the historicity of the Bible, and some will dig into deep theological issues, everyone wrestles with this issue. Everyone has had something bad happen to them, and frankly, everyone has done something bad to someone else. We feel the impact of evil every day. It affects our lives. And it’s often one of the issues that keeps people distant from God.

We’re going to talk about the philosophy of evil this morning. But before we do, we have to recognize that this is a very emotional issue for some people. Some people have been hurt very badly – either by other people, or just by circumstances, or even their own choices – and they’re angry with God because of it. Read the rest of this entry

The Point

Christians, pray for tomorrow morning.

There are two days a year that non-churchgoers go to church. Tomorrow is one, and for good reason.

Easter Sunday is a celebration of the only hope for humanity. Of the reason that we can have joy. Of the fact that, in the end, it will all be okay.

We fast for the 40 days of Lent because Easter is that big a deal. We need that much time to adequately prepare. Tomorrow is a day worth celebrating, perhaps more than any other.

Tomorrow is a great chance for people to meet Jesus.

Pray that they will.

The Cost of Mercy

The name Good Friday bothered me for a while after I learned what it was all about. It offended my sensibilities to call such a horrendous day “good.”

Today, Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. To be blunt, we remember the day humanity murdered God. And not in a swift, sanitary, humane way, either. Crucifixion is absolutely horrific. It’s a nightmarish way to kill someone. And we inflicted it on the only truly good man ever to live.

For a long time, I was preoccupied by our guilt. I focused on our sins, our actions that sent Jesus to the cross.

Then, I saw something else.

Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. Not at all. He prayed not to go. But He was ready to do it if it were the only way. Soon after that prayer, armed men came to arrest Him. Peter, one of His closest followers, tried to take of the guys’ heads off with his sword.

Jesus stopped him and healed the man Peter had attacked.

Think about that. He had just begged His Father to let Him skip the cross. One of His followers then attacked His captors. A lesser man would have run. But Jesus apparently had His answer.

He went willingly.

Even when the men who had Him arrested taunted Him, challenging Him to get off the cross and prove that He was the Messiah, He stayed. Mind you, He could have blasted the cross to splinters with his mind and called down lightning on all the unbelievers. He didn’t.

That’s the “good” of Good Friday: that Jesus chose the cross for us.

We live in a culture that avoids discomfort at all costs. We see boredom, inconvenience, and pain as great evils. I don’t want that perspective.

For the past several years, I’ve fasted from the evening of Good Friday until Easter Sunday. This year, I’ll do the same, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Before, I would think about the weight of our sin every time my stomach growled.

This year, it will be less for guilt and more for worship.

This year, the discomfort will be a reminder to say “thank you” to the God who paid the cost of mercy.

Forget the Bunny

It’s Easter this Sunday. You know what that means: church and chocolate. Probably brunch with the family. Gotta find a clean shirt. Gotta get up early for a weekend.

When I was growing up, Easter seemed like a seriously random holiday. I could get on board with Halloween and Christmas, but I didn’t really get Easter. I was glad for the Cadbury Cream Eggs – oh, so glad! – and the chance to see my cousins, but I couldn’t tell you the point of it.

When I became a Christian, Easter was all new. And it was the best thing ever. It wasn’t just another holiday anymore.

It was a celebration of my reason to live.

The story of Easter is that God came to Earth and sacrificed His life to restore the relationship we broke with Him. Then, He beat up death and came back.

Forget the bunny. If all that is true, it changes everything.

If Jesus was willing to forgive us, even as we killed Him, we don’t have to worry about being loved: we are. If Jesus really is God and really is the one true authority, we don’t have to worry about purpose: it’s to follow Him. If Jesus actually paid for our sins and rose from the dead, we don’t have to worry about eternity: He’s taken care of it.

That’s worth celebrating.

Several people at Crossroads will be celebrating Easter as Christians for the first time. I’m excited for them. It’s a fantastic experience.

If you want, join us this Sunday and see what it’s all about. We’d be glad to have you there.

The Lynch Mob on Palm Sunday

Yesterday, the church commemorated one of the oddest, most ironic moments in history.

Around 2,000 years ago, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem during one of the major Jewish festivals. He’d been teaching for three years, gathering followers and gaining momentum. Some thought He was the Messiah, the conqueror God promised them in ages past.

As He entered the city, the crowds flipped out. They grabbed palm branches and their own cloaks and threw then on the road out of respect. They chanted, “save us!” They hailed Him as their savior.

He accepted their praise, knowing they would soon turn on Him. Through tears, He said, “If only you knew what would bring you peace.”

Somewhere in the following five days, public opinion shifted. The man whom they thought would wage war against their oppressors instead challenged their views. He defied expectation by portraying Himself not as a political authority, but a spiritual one above all others. He called them out for their sins and thereby offended a lot of people.

By Friday, the crowd was chanting for His blood.

Sadly, they had it right the first time. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah they were waiting for.  And though He would prove it, they would kill Him first.

Whenever I look at the story of Palm Sunday, I’m relieved I was born into such an enlightened time. I mean, people today aren’t fickle like that. We don’t just turn on people when they say something we don’t like. No, we weigh the evidence and make sober, reasonable decisions, untainted by emotion.

Especially on the Internet.

Yeah, I think the main difference between us and the crowd back then is that we don’t actually kill people as often.

The contrast between Palm Sunday and Good Friday reminds me to slow down and choose my words carefully. It reminds me to examine what I really believe. It reminds me to breathe deep in moments of intense emotion, before I say or do something dumb.

And it reminds me that even though people make really bad mistakes, God forgives us.

One Kind of Grace

We Christians talk about God’s grace a lot. It’s central to how Christianity works. If you’ve spent any time around a church, you’ve probably heard it defined as “undeserved favor.”

This illustration might help.

You’re running a game of Dungeons & Dragons. You manage to herd your players into the villain’s castle for their first showdown. They navigate the halls, fighting back the guards and foiling a few clever traps, when they get to the hall with the encounter you have planned.

Behind the door at the end of the hall, you know, waits the villain’s personal bodyguard. The party has fought him before, but now they finally get to beat him. They’re already banged up, but that will just add to the drama. All is going according to plan.

That is, until one of the players declares that his character runs ahead of everyone and opens the door. Everyone gives him odd looks. “Dude, give us a sec to heal.” Oddly confident, he says, “No, no. I got it.”

Weird, you think, but you can work with it. The bodyguard spots him and lunges with his heavily enchanted halberd. “Okay,” the player says, “I tell him-”

“Um, you don’t really have time to say anything. He was waiting for you, holding his attack. You guys were kind of invading his master’s castle.”

“…oh.”

Wondering why that wasn’t obvious, you roll the bodyguard’s attack. 20.

You pause.

By rights, the guy should be dead. He’s already taken a bunch of damage, and a major character just delivered a critical hit. Besides, he just put himself and the rest of the party in danger with a stupid mistake, even after everyone tried to stop him. He totally deserves what he gets.

The thing is, you had plans for that character. He was crucial to an upcoming part of the story. And despite how much he annoys you and the party sometimes, you love that character. You see potential in him that no one else does, and you want to see him develop. You want to see him win.

“How many hit points do you have?” you ask him.

“Um… 12.”

You roll damage. With the critical hit, the total comes to 36.

“11 damage,’ you say.

Grace.

Take a moment and consider everything in your life that could have gone worse.