Not a Tame Lion...

Kari and I finally took a break from unpacking boxes Wednesday night and went to see "The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." First, I should tell you that I'm not in to fantasy-type movies and books. The Lord of the Rings movies turned into a $10 nap - they just don't do anything for me. But I wanted to support the Chronicles of Narnia because of its family-friendly value and the message behind the story.

You'd have to be blind to not see the references to Christ throughout this entire movie. Aslan the lion is the rightful king of Narnia who has gone away for a time. When he returns to reclaim Narnia he joins forces with four children, but not before one of them defects to the side of the White Witch. This defection, according to the law of Narnia, requires the blood of that child. Aslan dies in the boy's place, and rises from the dead citing a higher law that states the shedding of righteous blood would not prevail, even over death. If you can't see Jesus in tha, I don't know what to tell you.

My favorite line, however, came at the end of the movie as Aslan walks away. The youngest child can't understand where he is going or why he is goine away. Mr. Thomnas, her fawn friend, explains that Aslan can't always be understood.

"He is not a tame lion" Thomnas says.

"No," replies Lucy, "but he's good."

Simple, forthright, and intensely theological.

I don't know about you, but I often have a difficult time remembering that God is not a tame God. He hasn't been put under the control of anyone else, and isn't altogether predictable. We often don't understand why God does what God does, or how this mess-of-a-world can be a part of God's ultimate plan. But while we know that God is not a tame God, we also know that He's good.

Lucy's confidence in Aslan can be our confidence in the God of the universe. Though we don't usually understand His plan, or how He works, we can always know that He is good.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 5

One of the most anticipated Summer events for members of my youth group as a kid was Super Summer. Every year during the hottest part of the summer, we would load up an jalopy church van and make the two-hour journey to Kansas City so we could cram into an undersized (also unairconditioned) auditorium with a few thousand of our closest friends. We rocked out to loud music, chanted "We love Jesus yes we do, we love Jesus how 'bout you?" until it reached a fevered pitch, and listened to a motivational speaker get us fired up for the obligatory two-week life change that every camper is bound to produce. Good times.

One year at Super Summer (isn't that the way all good stories are supposed to start?), the theme was "Evangelism." Throughout the week, we were taught a modified version of the "Roman Road" to salvation and pointed questions that were intended to help us turn any conversation to a conversation about spiritual things. It was supposed to go something like this:

Friend: "Hey man, did you watch the Cowboys on Sunday?"
Me: "Yea. Hey, do you believe in God?"
Friend: "I guess. The Cowboys were pretty awful huh?"
Me: "Yea they were. Who is Jesus to you?"
Friend: "I don't know, I was hoping you could tell me."
Me: "I'd love to. Take out your Bible and turn to Romans 3:23"
Friend: "Okay. I happen to have the KJV and NIV in my bookbag, which would you prefer?"
Me: "Whichever you would like. Romans 3:23 says we're all sinners."
Friend: "No doubt about that."
Me: "Romans 6:23 says we owe God death, but God sent His Son as our gift. Is there anything keeping you from trusting in Christ right now?"
Friend: "I can't think of any."
Me: "Great. Let's pray and thank God for your salvation right now."

After learning this method, they turned us loose on fellow campers so we could practice evangelizing each other. I'm not going to lie; I was a master evangelist that week. I led more fake people to fake professions of faith in Christ than Billy Graham could shake a stick at. People were swarming to the fake altar after my presentations. This was easy.

By the end of the week I was ready to take on my entire high school. I reasoned that with three years left in high school, I could average ten conversions a week no problem. Ten conversions times fifty weeks (one off for Christmas and Spring Break each... I planned to keep going during the Summer) all of Rock Bridge High School would be won over before I graduated. After all, how hard could it be?

The church bus rolled back into Columbia, Missouri and I hit the pavement looking for my first opportunity, which came the next day. I worked on swinging a conversation that started on the topic of baseball. Somehow it seemed easier at camp, but I wasn't dissuaded. Then I worked through the Roman Road, which had developed potholes over the 24-hour period since I had last traveled it, in part because the guy I was sharing with hadn't remembered to bring his Bible to our conversation. But we made it down the road, and I was ready to "close the deal."

"Is there anything keeping you from trusting Christ right now?" I asked.

"Yes." He replied.

The silence that followed lasted at least 45 minutes.

Finally, I got the courage to squeak out, "What would that be?"

"Well, I just can't believe that there's a God out there who loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us, but who doesn't love us enough to keep bad stuff from happening to us here." He said.

That certainly hadn't happened at camp. So I did what any right-minded, sane, Christian evangelist would do:

I changed the conversation back to baseball.

Every Christian needs to learn basic apologetics - a basic defense of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). It isn't a faith based on blind leaps and uncertain guesses; it's a faith based on Truth, and rooted in fact. But that doesn't mean that there aren't tough questions out there. And many of our unbelieving friends and neighbors are asking those questions.

How can a loving God send people to hell? Why doesn't a good God stop the evil in the world? Are miracles really possible? These are all good questions that we as Christians don't need to be scared of. Furthermore, if truth is on our side (and it is), we should be eager to seek answers to difficult questions because they will always lead us back to the God in whom we believe.

There's a degree to which all Christians should be comfortable with the unknowable: to accept that there is an unfathomable God in heaven Who is bigger than us is to accept that there are certain things we will never know. But that shouldn't ever be an excuse for not searching for the answers to questions we are able to know.

Many of the questions unbelievers are asking are questions that believers should have asked a long time ago because the answers give us glimpses into the character and nature of God. The question of evil in contrast to a good God is a question about the character of God. We should be ready to defend that character when the question comes up.

There are several good books out there to get you started. The most popular are by Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell. My favorite, however, is a book by Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody called "I'm Glad You Asked." These authors have determined that there are only 12 questions that skeptics ask, although these questions show up in a variety of different forms. This book attempts to answer these questions from a Biblical perspective. Some of the chapters are a little heady, especially when the authors tackle issues dealing with science, but the information is solid and worth reading.

I truly believe that if you don't know why you believe what you believe, you really don't know what you believe.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 4

Several years ago, on something of a whim, I decided to get my pilots license. I was always fascinated by flight, and like to get places fast, so flying was a good fit for me.

One of the weird things about flying that might surprise some of you, is that there aren't road signs in the sky. Rather than street signs, pilots rely on landmarks to navigate their way around. Instead of looking for the intersection of Live Oak and Boardwalk, they'll draw their route on a map, and look for sections of a lake, or small towns they know they should cross en route to their destination. They stay oriented by knowing that a major highway runs on their right and a river on their left. If you don't know your landmarks, bad things happen.

Case in point: Shortly after I received my private pilot's license, I decided to fly from Stillwater, OK (my home at the time) to Columbia, MO (my parents' home at the time). It was about a four hour flight, which was a big deal for me. The flight to Columbia was a success. I arrived when I thought I should, and didn't have any problems. I had the use of GPS (global positioning satellite) in the plane, which meant I didn't have to rely on landmarks at all - it automatically helped me stay on course, and allowed me more time to look out the window and enjoy the scenery.

On the way home, I threw my maps in the back of the plane since I hadn't used them on the first leg of the trip. They're big and cumbersome, and you have to contort your legs in weird ways to keep them spread out on your lap and prevent them from falling to your feet. I left the airport without a hitch and made my final contacts with Air Traffic Control in Missouri. I didn't expect any more communication from them until about the time I would fly out of their communication zone, where they would transfer me to a different channel that would follow me the rest of the way back to Oklahoma.

That call never came.

About 45 minutes into the flight, I realized the scenery was unfamiliar. I looked down at the GPS to make sure I was still on track, and realized it was off. Knowing this was weird, I attempted to turn it back on. Nothing. Its fuse had blown.

Not knowing how long it had been off, or where exactly I was, I attempted to call back to Columbia Air Traffic Control to get some information from them. Nothing. I had been blown so far off course I had escaped their communication area before they had intended. The wind had shifted direction, so all the readings on my instruments were wrong - they weren't calibrated correctly.

I frantically searched the horizon for a landmark I recognized - a lake, river, big city, anything, but couldn't find one. To make matters worse, it was starting to get dark, which meant more than half of the landmarks would be disappearing. Finally, I saw a watertower in the distance and headed toward it. I descended to the point I could read it, and fortunately it was a town I recognized. I scanned the radio for another pilot's voice and asked what the nearest airport was. Fortunately, they had their maps with them and pointed me toward Springfield directly to the West. I pointed toward the sun, and made an emergency landing at an airport nearly 90 miles from where I should have been. All because I decided to enjoy the flight over doing the necessary work to ensure I covered all my bases.

It's a long story to make my point, but the point is this: Far too many Christians are flying the Christian life today without the necessary landmarks. We rely on pastors, Sunday School teachers, books, tapes, and radio programs to keep us on track, but when one of those goes haywire we don't have the knowledge to be able to fix the problem until it's too late.

Every Christian needs to have a basic understanding of every book in the Bible so that they're able to orient themselves no matter the situation.

What is the point of the book of James? Why did Mark write his Gospel? What does Malachi say about God? Why is Exodus important? Is there a point to all the names in 1 Chronicles?

Will you ever need to know why the book of Hebrews was written? Maybe not. The GPS you're using may function for the rest of your life. But it may not, and it's unsafe to fly without knowing your landmarks.

Not long ago I read an article that started with the words, "Micah was written to talk about the sins of the church against God." So I threw the article in the trash. Why? Because I happened to remember my landmarks - the church didn't even exist when Micah wrote. So I made a decision to use my maps instead of rely on that author's GPS.

It's more common than you think - blatant errors in thinking by some of today's most popular preachers. They rifle through the Scriptures and cherry-pick verses that make their point without bothering to thing about the point the verses were intended to make. That's dangerous flying - you'll need to have your maps handy.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 3

The number one and two bestselling books in Christian bookstores today are by a man who denies salvation by faith in Christ and preaches that God's ultimate plan for you is to be rich and successful in this life. Number eight on the list is by a man who indicates that God is a "risk taker" who doesn't know what the ultimate outcome of His creation will be.

I don't know which is sadder; that these guys actually teach this junk, or that millions of Christians who will buy these books for Christmas this year do not know any better.

It's not "cool" to talk about theology anymore. It's even less cool to learn about it. But if Christians today want the church in America to be credible in the days of our grandkids, it's time that we start paying a little more attention to theology; it's something every Christian should know.

Think of theology as the frame of a house. Unless you're used to looking at unfinished homes, it's not always very exciting to look at the framework of a house. It's more fun to look at decorations - paint colors, carpet, and light fixtures, but you put your life in danger when you attempt to hang pictures on walls that won't stand up. Before you begin elaborating on the walls, they have to be supported. And tragically, many of the best selling Christian books today try to add decorations to your life that aren't supported by the beams of theology

There are ten aspects to the framework of the Christian faith that every Christian ought to understand in a basic way. We don't need to know everything, but enough that our walls are stable. That way, when decorators attempt to remodel our house, we know the limits of what the beams can stand. Understanding theology gives us the ability to safely make our faith personal without the danger of knocking down a support wall unintentionally. Basically, theology gives us the limits of what we can and cannot say about the most important things in Christianity.

The ten areas with which we should all be familiar are:
1. Theology Proper - This is the study of God and His attributes. Why is it wrong or a popular men's book to imply that God is a risk taker who doesn't know the outcome of His creation? Because Scripture tells us that God is sovereign, and knows all things. To say He'll be surprised by the outcome of creation means we have no future hope because God is not in control.
2. Christology - Who is Jesus Christ? The DaVinci Code was an extraordinarily popular book that threatened to shipwreck a lot of Christians. How would it affect our faith if Jesus had married and fathered children? That's a Christology question.
3. Pneumatology - The term sounds impressive, but pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. When a prominent Houston pastor brags about his lack of formal training for ministry by pointing to a time in his life where he "got the Holy Ghost," what is he saying about the work of the Holy Spirit? Why is he wrong?
4. Bibliology - As I'm writing this, there is an impressive commercial on TV that promises to send you "another testament" of Jesus Christ for free in the mail. Could there be another testament to the Bible that we don't know about? How much should we trust the Bible?
5. Eschatology - Several years ago, a man published a book called "88 Reasons Jesus Christ will Return in 1988." In 1999, I drove by a church in Tulsa that was having "Rapture Practice" on Wednesday night after the service. What exactly should we expect in the future? What does the Bible indicate? And how should we live as a result? These are questions of Eschatology, the study of last things.
6. Angelology - Not long ago there was a Dallas police officer who was killed in the line of duty. They interviewed his wife on the news, and she thanked God that her husband was now her guardian angel, and would be with her for the rest of her life. On the flip side, I received a lot of questions from the teenagers I worked with about the movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." Could that happen to me? What exactly are angels and demons? How do they behave?
7. Anthropology - The pastor with the bestselling Christian book on the market right now believes that man is good for the most part, and only needs to unlock his inner potential to do great things for God. This is an anthropology question. In addition, the entire Pro-Life debate revolves around anthropology. Why should we protect the lives of the unborn and the mentally handicapped?
8. Hamartiology - Not to pick on him too much, but that very same pastor in Houston doesn't like to say the word "sin." He prefers "mistake," or "fault." What is sin? Can I ever stop sinning? Why do I sin in the first place, and how does it effect me?
9. Ecclesiology - How should the church function? Who should be in charge? Who do we include in the church and why do we include them? A lot of the "emergent" debate that you'll be hearing more about in the future deals with ecclesiology issues (among others). Why does the church exist, and how should it conduct itself?
10. Soteriology - Christians talk a lot about our need to be saved. Saved from what? How is a person saved? There are a lot of splinter issues in this area that are relatively hot topics right now. It's important for us to understand salvation so we don't get caught up in the debate without understanding the issue.

Fortunately, it's not difficult to begin reinforcing the walls of the house. A small committment over an extended period of time can do wonders for the strength of your framework.

When I got to college, I was a glutton for punishment. I grew up in a great Christian home, but in a church that did not major in building a framework for their members, especially the youth. (Most churches aren't good at this). Consequently, when I set foot on the campus of Oklahoma State University, I was like most college students: a sitting duck. Cults love college campuses because the students know what they believe, but don't know why they believe it; they have decorations on the wall, but the walls aren't reinforced. So cults are able to swoop in, add their own reinforcment to the students' beliefs, and jimmy-rig what the church left off.

Fortunately, a couple of Christian guys took me under their wing, and challenged me to reinforce my walls. So every day, I read a section of Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie, and began the process of understanding why I believed what I believed - reinforcing my house. And it's a process I've never regretted.

Ryrie's resource is a good one for a beginner, primarily because it's concise and paints with a broad brush. You won't get bogged down in the details, but will get a broad explanation of Christian Theology and the biblical passages that support Ryrie's conclusions. Millard Erickson also wrote a decent book on theology called Christian Theology. It's a little more heady than Ryrie's book, but also provides a little more depth than Ryrie for the person with a little theological knowledge already under their belt. Finally, I found the Moody Handbook of Theology extremely helpful as a beginning reader. It's extremely reader-friendly, and contains helpful explanations, but often doesn't discuss the alternative views to an issue, so the reader isn't exposed to the arguments of other positions.

Wherever you start, start. And never believe anything just because the book says it. Test it against your framework, which ultimately has to be rooted in the Bible. This will be on the test - every time you read a Christian book with hopes of improving your Christian life. Does the advice of the decorator stand up to the test of Theology? Or is his advice going to make the walls fall down?

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 2

Harry Truman once said, "The only thing about the future we don't already know is the history we haven't already read."

That's one of my favorite quotes, because he's absolutely right. As Solomon said it, "There's nothing new under the sun." History has a way of repeating itself over, and over, and over again. For that reason, the number two thing that every Christian should know is the history of his or her belief.

Now, if you've ever studied church history, you'll probably agree with me that you tend to sleep better at night when you're studying Church history. There is no better insomnia cure than the vast majority of Church History books out there. For the first year or two that I was reading Church History books, I judged the books solely on the basis of how long they took to put me to sleep. Augustine was a 3, because it took me 3 pages on average before I was knocked out more soundly than a bear in the winter time. Martin Luther was fun, because he was a feisty sucker with a fondness for being right in the middle of controversy. Sometimes he called people rude names which was always fun to look forward to - sort of like the black-sheep relatives who tend to always say outrageous things at all the wrong times. No Mom, I won't start naming names... that kind of thing gets you blogrolled, you know.

Church history doesn't have to be boring. In fact, at times it is exhillarating. Especially when you find out that a guy was burned at the stake for an idea you've held for many years. (Uncovering that kind of situation can add some real motivation to your Bible studies!)

You tend to recognize the importance of Church history when you realize that there are very few "new" ideas out there. For almost every idea, and almost every understanding, someone has gone before us. In fact, I had a seminary professor tell me one time that I should always tread softly if I couldn't find anyone who held a view I wanted to write about. Otherwise, I was writing a recipe for disaster.

On that same token, it's fun for me to look at the various movements afoot in Christianity today, from the "charismatic" movement to the "emergent church" movement, to the "micro-church movement," and see their various underpinnings in Christian Church History. The theological ideas that are supposedly "new" today are just repackaged stuff from the past.

When the Supreme Court reviews a case it searches for prior cases that were similar so the Supreme Court can rule accurately. Shouldn't we as Christians look to how the church has handled ideas in the past in order to help us think about how to handle them in the future?

I'm not saying that every Christian should be able to quote Augustine's opinion on every subject, or that every Christian should be conversant in the life of Pelagius, Calvin, Luther, Jerome, Athanasius, and everyone else who ever graced the ranks of dead theologians. But it is important for Christians to know who came before us, and where they walked.

Throughout the history of the church, people have been willing to die in grotesque ways for the things they believed. There's a reason they were willing to lay their lives on the line; the things they wrote were important to them. And they should be important to us too.

So pick up a book on Church history. "The Story of Christianity" by Justo Gonzalez is a decent place to start. The best outcome is that you'll be more confident in your faith, and confronting the errors that repeat themselves over and over throughout history. At worst, you'll get a good night's sleep.

NOTE: Kari and I sold our house today, which is a huge answer to prayer along with a cause for even more prayer. We'll be finishing up the semester, packing, and moving - all before December 20th. Pray for us. And check back often. If Kari gives me a break from packing I'll continue with numbers 3, 4, and 5 prior to the 20th. If not, I'll see you on the 21st.