Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Danger of the Roman Road

On planet earth, good things can be dangerous things.

Water for instance is a good and necessary gift from God. No one can live without it. But it can also kill you. In 2005 a fraternity was hazing a pledge by forcing him to drink cups of water and he drank so many that it washed all the salt out of his heart and he died of a heart attack. Some water is necessary, but five gallons is deadly.

The “Roman Road” is another example of something good that can be dangerous – and by the way, this could be true of any gospel sharing outline or program. But before I suggest a danger, I want to identify some good.

  • The Roman Road is the word of God that can save (Romans 10:17). 
  • The Roman Road is a good outline of some crucial gospel components. The Problem – 3:23 – “All have sinned.” The Substitutionary Solution – 5:8 “While were still sinners Christ died for us.” Death or Life? –  6:23 –  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Our Necessary Response – 10:9-10 – “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…”
  • The Roman Road is manageable and memorable.
  • Therefore, it is a good starting point to expand on God’s redemptive plan.
  • I have no doubt that God can, and has, used the Roman Road to save people.

As for the danger I have in mind, which is in many ways is also a strength, the Roman Road is a short-hand gospel, or a condensed gospel. We might call it a reductionist gospel.

Imagine that reading the book of Romans is like being on a sightseeing tour and every chapter is a city or point of interest that is worthy of our observation and consideration. Traveling the Roman Road is like taking a sightseeing tour but missing the first stop, the second, the fourth, the seventh, the eighth and so on, with a lot of stuff missed on the stops that were made because of the effort to simplify or stay on schedule (keep attention). Another way to illustrate the potential hazard of the  Roman Road is to imagine someone flying into a city and never leaving the airport but saying they have seen the city. Using these illustrations, we can guess that a lot would be missed and what is known is very superficial.

Let’s suppose we decide to take an unbelieving friend down the Roman Road, and so we show them that we all are sinners (Rom. 3:23), that Christ has paid our price (Rom. 5:8) and that there is hope for our insurmountable debt in Jesus (Rom. 6:23). Furthermore we show our friend how to respond to possess eternal life (Rom. 10:9-10). Our friend decides to accept the terms of the deal and goes on with their life, having no idea that Romans chapter eight, which we skipped, talks about the evidence the Spirit produces that is the proof the there was a legitimate transaction of sin for forgiving grace. Our little tour may have just cost someone their eternal life.

Someone might object, asserting that we would be trying to force a camel through the eye of a needle by trying to do too much. Or we would be asking people to drink out of a fire hydrant. Or they might say that we can’t say everything, every time.

And in response, all I want to say is that let’s make sure that we don’t say too little. Let’s make sure that we know the whole gospel so we can share the whole gospel (Acts 20:27). Let’s make sure we don’t gut the message of what God has done and wants to do.

After all, if all we needed was four passages, I suppose Paul wouldn’t have taken the time to write the rest of Romans.

One other thought. There are probably people who have said too little and run people into a ditch with no life-changing salvation, but I am afraid we have too many people that never attempt the Roman Road or any gospel proclamation. So let’s make sure we say something, but also make sure we say enough.

General Petraeus and Private Vs. Professional Matters

I was driving along in my automobile, listening to an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) about the General Petraeus Scandal, when I heard this quote from military writer, Tom Ricks:

Our standards have changed, I think, in a way that’s not for the better. We are very lax about enforcing professional standards and demanding professional competence. Yet somehow, we have become very insistent about judging people’s private, consenting relations with other adults. Link to the whole interview. 

When I heard this I immediately wondered: “Does he really believe what he just said?”

It may be true that professional military standards have fallen. Truthfully, I don’t know since I am no expert on the topic. I doubt, however, that people care more now about people’s private lives than they used too. If it seems that way, it most likely is the result of an unending and vicious appetite to fill a never-ending news and social media cycle. So I am not really sure people are more insistent about judging people’s private business, I just think there is more access to everything celebrity and scandalous.

This information age makes me glad that I am no a celebrity.

What’s troubling about Ricks’ comment, though, is that he seems to imply that what is done in one area of life has nothing to do with what is done in another. He seems to be suggesting that we should be able to live life in isolated categories that would allow for a person to cheat, lie and break promises to a person or persons, and then expect us to believe that actions over here, have nothing to do with what goes on over there. If a person isn’t honest with their spouse, a person they made a public covenant with before God, why should  a different result be expected professionally? I have a hard time seeing a clean divide.

I have been a General Petraeus admirer for a while, but  his unfaithfulness to the covenant he made with his wife causes me doubt the commitment he made to do what is right to defend our country against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. He may have still been able to be a fine CIA leader, but it does cause me to doubt. It is inevitable that his private life casts a shadow on his public life, and the same could be said the other way around.

Is this fair? No less than cheating on his wife is fair. We all will reap what we sow – whether now or later.

Here are a couple of other thoughts:

  • Ricks comments: “We have become very insistent about judging people’s private, consenting relations with other adults.” This makes adultery sound very harmless, but I can tell you who didn’t consent – Holly Petraeus. By the way, it’s not private. The commitment to covenant faithfulness is a public one and God is watching. If a person wants to pretend like God isn’t there, well, they will have to take that up with God.
  • We humans intrinsically want others to be committed and honest. We have a sense of justice about us that expects honesty from others. We have an internal moral compass – especially with what we expect of others. I think this is why  the unbelieving world hasn’t yet completely discarded marriage. Humans have an innate belief that commitment and honesty are virtuous things. If not, why then would anyone make a pledge to a lifetime of monogamous commitment? It doesn’t take a contract to procreate. Put yourself in Holly Petraeus’ shoes and ask whether her husband’s actions were just a consenting relationship among adults. No one that I know wants to be betrayed.
  • We humans are fallible creatures. As I said, I admired and thought highly of General Petraeus for his service to our country, but his fall is another stark reminder that we all are unrighteous and, therefore, we all need Jesus. We simply must not make idols of broken people. But neither should we assume that we all are destined to fail miserably. We are saved by faith in the gospel and not by works, so that no person may boast. But we are saved for good works of righteousness (Matt. 5:48). We have to navigate the tension without running into a ditch on either side.
  • We should pray for General Petraeus, his wife and our leaders. We would want that for ourselves (Matt. 7:12).

Throwing The Whole Church Under The Bus

Generalizations can be dangerous, and if they are made they ought to be acknowledged as such.

I recently heard a politician say in a press conference that the election results showed that the American People had spoken. I understand what was intended, but any reasonable person who just witnessed this last election cycle most certainly understands that the American people did not speak with a unified voice. In fact, the presidential election shows that we are a divided country with one party having a slight vote advantage. A more accurate statement would be: “A larger number of the American people agree with me (us) – at least this time.”

There are fair and helpful ways to use generalizations and there are unhelpful ways that distorts facts which hurt people – even eternally.

The church for instance often gets beat up by way of generalizations, and honestly, I have been guilty of it myself and have had need of repentance. Not only that, but the church sometimes is its own worst enemy in both what it does and doesn’t do. Make sure you hear what I am saying because I am saying it clearly; the church often is culpable for its tarnished image.

But I get tired of people throwing the church under the bus by way of generalizations that misrepresent the whole picture. Furthermore, what is devastatingly damning is that the gospel is undermined when the church gets thrown under the bus because Jesus does too. After all, Jesus is the Head of the church and the face for the church. When the church gets beat up, so does Jesus. It is bad enough that He was crushed for iniquity, but then, as though He hasn’t endured enough, we rough Him up even more so that perishing people can’t behold the beauty of His saving life, death and resurrection.

And yet I hear people generalize about the church in these ways: “The church doesn’t care for the poor.” Or, “The church has driven homosexuals away by treating the sin of homosexuality different than other sins.” Or, “The church has failed to be relevant.” Or, “The church is the problem when it comes to making disciples.” I’m sure there are many fill in the blank options.

What church are they talking about? Are they talking about local churches they know and have been a part of? Are they talking about the Church Universal? Are they talking about every organization that calls itself a church? Do they even know who it is they are talking about? And do they even know that if they are truly a Christian they are talking about themselves if they haven’t distinguished just who it is they are talking about? Surely the people that say and write unbecoming things about the Church Universal and about churches local; they must know they have contributed to the mess?

These are all important questions that have to be considered, because if someone concludes the Church Universal and all local churches are responsible for a whole problem, they almost certainly are wrong.

It is true that many local churches could do a better job at meeting the needs of others and loving others, but I know a lot of Christians from a lot of local churches who care about the poor and love all sorts of people who sin in various ways. Therefore, I simply reject any generalized proposition about the church with regard to its shortcomings that are unqualified.

In the future I will attempt to guard myself from making damaging generalizations about the  Church. If you are a Christian I would ask that you join me so that we don’t throw Jesus and each other under the bus, because we are His body (Eph. 5:30).

It’s Not Hurting Anyone So What’s the Problem?

“It’s not hurting anyone so what’s the problem?” Is this a tenable position for a person who professes to be a Christian?

Let’s start with answering this question: What is it that isn’t hurting anyone? You name it – any kind of thinking or behavior that is opposed to the righteous and written standard of God’s will. This is what we call sin. And most likely the person making the statement-question is referring to what they perceive to be a “private” sin that does no harm because it is seemingly private.

The only conceivable way the statement of no harm (“It’s not hurting anyone.”) can be true is if the person also believes there is no God. To make the statement and truly believe it, the person making it would have to be an atheist. Are you an atheist? If yes, you can make that statement based on convictions of faith about the existence of God. But if your answer is no and you say you believe the Bible, you are ignorant and wrong.

A Christian simply cannot make that statement about another person who is opposing God’s moral standard because it doesn’t matter how private and isolated it may seem, the thought or action will harm/hurt.

How and who will it hurt or harm?

It hurt Jesus, the perfect Son of God. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus was crushed for iniquity (Isaiah 53:5). The perfect son of God died as a criminal on a slaves tree for sin. Our sin is no private matter to Jesus for He bore our sin publicly. That’s not right and therefore that’s a problem.

It will hurt the person who is sinning because sin separates people from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Every sin is at least a sin against God (Ps. 51:4). Sin is a slippery slope that destroys the soul because when it is not dealt with, it often causes more sin. Because of sin we will stand before God, each one us, to be judged for deeds done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). Each of us will give an account  of himself to God (Romans 14:12). There will be accountability for every thought and action in the body and to let a person carry on in sin as if there is no consequence, is not loving. Turning a blind eye to the self-inflicted wounds of others is not doing what is best for them and that’s a problem.

It will hurt others. Isaiah 43:7 says we were created for the glory of God. That is our purpose and when we don’t live for that purpose we are hurting ourselves and when we hurt ourselves we will hurt others because we won’t help others glorify God. That’s a big problem, a wasted life problem.

Consider the husband or wife who “secretly” looks at pornography. Because it is done in the so-called secret (Pr. 15:3), it wont’ hurt anyone – right? Perhaps a better question is: How might it hurt others? Because lust is a sin (Matt. 5:27-30) it will cause a breakdown in a person’s relationship with God, and when we are not right with God we feel guilty, and when we feel guilty we don’t have Spirit-filled joy to love others, and when we don’t love others our human relationships begin to breakdown. Whatever is broken vertically in our relationship with God will filter down to our horizontal relationships. It is inevitable and any person who says otherwise is living in absolute denial. The sin may remain private on the horizontal level but it will damage horizontal relationships when God’s protective covenant instruction is disobeyed.

In summary, if a person professes to know God and believe in Christ, it is pure foolishness to utter the statement-question: “It’s not hurting anyone, so what’s the problem?” It’s a problem because God says it is a problem that is worthy of death (1 Cor. 6:9-11) and it will hurt others.

God could have looked at the little planet called earth, and concluded that the damage being done by humans was isolated to a very small part of His universe. He could have let us go our own way, but He didn’t. He sent Jesus who entered into the human experience minus sin, and He lived with us so that He might die for us. Jesus Christ took on our problems so that we could help others with theirs. Pretending other people’s sins are private matters is like the United States of American thinking it could isolate itself and therefore protect itself from the problems of Europe in the build-up to World War II.

I think we owe it to people to help them think when they say things like this. We don’t need to be hateful or condescending about it, but we need to have thought through these things ourselves and we need to be prepared to ask questions that help others think about what they are asserting. We need to have examples and illustrations that expose inconsistent thinking. We need to point people back to Jesus Christ and his death that displays how serious and public sin is. For the good of others, we cannot let people live out ignorant and self-centered worldviews that simply are not consistent with what the Bible teaches.

I would encourage you to watch this video to have a broader perspective about how sin harms.

What Is Morality Other than Harm? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Roger Hobart – An Isaiah 43:7 Man

Jason Denney wrote a wonderful blob about Pastor Roger Hobart. You should read it if you haven’t already. Jason’s Blog: Remembering a Friend…..Roger Hobart

This past Saturday we had a memorial celebration that was really more for family and friends. We wanted to give thanks to God and remember a life well lived. The text I spoke from was Isaiah 43:7, “Everyone who is called by My Name, and whom I have created for my glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” This was one of Roger’s favorite verses and Roger’s life was a testimony that resonated the truth of this verse.

Roger believed that he was created for the glory of God through Jesus. I can recall Roger saying this many times over the last several years and I saw him act like this was true in many different ways. Roger was an inspiration to me and many others and he leaves a God-exalting legacy that the rest of us can strive for while we still have breath.

On Saturday I jettisoned a bit of what I had prepared to say for reasons that need not be mentioned in this blog. I had intended to share what his daughter, Phyllis, wrote about him, but I didn’t and so I wanted to make sure her words were shared for the glory of God and the encouragement of others. As you read, dwell on Isaiah 43:7 and see if you see the truth of this verse in the life of Roger Hobart. Phyllis wrote about her dad:

I can tell you that Dad wants only to glorify God. period. I have never known anyone else like that. He made sure we all went to church since we were babies, in the Methodist church. We knew that God was important, that church was important, that serving the church and obeying God was important, because of his example.

He sang in the choir. That is impressive to a kid, to see their dad up there singing..especially a solo. “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” has always been my favorite, since that is the solo that I remember him singing. His father sang that solo, too. We have it on cassette tape.

Dad surprised me one day about 20 years ago, when he called and expressed his regret and sorrow at not being the Christian father he should have been, and asking my forgiveness. I had no idea he was not a Christian. He explained that he had been born again, into new life in Christ, and had realized that all of his church participation over the years had nothing to do with his salvation, that he had been headed to hell.

He became a student of the Bible and began tirelessly working for the Lord in many different ways, living out his new life in Christ. He exhibited great patience with people, kindness, generosity to all who asked for help, and always had a listening ear. He did not speak quickly, and I’m sure he prayed while listening, so that he would be able to give an answer full of wisdom and truth.

Because of the time he spent with God, he , like Moses, had a radiant countenance about him. If I ever saw a hint of impatience come from him, he would get quiet and then after a few moments offer words of kindness instead of impatience or critical comments.

What an example! How he glorified God with his life. He was humble, quick to forgive, and quick to apologize. He was generous with his “I love you’s”. He loved unconditionally, especially when we didn’t deserve it, just like Jesus. As I read Bible verses, I often think, “that is just what Dad did”. He truly exhibited the life of Christ, even if he couldn’t see it in himself. He loved to sing praises and hymns. It filled him with joy and satisfaction.

I know that his big ol grin is permanently fixed on his face now. I can only imagine what he must be experiencing!! wow. Thank you, Jesus. How can we ever thank You enough??

What a legacy! So I write also to give thanks to God for Roger Hobart and that I had the privilege of knowing him and partnering with him in ministry. He was an Isaiah 43:7 man.