Is Jesus the only path to salvation?

The following comment and question was posted on my main blog on a recent entry, “Message for Oklahoma Christians: Muslims are NOT our enemies.” The comment was:

I have one thing to ask of the people who claim their respective religion is the “only” path to God, and that is to ask themselves what happens to people who are atheistic or of the “incorrect” religion, but are truely [sic] good people? Does this mean that they are never saved, never loved by God in heaven (or whatever you believe happens when you die)?It is an interesting question, one that I have wondered often, especially when some christians claim that the path to God is only through embracing Jesus.
Jeff – a high school student who stumbled on this article

Here’s my response:

Jeff: Great question.

In the case of Christianity, I go back to what CS Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity.” A lot of people want to put Jesus in a box and say something like, “He was a good moral teacher but not the Son of God.” Lewis says Jesus was either a raving lunatic or exactly what he said he was: God on earth. Jesus in his teachings was clear about “the path to salvation” being through a narrow gate. This is a HUGE stumbling block for many people who consider themselves Christians today, but have a more unitarian / universalist view of salvation. It may sound much nicer to say “all religious roads lead to the same path” but that is not what you’ll read in the Bible. So a fundamental question to answer for yourself in this regard is, “Who do I believe Jesus was and is?”

Jesus, of course, did not endorse a terrible list of evils which have been perpetrated throughout time in his name: the inquisition, the crusades, actions by white supremacists, etc. These are big issues that keep many people from understanding Jesus and his message as well.

Christianity is differentiated from all other religions in the world in one significant way: Grace. In every other faith, you’ll learn about how you need to work and “do things” to earn your way to salvation. For the Christian, a transformed life is one filled with good works for God– but salvation is not a result of works. You don’t find this in Islam, Hinduism, or any other mainline religion but you do in Christianity.

My encouragement to you is to keep seeking the answer to the question you’ve asked here, keep asking other people, and keep praying to God to open your eyes and reveal Himself to you. Read the Bible and seek God’s spirit through it, especially reading the gospels.

Ultimately there are MANY things we don’t know and can’t answer with certainty, even when we have a strong faith and conviction in knowing God. He is infinite and so definitionally He’s beyond our limited abilities to fully understand. This is not a cop-out, I think it’s actually wisdom which you will find with many “religious” people, Christian and non-Christian alike. This does NOT mean truth is relativistic and “unknowable” either, but it does mean we aren’t going to get everything figured out while we’re still all mortals on this planet.

If you see or hear someone who claims to be a Christian espousing damnation and a condemning judgement on others, in a hateful spirit, be wary. When you read about the life of Christ in the Bible, you learn he never acted that way toward everyday people. He was most severe and condemning when he criticized the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees. Believing that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and the “narrow gate” through which we are able to be forgiven and accepted by God does NOT mean we are to go around condemning everyone we meet who doesn’t believe the way we do. Jesus simplified all the laws in the Old Testament in these two commands: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. There’s not any condemning in those commands.

What would you say in response to Jeff’s questions?

Memorial at Ponte Vedra Beach
Creative Commons License photo credit: minds-eye

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Confident in God, not in ourselves

These words from the apostle Paul spoke to me most clearly this morning, in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12. In this context Paul is comparing the people of Corinth to the Israelites who God led out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

The world says, “Do it yourself.”

God says, “Rely on me.”

The world says, “Christianity is a crutch.”

God says, “You need a crutch, for your strength is insufficient for the challenges before you.”

The world says, “Do it your way.”

Jesus says, “Follow me.”

We all fall short of the glory of God. Thanks to his grace and mercy, we find forgiveness and strength. This day, for others and for myself, I pray we will all have confidence in God’s strength and God’s ability to see us through our struggles. Rather than focus on our own abilities and be confident in what we think we can do, I pray we put our faith and confidence in God.

He’s the pilot we need at the controls, and he’s a much better one than I am.

In Control
Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

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2010 Men’s Conference at Mo Ranch, Texas

Last weekend I had an opportunity to attend the 2010 Men’s Conference at Mo Ranch, Texas. Mo Ranch is a Presbyterian camp located in the Texas Hill Country. The following are three panoramic images I took during the conference with my iPhone using Pano.

Panorama at Mo Ranch

This photo shows the river area and the big water slide, which unfortunately was closed this year. Last year I went down it several times. It was very exciting!

Panorama at Mo Ranch

The BBQ on Saturday night is always a highlight food-wise. The brisket this year was some of the best I’ve ever had.

Panorama at Mo Ranch - Saturday BBQ!

The best parts of the men’s conference at Mo Ranch are fellowship and worship. The short video below of the men’s choir on Saturday night will give you a small taste of the experience. It really is wonderful singing with over 400 men and worshipping God together. Most of the songs we sing are in unison with just two leaders up front, but a choir practices during the weekend twice for this Saturday evening performance.

Choir singing at Mo Ranch

The Sunday morning sunrise service at the Men’s Conference is another highlight. It’s rare for me to get up this early and worship God with other men as the sun is rising, so this makes for special memories.

Sunday morning service at Mo Ranch

This year at Mo Ranch was particularly special because my father, Tom, was able to attend with me. This is a photo of us after the Sunday sunrise service. The original photo was a bit underexposed, so I tweaked it using ToonFX Paint.

Wesley and Tom Fryer at Mo Ranch

The monday morning after the Mo Ranch weekend, Dad and I were able to play 9 holes of golf before he drove home at Cimarron National Golf Club in Guthrie, just north of Edmond where I live. This was a REAL treat as well, even though I didn’t play very well! Best ball is a great thing at times like these.

Golf in Guthrie, Oklahoma

Golf in Guthrie, Oklahoma

Each day, every day is a gift from God. I am thankful for this past weekend’s opportunity to draw closer to God, my father, and other men from our men’s group in Edmond. The weather was perfect, and the time “offline” and in God’s beautiful creation was sorely needed by yours truly.

If there is any way you can attend I strongly recommend the annual Mo Ranch Men’s Conference. It’s always held in early May.

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Survey: 72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than religious’

The USA Today article, “Survey: 72% of Millennials ‘more spiritual than religious’” caught my eye today. From the survey of US residents:

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:

  1. 65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.
  2. 65% rarely or never attend worship services.
  3. 67% don’t read the Bible or sacred texts.
  4. Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

“We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church,” Rainer says.

Some days I definitely could be called a “mushy Christian” because I don’t open up my Bible. We live in the most distractible culture in history. We must be intentional to immerse our minds in God’s Word each day. I need regular reminders of this, and to do a better job making Bible reading a regular habit each day. All too often I find myself reading a LOT of content online, but not making the time to read God’s Word first. I need to resolve to check in with God regularly each day, and NOT make that something I “just” do on Sundays or Wednesday nights.

some food
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rushay

These are alarming statistics, and provide me with greater incentive to continue teaching youth Sunday school. We need to not only help our children and families understand and follow God’s Word, but also share it regularly with others who come to a church on Sundays and those who don’t. It all begins with our personal walk with God, however. If I’m not walking with and talking with the Lord each day, it’s not possible for me to authentically share him and invite others to know him.

Walking the walk as we talk the talk. It’s a daily challenge. Please pray for me and our family as we struggle to continue following God and seeking HIS will in our wide world of choices.

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Frank Martin and the Power of Prayer

Lots of people in my hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, are elated the KSU Wildcats are in the sweet 16. What most of them may not know, at least not yet, is the compelling backstory of coach Frank Martin’s battle back from death and the power of prayer. See Bill Reiter’s article in the Kansas City Star, “A real Manhattan miracle: Frank Martin recalls his brush with death” to read “the rest of the story.”

Hat tip for my mom for sharing this link.

Discussing Matthew 7:21-23

These were our discussion questions about Matthew 7:21-23 this morning in my men’s group. “What Does It Take to Enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”

1) Jesus envisions conversations that will take place “on that day.” What is the day about which Jesus is speaking?

2) What role does Jesus envision for himself “on that day?” How does that affect your view of and relationship with him?

3) What sums up “the will of my Father in heaven” which one must do in order to enter heaven? How do you make sense of the messages that we are saved by the work of Christ on our behalf and that we are saved by doing the will of the Father in heaven? Are these not contradictory statements?

4) To prophesy, cast out demons, and do many mighty works in Jesus’ name seems like a strong, spiritual pedigree. Why would Jesus reject anyone who has done these kinds of works in his name?

5) What then do you think Jesus means by his response to such people, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity…”?

6) What do you anticipate you will say “on that day” when you stand before Jesus?

REMIX of the Bible Book Bop by Go Fish

Last month our 5th graders shot video and photos to create a “remix video” of the song “Bible Book Bop” by the group Go Fish. We have posted this video as a YouTube response to the “official” music video version of this song, so Go Fish can officially approve if we can have permission to share this on the public Internet. This song is their “intellectual property,” so we need to get their permission. This was really fun to make, and hopefully will:

  1. Help us all remember the books of the Bible better
  2. Inspire us to think about the power of communicating with media, and our own abilities to use media (including video) to share the Gospel of Jesus
  3. Help us learn more about HOW to create with media and safely / legally share it online with others

Make sure you check out the original / official version of this “Bible Book Bop” video by Go Fish, and also visit their website at www.gofishguys.com. Go Fish rocks, and so do our students! 🙂

These are our song and image credits, which we included at the end of the updated video:

Video Credits

This original song is by The Go Fish! guys. Visit their website at www.gofishguys.com. Images used as the background for our green screen sequences were shared under Creative Commons licenses:

www.flickr.com/photos/dotdoubledot/1281864495

www.flickr.com/photos/mandj98/314192764

www.flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt/2217173388

www.flickr.com/photos/danielygo/3949411671

www.flickr.com/photos/loswl/3006536934

www.flickr.com/photos/20792787@N00/2720278372

www.flickr.com/photos/squarejer/522183263

www.flickr.com/photos/chrispollard/201911637

www.flickr.com/photos/iko/106957481

www.flickr.com/photos/martyworld/1464117348

This video was shot using still images from an iPhone GS and video from a Sony GSC-Websharing flash camcorder, and edited with iMovie ’09.

Cross-posted to our 5th grade BlastCAST blog.

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Humanity and Sin

These are my notes from Mateen Elass’ lesson on “Humanity and Sin” on January 27, 2010, at First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He is using a curriculum from:

www.reclaimingthemind.org

This is the course “Humanity and Sin.”

Tonight we are going to talk about how and when the human soul is created, and when it enters the body, and other questions….

MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS, THE REST HERE ARE NOTES I TOOK THIS EVENING. I’M ABLE TO TO DROP IN ON THIS CLASS TONIGHT, BUT WON’T BE ABLE TO ATTEND AGAIN FOR SEVERAL WEEKS.

Psalm 8

when was the soul created?
What part, if any, do our parents play in the creation of the soul?
Is the soul “inserted” into our body? If so, when? At conception?

3 main theories about the soul’s creation
1- pre-existence theory
2- creation theory
3- traducing theory

pre-existence theory
– souls / spirits are eternal and pre-exist the creation of their bodies
– sin nature can be attributed to the former state of existence in which the person sinned

this view is not Biblically supported, but is a common outcome of Gnostic Dualism

John 9: People ask about a blind man, who sinned in his family past
– it was a common Jewish view that souls before birth could do things (sins) that would result in judgement, manifested as a disease

Romans 9: 11 (around there) Paul is talking about Jacob and Essau, God chose Jacob over his brother before they came out of the womb
– God’s choice is not a matter of human choice or decision, it

There is no Biblical evidence that the human soul pre-dates conception

Adherents to pre-existence theory include Origen, Delitzsch
– 3rd Century Church Father (gnostics)

this view holds that souls pre-exist in space before they inhabit bodies

even though this view isn’t Biblically based, it DOES undergird Morman theology

Gnostics view the body as the repository of evil

Creation Theory is #2
– teaches God himself creates each person’s soul individually
– then God places the soul in the body

Adherents: Grudem, Hodge, Berkhof, Calvin, and Roman Catholics

Genesis 2: God fashions Adam’s body out of the earth, and breathes life into him
– that looks like the insertion of a soul / life giving force

Traducian Theory
– comes from Latin “tradux” meaning “inheritance, transmission”
– teachers the soul is created in and with the body by the parents
– God is the ultimate creator, but uses people intermediately or as secondary causes
– at conception a soul AND a body is formed
– so in this view an abortion would need an extra-ordinary justification, because it definitively says at conception the body and the soul is created

Adherents: Tertullian, Luther, and Jonathan Edwards

Louis Smeed argues the Bible always puts its message down on the side of life
– you always need an overriding reason to take a life
– it is always better to err on the side of life

Others say life enters the baby at “the time of quickening” when the mother can feel the baby moving inside her body
– some used to argue you didn’t have life until birth, this may have been the Jewish tradition

Hebrew concept of foreknowledge means that God decided to enter into a relationship of love with us before we were born

Jonathan Edwards is one of Mateen’s personal theological heros

In Mormon theology, there are lots of pre-existing “spirit babies” as well as “spirit adults” who have ascended
– Jesus and Lucifer, in Mormon theology, are spirit brothers at the same meta-physical level
– they believe historically Lucifer had a plan that was rejected by God they call father, and Jesus’ plan was accepted

Gostic Dualism dovetails well with “creation of the soul” theory
– it makes a separation between the body and soul
– the union of the soul / spirit and body with body is viewed as a temporary, necessary evil

Zechariah 12:1
“The revelation of the word of the LORD concerning Israel, The LORD– He who stretches out the the….

Hebrews 12:9 “…the Father of spirits…”

MY OWN THOUGHT AND ASIDE: I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT DOCUMENTS ARE BEING KEPT SECRET IN THE VATICAN LIBRARY 🙂

If God’s creation is good, how could the soul end up already tainted at the point of birth?
– reformed theologians argue our nature from birth is always away from God

Traducian theory better explains the inheritance of original sin and corruption as being handed down, in both body and soul, by Adam

In Roman Catholicism, infant baptism is the sacrament which is seen to deal with the problem of original sin
– this is why Catholic parents with a baby who is dying will ask for a priest to baptize the baby as well as perform last rites, the baptism is seen to clean the baby from sin s/he may have committed in their short life, while the last rites clean the baby so s/he will inherit the kingdom of God after death

MY THOUGHT: HAVING SOME FRIENDS WHO LOST A BABY IN THE HOSPITAL JUST AFTER BIRTH, THIS IS A SITUATION WITH WHICH I HAVE PARTICULAR INTEREST

Question: If God creates each soul directly, and each person is born sinful in both body and soul, then how did the soul become sinful? Did God create a sinful soul and then unit it to he sin corrupted body? This would make God the author of sin — not man.

Jonathan Edwards wrote a sermon about sovereignty of God, the conditions of life are not ultimately what destines a person to a particular fate
– look at Romans 9:18
– that sounds a lot like double pre-destination
– in the end it is a mystery, but God remains sovereign about the decision of who ends up in heaven and who does not

Biblical evidence, in terms of human beings charting our own course, sides with a view that humans are not born with a neutral nature with respect to God, but rather with a nature which turns away from God

total depravity means every part of human life is tainted by sin

in reformed theology, “free will” is defined as pursuing what you most want to do in life
– the nature of humans is to turn away from God
– we have all the freedom in the world to follow that master
– it is Christ who gives us the possibility of a new freedom, to no longer obey that old master (the flesh) and instead offer ourselves up to a new master (God)

we are slaves to sin until Christ sets us free
– until that day we think we are free, but our nature is cast or set in a direction that is opposite to God

There is field of thought which holds:
If you change someone’s behavior over time, you will change their way of thinking
– based in the idea of cognitive dissonance

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Angel Breakfast at The City Rescue Mission

This morning kids, family members, and other volunteers from our church in Edmond, Oklahoma, went to the City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma City for the Angel Breakfast. City Rescue Mission is a fantastic, ecumenical outreach ministry in downtown Oklahoma City. There were several elements to this event, which was designed for families staying at City Rescue. Some people went down early and cooked breakfast, and families from City Rescue and our church ate together at 9 am. After the breakfast, elementary and preschool students from our kids ministries program shared a 25 minute Christmas program in the City Rescue auditorium called, “The Fumbly, Bumbly Angels.” I recorded this program with my iPhone using the free Ustream for iPhone Recorder, and uploaded it to a new Ustream channel I created for “Eyes Right” when we got home. I could have uploaded this from on-site over 3G, but I knew the upload would be MUCH faster over our home wifi / cable modem connection.

Ready for the Fumbly, Bumbly Angels Performance

The Ustream iPhone recorder limits each recording to 10 minutes, so my recording of the program is in three parts. Because these video recordings show some of the members of the audience (currently staying at City Rescue) and we were only permitted to take photos/video during the event for personal purposes, I (unfortunately) am not able to publicly share these videos. I am sharing these videos on a password-protected Mobile-Me website with my parents and in-laws, so they can see the program. Ustream allows channel owners to download FLV versions of their videos, so after downloading these videos I converted them to QuickTime using the free program TubeTV.

TubeTV Progress - Converting Ustream videos

The most meaningful part of the morning for me was eating breakfast with a man and his son, who are staying at City Rescue. There are not many single dads there. He spoke Spanish, and I learned his son is 6 (as is my youngest daughter, who also ate with us) and he is from San Luis Potosi originally. We spoke all in Spanish. He said there are not many staff members at City Rescue currently who speak Spanish. His son was very excited to learn the kids were about to do a program, and immediately wanted to participate! I had my son speak with my wife, who was helping organize the children’s program, and she was able to get him part of a sheep costume so he could participate in the program!

I think this was a great ministry and outreach activity. There are so many things for which we should be thankful this holiday season, and it is so important to find ways to help others. I hope our Angel Breakfast this morning brought some joy to the families at City Rescue Mission.

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