If Jesus is the WAY, what about those who've never heard of him?

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 9:30 AM

My sermon message on January 27, 2012, is entitled, "Jesus Is The Way." In it, I try to show that all religions are not essentially the same. In fact, it's not only unfair to say that about Christianity, but it's unfair to say that about other religions, too.

I have reached the conclusion, as I share in my message, that Jesus really is the only way to God, as Jesus himself claimed in John 14:6. I know for some folks this sounds narrow-minded and arrogant, but I don't say this with arrogance but, instead, great humility. If you're interested in hearing my message and how I reached this conclusion (based, in part, on some material by author Less Strobel), click on the message title above to hear a podcast of the message from Gateway's website. 

I did raise one issue in my message that I didn't have the time to address in the sermon - What about those who live in isolated places, who have never had a chance to hear about Jesus? What's going to happen to them? Is the door to heaven closed to them? 

This is a challenging issue to face, and it certainly drives Christianity's focus on world missions and translating God's Word, the Bible, into every known language. My question becomes a non-issue if a person has had an opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ because Christ followers have intentionally sought every tribe and culture and people out. But even as I write this, there are still some on our planet who have not had that privilege. So, how do we face this?

Frankly, God hasn’t told us all we’d like to know about this. Yet, we do know a few things.

1. The Bible tells us that everybody has a moral standard written on their hearts by God, and that everybody is guilty of violating that standard.
Romans 1:19 (NLT): “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts.”

That’s why virtually every culture in every time and place has had many similar laws and rules—killing another person is always wrong. That’s why our conscience bothers us when we do something wrong.

2. The Bible tells us that everybody has enough information from observing the world to discern that God exists, but people have suppressed that and rejected God anyway — for which we rightfully deserve eternal separation from Him.
Romans 1:20 (NLT2): “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

If you’ve ever been in the mountains or some other beautiful spot on earth, or watched an incredible sunset, you’ve probably said what millions of others have said—there must be a God!

3. We also know that those who sincerely seek God will find Him.
Jesus: “…seek and you will find…” (Matthew 7:7 NIV)

In fact, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is seeking us first, making it possible for us to seek God. And this says to me that people around the world who respond to the understanding that they have and who earnestly seek after the one true God, revealed to them through God's creation, will find an opportunity, in some way, to receive the eternal life that God has graciously provided through Jesus Christ.

4. There’s something else that’s reassuring, too: God is completely fair and just.
Genesis 18:25 (NIV) asks, “…Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

It’s comforting for me to know that each person will be judged uniquely and justly, according to what they know and what they do with that. After being judged by a righteous God who deeply loves every person on this planet and always desires the best for them, no one will be able to walk away claiming that he or she had been treated unjustly.

We know that apart from the payment that Jesus made on the cross, nobody has a chance of getting off Death Row. But exactly how much detailed knowledge a person has to know about Jesus or precisely where the lines are drawn for those who have never heard of him, only God knows.
1 Corinthians 4:5 (TEV): “So you should not pass judgment on anyone before the right time comes. Final judgment must wait until the Lord comes; he will bring to light the dark secrets and expose the hidden purposes of people’s minds. And then all will receive from God the praise they deserve.”

5. And, finally, nobody will be excluded from heaven solely because he or she has lacked some information.

The reason people will be denied admittance is because they have told God that they can live just fine without Him, whether by intentionally admitting this or choosing to remain ignorant of Him. On Judgment Day, God will say, “Based on your own decision to live apart from Me, you will now spend eternity apart from Me.”

God won’t violate our free will—He won’t force us to follow Him. But, the Good News is that through Jesus Christ, God has offered to each one of us the gift of love and forgiveness. 

Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT2): "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. "

Let God in, and let Him work through you to transform our world and help every single individual on our planet know Jesus Christ!

Jesus Is ___

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:58 AM

On Sunday, January 13th, I preached a message that set up both a new sermon series but also our entire year at Gateway. I have felt God leading us to focus on Jesus Christ this year, and the message below (somewhat edited), is intended to set up the year. I am including it in my blog because of a number of requests for not just the podcast but to have the actual information.



How much do we really know about Jesus? Gateway’s mission is to lead everyday people to become fully devoted followers of Christ, and to do that means we’ve got to know who this guy is. Yet, his invitation to be a disciple of his was and always has been pretty simple.

Mark 1:16-18 (NLT2): “16One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ 18And they left their nets at once and followed him.”

He simply says, “follow me,” but who is this guy that invited Simon and Andrew - and you and me -  to follow him? Why does he matter, and what difference does he make?

Sometimes, when I look around at a world that sees children shot in Connecticut, and either starving or taking up guns in Sudan, and baby girls being aborted in China and other countries just because they are girls, it’s easy to wonder if Jesus really matters, if he’s made any difference at all. But last August I heard Pastor John Ortberg at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit share from a book he wrote, Who Is This Man?, about this man named Jesus in a way that just blew me away. (The book The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey also includes some similar thoughts.) Not simply about the obvious stuff, like when we talk about him being Savior and Lord – there’s so much more. He’s woven into the fabric of our lives in ways most of us don’t even realize.

Let me share some of the things Ortberg and others have pointed out about Jesus. On the day Jesus died, it appeared his story and influence was over. He had not written a single book, traveled further than a hundred miles in any direction, and was abandoned by his closest followers even before his death. But strangely enough, that’s when his influence really started to grow.

Ortberg points out that normally, when someone dies, their influence and impact begin to diminish pretty quickly. “Someone wrote that ten years ago our world had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, and Steve Jobs; now we have no Jobs, no Cash, and no Hope.” (Who Is This Man, p. 11)

Yet, surprisingly, Jesus’ influence was greater 10 years after his death than while he lived. His influence had spread much further and wider a 100 years after his death. It was greater still 500 years after his death, and after a 1000 years his legacy laid the foundation for much of what is now Europe. Now, after nearly two thousand years his followers account for approximately one-third of all the people on this planet – over 2 billion!

Just across just the state of Texas people live in cities such as Abilene, Corpus Christi (literally means, "the body of Christ"),  Corinth, Palestine, Paradise, Petersburg, Shepherd and Trinity. Yet, if Jesus had not lived, the names of all those cities would likely be different. Today, the names of Caesar and Nero (Roman kings), if used at all, are for pizza parlors, dogs, and casinos. Across the U.S. and around the globe you cannot look at a map and not be reminded of Jesus. (ibid., p. 12)

In the past, powerful rulers dated the calendar around their lives. Roman emperors dated events according to the years of their reign. They marked past history by the founding of Rome itself. (ibid., p. 13) The Soviet Union tried to date time from the deposing of the tsar that theoretically gave power to the people. The Gospel writer Luke gives us an example of this as he dates the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 3:1 (NLT2): “It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor.…”

Jesus’ active ministry lasted only three years. Yet, I was born in 1957 A.D. (Anno Domini, "the year of our Lord"), or 1,957 years after Jesus was born. You and I cannot look at a calendar or date a check without being reminded that his incredibly short life and ministry career have come to mark the dividing line of history. As one writer put it, Jesus is the "hinge of history" – time in much of our world is measured according to before Jesus was born and after he was born.

No one knows what Jesus looked like. There are no first-hand drawings, no paintings – there aren’t even any physical descriptions of him by either his enemies or his followers. Yet, Jesus and his followers became the most frequent subjects for art in the world. He has been portrayed in movies, and more songs have been written about him than anyone can count.

Books make the New York Times Best-Seller list because they sell hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies, but each year the book that is at its core about Jesus, the Bible, sells tens of millions and prints for free distribution tens of millions more. It was removed from the Best-Seller list long ago because nothing else ever comes close. According to Harvard professor Harvey Cox, “the words [of the Sermon on the Mount] (found in Matthew chapters 5-7) are the most luminous, most quoted, most analyzed, most contested, most influential moral and religious discourse in all of human history. This may sound like an overstatement, but it is not.” (ibid., p. 62)

The second most translated book in the world is Don Quixote, and it has been translated into 60 languages. The most translated book is the Bible, and it has been translated into over 2,500 languages, and the number is growing every year. People pray in Jesus’ name, worship his holy name, and even swear with his name.

Jesus never wrote a book, yet he and his followers impacted learning and education perhaps like no one else. The Jewish law’s greatest commandment was to love God.

Moses: “‘And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.’” (Deuteronomy 6:5 NLT2)

But when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, he repeated this passage with one addition.

Jesus: “‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’” (emphasis added) (Mark 12:30 NLT2)

Jesus added the word “mind,” and to love God with all of our mind begins with being curious about God. (ibid., p. 64) Jesus’ followers believed God created everything, that God thought up everything. Therefore, anytime we learn something that is true, we’re actually thinking what God has already thought, and so we’re getting to know Him better. Learning can become an act of worship, whatever it is that we learn, which is why Jesus’ followers have always loved the truth. Jesus said the truth will set us free; Augustine said, “All truth is God’s truth.”

When Rome collapsed to the barbarians and the western world entered the Dark Ages, there were few books and no libraries. For centuries, monasteries, made up of followers of Jesus, were the only institutions in Europe that were seeking to find, copy and preserve ancient, classical documents. Get this – “The single greatest preserver of pagan classical documents was followers of Jesus.” (ibid., p. 65; emphasis added)

Monastery in Armenia

Monasteries became places of great learning as the monks tried to integrate Christian truths with pagan learning.

“From monasteries came universities. The beginnings of today’s faculty system were scholars who formed self-governing guilds, licensed by the pope to have sole authority to grant degrees. The first university was established in Paris around the twelfth century, and Oxford and Cambridge began in the thirteenth. (The motto of Oxford University is from Ps. 27:1: ‘The LORD is my light.’)” (ibid., pp. 65-66)

Oxford University's Shield, taken from Psalm 27:1: "The LORD is my light."

More universities sprung up by followers of Jesus so people could more and more love God with all their minds. Gutenberg invented the printing press to put the Bible in more people’s hands. Martin Luther emphasized the New Testament idea of the priesthood of all believers, so he believed every person needed to be able to read so they could study the scriptures for themselves, since we are all now priests.

In America, the first law that required education for all was in Massachusetts in 1647, and it was called, believe it or not, “The Old Deluder Satan Act.” It said, “It being one chief product of that Old Deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures…; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers.” (ibid., p. 66) Again, here was the belief that all should learn because ignorance is a tool of the devil, and God is the God of all truth.

Harvard University was begun by the Puritans only 6 years after landing in Massachusetts, marking the first of many colleges in America begun to serve the cause of Christ. All but one school started before the American Revolution was Christian based, and 92% of the first 138 colleges and universities founded in America were begun to teach American students about an uneducated Carpenter.

Much of the reason science became important in our world is owed to followers of Jesus. Princeton professor Diogenes Allen wrote, “We have begun to realize from its very birth, science owed a great deal to Christianity.”

Christians, unlike Plato, believed that matter is good, since God created it. So, to study matter is good. The world was created by an orderly and rational God out of chaos, so it became reasonable to believe that order, reason, and law could be used to describe nature.

NASA's Kepler Telescope

In 2009 NASA launched the Kepler Telescope, named after Johannes Kepler, a great mathematician and astronomer of 400 years ago. The Kepler Telescope was launched to detect planets orbiting distant stars, and as of a few days ago, it had detected “2,740 possible Earth-like planets orbiting 2,036 stars,” leading scientists to conclude there are billions of earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. (GlobalPost.com)

Listen to what Kepler himself wrote: “God, like a Master Builder, has laid the foundation of the world according to law and order. God wanted us to recognize those laws by creating us after His image so we could share in His own thought.”

Mechanical clocks were invented by monks so they would know when to pray. We first learn of the invention of eyeglasses from a sermon around 1300, created by monks to help them see as they pored over texts. Only in the last couple of hundred years has anyone even imagined that learning and science could be at odds with faith, and that certainly has not been the pattern over most of the last two thousand years. 

Many great scientists today still trust and follow Jesus, such as physician-geneticist Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project and currently serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins has written that he considers scientific discoveries as an “opportunity to worship.” (Wikipedia)

Dr. Francis Collins

Jesus’ concern for all people changed the face of medicine and health. The common practice in the Roman Empire when an epidemic struck was to run. In the 3rd Century an epidemic of what may have been smallpox was decimating the population, with reports of up to 5,000 people dying daily in Rome alone. Yet, one group of people did not run, because they remembered that they followed a man who would touch lepers who were unclean, who told his disciples to go and heal the sick.

Dionysius, a third-century bishop of Alexandria, wrote: “Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ….” They did this because they remembered what their Master had taught them.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 (NLT2): “35‘“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”…40…“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”’”

The idea that “the least of these” could somehow be treasured, that outcasts and the sick and the poor and the marginalized of society mattered, was revolutionary.

In ancient times, those with leprosy were shunned and isolated because there was such fear of the disease. But a church father named Basil had an idea: “What if we build a place to love and care for lepers. They don’t have money. They don’t even have to pay for it. We’ll raise the money.” And that was the beginning of what came to be known as hospitals. 

In fact, the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must also be a hospice for the caring of the sick and the poor. They were the world’s first voluntary, charitable institutions. (ibid., p. 40) That’s why today so many hospitals are named St. Luke’s or St. John’s or Methodist – out of a fundamental Christian concern for the sick and poor.

Methodist Hospital, Houston

“Another follower of Jesus named Jean Henri Dunant couldn’t stand the sound of soldiers dying out on a battlefield after they had been wounded, so this Swiss philanthropist said he would devote his life to helping them in Jesus’ name. That started an organization in the 1860s that became known as the Red Cross. Every time you see the Red Cross, you are seeing a thumbprint of Jesus.” (ibid., p. 40)



Pastor William Booth and his wife Catherine began a ministry in London “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.” (Salvation Army) From that beginning would come the Salvation Army, which has helped millions around the world.



“Jesus never held an office or led an army.” (ibid., p. 15) In fact, he claimed his Kingdom was not of this world. He was crossways with the law throughout his public ministry, and eventually the Romans crucified him. Yet, the movement he began would eventually bring to an end emperor worship, be cited in documents such as the Magna Carta, and began a tradition of common law.



It is because of his movement that these words were penned into our country’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the ancient world it was clearly not “self-evident” that all people were equal. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle didn’t think all men were created equal. He wrote that inequality – masters and slavery – was the natural order.

“The child in Bethlehem would grow up to be a friend of sinners, not a friend of Rome. He would spend his life with the ordinary and the unimpressive. He would pay deep attention to lepers and cripples, to the blind and the beggar, to prostitutes and fishermen, to women and children. He would announce the availability of a kingdom different from Herod’s, a kingdom where blessing – of full value and worth with God – was now conferred on the poor in spirit and the meek and the persecuted. People would not understand what all this meant. We still do not. But a revolution was starting…” (ibid., pp. 31-32)

Even names like John, Mary, Luke, Martha, Paul and Peter are common because of Jesus. I challenge you to see if you can get through even thirty minutes without coming into contact with some influence of Jesus on us and our world today. Just take a few moments to see if it’s even possible to imagine our world without Jesus’ influence.

People’s influence fades after they’re gone, but Jesus’ influence only grew with time, in ways no one could have predicted, and in fact, in ways many today don’t even realize. From the measurement of time, to education, to medicine and health, to government, to equality of all people, Jesus has profoundly affected our world – whether you are a follower of his or not. Jesus really is the most profound influence in our world today, so he’s definitely worth reading about and studying and following and even worshiping him.

I hope you’ll stay with us as we spend this entire year focusing on Jesus, getting to know him better than ever. I hope you will join us on an incredible journey and discover more about who Jesus is and why full devotion to him makes sense and will transform your life.



Gateway’s Mission, Values & Strategy

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 9:16 PM

As we begin 2013, I want to share Gateway Community Church's Mission, Values and Strategy. But I don't want them to simply words on a page. I'd love to see us begin a conversation about how we as Gateway can bring these to life; how each of us can bring these to life. I'd love to hear from you about your thoughts and ideas. I'll also be adding some more thoughts throughout the week, so keep checking back, or better yet, subscribe to my blog so you can get the latest! Randy


Mission

Gateway’s Mission: to lead everyday people to become fully devoted followers of Christ

Our Mission is not simply the work of the corporate church, but the work of each individual member of the body of Christ who considers Gateway their church family. Our Mission requires each of us to take action, to lead, that we might accomplish it – it’s not up to the staff or a few key leaders and volunteers; it takes all of us – each one of us, doing our individual parts as the hands and feet and voice of Christ.


Values

  • Authenticity – We come as we are to Jesus and his church. We don’t try to cover up our faults and failings, but instead confess them and lay them at the feet of Jesus for his forgiveness.
  • Relationships – Spiritual growth and ministry occurs best through relationships (with God and others), and healthy, existing relationships often help us discern where God is leading us to act.
  • Servanthood – Servanthood is a lifestyle, an attitude, a way of being that puts others first, as Jesus did, and seeks to serve them. Servanthood demonstrates itself in Serving, Surrender and Sacrifice.


Strategy

Our Strategy, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is to Reach those disconnected from God, Heal those who are hurting, and Grow both ourselves and those with us to become fully devoted followers of Christ (more and more like Jesus).

  • REACH – we believe God raised up Gateway from it’s beginning to help connect people to God.
  • HEAL – we believe God has raised up Gateway to be a place of spiritual, emotional, relational and physical healing.
  • GROW – we believe God is raising up Gateway to lead everyday people to become fully devoted followers of Christ, to become more and more like Jesus, which, in fact, is who we were created to be.