Christianity 201

January 10, 2019

A Compelling Invitation

by Clarke Dixon

What do Chance the Rapper, Snoop Dog, Blake Shelton, Avril Lavigne, and Justin Bieber have in common? Beyond perhaps that they sing music you do not like? They have each expressed more than a passing interest in Christianity in recent years. They have this in common with 2 billion other people today, and a further few billion throughout the last two millennia. There is something compelling about Christianity. What is it? Why has Christianity stood the test of time? Why has it weathered every storm, from within and beyond?

Some have said that Christianity is appealing to people who need a crutch. Perhaps that is what is compelling. However, people like C.S.Lewis, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace have found it compelling for other reasons. Thinker C.S. Lewis became a Christian through thinking it all through. Journalist Lee Strobel became a Christian through a journalistic inquiry. Cold case detective J. Warner Wallace considered the evidence and became a Christian. None of these felt any need for a crutch. They, along with many, many others, have found Christianity to be compelling.

When it comes to providing compelling answers to important questions, Christianity is like a banquet. I am reminded of an invitation Jesus speaks of in Luke 14:

16 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ Luke 14:16-20 (NRSV)

An invitation was given to great dinner. But some fluffed it off. While billions of people have found Christianity compelling why have billions of others not? Some things to think about:

People can be distracted by chip trucks.

You are invited to a great dinner, but on the way you drive by a chip truck. You have heard the french fries there are really good. You stop and your appetite is satisfied. “Please make excuses to the dinner host, I cannot come now.” This kind of thing happens with regards to worldview. When a worldview answers a few of the questions of life well, people may not feel the need to look any further. It is like enjoying great french fries at a chippy daily, yet not realizing what delightful foods are being served elsewhere.

To give an example of this, consider those worldviews that make reference to karma. The idea of karma gives a compelling answer to the question; “why do good people suffer?” The answer is that good people who suffer now must have been bad people at some point, likely in a previous incarnation. They are now working off bad karma. There is “cosmic justice” after all. The righteous really are rewarded and the evil really do suffer. Some people find this way of looking at things compelling. It is a nice tidy answer. However, how well do the karma-focused religions answer all the other questions? For a worldview or religion to be truly compelling it must provide compelling answers to many questions. In the weeks to come we will be looking at how Christianity provides compelling answers to many questions.

People can be distracted by various religions, which may offer good answers to some questions in the way a chippy can offer some tasty food, but what about those who say they just don’t believe anything?

Dinnertime comes for everyone.

Those who refuse the invitation to the great dinner are not saying “I refuse to eat.” They are saying “I refuse to eat what you are offering, I will eat something else.” All people have a way of looking at things. All people have some perspective on religion and “religious” truth. It is sometimes said that only people advancing religion who hold a burden of proof. As a Christian I don’t mind shouldering a burden of proof. There is good evidence for the truth of Christianity. It is compelling. However, anyone advancing any kind of perspective has the same burden of proof. The atheist who says there is no God and the agnostic who says it cannot be known if there is a God or not, will still need to give reasons why their perspective is compelling. All people have religious views. God invites all people to the banquet. All people need to think through their response to the invitation. All people need to explain why they find their choice compelling.

We focus on the food and forget about the host.

Think of someone you would not dream of declining if they invited you to lunch. Perhaps it is a loved one you have not seen in ages. Perhaps it is a celebrity you adore. Whoever it may be, you excitedly accept the invitation no matter what is on the menu! Now consider that God Who has revealed Himself in the Bible is far greater than that person in every possible way. The dinner is not that important after all. Being with the host is!

In the great dinner parable told by Jesus, the initial invitees are too wrapped up in themselves to go. Jesus told this parable to people too wrapped up in themselves to care about him. The scribes and the Pharisees could not, and would not, grasp the identity of Jesus. He did not fit what they thought the Messiah should look like. In the parable there are those who are initially invited, who then make excuses and decline. These represent the Jewish elites, invited by God to participate in what He is doing, yet who decline the invitation to participate in what He is doing through Jesus. Watch what happens next:

21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:21-24 (NRSV)

The religious leaders did not respond well to Jesus, but everyone else is invited! We are reminded of these words from John, chapter 1:

11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13 (NRSV)

While we will be looking at many reasons Christianity is compelling in the weeks to come, the most compelling thing about Christianity is not a thing at all, but a person, Christ Himself. Yes, the food is really great. But it is really about the host!

In the parable of the great dinner the master sends his servants to compel people to come to his banquet. It is funny that the servants would need to compel people, for there were already compelling reasons to go! It is a great meal, it is free, there is great company. You are invited to the table of the Lord. On the first Sunday of every month we invite people to partake of the Lord’s Supper, a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s body broken, his blood shed for forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. There are compelling reasons to say yes to the invitation to the table. The invitation to be reconciled to God through Christ is a compelling invitation indeed.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

March 20, 2017

He Wants Us to be With Him in His Glory

Tomorrow, I’m posting a review of a new collection of C. S. Lewis works wherein I noted that  Lewis wrote: “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.” Today’s devotional contains the wedding banquet theme presented in many depictions of the end times.

To do so, we pay another return visit to the blog of Gordon Rumford, one of the most faithful devotional writers online. I think the example by which he frames this best illustrates what Jesus is saying in the prayer which forms the key verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Who do you really wish to be with?

“Father,
I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory.”
John 17:24 (NIV)

 

View in your web browser here

I often am enlisted to drive one or another of my grandchildren somewhere. Occasionally it is to church but mostly to or from school. It is a great opportunity to engage them in conversation and learn more about their world and how they see it. I love this time and am thankful that I live close to them in order to be with them so frequently.

Some time ago I drove one of them to a banquet at school. Then, when the time came, I picked her up to drive her home. When my granddaughter got into the car she enthusiastically said that she had won an award and showed me the plaque with her name inscribed and a description of her achievement.

I knew that the banquet was only for the students and staff but I still expressed my disappointment that I could not be there to hear her name called and see her on stage to receive the honour. I was very proud of her and her diligent work to gain such recognition.

It is such a pleasure to see those we love recognized and honoured in front of their peers. To be able to say to others I am related to the person honoured brings such joy to our hearts.

This is what Jesus is getting at in our verse today. He has troubled the disciples by saying He is going away and now He lets them hear His words indicating He wants them with Him where He is going. He adds to that request the reason He wants them with Him.

It is a concern to Jesus that His people see Him in all His glory. Since Jesus humbled Himself by leaving heaven and becoming a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” He now wishes the disciples to see the eternal glory He would re-assume in heaven.

Many of us have invested loved ones in heaven. They have gone ahead to be with Jesus and we wish to be reunited with them. This is indeed a good thing to wish for in our lives. It will be a grand reunion and there will be so much to catch up on and share at that time.

However there is a wonder in heaven that goes far, far beyond the reunion with loved ones. It is to see Jesus Who is the centerpiece of heaven. Ultimately it will be Jesus will Who receives the attention and praise. Anna Cousins… puts it like this:

The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Who do you really wish to be with? Jesus indicates that those whom the Father has given Him are those who will be with Him. Have you decided that Jesus is the One you really wish to be with? He invites you to come to Him and be one of His chosen people for all eternity. Will you come?


Further reading: As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the earlier words of Jesus in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you… I will come again and receive you unto myself.” (Yes, I know, KJV is how I memorized it as a child!) As it turns out, just a few days prior, Gordon Rumford wrote another devotional based on a verse in that same passage.

July 10, 2016

The Called and the Chosen

•••by Russell Young

An understanding of the difference between the “called” and the “chosen” will bring Biblical teachings into much clearer understanding.  “Calling” can have different applications.  It may refer to a person’s having been called to Christ, it may mean that he or she has been called to endure a specific tribulation (as in the case of Job), or it may refer to a person having been called to a specific ministry according to his or her gifting.

In the parable of the wedding banquet Christ said, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14, NIV) Clearly, more are called to enjoy the wedding banquet of the Lamb than will be chosen to attend.  The difference will be the matter of righteousness.  In the parable mentioned above, the guest without “wedding clothes” was cast out. (Mt 22:12)

The chosen ones are chosen from those who have been called into fellowship with the Lord.  From those who have been invited few will be honoured or chosen for positions of privilege.  Those chosen to attend the wedding banquet will be selected because of their commitment to righteousness.

Who are the “called”?  All have been called to come to the Lord for cleansing, but not all have received the invitation.  As in the parable, God has commissioned His servants to go to the street corners and invite anyone that they can find.

The called who have accepted God’s invitation through confession and repentance are cleansed of all past sins and are given the Holy Spirit that they might walk righteously.  Many teach that once a person is redeemed, his state of holiness or moral purity remains one of consecration forever.  The Bible does not endorse such a view, however.

Peter wrote of the redeemed who have become entangled again being worse off than if they had not known the way of righteousness in the first place. (2 Pet 2:20-21) They are neither morally blameless nor are they consecrated to God, but have chosen to go their own way. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the “impossibility” of bringing back to repentance those who have fallen away. (Heb 6:4-6, NIV) They have been redeemed but have treated with disdain their gifting.

When a person is redeemed, he or she is cleansed from their “past sins;” however, that one’s state of holiness might not last.  There is a walk to be walked and a life to be lived.  John has recorded, “If we claim to have fellowship with him [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6-7, NIV) The fellowship that a person is privileged to enjoy with the Lord is dependent upon the nature of his or her walk.  Paul admonished believers not to mock God through living in the sinful nature. (Gal 6:7) The Lord proclaimed that some would be cast from him because they were evil-doers even though they had called him “Lord.” ((Mt 7:21-23)

Paul has reminded his brothers, those who have been called, that they have an obligation to be led by the Spirit and to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:14, NIV, 4; Gal 5:18)

There are many other passages that imply that not all of the called will be of the chosen.  Those who teach otherwise are offering false comfort, rather than truth, to their listeners.

To re-state the Lord’s words, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.”  Since there are more called than chosen, there are two ways of taking this passage.  That is, the chosen must either be of a group separate from the called or the chosen must be from the group of the called or invited but not all of it.

Called and Chosen

If two different groups are being referenced, it might be considered that some were “called” to be of the family of God while others were chosen.  That is, God might have directly chosen them according to his “foreknowledge” to be part of the family.  In such case, they would have become part without even having had to respond to His invitation while the other group would have been invited (called) but would not have had any hope of being chosen.

The other option is that God had called (invited) individuals to be part of his family but they must respond or accept the invitation.  (They would have had the option either to accept or reject it.)  From these and according to his foreknowledge, or knowledge before having chosen them, and according to his understanding he makes his choice.  According to the love responses of the called, God becomes informed of the confessor’s heart state and of his claim of repentance as revealed through his testimony.  God “knows” or becomes “knowledgeable” of that person’s spiritual disposition.  His Spirit is either being honoured or it is being quenched, denied, and/or blasphemed.  “Forsaking” the Spirit is considered blasphemy (Ezek 20:27) and leads to death.  Regardless, fewer are chosen than are called.

Some accept that by their good fortune and through God’s grace and mercy, he chose them before the beginning of time to be a member of his eternal family; however, this special application of God’s grace is not the teaching of God’s Word.  All have been invited (Rev 22:17; Titus 2:11; Mt 28:19) According to Paul’s teaching, “God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13)

Although many understand Paul’s teaching of glorification to apply to all of those “called,” the passage really only offers hope of glorification, to those “called according to God’s purpose.”

In the parable of the wedding feast, the King had noticed a man who appeared at the banquet without proper wedding clothes.  This man was being disrespectful of the King’s standard of dress and of the King, and failed to acknowledge or to honour him through acceptable presentation.  He had taken no care and had shown no concern regarding the event or the person being celebrated.  He did not show up with an attitude of love or respect for his King but had treated the event and his Sovereign as common and ordinary.  He was thrown outside into the darkness.  The dress required for access to the wedding banquet is a white robe, the dress of righteousness.  Only those so dressed will be chosen to participate in the wedding banquet. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)