A Famous Christian Loses Faith

Demolition-HouseIf you don’t follow Christian authors and news, perhaps you’re not familiar with the name Joshua Harris. In 1997, he wrote a book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” In it he instructed young Christians in how he thought they ought to live a life of holiness. It was all the rage in Evangelical churches back then.

Fast forward a couple decades and things have really changed. Just recently, Harris announced that his 21-year long marriage is ending and that he is no longer part of the Christian faith (he was a pastor).

It’s easy to sit back and judge from the outside. There’s something natural in our flesh (human-ness) that revels in seeing exalted people fall. If you’re not familiar with my favorite word ever, look up schadenfreude. So I’m trying hard not to find pleasure in the downfall of someone with whom I really disagreed in theology and praxis. And, while it’s easy to think of jokes about Harris and easy comparisons to kissing and Judas, at my core I think I’m more saddened by the whole situation.

It’s tragic any time a Christian falls away from the faith. The fact is that none of us know a person’s heart or way of thinking. The Bible makes it clear that there will be “Christians” who leave. John warned the Church about this almost 2,000 years ago:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19).

Jesus’s famous “parable of the sower” in Mark 4 goes like this:

The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Ultimately it comes down to this: it’s not our place to “save people.” God alone works on the hearts of humanity. Not everyone who claims to be part of the faith is going to make it to the end. That is tragic. Jesus’s words seek to comfort us when we see people respond poorly to the gospel (or not respond at all). Since we do not know how every story will end up, we can take a breath and relax – we don’t have to work on people’s hearts. All we have to do is be faithful to God’s call on our lives. Yes, this includes sharing with people the hope that we have in God and what our faith means to us (that dreaded word EVANGELISM), but we don’t have to take it personally when people reject the gospel.

All we’re called to do is follow God as best we can and trust Him to do the rest.

I don’t know how Joshua Harris’s story will end. He might reconcile with his wife and return to Jesus. He might never reconcile but still return to Jesus. He might stay apostate the rest of his days. Only God knows, so I’ll try to tamp down the judgment and simply pray for him and his family.

May God’s grace and mercy cover us all and keep us close to him.

What do you think? What’s your gut reaction when famous Christians “fall away” from faith? Have you ever experienced a “deconstruction of faith?” Do you wonder why I use so many quotation marks??? Share your story in the comments and share the article on social media. 🙂

Why You’re Going to Hell: Part I

Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of bandrat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a young youth pastor. For the record, it was not the youth pastor at my church. He made the statement:

“The sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than any one thing in our time.”

If you’re not familiar with the Sinner’s Prayer you can read about it here.

In a nutshell, it’s a prayer that Christians (usually pastors or evangelists) walk non-Christians through on the path to following Christ. Billy Graham’s version went like this:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.

What?!? How on earth could such a prayer send people to hell? The youth pastor is a young man, and young men tend to be very fiery in their speech. His point, though, was that repeating a few sentences after a pastor does not save you.

Time out.

What’s all this talk about saving? If you haven’t been in the church your whole life you may be wondering what on earth we’re talking about. Simply put, this life is not the end of existence – it is only temporary. Upon death we leave this life and begin the next. Depending on your spiritual condition you’ll be “saved” and in eternity with God or “lost” and in eternity apart from God.

Now, back to the prayer. The young minister was trying to express the fact that reciting words does not mean that one is saved. It’s not a magical incantation. Many people believe that if they simply say the words then they are guaranteed salvation and eternity in heaven.

But the Bible never says that you have to say magic words to get to heaven. The Bible does say:

– To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

– Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

– For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The Bible is clear that there is only one way to eternity with God, and that is through faith in Jesus. It’s not about Mohammad. It’s not about Buddha. It’s not about doing or saying the right things (works). It’s about our faith in Jesus. The youth pastor I was talking to was frustrated that too many people say the magic words, think they’re saved, and then stay exactly the same they always were.

Authentic, saving faith goes beyond reciting words – it’s about faith and the condition of our hearts, and that saving faith results in a changed life. Jesus once said:

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

Pastors, evangelists, and churches do a good thing to share the truth about eternity and salvation with people. It is a good thing to bring people to an understanding and a saving faith. Then the Sinner’s Prayer becomes a useful tool for expressing that faith.

If you’ve ever said the “magic words” for fear of going to hell, saying the words won’t save you – you’ll still end up in hell if all you have is mere words.

The prayer itself doesn’t save.  Our faith does.

Stay tuned…in Part II we’ll look at why a loving God will send sinners to hell.

Related Posts:
Why You’re Going to Hell: Part II

Christian Dirty Words

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Oh, sure – every knows dirty words. Words that we all know but make people REALLY uncomfortable when you start using them. Comedian Tim Hawkins even has a bit making fun of the 101 most common “Christian swear words”

But one of the dirtiest Christian words you’ll ever hear is…wait for it…


Yup. A dirty word. Maybe the worst. It’s so bad because it makes Christians and non-Christians squirm. That’s a powerful word that can do that!

~ It makes Christians squirm because the word is always used in conjunction with someone telling us that we’re going to have to talk about our beliefs with someone else. Dang. Don’t get me wrong – we KNOW that it’s not a bad thing. Really, we do. But not all of us are hard-wired to be the up-front, let me tell you what I think kind of person.

And yet, to some degree, that is something we are all called to be part of in some way. It’s a crucial component to making disciples. One of the last things Jesus said was that his disciples were to go out and create more disciples (replication), teaching people to observe everything he commanded. So there’s that. The Apostle Paul goes on to state:

How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:14-15a)

No, the Bible makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to be silent about our beliefs. Rather, we’re supposed to be actively engaging the world around us and helping to develop more disciples who follow Jesus. But again – it makes us squirm. We don’t want to have to talk about it. What if people think we’re…odd?

This is often the push-back Christians give when this dirty word comes up. What will people think? It shows the unfortunate trend that we care more about how the world perceives us than we care about carrying out what Jesus told us we’re supposed to be all about. Part of our problem is that we view evangelism as an unnatural event – like door-to-door sales. We freeze when we think about door knocking. But evangelism doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that evangelism normally SHOULDN’T be like that.

Evangelism SHOULD take place within the context of natural friendship and conversation. Nothing strange or unnatural about it. It’s about looking for windows of opportunity in everyday life into which you can direct spiritual conversation.

I was in seminary when I learned that evangelism was supposed to flow naturally from relationships rather than the door-to-door model. I was taking a class on evangelism and one of the assignments was to – GASP – go talk to people about Jesus. The introvert within me froze. I was discussing the class with my wife one night as we were on our way out to dinner for a Valentine’s Day date (this was before we had young kids and never went out again). She mentioned that anyone can do it if it’s a natural extension of conversation. I didn’t buy it.

As we were sitting at the front of the restaurant waiting to be given a table, a young couple came in and sat next to us. They were roughly our age and were our exact same racial profile (brown woman/white man). My wife immediately turned to them and struck up a conversation.

“NO!” I thought. “I know what you’re doing! You’re trying to show me this evangelism stuff first-hand.” She was, and she was a natural at it. I couldn’t let her show me up, so I decided to engage in the conversation as well. It turns out that natural conversation is a much better place to bring up spiritual issues than a “bashyouovertheheadwithmybeliefs” confrontation. We ended up making friends and a couple weeks later had the couple over to our place for games and dessert!

Evangelism doesn’t have to be a dirty word for Christians if we don’t let it be one. Stop thinking of it as confrontation and start thinking of it as natural sharing within the context of your already established contacts (co-workers, neighbors, friends, family, etc.).

~ Evangelism makes non-Christians squirm for a different reason. Those outside the church don’t want to hear about faith because they don’t want to feel judged. Many people in our world have a live-and-let-live attitude. You believe your thing and I’ll believe mine. Just don’t ask me to believe your thing. Talking to an evangelizing Christian makes non-Christians squirm because Christianity makes people choose: Your way or God’s Way.

This is what the world dislikes about Christianity – it is an exclusive faith. The Bible is clear that all roads DO NOT lead to heaven. The Apostle Peter once preached:

“There is salvation in no one else [than Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You can’t be good enough and work your way to heaven. You can’t follow some other religious beliefs and still find the One True God. No – Christianity is exclusive. One Way – Jesus. This concept makes many modern non-Christians uncomfortable. Actually, it makes many Christians uncomfortable as well – we don’t want to “rock the boat” and make people feel bad. So we don’t say anything.

But we cannot afford to be quiet. The noted atheist magician Penn (from Penn & Teller) relates a story about being confronted by a Christian man who gave him a Bible and shared about Jesus. While the magician was not converted he did appreciate the fact that this Christian man kindly sought to have a conversation about Jesus. The atheists’ perspective: If you really believe that your way is the right way and that other ways are wrong why WOULDN’T you tell everyone?

That’s the question. What do you believe? Do you believe what the Bible says about the only way to the Father is through Jesus? Do you believe it when it says that salvation is a gift of God’s grace through our faith in Christ? If we do believe it then why aren’t we telling people?

We don’t have to tell people in an obnoxious way. Too many Christians forget tact and graciousness when talking about faith. Why can’t we be winsome while we talk about Jesus? Sure, some people will always be offended at the truth of the Gospel, but we can’t help that. But we can make sure that we are looking for every open window to talk about Jesus to a world that’s lost without Him.

How about you? Do you find it easy or difficult to converse with people about what you believe?

Related Posts:
~ The Effective Gospel is the Simple Gospel
~ Fallen From Grace
~ Sharing the Gospel
~ Do Your Friends REALLY Care?

Do Your Friends REALLY Care?

Ain't Nobody Like This Buddy
Ain’t Nobody Like This Buddy

Are you a good buddy? Do you consider yourself to be a friendly person? What’s the difference between acquaintance and friend? Do you have a close friend? Do you have a friend that is so close that the friend is, in some regards, closer and dearer to you than family? Now, how far would you go for a friend?.

Would you go out of your way and drop what you’re doing in order to help out a friend? When our oldest child was born, we had several friends who went out of their way to help us out. I was at the hospital with my wife while friends went to pick up my mother-in-law at the airport. That night, I stayed at the hospital with my wife and the baby. We gave my wife’s car keys to her mom who was going to sleep at our place.

After her mom had been gone for about 15-20 minutes I realized that her key ring didn’t have our apartment key on it. Mom couldn’t get in! One of my closest friends and his wife lived around the corner of the hospital and he was kind enough to drive me home so we could let Mom in the door and then drive me back to the hospital. There is something humbling about asking and receiving help from friends. But I have found that many times friends don’t mind helping out if you genuinely need it!

Would you be willing to destroy someone else’s property in order to help out a friend? How far would you go, and where do you draw the line? One time Jesus was back home from his travels, probably to rest before getting back to work. But people had heard that he’s back in town and they swarmed Jesus’ house. And some guys bring a crippled friend and, in an effort to get to Jesus break through the roof and lower their crippled friend right down in front of Jesus.

Now we’ve got 5 major players here: Jesus, the crowds, the crippled man, the crippled man’s friends, and the teachers of the law (who were there probably to evaluate and assess who Jesus was and what he was doing and saying. Listen to the story and specifically think about the story from the teachers of the law’s point of view.

Several days later Jesus returned to Capernaum, and it was reported that he was at home. So many crowds had gathered that there wasn’t any room left for them, even in front of the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them when some people came and brought him a paralyzed man being carried by four men. Since they couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof over the place where he was. They dug through it and let down the cot on which the paralyzed man was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some scribes were sitting there, arguing among themselves, “Why does this man talk this way? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

At once, Jesus knew in his spirit what they were saying to themselves. He said to them, “Why are you arguing about such things among yourselves? Which is easier: to say to the paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your cot, and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then he said to the paralyzed man, “I say to you, get up, pick up your cot, and go home!” So the man got up, immediately picked up his cot, and went out before all of them. As a result, all of the people were amazed and began to glorify God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

It would be great if we could really get inside the heads of the people in this story. Can you imagine being able to ask them questions about what they experienced that day?

Jesus, it seems to me that you simply wanted some peace and quiet at home. Maybe put your feet up, munch on some fish and chips…. How did it feel to have so many people pressing around you invading your personal space? How did you feel when these yahoos ripped apart your roof so you would see their friend?

Teacher of the law, why were you there? What did you expect to find? Why were you so offended at Jesus’ comments about forgiving sin?

I’d have to ask the friends of the crippled man, “What were thinking when you carried your friend over to Jesus’ house?” Do you think it was fair to be cutting in line when so many people wanted to see Jesus that day?

To the crowd, “What was it like being there on that day?”

I’d ask the crippled, well, formerly crippled, man, “Did you have any idea what your friends were planning that day? How does it feel to have such good friends that they would go to any lengths to get you in front of Jesus?

I guess it really comes down to this; with whom are you going to choose to identify? Clearly, we can be Jesus. Many of us have had an encounter with Jesus already. That means we are left with 3 characters with whom we could identify. You can be 1) the spectators, 2) the judging legalist, or 3) the friend who stops at nothing to take his friend to meet Jesus.

Don’t be the spectators. They’re just coming to see the show. They don’t really care about what is happening. Don’t be the judging legalist. He’s never understood what Jesus was up to. I love the line where Jesus says, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk?”

Which is easier? What happens if you say, “Your sins are forgiven” but you’re wrong? Who notices? What happens if you say, “Get up and walk,” but you’re wrong? Who notices? It’s MUCH easier to SAY your sins are forgiven. But Jesus doesn’t hide behind anything. He says, “So that you know that I have authority to talk about the forgiveness of sins, watch this – Get up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the teachers of the law are left with egg on their faces.

We don’t want to be mere spectators. We don’t want to be the teachers of the law. We want to be the friends. How far would you go to take your friends to meet Jesus? Would you carry them? Would you break through buildings? We all know hurting and crippled people who need Him. How far are you willing to go to bring your friends to Jesus?

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