What is the central claim of Christianity?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
elevator speech illustration

Prepare an "Elevator Speech"
Near the first day of sales training your trainer will ask you to give "an elevator speech." It's called that because there's tremendous value in being able to explain your product or service in the time it takes to ride in an elevator. To do so, you have to cut all of your usual verbiage down to the bare essentials. Also, you must tell your story from the point of view of the listener, explaining things in terms of W-I-I-F-M ("What's in it for me?"). When those elevator doors open up and the person you've been talking to walks away, he or she should have a fairly good idea of what you offer and why it is worth the price.

Just the Essentials
Let me give you my "elevator speech" about Christianity. These are the essentials. Although God created us human beings to share in His nature and to have a close relationship with Him, every one of us has rebelled against Him, choosing instead to go our own way and suffer the consequences. Those consequences are bad, including purposelessness, a sense of worthlessness, isolation and animosity, suffering, and, yes, death.

But God was willing to do something about our predicament. What He did was to send us His Son, who became a human being, modeled for us what it means to be pure, to love God, and to lovingly serve our fellow humans. More than that, He took upon Himself our guilt and paid the debt we owed by dying on the cross. Arising from the dead, He demonstrated that He has the power and authority to offer us His forgiveness and His righteousness in trade in exchange for our sins and defilement.

He wants us to trust Him with all of our being. This trust includes repudiating our rebellion, declaring before others our allegiance to Him, joining in a re-enactment of His death, burial, and resurrection so that the exchange can be made. Then He calls on us to follow Him for the rest of our lives in humble submission to the lifestyle and the mission He has in mind for us.

Not only do we experience a closer relationship with Him, but we also have a close fellowship with all other human beings willing to obey Him like we have. His promise is that our relationship will just get better and better until He transforms our mortal bodies for glorified ones that are just like what Jesus received when he arose from the dead.

Christocentric Message
That's pretty much it. As the elevator doors open, did you notice that Jesus Christ Himself is the central theme of the "elevator speech"? Someone long ago noticed that when you take "Christ" out of "Christian," what do you have left? I-A-N, which stands for "I am nothing," or in the Texan dialect, "I ain't nothin'."

Without Christ, I am nothing. But with Him, I am all I was meant to be, all God designed me to be. With Him, "I can do all things through Him who enables me" (Philippians 4:13).

What About W-I-I-F-M?
What's in it for me? How about forgiveness and a high and noble a reason for living? How about a world-wide support network and a burning message of hope and healing? How about confident anticipation that pierces the dark grave and an expectation of eternity in union with a loving God? What about discovering glimpses of His likeness in your personality even now, and the secure promise that as you follow Him, those glimpses will coalesce into His likeness? What's in it for you? Getting to where you no longer ask such an ego-centric question and ask instead, every day for the rest of your life, "What's in me for Him?"

Now It's Your Turn
See if you can write your own "elevator speech" about being a Christian. Or if you are not a Christian, write about what you are instead. Your own personal elevator speech will help you clarify your thinking regarding who you are and what you're about.

Want to go deeper?

The New Testament authors furnish us with several succinct summaries of the gospel message similar to what I call the "elevator speech." Examine each of the passages in this sampling:

  1. Luke 24:44-48
  2. Acts 10:36-43
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
  5. Titus 2:11-14
  6. Titus 3:3-8

Now see if you can find some on your own.

Recommended for purchase:

Dennis E. Johnson. Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures P & R, 2007.

Edmund P. Clowney. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Crossway, 2003.

Edmund Clowney. Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament.coffeehouse book P & R, 1989.

Matthew Paul Turner.The Coffeehouse Gospel: Sharing Your Faith in Everyday Coversation. Relevant, 2004.

Robert G. Tuttle. Can We Talk? Sharing Your Faith in a Non-Christian World. Abingdon, 1999.

Recommended for online reading:

Gordon Cooke. The God of Glory Thunders: A Christ-Centered Devotional Exposition of Psalm 29 (Evangelical Movement of Wales, 2006).

Benjamin Franklin (1812-1878) – "What Must Men Believe to Be Saved?"

As always, I don't necessarily agree with everything these books teach. Part of "going deeper" is developing your own spiritual discernment. It's good to "taste-test" before swallowing.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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Judgment Day: Ready for That First Knock?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

christ knockingIf the preacher got up next Sunday and announced, “Today’s sermon is on Judgment Day, the Day of Reckoning,” would you flinch, or at least slump a little in your pew? We usually think of the “Day of Reckoning” or “Judgment Day” in a negative way.
But if you are a Christian, forgiven of your sins, and dedicated to loving and serving the Lord, why should you have this reaction? For you, and for all others throughout the world who “walk in the light as He is in the light,” the Day of Reckoning will be a bright day, a glorious day, a day of joy, something to anticipate with even more gladness than your high school graduation or your wedding day.

In Luke 12:35-37, Jesus uses a wonderful illustration to describe the Day of Reckoning for believers. He describes servants waiting for their master to come home from a party. They have their lamps burning. They have tucked the ends of their long robes into their belts so they can run quickly. And they are eagerly waiting because they want to open the door for their Lord at His first knock.

They wait and wait. They have to retrim their lamps. But the Master has not come home, and their beds are calling to them. Yet they stay up, and they keep each other awake when one gets drowsy.

What does this tell you about these servants? Isn’t it enough for them to go to bed as usual and then jump up as soon as they hear noise at the front door? What difference does it make if the Master has to wait a few moments longer? Their self-imposed vigil tells us that they love their Lord. They are thinking about His needs and what would please Him, even give Him as pleasant surprise. So they stay awake, maybe pinching themselves to do so, as the long hours slowly pass.

When they finally hear that knock, they are ready. They fling open the door to find the Master with his fingers still closed into a fist, raised to knock again. With joyful smiles one ushers him in while a second leads the way to the couch by the table as the third brings out the tasty meal they have prepared for Him.

But the Master has His own surprise. Touched by their evident love, He refuses to recline at the table. Instead, He makes them sit down, and the Master becomes their Servant, attending to them as they eat!

What a beautiful picture of the dynamics of love that operate in the relationship between the redeemed and their Redeemer! What a day to look forward to!

How are you trimming your lamp today? What are you doing to anticipate your Master’s return? What can you do to demonstrate to Him the love in your heart? For all of Christ’s servants, the Day of Reckoning is a wonderful coming-home. Are you ready to open the door on His first knock?

Want to go deeper?

This parable of love and anticipation occurs paired with its opposite (Luke 12:42-48), a servant who showed disdain for the Master by abusing both his position and his Master's other servants. We cannot use the positive parable to justify universalism; the two balance each other. Yet we too often focus on the negative.

Recommended for online study:

Godet's commentary on Luke 12:35ff: Godet, rightly I believe, resolves the apparent discrepancy between this parable at that in Luke 17:7-10 by different perspectives.

Plummer's commentary on Luke 12:35ff: Plummer rejects as a parallel to this parable the custom of the Saturnalia in which masters and their slaves trade places. He also discusses the varying ways Jews and Romans counted the night watches.

Recommended for purchase (in order of increasing depth):

barclay parables book

William Barclay. The Parables of Jesus (1999) – A good introduction and a quick explanation of the major parables. Barclay is provides the Jewish background and for makes helpful, practical applications. His readability is uniquely superior.

Robert H. Stein. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus (1981) – Investigates how the parables have been interpreted begining with the early church fathers, continuing through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, and concluding with recent critical discussion. He establishes basic principles for interpreting parables, demonstrates how to apply these principles, and organizes the parables under four major themes: the Kingdom of God as a present reality, the Kingdom of God as demand, the God of grace, and final judgement. Excellent resource!

Klyne Snodgrass. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (2007) – Introduction provides a historico-cultural context for Jesus' parables by surveying similar literary forms found in the Old Testament, other Jewish writings, and the Greco-Roman world. Also discusses whether parables have allegorical features. Snodgrass then covers 31 of the parables found in the Synoptics and discusses parallels in the Gospel of Thomas. In appendices, Snodgrass discusses the meaning of the Greek word parabole and its corresponding Hebrew term "mashal" and then classifies the parables of Jesus accordingly.

As always, I don't necessarily recommend everything these books teach. Part of "going deeper" is developing your own spiritual discernment. It's good to "taste-test" before swallowing.

Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com
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