Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Twelve Crazy Days of Christmas

Last year just before Christmas, I viewed a short video called The Twelve Crazy Days of Christmas. What this video was trying to depict was how our modern celebration of the Christmas season is driving us crazy with all kinds of stuff that really isn’t important. In the end, we miss the joy of Christmas. Here’s the truth: God never intended for it to be this way. This is not what Christmas is supposed to be like. The angels on that first Christmas night proclaimed “Peace on earth and goodwill to people” not “have a very crazy Christmas”. You see, God on that first Christmas was really proclaiming that Christ had come to take the craziness out of the world and out of our individual lives. Christmas is for peace and joy and hope. Christmas is an expression of God’s love. How could such an expression become so crazy?

This month I would like to briefly focus on some key things to reflect upon as we approach this Christmas season. My hope for you this Christmas is to experience not “crazy days” but joyous ones as we celebrate the great gift from God – the coming of the promised Messiah who is our Lord Jesus Christ! While space will not allow for an exhaustive look, I do want to highlight a few key Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah (Christ) that were made about 700 years before the birth of Jesus but were fulfilled in His coming and therefore, give us reason to celebrate.

1. God’s Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), to be born of a virgin, and to be called “Immanuel – God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). This prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:20-23, Matthew 2:4-11).

2. God’s Messiah would come to save the entire world (Isaiah 49:6-7 and 61:1-2). This prophecy was fulfilled in the life of Jesus (Luke 2:8-32, John 3:16-17, Hebrews 1:2-9).

3. God’s Messiah would provide salvation by dying for our sins (Isaiah 53:2-12). This prophecy was fulfilled in the death of Jesus (Matthew 20:28, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Peter 2:23-24).

Here’s the thing: Christ didn’t come to bring chaos to our lives. He came to bring peace, love, joy, and hope. He was born, He lived, and He died for that purpose. This is what Christmas is all about.

Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to fix this crazy world. These prophecies clearly demonstrate that fact. So why does this world still seem so crazy? Here’s the truth: The world will remain crazy until everyone in it understands and accepts who Christ is, why He came into this world, and allows Him to have control of their lives. But until that happens, those who profess Him as Lord do not have to live a crazy life and certainly shouldn’t experience craziness at Christmas. The reason Christ-followers have so much craziness in their lives is because they have too much of this world and too little of Christ in their lives.

Jesus promised that we can have real life. Not just any kind of life, but rich, abundant life (John 10:10). That means a full and complete life of peace, love, joy, and hope. This full and complete life can be experienced now even as we live in this crazy world. If you want less craziness in your life, then all you need to do is put more of Christ in it! The world around you may not change, but you will. This is good news. But here is the really good news - He also promises that He will come again and make all the craziness disappear for good. That’s God’s promise for those who have accepted His Good News in this life. God has kept all His promises in the past and so we can have absolute confidence that He will keep this one as well.

This is why we can celebrate Christmas. God promised and delivered the greatest gift of all. Christ, Immanuel (God with us), has come. Those of us who have put our faith in Him can celebrate the gift of peace, love, joy, and hope in this life in the midst of all its craziness but also we can celebrate that He will come again to give us eternal peace, love, joy, and hope in a new world void of all craziness. This great gift from God is meant for everyone. All you have to do is to accept and open the gift.

If you would like to know more about putting Christ into your life, drop me a note at richard@exploretruthministries.com. Have a most joyous Christmas!

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who put the "good" into goodness?

Here it is a week before Thanksgiving and the Christmas ads are already on TV. Wow, it seems that it was only yesterday that we were celebrating the 4th of July. I guess we all better start putting our best foot forward if we want something other than coal in our stockings this Christmas. There’s even an old children’s song that warns us Santa has his eye on us so we had better “be good for goodness sake.” We really do need to be good - don’t we? But it shouldn’t matter if Santa is coming or not because it isn’t Santa who sees us when we are sleeping and awake and knows if we have been bad or good – it’s God. So we really do need to be good.

Recently one of our local news broadcasts had a story about an atheistic/humanist group that has paid to have this idea of being good placed on the side of the buses in the Washington, DC area. It says something to the effect: “You don’t need to believe in God. Just be good… for goodness sake.” The idea is that we don’t need God this Christmas (or any other Christmas). We only need to embrace being good. Regardless of whether you agree with this ad or not, we do need to understand what it means to be good because unless we do, we will never be able to have peace on this earth. So this month we want to address the question: Who put the good into goodness?

Here’s the problem I have with the ad from the atheistic/humanist group: How can we know what good is if we don’t believe in God? Their statement is at best inconsistent and most likely an oxymoron because there can be no good if there is no God. You see, the only way we can know “good” is to have some absolute standard that transcends ourselves against which we can measure our understanding of good or else it has no meaning. It would only be someone’s opinion and who is to say which opinion is to be valued over another’s? What’s good to you may be something entirely different than what represents good to me. That’s why we find people who are like Mother Theresa and Adolph Hitler in this world. Goodness can never be determined based upon what we find in the world because what people actually do should not the basis for what they ought to do. If it was so then people should always lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc. as well as giving to the poor, helping people from burning buildings, etc. because that is what we find happening in the world. What we ought to do must be based on an absolute independent benchmark other than ourselves or this world.

The only absolute independent benchmark that could possibly work is God because He is the only one who is truly good. The Bible makes it clear that not only is “goodness” one of the attributes of God (Ps. 100:5, Ps. 119:68) but there is no one who is “good” except God (Luke 18:19). So you see, without God there is no absolute independent benchmark for the meaning of “good” because there is no one who is good except God. Therefore, goodness has no value or meaning apart from God.

One could argue that there must be some goodness found within the nature of man. That is true. In fact, since we are created in the image of God, goodness is one of those Godly attributes that has been designed into us. It is this moral compass for knowing right and wrong that serves as one of the proofs for the existence of God. How is it then that we still struggle so much with being “good”? You see, while that built in attribute of goodness serves as a moral compass, it won’t, by itself, help us to be consistently good. Here’s the truth: Even though we are created with the attribute of goodness, it has been flawed by our sinful human nature. Since we are flawed, it is nearly impossible to have anything but a self-centered understanding of goodness without looking back to God.

This is where the ad from our humanist friends falls apart. You see, because we have a selfish nature we can’t just be good for goodness sake. We may want to be good but we can’t do it without the understanding of what God intended for goodness to be and also without His power to make it a reality in our lives and in this world. We can’t just be good for goodness sake because we need God in order to be good. This Christmas seek to be good, not for goodness sake but for the sake of all humanity remembering that only God is the unflawed source for goodness and He provided the best example of it in the life of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ where we find both the understanding of and our power for doing good. Have a very good “Christ” mas!

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who Made God?

A while back I preached a sermon on proof for the existence of God. During the message I noticed a young boy kept raising his hand. Not wanting to interrupt the flow of my message, I simply ignored him even though he persisted in raising his hand throughout the entire sermon. Following the message, I was surprised that the boy accompanied by his mother cornered me in the back of the church. The boy was not about to let me off the hook. He wanted his question answered. Even before I could ask him what was on his mind, he blurted out “Who made God?” Now to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting a boy of maybe eleven at best to have such a question. But the truth is people of all ages struggle with this question. It is the question that agnostics as well as theologians often ask. Everyone wants to know the answer even if they already truly believe in God. This then, is the question I want to address in this month’s teaching.

So, who did make God? According to noted theologian and apologist Norman Geisler, no one made God because He was not made. God has always existed. Logic dictates that everything that had a beginning had a beginner. Since God did not have a beginning, He did not need a beginner. Not only that, He is self-existent. That means His existence is not dependent on anything other then Himself. Therefore, it really is meaningless to even ask the question about who made God. If God is self-existent and as such could not have been made, then that question is really asking “Who made the unmade?” And that is a meaningless question that has no answer.

But didn't something cause God? Everything has to have had a cause -right? The law of cause and effect states that every effect had a cause. Therefore, everything we know was caused by something and that something was caused by something else. So where did it all begin? What caused the first something? There must be a first cause that wasn’t caused. It all had to begin somewhere. Whether you are an atheist or theist, you must address this issue. This is what is referred to as “infinite regress”. At some point, we must get back to the first uncaused cause. Was it the universe? No, since we now know that the universe had a beginning so it had to have had a cause as well. Was it the elements or gases found in the universe? Where did they come from? What was the first cause of it all?

What is the best answer to that question? Here’s the truth: only those things that had a beginning had a cause. Since God did not have a beginning, He did not need a cause. He then is the only thing/one who can be the ultimate beginner – that first uncaused cause. This uncaused cause of all things is who we call God. This makes God and only God necessary since He is needed to begin it all. The universe and everything in it is not necessary outside of serving God’s purpose and plan. In the end, we must answer the question about the first uncaused cause. What is the best answer? Is it some yet undiscovered force within a finite and unnecessary universe? Or is it the self-existent God who is infinite, eternal, and necessary? Logic and reason dictate that only God can be the answer.

To learn more about answering the question “Who made God”, I recommend you read the book by Norman Geisler and Ravi Zacharias, Who Made God and Answers to over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (Zondervan, 2003) and the book by William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Crossway Books, 2008).

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

So who is this Jesus?

My last couple postings talked about becoming a disciple of Jesus. Well, maybe we need to understand a little more about who this Jesus really is if we hope to become His disciple. Notice I used the verb “is” rather than “was”. Jesus is very much alive. No dead prophet can ever effectively serve as our master. A true disciple can only be produced from someone with whom we can have an active relationship and whose voice we can still hear.

So who is this Jesus? Most people believe that Jesus is a prophet and/or great teacher. Surely He is both, but that isn’t what makes Him someone whose disciple we want to become. Here’s the bottom line: Jesus is God and as such He serves as the ultimate example for us to follow. Yes, He is fully human but it is the fact that He is also fully God that makes Him worthy of following.

So how can we know that He really is God? Here are seven key biblical teachings about the Christ (Messiah) that prove that Jesus is God:

1. Jesus is the Messiah prophesized in the Old Testament (Rom. 1:2-3, John 19:28, Rev. 5:5). In fact, Jesus fulfilled over 70 Old Testament prophesies concerning the Messiah many of which were required to be completed prior to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70. Therefore, Jesus is either the Messiah (Christ) or there will never be a Messiah.

2. The Old Testament has numerous references to the Messiah (Christ) being called God (Yahweh and Elohim) and even God refers to the Messiah as being Yahweh which is God’s covenant name (Isa. 7:14, Isa. 9:6-7, Isa. 40:3, Zech. 12:10).

3. Jesus even equates Himself with God (John 8:19, John 8:56-58, John 10:38).

4. The attributes and abilities that are applied to God in the Old Testament are applied to Jesus in the New Testament (Isa. 43:11, Isa. 43:25 and Isa. 44:24 compared with Mk. 2:7-10, Acts 7:59, Matt. 28:16-17, John 5:21, John 5:22,27, Titus 2:13-14, Col., 1:16).

5. Christ eternally existed with and as God and created all things (John 1:1-3, John 6:38, John 8:54-58, John 17:4-5, Phil. 2:5-7, Col. 1:15-17, Heb. 1:2, Rev. 22:13).

6. Jesus was supernaturally conceived and born of the Virgin Mary and lived a sinless life while on earth (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:18-25, Isa. 53:9, John 8:46, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15, Heb. 9:14, 1 Pt. 1:18-19, 1 Pt. 2:22-23, 1 John 3:4-5).

7. Jesus proved everything that He said was true by rising from the grave in the same yet glorified body just as He and the Old Testament had predicted (Ps. 16:10, Matt. 12:40, Matt. 17:22-23, Lk. 9:22, John 2:19-21).

Since Scripture proclaims that there is only one God (Dt. 6:4) and there was no God before Him and will be no God after Him (Isa. 43:10, Isa. 44:6&8, Isa. 45:5) and the Messiah is called God, then Jesus must be God - not a god, but the God!

Now here’s the real dilemma we face – Jesus expects us to be like Him but how can we do that if He is God? The truth is we can’t ever be God but we can live a Godly, God directed life. This is what Jesus expects us to do and He provides His life as the example for us to follow. There is no other example that warrants our emulation. It is Jesus' humanity that helps us to see and understand what being His disciple means. But it is His divinity that empowers us to live as one. Only Jesus can serve as our example and He can only do so if we are willing to make Him our Master.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What is a disciple?

A few days ago, I posted comments about the importance for the local church to make disciples through building disciples. Ok, so what is a disciple anyway? A disciple is one who follows the teachings of their master. From a New Testament perspective that would mean one who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. What is clear from Scripture is that a disciple of Christ involves more than just being someone who believes in Christ’s teachings, but rather one who lives a life that is fully devoted to living out those teachings. That means a disciple of Jesus can be defined by one whose life reflects what Ed Stetzer and David Putman in their book Breaking the Missional Code refer to as the “inner disciplines of spiritual living and the outer disciplines of missional living.” It is the combining of these two that constitutes a disciple of Jesus.

In Jesus’ work in making disciples, He worked to make not just shallow followers but committed believers in Him and His cause. Luke 6:40 makes clear that Jesus’ purpose was to make “fully trained” disciples and by that He meant they were to be like their “teacher.” The Greek word used here is the participle form of the verb katartiz┼Ź meaning to put into proper condition and was used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean “to make complete.” The entire process of making a disciple involves building a complete person who is a mature believer.

The focus is on transformation and this is exactly what Jesus did to the lives of His disciples. His goal was to teach them how to grow to the point they could imitate their master and live a life that points others to Him. And He didn’t simply tell them they needed to grow themselves. He sat with them and poured His truth into them and demonstrated how to touch the lives of non-believers. This, in turn, is what the disciples did for others.

To live as a complete disciple also means to live as an apologetic disciple. An apologetic disciple is one who lives in such a way that the truth of the Christian faith is clearly demonstrated in every aspect of his or her life. This is exactly what Jesus instructed His disciples to do. It is also what they and the other leaders of the early church practiced. Both Peter (1 Pet. 3:15-16) and Jude (Jude 3) gave instructions to live as apologetic disciples. It is by living an apologetic life that the Great Commission is achieved.

Today’s church must change its focus from simply attempting to make disciples by focusing only on the number of professions of faith to an approach that is directed towards building genuine apologetic disciples. This is the only way it can be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission and at the same time keep itself doctrinally pure in today’s culture.

Disciple making requires disciple building and disciple building means building apologetic disciples. Building apologetic disciples requires more than a cursory teaching; it requires submission to the master and living out a life that demonstrates the Christian faith in every aspect of life. To build such disciples requires a deep commitment to an integrated, systematic approach to education by the local church. Unless this happens, Christ-followers will have a hard time meeting the challenges to the Christian faith presented by other "truth venders" who compete for the heart and minds of people in today's culture.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Friday, August 1, 2008

Where Did All the Disciples Go?

Not long ago I met with a group of college students to teach about cults. This was the third time I had been asked to meet with the group. It amazes me how much fun it can be to teach people who really want to learn something. At the end of the session I was taken back by a question from one of the students (Austin). He asked me: “Why doesn’t the church teach us as much about the Christian faith as the cults teach their people?” I have to admit, for a moment I was stumped. But then it dawned on me – Austin, disguised as a question, had made a profoundly true statement. You see, many churches today are minimizing an investment in the future of Christ’s kingdom because they are not investing in disciple building.

It is sad but true. We’ve forgotten the simple truth that it is very difficult to make disciples of the people within this world unless we are building disciples within the church. It is impossible to separate disciple making from disciple building because you can’t separate evangelism from discipleship. A close examination of Matthew 28:19-20 makes this clear. This is more important today than it has been in the past 50 years because culture is farther away from the church than it has ever been.

The importance of this point can be illustrated by the fact that in modern American culture, discipleship itself must begin prior to conversion. The historical disciple making process is being turned upside down. Today the typical non-churched person often decides to participate in the community of the local church, including serving in the church and even taking part in mission activities, prior to their decision to become a Christ-follower.

This trend, however, represents a major risk to the church and as such reinforces the need for disciple building. Since many new non-churched people today come to the church from a radically different worldview and seek to participate in its ministries prior to believing, the danger exists for degradation of the Christian worldview. Therefore, it’s important for the church to return to intentionally and systematically building disciples.

So here’s the truth: most Christ-followers deep down really want to grow in their faith and they are searching for ways to make their faith more alive, but they won’t be able to do so inside the church until the church commits itself to growing them into disciples. Unless the church does so, there will be people like Austin who will search out other sources for the information they need to answer their faith questions. Unfortunately, these sources are becoming increasingly non-Christian and sadly, many people will either miss the kingdom of Christ or live a shallow spiritual life void of the richness that comes only from a life of sitting at the feet of the Master.

Dr. Richard Tompkins

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to the new blog for Explore Truth Ministries!

This blog is designed to keep everyone up to date on the progress of my new ministry. Explore Truth Ministries is a new organization designed to equip churches both inside and outside the U.S. in building apologetic disciples. The word "apologetic" comes from the Greek word that means to give a well thought through defense. In other words, to contend or take a stand for something. Therefore, an apologetic disciple is one who lives a life that contends for the Christian faith. It is a life that is lived in such a way that the truth of the Christian faith is clearly demonstrated in every aspect of it. It involves demonstrating the truth by the way one lives.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing with you some key thoughts on what it means to live a life that demonstrates the truth of the Christian faith. Stay tuned. There is much yet to come. In the meantime, visit the ETM website, http://www.exploretruthministries.com/.

Dr. Richard Tompkins