In a World Full of Religions, Why Do Christians Think They’re The Only Ones Who Are Right?

Before going anywhere with this topic, we are forced to reconcile one key point. None of us are experts on all religions. Many of us have experiences with other religions, but we can not assume to be experts on all forms of religion and theology. But what we can do is look at what we believe and consider why we have that belief today.


Many people believe the way they do because they were brought up in an environment that practiced the religion that they have today. Many believe what they do because they have had some sort of experience that ‘awakened’ them to the concept of a God or spirituality as something real. Others have put into practice the teachings of a specific religion and have found what they see as truth and validation for those beliefs. But, for others, they simply haven’t had that experience that told them that God (or a particular religion) is real. So without nitpicking a specific religion, we can already draw some lines in the sand about what is right.


We know that many religions share a common concept of good and evil. Many of the practices and values could be considered good across these religions. We should love one another, don’t steal, don’t murder, care for the poor, meditation, etc. We could probably make a very large list of valuable ideas and practices that could be shared across these religions.

Enter Jesus. Many believe that Jesus was real. Many also believe in his teachings. If you, however, believe in his teachings, must wrestle with his claims of deity.  He also claimed to be the only way to God (John 14:6). This sets Christianity apart from many other religions. It isn’t about earning your way to God through good deeds or daily practices. It is about accepting that you (or anyone) can not do it on your own. If you believe that you can earn your way to God or heaven, or whatever the good side of the afterlife is, then you are not really accepting the teachings of Jesus. It is because Jesus is at the focal point of Christianity that Christians ultimately think that they are uniquely right.  Taking Jesus seriously logically leads to the conclusion that he is the only way to be restored to God and makes Christianity uniquely true.  To argue for any sort of shared truth among religions rejects Jesus’ claims to be the only means of restoration to God.

God Loves Everyone So Why Do Christians Suck?

Christians and the church often fail to show God’s love to a needy, watching world.  Instead of a reflection of the ever loving, gracious God, Christians are viewed as judgemental, hateful bigots.  Why is this the case?

The “Them” concept

Some of the more vocal in this arena, are  Christians who are clearly not loving towards those with opposing views.  For example, those who stand on street corners or soap boxes with signs condemning others, those that protest at funerals, or those that hold rallies burning Korans.  Here we see pretty clearly candid examples of unloving approaches despite a Christian banner.  Is this it then, tied up in a bow, this set of Christians are giving the rest of us a bad name?  I fear that stance may be a case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  It’s easy to blame the loud wheel for drawing attention, but the view from 20 feet is that the whole cart is going astray.

“The Collective” approach

Unfortunately the sin of the Pharisee (self righteousness, being judgemental and disparaging)  is alive and well in every corner of the church.  There are those who cast judgement – creating a separated,  insular community that is at times harder to penetrate than a fort. Often times we fail to show to others the same grace that we all gleefully lap up.  Strangely enough, we frequently fail to show it to, or expect it from those  within our own communities. We keep up a facade because even in our church we fear exposing our cracks.   We often forget that the church is for the broken, and that none can fully accept Christ unless they are first grieved by their own sin.  Because of this, we risk making church into a country club – at times deciding who is welcome, how they ought to dress, and how they ought to act.  Here, yet again, I fear we’re playing hot potato.  This excuse is just another case of ‘us versus them’, and perhaps an attempt at diluting individual responsibility.  From this perspective we can absolve ourselves of personal blame; but do any of us really have a leg to stand on in this regard?

“The Individual”

I, ______ an individual Christian, routinely fail to love: in my relationships, in my giving, when I am stressed, when I am hungry, when I am busy, or broke, when it’s too late, when it’s too early and on and on – countless excuses why this time, dying to self is just a bit too inconvenient.

So what do we do, now that we have identified the problem?  We can stop dodging the blame, and recognize that we are guilty of failing the mark. So how do we stop sucking?  By evaluating our own day to day interactions and missed opportunities, seeing our own failings.  It is likely that during these times of introspection, if we obey the impulses and tuggings of the Holy Spirit, rather than those of our inherent self serving nature, we will – by God’s grace – begin to suck a little less.


A Generous Lent

What is Lent?

Lent is one of the oldest most honored traditions of the Christian Church.  It is the 40 day period before Easter when Jesus was preparing for the cross.  Traditionally, the Church has used this time to remember Jesus preparation and sacrifice and prepare to celebrate his glorious resurrection.  There was a time, centuries ago, when Lent was the time when all new believers prepared for baptism and to officially join the Church.  Throughout the centuries the importance of Lent has changed among the various Christian traditions.  Among Roman Catholics it’s a time to remember Christ’s preparation for the cross by denying themselves meat on Fridays and for many by fasting from a particular habit or luxury throughout the 40 day period.  Some protestants use have special decor and vestments (sacred clothing worn by ministers during worship services) used to help focus worshippers on Jesus’ preparation.  Others simply ignore Lent until Palm Sunday.

What are We Doing?

We’ve decided to take part in  Do Lent Generously an initiative launched by Stewardship, an organization in the UK.  Our goal is to take this important season remembering Jesus’ preparation for the cross as a time to focus more intentionally on living missionally.  We want to honor Jesus and what he did by living intentionally the way Jesus call us to live, experiencing and expressing his love.

How Does This Work?

For the 40 days of Lent, Do Lent Generously will send out a daily generosity challenge.  We take the challenge and try to be generous in the way described.  The generosity challenges include, financial, time, emotional, and relational generosity.  It will culminate at the and of Lent with a generosity event.  (We’ve got a great on planned, but more on that later.)

If you’d like to join us go to Do Lent Generously for more information and sign up to receive the daily emails.  Then, contact us so we can pray for and encourage you during Lent.  You will also be among the first to find out about the special generosity event and have the opportunity to join in.

Have a blessed and generous Lent.

Grace and peace,
Team Leader for Agape Ann Arbor

Embrace the Expectation of Rejection

Rejection is one of the worst feelings we can experience.  We are communal creatures.  We are designed to live connected with each other.  For that reason, being rejected or excluded cuts deep.  Yet, the feeling of rejection is common to the human experience.  Just think of all the books, movies, plays, and television shows that revolve around the feeling of rejection.  Rejection is real.  It hurts.  We all experience it.

Not only is rejection painful and common, I’ve observed that there seems to be a positive correlation between people who do great things and the amount of rejection they experience.  It seems that rejection affects people who do great things disproportionately over people who don’t.  If you’d like to investigate this yourself consider: Ghandi, William Wilberforce, and Susan B. Anthony.

This, of course, is true of Jesus as well.  He was rejected by his hometown (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:54-58; Luke 4:16-30).  He by his broader community in Galilee (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 10:13-35).  He was rejected by many of his followers (John 6:60-66).  He was rejected by his people, the Jews (John 7).  He was rejected by one of his closest friends (John 18:15-27).  Jesus experienced a great deal of rejection and when he died only his mother, one friend, and a few women who followed him were there (John 19:25-27).

Rejection is something Jesus could have avoided.  Popular acclaim was one of the things with which Satan tempted him (Matthew 4:8).  There were innumerable chances for Jesus to either stop what he was doing or to become the person the people wanted.  He did none of this.  He expected rejection and embraced it.

How Should This Inform the Life of the Christ-Follower

None of us wants to experience rejection.  Just think of the ridiculous things we’ve done in life to be accepted.  Don’t think you’ve ever done anything ridiculous to be accepted?  I have two words for you: middle school.  We all spend some part of our emotional energy trying to make sure we’re not rejected and wondering if we will be rejected.

But guess what.

If you are following Jesus, you will be rejected.  “‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. … Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:18, 20b).

I think it’s important to note at this point that it was the religious leaders that most rejected Jesus.  The people clearly not following God did not reject Jesus.  The people that thought they were following God closely rejected him.  I often hear people lamenting how Christianity is rejected in the public sphere.  These same people often blame negative aspects of our culture on the media and political policies with which they don’t agree.  I am not saying that this isn’t a form of rejection, but it’s not the only rejection that Christ-followers are going to experience.  That rejection is distant and doesn’t cut very deeply.

There is a worse rejection that Christ-followers will endure.  That is rejection by people in the religious establishment or people close to you.  If you follow Jesus, you will experience that kind of rejection too.  Anytime you upset the apple cart in Jesus name you will experience rejection.

When we experience rejection, we should respond like Jesus.  We should expect and embrace rejection.

If you are following Jesus, expect rejection.  We should never be surprised when people reject and ridicule us for doing what Jesus has called us to do.  It’s a reality of living in God’s Kingdom.  There are people, spirits, and institutions that are fighting violently against King Jesus and his Kingdom.  A common weapon in their arsenal is rejection.  Don’t be surprised when you are rejected.  Jesus was.

If you are following Jesus embrace rejection.  Embrace don’t chase rejection.  We’ve all met people that are chasing rejection.  Jesus never chased rejection.  If you chase rejection you’ll get it, but you won’t be spreading the Good News of Jesus in the process.  Embracing rejection means welcoming it as a natural part of following Jesus and using it to guide you to new aspects of eternal life.  To find practical ways to embrace rejection read the Book of Acts.  The first church spread in large part through rejection.

Rejection hurts.  No emotionally healthy individual enjoys rejection.  Yet, it is a natural part of life and I believe those of us who choose to follow Jesus completely will experience a disproportionately greater amount than others.  We can’t fight it.  We can’t avoid it.  We can like Jesus expect and embrace it.

What examples of expecting and embracing rejection have you seen?

Following Jesus Requires Community

Have you ever noticed how the movies and stories that seem to affect us the most revolve around the relationships of the characters.  It’s almost as if the authors, playwrights, and screenwriters are only writing stories to provide a context in which the characters can interact with each other.  It’s true of movies, books, plays, and even TV shows.  My wife and I were just commenting on how one of our favorite TV shows isn’t as good as it used to be since many of the cast members have left and been replaced.  The relationships that had become so important to us aren’t there anymore and it affects our enjoyment of the show.

The relationships in stories are important to us because we’re relational beings. We were created to live in relationship. From the beginning humanity has always needed and valued relationships. This reality is seen in the story of Jesus as well. During his ministry, Jesus formed a community. All four of the canonical gospels describe Jesus inviting people into his community. Jesus formed a community that experienced and expressed God’s love.

Think about this, in the strictest sense, did Jesus need to form a community.  Jesus could have accomplished just about everything he wanted without his disciples getting in the way.  Did Jesus need his disciples to be able to teach?  No, the crowds found him without the need of a PR department.  Did Jesus need his disciples to perform miracles?  No, that power came from God not the disciples and often they didn’t understand what Jesus was doing anyway.  Did Jesus need his disciples to redeem humanity through his death and resurrection?  Clearly, no one could do that but him.

Yet, I propose that Jesus did need to form a community.  And it wasn’t just to carry on his message after he was gone.  Nor was it merely for theological reasons (i.e. 12 disciples representing the 12 tribes of Israel).  Those reasons are important but, I don’t think they are the most important.  I believe the key reason Jesus had to form a community was because humanity needs community.  The first time anything was “not good” in all of creation was when the first human was alone.  Don’t believe me?  Reread the story in Genesis 1 & 2. We are communal beings.  To experience the fullness of who we are as humans we need community.  Our identity, our purpose, our value are all realized in the context of community.  I said realized in, not defined by.  Those things are defined by God, which is another relationship but that’s not the topic here. Who we are and what we are is realized in the context of relationships.

The idea that we can live successfully on our own is a pernicious lie.  John Donne illustrated this in his famous poem “No Man is an Island:”
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Jesus built a community because it is essential to the human experience.  Moreover, he built a community to show us what community should look like.  Like everything that humanity touches, our relationships are affected by sin.  Jesus shows us the what relationships should look like.  He shows us in the context of a community; a community that experiences and expresses God’s love.

How Should This Inform the Life of a Christ-follower?

We need community.  We cannot follow Jesus alone.  The only way to truly follow him is in the context of community.  He illustrated that by living in community.  Moreover, to live out the greatest commandments presupposes a community:

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29b-31)

Furthermore, Jesus tells us that the only way people can tell if we are following him is by how we love each other.  That can only be done

Like that Only Better

I’m a big fan of C. S. Lewis. There’s nothing of his that I’ve read that I didn’t enjoy. My six year old daughter is developing a love for him as well. About six months ago I started reading her The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She was absolutely enchanted with the story. Since I’ve been reading her a chapter of Chronicles of Narnia almost every night before bed.

As you may or may not know, Lewis wrote the Narnia stories as an allegory for the Christian faith. The other night my daughter and I were reading a chapter from The Silver Chair (Narnia). At a key moment in the book the lead characters, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole (from our world), Puddleglum the Narnian Marsh-Wiggle, and Prince Rilian of Narnia have been captured by an evil witch in underworld. They’ve been enchanted by her music. The witch is trying to convince them that the land on the surface, where they’re from, is only a dream.

In their enchanted stupor the try to convince her of the truth of the overworld. They try to describe the sun to her. In so doing they use a lamp as an illustration. It’s like the lamp, only better. Then they try to describe the great Aslan to her. He’s like a cat, only better.

Often, I feel like Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian when I try to explain to people about my life with Jesus. It’s like ordinary life, only better. But like the witch, why should someone believe me if the only way I can describe following Jesus is by saying it’s like that only better. Who can blame people for reacting like the witch and saying what a lovely dream that must have been.

Ultimately, Eustace, Jill, Puddleglum, and Rilian would rather hold on to their dream than submit to the dull “reality” of the witch. Once they’ve committed to this they are able to defeat the witch and are vindicated when they return to the surface.

It reminds me of Pascal’s wager. Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician, and Christ-follower, argued that following Christ is a simple choice. In Pensees he argued that it only makes logical sense to follow Jesus whether it’s true or not. He said if you follow Jesus, you have the potential to gain everything but no matter what you lose nothing. If you don’t follow Jesus, you have the potential to lose everything but no matter what you gain nothing. How about you? How would you respond to Pascal’s wager?

Easter Makes Friday Good

It seemed to be in vogue this year to challenge the title “Good” in Good Friday. I saw blog posts like; “Good News for Bad Friday” or “Bad Friday” and the like. It makes sense. Something horrible happened that we commemorate on the day we call Good Friday. A man, who by all historical counts had done nothing illegal, was brutally executed. It seems that this man was tortured and killed because he challenged the religious and political system of his time. He challenged the prevailing view of right and wrong. He challenged a system that created a religious hierarchy that determined who was “in” and who was “out.” For challenging their authority, the religious and political leaders had him killed in the most horrible, painful way humankind has ever devised. It was a horrible, sad day.

But, Good Friday is a good day. Something amazingly spectacular happened that day. The man, Jesus, who was brutally executed on a Roman cross was more than a good man who challenged the status quo. Jesus was/is God. Jesus wasn’t just challenging the status quo of first century Roman ruled Palestine. Jesus challenged a metaphysical system that kept humanity trapped in sin and separate from God.

In place, before Jesus, was a system that kept people trapped in their sin and away from God. The only way to approach God was with a sacrifice to cover over the sins we had committed. This is the system that Jesus came to challenge. Jesus came to overcome the evil, the sin, the kept humanity separate from God.

He did it by living a live without any evil. He committed no sin. Then he willingly went to the cross and died. Jesus wasn’t executed by some power greater than himself. He sacrificed himself for your good; for my good; for the good of all humanity. He covered our sin with his sacrifice and made a way to reunite us with God.

Easter is the proof that he was successful. On Easter Jesus rose from the dead. It is evidence that he defeated sin and death. He now lives, and lives forever because he is God and was the perfect sacrifice to overcome the power of sin in the world.

Something amazingly, awesomely good happened 2000 years ago on the day we commemorate on Good Friday. Jesus overcame the system of sin and death and set us free. Free from sin. Free from death. Free to be with God. And Easter proves he was successful.

Easter makes Friday good.

Prayers for the City

If you truly believe there is an all-powerful God, one of the most natural actions of all actions is to talk to Him. Essentially, that’s what prayer is; talking to and listening to God. Today during our Agape Community Gathering we had the opportunity to talk to God about this city that we love. We went on a prayer walk around the our neighborhood.

A prayer walk is basically taking a walk with God and talking to Him, just like you would if you were taking a walk with any other friend. You talk to God about what’s on your mind and the things you see around you. You also listen to what God might be saying to You about what’s going on around You.

It was a great experience. We prayed for the families in the houses around us, asking God to bless them. We prayed for a family that is selling their house asking God to help them sell it quickly for a good price. We prayed for the family that will move into that house asking God to bless them. Our group even came across Brenda’s (my daughter) fifth-grade-buddy. Brenda prayed for her to do well in school this year and to have a great time on Spring Break.

There are three essential element to an Agape Community Gathering. These elements provide a framework to help ensure that we are experiencing and expressing God’s love. The first is connecting with each other. We usually do this around a meal. The second is connecting with God. This is done by opening up the Bible and talking about what we read in it. The third is connecting with our community. Today we did that through the prayer walk. Other times it may be through service projects or just hanging out in the community. All three, however, are essential to what it means to be Agape Ann Arbor.

We’d love for you to join us at our next Agape Community Gathering. Contact us for more information.

What’s In a Name?

I’ve been asked several times why we chose Agape Ann Arbor for the name of our new community. The short answer is that the name communicates what we want this community to be. Agape (pronounced a-gah-pay) is a Greek word for love. Greek is the language in which the New Testament of the Bible was written. I say a Greek word for love and not the Greek word for love because Greek actually has three different words that we translate in English as love. First there is eros (pronounced eh-rohs), from which we get our word erotic. Eros is the word used for romantic or sexual love. Second is philos (pronounced fee-lohs). Philos is the word used for brotherly love, hence Philadelphia the City of Brotherly Love. Agape doesn’t have any English cognates of which I’m aware. Agape’s basic meaning is benevolent love or goodwill. Plato used it to describe the love between people of the same city.

The Christian and Jewish writers of the first century used agape to translate the Hebrew word chesed (pronounced khe-sed), which is the word used to describe God’s loyal unconditional love for his people. In the New Testament, therefore, agape means unconditional, irrevocable love. It is the word Jesus used to describe the love he has for us. The love he demonstrated for us by dying on the cross for us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).

Agape is God’s love. We are community experiencing and expressing God’s love. We are a community experiencing and expressing agape.

But that’s just the first word in our name. We were very intentional about including Ann Arbor in our name. It’s not just because we like cute alliterations or because it flows off the tongue well (although both of those are true). We included Ann Arbor in the name of our community because God loves Ann Arbor. Some people have forgotten that. Some people don’t believe it. We are in Ann Arbor intentionally. We came to Ann Arbor because God loves Ann Arbor and we love Ann Arbor. We exist as a community to experience and express God’s love with the people of Ann Arbor.

We Agape Ann Arbor.