19 March 2010

Foundation on Rock

Luke 6:48
48 He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.

It has unmistakably been a common thread in so much in my life this year that:
  1. I just have to share on the subject.
  2. It has to be from God, and I'm sure of it.
I had a brief counseling session with an old friend this is week. It came up. I had a visit from a missionary working in Kenya, it came up there. In a book I'm reading, it came up there. Emails, questions in my voice mail, comments on on-line forums, everywhere I look. Here is what the Lord is putting on my heart: Christians in America have lost their knowledge, and worse yet, their zeal for a biblical foundation in the doctrine and life.

I put the blame on the 'church' corporate, and I put the blame on pastors and teachers. The information is there. Christian doctrine is there. As a pastor friend of mine who has a very real and Godly heart for overseas missions (and encourages us all to take part in short term mission trips as we should), recently noted, we have greater and easier access to more biblical teaching today than we ever had before. We also have access to more biblical teaching in this country than any other country in the world. And he's right. We sure do. This email you are reading is just one of those ways. We have internet access in 80% of American homes and half of the cell phones in America. We have pod-casts, streaming audio and video. DirecTV® carries no less than 15 'Christian' channels on just the basic package. We have broadcast and satellite radio networks we can listen to, and I've got two of them as apps on my phone. There has never been a greater availability to biblical teaching at any time or place in history. We are BLESSED to have such access….or are we?

When I was called into the ministry in 2001 and began my educational process and commitment to this calling, one of the first things that God told me when He finally revealed where I would be teaching was this: "one of the hardest things I will ask you to do is church the churched". I know He's God, and so He certainly was right. But I had no idea what I would be facing not just in teaching the people that He has sent my way over the last 5 years, but within the Christian church itself. As I pointed out to my pastor friend, we have a severe disconnect between the volume of biblical teaching we have available to us, just because it is there, does not mean it that people are getting it, and it also does not mean that what they are hearing is solid biblical teaching. The only example I have to give to support this is that with 72% or more of Americans claiming Christianity, we still have to fight legislation promoting gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia. We are still having church counsels to review the merits as to whether we should allow openly gay pastors to remain in the pulpit. The fact remains is that for the most part, and I am generalizing, the teaching that has been made available to the Christians in this country over the last 100 years or two or three generations, has separated itself from the foundational truth that the Word of God as it is written in scripture is inerrant and dogmatic.

Our Christian foundations are not built on rocks today; instead they are built on the shifting sand of compromise. Church 'boards' are actually getting together to vote on whether they should follow the bible or not. When something is as simple as homosexuality where the scripture makes no mistake that a gay lifestyle (and many other sexual activities) is an abomination unto God, why do we even need a counsel on it, let alone a vote? Why do we need to get a 'committee' together to decide whether or not we should support the right to 'choice' in the arena of abortion when we are told that life begins at conception, and that abortion is murder? I'll tell you why. Because the average believer does not have a clue as to what the bible says or teaches. And furthermore, if they do, they allow their ideals of 'social relevancy' over-ride God's word, and they don't think two seconds about it.

The most important thing I can tell new believers is this: Get yourself plugged in to a bible teaching church. Once you have found it, commit to read through the entire bible at least twice, to be in a bible study at least weekly, and commit to be in fellowship with those people, breaking bread with those people, being in prayer with those people, and to seek church leadership anytime you have a question. BUILD your foundations on the WORD OF GOD, not on a 'feeling', not on a style of worship, not on a 'program' or because you 'like' this church or that, not because this friend goes here or does this or participates in that. Build your foundation FIRST. Because if you do not, you will be turned away by every wind of doctrine that blows in front of you or your friends, and the enemy will sift you like a handful of wheat. Dig DEEP in the Word until you hit Rock. Build there, and THEN let the Lord lead where He may.

Because Christians have not done this, we now have a church corporate full of leaders that lack solid biblical foundations. DirecTV® might have 15 Christian channels, but I'm pretty sure I could only recommend one or two as being worthy to watch! Not based on my feelings or judgment, but based on the foundation of scripture. The Mormon Church calls themselves Christian. They are not. The Catholic Church claims elite knowledge of God's revelation, that they are the only true Christian church and that the Pope is the official and chosen representative of Jesus on earth today; they have not, their doctrine contains heresy, and the Pope is not. Jim Jones and David Koresh called themselves Christians, the Popes that lead the inquisitions (acting like the modern day Muslins in their convert or die theology), called themselves Christian. These people and churches lacked a solid biblical foundation and they lead others astray.

I'm so tired of seeing Godly people who love the Lord, get sucked back into the world because some teaching has piqued their ears. I'm weary of new believers that truly have a heart for God lead into doctrines practices based on 'feelings' and social acceptance because they are following others who claim to be Christians and lack their own biblical foundation. I know plenty of people, and have heard over and over from believers that they have been Christians all their lives, that they have been going to church every week for years and some to the same church for decades, only to have their lives transformed once they are actually reading and learning their Bibles.

To know God, you've got to know His Word. Before you can practice a Godly lifestyle, we need to build our foundations so that we know what a Godly lifestyle is. A biblical worldview and lifestyle mean nothing if they are not founded on the Rock of His Word.

I implore you all; know the Word of God. We are being, and will continue to be tested by many things that look like Christianity, sound like Christianity, smell like Christianity, call themselves Christian, and are far, far from it. Do not become a victim of deception.

16 March 2010

Cleansing the Altar of the Heart

Psalm 51: 10-13
Create in me a clean heart, oh god. Renew a right spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don't take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again, the joy of my salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you.

I have read the verses in Psalm 53 a thousand times. But today they become new again.

When an offense is made, what shall we do? We have plenty of biblical direction in this area, both Old and New Testament. In the OT, sacrifices are made. A predetermined penalty is paid based on the offense under the law. In the NT the Law is fulfilled, we are no longer under the legalism of the law, but rather the law of love in our hearts. I can see, and hope that you all can as well, that in some cases when we make mistakes, and feelings are hurt, that it would be much easier to pay a legal fine, present a sacrifice or pay some sort of physical restitution or do some sort of penance, than it is to live through the agony of knowing that you have offended.

Living a piece of God's divine wisdom drawn out through scripture can simply be exhausting. Spiritually and emotionally we toil and struggle under the effects of the results of our choices. God created such laws as we see throughout Leviticus. Specific penalties are written for such things as wounding a neighbor's cow, trespassing into a neighbor's vineyard, or accidentally hurting someone. The law goes so deep as to tell you what to do when you break a vow, leak bodily fluids or injuring a man's genitalia. The point I wish to make is not to gross us all out with the minutia in the detail of the law. But rather, it is to point out how much easier it can be to pay a fine, or offer a sacrifice or prayer and walk away, than it is to actually deal with the sin issue in our lives and get ourselves right with God.

We have been sanctified by the body and blood of Christ (I Corinthians 1:2, Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 10:10), and we need to take this seriously. Sanctified means set apart, made holy, consecrated. We have also been called a Holy Priesthood (I Peter 2:9), in part because of our relationship with the Holy Spirit living in us. In this manner we know (book smarts) that we are sanctified. But we need to be consciously aware of this, and make it true to our psyche and spirit. Here's an example:

When we think of the Alter in the Temple of Jerusalem we might think of sanctified or consecrated. We understand that it is a Holy thing, set apart for the precious and intimate work of God. We understand that as it is a clear picture. But what if you or I walked into the Temple and saw the altar defiled. What if we saw blood on the altar that we knew was the blood of a pig sacrificed there by a one who rejects the Living God? If we knew it to be right, and knew it within our power, anyone of us might jump at the opportunity to cleanse that alter, and return it to its sanctified state. Anyone with a heart for the Lord would wish to do the same, no matter what the cost.

But we ourselves are sanctified. We ourselves are living alters of God if you will, with the power to take whatever is placed upon us in life, and sanctify it to the glory of God. When we sin against God as David said he had done in Psalm 51, we have poured the blood of pigs onto the altar of the temple of the Holy Spirit. We have invited evil through the doors of grace, and showed it the way to the altar of our hearts. Yet what is our reaction when this sin becomes known? Do we rush to the altar to cleans it from its defilement, or do we spray-paint the altar with gold colored paint, and hope that no one notices the stains beneath?

This is what we must change in our lives, and this is why living under grace is an infinitely harder task than living under the law. The law breeds legalism, and man's methods to cleanse a situation man's way, when the only way it can honestly be done is by sanctifying ourselves before God, humbly going to Him in prayer and repentance for the peace that surpasses all understanding. Simply think about that: you know that the altar is dirty but you refuse to properly clean it? It's like knowing that the burger you are about to serve is full of e-coli, and yet you figure if you put enough ketchup on it before you service it, no one will notice!

I made an error in judgment in how to deal with a situation the other day. The end result was in effect, what I was looking to get, but because I did not really consult the Lord in prayer before hand, the process caused hurt feelings. While hurt feelings can be forgiven, and people can move past offenses, if I do not take every possible step to cleanse the altar of my heart from the defilement that I put on it, I am not doing my job. It hurts me far more to know that in the work of serving God that I have offended another, than it does to have a sin of my own. It is times like this that drive some men to seek the simplicity of legalism for personal cleansing; a prayer, a sacrifice, an offering paid or done is so much easier than going before God on our knees and confessing that we have wronged Him by defiling ourselves, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, with sin of our own choosing.

I take responsibility for my sin, and Father forgive me as I ask that you forgive us all for our offenses. The "Lord's Prayer" and Psalm 51 came alive in me today, and I pray that through my repentance I too, like David, can have a clean heart, Oh, God.

15 March 2010

Truth - What is Truth?

John 18:38
Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.

In my studies of Martin Luther's life and experiences as a bit of Christian history that just grabs my attention, I notice that there is in fact quite a bit about what Luther went through that was unique. But at the same time, there is much, sadly way too much that he went through that parallels the Church today 493 years later. But then again, Luther sought nothing more than what Pontius Pilate wanted himself.

As I shared this Sunday in my sermon, 'those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it' (a quote often accredited to Winston Churchill, but more likely first coined by Spanish poet and novelist George Santayana). What I'm seeing today is that the struggle that so often lies within the heart of man, to know truth; and that since truth is true, that we therefore have to believe it and ergo live by it, is being replaced by a different 'truth'. Why? Because they do not know their history, Christian or otherwise.

A wise commentator once said that with regards to the Christian religion, if it is new, it is not a revelation. And if it is truly a revelation it is not true. I sit here typing this, telling you that I have proudly used the works of hundreds of authors and pastors and preachers who came before me in my messages. In every occasion where I have had the privilege to contact the actual author of the material I am reading or studying, they have all gladly given permission for me to use their material. That's the way it is. I shared with my wife just a few weeks ago that there is no message that have shared, or ever will share about the bible that has not already been shared or taught by someone before me. But at this point I digress in my thinking. If this really is true, that the bible is the bible, that all the messages have already been shared, and that those who do know history are less likely to repeat it, then why are we repeating so many mistakes in the church today? Grave mistakes that have been made before and seemingly will be made again every couple of generations.

The answer to that question is truth. Which brought me again to today's verse.

I have a strange heart perhaps, in that I find Pontius Pilate a pitiable creature. My heart aches for Pilate each and every time I read or recount that story in scripture of Jesus standing before him. It almost brings me to tears just thinking of the man himself, and how his personal ambitions allowed him to get to a station in life where he was faced with the folly of his pride: Agree with the crowd and do what is best for Rome and save my job, title, glory and my own skin, OR, go with what I know in my heart to be true. One action meant condemning an innocent man to death so that he might live out his life in peace. The other meant a life eternal if he had only allowed himself to act on his conscience.

First let me say that Pilate's decision failed. His intent in allowing an innocent man to die was so that he might live out his life in peace. This did not happen. A peaceful life was an eventuality that escaped Pilate all together as he was stripped of his honor and title and wealth, sent to live in relative obscurity with the rest of the Roman poor only to (according to tradition) take his own life after years of being riddled and eventually driven mad by his own conscience. So by making the decision that he thought was right, he turned his back on what was really true.

Pilate asked about truth. The irony is that Truth stood right before him in the form of a fleshly man who was yet fully God. We have all heard the saying something like this, "you wouldn't know truth is it looked you in the eye!" Where do you think that bit of wisdom originated? Pilate literally had TRUTH standing before him, and asked, "What is truth?" Most people will teach that Pilate asked facetiously. But what if he didn't? A good case can be built that he did ask with sincerity. He pronounced the man innocent three times, and turned him over to others for treatment and release twice. His wife warned him to have nothing to do with the man.
Someone once said, and we have all heard, "the truth hurts". Well that may be true when the truth brings conviction. But real truth beings with it salvation. And like truth, salvation can be had in only one place, the heart of Jesus Christ. The question is not do you know the truth. The question is what do you do with the truth? The demons know and tremble, yet they are not saved. Satan lived in the presence of God, and yet a special place has been built for him, Hell.

Truth is not something we wax philosophical about. Truth is not something we debate. Truth is the Way. Truth is the Life. Truth is Jesus; and Jesus is the Word. His Word is Truth, and we best know it. Study God's word. Know truth. Know Jesus, and allow Him to set you free from a world of lies that seeks to destroy you. Join Pilate in asking, "What is Truth", but unlike Pilate, ACT on it!

If you do not have a quality bible teaching church that you are attending at least weekly. Find one near you and get plugged in. You eternity depends on it.