25 October 2011

Who's To Blame? Is there an answer?

A friend of mine and fellow pastor has had a very rough year. His wife has had health issues most of her life, and then last year was diagnosed with cancer. Treatments went well, and then infections set in after surgery.  He was accused of untrue things by some of his church board members and went through a church split. He has had health problems of his own, and his wife had been hospitalized and required surgery for health complications in addition to her cancer. Then, just last week, his mother was diognosed with inoperable and terminal cancer as well. 

How is it that these things happen? It seems that Christians are constantly answering or seeking to answer the seemingly eternal question of, "why do bad things happen to good people".  While this can be a broad discussion of it's own, I want us to consider a narrow target thought on this issue.

In a recent discussion about these circumstances, I wrote a letter to a fellow pastor seeking some advise. When asking about this gentlman's circumstances, one fellow pastor wrote, "...clearly (he) has been under attack for a very long time". I wondered. Was this an attack by the enemy, or were these simply circumstances that were permitted to happen because we live in a fallen sinful world in constant (physical and moral) decay? More to the point, how do we tell the difference?

Here's what I wrote, and I ask you to ponder the same questions and reply:

How can you say with certainty that these events are attacks from the enemy? And perhaps the unanswerable question: How do we draw the line/see the line between circumstantial events that come about because we live in a fallen world (illness, disease, ‘natural’ disasters etc), and a persecution that has its source in Satan?
But how can I, you, or anyone be certain that what trials and tribulations we are going through are brought by Satan as an enemy attack? Can’t we overstep ourselves by saying, “this is an attack by the enemy” the first time something happens unexpectedly?
I once counseled a woman that was dead-set on the fact that Satan was manipulating the red lights to make her late for homegroup and church every week. She was convinced it was an attack by the enemy, and that it had nothing to do with the fact that she has three children under 10, and that she simply did not give herself enough time to get ready.
I don’t know if I’m hedging because of lack of understanding or lack of faith, I don’t think so in either case…, but as a Christian I feel that we tend to take a narrow look at ‘when bad things happen to good people’. I feel like our faith compass points to one of two poles: Action of God, or action of Satan. I guess my question is this; is there something in between? Can things happen just because they happen in the process of this fallen world?

Earthquakes. What do we call them; acts of God, because it is nature “doing her thing’’, and man really has no full explanation for it. Tornados, floods, disease etc. From a secular point of view, anything that man cannot fully explain or control we tend to call ‘acts of God’. From a Christian point of view, I think we are less likely to do that. Cases in point would be John Hagee and his blaming Katrina on God’s retribution against a sinful New Orleans, Pat Robertson sourcing the earthquake in Haiti to God as an act of retribution for their sin, or even the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Jerry Falwell saying that the terrorist acts of  9/11/2001 were God taking action against a sinful America. Evangelicals, most of us included, seemed to run as fast as we could to distance ourselves from such a blanket statement on both accounts, that the wind created by all the evangelicals running as quickly as they could to distance themselves from Hagee and Robertson et al may have created a hurricane of its own! In other words, we tend to, in cases such as this, get behind these acts as being natural acts of a fallen world, decaying earth and sin simply having its way on nature and man. We simply describe them as being acts of nature in a world that is no longer perfect, a world that is impacted by sin, falling apart, and that sometimes man simply gets in the path of those actions. After all, were not Christians killed in those acts as well?

Please understand that I am not making this argument personal, this is just a young man trying to align his theology with real world events and in all sincerity seeking wisdom from someone whom I greatly admire. But why in a case such as (a man whom we know), are we willing to so quickly cry “Satan!” when the attacks are against a Godly man, and just as quick or more quickly to say in cases such as Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti “this is not God acting out against man, this is just the result of sin being present in this fallen world” – when if anything it would seem highly more likely that Hagee and Robertson are more likely to be correct? Does it not make more sense that God would have retribution against these sinful, lustful, hedonistic and pagan idolatrous people?

I’m not saying Hagee, Robertson, Wright and Falwell are right. Not even close. I’m not saying everyone in particular is 100% wrong (well, maybe the Rev. Wright...). Maybe you are all right, and maybe you are all wrong. Are we saying then that it just comes down to the ‘gut’? is it simply a matter of spiritual discernment? Obviously we know (some) circumstances very well, and I’ll tell you, my heart just aches when I read (some) stories. ...
Why are we so quick to run from the possibility of 9/11, Katrina, the Haiti earthquake etc as being acts of God punishing sinful man, and equally quick to blame Satan for egregious acts in the lives of faithful men? I can see where being to quick to judge things in the manner of Hagee, Robertson, Wright and Falwell would quickly see you branded as, or even turn us into another Westboro Baptists Church! Never want to go there.
Is it wrong for me to ponder such things?

Do we as evangelicals get so focused on grace and explaining God’s love for people that we do not warn them enough of the possibility of His wrath being poured out on a sinful man?

Is there an answer? Probably not. Just exercising my faith and understanding.

12 October 2011

Considering Mormonism and Politics

The post shared below was written by Albert Mohler who runs an absolutely excellent blog at www.albermohler.com. It is honest, distinct, intellectual and solid Christian theology applied to our Christian world view. I have written similar posts in the past, but could not have written this better myself. 
Predictably, Mormonism is in the news again. The presence of two members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints among contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination ensured that it was only a matter of time before Evangelicals, along with other Americans, began to talk openly about what this means for the nation, the church, and the stewardship of political responsibility in the voting booth.
There are numerous ways to frame these questions wrongly. Our responsibility as evangelical Christians is to think seriously and biblically about these issues. The first temptation is to reduce all of these issues to one question. We must address the question of Mormonism as a worldview and judge it by the Bible and historic Christian doctrine. But this does not automatically determine the second question — asking how Mormon identity should inform our political decisions. Nevertheless, for evangelical Christians, our concern must start with theology. Is Mormonism just a distinctive denomination of Christianity?
The answer to that question is definitive. Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. To the contrary, the central claim of Mormonism is that Christianity was corrupt and incomplete until the restoration of the faith with the advent of the Latter-Day Saints and their scripture, The Book of Mormon. Thus, it is just a matter of intellectual honesty to take Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, at his word when he claimed that true Christianity did not exist from the time of the Apostles until the reestablishment of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods on May 15, 1829.

Related Posts

From a Christian perspective, Mormonism is a new religion, complete with its own scripture, its own priesthood, its own rituals, and its own teachings. Most importantly, those teachings are a repudiation of historic Christian orthodoxy — and were claimed to be so from the moment of Mormonism’s founding forward. Mormonism rejects orthodox Christianity as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith.
Mormonism starts with an understanding of God that rejects both monotheism and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Mormon concept of God includes many gods, not one. Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that we are now what God once was and are becoming what He now is. This is in direct conflict with historic Christianity.
Mormonism rejects the Bible as the sole and sufficient authority for the faith, and insists that The Book of Mormon and other authoritative Latter-Day Saints writings constitute God’s final revelation. Furthermore, the authority in Mormonism is mediated through a human priesthood, through whom God is claimed to speak directly and authoritatively to the church. Nothing makes the distinction between Mormonism and historic Christianity more clear than the experience of reading The Book of Mormon. The very subtitle of The Book of MormonAnother Testament of Jesus Christ — makes one of Mormonism’s central claims directly and candidly: That we need another authority to provide what is lacking in the New Testament.
The Mormon doctrine of sin is not that of biblical Christianity, nor is its teaching concerning salvation. Rather than teaching that the death of Christ is alone sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, Mormonism presents a scheme of salvation that amounts to the progressive deification of the believer. According to Mormonism, sinners are not justified by faith alone, but also by works of righteousness and obedience. Mormonism’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ start with a radically different understanding of the Virgin Birth and proceed to a fundamentally different understanding of Christ’s work of salvation.
By its very nature, Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity. There are, no doubt, many Mormons who are not fully aware of the teachings of their church. Nevertheless, the doctrines and teachings of the LDS church are there for all to see.
It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity. Taking Mormonism on its own terms, one finds a comprehensive set of teachings and doctrines that are self-consciously set against historic Christianity. The larger world may be confused about this, but biblical Christians cannot make this error, for we are certain that the consequences are eternal.
So, how do we move from this knowledge to the question of our social and political responsibility? Can a faithful Christian vote for a Mormon candidate?
It is on this question that Evangelicals must think forcefully, faithfully . . . and fast. We need to recognize that we are asking this question from a privileged historical and political context. For most of our nation’s history, voters have chosen among presidential candidates who were identified, to one degree or another, with some form of Protestant Christianity. To date, for example, America has had only one Roman Catholic president and one Jewish candidate for vice president as a major party nominee.
It can be argued that our contemporary political context puts greater emphasis on the religious identity of candidates at all levels than has ever been experienced in American history. Both major political parties have sought various elements of the religious electorate and have developed strategies accordingly.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview. Given the importance of the issues at stake and the central role of worldview in the framing of political positions and policies, this intuition is both understandable and right. Likewise, we would naturally expect that adherents of other worldviews would also gravitate in political support to candidates who most fully share their own worldviews.
At the same time, competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13. Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent. The Reformer Martin Luther is often quoted as saying that he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (Muslim) than an incompetent Christian. We cannot prove that Luther actually made the statement, but it well summarizes an important Christian wisdom.
Furthermore, Christians in other lands and in other political contexts have had to think through these questions, sometimes under urgent and difficult circumstances. Christian citizens of Turkey, for example, must choose among Muslim candidates and parties when voting. Voters in many western states in the United States often have to choose among Mormon candidates. They vote for a Mormon or they do not vote at all.
Furthermore, we must be honest and acknowledge that there are non-Christians or non-evangelicals who share far more of our worldview and policy concerns than some others who identify as Christians. The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well.
In a fallen world, political questions are always contextual questions. With fear and trembling, matched with faithful biblical commitments, Christians must support and vote for candidates who will most faithfully and effectively meet these expectations. We must choose between real flesh-and-blood candidates, and not theoretical constructs.
Given all this, we would expect that, under normal circumstances, Mormon voters will support candidates who most fully represent their worldview and concerns. Given the distribution of Mormons in the United States, this means that many Mormons (who would probably prefer to vote for a Mormon candidate), often vote for an evangelical or a Roman Catholic candidate. The reverse is also true. Evangelicals in many parts of the United States vote eagerly for Roman Catholic candidates with whom we share so many policy concerns, and this is true also in reverse. In an increasingly diverse America, we will be faced with very different choices than we have faced in the past.
None of this settles the question of whom Evangelicals should support in the 2012 presidential race. Beyond this, those who support any one candidate for the Republican nomination must, if truly committed to electing a president who most shares their worldview and policy concerns, end up supporting the candidate in the general election who fits that description.
We are facing what are, for America’s Evangelicals, new questions. These questions will call for our most careful, biblical, and faithful thinking. We need to start thinking urgently — long before we enter the voting booth.

17 August 2011

Thoughts on the Modern View of Christian Freedom

My heart is one of seeing a radical devotion to Christ among Christians today. Unfortunately, there is a movement currently among the American Christian church where the main focus seems to be on Christian freedom, rather than a Christian lifestyle of holiness and reverence to Jesus. 

I have stated before, both here in the blogosphere and in sermons that there is a very real danger in this current wave of teaching coming from youth oriented churches. Anytime we emphasize personal freedoms over responsibility to others (do not stumble a brother), and reverence to  Jesus (be holy for I am Holy), we are on the wrong and very dangerous path.

Pastor John MacArthur
Despite the fact that I feel as though the bible does not support the Reformed Theology preached by most in the "reformed churches" and pastors of today, specifically the doctrine of predestination as they teach it, I find myself strangely drawn to the teachings of one such man; John MacArthur. 

What the Christian world has in John MacArthur is a well known and well respected pastor who is taking an unpopular stand against what has been coined as the "YRR" (Young, Restless and Reformed) generation of current day Christians. While most are in what we might call the "youth" movement itself (to me that means 20-something or less), many are wildly popular 30-40 something pastors who find emphasizing freedoms does a great deal to fill seats and pews, and get the 'fan-base' excited, but fail to look beyond the attendance count or the offering total to look for results or consequences.

Well, I strongly disagree with the YRR movement/trend, and to my liking (and of no great surprise to me), so does John MacArthur. He recently wrote a blog that I have shared below. 

Since this was posted on an open blog, I have copied and pasted it here. For a direct link to this article, click HERE. It is not only relevant to the discussion, but says things with an authority within the Reformed Church that few other can offer. 
Before you read his blog post let me share with you this thought. Speaking from experience, the Seattle area is a tough area when trying to preach a biblical responsibility to holiness. We are the world capitol of the 'micro-brewery', and seemingly theological extremes in testing the Hipster Christianity marketplace. I have been openly critical of the reformed theology seemingly so abundant locally, and the ultimate pathway that (when taken advantage of by the human psyche) leads people to go: to SELF first. 

What we face here is an attitude of, "I have freedom, and if you cannot recognize that I have this freedom, than you are...:

[Insert Choice insult here-

1. Too weak of a Christian
2. Too young or uneducated of a Christian
3. Un-elightened

4. Too judmental
5. Pharisaical 
6. etc, etc...]

...less of a Christian than I am, and therefore are to be looked down upon". Or, "I’m guaranteed a ticket to heaven, I’ll do as I please. All I have to do is 'redeem' these things that I do 'in the name of Jesus', and I can do whatever I want with my freedoms, and everything will be fine." This sort of theological rhetoric, while perhaps not preached directly- in a word-for-word style from the pulpit, is intimated by so many of the Driscoll/Mars Hill/Acts29/YRR group, and the results are pervasive, self-evident and harmful.

The seriousness of the errors in this theology are, in the end, the results that we see in the youth movement of today. Most young people seem to be gravitating towards this theology. They see a rebellious freedom in it that allows them to identity with, and look no different then the world, a tactic they see as necessary in being able to "reach the current generation". To them, being indistinguishable from the world has its benefits. 

Additionally, adults who have been seasoned mature Christians are falling back into their old ways as a celebration of these newly re-recognized freedoms. Or, when faced with the challenges of an ongoing Christian life lived out for Jesus, they are choosing to slip back into old habits that they themselves once vilified as sin. 

Regardless of which category one might fall into, those who do not share their views are then deemed theologically shallow or immature now. They shine an aura of 'enlightenment' in their faith, that the rest of us have not 'received' yet. In other words, who are we to judge their fruit anyway...

It’s so very strange. I do not find Driscoll’s teachings to be so, “Weeee!!!, go do whatever you want, you’re going to heaven no matter what” in style or content.  For the most part these guys do tend to try and preach conservatively in all the right places socially; staunchly anti-abortion, pro-family, anti-gay marriage etc. HOWEVER (and this is the proof of the failure of the doctrine), the net result is not a conservative following. Rather, it is an almost cult-like trail of people reveling in their freedoms that past generations looked upon as sin or even debauchery, flagrantly ignoring the possibility of stumbling a brother, and raising their pastors and teachers to pedestals they should not be on. The proof is in the pudding as they say, and the pudding smells of beer and the stale cigarettes.

That’s the quandary and the proof at the same time. No matter what you preach, conservative or not, if the theology is a guaranteed ticket to heaven no matter what (as is the root to reformed theology and their predestination stance), than the result is the very attitude and lifestyle we see MacArthur speaking out against. Trouble is, MacArthur does not see it that way. He instead finds himself in the unenviable position of criticizing those most popular pastors and teachers in his own Reformed theological movement, all the while being blinded to the fact that it is the theology itself that has caused the problem.

A good friend and mentor of mine, Mr. Justin Alfred, once took me to a verse to prove a point in understanding original language texts. I will never forget his teaching. In Genesis 6:5, only six chapters into the story of God's Creation, He Himself came to report upon the condition of man, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" In other words, before the thought even forms in the mind of the man, before that formulated thought can be transferred to the heart of the man, that thought, or the beginnings of that thought, are ALREADY EVIL! 

Given the chance, without the restraint of the Holy Spirit and the heart of a man who's will is set on the love of Jesus Christ and serving Him, he will chose evil every time! It's literally a no-brainer. If we allow people even the thought that there is no free-will, a thought that there is no eternal personal accountability, that by being 'chosen' or predestined by God means anything less than just the fact that He is all knowing and outside of time able to see what your future holds, then you can preach all the conservative thought and doctrine you like, but the masses will chose evil every time.

To all you YRR'ers out there; Youth will not always be with you. And reformed and restless is no way to go through life.

Beer, Bohemianism, and True Christian Liberty

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

by John MacArthur
If everything you know about Christian living came from blogs and websites in the young-and-restless district of the Reformed community, you might have the impression that beer is the principal symbol of Christian liberty.
For some who self-identify as "Young, Restless, and Reformed," it seems beer is a more popular topic for study and discussion than the doctrine of predestination. They devote whole websites to the celebration of brewed beverages. They earnestly assure one another "that most good theological discussion has historically been done in pubs and drinking places." They therefore love to meet for "open dialog on faith and culture" wherever beer is served—or better yet, right at the brewery. The connoisseurs among them serve their own brands and even offer lessons in how to make home brew.

It's clear that beer-loving passion is a prominent badge of identity for many in the YRR movement. Apparently beer is also an essential element in the missional strategy. Mixing booze with ministry is often touted as a necessary means of penetrating western youth culture, and conversely, abstinence is deemed a "sin" to be repented of. After all, in a culture where cool is everything, what could be a better lubricant for one's testimony than a frosty pint?

Of course, beer is by no means the only token of cultural savvy frequently associated with young-and-restless religion. All kinds of activities deemed vices by mothers everywhere have been adopted as badges of Calvinist identity and thus "redeemed": tobacco, tattoos, gambling, mixed martial arts, profane language, and lots of explicit talk about sex.

Cast a disapproving eye at any of those activities, and you are likely to be swarmed by restless reformers denouncing legalism and wanting to debate whether it’s a “sin” to drink wine or smoke a cigar. But without even raising the question of whether this or that specific activity is acceptable, indifferent, or out-and-out evil, we surely ought to be able to say that controlled substances and other symbols of secular society's seamy side are not what the church of Jesus Christ ought to wish to be known for. In fact, until fairly recently, no credible believer in the entire church age would ever have suggested that so many features evoking the ambiance of a pool hall or a casino could also be suitable insignia for the people of God.

It is puerile and irresponsible for any pastor to encourage the recreational use of intoxicants—especially in church-sponsored activities. The ravages of alcoholism and drug abuse in our culture are too well known, and no symbol of sin’s bondage is more seductive or more oppressive than booze. I have ministered to hundreds of people over the years who have been delivered from alcohol addiction. Many of them wage a daily battle with fleshly desires made a thousand times more potent because of that addiction. The last thing I would ever want to do is be the cause of stumbling for one of them.

Besides, deliberately cultivating an appetite for beer or a reputation for loving liquor is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers. The damage is clearly evident in places where the strategy has been touted. Darrin Patrick, who helped pioneer “Theology at the Bottleworks,” acknowledges the gravity of the problem:
As I coach and mentor church planters and pastors, I am shocked at the number of them who are either addicted or headed toward addiction to alcohol. Increasingly, the same is true with prescription drugs. One pastor I know could not relax without several beers after work and could not sleep without the aid of a sleeping pill. [Church Planter (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 51]
In biblical times, wine was necessary for health reasons. The risk of amoebae and parasites in drinking water could be significantly reduced or eliminated by mixing the water with a little wine (1 Timothy 5:23). The result was a greatly diluted wine that had virtually no potential for making anyone drunk. Purified tap water and refrigeration make even that use of wine unnecessary today.

Contrary to the current mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol or to bedeck one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery. As a matter of fact, drunkenness and debauchery are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (Ephesians 5:18)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.
Yes, I realize Jesus Himself was referred to by His enemies as "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11:19). But He was none of the things that expression implied—nor did He seek such a reputation.
He was indeed "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" in the sense that He specialized in lifting them up out of the miry clay and setting their feet on a rock. But He did not adopt or encourage their lifestyle. He did not embrace their values or employ expletives borrowed from their vocabulary in order to win their admiration or gain membership in their fraternity. He confronted their wickedness and rebuked their sins as boldly as He preached against the errors of the Pharisees (Matthew 18:7-9).
Note, too, that He ate and drank with Pharisees (Luke 7:36) as readily as He ate and drank with publicans. The only significant difference was that the typical tax collector was more inclined to confess his own desperate need for divine forgiveness than the average self-righteous Pharisee (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 18:1-14).
But there is no suggestion in Scripture that Jesus purposely assumed the look and lifestyle of a publican in order to gain acceptance in a godless subculture. He didn't.
This tendency to emblazon oneself with symbols of carnal indulgence as if they were valid badges of spiritual identity is one of the more troubling aspects of the YRR movement's trademark restlessness. It is wrong-headed, carnal, and immature to imagine that bad-boy behavior makes good missional strategy. The image of beer-drinking Bohemianism does nothing to advance the cause of Christ's kingdom.
Slapping the label “incarnational” on strategies such as this doesn’t alter their true nature. They have more in common with Lot, who pitched his tent toward Sodom, than with Jesus, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
Real Christian liberty is not about flouting taboos and offending conventional notions of propriety. The liberty in which we stand begins with full indemnity from the law's threats and condemnation—meaning we are at peace with God (Romans 5:1; 8:1). Christian liberty also removes the restrictions of the law's ceremonial commandments (Colossians 2:16-17)—freeing us from asceticism, superstition, sensuality, and "human precepts and teachings" (vv. 18-23).

But sober-minded self-control and maturity are virtues commanded and commended by Scripture; these are not manmade rules or legalistic standards. As a matter of fact, one of the main qualifications for both deacons and elders in the church is that they cannot be given to much wine. In other words, they are to be known for their sobriety, not for their consumption of beer.

It should not take a doctor of divinity to notice that Scripture consistently celebrates virtues such as self-control, sober-mindedness, purity of heart, the restraint of our fleshly lusts, and similar fruits of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work in our lives. Surely these are what we ought hold in highest esteem, model in our daily lives, and honor on our websites, rather than trying so hard to impress the world with unfettered indulgence in the very things that hold so many unbelievers in bondage.

17 June 2011

The Ignorance of the Educated: Why Learning Does Not Equal Growing

Ephesians 4:11-16
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Hopefully, today’s devotional will truly challenge you. These words are not any easier to right then I know they will be to read. But my intent is honorable and Godly, and hopefully will be received in the manner in which they are intended to be given: the truth in love, just as Paul has instructed me, and all Christians to do.

We are given a divine guide in the New Testament. It is a guide to Christ. It is a guide to salvation, and a guide full of examples from Christ Himself on not only how to become a Christian, but perhaps even more importantly, a guide on how to live as a Christian.

With the preponderance of the doctrine of most of the fastest growing churches and church ‘movements’ in America today, the theology that is being emphasized is one of FREEDOM. Freedom to live and act and do most anything you like, as long as in your heart you ‘feel’ as though you are going this “for Jesus”, or “in the name of Jesus”.  This freedom includes all sorts of ‘evangel’ events and activities that look and feel just like the world because their might be a chance that they can reach someone for Jesus while they are there blending in with the crowd.

This emphasis on freedom preached by many tells us that you are ‘chosen’, ‘predestined’ to go to heaven. Like it or not, act like it or not, you are going to heaven. (Others, well, too bad for them, they are not so lucky.) Even though the majority of those preaching the message will deny that their intent is to let their flocks understand that they can do anything they want in life, including a continual sinful lifestyle, and still get to heaven. But their message ends up being one of confusion. More importantly, they forget that they are preaching to SINNERS, sinners with hearts that will deceive them. Sinners will take whatever advantage they can to promote their flesh, especially when they are told they can do all these things ‘for Jesus’ and all will be well. However, our biblical instructions bear out just the opposite.

We are instead told that we must be continually growing in our spirit. We are to desire the truth, the milk of the word, and graduate into meat-eating carnivorous Christians, desiring to devour all of God’s Word, chewing on it, meditating on it ferociously. Well I’m sorry to say most Christians do not ever really graduate to this level. Most will remain emaciated milk-drinkers starving for a real diet of Christian healthy and enriching teaching. Others will become spiritual bulimics, binging and purging their way through a stagnated Christian life of consuming whatever sounds good, and purging it the moment it is not longer fits their lifestyle, or makes them feel uncomfortable. Heaven help us that we might actually have to change…

Another group might become spiritual gluttons. They take in all they can get, eat and eat and eat becoming fat on the word, only to find out that without a nutritious diet of spiritual foods that have a nourishing effect, that their theological diet, while fattening them, has no value and is in fact killing them.

Herein lays the crux of the issue. You can have uber knowledge of things theological. You might be the brightest, most intelligent man on the planet. You may have ever every theological work that has ever been written, and be able to recite the scriptures from Genesis 1:1 to the Revelation ‘Amen’ word for word. You might have as Paul said in I Corinthians 13:2 “all knowledge”, but if you do not translate that knowledge to wisdom, you are just as equally doomed as the man down the street that cannot read a lick.

If we put our emphasis on knowledge instead of wisdom, this is where we will end up. We’d be theological fat-cats, Pharisaical Christians that recite doctrine, and do nothing in their lives to live it out. We’d be the walking dead. Still.

Knowledge is having the information you need to make right choices. Wisdom is applying that knowledge properly. Knowledge without wisdom is useless. None of us are better off with knowledge if we cannot convert by practical application, that knowledge into wisdom in our lives. In the same way that simply having knowledge does not make one wise, knowing about God and the gospel does not make one a Christian.

Applying wisdom into the practical expression of your life allows those around you to see that you have knowledge. You don’t have to tell them, they just know. Applying what you know about Jesus and the gospel to your everyday life with wisdom allows people to see that you have not only knowledge of God, but that you believe what you have read, that you love God, that you are a rock-solid Christian! You won’t have to tell them, they’ll just know it!

We must have constant growth. The fact that you have been learning the bible, learning about God and His word means nothing if that knowledge does not produce growth in your spiritual life. We must constantly be growing. In the words of fellow Calvary Pastor Damian Kyle, you need to constantly be “closing the gap” between your sinful life, and the perfection of Christ. If you are reading the Word, if you are going to church, if you are attending bible studies if you are reading quality Christian books and you are not growing, then there is a disconnect somewhere between your knowledge and your wisdom. There is a disconnect between your Spirit and your flesh, and your flesh is winning out.

Think back to when you first became a believer. Look how much your life has changed since then. At least I hope it has. But then look back just one or two years. Do you still see dramatic growth? Do you see a mind and thought process becoming more and more Christ-like? Do you see things in a light now, looking through a more Godly shaded set of lenses, than you did a year or two ago? If you don’t – check yourself. There should always be growth, unless you have achieved perfection that is.

In that is my summation. Unless you are perfect, there is always room for growth. Failure to cause growth to happen is failure to see that it is necessary, which is in itself a sign of pride and selfishness. Neither of which are compatible with Christianity.

So there you have it. Knowledge does not equal wisdom. Learning does not equal growth. Failure to grow equals pride which is sin. You do the math from there.

15 June 2011

The Value of Truth: The Devastating Consequences of No Absolutes

John 14:6
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Any relationship of any type at all is of no value whatsoever if it in fact it is not based on truth.

Think about this for just a second. You ask someone, “will you feed my dog for me while I’m on vacation?” and they say yes. But they never feed your dog and your dog dies. Someone who is color blind asks you, “is that red or green? You respond, “it is red”, when you know it is green. Think of the implications at Stop Light intersections alone.  A judge asks a witness in a capital murder case, “is this the man you saw shooting the victim?” and you lie.

Or this: “Do you love me?”, and you answer (or are answered…) untruthfully.

Without truth, EVERYTHING fails. Every legal, moral and ethical standard is gone. Correction and punishment have no value, and even become unreasonable brutality. Every social norm, every acceptable moral standard – gone. Consider the thoughts of people making it a habit to lie while giving testimony in court, to lie in contracts, to lie about their qualifications when applying for a job, and the consequences that these actions would have. When lies become the accepted commonplace over truth, everything that is good ceases to function. Nothing can be trusted. Nothing has value unless there is absolute truth.

In today’s world of post-modern thinking, or when dealing with atheists, evolutionists, and proponents of situational ethics or provisional morality where right and wrong are dependent on circumstances or opinions that are in a constant flux, this argument becomes very apropos. It is a simple argument to show that unless one is a proponent of anarchy, than there must be absolute truth. Without it, we are left to our own devices, our own ‘feelings’ to determine what is right or wrong. A position that is ultimately untenable. As an example, an evolutionist relies on absolutisms; absolute truths are what determine evolution. This evolutionary trait is absolutely better than the previous one, which is why this trait continues, and others fall away and are lost in the evolutionary cycle. To the atheist, if he denies absolute truth, than why is it not OK for the person who disagrees with the atheist to just reach out and kill the atheist? I mean after all, there is no moral standard, no absolute truth in atheism as there is no deity to determine right from wrong, and we all decide on our own. So, the non-atheist kills the atheist, and this must be OK in the mind of the (now dead) atheist.  Right? Geeseh….

As you can see, truth is everything. Without truth there is no foundation, and no future. That being the case it begs the inevitable question once asked by Pontius Pilate, what is truth? Scripture gives us the answer. Jesus. Jesus is the Truth.

God’s Word is the truth. It is the absolute standard by which we all must live. It is the moral, social, ethical, spiritual truth. We do not get to determine right from wrong, God has already determined that for us. If we ever have a question as to what might appear to be a gray area, err on the side of Grace and on the standard that we are to esteem all others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

The value of truth cannot be understated, because the value of truth is the value of Christ. Without Christ, there is no truth, there is no right path to salvation. In the same sentence where Jesus declares Himself the Truth, He also declares that He is The Way, and the Life. There are all symbiotically tied together. Without truth we are without hope. With truth, our future is secure in Christ. Let us rely solely on Him and that truth. Its value is priceless.  

So, is your relationship with Jesus based on Truth? Not truth as you see it, but truth as He sees it. If not, there is no value in that relationship. For your relationship to be based on truth, you must not only say that you love Jesus, but you must live your entire life like you do, allowing your actions to prove your love for Him. If your life does not say to everyone who watches that you love Jesus, is your relationship really based on truth? Without the proof of your love for Jesus in your every day living, is there any proof at all? Don't tell someone who lived and died for you because of the love that He has for you, that you do love Him, and live your life like you don't.  

There is everlasting value in truth. There is nothing of value in a lie.

14 June 2011

Focus: Preparing For Your Own Spirtual Yard Sale

BrokenMatthew 7:5    

"Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

As we look at this verse, we always seem to look at it as one man looking at another man, And why not, it is the proper context of course. Jesus at this moment speaking to the masses, and talking about improper judging of another. So let's address the judging issue first, as we all know this is going to come up in conversation.

The word used here In the verses prior), most properly translated "do not judge" is a word that means not to judge right from wrong. In the application of today's post-modern view of mankind, this is most important. Jesus is saying fairly clearly that there is no such thing as 'situational ethics', where something is right (or wrong) for you, but not for me or someone else. He is saying that there is one right, and one right only. This is upheld all throughout scripture in no uncertain terms as God clearly defines His Word as absolute truth. HE (no one else) is THE Way, TRUTH, and Life. His word is the final Word. So in the end, it is not that we are not to judge people's actions (as even later on in this book Jesus addresses the fact that we are to look at people's 'fruit' as a sign of their salvation) but rather two things must be considered:
  1. That if we are to judge people's actions, that it is to be judged against GOD'S Word, not personally developed standards.
  2. That before we judge others actions, we must first look at our own and see that we are not approaching this fruit inspection from a hypocritical point of view - considering strongly that we are just as equally sinners saved by the grace of God. We must never go before God as a hypocrite.
With that said, I want us to consider something else now.  What if this is a conversation directly between you and God? What if it were God Himself saying to you, "judge not", or that He tells you to "remove the plank from your eye"? This changes the situation, and makes it not only a lot more intimate, but a lot more critical a situation. It becomes a condition demanding immediate corrective action on your part, and a serious period of self reflection. The alternatives of not doing so are serious and eternal.

We spend so much time in this world literally just spinning our wheels. Like so many people, I spend time on Facebook®, I have hobbies, I have pass-times, and down-times. I'm not here to tell you that those things in and of themselves are bad. Not at all. But in them, where is your focus? What is the focal point of your hobby? What are your goals when you share your status on Facebook®? What is your focus in your down time, or when you are involved in your pass-time? If it is not Christ, and closing the gap between His perfection and your sinfulness, it is time to reevaluate.

I spent part of my evening the other night in what some would call "intense fellowship" with my children and the condition of the basement. It's a mess. We seem to agree that we all play a role in its condition, and constructive action has been taken make amends. But in the mean time, one son (who for the most part would rather see things thrown away) began to point out things of mine in the basement. "When is the next time we are going to use this? When's the last time you used that? What are you keeping this for? We do we need this for..." and the list went on and on.

The picture that was physically painted was one of "stuff". Too much stuff, and time to get rid of some of it. After the night to sleep on it, the picture that was exposed to me from a spiritual standpoint, was one of focus. In other words, it was not the fact that I have stuff, but rather WHY do I have this stuff?

I'm a former professional musician. I have two guitars that I never play. I have two drum kits that I very rarely play. I have a couple of boxes of old vinyl record albums and 45's. I have sound equipment. I have some DJ equipment. I have tools I rarely use. I am a decorated combat Infantry veteran and have retained a lot of my old gear and 'stuff' of which I basically never use. I am a firearms lover and hunter, and I have a lot of guns and associated 'stuff'. I collect, restore and resell old smoking pipes as a hobby with my sons. Again, it is not that I have this stuff, it is the role that it plays ion my life.

If I found any of this stuff in your basement, or the basement of my Senior Pastor Chuck Lind, or the basement of Billy Graham, John Wesley, Martin Luther or Paul the Apostle it would not send up even the slightest hint of a red flag. It is not the stuff - it is the focus I have on this stuff, and the fact that my focus on this stuff, as slight as some of it is, takes my focus of Jesus. And if I take my focus off Jesus for just one minute, that's one minute too much. When my focus is in the world, I am at risk of deception.

For me, it is time for a spiritual Yard Sale. I need to seriously reevaluate this stuff, and determine how much focus I have on it. I need to determine whether that focus is one that can be used to improve my job as a husband, father or pastor, and whether or not it brings me closer to Jesus, or distracts me from Him. If it is the former, it stays. If it is the latter, it has got to go.

I'll spare you the list of things that are going and things that are staying. You might be surprised what has to go. I might be surprised at what has to go. More keenly, I need to be willing to let it go.

The issue is this; if we truly love Jesus, if we truly believe that we are living in the last days (which I certainly do), if our eternity with Jesus is as important to us as it should be, we should be using the example of the 12 year old Jesus when He was found in the temple, and be about the Father's business! Time is FAR too short to be caught up distracted by the things of the world. And folks, the great deception is upon us. We must be constantly aware that Satan is lurking to steal us away.

Naturally, a great deal must go into the decision making process as to what to do with your 'things' as you consider your own spiritual yard sale. John the Baptizer said, "I must decrease so that He can increase", and truer words have not been spoken. Perhaps ultimately, if you cannot not manage to somehow make Jesus increase while you are enjoying life, in your pastimes and hobbies then there is a bigger heart issue to consider.

I do not have all the answers. I don't profess to, never have, and never will. The day I do, you all need to stop reading anything that I write and tell all your friends to do the same because I've gone off my rocker. What I can tell you is what God has done in my life, and how He has allowed me to see things a little differently. God opened the eyes of my heart to see my relationship with Him, verses my relationship I have with my life in this worlds, and my stuff. We must be 100% sold out to Jesus. Nothing must be allowed to get between us.

My life in this temporal world, as much as I want to make it so, is not mine. It is His. I have been bought with price, a very high price. My life is no longer my own. My eternity is owned by the One who paid the price. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit helps us all remember that is true. The freedom we have as believers is the freedom to love and serve Jesus without any reservation.

Examine your life. Examine what stuff steals your time from serving Jesus. Take it to the Father in humble prayer and simply ask Him what must go into your spiritual yard sale.