A Lop-Sided Faith

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The other day someone shared an article with me. They were disturbed by the post’s point and wondered what my opinion was. The blog post was a call to share in brokenness and dysfunction together. To look for the little bright spots in the state the writer found herself in, rather than sharing that there is a possibility and great potential to fix the situation, by applying the Word of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If that seems vague, it is because it is intentionally so. I have no interest in throwing this blogger under the bus, so to speak. I just see this as another post that is encouraging Christians in a lop-sided faith.

Have you, too, noticed the propensity of this? The “Christians” of today want a faith that makes them feel less guilty about their sin. They want an encouraging, build-me-up kind of faith. They don’t really want to deals with their sins (or the sinful self-wills of their children). They have no interest in the hard work it takes to grow in holiness and purity. Since it is much easier–at least in the short-term–to stay in that bad place, it is quite comforting to have someone tell you that it is okay to be there.

Of course, there is a fine line we walk here, though. Since we are all sinful and we all do struggle, an encouraging word is such a blessing! It is so comforting to know we aren’t alone in our struggles. So I am not suggesting that we don’t post and share these things. No, that is not it at all.

What I am concerned about is that we share only these things.

The Christian faith is one of building up but it is also one of holiness. It is one of encouragement but it is also one of self-examination. It is one of growing–through words that build up and words that confront sin.

If you find yourself only drawn to posts that comfort and build you up, may I encourage you to also read and look for posts that challenge you to grow and take you out of your comfort zone and into the scriptures?

While there are an abundance of verses that comfort and build us up, there are just as many verses that challenge and confront our sin. We must be so careful to keep a balanced view of the Bible and of our faith.

Balanced writers will share their struggles but they will also offer challenging words from the Bible to confront their own sin, as well as yours. Bible-centered writing will view all of life through the lens of scripture, rather than through the broken and dirty lens of our culture. It is my hope that this is what you will find here at Growing 4 Life and–if it is not–that you will let me know. I want to encourage and to challenge you. I hope to do both. Because this is what the Bible does for us.

The Bible is the perfect Word of God–offering us both God’s love and forgiveness in our sinful, broken state and yet challenging us to grow holier and purer with each passing moment. It calls us to love but it also calls us to truth. It calls us to be kind but it also calls us to discern. It speaks of God’s amazing grace while still calling us to moral purity. It gives us hope for eternity, while challenging us to run the race of life well in the here and now of a fallen world.

It is my hope that you will find all of this here, as well. Not in perfection, of course, since I am not perfect, but in a way that shows that I love the Word of God so much that I build by life –and this blog–upon it.

And it is my hope that I will encourage you to do the same–to build your life upon the whole Word of God and not just the passages and verses that make you feel better. It is in this way that we have a whole and sound faith to see us through all of the storms of life. It is in this way that we grow more holy and pure. And it is in this way that we have eyes opened to the false doctrine that is all around us, even within our own churches.

Let’s keep the whole counsel of God’s Word as we move forth in our Christian life, instead of falling prey to the lop-sided faith that is so prevalent today.

 

 

Remembering the Reformation: Introduction

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How much do you know about the Protestant Reformation? In 1517,  Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church and began a movement back to biblical theology. God used him and other men (and women) to bring His church back to pure doctrine. October 31 will mark the official 500th anniversary!

500 years is a long time and we have, obviously, forgotten quite a bit of what we learned back then. I have been dismayed to see the lackadaisical attitudes of believers towards Catholicism. Don’t they understand that Catholic works-based salvation is what the Reformation fathers fought against?

This would seem to be a great month to dig a little deeper into the history of the Reformation and educate ourselves so that–at least on an individual scale–we don’t neglect and negate all that took place those many years ago.

I know most of you don’t enjoy history all that much (and your eyes have probably already glazed over!) But please stick around! I hope you will give me an opportunity to provide posts on the Reformation that will be readable, beneficial, and enjoyable even for people who don’t love history (most of you?!?)

I am not going to give an official timeline, although I am going to try to provide these posts on Thursdays, as I am able. Since this will take quite a bit of reading and research for me to prepare, it may not be every Thursday.

Here is what I am going to cover–

1.Before the Beginning

2. An overview and timeline of the Reformation

3. Brief sketches of key figures involved

4. The five solas of the Reformation

5. What does Catholic doctrine actually teach?

6. How does the Reformation affect me today?

UPDATE: 11/16/17 — In contemplating both the responses (or lack thereof) I was getting from these posts and also the plethora of really great information already available to all of us (much of it at no cost), I made the decision to discontinue this series. You can read the final post here: Remembering the Reformation: What’s It Have To Do With Today?

 

Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself

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Somewhere in the second half of the last century, psychologists started declaring that many of the ills and woes we experience are simply because we just do not love ourselves enough. Somewhere in the late 70’s or early 80’s the church jumped on this same bandwagon and started promoting self-esteem as a biblical concept (it isn’t).

While, of course, we read in scripture that we are created and loved by God, scripture also makes it clear that self-esteem is not our issue. Several places we find that self-love is an attribute we all have and the command is to love people as we already love ourselves (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Philippians 2:3-4).

Part of our sin nature is to be in love with ourselves so much that we end up hurting others around us. As the culture and the church has encouraged us to love ourselves more we haven’t seen it solve problems but instead create them. We have seen a rise in family breakdowns, church splits, shootings, racial tension–to name just a few. I think it is safe to say that self-esteem is not the answer to the world’s or the church’s problems.

But the damage has been done and even we Christians have soaked up a bit of this by just living in this culture. As I thought about my own life over the weekend, I can see how my love for myself can be so damaging to my relationships. And I thought of these five ways that demonstrate that we are really just far too in love with ourselves. Think about these things in light of how you relate to your family and your friends. At church, at work, even as a spectator at your child’s sports activities. Think about these in relation to yourself instead of someone else who might come to mind. It is my hope that my own personal examination will encourage you to do your own personal examination–

1.  We are easily offended. Our offense is based on the fact that we have been hurt personally. Whether the offense is actual or just perceived doesn’t matter. This will often lead to holding a grudge and being bitter. This is a sure sign that love for self is dominating our actions.

2. We are difficult and grumpy when things don’t go our way. We all get a little frustrated when our plans go awry. This is certainly natural. But when we love ourselves too much we take our internal frustration and let it affect us externally, making life miserable for all around us if things aren’t going the way we think they should.

3. We grow defensive if anyone dares to confront us. Instead of humbly listening and carefully evaluating, we immediately lash out and close our ears. This is a sure sign that we care more about our own personal feelings than we do about growing in Christ.

4. We only want to talk about things that interest us. Have you been in one of those conversations where someone is animatedly talking about themselves but as soon as you mention something about your own life, their eyes glaze over and they walk away? That is the extreme form of this but many are the one-sided conversations that exist in this self-centered age. If we only talk and never listen, it is a good sign that we are too in love with ourselves.

5. And, last but certainly not least, we arrange all of life for our own comfort and convenience. We won’t serve because it’s inconvenient. We won’t stand up for truth because we don’t want the pain of being mocked. We don’t attend church because we are tired. We will sacrifice God’s scriptural principles on the altar of our own selfish desires.

Now, look, these five things should prove to us that we are too in love with ourselves. We all are. It is probably the biggest battle we Christians face as we struggle to grow in our faith and in obedience. Sure, a few of you may have won this battle, but I know I certainly haven’t and I am guessing most of you haven’t, either.

But we must fight this battle because so much is at stake. If we lose this battle, we lose so much. We lose the respect of those watching us (and people are watching–family members, co-workers, church and school families). We lose close and warm relationships, because people are afraid to tell us the truth. Our relationship with God suffers because we are not living in obedience to the scriptures. And we lose our power of living as an example for others to follow, as we are the people that no one wants to be like.

I feel like this is a battle I have struggled with all my life and I still remain in the trenches fighting against myself. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that this is what the Christian life is all about–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

We can see from this that–no matter what pop psychology and philosophies are saying–that the only way to serve Jesus well and faithfully is to deny ourselves. This is in direct opposition to what we hear in most churches and is unpopular in the extreme. But it is what we read in scripture–not only in Luke but in others places as well, such as Luke 14:25-27, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

The Christian life has us swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream in a raging river. It is no easy task and we have the opportunity to clearly show that we have chosen to swim the opposite direction of the world (and most of the church) in how we respond and react to the circumstances around us as we face the daily trials of sickness, financial woes, relationship difficulties, and disappointment. This is an often neglected and ignored light that all of us can shine in this dark world obsessed with “self”.

 

Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Learn to Discern: Knowing When to Speak Up

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I was mindlessly moving a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer. My mind was on other things and I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing. Without thinking, I grabbed a dime that was laying near the dryer’s lint trap and tossed it in the trash.

Oops!

I looked at the trash and I pondered the worth of the dime. And then I turned back to my task. I simply did not find the dime to be valuable enough to warrant digging through the trashcan. This made me wonder about what amount of money I would consider worth digging in the trash? A quarter? A dollar? At what point would I deem the amount valuable enough that it would propel me to work to get it back?

I think we need to consider this same principle when we are looking at discernment. Recently, there was a huge “to-do” in the discernment world (if you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, I am not going to fill you in. I have no desire to give it any more attention than it has already received). But what I saw happening there was someone who was making a huge deal over a “dime”. While I did agree with this person’s point of view on the subject matter at hand, I did not see that it was worth a fight. A few other Christian leaders had the same opinion as me and ended up being maligned by this other man who thought everyone else should be making as big a deal over this “dime” as he was!

One of the hardest things we must learn to do as we grow in discernment is know when something is worth a confrontation. Romans 12:18 teaches us that we are to be at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. This is an important verse, giving us a framework in which we are to live all of life. Unfortunately, this is not going to always be possible. We know from scripture that we are going to be hated by the world and that there will be many false teachers. This naturally means that we will have some run-ins, as we try to stand for the truth.

So, how exactly do we know if something is important enough to speak up about in our families, churches, or anywhere else?

Here are a few guidelines to follow–

1. The situation at hand is about God, His Word, and His reputation. This is by far the most important key to discerning when something is important enough to stand up for. It should never be about our pride, our reputation, our importance, our need to prove ourselves. Something that is worth standing up for will always be about God’s glory and about protecting the truth of God’s Word.

It is never about ME. 

But this is oh, so tempting, isn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to discern if we are standing for God or for our own pride. We have this need to prove ourselves or to be “right” and we can get all entangled in our own selfish agenda–sometimes even when are standing up for the true and right thing! We must have humble hearts that are on the constant look-out for sins like pride, selfishness, and anger. And let’s regularly ask the Lord for a right heart and attitude and that He will fill us with His love and grace as we fight the good fight.

2. It is morally wrong. There are an abundance of verses expounding on the things that are an offense to our Holy God. We know that sexual sins, lying, sorcery, anger, pride etc. are always wrong and therefore should be something that those who claim to be Christians should avoid. (Check out these passages for more clarity and detail on the sins that God hates: Exodus 20:1-17; Colossians 3:5-6; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:1-7.)

If we know God hates these things, then this should be our guideline of things we want to avoid in all aspects of our lives. This would include our entertainment, which is something that believers mostly ignore now and, for some reason, practice a strange “disconnect”–as if somehow this is irrelevant from the rest of their spiritual health.

We should–we must–stand for pure and holy living. God’s Word clearly teaches that, as regenerated souls, we are to live pure and holy lives that are clearly different and separated from the world (I Peter 1:15-16; Jude 1:20; Philippians 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:22; Romans 12:1-2; I Peter 2:9; Romans 13:13-14; Colossians 3:10).

This is not a wildly popular thing to stand for. In fact, it is not even marginally popular. But we need to speak up because God’s glory and reputation are damaged by those who live worldly, sinful lives while claiming to belong to Him.

3. Scripture is misinterpreted and twisted. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 tells us this: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Since scripture was written there has been an accepted interpretation. Oh, there have been councils and meetings to discuss things, but God has miraculously protected the integrity of scripture throughout the years. However, Satan is always trying to mess with it just enough that he will mislead people. He has done this through the ages, but I highly doubt it has ever been so much as right now.

When someone gives some wild, out-of-context interpretation of scripture it is time to stand up! When someone tries to rationalize worldliness, homosexuality, evolution, or any other ungodly sin or philosophy, it is time to stand for the truth of God’s Word. We cannot let our enemy win this battle –for this is the battle’s core. Is scripture 100% true, inerrant, and inspired, or isn’t it? Because we know it is, we must speak up when it’s maligned.

Of course, the problem with this is that most of us do not have enough biblical knowledge to really provide a biblical defense. This is really why I write. I want to encourage you to know the Word so that you can live godly lives and contend for the faith.

Josh Buice writes this: The absolute best method of testing a theology or a popular catch phrase is by Scripture. If any teaching will stand the intense scrutiny of Scripture, it proves itself to be a trustworthy doctrine. This is true on all matters of theology—from bumper stickers to historic creeds and confessions. The question that we must be asking ourselves as we build our positions is, “What does the Bible say?”

Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly right. You see, the Bible isn’t all that hard to understand. If we accept the Bible as it is written, literally, it all makes so much sense. And, even more amazing, the facts presented in science (I am talking about facts and not theories) and the historical record supports it all! You will find it incredible and even miraculous when you give yourself to serious study of this amazing book. But we don’t know because we don’t study. And– if I may be so bold–we don’t study because we don’t care. Oh, if this blog accomplishes one things –I hope it is that you would start to care about growing in your knowledge of the Word of God!

4. Christ’s role is diminished. Oh, how many false teachers diminish the role of Christ. If you are deciding whether something is worth the fight, ask yourself this: How do they treat Christ? Do they turn His sacrifice on the cross into a mere event? Do they teach that Christ is one of many ways to be reconciled to God? Do they teach that man is basically good and that Jesus is just a good example to follow? Do they teach that Christ is there to do one’s bidding? Do they teach that Christ is simply a good teacher? You will be surprised how even the most mainstream teachers and authors are teaching error in regards to Christ. And this is worth the fight! While Jesus Christ is the theme of the whole Bible (yes, even the Old Testament!), you can start by reading the Gospels. This is a great place to get started in knowing your Savior and will help you to defend Him!

5. Primary Christian Doctrines are compromised. As believers, we do need to know doctrine (contrary to what you have probably been told). Being unfamiliar with words like justification, sanctification, and glorification leaves you vulnerable to false teachers. Having at least a basic understanding of what the Bible teaches about (to name a few) the Trinity, God’s Sovereignty, salvation, God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and about the Church strengthen and prepare you for the vicious and unrelenting attacks that Satan wages against these doctrines. (Understanding what the Bible teaches us about the the last days and about Israel are secondary issues but are still beneficial–and interesting!– to study.) Find a good resource, such as Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue and start increasing your knowledge. If you’d rather have something a little less intimidating and not quite as deep, try Fundamentals of the Faith by MacArthur, which is a 13-week guided study of basic Christian doctrines.

6. Be socially wise. Now, with the final two items on this list, we are moving from biblical compromise to having social discernment. If someone you barely knows starts sharing about how much they love The Shack or Jesus Calling, don’t start off on a long monologue on why they are not doctrinally sound books. Go ahead and say something casually and if they express interest, then, by all means, have a conversation. But don’t confront acquaintances and strangers. They have absolutely no reason to listen to you. Gauge their interest and be wise. And, most importantly, pray for them.

7. Consider the spirit of the person you are confronting.  We must evaluate the person we are speaking to and ask ourselves: Is this person humble or proud? You see, if you are dealing with someone who thinks they know everything, who won’t bend, who doesn’t listen, then feel free to bring up your concern, but don’t argue or debate with them. Only the Holy Spirit can remove that blind pride. You could talk for forever and not move them an inch. So allow the Lord to use you to plant His seeds and to challenge them with some thoughts but do not become a thorn in their side that pricks at every opportunity. This is not how we practice discernment.

 

This is not an exhaustive list. Practicing biblical discernment is no picnic and I can honestly tell you that there is little personal reward for speaking up. I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again–most people do not want to hear. And because they do not want to hear, they will view you as (and call you) all kinds of negative things. But don’t let this stop you because we know that the truth of the Bible has the power to save! We know that the souls of those who are deceived and lost are going to hell! We know how this all ends! We know what is coming in the future! Let’s keep our eyes focused on what is important and not get embroiled in our hurt feelings and relational skirmishes here on earth. Study the Word and don’t be afraid to speak up when you must!

 

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

Shopping for Furniture

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She was standing there when we entered the store. She quickly moved towards us, asking if she could help us. We courteously told her what we were looking for and that we wanted to look around. As we browsed the left side of the store, she hovered behind us, throwing in little tidbits of unwanted information. As we moved to the right side of the store she faithfully followed us, until we were seated on a sofa set, discussing a different sofa set from the other side of the store. At this point, she stood {too} close by and inserted some piece of information completely irrelevant to our discussion.

I can only assume that, thinking we looked like serious shoppers, she wanted the commission of the sale.

As we walked around and then finally decided not to purchase anything, she made us feel a bit guilty for not buying something. As we prepared to leave she asked if she could give us her card. My husband said sure and, as she dug around in the little purse she had at her side for it, she asked us to find her again should we return, explaining that she only works on weekends.

When we left the store we felt so relieved. I know that she may have circumstances we know nothing about, but someone should tell her that she is not doing herself any favors trying to sell furniture in that manner. It was positively stifling!

She was driven wholly by her desire for a sale.

We then drove across town to a different furniture store. As we entered the store, we were greeted by a friendly man who filled us in on the sale they were having and then told us to find him if we had any questions. As we wandered through the store, we didn’t see him anywhere, although when we did have some questions, he was close by. Soon, I found my husband with him, setting up our room on a big computer screen, placing and moving pieces around to see if the furniture we wanted would fit. He was kind but not overly kind. He was interested in us personally but not overly interested. He offered suggestions that made sense. The experience was in direct contrast to the lady at the first store.

A little later I found out that they don’t work on commission at this store. He didn’t care if we bought anything.

What a difference!

Now–before I move on–let me say that I have worked with salespeople who work on commission that are not quite so obnoxious and desperate. But commission sales are a tricky business, as it is hard to trust someone that is going to benefit from what they are selling you. And, in this day and age where there is such little regard for truth, it is hard to really know if the salesperson is telling the truth. It was a relief to go into a furniture store that wasn’t working on commission. The difference was like night and day.

My mind was turning about this all weekend long. What spiritual lesson is there to learn from this experience?

I believe it is this–

Many “Christians” follow Christ for the rewards they can get. They want a happy life. They want to have peace. They want personal purpose and fulfilled dreams. And compliant kids. And good health. And financial security. Their entire motivation for following Christ is based on what they will get from Him. Like the saleslady, who was driven by her own selfish agenda with little care for the customer, so they, too, are driven by their “commission” (what they will get from God) with little care for really knowing God.

And when they don’t get what they expected, they become disenamored with God. These people respond one of two ways when this happens. They either walk away from God or, if they are true believers, these times become what God uses to grow them and help them realize that the Bible never promises a perfect life.

Contrast that to the guy who just worked because it was the right thing to do. There was nothing in it for him at all. Oh, I rather suspect that the company may reward their best salesmen at a yearly banquet or evaluation, but his work day-to-day was done because of his work ethic and loyalty to the company that has provided him his livelihood for over a decade.

As believers, we need to be more like this guy. Knowing our rewards come later, we should love and obey Christ because it is the right thing to do. We need to follow Christ through the good times and the bad times, without expecting rewards here on earth. And without expecting that everything will go as we planned.

This can be hard to do in a “Christian” culture where preachers and teachers, using the name of Christ to peddle their false doctrine, are literally telling their followers that you can “speak your destiny” or that you will become rich, healthy, and have your dreams come true if you follow Christ. This is not only something that we never find in scripture, it is also a lie that Satan uses to lead people into a wrong and disillusioned view of God.

In fact, we read quite the opposite in several places–

John 15:18 assures us that the world will hate us. We can deduct from this that life will not always be easy and that we won’t be all that popular if we sincerely follow Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Paul shares his own trials and how he has learned to be content in Philippians 4:11-13. This passage makes it clear that there will be times of great trial and struggles but that Jesus Christ is enough.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And James in James 1:2-4 tells us not only that we should expect trials but that we are supposed to be joyful during them, knowing that they are producing faith and steadfastness in us.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

So I hope our trip to the furniture stores has encouraged at least one of you to reconsider why it is that you follow Jesus. While we do know that we have eternal rewards coming (Matthew 6:19-20) and while Jesus does give us peace (Philippians 4:7), it is not the peace as the world defines it (John 14:27), where life becomes perfect.

And, finally, as an aside, I have noticed that the times when life isn’t so perfect are what lead me into growing as a believer and in removing my affections from here on earth. God accomplishes great things in our lives when our circumstances are less than perfect. Why do we strive so for temporal rewards? (That was rhetorical–as, of course, we all prefer easy, carefree, painless times. And we should be filled with gratitude when we are blessed with them! Don’t forget to say thank you to God during those happy times!)

Life is full of ups and downs for most of us. Let’s be sure that how we follow Jesus is not based on what we are experiencing in this life but is instead based on His Word. Let’s never be fickle followers that turn away when things get rough but instead let’s turn towards God with a heart that is willing and eager to learn what He has to teach us through the hard times. (And, yes, I do know that this is much easier to write than to actually live out!)

 

Coming in the Back Door

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We Christians have a knack for attaching our loyalties to “family-friendly” enterprises and then letting our guards down. Specifically today I am referring to TV channels like HGTV and Hallmark.

If you are a conscientious Christian who wants to be careful about what you put before your eyes, there isn’t much left to watch anymore. Channels like these provide blessed relief from all of the sex, violence, and bad language we find on most of the other channels.

But even these channels are not immune from pushing an ungodly agenda.

For example–

The other day I had some mindless work to do and so I turned on a Hallmark movie. I don’t actually watch that many Hallmark movies but sometimes I record the mystery movies they feature on their movie channel. About an hour into the movie, out of the blue, a character started talking about her “crystals”. It was in passing but it was there. Towards the end of the movie, another character–who had received a gift of crystals from the first character–was praising these crystals for improving her life. Huh…

So here you have this seemingly innocent movie. And yet, even here, there is this New Age (occultic) practice not only being introduced, but even being presented as something positive that will improve one’s life.

Wow. Talk about slipping evil in the back door. And this is not an isolated incident. I have seen this type of thing before on this family-friendly channel.

And we find another example from HGTV. I like the show House Hunters and, several times now, I have turned it on to see a gay couple house-hunting together. Unfortunately, this is not rare. Watching things like this condition us to accept this as normal. Personally, I choose not to watch these episodes because it is not normal. It will never be normal.

Now–just to be clear–this post is not about what you should and should not watch. The Christian life is not about rules but about a heart that desires to please the Lord. I am not saying that you should not watch or listen to something just because they insert something evil. (I underline this because inevitably someone will accuse me of being legalistic in posts such as these). You must work out with God, through Bible Study and prayer, what you put before your eyes.

The point of this post is not about what we watch but about something else completely–

These incidents are good reminders that, as believers, we can never let our guards down.

Discernment can never take a break. Whether we are watching something that is labeled “Christian” or “Hallmark” or “HGTV” –or anything else for that matter– we must keep alert. All things must go through the grid of the Word.

We must do this for our favorite authors. For our favorite channels. For our favorite radio stations and magazines and websites. We must do this for our favorite pastors (and, honestly, a godly pastor will want you to do this) and for our counselors and therapists.

We should never be so loyal to any author, network, radio host, pastor, therapist, or musician that their message trumps what the Bible teaches.

We should never grow so lazy that we become numb to the sin around us or, even worse yet, start taking on the world’s values.

I know this takes work. And I know it is exhausting. But I want you to know it is so worth it for the spiritual health of you and your family. Taking the time to recognize evil and to have conversations with our families about it–teaching our kids (and our grandkids) to discern– keeps us from being hardened to sin and protects us. Sure, we will make wrong judgments and we will grow lazy sometimes and let something slip by that we shouldn’t. This is the nature of our humanity. But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again. We just keep going. Because…

Satan roars about like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8) and he comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). This means he is after you and your children. It means that he rarely comes with horns and warts but usually looks lovely and beautiful and pure.

So stay watchful! Be vigilant! And, please, talk about these things with your kids and grandkids so that you are teaching the next generation the importance of having the Bible as their authority and how to be godly discerners.

 

 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: America’s New Religion

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Every now and again, you hear something that brings together details and dynamics that have been baffling you for awhile. Such was the case when I heard this term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism the other day. Yes, yes, yes! This makes so much sense!

Twelve years ago, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton did a study of 3000 American teenagers regarding religion. What their study revealed was that these teenagers really had no concept of historical, biblical Christianity but now believe in a new religion that they referred to as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (hereafter referred to as MTD).

There are five main beliefs of MTD–

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

(from this Wikipedia Article)

The article goes on to say–

The authors believe that “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Oh, doesn’t this make so much sense? THIS is what most people that call themselves Christians believe. It has been accomplished by false teachers like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. It has been promoted by authors William Young and Sarah Young. Along with countless other “celebrity” pastors and authors, these men and women have subtly and very effectively changed the focus of Christianity from the Gospel and have placed it squarely on personal purpose, happiness, and experience.

Oh, there are a million different versions of MTD, some even giving a passing mention to the cross, but the bottom line is that most people who call themselves Christians today have their own happiness at the center of their religion. Many who call themselves Christians can’t believe that God would ever send anyone to hell. Most “Christians” only call on God when they are in a trial. And many people that call themselves Christians never read the Bible, rarely go to church, and honestly believe that they are a “good person”.

Don’t believe me? Just ask your nice neighbor or co-worker some questions about their faith. I have listened to Todd Friel interview dozens of average Americans about religion over at Wretched Radio.  This truly is what most “Christians” believe.

As we come to understand this, we also need to come to terms with a few other really hard truths.

First, some people who refer to God or tell us they will pray for us may not truly understand the Gospel. If MTD has hijacked biblical Christianity (and there seems to be little doubt that it has) then we have to assume that there are many calling themselves Christians who are not genuinely saved. This is a grave concern, is it not?

Second, the ramifications of this new religion for our culture are staggering and disastrous. This new religion yields employees who only look out for themselves and have zero integrity and even less loyalty to their company. It yields narcissistic parents, neglecting their kids because they are so caught up in their own dreams and pursuits of happiness. With this new mindset we harvest an explosion of drug and alcohol addiction and a bizarre twisting of normal that most of us never saw coming called “transgenderism”. These are just a few of the consequences. There are so many more. It is wholly discouraging. And it is not changing. We are seeing the demise of a great civilization right before our very eyes. Those who call it “progress” would do well to look at what history has proven about this type of progress.

So what to do? How do we true believers handle this unprecedented situation?

Some of us are tempted to react in denial, pretending this dire situation doesn’t exist. Others of us are tempted to follow after the crowd, doing all we can to avoid the antagonism, intolerance, and name-calling that has become a given when we stand for biblical truth. Still others of us may be tempted to curl up in a ball of depression and hopelessness.

But let me encourage you to respond in a different way! We are here–at this particular time–on God’s earth for a reason. He has entrusted us to stand for biblical truth. Us! His church made up of sinful, weak people. May we not disappoint! May we be brave enough to share the biblical Gospel and may we stand firm on the solid rock of the Bible, when all around us men and women we trusted to stand forever on God’s Word are caving under the pressure.

And, through it all, may we be much more concerned about our heavenly Father’s opinion of us than what any man or woman thinks of us. For this is the heart of why most of us refuse to stand. This is often the real reason we cave.

As we ponder the invasion and takeover of MTD in America, may we respond by growing stronger in our faith. May this draw us to the Word of God and prod us to be whole-hearted in our loyalty to biblical Christianity.

I leave you with these words from Esther 4:14–

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

 

*This is a fascinating article by Al Mohler regarding MTD, for those of you who are interested.

 

Grace That Changes

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Sometimes I wish I could go back and re-live high school. I know so much more now than I knew then. I’d treat people so differently. I’d be so much kinder. Mostly, I have grown a whole lot in the grace I have for others.

I think God started changing me in college with my first roommate. We couldn’t have come from more different family backgrounds. She was a new believer from a broken family and I was a “holier than thou” believer from a good Christian family. Instead of trying to help her, I judged her from my proud heart. I just cringe when I think about how little grace I had towards her. Thankfully, God, in His Sovereignty, drew us back together after that first {terrible} year and, ironically, we became best friends and she is still one of my best friends today. Funny how God works.

As I look back over my life, I can see that this was the starting point of God’s grace affecting how I live. But I still had a long way to go.

A long way.

I think I really started changing when I started to understand God’s grace towards me. As I already mentioned, I had been blessed as a young person to be in a wonderful Christian family. Not only had I not experimented with the typical teen-age temptations (such as sex, smoking, drugs, and drinking) I didn’t even want to try them. Unfortunately, while I don’t regret not doing those things, I do regret the pride and lack of grace that grew out of that. Obviously, I was more focused on the outward than the inward at that point in life. And I wasn’t in the Word like I should have been.

But then I grew up and got married and started a family. I started studying my Bible and actually listening to sermons. And God, in His great kindness and mercy, started opening my eyes. And I began to see myself as who I really was instead of who I thought I was. I saw what I could have been were it not for God and His marvelous grace towards me. I was a wicked sinner just like everyone. I wasn’t anything special at all. And instead of pride, I was filled with gratitude. Instead of judgment, I was filled with sorrow. Where in the world would I be if not for Jesus?

As I have grown in the Lord, I have come to understand that grace for others is something we Christians should be known for. We should extend it freely and kindly, because of the great grace we have been shown.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we never confront sin or speak truth. We are clearly mandated to do both in scripture. But we should do so out of a heart of grace and love, not pride and arrogance.

The world will tell you that if you disagree with them you aren’t showing grace. You are critical. You are unkind. Actually, the church will often tell you the same thing. That if you say something that is negative (even if it is biblical), you are critical and without grace. But this just isn’t true.

God’s grace towards us doesn’t cover up sin. God doesn’t simply say “you are okay now.” Even in salvation, we must face the negative (we are wicked sinners) to grasp the import of salvation. God sent His son to take away our sin through Jesus Christ. We aren’t freed on our own merit. We are freed because of Christ’s merit! God’s grace doesn’t pronounce us sinless, it pronounces us forgiven!

Do you see? We Christians are not doing anyone a favor by saying they can just live the way they want to live. We aren’t helping by not speaking the negative. This is not grace. It is cowardice. But grace does mean we speak words of truth from a heart filled with grace and love.

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

I am still growing in this area. And I hope you are, too. As our understanding of God’s grace towards us–desperate, wicked sinners–deepens each year, so, too, should our grace for others.

 

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

 

 

Learn to Discern: How Do You Determine What Is True, Right, and Good?

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I don’t think I can count the amount of times that I have heard something like this as a defense for a false teacher or a doctrinally unsound book or church–

But it has helped so many people!

(or its sister comment: It has really helped me.)

The item or person in question is judged on this fact alone– if it has helped someone, it must be right (and the opposite: If it hasn’t helped anyone, it must be wrong.)

But here is something we must consider: Is this how the Bible teaches us to determine truth? Does the fact that something is helpful automatically make it true, right, or good?

The belief that this is how we determine truth is called pragmatism.

Officially, the definition for pragmatism is: An approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

In essence, it is the belief that the end justifies the means.

Most of us would say, of course, this isn’t true. We would never agree that we can get from point A to point B any way we want to. But, when it comes to how we actually approach what is true, we have taken on this philosophy far more than we would care to admit.

For example, when the book The Shack first came out, many, many Christians loved it! If anyone dared to suggest it wasn’t doctrinally sound, the defense was that “it helped me understand who God is” or “it comforted me.”

Of course, we can see that the measurement being used by most people to judge this book was a practical, subjective method (how it makes me feel or what I have perceived) rather than using scripture as the measurement tool.

All these years later, William Paul Young shows us clearly that He does not believe what the Bible teaches in his latest book, Lies We Believe About God. In this book, he clearly denies tenet after tenet of the Christian faith.

So why were so many Christians fooled? Why did they not recognize this early on? And why did it take a book that finally clearly espouses what he believes to convince them?

For many, it is because they are pragmatists. They judge what is right and what is wrong by what works for them or by what feels right or good.

I guess it is only natural that this would eventually enter even the most conservative churches. After all, it started in the secular culture awhile ago now. But it is important that if we are going to learn to discern, we do not fall prey to this deadly philosophy.

And so in order to protect ourselves it is critical that we learn what scripture teaches us about how we determine truth. Let’s take a look–

John 17:17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 

In this chapter, Jesus is praying for believers. He is asking the Father to protect and keep us. And to sanctify us. And He adds this interesting line: thy word is truth. The Bible is truth.

John MacArthur’s writes about this verse–

“Sanctification is accomplished by means of the truth, which is the revelation that the Son gave regarding all that the Father commanded Him to communicate and is now contained in the Scriptures left by the apostles.”

In 2 Timothy we find another verse showing us that the Word is truth–

2 Timothy 2:15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

So from these two verses, we can see that the Bible is truth.

Now let’s take a moment and look at a few verses that clearly show we will not be the popular ones, the successful ones, and that it will appear our methods are not working (at least according to human, worldly standards)–

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Luke 6:26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

James 4:4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

We can know from these verses that true believers will generally not be favored and followed. (Generally. There are exceptions, of course.) This is because we cannot be friends with the world. Therefore, even when we are faithfully following God and doing as He commands us in His Word, it will often appear as if what we are doing is “not working”. And, because we are basically told both inside and outside the church that “if it isn’t working, God isn’t in it”, we are tempted to measure ourselves by the success we experience in the mainstream church or the world, rather than by using the barometer of scripture.

I would also like to remind you that Satan has to make false teachers look appealing. If he didn’t, no one would follow them. Therefore, the indication that their methods or ministries seem to be working according to human standards should never be our measurement of what is true, right, or good.

Of course, there are also the real-life experiences of Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah, and of countless others throughout the history of the world to also assure us that what we are doing will not always appear to be working. Followers deserted Jesus (John 6:66), Paul was attacked by the crowds (Acts 16:22-24), and Jeremiah’s pleas for change did not work (Jeremiah 44:4-5). Research a little church history or read a few missionary biographies and you will find many more examples of this.

So should we judge whether or not something is true, right, or good by if it is working? Should we determine our own course of action or ministry by how it appears to be working?

I hope I have convinced you that this isn’t a good idea. This is a big topic that cannot really be wholly covered in a short blog post. But I do hope I at least got you to start thinking about how to judge the popular “Christian” books and the celebrity pastors that are in abundance today. I am going to include a short video below that will probably do a much better job than I can. I hope that this will help you see even more clearly not only how this thinking has invaded the church but how deadly it is to the church–

 

Find all posts in the Learn to Discern series here.