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 wicked and weak church. 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.

 

 

Don’t Expect a Crowd

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I confess I never saw this coming. I never saw a time when so many trusted pastors and authors would associate with known false teachers or even defect to a religion called “Christianity” that is nothing like the genuine version. I never would have ever believed that so many Christians would have been deceived by books like The Shack or Jesus Calling and not see anything wrong with them. And I certainly didn’t see the accusations and the marginalization that would become the way of life for anyone who dare speak out against those that are destroying biblical Christian faith. Nope, I didn’t see this coming.

I was so disheartened yesterday when I saw that yet another author I had loved and trusted was included in a book compilation with known false teachers. It seems like it has become a weekly occurrence now. There is almost a feverish attempt to draw all people into the one world religion. And if you speak up about it, you are the one accused of being divisive. Which seems so backwards, doesn’t it?

But it is exactly what is happening, proven by my own experience, as well as by many others, including Michelle Lesley and the folks over at Lighthouse Trails (as evidenced by prayer requests shared in their newsletters). It takes a lot of courage to stand for what’s right today and perhaps even more courage to stand against what’s wrong.

If you have decided to enter this battle for discernment on the front lines or to join the rescue effort (as I put it in this post) you will become extremely unpopular. There will be no adoring crowds around you. Even if you speak up in a godly way–lovingly, gently, comparing all false teachers and doctrines to what scripture teaches–you will feel the sting of antagonism and the chill of disapproval.

So what does scripture teach us about false teachers? Let’s examine some of the passages that show us what we are to do about false teachers–

1. We are to avoid them. Romans 16:17-18 puts it this way–

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus[d] Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

This passage makes it clear that we are to avoid all false teachers. They cause divisions. The curious dynamic we see today is that instead of the ones teaching a “doctrine contrary to what you have learned” being called divisive, that term is reserved for those that would cry “wolf!” It’s surely an upside down backwards world.

2. We are to expose them. Ephesians 5:11 couldn’t be any clearer–

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.

We are not only to avoid them, we are to expose them and their deeds of darkness.

3. We are to contend for the faith. Jude 3-4 shows us this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Contend is a very strong word, meaning “to struggle in opposition”. This implies that we are in a battle. And so we are–as confirmed for us in Ephesians 6:10-12.

We are in a fierce battle. It is very important that we not only acknowledge the battle, but that we put on our whole armor (Ephesians 6:13-20) so that we can withstand the attacks both from outside and from within the church. They are growing more frequent now and I’d guess that they will continue to grow not only in frequency but also in ferocity.

This is when it is a good time to remember our focus. What are we fighting for? Is it our own opinions? Is it some personal stand? No! We are fighting to protect God and His Holy Word! We are Christian soldiers and we dare not lay down our weapons.

Biblical Christianity is almost extinct now. And we Christians have allowed it. We are to blame. We have listened to, watched, read, joined with, and promoted false teaching so often that it has become an integral part of the fabric of the church. To say anything against it–in fact, to say anything against anything or anyone– is what has become the great sin of the age.

So, my friends, if you have made the decision to join the rescue effort, this post is for you. Don’t give up. Stay in the Word, know it, love it, study it. And contend for the faith. Speak up gently and lovingly against those who would teach that which is not found in scripture. Avoid fellowship or input from those who are false teachers. And expose the darkness. For this is the right thing to do, according to the Word of God.

But don’t expect a crowd.

 

 

Hanging on to the Life Ring

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If it wasn’t so sad, I would have laughed. Someone put an article that praised (or excused) a false teacher (I didn’t read the actual article) and below it was a comment about how this teacher had “saved their faith because they focused on love, which was exactly what Jesus did”. I found myself wondering if this commenter had actually ever read the Bible, since he didn’t seem to know the biblical Jesus at all.

Yes, Jesus did focus on love. He also focused on sin (Mark 7:20-23), hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33), persecution and the expectation that the world will hate us (John 15:18; Luke 6:22). And He focused on obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:15), the narrow way (Matthew 7:14), and truth (John 4:24; John 8:32; John 17:17).

For a teacher–any teacher–to say there is no hell or to negate the need to follow the commands of God or to promote any other doctrine that is not found in scripture is a departure from God’s Holy Word and automatically designates them as a false teacher.

And this, my friends, is why we have to study the Word of God. There is no other way to know if a teacher is false. Sure, you can ask someone who knows more about the Bible than you do, but the bottom line is that there is only one place that you can go for counsel that is trustworthy 100 percent of the time and that is to the Bible. It never fails, it never changes, it never betrays.

But the one thing the Bible does do is to mess with our fleshly, carnal desires. And it challenges our worldly lifestyles–the one where we want to be and look like everybody else in the crowd. And so we find that most unsaved people are understandably not interested in true Christianity which calls us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) and to turn away from the world (Romans 12:1-2; James 1:27) and from our sin (Galatians 5:18-21). THIS is why so many people gravitate to a “love only” religion which is as false as Buddhism or Islam. We need to understand this. This is key to comprehend in our Western culture–

The “Jesus focused only on love” religion is a FALSE religion.

We only need to read the Gospels to understand this. There are critical pieces missing in this false religion that makes it null and void in the site of God such as God’s wrath (Romans 1:18), hell (Luke 12:5), repentance (2 Peter 3:9), turning away from sin and the world (verses above), and the call for holiness (I Thessalonians 4:7).

We cannot simply remove hell because we define it as unloving. We cannot remove the need for atonement simply because man has chosen to believe he is innately good. We cannot remove the need for obedience just because we don’t want to obey. We have no right.

God’s Word is either true or not true but we have no right to change it and still call ourselves Christians. And this is exactly what is happening all across the world. Many are changing the core of Christianity and still calling it Christianity.

A sorry, sorry state indeed.

One I honestly never dreamed I’d see. But here we are. And this leaves us with only the life ring of God’s Word. As we hang on to it to survive the massive wave of apostasy flooding over us, sweeping through our churches, and flooding our homes through our tvs, books, and podcasts, may we hang on to it for dear life. For this is the only way we are going to survive, my friend.

So, once again (I feel a little like a broken record), I urge you to pick up your Bible. Read it. Study it. Pray and ask God for insight. Know the Word of God so that you can not only stand strong against those who would twist and malign the Word but also so that you can give a defense for the hope that is within you (I Peter 3:15) to those that are lost, sinking, and crying for help in this roiling sea of apostasy.

 

 

Victory Over Sin Isn’t an Event

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When I was a young married woman, I had a big problem. Without going into details, worry was something I battled on an almost daily basis and it was strangling the life out of me. At least that is how it felt. I was able to function normally so I truly doubt most people knew the battle I faced every day.

But God graciously rescued me and He used two verses to help me–

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)

and

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

He used the first verse to show me that I needed to take every thought captive in obedience to my Savior. This included all of my fretful thoughts that started with “but what if…” and I had a lot of those. And He used the second verse to remind me that my fear was a hopeless trap and that I could instead turn to the Lord, trust in Him, and be safe in His sovereign care.

It wasn’t instant and it took a lot of hard work (Philippians 2:12) but it was so worth it! I begged God to give me victory over this sin and He answered! I walked out of my prison of worry and into the bright light of freedom and trust in my sovereign, heavenly Father.

I very naively thought I had beat that horrible sin in my life. But I was wrong.

Fast forward many years. Life slowed down and, suddenly, I had that very precious commodity of time on my hands. My life that had basically been the same for so many years started changing… and changing… and changing. Questions and quandaries I had never really prepared for abounded. And, quite without warning, this terrible sin reared its ugly head and viciously attacked me. Well, let me rephrase that– as that makes me sound like the victim. In reality, I gave it an opening and it rushed in and almost ate me alive.

I am on my way to victory once again but it has been rough. I have struggled to not let the fear and worry control me but it has been quite a battle. And I have tried to understand why this sin came back without warning and with such a vengeance.

As I have thought about it (I know, I know–I just think wayyyy too much), I wonder if it isn’t for three reasons–

First, I believe I may have been so distracted during my very busy years of raising kids and running the business that I forgot I had this struggle. I had few moments to myself during that time and when a rare solitary half hour came I was too excited about it to spend even a precious second of it on worrying. Now that I have so much time alone– which leaves me with far too much time to think–I have found my mind wondering in the sinful directions of anxiety and worry.

Second, I naively (and perhaps proudly) believed that my battle with this particular sin was over. The return of this sin in my life has been a good and hard lesson for me. It has taught me that no sin is ever “conquered”, showing me that I must always be on guard since even “conquered” sins can sneak their way back into our lives if we aren’t careful. Victory over sin is not an event but is carefully maintained through humble examination throughout our lives.

Third, I am quite sure I didn’t (probably still don’t) have a proper view of God’s Sovereignty. This is really the root of almost all anxiety, fear, and worry. Every day we hear of the most horrible things that happen to people. Stories hit the news and we talk about them with our family and friends, reeling at the awfulness of them, knowing that the same thing could happen to us. Something I read by John Newton a month or two ago was instrumental in reminding me of one very important fact: Nothing can happen to me outside of God’s plan. Here is what he wrote–

“When believers die–whatever the accident or the illness may be–they are only the means, but not properly the cause of their death. They die because the time has come when He who loves them best, will have them with Him to behold His glory!

Until then, they are immortal. They recover from sickness, however threatening, and are preserved unhurt–in defiance of the greatest dangers! But when His appointed hour arrives–then they must depart. When He will have them with Him–we cannot detain them; nor ought we to wish it, though the flesh will feel the parting stroke.

None of us can be perfectly happy in this poor fleeting world. It is a state in which sin and sorrow will hunt us and pain us to the last step of life! Therefore, though we wish to keep those whom we love with us as long as we can–it is well both for us and them, that we cannot live here always. We are in the Lord’s hands–and He does all things wisely and well, at the right time and in the right manner.

Death is but a temporary separation. Those who are gone before us, are waiting for us. Oh! It will be a happy meeting before the throne of the Lamb–out of the reach of sin and sorrow, to meet and part no more!”

Oh, this is so true!

And as I have reflected on this sin that I thought had disappeared from my life forever, I realized that it had only lay dormant for many years, while I faced many battles with other sins, and then rushed back just when I least suspected.

And so I am back in the Word, re-memorizing the verses that were so helpful to me many years ago and finding new verses to memorize that will help me. And I am working very hard to take my thoughts captive–determinedly turning my brain from the worrisome, anxious thoughts before they spiral downward and out of control.

This is very personal to share this morning. But I share it here because I hope that this will encourage you, my readers, in several ways–

1. I hope it will remind you that our battles with sin are never over. They ebb and flow but we should never think we have beaten something completely. Knowing this will keep us on our guard against it and help us to maintain victory. Victory over sin is not an event but rather a lifetime of watchful maintenance.

2. If you are fighting against worry or anxiety–or any other sin, for that matter–I hope this encourages you, too, to take your thoughts captive. I hope that you will realize that you can win your battle with sin, through the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. And I hope that God may use this post to keep you from throwing your hands up in despair and just giving up.

3. I hope this will remind you of the power of God’s Word in our lives as believers.  God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and it is profitable for reproof and for correction (2 Timothy 3:16-17)–which is exactly what we need sometimes! The Bible is our sword (Ephesians 6:17) and without it we are defenseless. May we remember this always but particularly in our fiercest battles.

 

Now go fight your personal battle with the sin that threatens to overtake you, relying on God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for the strength and the wisdom you so desperately need. And stay watchful, because although the sin may disappear for awhile, it remains there waiting to pounce on you just when you least suspect it. We can stay spiritually strong and be prepared to fight by staying in the Word and walking closely with our heavenly Father–which is always our safest place.

 

 

 

 

Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches

Biblical Evangelism

Imagine with me, if you will, a young couple who falls in love. We will call them Joe and Susan. Joe has carefully chosen a beautiful engagement ring and is ready to ask Susan the all-important question: “Will you marry me?”

He takes her to a romantic gazebo lit up with twinkly lights under the night sky and they dine together in the moonlight. After they are finished, Joe takes her by the hand and leads her to…

His mother! She has been sitting in the corner quietly watching the young couple. Joe tells Susan that his mother has something very important to share with her and then Mother says: “Susan, Joe loves you so much. He wants to spend his whole life with you. Will you marry him?”

Or imagine Joe takes Susan to a party and surrounds her with guests who gush about how much Joe loves her and, through this, Joe fervently hopes that Susan will come to understand that he wants to marry her without having to actually ask her outright.

Foolish, right? And yet we do this all of the time in how we approach evangelism. Our Sunday School teacher used a similar analogy this past Sunday and as he talked, I realized just how true this is.

How often do we “witness” to our loved ones, friends, and neighbors by taking them to our pastor or inviting them to a Christian function?

We have this idea that the pastor can share the Gospel and our Christian friends can show them just how wonderful the Christian life is. And, somehow, from these things they will “get it”. In fact, many churches encourage this type of evangelism by watering down their sermons for unbelievers, bending over backwards to make the unsaved feel comfortable when they walk through the church doors, and providing all kinds of activities for people to bring their lost friends to. Of course, activities aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but should they be viewed as “witnessing tools”? Does scripture teach this type of evangelism? Is this the model for witnessing we find in the Bible?

Let’s look in the Word.

In my research I found this web page that cites the verses/passages that pertain to witnessing. Do you know that I didn’t see even one verse that would indicate that we are to take our lost friend to our pastor so that he can tell them about Jesus? I also didn’t find any verses that would suggest we take them to a church service or an activity with Christian friends to tell them about salvation.

Let’s look at a couple of the passages–

Mark 5:18-19 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Jesus tells the man healed of demon-possession to go home and report what has happened to him. He isn’t to take his friends to church or to bring them back to Jesus. He is to report to them what great things the Lord has done for him! Now, you may think: if God miraculously healed me like that I would gladly tell others about it. Oh, dear reader, hasn’t Jesus done something even greater in saving your soul? Isn’t this a miracle of even greater import? How often we forget the magnitude of the gift we have received. And, in doing so, we lose our fervor for witnessing and we hesitate to talk about the very thing most important in life.

Acts 8:30-35 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

Notice, Philip didn’t say something like this: “Oh that is a good question. Let’s go to my pastor (or friend or leader) and see what he has to say.” No, it says that Philip opened his mouth and preached Jesus to this man. My friends, if we cannot do what Philip did, then we are probably not in the Word like we should be. As sinners saved by grace we should be able to communicate the message of salvation with a lost person. Sure, most of us aren’t going to know all of the theological details and we may not be able to answer every question, but we should know the basics of salvation: We are saved, not of our own works, but based on Jesus Christ alone! (Romans 3:23-26) If we are saved, we can share this. In fact, we must share this!

I Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Of course, Peter doesn’t tell us to be always be ready to take the person who asks us about the hope within us to someone who knows more about the Bible than we do. Instead he tells us we are to personally be prepared to share and defend the hope that is within us. We aren’t to pass them on to someone who knows more than we do.

These are just three of many more examples we find in scripture. So why is it so tempting to take our unsaved friends to church instead of just talking to them ourselves? I believe there are two main reasons for this and I fall prey to them, too, sometimes! We are so easily snared, aren’t we?

1. First, It is a lot easier. Let’s face it– studying scripture, preparing a defense, and making time for “big question” conversations takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Most of us are just too busy or too lazy to put this kind of effort into it. We’d so much rather pick up a novel than to study the Word. We’d rather watch a game than listen to a sermon. We’d rather talk about the weather or sports than to broach such a controversial subject as religion. We’d rather sit at home watching TV than take a lost friend for coffee. Taking someone to a church service or to our pastor is–by far–the easier option.

2. Second, we are so fearful. We are so scared. We are scared we won’t have the answers. We are scared we will be ridiculed. We are scared we will lose friends or even our job. We are scared we will make someone uncomfortable. We are scared we won’t say the right thing. We are just so scared. And so most of us will take the tentative step of inviting someone to church or kindly offer to take them to see our pastor with their questions. This seems like the safest option to protect ourselves–providing the opportunity to do our “Christian duty” while still preserving our comfort, convenience, and reputation. Oh, how little faith we have! What blessings we miss because of our fear!

 

We hear so little about evangelism anymore. It is almost a thing of the past with the advent of seeker-friendly churches and the onset of new mission philosophies. But, although it may be out of style in this post-modern church age, it is not out of biblical style. God’s Word never changes and Matthew 28:19-20 is as true today as it was when it was written almost 2000 years ago.

So let’s go out and tell the world about Jesus! Let’s tell our co-workers what He has done for us. Let’s have that conversation about religion with our family members. Let’s have a picnic with our unsaved friends and talk about something of eternal significance. But, let’s also remember to always do this with love, grace, and a sensitivity to their receptiveness (Colossians 4:6). Let’s overcome our fear and our laziness so that we can make an eternal impact on this world for the Gospel. After all, we are wicked sinners who have been saved by God’s amazing grace. How can we not share this?

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

 

Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

This, Too, Shall Pass

1930s

A few weeks ago I went to my daughter’s cello orchestra concert. As I listened to the music, I stared at the old-fashioned screen–a very interesting relic of the past–that was behind the orchestra. It was from the 1930s and had a beautiful, pastoral scene in the middle with advertisements for local businesses around the outside edge. My eyes went from one advertisement square to the next, where I read names that were completely unfamiliar to me. Two of the local businesses advertised had been in their final years when we had moved to the area in the early 90s and so I recognized the names. Only those two–out of the eighteen advertisements–were even slightly familiar to me.

Wow. This really reminded me of just how temporal this life is. We have a small business (as many of you already know) and sometimes we can get caught up in all of the problems and trials that come along with this particular lot in life. Business owners face issues that most people never even think about and it can be quite the challenge. My husband daily faces most of them, as he is in the day-to-day organization of the field work, while I support him and work with him to process some solutions and plans for the dilemmas and situations that come along. We have been doing it this way for thirty years now. And we have weathered a lot. But I have to admit that this year has brought some challenges that were not only unforeseen, but have also reminded us that we can’t rely on our strength alone.

These challenges can potentially be overwhelming if we forget that this is just a temporal calling.

Not only is this business just a temporary thing, but we also need to remember that our hope does not lie in any business! Only God is our hope. It should never be placed in anything else. For us, we can easily place our hope in our business if we aren’t careful. But for some of you, it may be in your family or in the government or some other thing. It is so incredibly tempting to place our hope in things other than God.

When things go wrong, this is when we find out just where our hope lies. If we are assailed by anxiety and fear, we are probably putting our hope in temporal things. Things that won’t last for eternity.

And so–as always–God has used these trials to gently draw us back to a proper perspective. And for that, we are thankful. While the trials are hard and frustrating, it is a good thing to be reminded that this world is not our home and that our affections shouldn’t be rooted too deeply here. It is good to remember that everything is temporal–except for the souls of men.

I don’t think it was an accident that I saw that screen on that day. And while I still experience moments of deep frustration and fear and even sadness at all of the cultural changes going on, I know that God has not deserted us. God has been so faithful to us through the years, answering so many prayers. We know He will continue to walk with us–just as He has for over thirty years now–as we strive to operate a business with integrity. The challenges may be more abundant than we’d prefer, but we were never told anywhere in scripture that life would be easy. So why do we expect it will be?

And, I know this will seem like a bit of a rabbit trail, but I guess I just have to add one more thing regarding this. I believe that the expectation that life will always be easy–that somehow it is greener on the other side of the fence if we can only get there–is part of why there are so many divorces, failed businesses, and church-hoppers. Years ago, we were taught to live by this sentiment: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” but now that sentiment could be replaced with something like this: “When the going gets tough–or unpleasant–or we just don’t like it– it is time to walk away.”

How thankful I am to be married to one of those rare guys who doesn’t walk away from trials and challenges but, instead, rises up to meet them. Oh, how we need more men (and women) like this!

To tie it all together–you knew I could do it :) — not being surprised by trials and challenges (and then sticking around to see them through) and having an eternal perspective by placing our hope in the Lord (and not in temporal things) both go a very long way in keeping us at peace. When we can accept God’s sovereignty in our life, always trusting that He knows best, we can experience the joy and peace that is promised us in scripture. We may not always know why. We may not always understand. But we can courageously face our trials, knowing that He will always be faithful.

The trials of this life shall soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.

May we face the battles of life bravely while keeping an eternal perspective. May we remember that there are lessons for us to learn and people, desperately lost in their sins, who need to see us live out our Christian lives in the tough times. And may we remember that all of this life’s trials pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us in heaven!

 

A few verses that came to mind while writing this post–

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I Peter 1:20-21 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

James 1:10-11 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass[c] he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Isaiah 40:7-8 The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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This morning in church we had a brave Viet Nam war veteran share a bit of his testimony. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense such an experience to just a few short moments on a Sunday morning. He concluded by comparing his experiences as a soldier to our duty as a soldier for Christ. As he talked, I found myself engrossed in what he was saying. How little we talk about the battle that is going on and what our duties are as a soldier for Christ. Most don’t want to focus on the negative. And, yet, scripture makes it clear that we are in a battle. If you have time, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20, which is where we will find some description of this spiritual battle and also some keys to victory.

Even though it was just a short testimony and challenge for our congregation, I came away with four things we should all know about fighting the spiritual battle we Christians become a part of as soon as we are saved. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, then you are a soldier in Christ’s army. While this isn’t a specific Learn to Discern post, I do believe that these principles are key to our understanding of discernment and also help to clarify the importance of discernment in the church today.

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

1. Stay Focused on the Enemy. He said this several times–how important it was that they stay focused on the enemy. If they lost sight of them, if the enemy stay hidden, they knew they could very well be taken out in a heartbeat. Our enemy, as believers, is Satan. And we must keep an eye on what he is doing. So often we will hear the opposite–that we aren’t to focus on the enemy, but instead just keep our eyes on Jesus. And, yes, the center of our faith is Jesus Christ, our Lord. But if we aren’t keeping an eye out for Satan and his devious plans, we are going to be deceived! And while Christians are being deceived, the lost are being told a false gospel. There is so much that hangs in the balance. We must keep our eyes on the enemy.

2. Someone Needs to Stand Guard. One of the keys to keeping the company safe was to have someone stand guard. The consequences were severe for the guard–sometimes even execution–should the enemy enter the camp while he fell asleep on duty. These guards could save the whole troop. The same is true spiritually. How interesting that instead of thanking the guards of the church, they are so often mocked, belittled, and marginalized. To stand guard in protection of the church generally means not only fierce attack from the enemy on the outside, but it also often brings on attacks from the inside. Instead of being grateful for the protection–for someone brave enough to point out how something doesn’t match scripture–churches and Christians grow angry and are constantly telling the guard that they are imagining things–that it isn’t the enemy they see. This never fails to befuddle me.

The guard has absolutely nothing to gain by calling out a false teacher and–in this current church culture–they have everything to lose. If they are brave enough to speak up to protect the church, then we’d better take heed and listen.

3.War Isn’t Pretty. As this man described some of the things that happened and the experiences he faced (and I know he gave us the “G” version, as a full description of the horrendous and awful sights he saw wouldn’t have been appropriate in a church service), I cringed. I couldn’t even imagine facing anything like this. One of the reasons for this is because I like my world comfortable and well-ordered and without conflict. Thank you very much.

But war isn’t pretty. It’s dirty. It’s violent. It’s chaotic. It’s terrifying. People get hurt and die. And you know what? Spiritual battles aren’t pretty, either. Gossip flies. Character assassinations occur. Reputations are ruined by false accusations. Christians languish in prisons and sometimes die cruel, horrible deaths. We need to stop expecting this life to be roses and lollipops. Standing up for Christ is not for the faint-of-heart.

4. Don’t Fight With Your Comrades. And, finally, he talked about how important it was that the company be unified. As I thought about this in relation to our spiritual battle, I thought about something that I started to really put in place in my life a while ago now. As a young person, I tended to argue a lot. I’d make big deals out of things that just weren’t. Somewhere in the last twenty years or so, I have learned a very important lesson: Never argue or debate anything that is not in scripture. If it won’t matter in 100 years, it is not worth an argument. Now, this can be tough–especially at home. I don’t do it perfectly (just ask my family!) but I am working on it.

You see, sometimes disagreements and divisions must occur, but only because there is an effort to compromise the Word of God. We can and we must make a big deal out of standing for what scripture teaches. But we can and we most certainly must let the other things go. If we are to gain the respect of those around us, we can’t argue and criticize and judge just because. Only a stand for the Bible and what it teaches is worth a real argument. And if we are lovingly agreeable on most occasions, then when these things come up that compromise scripture and we lovingly disagree, we will have the respect of those around us, even if they don’t like what we are saying. We must endeavor to keep the unity among believers as much as it is up to us! (Romans 12:18)

I hope this has encouraged you today. Life can be so hard. Sometimes it is hard because we are living out the consequences of sinful choices. But sometimes–many times– it is hard because we are fighting this battle against our enemy. If we are sharing the Gospel, if we are pointing out false teachers, if we are taking a stand for Christ and against worldliness, you can be guaranteed he does not like it! Let’s remember these four principles of battle and keep fighting on, bravely giving our all for the One who gave His all for us.

 

Learn to Discern: Reawakening the Conscience

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

So some of you are going to really hate today’s post. You may decide that I’m a little crazy and never read anything at Growing4Life again. But I’m willing to take that chance. Mostly because I have seen this all play out in my life and in the lives of others around me. I will share about that a bit further on in the post. But here is my premise–

When we fill our minds with worldly entertainment, we deaden our consciences.

Let me explain. Sometimes I wonder how so many who call themselves Christians cannot see what is going on within the church. How can they not understand how ravenous wolves–posing as sheep–are changing the very mission and vision of the church?? As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized that it’s because many of them have so deadened their consciences, that they aren’t even willing (or able?) to call sin sin. Not only can they not tell the difference between true and false, but they are starting to fudge and rationalize about the differences between right and wrong. And when we lose our ability to discern right from wrong, our ability to discern what is true from the false has already left us.

So you may be asking: How does worldly entertainment affect my discernment? I have an answer for that and any thinking person will have to admit these are true. Worldly entertainment changes us in the following ways–

1. It keeps us from our Bibles. While this may not be true 100% of the time, it is certainly often true. How many times have you heard someone say that don’t have time to read the Word but they will somehow have had time to watch TV?

2. It keeps us immersed in the goings-on of the world. When we think of worldly entertainment, we often think of the bad things, but I would submit to you that even the news and sports can steal our affections if we aren’t careful. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves (most of the time), they will keep us immersed in the culture and, instead of separating from the world (as we are told to do in James 1:27 and James 4:4) we become fascinated by it.

3. It changes our values and hardens our hearts. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they can watch anything they want on TV because they know right from wrong and it doesn’t affect them. That they can listen to worldly music espousing sex, drugs, and alchohol because they aren’t going to ever do those things. Besides a stance like that begging the question why any believer would desire such entertainment (why would we–as a believer–want to fill our lives with the things God has clearly said He hates? Galatians 5:19-21), it also does have to be acknowledged that these things do change our values. They make us less sensitive to sin and harden our hearts.

4. It makes us more susceptible to needing the world’s approval. When we become immersed in the world the approval of the world can be all-consuming. When we love the world, we want to be loved by the world. But this, carried out to its fullest, will keep us from salvation. In John 12, this very thing happened, when we are told that some of the Pharisees believed but they so feared man’s opinion, rather than God, that they did nothing. John 12:43 simply puts it like this: for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. When we fill our minds with the world, we become much less interested in truth and much more interested in popularity.

5. It keeps us from caring about what matters in life. Entertainment is meant to entertain. Its goal is to distract us from real life for a little while and give us some refreshment. It is not a bad thing in and of itself. But we have become so enthralled with being entertained that we are distracted from our real lives much of the time. With our smart phones, our tablets, and things like Netflix and Youtube, we are constantly entertained. Many of us can’t even stand in a line at a grocery store or sit at a booth in a restaurant without pulling out our phones. This has exponentially compounded our interest in the trivial, while eliminating interest in the serious stuff of life at the same time. How many Christians do you know who ever discuss God? Or heaven and hell? Or the Bible? When serious matters do arise, most arguments are based on popular opinion rather than the Word of God. I believe this is in much part due to our obsession with entertainment.

So why do I say this? What proof do I have? Let me share three different testimonies about this–

First, I want to share something my brother, Pastor Dean, has shared with me. Shortly after college, he made two decisions. He stopped watching football on Sunday afternoons and instead read the Word. And, second, he removed all rock music from his life (including Christian rock). He credits these two decisions with changing his life completely. He says it was like withdrawing from a drug (if you have ever tried to give up rock music, you will find that it is extremely addictive) but that it was a life-changing decision. These two decisions not only strengthened His walk with the Savior, but also deepened his love for the Word and his hatred for the world.

Second, I want to share my own testimony. Mine is a little more like one of those jagged lines that goes up and down and all over the place. While I have always been conscious that worldly entertainment has great potential for evil in my life, I have not always been as careful as I ought. And I have had stages in my life where it has drawn me into its snare. And let me say this: It does change me in all of the ways listed above. I have seen these things in my own life. I know it is true.

And, third, I want to share the testimonies of two of my children. Both have told me this at two separate times. But let me back up a bit. When my kids became teenagers, we loosened up our standards a bit. Oh, not near so much as most of their friends, but we didn’t want them to look like complete losers and not be aware of anything in the world and so we caved. At that time we allowed secular rock into our home, as long as it didn’t have “bad lyrics”. We regret that choice. Even if one song of a particular artist doesn’t have bad lyrics, the others probably do. And, to add to that, the artists’ lifestyles are rarely anything we want modeled. About five years ago or so, I just started pleading with God that my children would love righteousness and hate evil. And He has answered this prayer in incredible ways! One of those ways was that two of my children decided–on their own–to eliminate secular music from their lives. And both have told me (in two separate conversations, without the other one’s knowledge) what a difference this has made in their own discernment and spiritual walk with God.

You have to know this: What we fill our minds with does affect our discernment. But there is good news! We can reawaken our consciences! It is not too late. If we start eliminating or drastically reducing (in the case of things like news and sports) the world’s entertainment and filling our minds with the Word of God, we will find our consciences will get back to work, informing and enlightening us about not only what is right and wrong, but also about what is true and false.

Okay, so now I have given you several ways our conscience is affected by worldly entertainment and I have given you three real life examples of how this has happened. As you read, you probably found yourself in one of four places and I’d like to speak to all four.

First, you may be one of those who doesn’t really have strong feelings about entertainment. You may like to watch a show or two, but you aren’t addicted. You may have a pop station on in your car but it’s just there. I would like to encourage you to continue to purify your life and to deepen your desire to please your Savior and to worry less about being “cool” in the eyes of the world.

Second, you may be one who is truly addicted to Netflix binges or your smartphone or to rock music. You realize you should change but you just don’t really want to. You enjoy your addiction and to change it now seems completely overwhelming. I want to suggest to you that you start praying that God would give you the desire to change. Or you may know you need to change and want to start now. Pray for strength and guidance. You cannot do this alone. God is faithful and He will answer these prayers!

Third, you may be someone who thinks I am completely crazy. This post makes you genuinely angry and you honestly believe that I am wrong. If you are one of these, then I ask you–beg you–to go to God’s Word to research what I am saying. Turn away from the viewpoints of popular authors or speakers and turn to the Word of God before you make your final determination.

And, fourth, you may agree with me. You may have witnessed this dynamic in your own life. (If that’s true, I’d love to hear your story. Please share by commenting below.) I would ask those of you in this group to share this unpopular message with your family and friends as the Lord gives you opportunity. So many of us Christians love the world. But this love is stunting our growth and keeping us from discerning. It is removing our effectiveness as a witness for Christ and it is making us so vulnerable to wolves who are invading the church in droves now. If you see this and you believe it, please don’t be afraid to say it. This is the time to be brave and speak up!

God bless you as you continue to learn to discern. Be in the Word, basing all your views on what you find there. And take all your concerns regarding the learning process to the Lord in prayer. He is so faithful and He will answer.

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.