Some Thoughts On Hurricane Harvey

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During this past week we watched as a historical hurricane named Harvey released its fury on Texas. In its wake, it left thousands of lives uprooted and topsy-turvy, destroying both homes and businesses with its winds and water. A few precious lives were even lost in this terrible storm. It will take a lot of time and an enormous amount of money as the area works on drying out and rebuilding.

While I am always generally interested in the weather (maybe it’s because I am married to a landscaper?), this particular storm captivated my attention because I have a daughter and son-in-law living in the Houston area. I found myself watching the weather channel to keep track of this storm and then watching Fox News as they started to cover it, as well. Here are a few of my (scattered) thoughts about this past week.

1. I noticed that race didn’t seem to matter at all during these past few days. Whether you were Hispanic, white, or black didn’t matter even a tiny bit as rescues took place and shelters were opened. No one cared. Perhaps this indicates that prejudice is not as big of a deal as the press would like us to believe. Do most people really feel a deep-seated prejudice towards other races? Oh, sure we may not understand each other like we should but do we really feel prejudiced? I just don’t believe that most do. Is it even possible that the press is fomenting racism with their constant coverage that aims to divide?

2. Tragedy brings out the best in people. There is nothing like a historical hurricane to remind you that America is a great place to live. As volunteers and resources pour into Houston, we can see that many Americans still care about their fellow man. It is an encouraging reminder for all of us.

3. I remembered why I don’t watch the news. I stopped watching several years ago now, after I realized that it affected my mood and also that the coverage was so biased and incomplete. I do watch a weekly 15 minute recap of world news by a YouTuber who puts clips together. This gives me a great overview of what has happened in the world over the past week. What I have found is that American news channels tend to be extremely myopic and selective in what they cover and there is so much we never even hear about that is going on in the rest of the world.

The other thing I noticed is that they thrive on debate. I just want to hear the news. I was disheartened to see Fox give coverage in the middle of all of this to a fireman who claimed that “Houston just wasn’t prepared for this like they should have been” and then ask a busy official his response to this fireman’s statement. Really? You would do this in the midst of all that’s going on? This was one of several times I saw something like this. It is my opinion that Fox News is just like every other news channel. They feed off debates and arguments and care far more about ratings than they care about the people they are covering. Sadly, this is what the news has become, no matter which way they “lean”.

4. And, finally, on a more personal note, it was quite challenging to be so far away from someone I love during such a time. As my daughter sent me photos and information about what was going on, I felt so helpless. Moments like these are so completely out of our control and they cause us to run straight into God’s sovereignty. I knew that I had to make a conscious decision to trust God for the safety of my kids and choose not to worry–not an easy task for someone prone to worry. And so I grew a bit in trusting God during this past week. And I was reminded that He loves them far more than I ever could. I once heard someone say something like this– “My kids are much safer in the Lord’s will far away from me than they are if they live close and are outside of His will.” So. True.

So there are just a few unrelated tidbits of thoughts I had about this past week. Let’s continue to pray for Texas (and the other states affected, as well) and offer to help however we can. They all have a very long road ahead of them.

 

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: Acknowledging the War

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Have you ever heard someone deny that the holocaust occurred? It seems almost preposterous, but I have heard that theory go around more than once. But denying that it happened doesn’t change the truth, does it?

As we have been learning to discern, we have learned what true, biblical Christianity is; we have learned how biblical Christianity is being corrupted; we have learned the importance of using scripture to give us a biblical paradigm; and we have learned that we must never follow man over the Word of God.

Today we are going to focus on the importance of acknowledging that there is a spiritual war going on. Just like the holocaust existed whether someone chooses to believe it or chooses not to believe it, so, too, does a spiritual war. Denying or ignoring it doesn’t change the fact that there is one.

Years ago, we Christians would sing songs like Onward, Christian Soldiers

Onward, Christian soldiers,
marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
going on before!
Christ, the royal Master,
leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
see his banner go!

and Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high his royal banner,
It must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished,
And Christ is Lord indeed.

But as the church started to change, we stopped singing songs like these. There was no longer a desire to focus on anything negative or unhappy. Instead of being focused on all truth found in scripture, it became a religion that was focused on personal purpose and happiness. All negativity was pushed to the side, while the church changed its focus to bringing happiness and goodness to the world.

Now don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong with doing good things, particularly if we are also sharing the unadulterated Gospel or encouraging a fellow believer! But when we become focused only on this, we are ignoring much of of the Bible. Hell (Mark 9:43; Matthew 25:41), prophecy (all of Revelation; Matthew 24), self-denial (Matthew 16:24; Romans 12:1), separating from the world (Romans 12:2, James 1:27)–all of these have been, by and large, ignored. And so, too, has the reality that there is a spiritual war that we are fighting every day of our lives.

Against the world (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Against ourselves (Galatians 5:17).

And against Satan and his minions (Ephesians 6:10-20).

What does this have to do with discernment, you may ask? The answer to this is simple:

If we don’t recognize that there is a war going on, we will not see the need to discern.

And it is easy to ignore this spiritual war. Oh, so easy.

First, as I have already mentioned–most of us never hear anything about it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Second, we are too busy and distracted to be concerned. We fill our schedules with the mundane and declare ourselves too busy to be in the Word, which is the only place to get a full understanding of the war we are in. Yes, some of you are most definitely overwhelmed in an incredibly busy time of life. I’ve been there! But all of us have little pockets of time we find for what is important. Is scripture on your short list of priorities?

And, third, we just don’t want to think about it. Life is full of enough unpleasantries–things like stress at work, broken relationships, our own sinful habits–who needs to think about an over-arching spiritual war on top of all of these things? We want to be entertained. We want to think on happy things. We want to be comforted and coddled. We certainly don’t want to spend time thinking about a war we are fighting.

But, whether we think about it or not, it is there. In the spiritual realm. Every single minute of every single day.

Being aware of this war changes how we view almost everything, quite honestly.

If we recognize that the latest and greatest book may be a tool being used by Satan to harden our conscience or to change how we view God, we will do our research before just picking it up to read it.

If we know that the latest children’s movie may well be full of ungodly philosophies, we will keep our eyes open and discuss these things with our kids, using the scriptures (if we even allow them to watch it at all).

If we understand that Satan hates the true church and is doing everything in his power to infiltrate it in his goal to bring about a one-world religion, we will be much more apt to notice the red flags of human wisdom and mysticism that warn of its coming.

When we understand there is a deadly, spiritual war going on, all things will be carefully examined before we allow ourselves or those we love to just blindly ingest or indulge in them.

Many people don’t like those who discern. They think it is an unnecessary evil. But if we recognize the war, how can we help but to discern??

We don’t discern because we are unpleasant and unhappy people. It isn’t that we hate entertainment in and of itself. It isn’t that we desire to be negative. And it certainly isn’t that we hate the church and its dear people.

We discern because we understand there is a war going on. A deadly war that is taking many casualties. This war is keeping many from hearing the true Gospel and it is de-sensitizing true believers, rendering them completely ineffective for the cause of Christ.

And we are fighting in this war with the only weapon we have–the holy and perfect Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

Dear readers, please be aware of this war. For it is only with this awareness, that we can be effective and godly discerners.

Please Note: If you are truly interested in knowing more about this war and who your enemy, Satan, really is, I highly, highly recommend this series on YouTube. This is, by far, the best resource I have ever found to explain how Satan has worked throughout history. It is made up of 77 short videos (4-7 minutes long). Don’t miss it!

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

The Sky is Turning Orange

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The other day a friend was telling me the account of a couple she knew who were staying in one of the vacation cabins in the Gatlinburg area this past week. If you are following the news at all, you will know that this was not a very good time to take a trip to Gatlinburg. Wildfires have ravaged the area and hundreds of homes and cabins have been destroyed. Most areas have been evacuated and we have seen some terrifying footage and heard some unbelievable accounts–including this one, which was relayed to me by my friend–

The couple noticed smoke in the air as they walked around town, but were assured that there was no need to worry. There are forest fires but they are far from here is what they were told. As they headed back to their cabin the sky grew darker and it started to get windy. They got nervous. The wife called the rental company asking if they should leave.

“No, no, the fires are nowhere near the cabins. No need to worry. This is not a big deal.”

They tried to relax. But they just couldn’t seem to. At one point, the electric went out. And then in the darkness they spotted an orange glow. They called the rental company again.

A condescending “no need to worry. The fires are nowhere near your cabin.”

Finally, they decided to pack up and head out, no matter what the rental company said. As they headed down the mountain road–their only way out–they came to an abrupt stop. There were trees across the road, making it impassable.

They headed back up the mountain to the cabin, where now the phone lines had stopped working, as well, and the situation was getting more and more serious by the moment. Thankfully, they had cell phone service and they called the rental company one last time to demand that someone come out to clear the road immediately.

And one last time, the impression was given that there was no hurry and this was not a big deal.

And that is when they made the decision to call 9-1-1! How wise they were! When asked where they were, they were surprised to hear the respondent ask them why they were still up on the mountain–that they were to evacuate immediately.

Thankfully, fire crews and police cleared the road and then escorted them and a few other cars in the same situation out through the fire. Fire burned on both sides of the road as they made their terrifying escape to safety.

Honestly, I am not sure I have this timeline all correct. As I was listening to her tell this story, I sat there aghast. I cannot imagine the horror of such a thing. I do know for sure that they called the rental company no less than three times. That I remember vividly. As I thought about the company’s careless disregard for their renters, I recognized a parallel that I just had to share here.

In many ways, I believe there are Christians who are asking their church leaders and their Bible Study leaders and godly people they trust: Is this false doctrine? Should we be worried about this methodology or this unbiblical teaching? And, in most instances, they are getting responses like the rental company gave to this lady.

Heresy is nowhere near us. Stop worrying. No big deal. And always with just a bit of condescension so that one feels like a fool for even mentioning it.

But the sky is starting to turn orange now. And we had better wake up. The sky is burning bright and smoke is filling the air, indicating that the great falling away is so close we can almost touch it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Heresy has seeped its way into even the most sound, biblical churches because people who try to warn the leaders are often shut down or marginalized immediately and then, often, are made so unwelcome they are forced to look elsewhere for a place to worship.

Just as there were four types of people in the story above, so I believe there are four types of true believers in this current Christian culture–

1. There are the ones who are sitting in the cabins blissfully unaware, trusting the rental company that all is well. They are completely oblivious and naively believe whatever they hear. This is a very unhealthy and extremely dangerous state for any believer and leaves them open to much deception.

2. There are the ones who are in the cabin and are starting to get really nervous. They are the ones who feel like something is just not quite right in their churches and Bible Studies. They are the ones who read mainstream blog posts or books and they see that they don’t line up with scripture. Or perhaps they spot unbiblical practices happening in ministries, on college campuses, or on the mission field. But they just aren’t quite sure what to do about it.

3. There are the rescue workers, feverishly working to free the trapped and the deceived. These are the ones who understand that what is going on in the church is leading very quickly to a one-world religion. They see the paradigm and they are working to save as many people as they can. They are moving trees and taking people through the fire, but not only are they finding that most people want to stay in the fire, but that some are even blocking their way as they try to move the trees! It is frustrating, lonely work with little reward. They are ostracized, marginalized, and their reputations are often attacked. But they keep going because they love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and, even more importantly, it is what the Lord has called them to do.

4. And there is the rental company–the ones telling everyone else to just relax. To stop making such a big deal out of everything. Some of these are doing this very intentionally and some are truly ignorant to the danger. They really believe that everything is just as it should be.

So which kind of Christian are you today? As we watch Christianity being completely hijacked by mysticism, where do you stand?

The really fascinating fact is that Christianity today is absolutely nothing like it has been historically for two thousand years. It has changed in such a subtle but fundamental way that it is no longer biblical Christianity anymore. It has become a religion based on mysticism, personal experience, and relativism.

Why the change? And why now, at this point in history?

I hope to write more about this next year. But perhaps this will start you really seeing what is going on in the church today. Maybe you will start to see what is going on in your church. If you have been feeling like something is off, but you just don’t know where to begin, begin by picking up a book and getting yourself educated. Here are two good ones to get you started–

A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen

Faith Undone by Roger Oakland

 

So What Now?

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You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Christians across America as we watched the election results on Tuesday night. What we thought was impossible actually became possible as we watched states start to turn red. I am still shaking my head that–

A. Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States.

and

B. That I actually voted for and am glad that Donald Trump is President.

I feel like I have fallen into some alternate universe or something. What a crazy year. And what an upset. And here we are– with a guy who has few morals– and even less experience– about to run this country.

While I consider this a huge victory and answer to prayer, it certainly isn’t because of who became President but strictly because of who didn’t become President. Hopefully, we will now witness a halt or at least a slowing down of the aggressive liberal and socialistic agenda that has been the passion of our current President.

Before this election, many Christian pastors and bloggers reminded us that our hope is in the Lord. We felt hopeless, we felt powerless. We Christians needed to be reminded of where we should find our hope.

But with what happened this week, we may be tempted to start hoping again in the wrong things. Let us be careful we do not place our hope in a man. On Tuesday night we watched  as reporters almost stuttered in their shock and amazement over what was taking place on that map. Even staunch Republican insiders saw no hope for a win. But, while this is most certainly a wonderful surprise, we need to continue to pray! God is still our only hope. He is still the one who raises up and removes kings. Only He controls the nations. We must be careful not to place our trust in a man or in a government.

Trump is historically liberal in where he stands morally. While he may not be as aggressive in pushing immorality, it is unlikely that he will make sweeping changes to the morality of this nation. This was not a victory for Christian principles in this country.

In my opinion, this wasn’t really a win for Christians as much as it was a win for those who desire a return to sanity. Progressives are deeply mourning what they believe to be a move backwards for this nation. One has to wonder how well they know the histories of civilizations. When a country starts to break down in a way ours has been, complete destruction is never far behind. And so I believe we are simply backing away from the edge of the cliff for a few years. And, in so doing, may we continue to pray. Not only for the direction of this country but also that there would be opportunities to reach the lost. This respite will hopefully give us four years free of the persecution that we saw looming ahead of us. It may give us four more years of free speech. May we redeem this time and use it to proclaim the Gospel!

 

Christian, You Will Still Be Saved After the Election

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Have you noticed the air of panic that surrounds Christians these days? Everyone is handling it in their own way. Some are rallying around a questionable man with a checkered past and calling on him to return the country to what it was. They truly believe he is the guy to save us. Others are wringing their hands in despair and declare that they aren’t going to vote. Some say they will vote but they won’t like it. Theirs will be a vote against rather than for because they know what is coming with the opposition and want no part of it.

Whatever our stance is in this upcoming election, it is easy to slide into a state of panic at the state of affairs in America. The tide has turned against Christians and we are desperately trying to turn it back.

But what if it never turns back? Will we be okay?

I had to think through this a bit.

Christianity in our American culture has been a remarkable aberration from historical Christianity and also from current Christianity across the world. There have been few times that Christians and Christian thought were so well-received than in 20th-century America. We have grown used to the praises of men and the comfort of a nation that abides by Christian principles. That is all changing very quickly now and it is filling many of us with fear. And I believe that Satan wants us in a state of fear and panic for this renders us useless and ineffective for the cause of Christ. So perhaps we should look at what we are so afraid of? I can think of a few things. See if you relate.

First, we are afraid of losing the approval of man. This affects so many of us right where we are–ridicule from family, friends, and co-workers is hard to face. We want to be courageous but we feel so weak. In fact the derision of man is so powerful that many who call themselves Christians are either not standing for the truth of God’s Word or they have suddenly “changed their mind” about what they believe to be truth so that it matches the world’s (or mainstream church’s).

Second, we are afraid of losing our conveniences and comforts. If we read about other countries steeped in socialism, we are well aware of what it means for our future. Doctors we could make timely appointments with suddenly become impossible to see. Store shelves that were once full are empty. We know that socialism brings with it many troubles.

Third, we are afraid of persecution. Even today, laws are going into effect that make standing for God’s Word equal to a hate crime. This is frightening, isn’t it? It could mean arrests, large fines, and even prison for those who align themselves with the Word of God. This is scary stuff.

So we do have a reason to be frightened. However, given the past Christian nature of the American culture, I wonder if we haven’t become too hopeful in a candidate to save us. As if somehow a man will be able to turn back the clock and bring us the old America back.

Personally, I don’t believe it will happen. But we serve a great God who is all-powerful and I could be wrong. No matter what the future holds for this country, my concern is that we Christians are putting our faith and trust in a man instead of God. That we are looking for a man to save us instead of God.

Dear Christian, we will still be praising God for our salvation after this election. We will still have our hope fully intact after November 2016 because our hope is not in a human being but rests in the Lord. Everything is going according to God’s perfect timing and we need not fear. May God give us an eternal perspective so that we do not succumb to a spirit of panic but instead are filled with peace and joy as we rest in His plan for this country.

I Peter 1:3-9 reminds us of our living hope–

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So follow your convictions in this upcoming election. Do what you believe the Lord wants you to do. But be careful not to place your hope in any man. For it is only God who saves and if He has saved you then you will never be lost, no matter what happens to this country.

 

The Four Missing Elements

(or how can I have assurance of salvation?)

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If reading about the lives and faith of those who have gone on before has taught me anything, it has most certainly taught me that there is nothing new under the sun. Satan has been working feverishly for thousands of years now to keep people off the path of true, biblical faith. And he has had great success.

One of the ways we see him currently working in the church today is through a false, mystical faith that relies on experience for the assurance of salvation. The only thing that matters in many churches or the lives of many “Christians” is that there has been some sort of spiritual experience that one can look to as the moment of salvation.

I thought this was a new thing. But in reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray, I see that this trick has been around for many, many years. This biography has required great thought and effort to read (I am still working on it!), but I am learning so much.

If you don’t mind, I am going to just give a really brief paragraph of history before moving on to what Edwards had to say about experiential faith. (If you aren’t interested in the history part of it, feel free to skip the following paragraph.)

From the mid 1730s to about 1743, there came a revival to America which was called the “Great Awakening”. You may have heard about it. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were both a big part of this exciting time in America. About halfway through the revival, Edwards noticed that the revival was taking on a distinctly emotional leaning. People were much more wrapped up in their experiences than they were in living for Christ. This led Edwards to write A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a book that is still in print today. This is Edwards’ first paragraph, explaining the reason he is writing this particular book–

There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God? But though it be of such importance, and though we have clear and abundant light in the word of God to direct us in this matter, yet there is no one point, wherein professing Christians do more differ one from another. It would be endless to reckon up the variety of opinions in this point, that divide the Christian world; making manifest the truth of that declaration of our Savior, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” The consideration of these things has long engaged me to attend to this matter, with the utmost diligence and care, and exactness of search and inquiry, that I have been capable of. It is a subject on which my mind has been peculiarly intent, ever since I first entered on the study of divinity. But as to the success of my inquiries it must be left to the judgment of the reader of the following treatise.

I have not read the Treatise of Religious Affections (at least not yet) but Murray shares portions from this book and other writings of Edwards that I have found most helpful in establishing what the Bible teaches about the assurance of salvation. Edwards felt it necessary to respond to the problem of experience-based (and false) faith that had grown like a giant tare in the midst of the true revival. I was most astonished to find this problem to be a very old one. And I am most grateful to Jonathan Edwards for expounding biblically on this very hot and current topic of today.

Jonathan Edwards uses this illustration, that seems so very applicable–

It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising; but yet many of them never come to anything….It is the mature fruit which comes afterwards, and not the beautiful colors and smell of the blossoms that we must judge by.*

So, how do we know if we ourselves and those we love are practicing true and saving faith? What are the distinguishing marks of a true believer? How do we have genuine assurance of our salvation? This is no small question, as we all long to be right with God and spend eternity in heaven.

Someone I know recently had a conversation with a co-worker about where she would go when she dies. She stated that she was sure she was going to heaven because she was a good person. When pressed a bit, it was made clear that this woman wasn’t basing her belief on anything but her own desire to be in a good place when she dies. But beliefs do not save us. And, while I most certainly recognize that this will step on some toes, I also recognize the importance of getting a message of biblical salvation out to as many people as will hear it! Eternal life and damnation hang in the balance. How important that we know what the Bible says about these things.

Edwards, in response to this mystical, experiential religion and the aftermath of the revival, gives four missing elements in the lives of those who have no true grace. In other words, those who have had an experience but aren’t truly saved. (Keep in mind, that Edwards is assuming the reader’s high view of scripture. His readers–and even the general population–would have generally viewed the Bible as the true, inerrant, and complete Word of God and the basis for all morality. This is definitely missing from our current culture.)

1. Humility is missing. I have been thinking of this one now for a good, long while. We cannot even come to know true salvation without humility. How can we ever see ourselves as the sinners we are without it? Pride is a most dangerous and deadly sin.

2. An abiding sense of sin is missing.True saints are spoken of in Scripture not only as those that have mourned for sin, but as those that do mourn, whose manner it is still to mourn (Matthew 5:4)’ Repentance and confession are not once and done, but a continual part of a true believer’s life.

3. Reverential fear is missing. Yes, God is our friend, but He is also the most holy, omnipotent God. He is not to be treated casually, as we are so wont to do in this current casual culture. Being too familiar with God means that we don’t truly understand who He really is.

4. True balance is missing. Edwards explains balance in this way: “The real Christian, enjoying assurance of salvation, has ‘holy boldness’ but he also ‘has less of self-confidence and more modesty…He is less apt that others to be shaken in the faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort but the softest heart. Richer than others, he is the poorest of all in spirit: the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.” *

Murray wraps Edwards’ helpful work up in one sentence: “Edwards basic and recurring theme is straight forward enough. The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.”

Of course, as always, let me clarify something of great importance: True believers may be weak in one of these areas or growing in them, so lacking one or two of these elements does not mean a lack of salvation. However, I would add that if all four are missing it is a very ominous sign. I would also add that if the first one is missing it is also a rather ominous sign. There is really no way to be truly saved without the humble admission of sin and guilt.

Edwards talks about baby Christians in this manner: While the experience of a young Christian may be like a confused chaos, he will follow holiness, and true religious affections differ from false affections in that the true are always related to holiness.*

He also goes on to say this about the differences between true and false faith–

Individuals, once confident that they are converted, have no more earnest longings after light and grace….they live upon their first work, or some high experiences that are past, and there is an end to their crying and striving after God and grace. But the holy principles that actuate a true saint have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and holiness…The Scriptures everywhere represent the seeking, striving, and labor of a Christian, as being chiefly after his conversion, and his conversion as being but the beginning of his work. And almost all that is said in the New Testament, of men’s watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving and agonizing, wrestling not with flesh and blood but principalities and powers, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, and standing, pressing forward, reaching forth, continuing instant in prayer, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that is said in the New Testament of these things, is spoken of and directed to the saints. Where these things are applied to sinners’ seeking conversion once, they are spoken of the saints’ prosecution of the great business of their high calling ten times.*

True Christianity is a beautiful thing. The Gospel message not only saves us, it transforms us. The counterfeit that we see today–embodied by men and women following after their own worldly lusts and dreams, claiming Christ all the while, is not true Christianity. And while I would never, ever judge an individual’s salvation (who am I to know a person’s heart or where they are at with God?) these thoughts by Edwards do give us a litmus test by which to judge church movements and revivals and the current church age. They also cause us to be more earnest in prayer for the spiritual growth (or perhaps even conversion) of those who are not manifesting the elements of true faith. And, finally, the words of Jonathan Edwards should cause us to examine our own lives, in search of these elements of true, biblical faith.

Please NOTE: One of my greatest fears in writing a post such as this one is misrepresenting an author. I have not read all of Edwards works and I am only becoming acquainted with the Great Awakening and the dynamics surrounding it. If you have anything helpful to add or have any corrections to the information I have given, it will be most welcome. I generally stay away from this type of post, but felt this topic to be of particular importance and relevance to the current church culture we live in.

*This quote and all following come from Banner of Truth Trust‘s The Religious Affections, Select Works of Jonathan Edwards.  This organization has done a wonderful job in bringing the works and biographies of great men and women of the faith back into print.

Learning From Those Who Have Gone On Before

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As you may have already guessed, I love to read. I have been reading books since I learned my alphabet. The first series I remember reading is the Boxcar Children. I loved solving mysteries with them! Next I went on to Nancy Drew and then onto Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (same author, different pennames; don’t really recommend overall). Are you seeing a pattern here? Mystery was my genre of choice. I remember, as a teenager, staying up late one night to finish Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The rest of the night I went in and out of a terrible nightmare, sure I was the next one to be murdered. I think I only ever read one Agatha Christie novel after that and that was just a few years ago! I was not anxious to repeat that experience!

As I got older, my tastes leaned towards Christian romance novels. I read Francine Rivers, Lori Wick, Lawana Blackwell, Karen Kingsbury, and Janette Oke–to name a few. I enjoyed them and they were easy to read, usually complete with happy endings. I still enjoy reading some of these once in awhile. They are easy and entertaining.

When I started homeschooling, I developed a love for the classics and I started reading books I never had an interest in before. In that phase, I read most of Jane Austen’s books, Jane Eyre, Count of Monte Cristo, Robison Crusoe, Oliver Twist, and Ivanhoe. I loved every single one of them. There is a reason they are called classics, and I really would like to read more from this category during my lifetime.

And then one year, I read the story of Gladys Aylward to the kids and I was hooked! I have been reading missionary biographies ever since. About that same time, I picked up a Christian Classic called Humility by Andrew Murray. These two genres strengthened my faith by leaps and bounds.  So, while I still do read some fiction and classics, I read mostly biographies and Christian classics now.

Have you ever thought how incredible the written language is? Dave Ramsey puts it this way: “We will be the same person in five years that we are today, except for the books we read and the people we meet.”

Books change us. So it is not only important that we actually read full-length books–something fewer and fewer of us are even doing–but it is critically important what we read. If we are satisfied with always reading junk food or–worse yet–the heretical stuff of modern times that leaves scripture out or twists it into something it is not (such as The Shack, Jesus Calling, Love Wins), then we may be changed but it certainly won’t be in a biblical way.

Romans 8:29 says this: For whom He {God} did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

These verses show that God has planned for us to grow more like Jesus every day. This should be the underlying passion that drives us if we are believers.

Ask yourself this question: Did any of the last three books I read teach me to look more like Jesus? Keep in mind that I am most certainly not talking about the world’s “Jesus”–the one that has been created to pacify their dull consciences. No, that isn’t Jesus. They just call their false god the same name as my Savior. I am referring to the One who is kind, compassionate, just, prayerful, loving, truthful. The One who denies Himself for the will of the Father. Who takes up His cross. The biblical Jesus that we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

If not, why not?

I have thought of a few reasons why reading the words of those who have gone on to glory before me have helped me to grow in my faith. I am hoping that these reasons may compel you, too, to pick up a classic or a biography and get started. As I’ve already said, books change us. Because this is true, it is critically important that we read books that are in line with scripture.

Here is my short list of why you, too, should develop the habit of reading old books–

1.   They encourage us. Some of these people have gone through the worst circumstances possible and, yet, they faithfully continued to walk with Jesus.

2.  They teach us to turn to God and His Word in trials. If we listen to the world–and even the modern day church– around us, we will soon be convinced that God’s Word is irrelevant in this day and age. We need medications and doctors and therapists if there is ever going to be true change. But this just isn’t true.

3.  They teach us that our “Happy Ending” will be in eternity. We have this expectation as Westerners that we deserve a good life. And, yet, I am amazed at how few people really do have a good life. They are women born in middle-eastern cultures or children sold into the sex slavery trade by their own parents. Even more amazing yet are those that choose a hard life. Missionaries that give more than they can afford for little–if any–reward. Men and women who purposefully choose to live without any modern-day conveniences in order to reach the lost. Men and women who stand up for Truth, even if it means persecution and death. All because they aren’t constantly grasping and reaching for happiness and fulfillment here on this sin-splattered planet like the rest of us tend to do.

4. They teach us how to walk with God. I love God’s Word and this should be our first and foremost place to go for learning and studying. But God has gifted certain men and women with insight to exposit and explain scripture. Their works are wonderful companions to what we are learning in God’s Word. Currently, I am reading through the Gospels, following the schedule my pastor gave us at the beginning of the year. My study has been so enhanced by reading Expository Thoughts on the Gospels by J.C. Ryle and Why Four Gospels? by A.W. Pink. These books really are helping me to understand the scriptures better. I have gained such insight from these great men of God.

5. They show us that God controls the things that are outside our control. Oh, the peace and comfort that I have drawn from reading about the miraculous ways of God in seemingly impossible circumstances. Even now, as we face an impossible election with two of the worst candidates imaginable and the future looks increasingly bleak, I know that my God is in control. God’s Word says this and I have seen the truth of these words in the lives of those who have gone on before us. He will make a way for us to go through the upcoming deep waters. “He will make a way when there seems to be no way.” (Anyone else remember those lyrics from the 80s worship chorus??)

6.  And, finally, and perhaps most importantly, these books give us perspective. Oh, precious perspective. We can become so myopic and self-focused. These books teach us to look outward and upward. They remind us of the many lives that have been lived well before us. They remind us of what matters. And why it matters.

I am currently reading Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. I think the thing that has struck me most is how similar his battles are to ours. He, too, was persecuted for standing up for truth. He, too, was battling against experience-based religion that took hold of his culture. And yet, he kept on serving the Lord by preaching and writing. And here we are–hundreds of years later–still reading his words and benefiting from his insight because he remained faithful in the midst of the fire.

I want to do the same. And these books encourage me to do that!

Practically speaking, I know that these books are not the enjoyable fodder we want to read on the beach or during our summer vacations. We like light stuff this time of the year, and I, too, usually pick a novel to read. But I truly do hope you will consider picking up a serious book or two to read along with your novels. I will list a few of my favorite authors below. Many of these authors’ books are public domain, which means they are free or very inexpensive for Kindle.

Here are a few of my favorite Christian Classic authors with some titles–

J.C. Ryle (Holiness; Practical Religion)

A.W. Pink (The Attributes of God; The Sovereignty of God)

Charles Spurgeon (Lectures to My Students; Twelve Sermons on Humility)

Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness)

R.A. Torrey (How to Study the Bible)

Elisabeth Elliot (The Liberty of Obedience; Discipline: The Glad Surrender)

While I have read (or am reading) most of these books, I have not read all of them. A few of them are on my Kindle awaiting their turn. However, the specific biographies below I have read and have been changed by reading them. I highly, highly recommend–

Anything by Iain Murray. He writes biographies of great Christian men; anything by him will be of great benefit to you. As I mentioned, I am currently reading his biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Isobel Kuhn has written several autobiographies and biographies. They are excellent! By Searching is a good place to start.

George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer

Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

Under His Wings by Stephen Lehmann

The Story of John G Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals by John G Paton

 

I hope these will give you some ideas of a place to get started. I promise you–I PROMISE YOU–you will not be sorry if you purposefully develop the habit to read books like those listed above. You will grow in ways you never thought possible. Your faith in God will deepen and you will be changed. Let’s purpose to fill our minds with biblical books that deepen and enhance our understanding of the Bible rather than those that relegate the Bible to the background or eliminate it altogether.

Happy Reading!

 

Says Who?

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As many of us already know, the Ark Encounter— a life-sized Noah’s Ark–recently opened in Williamstown, Kentucky. There has been much news swirling around this opening. As one would expect, there has been positive feedback by Christians and very negative feedback by the rest of the world.

But I have to admit that the article by Paul Bois over at Truth Revolt had me scratching my head. At first, it looks like it will finally be someone standing up for the right of Christians to have some freedom, too. Which I guess he sort of did in the article. Sort of.

Shall I summarize the article for you?

Stop bashing these poor, pathetic idiots who built this attraction. What do we care if they build a completely unscientific ark that is based on completely unscientific data? Shame on you, world.

Okay, so you may want to read it to make sure I had the right take-away, but this is the message I received loud and clear. He basically called Ken Ham a liar and then made sure the whole world knew that even though he wasn’t on the side of CBS, he really did agree with them. So he really did exactly the same thing as CBS. Which he was criticizing them for doing. Funny how that works.

So why am I even bringing this up?

He made a specific statement in that article that I beg to differ with and thought I would unpack a bit here. I am doing this because I am guessing many of you have also heard the derogatory and demeaning statements made about not only this attraction, but also about anyone who would actually believe that Noah’s ark was a historical event.

Here’s the statement–

“Though founder Ken Ham has expressed questionable–and even downright false–scientific views regarding creationism…”

Really? So one has to wonder then: was this author there–at the very beginning– when the earth was formed? He seems to have some inside knowledge the rest of us don’t have.

Sorry, I had to be sarcastic for just a moment.

Seriously, though, who gets to decide whose assumptions are correct? Follow me here–any theory of the earth’s beginnings are based on assumptions. No one on the earth today was there. There are no science or history books that date back that far (aside from the Bible, that is!) And so, with this being the case, we have to look at all the data available to us and then come up with theories. What the scientific community wants to present as facts are not facts. They are theories based on assumptions that they are presenting as facts.

Ken Ham, myself, and other believers, on the other hand, base our views on a Book. Our assumption–which changes everything–is that the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, then the rest falls into place quite nicely.

Of course, the world doesn’t want to believe in a God to whom they are accountable and so they come up with this theory of evolution. It would almost be funny, if it wasn’t just so tragic.

And we have to wonder–which one actually believes in fairy tales? The one who is using a historical book that has been proven to be accurate over and over again or the one who believes that something came from nothing? That life came from a rock? That a living, breathing person with intricately designed body systems evolved from a single cell? A belief which would require millions of transitional fossils on this earth and yet there is NOT ONE–not one, mind you–fossil of any “in between” creatures anywhere. Along with this is the fact that there is no scientific evidence whatsoever, current or historical, of anything ever coming from nothing or of order ever coming from chaos. This is because it could never happen. And yet, we have a theory that has been presented as fact that is based on all of these very unscientific assumptions. Who is unscientific now?

This theory is taught in our schools, displayed in our museums, and assumed anywhere you go. Most of the world has bought into this even though it makes no sense at all.

Look, I am no scientist. And I don’t care if someone wants to call me names because of what I believe, but let’s be clear here–anyone who believes anything about the earth’s beginnings is making assumptions. No one truly knows. We can base it on a Book or we can base it on something else, but all–in the end–are theories which require faith to believe in.

I admire Ken Ham for what he is doing and I thank the Lord for a man that will stand in the face of such accusations and threats. He knows the truth of God’s Word and he is standing firm on the truth no matter what the world says. We need more men and women like him! And we should be praying for him and for others who are in the heat of such fierce battles.

At first, when I heard about the ark, I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea. But as I have followed the progress of it all, I am starting to understand how God will use this to further His Kingdom. People are curious and Ken Ham and his staff are very knowledgeable. I am sure they will have some wonderful conversations with the media and with folks who are just passing through, plantings seeds of the Gospel that will flourish throughout this country. And, as believers, this is our main calling, isn’t it?

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

 

 

America 2016

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America the Beautiful? Or America the Broken? Perhaps on this patriotic holiday–July 4–in the year 2016, it is a little bit of both.

My pastor said something in church that summarizes exactly how I feel about my country. He shared the mix of emotions he felt as he listened to our country’s anthem the other day. What used to fill him with pride to be living in such a great country, now also brings shame. He expressed the feelings of so many of us perfectly.

I love my country. And even now, amidst the increasing lawlessness and evil, I still love my country. I am also heartbroken and ashamed of where we are headed. The grace of God that has been so wonderfully shed on this country throughout its history is now being withdrawn. If our eyes are open to truth, this is something we cannot deny.

Wildfires, tornadoes, and floods are happening in record numbers across this nation. Shootings and other crimes–once a real rarity–are now becoming a part of daily living. While all of this certainly has happened in the world for all time, it is becoming more and more frequent as we leave absolute values behind us and have declared that man can do what is right in his own eyes. Of course, we know from the book of Judges in God’s Word that this is a recipe for disaster if there ever was one. And I believe we are seeing this truth play out right before our own eyes. Sometimes I am filled with such sadness and despair over the state of our nation.

To many of us, it looks as if the American Dream is dying a slow and very painful death.

I find this July 4 so bittersweet. As I already said– I still love my country. I am filled with such gratitude that I can still freely go to church and hold Bible studies. I am thankful that I can go to the store feeling reasonably safe. We are blessed that we can travel on roads without fear of being kidnapped or murdered. On this day, most of us have enough to eat, a home with running water and electricity, and a car–material blessings that the majority of the world does not have. We still have it SO GOOD in this nation, even with the downward spiral we are currently in.

Will it change? I have my doubts. But I do know it can change. With God, anything is possible. But while we wait and watch, let us not grow weary of doing good and standing for truth. Let us remember that our safety and security should never be found in a country or its government, anyway. God alone is our hope. He alone is our solid ground.

I had a little free time over the weekend and decided to put a little video together. Please keep in mind that I am quite an amateur at making videos. I am sure that this is no technical masterpiece. But, for some reason I cannot explain, this idea came to me and it seemed the best way to express what I am feeling about our nation on July 4, 2016. I hope you enjoy it–