Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: America’s New Religion

handmade-791693_1920

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

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

There are five main beliefs of MTD–

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

(from this Wikipedia Article)

The article goes on to say–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Grace That Changes

gracethatchanges

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

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

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

A long way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride and arrogance destroy but grace and mercy build up.

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

 

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

 

 

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

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

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

But it has helped so many people!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur’s writes about this verse–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Find all posts in the Learn to Discern series here.

 

 

Don’t Expect a Crowd

crowd

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.

 

 

Color Catcher

ColorCatcher

Have you ever thrown something brightly colored in the laundry along with your whites? Sometimes we can get away with it, but more often than not the item will tinge the lighter load a dull, sickly shade of itself.

As I have been reading the epistles of Paul this year, I can see how even those of us who are truly dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives have been tinted by the world in ways we don’t even realize. Here are a few of those ways–

We’ve resigned ourselves to dissensions and divisions in our families and churches, even though this is clearly stated as sin (Galatians 5:20)

We treat the sin of anger and envy differently than other sins (Galatians 5:19-21)

We retire not only from our jobs but often from everything, letting the young people step in and do the work in the church (Galatians 6:9)

We hold grudges and somehow think this is okay for a Christian to do. (Romans 12:18)

We are so myopic (this is my new favorite word!) This means that we are so short-sighted. Always thinking of the here and now and rarely of eternity. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

We strive to live good lives for the wrong reason and end up in legalism. Instead of our good works being an outpouring of love towards God for his indescribable gift, we actually believe (perhaps without even realizing it) that we are saved only if we do the right things. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We treat the Word of God like its just any other book, instead of what it really is–the Word of God Himself to His children, full of unsearchable riches and the “mystery hidden for ages in God”. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

We pray for relief from our problems, instead of praying for strength and for deep roots of faith and love through the trials. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Whether at home, church, or work many believers are eager to gratify and glorify self, instead of thinking of others. Instead of being humble, gentle, and patient, we react with pride, harshness, and impatience. Instead of bearing one another with love, we bear one another with irritation. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:4-5)

We look like, dress like, talk like, react like, watch like, read like, and listen like the world. Instead of separating ourselves from the darkness, we continue in it. (Ephesians 4:17-20)

We easily complain about almost everything and quickly fall into arguments over the most trivial things. (Philippians 2:14)

We accept anything that is labeled “Christian” as if it must be biblical, without any discernment at all. (Ephesians 5:6-13)

We see no sin in having ungrateful, complaining hearts or in considering ourselves first and foremost. (Ephesians 5:20-21)

We live lackluster lives that do not exhibit the joy of the Lord. (Philippians 4:4)

We are imprisoned by fears and worry. (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

There are so many more ways that we have been tinged by the world and by sin but I’ll stop there. You get the idea. The funny thing is that when we compare ourselves to the world, we look pretty white. It is really just like the laundry. We come out of the washer looking a sickly pink but when compared to the red item (the world), we look pretty good. It is only when we hold the tainted item up against a bright white item that hasn’t touched the red item that we realize just how pink it really is.

So what to do?

A few years ago, a company came out with an item called a Color Catcher. It “absorbs and traps loose dyes”. How ingenious. I don’t really know if it works, as I have never tried it, but we Christians have a Color Catcher, don’t we? It is the Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we come to understand that some of the attitudes and actions we have assumed were okay are not okay at all. But, even more importantly, it keeps us from falling into sins and attitudes that would easily ensnare us if we weren’t in the Word. Just like a color catcher supposedly keeps reds, blues, and greens from bleeding into whites in our washing machine, so the Bible keeps the world from bleeding into our daily habits, attitudes, and actions in our lives.

But, of course, doing this can really cramp our style. We may not want to face that the way we are living is downright sinful. And so we just carry our Bibles into church on a Sunday and then go home the following week, spending our quiet time (if we even have one) reading a light devotional or skimming a few verses, never really being challenged. Never really being changed.

I hope that you are encouraged today to start really getting into the Word. Not only does it reveal our sin, but it also shows us our desperate need for a Savior, making salvation even more precious and wonderful than it already was to us!

So use the Color Catcher you have been given. Get yourself into God’s Word and start studying.

(By the way, if you don’t know where to start, I created a free worksheet that may help you. Please e-mail me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net if you’d like a copy.)

 

 

Hanging on to the Life Ring

lifesaver-933560_1920

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

climbing-to-the-top-2125148_1920

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.

 

The Little Things

grand-canyon-2110095_1920

American Idol premiered in 2002. That show single-handedly launched the careers of dozens of obscure, wannabe rock stars, country singers, and crooners during its 14-year-run. I think it also helped to shape and solidify the way we Americans think about change. Instead of viewing change as something that is brought about by consistent and diligent hard work (the way it had been viewed forever), we now longed for that magic day when we would win a contest and life would change forever!

You may have no desire for fame, but I do wonder if this show, along with dozens of other shows, magazines, and radio talk shows haven’t left us believing that that magical, happy time of having our dreams fulfilled will come if we will just be patient and hang on long enough. Meanwhile, we kind of sit back and just wait for it.

This is true in the work world, where there is an expectation for promotions and raises to be given without corresponding work and effort. And it is true on the sports fields and on the dance stage, where there is this longing to be the star of the show–the one that stands out and is picked for that college scholarship or that special award that will jumpstart a career. We are just waiting for that magic moment when people will recognize our gifts and talents.

But, for most, that moment never comes.

The statistics will show that few people reach success, fame, or fortune without a lot of hard work and discipline.

As believers, our ultimate goal has little to do with success, fame, or fortune, but is, instead, centered on living holy, godly lives and growing to look more like Jesus. But, even in this area, we can be conditioned to believe that this happens by a special anointing of the Spirit or by receiving a special message from “Jesus”. We are being conditioned to believe that it is some magical experience that will take us to the next level of spiritual growth.

You can see how Christians are so susceptible to this type of thinking since–

Magic moments are IN and consistent hard work is OUT.

The other day, I had a knock on my door. When I opened it I saw a man standing there that I didn’t recognize. He reached his hand out kindly to me and told me his name. Here he was an employee of ours from over 20 years ago! What a fun time to chat with him and to see how he had grown and changed. I called my in-laws down (they live next door to us), for they had known him, as well, and we all stood in the front lawn for several minutes talking and reminiscing. At one point, the man looked at my father-in-law and said that he had given him a book about being a godly man that had really impacted him. He still had it and planned to have his sons read it.

As I listened to that exchange, I was again reminded that this is how change and growth usually occur. It is the gift of a book. Or a seemingly insignificant phone conversation. Or a heartfelt text. It’s in the conversations in the break rooms and the church hallways. Or the words of a hymn or song. But, most importantly, it is through the Word of God. Like the Grand Canyon carved by a stream of water, so we, too, are changed by the little things.

Perhaps we need to relinquish this insatiable desire for sensational, supernatural experiences in our lives. While this can and does happen to some of us (as we read in Larry’s Changed Life testimony) it does not happen to most of us. But if we keep consistently growing and changing through lots of prayer, through the Word of God, and through a humble and teachable spirit. If we realize this and put it into practice then, whether or not that “magical moment” of change we are longing for ever transpires, we will confidently know we are going the right direction instead of sitting around waiting for a miracle to propel us to change.

I would also like to add one more important note here. It is regarding this obsession that is currently sweeping through Christendom for personal messages from God and encouraging whispers from Jesus. I won’t go too deeply into it here today, but the need for sensational experiences in order to grow spiritually not only isn’t scriptural, it leads to arrogance and pride and to chaotic confusion. It has created a Christian culture that is basing its maturity on experiences rather than on the Word of God. If you would like to know more about this, I suggest you read the book Is That You, Lord? by Gary Gilley. This gives an extremely helpful, biblical perspective on this new phenomenon of “hearing from the Lord”. I know it will be immensely beneficial to any of you who are wondering about this. (Notice I am using adverbs like “extremely” and “immensely” because I am trying to get across the idea of just how much this book has helped me!!)

Real life change happens through prayer and through the Word of God–where we not only find encouragement for our thirsty souls, but we find the commands and principles for living that bring true peace and joy when we choose to submit and obey. The Bible is the power for the Christian life. And true change generally happens by reading, studying, and putting it into practice–tiresome day after tiresome day. True and lasting change takes consistent work.

But it IS possible! Sometimes we will be tempted to think that no one ever changes. And yet, we know that through the power of God and His Word, true change is not only possible but should be expected. Hopefully, your own life is a testimony to how God can change a life.

So don’t give up! It is most often the little things that bring about the changes we want to see in our own lives and in the lives of others around us.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.