Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

Stand Strong and Have Courage

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I was disturbed last week to read an interview with Jen Hatmaker that declared her approval for the homosexual movement within the church. I was even more disturbed to see the reaction of people who claim to be believers. I cannot believe that this is happening. I cannot believe this.

Hatmaker, who seems to get her theology from her feelings rather than God’s Word, made her position quite clear in this interview.  I have been a bit suspect of this blogger for years, so I can’t say I was all that surprised. But what I have been more than a little shocked by is the response of people who call themselves Christians.

Her belief is stated clearly in this paragraph from the interview–

“Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”

“Christians” who do interviews and write blog posts like this are very effective at getting other Christians to start thinking they may be off theologically. Especially Christians who don’t know the Word. Funny how they can do this by never even using one Bible verse. It demonstrates just how few Christians know –or even care about–the Word of God.

So I thought it may be time to address this here on the blog. I have pretty much avoided this subject, except in vague terms. Now, I do realize that some of you will choose to unsubscribe or unfollow Growing4Life because of this post. But I am willing to take that risk in my hopes to encourage Bible-believing Christians to stay strong in this barrage of accusations and persecution. And I need to address it now, while I still legally can. I know the time is coming–soon, now–where I will fear imprisonment for what I am going to write here.

For more than two thousand years in the church, homosexuality has been among the list of sins that Christians are supposed to avoid. The church has based this on what we read in God’s Word. This is made most clear in Romans 1:26-27–

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

But we also find it in I Corinthians 6:9-11–

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

This is pretty straight forward (0ne would think). But there has been a tremendous agenda to mainstream the homosexual lifestyle and, in this effort to be normalized, an attack has been made on the church. This is a two-pronged attack that has being very effective. First–have the world, the press, the movie stars call us bigots and haters and shame us into changing our minds. Second, have “Christian” bloggers and preachers and writers declare that it is time for the church to stop being so unloving and to wrap our arms around these people. Many in the church are bowing to all of this pressure and there has been a great wavering on this issue by many Christians.

The homosexual community is looking for validation. They want us to say it is okay–even good– for them to live in sin. If we follow this premise to its logical conclusion, this would mean that we have to do the same for all sins. Imagine a “Christian” man comes to the church and the church finds out that he is visiting a prostitute every night. This logic would insist that we welcome him and never question his lifestyle. Or imagine wrapping your arms around a “Christian” who is a thief or a murderer and assuring them that their lifestyle and actions are normal and that we can fellowship with them as a Christian brother.

Do you see the inconsistency here?

So the bottom line is do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?  If you say no, then you will have to admit that you do not believe in the inerrant, literal, and holy Word of God on the subject.

Honestly, I am not sure how anyone could talk their way around the scriptures above, but people do it. And we are so easily deceived if we aren’t in the Word. We are just so easily deceived.

Because this issue is affecting almost every one of us now in one way or another, we’d better know what we believe and why we believe it. If we believe the Bible when it calls this sin, what should our response be to those we know and love who are living this lifestyle?

I have given this a great deal of thought. A great deal. I want to share my heart with you on this subject–

First, there is a huge difference between those who claim to know Christ and those who do not. The world is not living by our rule book. Why should we expect them to think homosexuality is a sin? They would have no basis for that. However, if someone who claims to know Christ is living a homosexual lifestyle without any conviction that it is sinful, then there are instructions for us. God is so good and He makes this so clear in His Word.

We receive instruction in Galatians 1:1-2, where we see that we are to spiritually restore someone with gentleness and help them bear their burdens–

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

If they refuse to be restored and declare that they will continue in their sin, then God gives us instructions for this, too–

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

If they want to be restored, praise be to God! Let’s wrap our arms around that Christian brother or sister and help them be restored! But what if they don’t? Or what if it is someone who isn’t a Christian? What then? Aside from the fact that scripture makes it clear that we should not be best friends with someone–particularly a Christian–who is living in sin, what else should we consider?

Second, true love tells the truth. Imagine there is a train barreling towards your best friend who is lying in the middle of the train tracks looking at the clouds. They are so engrossed, they don’t hear the train coming. What would you do? Hum as you walk by? Of course not! You would shout a warning! You would let them know that their very life is at stake. You would do this because you love them. In fact, most of would do this for anyone lying on the tracks–because we would never desire for anyone to meet an untimely death.

And yet, we believe that hell exists and we believe that unrepentant sinners will spend eternity there and we keep our mouths closed. We have somehow been brainwashed into believing that true love doesn’t speak up. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, let me add this disclaimer–this doesn’t mean that this subject comes up every time we are with them. What it does mean is that we pray for God to bring conviction to their hearts. And then we pray for opportunities to have meaningful conversations with them on the subject and then actually have the courage to speak truth when God answers that prayer. Of course, we can only be used by God if we are speaking with love and kindness. I am absolutely sickened by the ugly words and arrogant attitudes I have witnessed in regards to this particular sin. ALL SIN keeps us from God. We have to get off of our high horses and stop acting like we are somehow better than someone who struggles with a different sin than we do. God hates pride. And I have seen a lot of pride when it comes to how Christians treat those who struggle with homosexuality.

Third, disagreement is not equal to hatred. Mainstream culture– and now the mainstream church –would have us believe that if we disagree with someone it means that we don’t love them. This one honestly befuddles me. I disagree with my husband sometimes. It doesn’t change how much I love him. I disagree with friends, on occasion, but we still love each other and hang out together. This is a lie that we have been sold that has trained us Christians (quite effectively, by the way) to keep our mouths shut.

And, finally, fourth, name-calling and ostracizing is a powerful tool. None of us want to be known as hard-hearted bigots. We don’t want to be called racist or have people look at us funny when we walk into a room. So most of us are not brave enough to talk about this or post about this because we are afraid of what people will think. This is when we need to keep our eyes on the Word of God and stop worrying about ourselves. It is an inky black world out there. Most people can’t even see their moral hand in front of their face. And we Christians have the light. Yes, we are going to be marginalized. Yes, we are going to be persecuted. Yes, we are going to take a lot of heat for our view on this subject. But we have the light! Are we going to hide our lights now–when the world needs it most? Satan would like nothing better.

Somehow, some way we have ended up here as a nation. Somehow we have ended up in this place as a church. I shake my head with deep sorrow thinking about how far we have come. I almost cry if I think too much about it. It is my opinion that this issue is what is going to drive the church underground. I don’t know if it will be next year or in fifty years, but we can most certainly feel it coming.

So may we cling to the dear Word of God in this time of grave falling away. May we not waver. God has not deserted us. It would simply appear that He has started to sort the wheat from the chaff in the Western church. So let’s stand strong and have courage!

 

A Look at the Modern Day Church

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Most Americans are obsessed with comfort and convenience. We may as well admit it. We do not like to do anything that takes us out of our “comfort zone”. We spend millions of dollars each year on making sure we are comfortable in our homes, our work places, and, yes, even our churches.

I have been mulling this over in my brain for a few weeks now–this obsession with comfort in the church and how we have gotten a little mixed up. Yesterday at church my pastor talked a bit about it, too, explaining how feeling welcome is not the same thing as feeling comfortable. Oh, how true!

Since when should unbelievers feel comfortable in church? Who decided that? Since the inception of the church, unbelievers felt uncomfortable. Oh, many times they felt loved and welcomed– but they certainly did not feel comfortable.

How come?

Because they were in a place where their sin was exposed. Where they came face to face with the fact that they need a Savior. It was the pastor’s job to encourage his congregation towards holiness and purity of life and this was in direct contrast to the self-centered lifestyle of the unregenerated sinner. This, naturally, created a bit of discomfort.

I heard John MacArthur say this in a recent Q&A: “If an unbeliever isn’t uncomfortable in church, it’s not a church.”

That’s something to consider, isn’t it? And I believe it is absolutely true. When we study the church in scripture we can see that it is always referring to a body of believers. Together, they strive to serve Christ and to grow in holiness (read this if you want to know what the Bible says specifically about church).

This was the definition of church for thousands of years.

Until one day some guy decided that it’s the church’s job to witness to unbelievers during the worship service. Oh, it doesn’t matter that we do not find this purpose for the church anywhere at all in scripture. His theory caught wind and it took off, forever changing what we know as church.

I have a passion for the lost and many other Christians I know do, as well. But we believers should be getting fed in our churches so that we can reach them as we live our everyday lives. We shouldn’t be bringing them to church to get saved. That’s not our pastor’s job–it’s the job of every believer (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

As this movement took hold and has infiltrated almost every congregation to some extent, it has literally changed the face of Christianity.

No longer are true believers getting fed meat, but they are forced to squeak out a meager existance on milk in their church homes so that no sermon makes anyone feel uncomfortable. This leads to Christians who are not growing in their faith.

No longer are true believers feeling a passion for the lost because we rely on our churches to do that messy, unpleasant work.

No longer are true believers focused on serving and pleasing God, but on fulfilling personal dreams and desires as they search for happiness. (Well, these people may not even be true believers, as this is the antithesis of saving faith. But I am not the judge. People do get caught up in lies.)

But, probably, most tragic of all, is the fact that millions of unbelievers are sitting in churches across this nation on any given Sunday and are never being taught the truth! They are sinners in need of a Savior. This need isn’t focused on making their dreams come true or making them rich or in making them happy. The true Gospel has taken a backseat to a self-centered, false gospel–a necessity if preaching to the unregenerate. For they wouldn’t stay for anything else.

Oh, I know there are many churches that sit somewhere in between these two. Fence-sitting–just like many believers– trying to make both styles work somehow.

But what are the fruits of this?

It is my belief that this movement is full of bad fruit. We now have a “church” that thinks it is wrong to judge sin. We have a “church” obsessed with personal fulfillment. We have a “church” full of the unregenerate–people who, tragically, never even hear the true Gospel in a service. And we have a “church” captivated by the world and its methods.

So what can we do?

If we are in a good church already, first and foremost, be thankful! There aren’t many of us and we are truly blessed. And then let’s make sure that any unbeliever that comes to visit  feels welcome. An unbeliever can walk into a church full of people who are dressed up and singing hymns and feel loved. They might not feel comfortable, but they can feel loved. Why we have equated feeling comfortable to feeling welcome is beyond me. They aren’t even the same thing.

If we are in a church that is fence-sitting, perhaps it is time to take your concerns to leadership. Ask them to give a scriptural reason for their latest shift or change. Find out if leadership is more interested in pleasing God or pleasing man. Yes, this takes courage. But, if done in love and with respect, it can be a wonderful thing. But, beware, this can also grow really ugly really fast if leadership is full of pride. It is definitely a risk, but one worth taking if we care about God’s true church.

If we are in a church that has sold out to the world, then it’s time to get out. I heard recently –from two different people– of young persons living in sin who just love the worldly mega-church they attend. What is wrong with this picture? If your church is allowing their members and attenders to live in sin, it is time to leave. If your church is infusing the worship service with the things of this world to attract unbelievers, it is time to leave. This is not church. This is entertainment.

So perhaps it isn’t so bad if we feel uncomfortable in our churches. In fact, it’s a good thing. Feeling uncomfortable often leads to spiritual growth. If we are humbly and eagerly sitting under a pastor that is challenging and encouraging us from the Word of God, we can’t help but be changed. We can’t help but to grow. It is how it is meant to be.

I truly believe that the church has been infiltrated by the enemy and it is time to kick him out!

 

The One Thing Needful

Seven Ways to Grow in the Busy Seasons of Life

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In preparing a Bible Study on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) recently, I was convicted once again how important it is to do the “one thing needful”: Hear the words of the Lord. Today we do this by filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word.

As I studied, I was reminded just how difficult it was for me to have my quiet time when I was a young mom. Life is really hectic then and it seems like as soon as you sit down to spend some time with the Lord, the baby starts crying or the children start fighting. With the unpredictability of days with kids and the overwhelming amount of cleaning, cooking, and laundry, it felt almost impossible for awhile.

Or you may be a caretaker for an elderly parent or be raising your grandchildren and feel exhausted all the time. Work may be demanding and you see no way to change your schedule right now. Whatever you situation, circumstances may be crowding out the hours you used to spend with the Lord.

Life will change and before you know it, you will have the time you so desire now, but until then, I thought you might appreciate a few ideas. In the list below, you will find some creative ways to make time for the Lord in the busy seasons of life. Some of the ideas are ones I have used and others are things that could have helped me if I had thought of them. I hope that they may help some of you incorporate worship and spiritual growth into your life, whatever stage you find yourself in!

1. Commit to reading just one chapter from the Bible each day and writing a summary sentence of the chapter in a notebook.

2. Listen to sermons of godly, trustworthy men. Some examples: John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Justin Peters, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Adrian Rogers, J. Vernon McGee, James Boice, Steve Lawson. Search for these men in these apps and websites: iCatcher, OnePlace, SermonAudio

3. Commit to replacing some of your recreational reading or TV and Internet time with Christian classics, missionary biographies, and other books that will grow you as a Christian. Use discernment because the wrong book can change your theology! Some books to get you started: Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George; The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink; Soul Heights and Soul Depths by Octavius Winslow; Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot; George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer; Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

4. Use the snippets of time in your life. Time spent in the car, in the shower, waiting in the doctor’s office or at soccer practices, and doing household chores can be used to memorize verses, listen to sermons, or pray.

5. Instead of automatically turning on that country or pop station, play Christian music. In fact, consider finding a CD or creating a playlist of hymns. You will be surprised at how these will   bless your heart if you pay attention to the lyrics. Consider teaching these to your children.

6. Hold a Bible Study in your home or at your workplace for one or two other women during nap time or break time. This will function as an accountability for you because you will have to dig into the Word and be prepared! God will use this in your life and in the life of others if you are committed to teaching the literal Word of God, use biblical resources, and are humble enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

7. Memorize Bible verses and passages, using bits and pieces of time that would be otherwise wasted by scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or whatever is your choice of wasting time. You can even do this with your kids, teaching them to hide God’s Word in their heart at the same time you are hiding it in yours!

Do you have other ideas? I would love to hear how you have incorporated worship and devotional times into your busy seasons of life.

 

The Curious Thing About Chick-Fil-A

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Have you been to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant anytime recently? We don’t frequent fast food restaurants on a regular basis but if we choose to go to one, this is the one we choose.

Why?

It goes far beyond their delicious chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and fresh-brewed iced tea (and no I am not getting paid to advertise for them!) The reason people love Chick-Fil-A is about the experience you have when you are there.

Respectful young people stand up straight and look you in the eye. They look clean cut and they act like they care about your experience there. They say things like “Can I help you?” and “My pleasure”.

While not all Chick-Fil-A restaurants offer a wonderful experience and certainly not all employees are Christians, we have had mostly positive experiences in any we have visited.

Why is Chick-Fil-A so different than other restaurants? Could it be because it is run with Christian principles and biblical morality?

The Bible teaches us about sin and God’s wrath and God’s justice. But it also teaches us about things like kindness, unselfishness, thinking of others before yourself, loving others, being honest, having personal integrity, caring about others, having compassion, and being joyful.

People that exhibit these behaviors are pleasant to be around, aren’t they? And restaurants who train their employees to behave in such a way make for a much more enjoyable experience.

As the code of morality changes in this culture, places like Chick-Fil-A stand out like a beacon of light. And what I find most interesting is that the world loves Chick-Fil-A as much as we Christians! All of us, no matter what our religious preference, enjoy being around kind, respectful people.

I can’t help but think of a stark contrast I experienced the other day. As I was out and about, I heard an acquaintance (who didn’t know I was nearby and also one who would never, ever read this blog–so no worries for any of you who know me!) speak very unkindly to an employee. As the employee referred this person to another employee, they sarcastically said under their breath, “Have fun with this one.”  What I know (that these two employees didn’t know) is that this person claims to be a Christian. My heart sank at this bad testimony.

And this begs each of us to answer this very personal question: Am I more like a Chick-Fil-A or am I more like this acquaintance with the bad testimony?

We Christians are to share God’s light with a very dark world. We are to preach the Truth in a sea of relativism. And we are to courageously defend God’s Word among those who are more interested in pleasing man than in pleasing God. And we are to do these things with a gracious and kind spirit.

Chick-Fil-A trains its employees to be kind to all who enter their restaurant. Just as customers will enter Chick-Fil-A who are unpleasant and selfish, so we, too, will face those who want nothing to do with Jesus. But should that change us and our message? Should we back down, shout back, or get angry?

Of course not.

We need to continue to be pleasant and kind, while preaching the truth of God’s Word, no matter what the response is. The world may hate us. They may strive to shut us up. They may exert great pressure on us to stop our message, trying to obliterate the true Gospel, as written in scripture.

But may they never say that we were unkind and unloving.

May they never accuse us of being self-absorbed.

May they never call us arrogant.

May they never say we were rude or called them names or attacked them with our words.

Because there is never, ever an excuse for these things.

This reminds me of Proverbs 15:1–

A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Let’s stand for the truth, but let’s do so in a humble and gracious way, striving to do so with kindness and love, avoiding harsh and angry words. For this is the best way to make a real difference for the cause of Jesus Christ. May we shine like a beacon of light in a world that has forgotten its manners.

 

 

For the Bible Tells Me So

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How big is your view of God? Can it encompass a world that was created in six days, despite what the world’s scientists tell you? Do you believe that God and His Word are powerful enough to reach a post-modern world without any help from us?

Recently I watched a video by Ken Ham that shows clips of several well-known preachers and Bible scholars who say that we need to subject the scriptures to modern-day science. Most of these men believe that if we don’t do this, we stand to lose the entire millennial generation.

Does anyone else realize how ridiculous this premise really is?

One has to wonder just how small their view of God is.

Welcome to the world of pragmatism, as in: Just do what works. But does this work? If we remove the authority of scripture and place it on to science, do we even have Christianity left? Or does it become some malformed, unrecognizable religion?

I am so amazed at how Genesis (and other Old Testament passages, as well) are twisted and changed and turned into mythical stories in order to bow down to science. As if somehow man gets to determine the origins of the world, using fallible methods that are not even based on observational science.

If anyone who believes in evolution is truly honest with themselves, they will have to acquiesce that both world views–evolution and creationism–take a great amount of faith to believe. Trying to wed the two theories is like trying to mix oil and water. They are philosophically and impossibly opposed to one another. The fact that so many are trying to do so shows us just how thoroughly the world has seeped into the church.

If we remove the authority of the entire Bible and align ourselves with the world and with the “science” of evolution (which isn’t even actual science–read about that here), aren’t we then totally and completely re-defining Christianity as it was defined for the last two thousand years? It would seem extremely arrogant that a man would take that upon himself, but many do.

Most recently, this has been done by a preacher named Andy Stanley (watch the video linked above or see articles listed at end of this post). I have been amazed with his finesse, charisma, and smooth-talking. I have been amazed that people sit in awe and listen to a man who effectively swipes away the authority of scriptures in just a few words. And Christians continue to sit and listen and even defend this guy. And listen, I don’t know his heart or his motivation. I hope that he is simply misguided and has the best intentions but even the best intentions do not eliminate the need to test what a teacher is saying (I Thessalonians 5:20-21; I John 4:1).

Paul tells us this in 2 Thessalonians 2: 15–So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

This verse comes after he tells us about the Man of Lawlessness who is coming in earlier verses (9-12)–

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

It says that man refused to love the truth. And how do we even know the truth? We are not living in the days when Jesus walked the earth, so how can we know the truth? Traditionally, it has been taught that the Word of God is the only place we will find truth. Can you see how removing the authority of scripture turns men into “little gods”, defining God and salvation as they want to define them? It also turns the minds of men from the Bible to other, extra-biblical ways to know God–such as mystical experiences and the words of man.

So what kind of church are we left with if we deny the Word of God and just start pulling out the pieces that we (fallible man) believe to be “acceptable”? We are left with a false church. A false church that follows a false religion that can be molded and shaped into anything sinful man desires. (Remember that any religion that takes away or adds to scripture is a false religion). And, even more importantly, it becomes a church that is ripe for being melded into the coming One World Religion–a religion that will have nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with mysticism and feelings. A religion that, even now, is forming and uniting all across the world.

These kind of posts really challenge me to dig into the Word. And, honestly, I am never disappointed. The answers are there–

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.(Hebrews 4:12)

If this is true (and it is!), you can certainly see why Satan is centering his attack on the Word of God. If he can win this battle, he can turn true religion into false religion very quickly.  It is the Bible that keeps us from swerving off the narrow path and Satan knows this!

We are sinners (Romans 3:10).

God sent His Son to die as a sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16).

We will be saved if we believe this (Acts 16:31)

We know this because the Bible tells us so!

In conclusion, I want to leave you with this link: A List of Creation Scripture References. In studying for this post, I came across this helpful list. If you scroll down you will see how many times the New Testament refers to creation. Create and Evolve are two very different words. They imply completely different things. Create implies a Creator. Evolve implies lots of time, gradual change, and no creator. This is probably worth its own post, but I just wanted you to take a look. To deny creation doesn’t mean only denying the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, but it also means you will have to deny the literal interpretation of most of the Old Testament and also the New Testament–creation is referred to that often.

As for Andy Stanley, I am trying to give an honest review of his theology as compared to scripture. I have no intention of personally attacking him. You can read more here if you are interested–

For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denited…Again by Al Mohler

Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible by Josh Buice

And if you are really curious, you can visit this page for many article links and videos.

 

The Question of Authority

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I remember the moment vividly. I had made an off-handed comment about something unbiblical I had noticed about a very popular pastor. Suddenly, the atmosphere around me grew icy cold. Unbeknownst to me, those I were with highly esteemed this pastor and I had offended them greatly.

The temptation for all of us, of course, is to follow a person. We can see them, hear them, and touch them. And so when someone who appears to be following Jesus comes along, we are very tempted to latch on and follow them religiously.

I believe God knows this tendency of human beings, as Paul encourages his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). In Philippians 3:17 we read more about this, where Paul says to his readers–

 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.

It is interesting to note that earlier in that chapter, Paul makes it very clear that he has not arrived or is in any way a sinless man–

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

And so we know that Paul is humble and presenting himself as an imperfect servant of Christ who desires to set an example for Christians who are following him. (By the way, humility is probably one of the greatest things to look for in anyone we choose to follow!)

This all works great when the person is like Paul (and like so many other faithful servants to the Word of God that we know and love). However, we run into serious problems when the person we follow starts drawing us away from the Word and towards worldly philosophies and false doctrines.

As I sit here writing, I can think of several very popular pastors, authors, and teachers who are–even at this very moment–drawing sincere followers of Christ into false teaching. How does this happen?

I believe it is because we honor the word of man more than we honor the Word of God. I believe it is because we trust a fallible human being more than we trust the Word of God.

When we do this, we give the person we are following great power to wield deception and confusion in our spiritual lives, while we remain blissfully and ignorantly unaware that we have left the straight and narrow path and have joined the throng on the wide road.

Thankfully, if we are child of God’s that is sincerely searching for truth, God will open our eyes to the false teachings of the one we are following. But this can only happen if we know the Word of God and hold it as the authority of our lives, rather than handing that authority over to a fallible man.

This holds true for any man or woman you follow. This holds true for anything you listen to and anything you read–including this blog. One of my gravest concerns is that I lead no one astray from the truths of scripture. My opinions are irrelevant. I desire only to help you understand the Word of God and to draw you there as your authority. I hope that I am setting a godly example, however, since I am a fallible and sinful person, I will not do this perfectly. The same holds true for any person we follow. It is best we always keep this in mind and not idolize any human being.

It is important to remember that some of the people we follow are just off completely and we should stop following them. Others are leading people away from the Gospel as portrayed in scripture subtly and quickly and it is best to stop following them, as well. But, in many instances, the preachers or teachers we follow are off on just one or two trivial points, perhaps being deceived themselves, while being so on target in many other areas. Do we continue to follow them?

I think we can –but only if they are not key doctrinal issues and only if we know the Word and trust the Word over the man.

God has given us an innate desire to follow and believe in someone. We so often turn that passion towards fallible human beings rather than to the one and true God, as revealed to us in scripture. I encourage you today to let no man take the place that only God should hold. And how do we know God? He has given us His Word. This is the only one and true way to know God. Don’t be fooled!

Get in the Word. Study it. Learn it. So that if someone you follow starts leaving the straight and narrow path, you know it!

 

If I Eat, Let Me Eat What is Good

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The last time you were at the grocery store, I imagine you saw the words “organic” and “natural” more often than not. Recently, people have become very passionate about having food that is free from pesticides and poisons. Food that is in its purest form and hasn’t been processed or changed.

Somewhere around the middle of last century, food changed. As we turned from an agricultural-based society where we all grew our own vegetables and baked our own bread to a more industrial society, we became a society eating things like wonder bread and boxed mac and cheese. As shelves at the stores filled with processed, genetically modified, and prepackaged foods we became unhealthier as a nation. As we filled ourselves at fast food chains, we grew fatter and wider.

However, in the recent years there has been a real push to stop feeding people food like this. Some of the biggest industries have been taken on and challenged to change things. Big name restaurants and corporations are doing their best to offer healthier options, while still making a hefty profit. The two don’t generally go hand in hand, so I am sure this has been a bit of a struggle for them.

When my kids were little and I was homeschooling, I remember that we could all eat lunch at McDonald’s for $6. This would be a treat for an especially trying day or on the way home from a field trip. Now many of us won’t touch McDonald’s. If we do, it is with a huge sense of guilt and we don’t do it often. When we go to the store, many of us examine ingredient lists closely as we look for the healthiest options possible. And we try to feed our kids the most organic, pure versions of food available. Even baby food has become suspect and many moms make their own at home. It is amazing how the world has changed in just 15 short years in regards to this. For me, personally, I have become much more conscientious about the food I feed to myself and my family. We have always gardened and we never ate a lot of processed foods, but we eat even less now and, except for an occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A, we rarely go to fast food restaurants anymore.

So why am I talking about food on a blog about spiritual growth?

Because I believe that our passion to feed our bodies and our children pure food should be matched–or even surpassed–by a passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure spiritual food.

We are all worked up about making sure we don’t poison and contaminate our bodies–something that is temporal and is going to end up old and shriveled eventually, no matter what we eat. And yet so many of us don’t worry even a second about what we are feeding our souls. We don’t give any thought to if we are poisoning and contaminating our minds.

And, wow, let me tell you–there is so much available that will contaminate and poison our minds and to move us far from a biblical viewpoint. It is unbelievable how unraveled Christianity has become as we have moved far from the Word of God and have turned instead to mysticism and psychology.

I receive an email each day with “Christian” books that are on sale for Kindle at Amazon. I normally will glance through it, looking for classics and authors I trust. I would say that on any given day about 10% of the books in that email are written by authors I trust. Another 40% look like they could be okay, judging by the title, forward, or author’s name but I couldn’t recommend them without reading them first. But at least 50% are pure rubbish. Books that have nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with twisting and mangling the Gospel and biblical truth. In fact, the telltale sign for most of them are their titles. You can also tell a lot by who writes the forward or recommends the book.

Books and music are very powerful. Just like food changes the composition of your body, so, too does Christian literature and music change your composition spiritually. We need to do all we can to keep our minds pure from poisons.

You may be thinking that you don’t know how to discern. If that’s the case, please read this post, where I give five steps to help you get started in this area of discernment.

Of course, being dedicated to purity in Christian resources is not met with such accolades as being dedicated to purity in our food sources. While people understand why we want to feed our bodies and our children pure and organic foods, they do not understand our passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure and organic spiritual food. And, so, this move towards purity does not come without its challenges.

Prepare to be called narrow-minded and harsh and judgmental. Prepare to lose some friends and to be ostracized. Just by commenting to a group of friends that you are not reading a certain book because it isn’t biblical or that you don’t allow your child to listen to a certain music group because they aren’t biblical will leave you open to ridicule and criticism. Eating organic food is not cheap, is it? Neither is eating pure spiritual food. While it won’t cost you in dollars and cents, it may cost you in reputation and friendships. We are not in a Christian culture that values discernment.

But what do you get in return? You get a healthy spiritual heart and mind. You get kids who know that scripture is their final authority and go to the Word to discern. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but God does honor your desires to keep your family pure from worldly and vain philosophies and false teaching. And God fills in the gaps and meets your needs, making anything you may have to sacrifice worth the sacrifice as you step out in dedication to God’s Word and to run everything through its grid of Truth.

We tend to believe this is a new issue for this day and age, but it isn’t. Satan has always been busy trying to get Christians to read and listen to things that are either subtly twisted or in complete opposition to the Gospel. Of course, Spurgeon can say this so much better than I can, so I will conclude with this portion from one of his sermons called The Soul’s Best Food–

Now, dear Friends, I am sure that the topic on which I have been speaking is a very important one, yet it is a very neglected one. A great many young Christians and, I am afraid, some old Christian people, especially women, read no end of tales and novels. That is not eating that which is good—it is doing that which is worse than useless! There is no spiritual nutriment and little if any mental food in most of the stories that come out nowadays. We used to keep our tales for our children—our babies—but, now, the stories are written for grown-up people—and newspapers and magazines sell best if they contain pretty stories for the great babies of the present day. Nothing will suit them but stories. “Eat what is good.” But they eat ashes! They feed upon the wind—that is their spiritual meat. Sometimes we complain of present-day Christians that they have no backbone, no stamina, no strength compared with the Christians of past ages. I should think so—they do not eat the food out of which spiritual manhood can grow. They eat what would not nourish a mouse and then hope that they may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”

 

And, then, how common is the neglect of reading the Word of God itself! A great many persons take all their religion secondhand. They never go to the good old Book themselves. Years ago it was a very difficult thing to get milk—it was not milk that was called by that name. The only way to be sure of having milk was to keep a cow—and I recommend everybody to ensure getting the unadulterated milk of the Word of God by keeping his own cow, that is, by reading the Bible for himself. If you want to get pure water, go to the fountainhead. I was once going over the mountains in Northern Italy and I wanted to drink from a little stream, but my guide would not allow me to taste of it. I did not understand why, but he went on some considerable distance and then he allowed me to drink as much as I liked. And I noticed that I was drinking at a spring just where the water flowed out, but, the time before the stream had been running down the mountainside and was full of all sorts of impurities and, besides, it had lost its freshness and sweetness by travelling over the earth in the warm sun. The guide wanted me to have water that was worth drinking—to drink that which was good. And so I would advise you, my Friends, to take no notice of anything I say that is not according to the Word of God!

 

Put it away among the lumber,  for it is good for nothing—and whoever it is that preaches and whatever book you read—if it is not according to this Book, say to yourself, “Well, I have not any time to try experiments. If I do eat, I want to eat that which is good. And if I do delight myself, I want to delight myself in what God calls fatness.” There is plenty of carrion about—plenty of religious carrion, I mean—tainted through and through with false doctrine. And unhappy is that man who has a taste for it—it looks as if he were no true child of God.

 

Why Good Things Happen to Bad People

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Last Thursday we left for our annual trip to the beach. On this trip we were joined by my brother (Pastor Dean) and his family and so we enjoyed a time of being together as a family that we rarely get anymore. As we sat and talked around the campfire one day about life and about the church, my brother mentioned that he wishes someone would write a book entitled, “Why Good Things Happen to Bad People”.

Remember the book written some years back called “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”? (I haven’t read it, so this post has nothing to do with that book at all). Well, my brother turned the title around and explained that he believes people just don’t truly understand how wicked they are and so they mistakenly believe that they deserve so much better than they get and are entitled to certain things in life.

How true this is! Have you noticed it, too? This belief by most people that they are basically good and deserve the best things in life. But there is a fundamental problem with this point of view: It makes mankind innocuous to salvation. Think about it– if you don’t have a grasp of just how sinful and wicked you are, how can you really believe you need a Savior to save you from your sins? God, holy, just, and perfect, sent his son Jesus, to die on the cross as a sacrifice (or propitiation) for our sins (I John 4:9-10). This is the Gospel. 

As we drove home later, we were listening to a recent album put out by a Christian group. As I listened to the words, I realized that almost all of their songs had to do with brokenness, healing, strength, purpose, and love. Not once did I hear the words sin, sinner, or repentance. Now, don’t get me wrong–of course, Jesus does heal our brokenness and loves us and gives us strength. Praise God, Jesus does all of this! But not until we repent, believe in Him, and turn from our sins. If this part is missing, then salvation is missing and so are the rest of the benefits that go along with salvation.

I am not judging that music group. Perhaps I missed some lyrics as we were driving along. I only share this because I did notice that song after song had no mention of sin and repentance. And it reminded me of just how little our new Christian culture mentions these two words. Why is this?

I believe it is because of two reasons– first, we hate to think of ourselves as sinners. Sure, we mess up and make mistakes, but wicked sinners that deserve hell? No way. We compare ourselves with ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:12) and come to the {wrong} conclusion that we doing pretty good.  And, second, if Satan can get us thinking we are doing pretty good, then he can effectively eliminate the need to recognize our sin and to repent and accept Christ–the only thing that saves men from eternal damnation.

Do you believe you are wicked enough to deserve hell? When I first came to Christ, I didn’t think so. I grew up thinking I was a pretty good person. I was raised in a Christian home and never did anything really bad as I saw some doing around me. Thankfully, God opened my eyes to my own wicked heart (and continues to do so) as I have matured as a believer and this has helped me to understand and appreciate salvation in a much deeper way. It has also magnified my thankful heart for all of the undeserved blessings I receive from my heavenly Father.

You see, none of us is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10). And this means that we deserve nothing good. Anything that is good comes from the loving Father above as an undeserved blessing. Each breath, each step we take is because God, in his great mercy, allows it.

Is this a little too “over the top” for you? Consider these verses found in Acts 17:24-28–

 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  (bold is mine)

God gives to all life, breath, and all things. He has determined our times and where we will dwell. It is only in Him that all men live and move and have their being.

If we understand that we are not righteous (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10; Micah 7:2-4; I John 1:8-10; Luke 18:19) and that salvation and all other gifts–even our very breath–comes from God above and are undeserved, having nothing to do with our own merit (Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 11:6; 2 Timothy 1:9) then we have a completely different view of the Gospel, do we not?

Instead of the Gospel being a mystical experience that makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us purpose or simply a “decision” that we need to make in order to have fire insurance from hell, it becomes the center of our very being. We admit we are a sinner, we repent, we turn from our sins. We are transformed and our greatest spiritual desire becomes to please our Savior instead of ourselves. To deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Jesus every day (Luke 9:23). If we understand our wickedness and the great mercy God has shown us in making a way to be reconciled to Himself, this is what we want to do. Oh, most of us don’t do this all that well, but it is our greatest desire to do so.

I am afraid that the gospel has been considerably watered down. I am afraid that we have become a people who have been warped by the world into believing we are basically good people. And I am afraid that in believing we are basically a good people we have become incapable of truly understanding the Gospel.

And, once again, we come back to the Word. The Word is our only source of truth on this subject. This is where we need to go to understand the plan of salvation. Authors and bloggers are nice and they can be helpful. But they can also be extremely destructive. We need to compare everything we read and hear and watch to the Word of God. I include myself in this warning. Don’t take my word for it! Go to the scriptures. Know the Word to protect yourself from a false Gospel. This is truly the only way to survive this time of unprecedented apostasy.