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!

 

Behind Enemy Lines

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Last night at the presidential debates we heard Hilary describe her dream for America. She communicates well so I have no doubt that she swayed a few voters but did you catch what she said?

She wants a world where the government can’t interfere if a mother wants to abort her baby that is due in a day or two (but the government can interfere when a Christian chooses not to bake a cake for a gay couple). She wants a world where marriage is between any two people who choose to love each other. She wants a country that takes from those who work hard and gives it to those who will not work.

Almost every policy she has goes against scripture and, while she talks about how she wants to make sure every special group has their rights, she has made it very clear that the right to religious freedom for Christians isn’t something she is interested in.

If she wins, we are going to become the enemy more than ever. But that’s nothing new. We already are living behind enemy lines if we are a believer. For we are not of this world (John 17:14).

And we were never meant to be friends with the world. When you start trying to please the world, you are headed down a very slippery slope from which there is no return. In fact, James makes it as clear as it could possibly be and yet we Christians can’t seem to understand–

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

For many years now, there has been an enormous crowd of Christian “fence-sitters”. One foot in the world and one foot in the church. Now that the tide is turning against us and what we stand for, that option is disappearing rapidly.

But should it have ever even been an option for Christians at all?

If we are born again and are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we have become an enemy of the world (John 15:19). The Bible could not be any clearer on this.

And, yet, most Christians are trying desperately to fit in. We have adopted the ways, the music, the language, the entertainment, and the clothing of our enemy. We have decided that to reach the enemy we need to be like them–that our God is not strong enough to draw people to Himself without some help from us (even though He has been doing so since the beginning of time). And so most Christians look just like the world in which they are living. Their radio stations, their movies, their books are all written and promoted by the enemy. In fact, the “church” has become so impassioned with being like and pleasing the world that now even well-known speakers are caving on big issues like homosexuality and important doctrines such as hell.

I mean, in this day and age, how do you become popular or please the world if don’t change your position on certain issues? How do you become popular and viewed as “normal”  if you turn your back on the world’s entertainment? Plain and simple: You don’t.

I believe we have totally forgotten that it is God who draws men to Himself (John 6:44). It is God who changes a person’s heart. He uses us and we get to plant seeds and even sometimes help explain the Gospel, but it isn’t because we are like the world. It is in spite of the fact that we are like the world.

We are the enemy. We are living in enemy territory. We shouldn’t look like, talk like, dress like, or be like the world. Yet, most of us–including myself–have made ourselves pretty comfortable here in this world and feel pretty much at home. We are living a status quo reality that I believe is going to change.

So if you are a fence-sitter, you are going to very soon be faced with a dilemma. Which side of the fence will you land on? Are you more afraid of the world’s condemnation or God’s condemnation? Which will it be?

I leave you with these words from Jesus, clear words that cannot be misinterpreted. Words that have been ignored for a long time now in this American culture. I hope that we will consider them carefully as we become less and less liked in a society that is growing more immoral each day–

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. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

 

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!

 

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.

 

The Four Missing Elements

(or how can I have assurance of salvation?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change is in the Wind

weather vane

My daughter walked out the front door, ready for her first day of soccer practice. It all seemed quite normal, except for one thing that kept running through my head: It’s her last first day.

After having three weddings within 13 months, I was quite ready to settle into normal again. Of course, it was a drastically changed normal, but it was a normal. And somehow over the past year, I have gotten used to having only one kid around. Things are quieter and so much more laid back. There is much less laundry and I spend a lot less money on food and clothing. The kids come to visit and it’s fun and loud and crazy and then they go home and we are left with just the three of us once again. It took me a while to get used to this new normal. But I realized the other day that I think I am okay.

And then I watched my last child head off in her car to soccer practice. It is her senior year of high school and I can smell change in the wind again. My heart sinks a little to think of it. What will life be like with just my husband and me? Will my baby be okay in her new life? What will I do all day? Questions assail me if I let my mind dwell there.

Reminds us just a bit of this upcoming election, doesn’t it? Change is in the air. We can feel it. No matter who wins, this is a historical, unprecedented election. Neither candidate comes with a stellar reputation. Neither seems to have the qualifications or integrity necessary to lead a nation. And questions assail us. What is going to happen? How is this nation going to survive? And what does it mean for us personally?? Will our normal continue or will it be forever changed?

Clips of the unrest and starvation going on right now in Venezuela haunt those of us who understand what socialism really does. We hear about pastors being arrested in Canada for speaking out against homosexuality and can feel that change making its way south. Isis threatens the innocent and unsuspecting across the globe. Natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and tornadoes have uprooted thousands of lives here and throughout the world.

And we are going to have WHO leading this country??

But here we are. And it is what it is.

Now may be a good time to remember that we are just aliens passing through. If we are saved, our citizenship isn’t here.

Now may be a good time to remember that we have had it SO GOOD. So much better than any Christians in any other place or any other time on this earth. We must be thankful for what we’ve had and prepare as best we can for the changes that are coming.

Now may be a good time to thank God for the freedom we have right now on this day. Let’s be sharing the Gospel with that friend or neighbor–while we still have the freedom to do so.

Now may be a good time to stop complaining. As of right now, we can still go to the store and buy almost anything we want to. We can still stop for ice cream. And we can still gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Life is still mostly good for those of us in western countries and we dare not forget that amidst the fear and doubts that threaten to overtake us.

And now may be a great time to turn our eyes to the One who never changes. He never rests. He is our strength in times of trouble and our refuge amidst the storm. He not only knows what is going to happen, but He controls what will happen. We are safe in His arms.

Life may change but our God never changes. Of this we can be 100% certain–no matter what chaos and craziness swirls about us.

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Malachi 3:6

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19

The Thing About Wolves

timber-wolves-907680_1920

There are many things that make me shake my head in this world. One of them is movie stars who play parts in ungodly movies (that no Christian should watch much less be a part of) and then point to Jesus when they win an award. Another is athletes who point to God after a good play, when their lifestyle of bedding women, gambling, and other sinful activity is well-known. Musicians do this, too–singing about God with one breath and then singing about adultery or hatred or drinking with the next.

But what really makes me shake my head are the Christians who make these claims: “Oh, so-and-so is a Christian! Did you see them point to Jesus? Did you hear them sing that song about God?”

We do realize, don’t we, that people do things for a variety of reasons? They may be pointing to God to please their grandmother. Or perhaps they have a Christian fan base that will help them achieve their purposes. They could possibly be a tiny baby Christian that has a lot of growing to do. But, either way, they shouldn’t be idolized as someone to follow and be like with their worldly ways and sinful lifestyles.

One thing these famous people do is make it pretty easy to discern if they are a godly role model. With Facebook and Instagram it isn’t hard to see if famous people are living for the Lord or living for themselves. I am not on Instagram much at all, so it was my daughter who told me she goes there to see what kind of life a person lives if they call themselves a Christian. It is very, very telling.

But far more difficult to discern are the wolves. As you already know, I am reading through the Gospels. Something in Matthew 26 and John 13 caught my eye. It’s also recorded in Luke 22 and Mark 14. All four gospels record this incident. Jesus is in the upper room. He is soon going to sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind. And He knows that He will be betrayed by one of the men in that room. And He knows which one. Here is how it is recorded in John 13:21-22 —

When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.

The disciples didn’t know which one of them it was!

They. Didn’t. Know.

Think about that for a moment. Judas had walked all over Israel with them. He had served and ministered alongside them for three years. He had cast out demons and healed the sick in the name of Christ (Matthew 10:1). The whole time he had put on one amazing act and no one suspected that he may be a wolf.

Wolves are like that.

So what are we to learn from this? That we should never trust anyone?

No, of course not! But we can and should learn that not everyone who says they are a Christian is one. And not everyone who acts like they are a Christian is one. We should never idolize anyone. We should never allow a fallible person to be the foundation of our spiritual growth. Our foundation should be in Jesus. Only in perfect, holy Jesus.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The other thing I think we can learn from this is to keep our eyes wide open, discerning at all times. Deception is rampant and we can’t afford to rest. 2 Corinthians 11 shows us why–

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Wolves look like Angels of Light! How important that we remember this!

So what do we do? How do we know?

God’s Word is the answer. It is there that we find the insight and wisdom we need in this age. 2 Timothy 3:13-17 puts it this way–

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If Judas could fool the men he worked with every day, how easy it must be for those in Christian ministry to fool us today. The only way we can discern–whether it be a famous preacher’s sermon, a popular book written by a famous author, or our own Sunday School teacher’s lesson– is if we read and study the Word of God and know it. And know it well.

Biblical illiteracy is probably the main reason the Church finds herself in such a state of apostasy today. Somewhere along the line our focus changed from the Bible to programs and entertainment. Oh, the tragedy!

But you and I can make sure we keep the focus on the Word. We can’t change the Church but we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of our families. And by doing this, we may go on to make a positive difference in our local churches and communities.

I don’t know if there will a huge revival before my time on earth is done but I do know that we can make an eternal difference. And that difference starts with the Word of God.

Wolves may abound but they are no match for true disciples of Christ!

 

 

 

Self-Obsession

self-obsession

Sometimes I am still so amazed with how obsessed I am with myself. Seriously. How can this be? I think I have grown in this area of loving God more than loving myself and then I am criticized or minimized and I am back to realizing just how much I love me.

In the past few weeks, two specific things happened. In one instance, a ministry I have given my heart and soul to was completely–and quite unintentionally–minimized. In another, a project I was working on was criticized behind my back and that criticism found its way to my ears. In both instances, my first thought was: Why do I even bother? 

I have found in my life that these two things– criticizing or minimizing –are the two surest ways to knock the wind out of my sails. I get hurt, I get angry, I get frustrated.

But why? Why do these things bother me so much?

As I thought about this a lot over the past few days, I realize that it is because I love myself more than I love God. I get more angry and offended if someone hurts me than I do if they commit an offense against God.

I am quite ashamed to admit this, but it is just the truth.

When I can find my way back to biblical sanity–a place that is easier to find when I am walking with the Lord–I recognize that I can learn from comments that criticize or minimize–but only if I am willing to look at them honestly and humbly. When I can look at them honestly, there is potential to learn from them. When I am humble and stop thinking so highly of myself, the temptation to walk away from a fruitful ministry because of a comment seems silly.

And so my job is to examine whether or not the comment has truth or not and then to make changes if it does and to forgive and ignore if it doesn’t. That’s it. That’s what I am supposed to do.

I have to be honest with you– I did not want to share this today. It feels far too personal. But I believe that God wanted me to share this. So much so that I had nothing else to write today. Nothing. I was a complete blank– except for this.

And I recognize that self-love is a grave temptation for all of us. When we think we have it conquered, it rears its ugly head and reminds us that we certainly do not. It keeps us depending on and trusting in our heavenly Father for grace and strength. It reminds us why we so desperately need a Savior.

I also believe this dynamic–this self-obsession–is what keeps the body of the church from being unified on many occasions. It is what causes grudges to be held, forgiveness to be withheld, and ministries to fail. It is what causes rifts in families and great divides in churches.

All because of our great idol: self. 

And so God has continued to humble me. And while I don’t enjoy it, I am thankful for it. It is always good to be reminded that I am just a pinpoint–less than a pinpoint– on the timeline of life. God can accomplish His plan and His purposes without me–and without you, too. We are here to glorify Him and to make Him known, but He doesn’t need us. However, we do need Him. I think sometimes we get that a little mixed up and view ourselves as more important than we are.

Life is challenging. All of us face criticism or being minimized at one time or another. We face hurtful remarks and slander and gossip that swirls around about us. How we handle it is crucial and very telling of how much we worship self.

The next time this happens to me, I hope my journey to humility and honesty is just a little shorter. I hope that I will be less in love with myself and more in love with God. But I also recognize that this love of self is all-pervasive and ready to rear its ugly head at all times. We have to fight this sin very intentionally. And we can never rest because the path of self-obsession leads to a very dark and lonely place.

 

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31


 

Why Don’t We Discern?

why don't we

I already know that my title will keep most people from reading this post. People who do discern will figure they don’t need this post and people who don’t discern will ignore it. But I feel compelled to write it, anyway. Because perhaps the Lord will use it to wake someone up. You never know, now, do you?

From the time I was a teenager, I recognized a complete rejection by most modern Christians of discernment. Whether it was regarding entertainment or the preacher they listened to on Sunday mornings, most people did not practice discernment. And this tendency to ignore this command from scripture has grown considerably worse in the recent years.

Why? Why is this command in scripture so soundly ignored by so many solid believers? What is the deal?

First, what does discern mean? According to dictionary.com it is–

to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate

In a practical sense, discernment means that we can distinguish between good and evil in our minds. We are willing to take a hard look at every single thing that we allow to enter our minds and consume our thoughts–from the book we read on the beach to the podcast we have downloaded to our favorite TV show to the preacher we listen to on Sunday–with the heart of a Berean (Acts 17:11), viewing all of it through the lens of scripture. It means that we are willing to reject anything that doesn’t line up with what we read in God’s Word.

Second, let’s take a quick look at what the Bible has to say about this (btw, this is just scratching the surface. There are many more verses and passages dedicated to this)–

Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, But a man of understanding walks uprightly. Proverbs 15:21

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9

But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:14

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  I John 4:1

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. I Thessalonians 5:21

Okay. Now that we know that we are to discern between good and evil and only hold fast what is good after that process, let’s talk about why so few people are actually doing this. Why are so few Christians unconcerned about their entertainment choices? Why the big disconnect between their Christianity and their entertainment? Why are so few uninterested in discerning the times? Why do so few Christians care so little about what is really going on in the world around us, according to scripture?

I think there are some very good–albeit inexcusable–reasons–

1. Pure Selfishness (and a tad of rebellion). Many just want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it and nobody is going to tell them they can’t. They are going to listen to whatever radio station they want and no one had better judge them for it. No one. Because that would be judgmental and we know that is the worst sin ever (says the world, by the way–not scripture). They say they aren’t convicted, but we know if there is no conviction, then there is something wrong spiritually.

2. We want to be popular. Peer pressure is a powerful thing and to admit we haven’t seen the latest movie or don’t watch the trendiest show of the day is really, really hard for some of us. We want to be cool and hip (are those even the right words anymore? I am definitely getting old) and so we are willing to make compromises.

3. We hate change. We just want everything to remain the same and so we will stay at a church that is no longer preaching the gospel or has followed after the worldly, modern day church model just because change is so painful (and that is true–change is painful). Or we will keep watching the show that gets continually worse because it’s what we do on Tuesday nights or whenever. We hate change. Did I mention that already??

4. We don’t want to know or think about it. Some just don’t want to think about the hard stuff of life. They want to take everything at face value. If someone says they are a Christian then they surely must be one. If a book is found in a Christian bookstore, then it must belong there. If a show doesn’t have swearing or sex or violence, well, then it must be a good show, right? (wrong–philosophy can be just as dangerous as the other stuff). But it takes work to think. And we, as a culture, have been trained to only want to play.

5. Some aren’t saved at all. J.C. Ryle puts it this way on his expository comments on Matthew 25–

At present, we must all be aware, the vast majority of professing Christians care nothing at all about it. They have no sense of sin. They have no love towards Christ. They know nothing of being born again. Repentance, and faith, and grace, and holiness, are mere words and names to them. They are subjects which they either dislike, or about which they feel no concern. But all this state of things shall one day come to an end. Knowledge, conviction, the value of the soul, the need of a Savior, shall all burst on men’s minds one day like a flash of lightning. But alas! it will be too late. It will be too late to be buying oil, when the Lord returns. The mistakes that are not found out until that day are irretrievable. Are we ever mocked and persecuted and thought foolish because of our religion? Let us bear it patiently, and pray for those who persecute us. They know not what they are doing. They will certainly alter their minds one day. We may yet hear them confessing, that we were wise and they were foolish. The whole world shall one day acknowledge, that the saints of God made a wise choice.*

Do you find yourself not discerning because of one of the reasons above? Most everyone who chooses not to discern falls into one of these categories. Look–this is not a blanket judgment on anyone. I recognize that — just as some Christians struggle with anger or lying and fight it all their lives– so do some Christians struggle in this area of discernment. But recognizing that not practicing it is not only sin but also a big detriment to our spiritual walks should push us to change this. Being aware is always the first step to making a change. Let me finish this post by giving five wonderful benefits that come when we choose to discern–

1. Our hearts don’t become hardened to sin, but instead we stay softened and sensitive to the will of God in our big life decisions, as well as in small, everyday decisions.

2. We love what God loves and hates what He hates, which leads us into a deeper walk with our loving heavenly Father.

3. Our hunger for scripture grows as we turn away from sin and false teachers.

4. We experience true peace and joy that results from a life of obedience, instead of the fake stuff conjured up by the “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

5. We remove ourselves from the slippery slope that leads into deep and abiding sin.

I hope this has encouraged at least one of you to turn off the TV or to switch the radio station or to starting thinking about leaving your worldly church. If even one of you changes something, I will know that God has used it for His purposes and His glory.

Search the scriptures for yourself. Get in the Word and be changed. For it is there–and only there–that true change is wrought. Turn away from your personal experiences and turn to the Word of God. I will leave you with Hebrews 4:11-13–

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

 

 

*Ryle, J.C. . Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set. Kindle Edition.