For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

A View from the Other Side of the Story

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When we hear of a fairy tale, kings and princesses and castles generally come to mind. Few of us dwell for too long on the dreadful villains who work their dastardly plans to ruin the happy ending. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero or heroine. Few desire to be the villain of any story.

But, of course, there is always a villain or–in official literary terms–the antagonist. This is the character that is keeping the protagonist (the good guy) from his happy ending. And none of us want to be that, do we?

Who in their right mind dreams of being the Ugly Stepmother in Cinderella or the Evil Queen in Snow White? Who would long to be Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo (if you haven’t read this classic, you should!), Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians or Long John Silver in Treasure Island?

But even as we recognize that no one really desires to be any story’s antagonist, we are forced to recognize four things in regards to this–

First, actual villains are villains for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be mean and ugly. Instead most were disappointed in life. Perhaps they felt out of control. Or sad and lonely. Perhaps jealousy or bitterness has eaten away part of their soul. Whatever it was, a variety of experiences and their wrong responses to those experiences caused them to become a negative influence in the lives around them. We see it play out all the time don’t we? In homes, churches, and workplaces. Selfish, unhappy people who want to make the lives of others miserable. Honestly, we should feel sorry for them.

Second, sometimes–many times–antagonists help us to grow spiritually. I remember hearing a sermon about this once. Instead of always dwelling on the unkindness or evil doings of the antagonists (or villains, as the case may be for some of us) in our lives, perhaps we should turn our focus inward and start to consider how our own responses and reactions show our true character. We may not have a choice on how we are treated, but we most certainly do get to choose how we respond (Matthew 5:43-44).

Third–and perhaps the hardest of all–is that sometimes, just by simply desiring to obey God’s Word, we become the antagonist in the eyes of a world who wants to do their own thing. We are the worker that won’t budge on integrity. Or the church member that points out a beloved false teacher. We are the parent that won’t let a child listen to rock music. Or the photographer that won’t photograph a gay wedding. There are countless examples of this in our world today. Whenever we keep someone from getting their own way, we become someone’s “villain” in their life story. When men and women are proud and lovers of selves (2 Timothy 3:1-7) and when right is called wrong (Isaiah 5:20) things get pretty confused. Which leads me to my fourth point…

Fourth, while in a story  or movie we can easily determine who the villain is, in real life this isn’t always so easy. People are complicated. A few specifics? Well, first–they lie and exaggerate and gossip. And they love drama. So you put a few people together around a water cooler or at a church social and–wa-la!–innocent “villains” can be created in just a short conversation. Many people are also driven by their emotions and feelings and experiences. This leads them to view anyone who would pull them to God’s Word for absolute truth as an antagonist. People are selfish and they want what they want. This will often mean that anyone who gets in the way of their desires will be called their personal “villain”. Oh, they won’t label them that, but they will treat them as such–gossiping about them, giving them the cold shoulder, or arguing all the time with them–treating them like an enemy. Life is rarely as cut and dried as the books we read.

But, as complicated as life gets and as crazily unpredictable as people are, we do have our anchor for this world in the Word of God. Not only do we find absolute truth there but we also gain an understanding of God’s plans–and who the real villain of this world is. All others–whether they be demonic or human– are just his henchmen.

We must stay in the Word, my friends, submitting to and obeying it, so that we don’t get confused when someone treats us like we are the villain for standing up for Christ. It is there only that we find strength and guidance for a world turned upside down. The Holy Bible teaches us about God’s plan and Satan’s agenda to thwart it, so that we can wisely understand who are truly the antagonists. We must wisely choose to compare anyone labeled antagonist to what scripture teaches instead of relying on the gossip we hear.

The world grows darker and darker and many of us find ourselves wondering how long the Lord will tarry. How thankful we can be that He gave us His Word to comfort and guide us as we see the end drawing near.

 

Learn to Discern: Philosophies in Opposition

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

Has anyone caught the very real differences between mainstream Christianity and biblical Christianity? They aren’t just different–they are in complete opposition to one another. This has happened so subtly and so gradually that many of us haven’t picked up on it.

For example, many years ago I read a novel. When I was through with it, I read the whole series. I loved every single book in that series! Since then, I have grown stronger in learning to discern. When I picked up this same book a year or two ago, I saw it for what it was–an engaging story that encouraged nice Christian ladies right on into mysticism.

But I didn’t see it the first time. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know the Word of God like I should and also because I had no idea how subtle and crafty Satan is in his all-out invasion of all things Christian.

As I have mentioned, I have learned a lot over the past twenty years or so. What I have learned is what I am trying to share here in this series. In a future post, I hope to provide definitions for some of the big words that are really changing the landscape of the church. But in today’s Learn to Discern installment, I’d like to take a look at the everyday philosophies that Mainstream Christianity is purporting and compare it to what the Bible teaches. If we can understand some of these basic things, we will be that much further along in our efforts to discern.

So here are some of the lies that are being taught by many in the mainstream church. Keep in mind that not all are teaching these and that it varies in churches. But these are things to look out for!

1. Mainstream says Find Your Purpose and Fulfill Your Dreams.

The Bible says to surrender everything to Jesus and live only for Him.

Matthew 10:28-29; Matthew 16:25; John 12:24-25; Philippians 3:7-10

2. Mainstream says that Unity is the Ultimate Goal.

The Bible says that truth is more important.

Matthew 10:34-35; Romans 16:17-18; I John 4:1-3; Galatians 1:8

3. Mainstream says that The Church’s Purpose is to Help the Poor.

The Bible tells us the church’s purpose is to teach the Word and share the Gospel.

Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; Titus 1:7-10

4. Mainstream says that We Need to Make the World a Better Place.

The Bible makes it clear that this world will never be a better place.

Matthew 24; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-9

5. Mainstream says that We Need to Experience God in Order to Be Close to Him.

The Bible tells us that we grow closer to God by submitting to Him and obeying His Word.

John 14:15; John 15:10; Romans 6:16; James 4:7 ; I Peter 5:6; I John 2:3-6

6. Mainstream says that We Should Expect Special Revelation from God.

But the Bible teaches that it alone is sufficient for all we need.

Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Jude 1:3

7. Mainstream says to Be Like the World.

The Bible tells us we are to separate ourselves from the world.

John 15:18-21; Romans 12:2; James 4:4; I John 2:15-17

8. Mainstream says We Must Learn to Love Ourselves.

The Bible tells us, as we already do love ourselves, we must learn to love others.

Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Ephesians 5:29

9. Mainstream says that Christ’s Sacrifice Covers Everyone In the Whole World, No Matter Their Religion.

The Bible tells us that we must believe on Jesus to be saved.

John 3:16; John 3:36; John 14:6; Romans 10:9

10. Mainstream says YOU Are the Center of Your Religion.

The Bible teaches that it is God who is to be glorified.

Romans 11:36; I Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 2:9-11

Ten major philosophies in opposition. And this is not an exhaustive list. Now, of course, most pastors, authors, and song-writers are not coming right out and saying these things. Instead, they are carefully and cunningly using out-of-context Bible verses to craft these philosophies. They are preying on a people who do not know their Bibles and are even less informed about church history. The lack of understanding of these two things has left the church defenseless. Utterly defenseless.

And if we don’t know our Bibles, we can most certainly understand how easily it would be to be swayed. What they teach sounds great! Who wouldn’t want a religion that is all about them? That feeds their own lusts and desires and dreams, while still giving lip service to a Holy God and a fire insurance policy from eternal damnation?

The humanistic appeal of these philosophies–combined with the fact that there has been a major push to make these a part of the mainstream, evangelical church–is making them hard to resist. The popularity of these philosophies is due in much part to three powerful men (I can’t even bare to call them pastors): Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley. These three, more than any others, have totally changed the church from the inside out. So much so that now, when we turn our backs on these philosophies that are in opposition to God’s Word, we are viewed as divisive and narrow-minded and irrelevant.

But be not deceived! Truth and popularity are rarely used in the same sentence. I know that it is so much easier to follow the crowd. But this church situation–perhaps more than any I have ever seen before–is where the crowd is going to lead us right off a cliff. The church is moving closer and closer to being swallowed up by the coming one-world religion and the subtle, appealing, and extreme differences in philosophies are paving the way.

While we can’t control the crowd, we can keep ourselves informed. We can understand some of these basic philosophy differences (and as we learn what to look for, these things will start to show themselves everywhere you turn). And we can work to keep these philosophies from entering our own families and churches.

The level of deception is so great now that I can hardly believe it. In some form or another, many of these philosophies–under the leadership of unsuspecting pastors who truly want to do what’s right–have entered the doors of even the most conservative of churches. And they have entered many homes– under the watchful, albeit naive, eyes of parents who think they are helping and guiding their kids.

I’d like to conclude with a short and profound portion from John MacArthur’s commentary on the book of Titus regarding the dangers of false teaching–

One of the purposes for silencing false teachers was to remove the poison of their corrupt ideas and corrupt living, which threatened not only the spiritual life of believers themselves but also the very salvation of those to whom they witnessed.

Not only does the spiritual health of a believer hang in the balance with these false teachings running rampant, but the very salvation of those who would believe may also hang in the balance. While we recognize that it is God who draws and saves, it is also of value to consider how false teaching blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of so many.

It is my hope and prayer that, through these posts, at least a few will be awakened to the dangers and deception going on in the modern day church and that it will embolden us to teach our families and impassion our zeal to witness to the unsaved.

 

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

Here’s a Novel Idea

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I am so excited to share this post with you. But let me back up, first, and give some context.

A few years ago, I found myself with some extra time on my hands. And so, with some encouragement from a good friend, I started a Bible Study. One Bible Study grew into four (too many!) and now has backed down to three that I lead on a regular basis. Since the beginning, I have used several different books to lead the studies–a Kay Arthur Inductive Study on I & II Peter, a Bible study on Women of the Bible by Elizabeth George, and Becoming a Titus 2 Woman by Martha Peace (I do recommend each one of these resources if you are looking for a biblical study). One year we did the Chronological Read-Through Bible Challenge. And last fall I even wrote a Bible Study on the Women of Luke for the ladies (I hope to make that available to my readers in the future).

I co-lead one of the Bible studies with a good friend and this winter we came to a bit of a crossroads. What direction should we go with our Bible Study? As we searched for something new, we realized that there are very few studies left that do not compromise the Word. As I talked to Pastor Dean, he suggested that we just study {drumroll please}—

The Bible

Now that’s a novel idea for a Bible Study, isn’t it?

He recommended R.A. Torrey’s book How to Study the Bible (the first chapter of this book is the basis for the post I wrote on Conditions for Profitable Bible Study) and so I purchased it and started reading. As I read an idea started to form in my mind and as I presented the idea to my co-leader, she was beginning to think the same thing and we were in complete agreement. It was time we studied the Bible.

Since this can be rather intimidating (after all, who are we to think we can actually study the Bible??), I created a worksheet to help us. When it was presented to each group of ladies, I could see the hesitation in their eyes. My heart sank. Perhaps this was a really bad idea. I prepared myself mentally to lose a lot of the ladies (and some did drop out due to the change of methods).

But as we have used this over the past few months, I can see that this is the most effective Bible Study I have ever led. We are actually studying the Bible and it is changing us!

As we went along, I made some changes and revisions. I am currently using this revised worksheet in two of my Bible studies and the ladies love it! I knew I loved it–finding out the background and context of the book and going through the Word on my own to dig for treasure has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. I have even started to get the hang of outlining the book. The process has made us all really dig for ourselves into the scriptures and it has been incredibly rewarding!

This is not about my worksheet (a mere tool anyone could create) but about the power of the Word of God! We must stop believing that we can’t understand the Bible for ourselves. This is a lie from Satan. Sure, there are some hard passages (thank you, Dr. MacArthur, Pastor Dean, and GotQuestions for helping me understand some of these!) but this shouldn’t keep us from studying the Word.

Now, one thing I will mention here is that doing Bible Study this way does take work. It takes more time than just filling in a few blanks and it is much more about the Word than about how we feel about the Word. Many ladies are not interested in this. They prefer the kind that focuses on them and their feelings and their problems.

Of course, studying just the Bible does do all of this. But in such a way that we recognize that God is the center of the universe. Not us.

There has been a disturbing trend in ladies’ Bible studies recently. A trend that brings mysticism into every study (“stop and listen to what God is saying to you about this” is A) not ever commanded in scripture and B) straight from the contemplative prayer movement) and a trend that takes the focus off of God and puts it on me. These are both very dangerous trends and we must be so careful. One way we can avoid this is to simply study the Bible.

God has designed this marvelous book to be readable at all different levels. The more we read and study the more treasure we mine. This holds true for all believers who have placed their faith and trust in Christ.

It is probably no secret to you that this blog, always devotional in nature, has become very much about the Word of God. Reading it. Studying it. Protecting it. Defending it. I firmly believe that this is the heart of the battle. If Satan can get people out of the Word and focused on their own subjective experiences, it will keep their minds focused on themselves and off of growing more holy. It will make them susceptible to Satan’s lies and deception. And it will also render them ineffective witnesses for God’s Kingdom. Scripture is sufficient! (II Peter 1:3) One way to truly “get” this is by giving time and effort to actually studying it.

God bless you as you delve into the Word. If you choose to use someone else’s book or study be sure you know where they stand. Be sure you know that they, too, consider the Word to be sufficient for all of life and godliness. But may I encourage you to try just studying the Bible? Pick up a copy of Torrey’s book or even feel free to e-mail me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net (I have to write it that way because of the internet trolls! Replace with the appropriate signs) and I will be happy to share my worksheet.

And one final note–independent Bible Study can be sabotaged by using unbiblical resources. Click here for some resources to get you started.

 

Learn to Discern: Preparing Your Heart and Mind

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I guess in some ways this should have been the first installment in this series. After all, if our hearts and minds aren’t properly prepared, then we aren’t going to be very effective discerners. But, alas, this didn’t come to mind early on.

I have found this whole series to be a rather interesting endeavor as it is turning out nothing like I originally planned. But in changing my direction a bit, I hope to be covering some things that are generally not discussed by discernment blogs and ministries, who generally tend to focus on specific false teachers or doctrines. (By the way, this is what we need them to do and is a very important ministry!)

Before we can truly learn to discern, we really need to have these six things as part of our lives (or at least be moving in the right direction). Here are six “BEs” that we should strive for–

BE Biblically Literate (In other words, don’t be ignorant of what the Bible teaches)

My biggest regret–BY FAR–is not studying the Bible more in-depth earlier in my life. It is truly a treasure that is invaluable. The more you study it the more you realize this. We will not have the proper attitudes about discernment if we don’t study the Bible. We will not know the truth to compare error to if we don’t study the Bible. I would go so far as to say that without effort given to studying the Word of God, we really cannot be discerners at all.

BE Bible-Focused (In other words, don’t be “evil-world system” focused)

It is so very easy to get caught up in all we are learning. As our eyes are opened and we start to see connections, for example, between well-known “pastors” and false religious systems or government agencies or we start to study some historical aspect of the church, the fascination of it all can be alluring. If we aren’t careful, it can consume our thoughts and time. And so to be an effective discerner, we must keep our focus on the Word of God, first and foremost, and always.

BE Curious (In other words, don’t be apathetic)

I see this one a lot. People who just don’t care about spiritual things, which naturally leads to apathy about issues of discernment. But curiosity about what’s going on and an interest in knowing (in order to protect, defend, and contend for the Word of God) is a must if we are to really learn to discern. Apathy is a thief of knowledge and the enemy of discernment.

BE Teachable (In other words, don’t think you have all of the answers)

I would credit this one attitude to being one of the greatest assets in learning to discern. When we think we know everything, we close our hearts to learning about anything. This is true, whether we are talking about parenting, growing in biblical knowledge, or learning more about our career field. And it’s also true regarding discernment. The sooner we recognize that we have an awful lot to learn, the sooner we will start learning.

BE Humble (in other words, don’t be proud)

This is rather similar to being teachable, but goes even one step further in that this is an attitude that encompasses our whole being. If we are proud–conceited, self-important, pompous, overbearing, argumentative–we not only limit our ability to learn, but we limit our ability to share what we have learned. When we aren’t interested in the opinions or thoughts of others and always focusing on our own inflated opinions, we shut a door that is difficult to re-open.

BE Observant (In other words, don’t be naive)

Yes, ignorance is sometimes bliss. But it is rarely a good thing in the long run. And so it is with discernment. How much better to know so that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the wolves who look like sheep. So it is imperative that we always keep our eyes open! I have to be honest here–the more I learn and realize the scope of the great deception in this age, the more skeptical I become. I don’t take anything at face value but always do some research first. While we don’t want to become hardened skeptics, it is important that we recognize the great invasion of false religion that is sweeping through the church. With this in mind, it is critical that we be Bereans, comparing all we see, read, watch, listen to–everything!–to the Holy Scriptures.

And so there are the six BEs–

BE biblically literate, BE Bible-focused, BE curious, BE teachable, BE humble, and BE observant. If you have these things in place or are at least working at putting them in place, then you are ready to learn to discern!

 

Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives (final)

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! 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.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

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, 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.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

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, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

What Would You Do?

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Imagine you are at dinner with friends one evening. You have traveled to the city to see them and are enjoying a wonderful time together. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye you spot the husband of a dear friend of yours from back home sitting at a table nearby. You think you must be seeing things, so you turn away. But, wait, no, that must be him. You nudge your husband and ask him to look.

You both see him sitting there with another woman and they are holding hands across the table. There is obviously something going on that is more than friendship.

What would you do?

Seriously– what would you do?

Do you tell your friend? Or do you ignore it?

Most of us, if we are the woman’s true friend, will let her know that her husband is cheating on her. That is what true friends do. This is what true love does–it tells the truth, no matter how messy or hard–knowing that delaying it only makes it worse.

But there are some of us who wouldn’t do anything. Because it is just too hard and it makes us uncomfortable. And so the next time we see her we just act like everything is okay and figure she will figure it out sooner or later.

Which friend would you rather have? The one who cares enough about you to tell you the truth or the one who ignores what she saw and pretends like everything is okay and lets you live in ignorance?

Personally, I would want to know. Ignorance is bliss but only for a short time. Waiting only compounds the problem. But some of you would rather not know. You’d rather just live in your own world for as long as you can.

The truth can be hard. It demands action. And it can hurt. But, in the end, it is always better to know.

Some of us would hear our friend speak the truth and we would listen openly. Others of us would grow angry and defensive and it would destroy the friendship.

We have been conditioned to believe that anything negative is bad, but sometimes we need to hear the negative. True love turns us into not only a loving speaker of truth, but a willing listener, as well.

This same thing is true for Christian brothers and sisters. True love demands telling the truth and true love turns a defensive, unwilling heart into a listening heart.

I am amazed at how few Christians are willing to do either of these things– speak the truth or listen to the truth.

People are willing to speak up about a lot of things–politics, sports, their favorite passion or hobby–but they are not willing to defend the Word of God. They aren’t willing to say “According to God’s Word…” This is so evident on Facebook, where Christians will stand for so many things–except for God’s Word. They have been brainwashed into believing that this is the ultimate offense.

And, on the flip side of this, few Christians are willing to listen to someone who is pointing people back to the Word of God in the midst of all the heresy and apostasy taking place today.  They believe that anything negative is, by its very nature, unloving.

The unwillingness to do these things has literally transformed the church into an ineffective, unbiblical model that offers a watered-down false gospel. The unwillingness to do this has transformed individuals who claim the name of Christ into self-seeking, self-absorbed people who are unconcerned with scripture and doctrine. The unwillingness to do this has created a new generation that believes in a social gospel–that only serving matters.

I watched a video recently (if you have time, please watch this–it is incredibly insightful into what is going on in the modern day church) and I was distressed to see clips of two celebrity “pastors” implying that one can’t love and tell the truth at the same time.

The implication was that truth and discernment are mutually exclusive from love and service.

Is this true?

Of course not!

But you know what? Most of the church has bought into this. They believe that telling the truth is unloving–because of men like these who don’t care about doctrine and have brainwashed their congregations and then the Christian public at large into believing this.

If you are honest with yourself, you may even believe this–at least partly.

I don’t really think writing about this is going to make even a bit of difference. The die has been cast, the mold is set. It is not changing. The only thing I hope to do with this post is to encourage you–my reader–to recognize that truth and love are not mutually exclusive, but, in fact, are both necessary and work together beautifully in the true Christian’s life.

And I hope to encourage you to speak and listen to the truth according to God’s Word. In this upside down world, where celebrity pastors with ungodly church models rule the day, we can get a little tossed around and end up with the wrong beliefs, if we aren’t careful. Let’s remember that only in God’s Word can we find truth and that we are called to boldly proclaim it. And that only by listening to the truth with a submissive and obedient heart will we spiritually grow and change.

 

Check out these verses–

Proverbs 18:13; Proverbs 19:20; Luke 8:21; John 8:47; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Galatians 4:16; Ephesians 4:15; I Thessalonians 2:13

 

Learn to Discern: Living in the Light

 Learn to Discern (with blog name)

The other day I heard a popular Christian contemporary song. As I really paid attention to the familiar words for the first time, it dawned on me that one of the lines was clearly unbiblical. When I pointed it out to the friend who sat beside me, she laughed and remarked that I find something wrong with everything.

Hmmm…

Is that true?

Is that what I have become? Am I really someone who is looking for things to be heretical or false? Always looking for the worst? Honestly, I had to do a little soul-searching. This is certainly not what I want people to think about me. And yet…

When we learn to discern, we end up being caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. When we start understanding just how far away the culture and the mainstream church are moving away from biblical truth, the agenda behind it, and with what lightening speed it’s happening, it becomes so easy to see the heresies, the compromises, and the ungodly alliances. It becomes like second nature to spot it. This naturally leads to some questions and problems.

Yesterday we had a wonderful day of warm sunshine after several gloomy, damp days. The sunshine made the whole world look so much brighter. The grass looked greener and the birds sang louder. Sunshine changes everything. The thing is, when we start understanding what is going on in the world and particularly within the church, it can cast a very dark shadow on our whole lives. Just like the cloudy day dims our physical world, so, too, can discernment dim our spirit–if we allow it to.

So today, as we learn to discern, I want to deal with this question:

Since we are now living in marvelous light (I Peter 2:9), how do we keep what we are learning from casting a dark shadow on our friendships, our families, our churches, and on our own personal world?

Stated another way: How can we make sure that the light in us isn’t engulfed by the negativity of what is going on around us? It can affect so much if not handled correctly. Practically speaking, it can cause us to be depressed (if we don’t take our thoughts captive); it can cause rifts between friends and family (if we never stop talking about it); and it can develop a habit in us to start being critical about everything (even things that aren’t biblical).

I think we can all agree that no one wants to be around a depressed, critical person who constantly talks about how the world is ending. So how can we be effective discerners, deepening our understanding of what’s going on in the world, while keeping our eyes and hearts focused on the Lord? There is a balance that needs to be found and God’s Word can help us to find it. Let’s look at eight specific things we learn there.

1. Always seek Christ first.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in learning what is going on with the world’s system or Satan’s agenda that we neglect our Bible Study. In fact, we may even fool ourselves into thinking that since we are studying about the church, this will suffice as our Bible Study. My dear readers, this should never be! It is far better to be in the Word and know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in the world. For it is impossible to be godly and wise believers without the Word. It is impossible to even discern without the Word. We must seek God first. All studies–even studies of discernment–must come after this priority.

2. Remember that your citizenship is in heaven.

Philippians 3:23-24 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

It is hard to become depressed or overly distressed about something that doesn’t really affect your future one way or another. Imagine you are a temporary visitor to a foreign country that is experiencing some political upheaval. While you would naturally be somewhat interested in what’s going on (especially as it may affect you getting home), you wouldn’t grow too excited, because you know that you are leaving that country soon for your safe and secure home. And so, we, too, must remember that we are just temporarily passing through this world. We don’t belong here. When we can remember this, it helps us to find perspective and helps to keep the shadows from descending.

3. Remember that very few Christians care about discernment like you do.

I Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what we are learning that it is all we think about. And then it may become all we talk about. But we must remember that most Christians simply do not care. They want to talk about other things. And while we must faithfully and gently warn and proclaim the truth as God gives us opportunities, we should never become so passionate about what we are learning that it becomes the only thing we talk about. May we always be kind and courteous and sensitive to the interest (or disinterest) of others as we learn to discern.

4. Our opinions must be based on scripture alone.

Acts 17:11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

We must be so careful to make sure anything we say is based on God’s Word alone. Unless it is in God’s Word, it is not worth arguing over. We must pick our battles. Thankfully, by searching God’s Word daily to know Him, to understand truth, and to become better discerners, we naturally become less critical of things that have nothing to do with biblical truth because we are learning there to encourage, edify, and love one another, as well.

5. God is sovereign. He’s got this.

Job 38:4 a Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (if you have time, read the whole chapter)

God is sovereign. The earth is not some green and blue ball hovering out in the universe without rhyme or reason. We are not a bunch of cells haphazardly thrown together. Everything and everyone has a part in God’s eternal plan. We can become a little panicky about the world and church’s situation when we forget that God is sovereign over all that’s going on.

6. Stop looking back.

Philippians 3:13-14 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.

Oh, how discontent and sorrowful we can become if we keep remembering what used to be. And isn’t this such a temptation? Especially for those of us who can remember better days. And, yet, God has us right where we are for such a time as this. Referring back to point #5, His will and ways are utterly and absolutely sovereign. His plan included you being right here right now. The past is past but we can make a difference for Him right now and in whatever time remains for us on this planet. So let’s stop turning around and start looking forward!

7. God Wins!

Revelation 19:6-8 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

As we see Satan wreaking havoc everyone around us, may we never forget that he is going to lose. We know from reading Revelation that no matter how much Satan schemes and confuses and deceives, he is going to lose. Isn’t that so encouraging? Our God reigns!

8. God is faithful.

Lamentations 4:22-24 Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”

One of the things that can be a little scary as we learn to discern is the awareness of what it could possibly mean for our own well-being, and– of even more concern for most of us–the well-being of our children, grand-children, and even great-grandchildren. We can see dark, menacing storms on the horizon and can grow fearful. And yet, God will not fail us. Aren’t you so thankful for testimonies of faithful Christians who have endured through the worst of times? Or how about the accounts of martyrs who died singing? God is faithful to the end. He will not take us where He will not strengthen us to go. We are His. No one can snatch us out of His hand and no one can touch us without His permission. This is such a comforting thought as we learn just how evil this world is. As we learn to discern, may we remember that, while the world’s horizon darkens, we can still be full of marvelous light because we know the King of Kings personally and He has promised to take care of us (I Peter 5:7).

 

You know, “discerners” have a pretty bad reputation, don’t they? In fact, you just mention the word “discernment” these days and Christians start rolling their eyes. While some of this is born out of the human tendency to love the world and the things of the world, I believe it is also because those that discern can tend to be the things I mentioned above–negative, harsh and thoughtless in their dealings with people, focused on the wrong thing, and critical about things that aren’t even in the Bible.

May we not allow this in our own lives! May we not let what we are learning lead us to have a dark and mournful spirit. May we not be so passionate about discernment that we stop studying the scriptures. And may we be patient with believers who can’t see, praying for them and offering kind and truthful answers when they ask questions. Let’s be interested in all of life and not be consumed by an unhealthy desire to unearth all of the darkness in the world.

We Christians are to be the ones that are faithfully sharing our light for we have the only hope available to mankind in this dark, dark world. Let’s not get distracted. The blackness around us should make us shine brighter, not turn us into dim, flickering flames struggling to stay alight.

 

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

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

The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Learn to Discern: Acknowledging the War

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

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

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

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

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

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

and Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

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

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

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

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

Against ourselves (Galatians 5:17).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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