Learn to Discern: What Is Biblical Christianity?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

We really cannot learn to discern before we have a biblical definition of Christianity. There are so many warped, perverted, and bizarre religions out there taking on the name of Christ that it is almost unimaginable. But which is the true religion? As believers, we know that the Bible teaches that there is only one way for us to be reconciled to God (John 14:6). And we know that the Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–tells us the beautiful story of God’s redemption of man and that it gives us all we need to live a righteous and godly life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So what does God’s Word have to say about believers? How does Christ define a true Christian?

Please, please keep in mind as you read the essay below that these are the things true Christians desire. They will never be perfected on this side of heaven, but growth will take place and be evident in believers as we mature in Christ. As John MacArthur says–it is about direction and not perfection.

This essay is in direct opposition to much of the popular religion called “Christianity” today. I am well aware of that. But, as usual, while I hate to make people upset or angry, I am loyal to the Word of God, first and foremost. And this is what the Word of God teaches about Christianity.

This post is written by my brother, Pastor Dean. I will write a bit more about him after the essay, for those that are interested. Now here is his guest post–

 

TRUE CHRISTIANITY

Who is a Christian? A quick Google search will tell us that the leading world religion is Christianity, numbering 2.1 billion people. Since the world population is 7.5 billion, almost one in three is classified as a Christian. But I am reminded of the words of Jesus who said many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord . . . and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:22-23). The important point here is that self-classification is not the determining factor in answering the question who is a Christian? So perhaps we should ask who is a true Christian? Or rather, who does Christ classify as a Christian? That is the determining factor. Jesus said two things in the above quotation about false professors: (1) I never knew you; and (2) you work iniquity. No ungodly person unacquainted with the new birth will ever enter heaven. But let us consider positively what defines, according to Christ, a true christian.

(1) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HEARS THE WORD OF CHRIST – Jesus said: Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice (John 18:37); My sheep hear my voice (John 10:27); He that is of God, hears God’s words (John 8:47). This is the most basic attribute of a true Christian. He receives, believes, trusts, obeys, and delights in God’s Word, namely the Scriptures (Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119; Matt. 7:24-27; John 8:31-32; 17:8; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Thess. 2:13; James 1:21). This is called faith. The person who is apathetic, defiant, or careless toward Scripture is not a Christian according to Christ.

(2) A TRUE CHRISTIAN BELIEVES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent (John 6:29); He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life (John 6:47-48). In view of the context of these verses, to believe on Christ is to believe at least two things about Christ. First, it is to believe that he is the Son of God, sent from the Father, and second, that he is the one who laid down his life, as the spotless Lamb of God, as an atonement for our sins. A Christian is one who has trusted in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins. He has been justified (declared righteous) by grace, through faith in the blood of Christ. He has been reconciled to God and, as a result, is at peace with God (Acts 13:38-39; Rom. 3:10-26; 5:1; Col. 1:20-23). Anyone who has not called upon the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins, through the blood of Christ, is not a Christian.

(3) A TRUE CHRISTIAN FOLLOWS CHRIST – Jesus said:  My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me (John 10:27). In another place he said:  If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 16:24-25). Jesus said these words immediately after rebuking Peter for denying that he (i.e. Christ) must suffer and die. It is as if Jesus said, Not only must I go to the cross, but so must you. These words of Jesus are not a call to asceticism or martyrdom, but rather a call to regeneration. In order to live, you must die –to yourself, to sin, to your own desires. This saying of Jesus is closely related to Paul’s words in Gal. 2:20: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. You cannot be a Christian without dying to yourself.  When we were born again, we died with Christ and arose with Christ (Rom. 6:2-4), therefore we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of God (Rom. 6:22). We now live to please God in everything we do, say, and think. A Christian does not do this perfectly, but it is his desire. The person who is fundamentally living for himself, following his own dreams, pursuing his own pleasure is not a Christian, according to Christ.

(4) A TRUE CHRISTIAN HAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST – Jesus said:  I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you (Jn. 14:16-17). Paul wrote:  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Rom. 8:9). A  true Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit dwells there will be evidences. The Spirit produces holiness in the life. By holiness I do not mean merely morality. Many unbelievers are at some level moral. Holiness is an inward delight in God, his Word, his will, his plan, and his people. This holiness can further be described as the fruit of the Spirit: love,  joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23).  Of course a true Christian is by no means perfect in regard to these qualities and in fact he daily struggles with sin in his own heart. But where this holy character is fundamentally lacking we can be certain the Holy Spirit is not present. Such a person, according to Christ, is not a Christian.

(5) A TRUE CHRISTIAN LOVES THE BODY OF CHRIST – Jesus said: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another (Jn. 13:35). Jesus was not merely speaking of a general love for people. He was referring to love within the body of Christ. A  defining mark of a Christian is love for fellow-believers. John wrote: We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren (1 Jn. 3:14). A true Christian serves the church of Jesus Christ. He bears the burdens of fellow-believers. He attends upon the preaching of the Word and the Christ-ordained ordinances in the context of the local church. A person who does not delight in God’s people and forsakes the gathering of the saints, is not a Christian by Biblical standards.

 (6)  A TRUE CHRISTIAN PERSEVERES IN CHRIST – Jesus said: If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed (John 8:31). There are many who seem to follow Christ for a time. This was true in Christ’s day (John 2:23-25; 6:66), it was true in the Apostle John’s experience (1 John 2:19), and it is true today. There are many who ostensibly receive the Word with much joy, but then wither at the first sign of persecution, or become, over time, utterly choked out by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:18-22). Such are not true Christians. They make take the name, but they are not classified as Christians by Christ. A true Christian perseveres through trials, difficulties, failures, temptations, and struggles. He may fall down a thousand times, but by the grace of God, he keeps following Christ.

Jesus said that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven we must enter by the narrow gate and walk by the narrow way (Matt. 7:13-14). We are told that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Jesus said that many will seek to enter the kingdom but will not be able (Luke 13:24). These are sobering words. Yet his promises are as sure as they have ever been. He has given us everything we need in his Word for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Let us be prayerful, humble, diligent, trembling, faithful, believing, obedient,  life-long students of the Word of God, for this is the means by which God keeps his children (Proverbs 2:1-22). This is how we look to Christ.

Finally, a Christian is one who loves Christ. We love him because we know that whatever good is in us is the result of his work. If left to myself, I would be lost. But Jesus saved me. This is a true Christian.

 

Dean Good is pastor of a congregation in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and teen-aged daughter. I have known Pastor Dean his whole life, being his older sister (by just 17 months!) Aside from a few rough junior high years, he has been one of my best friends for my whole life. But the thing that sets Pastor Dean aside from almost anyone I know is his love for the Word of God. Even as a boy, he demonstrated a love and loyalty to the Word that was remarkable. Since that time, his knowledge and love have only grown greater. He is not perfect–he would be the first to tell you so–but he is very dedicated to the preaching of the Word. I am so thankful for his willingness to help with this series. If you would like to listen to any of his sermons you can find them here.

 

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

Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.

 

A Response to “12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church”

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A young friend of mine sent me an article yesterday and asked me what I thought about it. She sensed its unbiblical tone and wanted confirmation. Since I have seen it on my Facebook wall since then, I am assuming that it must be making its rounds on the internet. I felt it deserves a response.

The article is by a millennial who is sick of church. To their credit, they recognize that there is a real problem with keeping their age group in the church. I couldn’t agree more. Where we do not agree is what to do about it.

First, let me state that I am not a millennial and haven’t been for quite some time. However, I am a parent to four of them, from the ages of 17-26. Three of them are out of our home and married. All three couples attend and serve at a local church regularly. I tell you this so you know this dissatisfaction is not inevitable. Some millennials still love church!

So back to this article. The beginning of the article states their dissatisfaction and then we move into what they believe to be the reasons that millennials have abandoned church. I’d like to respond to each one.

1. “Nobody’s Listening to Us.” My response to this is–of course they aren’t. When I was twenty-something no one listened to me, either. That’s because I didn’t know anything. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I started to grasp the fact that I didn’t know anything and started being teachable. I began to respect those who had gained wisdom from life experience and desired to learn from them. I find, nowadays, that this has turned on its head and no one is listening to those who are more mature in the Lord.

In fact, if anyone is not being listened to, it is generally those who are older, whose desires for a more traditional simple service with hymns and expositing God’s Word have been thrown out completely. And this was so millennials would come to church. But you claim we aren’t listening to you. Hmmm.

2. “We are sick of hearing about values and mission statements.” The author goes on to give their {very incomplete} definition of the Gospel. It is clear that the author does not consider the Word of God to be authoritative, as we most certainly must teach and preach about values–for it’s in the Bible. Which is why church exists–to preach the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:14)

3. “Helping the poor isn’t a priority.” Yep, that’s true. Because it isn’t supposed to be a priority. But I bet that church this author is talking about is doing a great job ministering to the sick and needy within its own congregation, which is exactly what the church is supposed to be doing. Social Justice–the buzz word that many connect to the church–is not from the Bible. It’s from communism. Read your Bible and you will find out that there is no mention of social justice anywhere. The church’s job is to feed the sheep spiritual food (Acts 2:42). Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not against helping the poor. But we can see when we read the New Testament that this should never be the first priority of any solid, biblical church.

4. “We’re tired of you blaming the culture.” The author goes on to say that the church is blaming the culture for all that is bad in the church. I can see some validity to this. While I don’t think we blame the culture, I do think we talk about it too much sometimes. The world has changed so fast that those of us who didn’t grow up in this culture–well, our heads are spinning. We are quite dismayed and sometimes we may talk about that too much. Interestingly enough, the author’s solution to this is: Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. But my question would be this– how do we do that without teaching you values from scripture?? (see #2)

5. “You ‘can’t sit with us’ effect” This has to do with how we treat those who walk into the church doors. While I agree that this can be a huge problem, I also understand that there are two sides of this story. Getting plugged in to a new church can be difficult and if we aren’t careful we can really put the burden on the people to make us feel like we belong. But–from my own personal experience–I have learned that I won’t feel like I belong until I roll my sleeves up and start working side by side with those serving there. So many people only show up for an hour on a Sunday morning and then wonder why they always feel on the outside. I know because I have been there.

6. “Distrust and Misallocation of Resources” I agree with this author that there should be transparency in a church budget. The church’s members should know the breakdown of everything and secrecy isn’t good.

But the author goes on to say this–“Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?”

While I am certainly not in favor of unnecessary building projects, I believe that once again this author has a grave misunderstanding of ecclesiology (the study of the church) according to the Bible. The church’s purpose is not to take care of the poor. It is to grow believers.

I also find it interesting that there is zero mention of the Gospel by this author. They seemed to only be concerned with meeting temporal, material needs of the poor. And yet, we know that without Christ, any material need met is only helping for a moment.

7. “We want to be mentored not preached at” I am not sure when life became about what we want instead of what we need, but the Bible tells us clearly that preaching is to be part of a Christian’s life (I Timothy 4:13; I Corinthians 15:1). It is the godly pastor who will feed and encourage us in our walk. There is no precedence set for dialogue that I can see. What this author wants to see completely changes the definition of “church” and turns it into some kind of group conversation. Interestingly enough, I see this happening in churches all across America, where preaching has taken a back seat and dialogue and subjectivism is reigning supreme. If this is a prerequisite for a church for this author, I am sure they could find one in their neighborhood somewhere.

8. “We want to feel valued” I agree with this author that it is nice to receive a thank you. But sometimes you don’t get one. All church people of all ages feel under-valued sometimes. Life is very much about perspective and when we focus on whether or not we are valued, we will always come up short. Part of growing up (something we can learn from our elders) is doing what needs to be done just because it is the right thing to do and stop worrying about if anyone appreciates us or not.

9. “We want you to talk to us about controversial issues.” Now, from my own personal perspective, I would love to talk to anyone about these issues. Let’s talk about sex, homosexuality, entertainment. But can we do so without all of the relativism? Can we show you the answers from the Bible? Because–again–how do we have these important discussions without teaching values (#2)?? (Hebrews 4:12)

10. “The public perception” This author seems to think we need to change the public’s perception about church. But I heartily disagree because the church doesn’t exist for the community, it exists for believers. And the bottom line is that if we choose to have a biblical church in the way scripture commands, the world will find us distasteful (I Corinthians 1:23; John 15:18-19). We need to be more concerned about growing strong and courageous believers than we are about how the public perceives us.

11. “Stop talking about us (unless you are going to do something)” The fact is that many people are trying to do something about this, they just don’t like what is being done. They don’t want to be told that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. They don’t want to be taught there are absolute values. Their focus is on their experiences and their feelings rather than on the Word of God and what is absolute truth.

I would like to add here that our church has a wonderful group of millennials who are nothing like this author. They are plugged in and serve with joy. They are teachable and ask questions about how they can grow as a Christian. This article is not representative of all millennials by a long shot.

12. “You’re failing to adapt” The author uses three quotes for this point–all from secular sources. To me, this is very telling. This author–I have no idea if they are saved or not–is focusing only on worldly values. They used one Bible verse in the whole article. Is the church supposed to “adapt”? And, honestly, I am shocked that this is an accusation, because from my perspective the church most certainly is adapting. In fact, I would say the church has become mostly ineffective at sharing the true gospel because it has become so effective at adapting. But the true church should never adapt. Oh, we can use technology or change a few things here and there, but we never change our message. And we never change our mission.

So do we listen to what this author has to say? I would say, overall, the answer to that is a resounding NO. There is no biblical basis for any of it. And, yet, I see churches all across this country–perhaps across the world–scrambling to make these changes to appeal to this generation. Let’s stop. Just stop. And let’s get back to preaching the Word of God without apology. Let’s feed good, solid spiritual food to the parents and the grandparents of the next generation so we don’t repeat what just happened. And let’s stop thinking that we need to do something to draw people to church and start praying that God would do a mighty work in the hearts of this generation. For only God can change the heart.

 

The Sky is Turning Orange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen

Faith Undone by Roger Oakland

 

What Fills You With Passion?

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Thank goodness this election is just about over. I am just so tired of the TV ads, the automated phone calls, and a Facebook wall inundated with politics. Let’s just get this over with!

As Eric and I were talking about this last night, I was sharing with him how interesting it was that people who rarely post anything on Facebook have posted about this election. Some people are posting about it constantly.

I’m not criticizing them for that. Facebook is a great way to get a message out. I think what continues to puzzle me is how few Christians use it to share the Gospel or to point people to the Word of God.

This election really showed me not only how powerful social media is, but it also showed that people are willing to risk their reputation for something they are passionate about. The posts about political candidates –no matter which one –are a risk. People think certain things about someone when they post for or against a candidate. And, honestly, how refreshing to finally see people actually removed of their apathy and willing to stand up for something.

I just wish that some of that passion was poured into getting the Gospel out using this incredible media. I just wish that some of this passion would instead be used to point people to the Word of God for life and light. I just wish that Christians would stop worrying about what people are going to think of them.

After all, this election is soon over. One of these pathetic, unfit candidates is actually going to win the presidency tomorrow. (But I will vote and– in case you are interested– my vote will be a vote against the one who promises to bring everything to this country that God hates.) And then it will be over.

It will all be over and we will have to adjust to whatever is next.

But the beauty of it is, for us Christians, nothing really changes. The Kingdom of God marches on. It has absolutely nothing to do with earthly kingdoms and governments. God can build His Kingdom in a country shrouded in Communism or Socialism, just as much as He can build His Kingdom in a Capitalistic society. He is not limited by a type of government. In fact, perhaps the church is even purified under certain systems of government. God may think it is time shake up the wayward, shallow Church in America. We can’t know that but we should not despair, no matter what happens tomorrow.

So where does our passion lie? Is it in making “America great again”? There is nothing wrong with that but, as believers, our main passion should always be to share the Gospel and to give God glory.

May we not get distracted by side issues. May we not be afraid to shine a light in this dark, dark time. May we be willing to risk our reputations and good name in order that even one may come to saving faith through Jesus Christ alone. And may we be filled with a love and passion for our Savior that is so transforming and pervasive, it can’t help but spill out onto our social media outlets.

 

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!

 

Why Are We Praying What We Are Praying?

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There has been a rousing call to prayer for this country by Christians everywhere. This election, perhaps more than any other in history, has burdened our hearts for the future of this nation. But as I sat in prayer this morning, I was convicted by something.

What if I am praying that God would take America back to its Christian roots for my own benefit? For my own comfort and convenience and safety?

Because, if I am honest, that is what I am most afraid of losing.

But what if–what if–God’s purposes include bringing this nation to its knees? What if His glory can best be served by letting this nation continue to spiral downward? What if His kingdom here in America can expand best by the true church being persecuted? What then?

Do I lose faith because I am no longer comfortable? Do I stop trusting God because I am being persecuted? Do I cry out in despair because my prayers weren’t answered the way I want?

I am in no way suggesting that we stop praying for this nation, but instead that we make sure we are praying with an attitude of “Thy Will Be Done, Lord”. We don’t know His purposes, but only see a small pinpoint of activity on the timeline of history. Let’s pray for this nation! But let’s not grow discouraged if we don’t see the answer we want to see. God is using all that happens for His glory and purposes and we need not fret. Let’s be ready to yield our wills and desires to the King of Kings. Because we know that–

And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 2:21

I guess this really could apply to all that we pray, couldn’t it? How many of our prayers are prayed out of selfish motivation? It is quite sobering to consider. May we always pray that God’s Will be done, first and foremost, and be ready to yield our will to His, no matter what the request. This is short and sweet today but it was on my heart. Let’s keep praying for this nation but with a heart and mind submitted to God’s Will, no matter what lies in store.

For the Bible Tells Me So

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

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

Does anyone else realize how ridiculous this premise really is?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are sinners (Romans 3:10).

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

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

We know this because the Bible tells us so!

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

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

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

Andy Stanley’s Problem with the Bible by Josh Buice

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

 

The Question of Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

If I Eat, Let Me Eat What is Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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