Hanging on to the Life Ring

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If it wasn’t so sad, I would have laughed. Someone put an article that praised (or excused) a false teacher (I didn’t read the actual article) and below it was a comment about how this teacher had “saved their faith because they focused on love, which was exactly what Jesus did”. I found myself wondering if this commenter had actually ever read the Bible, since he didn’t seem to know the biblical Jesus at all.

Yes, Jesus did focus on love. He also focused on sin (Mark 7:20-23), hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33), persecution and the expectation that the world will hate us (John 15:18; Luke 6:22). And He focused on obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:15), the narrow way (Matthew 7:14), and truth (John 4:24; John 8:32; John 17:17).

For a teacher–any teacher–to say there is no hell or to negate the need to follow the commands of God or to promote any other doctrine that is not found in scripture is a departure from God’s Holy Word and automatically designates them as a false teacher.

And this, my friends, is why we have to study the Word of God. There is no other way to know if a teacher is false. Sure, you can ask someone who knows more about the Bible than you do, but the bottom line is that there is only one place that you can go for counsel that is trustworthy 100 percent of the time and that is to the Bible. It never fails, it never changes, it never betrays.

But the one thing the Bible does do is to mess with our fleshly, carnal desires. And it challenges our worldly lifestyles–the one where we want to be and look like everybody else in the crowd. And so we find that most unsaved people are understandably not interested in true Christianity which calls us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) and to turn away from the world (Romans 12:1-2; James 1:27) and from our sin (Galatians 5:18-21). THIS is why so many people gravitate to a “love only” religion which is as false as Buddhism or Islam. We need to understand this. This is key to comprehend in our Western culture–

The “Jesus focused only on love” religion is a FALSE religion.

We only need to read the Gospels to understand this. There are critical pieces missing in this false religion that makes it null and void in the site of God such as God’s wrath (Romans 1:18), hell (Luke 12:5), repentance (2 Peter 3:9), turning away from sin and the world (verses above), and the call for holiness (I Thessalonians 4:7).

We cannot simply remove hell because we define it as unloving. We cannot remove the need for atonement simply because man has chosen to believe he is innately good. We cannot remove the need for obedience just because we don’t want to obey. We have no right.

God’s Word is either true or not true but we have no right to change it and still call ourselves Christians. And this is exactly what is happening all across the world. Many are changing the core of Christianity and still calling it Christianity.

A sorry, sorry state indeed.

One I honestly never dreamed I’d see. But here we are. And this leaves us with only the life ring of God’s Word. As we hang on to it to survive the massive wave of apostasy flooding over us, sweeping through our churches, and flooding our homes through our tvs, books, and podcasts, may we hang on to it for dear life. For this is the only way we are going to survive, my friend.

So, once again (I feel a little like a broken record), I urge you to pick up your Bible. Read it. Study it. Pray and ask God for insight. Know the Word of God so that you can not only stand strong against those who would twist and malign the Word but also so that you can give a defense for the hope that is within you (I Peter 3:15) to those that are lost, sinking, and crying for help in this roiling sea of apostasy.

 

 

Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches

Biblical Evangelism

Imagine with me, if you will, a young couple who falls in love. We will call them Joe and Susan. Joe has carefully chosen a beautiful engagement ring and is ready to ask Susan the all-important question: “Will you marry me?”

He takes her to a romantic gazebo lit up with twinkly lights under the night sky and they dine together in the moonlight. After they are finished, Joe takes her by the hand and leads her to…

His mother! She has been sitting in the corner quietly watching the young couple. Joe tells Susan that his mother has something very important to share with her and then Mother says: “Susan, Joe loves you so much. He wants to spend his whole life with you. Will you marry him?”

Or imagine Joe takes Susan to a party and surrounds her with guests who gush about how much Joe loves her and, through this, Joe fervently hopes that Susan will come to understand that he wants to marry her without having to actually ask her outright.

Foolish, right? And yet we do this all of the time in how we approach evangelism. Our Sunday School teacher used a similar analogy this past Sunday and as he talked, I realized just how true this is.

How often do we “witness” to our loved ones, friends, and neighbors by taking them to our pastor or inviting them to a Christian function?

We have this idea that the pastor can share the Gospel and our Christian friends can show them just how wonderful the Christian life is. And, somehow, from these things they will “get it”. In fact, many churches encourage this type of evangelism by watering down their sermons for unbelievers, bending over backwards to make the unsaved feel comfortable when they walk through the church doors, and providing all kinds of activities for people to bring their lost friends to. Of course, activities aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but should they be viewed as “witnessing tools”? Does scripture teach this type of evangelism? Is this the model for witnessing we find in the Bible?

Let’s look in the Word.

In my research I found this web page that cites the verses/passages that pertain to witnessing. Do you know that I didn’t see even one verse that would indicate that we are to take our lost friend to our pastor so that he can tell them about Jesus? I also didn’t find any verses that would suggest we take them to a church service or an activity with Christian friends to tell them about salvation.

Let’s look at a couple of the passages–

Mark 5:18-19 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Jesus tells the man healed of demon-possession to go home and report what has happened to him. He isn’t to take his friends to church or to bring them back to Jesus. He is to report to them what great things the Lord has done for him! Now, you may think: if God miraculously healed me like that I would gladly tell others about it. Oh, dear reader, hasn’t Jesus done something even greater in saving your soul? Isn’t this a miracle of even greater import? How often we forget the magnitude of the gift we have received. And, in doing so, we lose our fervor for witnessing and we hesitate to talk about the very thing most important in life.

Acts 8:30-35 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.

Notice, Philip didn’t say something like this: “Oh that is a good question. Let’s go to my pastor (or friend or leader) and see what he has to say.” No, it says that Philip opened his mouth and preached Jesus to this man. My friends, if we cannot do what Philip did, then we are probably not in the Word like we should be. As sinners saved by grace we should be able to communicate the message of salvation with a lost person. Sure, most of us aren’t going to know all of the theological details and we may not be able to answer every question, but we should know the basics of salvation: We are saved, not of our own works, but based on Jesus Christ alone! (Romans 3:23-26) If we are saved, we can share this. In fact, we must share this!

I Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Of course, Peter doesn’t tell us to be always be ready to take the person who asks us about the hope within us to someone who knows more about the Bible than we do. Instead he tells us we are to personally be prepared to share and defend the hope that is within us. We aren’t to pass them on to someone who knows more than we do.

These are just three of many more examples we find in scripture. So why is it so tempting to take our unsaved friends to church instead of just talking to them ourselves? I believe there are two main reasons for this and I fall prey to them, too, sometimes! We are so easily snared, aren’t we?

1. First, It is a lot easier. Let’s face it– studying scripture, preparing a defense, and making time for “big question” conversations takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Most of us are just too busy or too lazy to put this kind of effort into it. We’d so much rather pick up a novel than to study the Word. We’d rather watch a game than listen to a sermon. We’d rather talk about the weather or sports than to broach such a controversial subject as religion. We’d rather sit at home watching TV than take a lost friend for coffee. Taking someone to a church service or to our pastor is–by far–the easier option.

2. Second, we are so fearful. We are so scared. We are scared we won’t have the answers. We are scared we will be ridiculed. We are scared we will lose friends or even our job. We are scared we will make someone uncomfortable. We are scared we won’t say the right thing. We are just so scared. And so most of us will take the tentative step of inviting someone to church or kindly offer to take them to see our pastor with their questions. This seems like the safest option to protect ourselves–providing the opportunity to do our “Christian duty” while still preserving our comfort, convenience, and reputation. Oh, how little faith we have! What blessings we miss because of our fear!

 

We hear so little about evangelism anymore. It is almost a thing of the past with the advent of seeker-friendly churches and the onset of new mission philosophies. But, although it may be out of style in this post-modern church age, it is not out of biblical style. God’s Word never changes and Matthew 28:19-20 is as true today as it was when it was written almost 2000 years ago.

So let’s go out and tell the world about Jesus! Let’s tell our co-workers what He has done for us. Let’s have that conversation about religion with our family members. Let’s have a picnic with our unsaved friends and talk about something of eternal significance. But, let’s also remember to always do this with love, grace, and a sensitivity to their receptiveness (Colossians 4:6). Let’s overcome our fear and our laziness so that we can make an eternal impact on this world for the Gospel. After all, we are wicked sinners who have been saved by God’s amazing grace. How can we not share this?

 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

 

Engaging the Enemy

Engaging the Enemy

As a young person, I have to confess that I had this “pie in the sky” dream that if I could just talk to someone long enough, I could change their mind. That somehow God would use my wise words or carefully crafted email to help someone see the light. I recognize now that it was my pride and immaturity that drove this dream. I started to understand, many years ago now, that there are few happy endings and that people who don’t want to hear the truth just don’t want to hear the truth. I could talk constantly for a year and, without the working of God in a person’s heart, never move their opinion even an inch in any direction.

I have also learned to be much more discerning on what is even worth confrontation. Many times, haughtily thinking I knew all the answers, I would confront people about inconsequential things. I have since learned that A.) I don’t have all the answers and B.) That so many things should be simply ignored and covered by grace. Only biblical issues are worth defending. Oh, how often I would get caught up in stupid, little arguments that were just about my selfish pride! I still do this on occasion. It is a great weakness of mine!

So, while we do know that much grace should cover non-biblical issues, how exactly do we deal with the really important, biblical issues? Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 20. Here He sets an excellent example for us in engaging our enemies. Let’s take a look at it.

1. Long debates and arguments over issues are a waste of time. Speak the truth in love and then walk away.

If you notice in Luke 20:8, Jesus refused to get in an argument with them over His authority. So, too, should we refuse to argue. If the Holy Spirit isn’t working in the heart of the person we are engaging, we are wasting our time. While some people do enjoy a healthy debate about important biblical issues, we must always be extremely careful not to cast a negative light on God and His Word through our words and actions. We are His ambassadors here on earth and, for some, we are the only contact they will have with true Christianity.

2. Be consistent. It is critically important to live a life that matches our words.

We know that Jesus’s life matched His words perfectly since He was God and could not sin. We, on the other hand, struggle with this. Do our lives match what we are saying? If our kids or grandkids hear us talking about spiritual things, does what we say match how we live? If not, we are better off just not saying anything. On the other hand, we will never be perfect. This is about a humble heart and a consistently examined life and not about waiting for perfection before opening our mouths. If we wait for perfection, we will never say anything!

3. Ask them a question.

In Luke 20:24, we see that Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. How often do we get put on the defensive and just freeze? Or answer in a way that is angry or irritated? We can slow that process down and give ourselves time to think by asking a question.

4. Recognize that our greatest hostility will often come from those within the church.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. It was these organized church leaders that felt most threatened by Jesus and His claims. We have seen this play out over and over throughout church history. The organized “church” was often responsible for the cruelest campaigns of persecution. And even now–in this post-modern era–the believer who is committed to a literal, inerrant, and sufficient view of scripture will find their greatest enemies are those that use the name of Jesus Christ. We must be prepared for this sad and discouraging fact as we defend true Christianity.

5. It is okay to name or warn against false teachers.

There is this ploy of Satan’s to deceive Christians into thinking we cannot mention specific names of false teachers. This is extremely clever, since–if this would be true–it would keep many undiscerning, immature believers in the dark, continuing to read and listen to those that taint and destroy true biblical faith. But here in Luke 20, the Lord Himself sets an example by warning His disciples (within the hearing of all of the people) of the scribes (v. 46-47). He says, “Beware the scribes.” He names them and says beware! We can and should do no less.

6. Biblically think through the hot button issues of today.

I have to confess that I am not a great debater. My heart starts beating, my mind starts to race, and I start talking without thinking. I am not great when I am in “defense” mode. Jesus, on the other hand, was completely composed. He not only knew the answer to any question they could ask, He knew the reason they were asking the questions. While we don’t have the same advantage that Jesus had, we can and should wisely prepare ourselves to defend a biblical worldview by spending some time studying and researching. We must especially be prepared to defend the Gospel. I Peter 3:15 puts it like this: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

7. Our first priority should always be to preach the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is the heart of our message. The Gospel is the means by which people are saved. We must keep this first and foremost in our minds as we engage our enemy. This is the heart and soul of our message. We offer nothing but empty hope and useless words without it. While we don’t see this specifically in Luke 20, we know that Jesus’s whole ministry was focused on people understanding who He was and why He was there.

8. You will be viewed as the enemy if you preach an unadulterated Gospel. Plan on it and be prepared.

Jesus was the arch enemy of the Pharisees. He ruined their selfish plans and cast {very valid} doubts on their false religion. We see in other passages of scripture and also in church history that any believer who defends the true Gospel is going to be attacked by Satan, by the world, and even by the organized “church” (which is really just the world in disguise). This is not a very “fun fact” and has caused many to close their mouths and just go about their lives quietly. Not only do we not want to be attacked, we have this great desire for the praise and laud of men. We want to be liked. This may drive some of us even more than the desire to not be attacked. The Bible tells us to expect the hatred of the world (John 15:19; I John 3:13) and that the devil is our enemy (Ephesians 6:11-13; I Peter 5:8). Ephesians 6:10-20 gives great insight into how to prepare ourselves for attack. This is worth some study as we find ourselves thrust more and more often into battles over Christian principles that are ridiculed and rejected.

 

Instead of expecting our dreams to be fulfilled and a life unhindered by problems, let us recognize that true believers must engage themselves for battle! Being a Christian–a real, biblical one–is not fun and games. Instead, we must have courage and boldness. We must spend time in the Word and on our knees, humble and teachable before the Lord. And we are called to turn away and deny our own selfish lusts and pleasures. This is not the Gospel preached today and, like Paul, I find myself wondering how the church has turned so quickly away from the true Gospel (Galatians 1:6) but I guess that is a post for another day! I hope these principles for engaging the enemy have given you some food for thought as you face whatever spiritual battle is before you today.

 

Four Important Principles of Battle

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This morning in church we had a brave Viet Nam war veteran share a bit of his testimony. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to condense such an experience to just a few short moments on a Sunday morning. He concluded by comparing his experiences as a soldier to our duty as a soldier for Christ. As he talked, I found myself engrossed in what he was saying. How little we talk about the battle that is going on and what our duties are as a soldier for Christ. Most don’t want to focus on the negative. And, yet, scripture makes it clear that we are in a battle. If you have time, read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 and Ephesians 6:10-20, which is where we will find some description of this spiritual battle and also some keys to victory.

Even though it was just a short testimony and challenge for our congregation, I came away with four things we should all know about fighting the spiritual battle we Christians become a part of as soon as we are saved. Like it or not, if you are a Christian, then you are a soldier in Christ’s army. While this isn’t a specific Learn to Discern post, I do believe that these principles are key to our understanding of discernment and also help to clarify the importance of discernment in the church today.

Here are Four Important Principles of Battle

1. Stay Focused on the Enemy. He said this several times–how important it was that they stay focused on the enemy. If they lost sight of them, if the enemy stay hidden, they knew they could very well be taken out in a heartbeat. Our enemy, as believers, is Satan. And we must keep an eye on what he is doing. So often we will hear the opposite–that we aren’t to focus on the enemy, but instead just keep our eyes on Jesus. And, yes, the center of our faith is Jesus Christ, our Lord. But if we aren’t keeping an eye out for Satan and his devious plans, we are going to be deceived! And while Christians are being deceived, the lost are being told a false gospel. There is so much that hangs in the balance. We must keep our eyes on the enemy.

2. Someone Needs to Stand Guard. One of the keys to keeping the company safe was to have someone stand guard. The consequences were severe for the guard–sometimes even execution–should the enemy enter the camp while he fell asleep on duty. These guards could save the whole troop. The same is true spiritually. How interesting that instead of thanking the guards of the church, they are so often mocked, belittled, and marginalized. To stand guard in protection of the church generally means not only fierce attack from the enemy on the outside, but it also often brings on attacks from the inside. Instead of being grateful for the protection–for someone brave enough to point out how something doesn’t match scripture–churches and Christians grow angry and are constantly telling the guard that they are imagining things–that it isn’t the enemy they see. This never fails to befuddle me.

The guard has absolutely nothing to gain by calling out a false teacher and–in this current church culture–they have everything to lose. If they are brave enough to speak up to protect the church, then we’d better take heed and listen.

3.War Isn’t Pretty. As this man described some of the things that happened and the experiences he faced (and I know he gave us the “G” version, as a full description of the horrendous and awful sights he saw wouldn’t have been appropriate in a church service), I cringed. I couldn’t even imagine facing anything like this. One of the reasons for this is because I like my world comfortable and well-ordered and without conflict. Thank you very much.

But war isn’t pretty. It’s dirty. It’s violent. It’s chaotic. It’s terrifying. People get hurt and die. And you know what? Spiritual battles aren’t pretty, either. Gossip flies. Character assassinations occur. Reputations are ruined by false accusations. Christians languish in prisons and sometimes die cruel, horrible deaths. We need to stop expecting this life to be roses and lollipops. Standing up for Christ is not for the faint-of-heart.

4. Don’t Fight With Your Comrades. And, finally, he talked about how important it was that the company be unified. As I thought about this in relation to our spiritual battle, I thought about something that I started to really put in place in my life a while ago now. As a young person, I tended to argue a lot. I’d make big deals out of things that just weren’t. Somewhere in the last twenty years or so, I have learned a very important lesson: Never argue or debate anything that is not in scripture. If it won’t matter in 100 years, it is not worth an argument. Now, this can be tough–especially at home. I don’t do it perfectly (just ask my family!) but I am working on it.

You see, sometimes disagreements and divisions must occur, but only because there is an effort to compromise the Word of God. We can and we must make a big deal out of standing for what scripture teaches. But we can and we most certainly must let the other things go. If we are to gain the respect of those around us, we can’t argue and criticize and judge just because. Only a stand for the Bible and what it teaches is worth a real argument. And if we are lovingly agreeable on most occasions, then when these things come up that compromise scripture and we lovingly disagree, we will have the respect of those around us, even if they don’t like what we are saying. We must endeavor to keep the unity among believers as much as it is up to us! (Romans 12:18)

I hope this has encouraged you today. Life can be so hard. Sometimes it is hard because we are living out the consequences of sinful choices. But sometimes–many times– it is hard because we are fighting this battle against our enemy. If we are sharing the Gospel, if we are pointing out false teachers, if we are taking a stand for Christ and against worldliness, you can be guaranteed he does not like it! Let’s remember these four principles of battle and keep fighting on, bravely giving our all for the One who gave His all for us.

 

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.

 

Learn to Discern: What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

As we learn to discern, we are forced to ask this question: What in the world is happening to the evangelical church? We have been watching men and women we have trusted form alliances with false teachers. Churches present secular rock music as entertainment during their worship services. Pastors have become much more concerned about growing the numbers of their congregation than growing deeper roots of faith in their flock. We have seen the church become zealous to help the poor, while completely negating and ignoring scripture’s clear commands for holiness and separation from the world. And, finally, we have watched the pulpit become a place to provide entertaining self-help speeches rather than the careful exposition of God’s Word. These aren’t all of the changes but these are certainly very tragic and important ones.

Wow.

Just writing all that makes me feel discouraged. But it is here. This is what the “Christian Church” has become. So what is going on? And how did we get here?

Many of you have enjoyed the guest post my brother, Pastor Dean, wrote on the Corruption of Christianity. A few weeks ago, I took the time to listen to the series that was the basis for this post. This was presented a couple of years ago and is an excellent overview to help us understand what exactly is going on and why. I believe you will find this series very much worth a few hours of your precious time.

Here are the links for the entire series–

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 1)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 2)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 3)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 4)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 5)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 6)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 7)

 

If you have enjoyed this series and would like to hear more of Pastor Dean’s sermons, you will find all of them here.

 

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

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: 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!

 

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.