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.

 

 

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Learn to Discern: Acknowledging the War

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

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

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

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

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

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

and Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

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

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

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

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

Against ourselves (Galatians 5:17).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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