Christianity

Comparing Two Religions (that go by the same name)

Yesterday I saw a clip¹ of a well-known “preacher” declaring/demanding with his congregation that God’s material blessings would rain down upon them. With gusto, they prayed that God would give them money in its various different forms. It was disturbing. To say the least. I couldn’t help but contrast this to a couple of sermons² on suffering that I was listening to by my brother, Pastor Dean Good, a bit later.

And that’s when it hit me: It’s really not all that difficult to tell true Christianity from the fake Christianity. 

In the simplest of terms, True Christianity is God-centered and Fake Christianity is self-centered. But let’s unpack it a bit more, shall we?

True Christianity is God-centered. It is about the depraved and wretched sinner finding peace with God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross (John 3:16), turning away from their former, sinful lusts and now living for God (Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 3:7). To elaborate further, its message is denying self, taking up your cross, and following hard after Christ (Luke 9:23); it is submitting to God’s will and obeying His Word (James 4:7; John 14:15). It is focused on eternal glory rather than temporal reward (Matthew 6:19-21; Colossians 3:2). It is a desire to be holy that supersedes the desire to be happy (I Peter 1:15-16) It is understanding that our citizenship is in heaven and we are pilgrims and sojourners on this earth (Hebrews 11:13; I Peter 2:11). It is focused on sharing the Gospel and sharing the truth of God’s Word (Romans 10:15; I Timothy 2:4).

Let’s contrast this to the fake Christianity that has overtaken most Christian churches, bookstores, music, and conferences these days–

Fake Christianity is self-centered. It is about a hurting, lonely human being going to God to get their needs met. It is about continuing in sin and declaring God’s approval upon that sin. It is about coddling self, following your dreams, and following hard after your heart. It is ignoring God’s will and His Word. It is focused on temporal gain rather than eternal reward. It is focused on personal happiness. And its focus is on this earth’s citizenship, with much energy put towards fixing the world and making it a better place.

The two religions are as opposite as day and night. And, in fact, one is pure LIGHT and the other is pitch black.

We want to pretend like there is not that big of a difference between the two and that it is a complicated thing to discern. Honestly, most of us just want to ignore it all. We do this because so many family and friends we love and respect are caught up in the fake. We may even be caught up in the fake ourselves.

And so we don’t want to declare it’s fakeness, because the consequences of doing so will be painful and costly.

Can I tell you the honest truth? I have been caught up in the fake at times. Perhaps we all have.

When I say it’s not difficult to tell the difference between the true and the fake, that is true. But it can grow fuzzy to us sometimes– mainly because we want what we want. Let me explain.

None of us wants to deny self. It goes against everything inside us to do so. And yet, this is what we are called to do as believers. We are not called to this without help. Upon salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. Our desires are gradually changed so that we not only desire to do what’s right but we begin to understand the reward in turning from sin and pleasing God. But the flesh always resides in us and we are always in a battle against it.

And so, even as believers, we can get caught up in sin and deceit. We desire something and we know it is not God’s will. Or we hold a relationship with a person more dear than we hold our relationship with Christ. Or we choose to gratify our flesh (eating too much, going places we know do not please God, watching sin on a screen, wearing clothing that is immodest, lashing out in anger, gnawing endlessly on that favored worry or fear, choosing to hold a grudge, etc, etc.) and, suddenly, we are full-out focused on self.

And, in this state, we will often find ourselves rationalizing, excusing, and leaning into that fake Christianity that would give us reasons to do what we want to do.

So, no, it’s not difficult to tell the difference between the only true Religion of light and the religion of darkness that goes by the same name. But, yes, it can be hard to actually admit the difference.

To the unbeliever, true Christianity sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I mean we really can understand why the unregenerate flock to the Christianity designed to please self, puff up self, fulfill self. That is what the natural man wants to do.

It isn’t until the Lord fills us with His light that understanding and insight come. It will never make sense to give up everything to gain nothing in this world unless the Spirit opens our eyes to the Truth. Well, let me rephrase that: We gain nothing that looks important to anyone in this world. We do gain much, even in this temporal life lived on earth. We gain peace and joy that is based on the Lord, rather than circumstances. We gain the daily tender care and loving-kindness of the God of the universe. We gain the Comforter and the Helper. And so much more!

If you are burdened for someone caught up in the fake Christianity, pray that God would open their eyes. Pray that He would show them how little they have to lose and how much they have to gain! And if we, ourselves, struggle with releasing our grip on this world and desire that fool’s gold of false religion, then let’s pray for ourselves, as well–that God would show us, through our study of His Word, that following Him is worth it, no matter the cost!

 

 

¹Bill Johnson and Bethel Church pray to the god of Mammon

 

²Sermons from I Peter 4 by Pastor Dean Good (so worth listening to!) —

The Exaltation of Jesus Christ (Part 2)
Following the Example of Christ

Next in the series (for anyone who wants to listen):

Following Christ in His Rejection (Part 1)
Following Christ in His Rejection (Part 2)

 

 

The Plain Truth

Five hundred years ago, a Catholic monk came across the book of Galatians and took the time to actually really read and study it.

It changed his life. And it changed your life, too. For Martin Luther changed the whole landscape of the Christian Faith.

I’ve been studying this book for the past few weeks and have been stunned at how much I had missed in my former read-throughs. It really isn’t until you study a book that you begin to understand it.

And as we do so, the things that are muddy often grow clear. And the things that didn’t make sense begin to make sense.

While we will never understand everything, of course, we can be sure that our study of the scriptures will lead us to have much greater understanding regarding the hard concepts and puzzles we’ve struggled through.

I’d like to take some time to give an example of this very thing from my study of Galatians. I finally understand why it was Galatians that opened Martin Luther’s eyes. The main theme of this book is: We are justified by faith in Christ alone.

Not by a little faith and a lot of works.

Not by a lot of faith and a few works.

Not by an equal share of faith and works.

NO, NO, NO.

We are saved by faith alone. Paul puts it like this in Galatians 2:16–

 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

As Martin Luther read these words he was steeped in the false religion of Catholicism. A religion that required faith and works in order to be saved. He recognized his own depravity. He knew he was unable to do enough good works to be reconciled to God. He had felt an utter hopelessness about this. Until he read Galatians.

Galatians makes it clear that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. It is all of God’s grace and of no merit of our own.

This goes against the grain for most of us. We want to think there is something we can do to be right with God.

This truth from Galatians makes it clear that any religion (no matter its breakdown of faith and works, it use of biblical names, or its claim to the Bible) is a false religion, ensnaring people in a works-based, pointless religion.

What the culture has made muddy and confusing, the Bible clarifies.

Not only are we not saved by our works, we are not kept by our works. Galatians tells us it is all of grace. As we study the Bible in its entirety and compare passages, we begin to understand that works are evidence of faith. They are never, ever to gain or to keep our salvation. 

This is a great relief, is it not? Yes, we want to live lives that please God. But, wow, do we mess up. Well, I’ll speak for myself, anyway. I mess up! (A nice way to say I sin…) Just way too often. I am so grateful that my salvation doesn’t rely on me or I’d be in trouble!

Instead Galatians tells us it is fully based on Christ’s work on the cross. Stop and consider this glorious truth for just a moment. The God of the universe loves us and sent His Son to die for us so that we can be reconciled to Him and spend eternity with Him.

Isn’t that amazing?

So I’m going to get real for a moment. I’ve been struggling through some challenges recently. Nothing major but just feels like too many for one time. And yet, I have been amazed—truly amazed—at God’s loving kindness and faithfulness to me as He stretches and grows me.

You see, once we are God’s own child we are so well-cared for. This is not some “pie in the sky”, imagined notion but a truth that you can’t really understand until you are saved.

Salvation isn’t a prayer. True salvation changes our whole life. We relate to God in a whole new way and experience His personal care for us in ways hard to comprehend. Our purpose, goals, hopes, and even our dreams change to reflect God’s will instead of our own. Everything changes because the Holy Spirit changes us. We don’t mourn that change because our hearts are changed. We are the great winner in this trade-off!

And it’s a free gift!

Galatians can be confusing to study, with some of its strong language and references to the Old Testament. I have much more to study myself and it won’t be exhaustive, for certain. But there is one thing anyone reading it will take away: We are saved by Christ’s work on the cross alone. No works required.

If you don’t know Christ, I’d love to talk to you about this. If you think you know Christ, but aren’t sure, pick up your Bible and start studying it. If you’ve known Christ and His work in your life, I hope you are filled with a passion to spread the Good News of the marvelous Gospel to those who don’t. For this is truly the best news in the world!

 

 

A Lesson from the Candy Store

The colorful exterior drew our eyes. We had stopped next door and so we decided to walk into the colorful building, which was full of candy. Lots and lots of candy. Everywhere you looked was candy — Gummy candy, hard candy, jelly beans, Pez, vintage candy, ice cream…you name it, it was there.

We wandered a bit and let the grandkids each pick out a Pez. I didn’t see anything that really struck me in the expensive candy shop so I was prepared to walk out without anything—until I spotted the wall of jelly bellies. I don’t actually love regular jelly beans but these always tempt me. I don’t know how they make those jelly bellies so flavorful but somehow they do. I looked at the big red containers holding those beans. They were surrounded by jelly belly advertisements and jelly belly pre-made containers.

What struck my eye were the new flavors. I had never seen jelly bellies such as these before. Oh, these would be fun to try! I grabbed a small plastic bag and grabbed a few beans from each of the containers that struck my fancy.

We paid for our candy and left the store. In the truck, I eagerly opened my plastic bag and pulled out a bean and stuck it in my mouth.

Ohhh…yuck! Just yuck!

“These are not genuine jelly bellies,” I said with disappointed disgust.

“Really?” Asked my husband.

“Nope, definitely not,” I tried a couple more just to make sure.

Where had I gone wrong? What should have warned me?

Well, the unusual flavors were a definite warning sign. Why would that store have flavors I’ve never seen before in even the 49 flavor bags of these famous jelly bellies? How dumb of me not to have thought of that.

And then as I thought of the red containers, I remembered that nowhere on them had they claimed to be jelly bellies. They were just surrounded by the words “jelly bellies” to lead people to believe that what the large containers held was genuine.

I had been deceived.

I was out of a few dollars and given a dose of humility. It was what it was. Not a big deal in the scope of life.

But as I was thinking about this yesterday, it came to me that this is a great example of how we get fooled spiritually, too.

False teachers like to surround themselves with those who appear genuine and many times probably are genuine (which is probably a good part of the reason why Paul and John are so adamant that we can never be friends and conference partners with false teachers. See Romans 16:17 and 2 John 1:9-11).

False teachers also like to look just like the genuine. They appear so similar that it is hard to see the difference.

Unless…

You realize they are offering different flavors. They are offering interpretations of scripture that veer from the traditional interpretation. They change the meaning of a word or they change the definition of a long held doctrine.

It is easy to get duped by false teachers these days. They are everywhere. They look real on the surface. And they are so often surrounded by those we would call “Solid Bible Teachers”, who give them credence.

They are like that candy that looks genuine. Smells genuine. Is surrounded by the genuine. But this is not candy. And we have much more to lose.

So may we all be smarter spiritually than I was in that candy store. May we pray for discernment and wisdom as we navigate the veritable smorgasbord of false teachers who twist scripture and change the truth of God’s Word; teachers that are nowhere close to genuine Christianity despite their label of “Christian.” 

 

 

What Makes You Really Angry?

I think we’ve all been angry at some point or other. There are probably some universal causes of anger–such as inept or rude customer service representatives; arguing children; or being betrayed by someone you trusted.

And then there are some causes of anger that seem to be more related to our personalities. Some people get angry at laziness or lack of common sense in those around them. Others get angry at circumstances beyond their control. Some people get plain mad at God when things don’t go their way.

We know that anger is not a righteous emotion. Most of the time.

There is that little caveat in Ephesians 4:26 where it says, “Be angry and do not sin.” This means there is sometimes a righteous cause for anger.

What is something that should make us very angry?

As I was studying in preparation for my upcoming study of Galatians, I realized that the main thing that should make us angry is any attack on the Gospel. Read these verses to see just how serious this is–

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert[a] the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be [b]accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-10)

These are not simply Paul’s words but these are God’s words. We can see from these verses that God takes an attack on the Gospel very seriously. Let anyone who warps and twists the true Gospel be accursed (which means devoted to destruction; imprecate evil or misery upon.)

Has the deluge of false gospels being pandered today made us immune? What other reason can there be that Christians aren’t up in arms regarding the countless attacks on the true Gospel? Why aren’t we defending it and refusing to allow the lies to creep in? Even in to our own “Bible-believing” churches?

What must God think?

I am not sure I ever really gave this much thought until reflecting on these verses yesterday (and listening to some sermons regarding these verses.)

There are two specific ways the Gospel gets perverted. Every perversion falls under one of these two.

First, there is grace plus works (legalism) perversion. ANY presentation or teaching regarding the Gospel that adds any works is not the true Gospel. This means that if you “need to get baptized” to be saved, it’s a false gospel. If you need to take communion or pray to saints in order to be assured of your salvation, it’s a false gospel. If you need to eat certain things, wear certain things, do anything to be saved, it is a false gospel.

Second, there is the hyper-grace (licentiousness) perversion. This perversion denies the many passages that call us to live a life pleasing to Christ. It denies that we become a new creation in Christ and, instead, says that, since we are no longer under law, anything goes. Here the Gospel is given without the message of sin and repentance. It is more focused on fire insurance rather than a lost and hopeless sinner’s reconciliation with God. Say a prayer and be saved–no fruit necessary, according to this false gospel.

These false gospels are dealt with all throughout scripture but in Galatians, Paul speaks specifically to both of them. Think with me for a moment what you know about many who lump themselves in with the modern day religion of “Christianity”. What do they teach about the Gospel?

If they are not preaching the true Gospel as is clearly presented in scripture they are not actually our brother and sisters in Christ. And this should upset us! This should make us mourn for the thousands–millions–who believe a lie about their eternal destiny. Not only do they believe a lie –but they believe a lie under the guise of Christianity and true Christians are not doing anything about it. Instead, they are encouraging them in their false faith and joining with them, declaring that “we are siblings in Christ”.

This is simply appalling! When you really think about it–could there be anything more unloving than allowing someone to believe they are truly saved– when they aren’t??

But we tend to get more upset about a spilled drink or an unexpected bill than we do about this tragedy taking place across the globe. Oh, how self-centered we are. How self-centered I am.

If we believe the true Gospel, then we need to not only live by it but pay attention when there is a departure from it. We need to stop making excuses and rationalizing away the damning differences. Like Paul, we should be up in arms and ready to defend the Gospel boldly and courageously!

 

*I have a page on the blog called “What is the Gospel?”, where we take a look at what scripture has to teach us about this subject. You can find it here.

*In 2016, I wrote about in some detail regarding some common false gospels. You can find that post here.

*I am looking very forward to my study of this book. If you are in the 2022 Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge, I hope you are looking forward to it, as well. And if you aren’t in the challenge, it’s not too late to join for the rest of the year. Find out more information here.

 

There’s a Supplement for That

Pills and supplements are a way of life in our culture. There is a pill for this and a supplement for that. Sometimes they work. Sometimes it is our head telling us they work (placebo effect) and sometimes they just don’t work at all.

When someone takes a bunch of pills and/or supplements and then complains and complains about their ailment or not feeling well and then tries to talk you into taking the supplement or pill they are taking because you have the same complaint or ailment, what is your first thought?

Yeah, me, too. Why would I try something that is clearly not working for them?

It is when we are ailing or faced with health challenges that we search out pills or supplements to help. And it is when we are discouraged or disappointed and faced with heart challenges that we seek a spiritual solution.

And, yet, so often we are like that complaining person taking the supplements. We encourage others to follow Christ but we complain and moan and act like the rest of the world. We tell them they will experience peace and joy in the midst of any circumstance but we don’t exhibit that ourselves, so is it any wonder that they aren’t interested?

If we are bound up and consumed by anxiety or anger or bitterness or disappointment or laziness or unmet expectations (or any other number of things that consume us), we are not going to be very convincing when we say that Christ is the answer. If we are easily frustrated or irritated; if we live in fear or we complain about everything, we won’t be a very good example for what life with Christ can be like. If we aren’t living a joyful life that is characterized by God’s love and peace, we may as well say out loud, “try Christ but He actually doesn’t work.”

Now, of course, we all have our moments. This isn’t about perfection but about direction. We all need to work through fear or disappointment or one of the other things listed above. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t transparent about our struggles. But if we are known by these things; if we naturally react like this without even recognizing the pattern of sin; if these things are what people think of when they think of us, we just aren’t going to be very effective for Christ.

I think Satan knows this. I really do. I think he knows full well that, while he can’t take away our salvation, he can most certainly make sure we aren’t actively helping to save anyone else.

So often these actions and reactions are extra hard to recognize or remove because they have become deeply ingrained habits. We complain out of habit. We grow easily irritated because we always grow irritated. We grow anxious before we even know we are doing it.

So how do we actually become what we say we are in Christ?

There’s a long word that sums it up perfectly: Sanctification.

Sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ. It is the lifelong process of becoming pure and holy. We will never do this perfectly on this side of heaven, of course. But, through the Holy Spirit, we can grow and change in amazing ways. We can conquer those sins that so easily beset us.

Most professing Christians these days do not give this a thought. They don’t consider becoming like Christ to be any goal worth attaining. They are more wrapped up in the world. But for those of us that are serious about our walk with God, this is something to reflect upon, isn’t it? If I am telling others about what Christ can do for them, am I showing this truth in my own life? What sins are habitual in my life? What am I doing that is hurting my testimony?

Oh, it is such a fundamental thing in biblical Christianity to be aware of and confess our sins to Christ, washing daily at the cross. And, yet, have most of us been taught this? Have you even considered this over the past few weeks? If we aren’t doing this, then we easily just accept the sins that so easily beset us rather than fiercely battling them. How important that we remember that victory can be ours by God’s Holy Word and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture assures us that we aren’t without hope for change.

I’ve been really thinking recently about the status quo Christianity most of us are stuck in. We just live the way we have always lived because we feel hopeless to change. I wrote about that last week, as well. (You can find that post here.) I think we need to understand the possible eternal ramifications of resigning ourselves to besetting sins and wrong attitudes. They do not only affect us and those we love but they can potentially affect our witness for Christ.

May we study the Word and turn away from sin; may we walk in the Spirit as we live for Jesus every single day; And, in so doing, we will brightly reflect the light of Christ and bring hope to the lost who are searching so desperately.

 

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Romans 6:6)

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

 

That Elusive Contentment

I sat at my computer working on one of my least favorite jobs in our landscaping company. It’s not something I have to do often but it is something that needs to be done. I reminded myself how much I hate this job (inside my head) a few times before remembering a conversation I had had with my youngest daughter a few days before.

She was telling me how she thrives on trying new things and pursuing new hobbies but that sometimes there are seasons in life that there is no time for that because there are other priorities. And how important it is to find contentment even when there isn’t the next and new hobby or adventure or experience. She went on to say how sad it is that her generation is being taught to always look for the next “experience” to fulfill them.

And that is what has happened. While my generation was about getting stuff, her generation is about getting experiences. Many of them hop from one to the next. Their contentment is driven by these new experiences.

But it matters not whether we search after contentment in stuff or in experiences. Both are deceiving us into believing contentment can be found outside of God.  In fact, our search for contentment in anything outside of God is fruitless and disappointing.

As I sat there at my computer, I thought about the impatience I feel when I am doing a job I don’t like. Let’s just get this over with and move on. But this time–and maybe for the first time ever–I took a moment to think about why I am telling myself I hate this job. It really is not that bad. God has given me the tools to do it and it’s a small part of my life. And I suddenly recognized the need to be content even in doing this mundane, ordinary job that I don’t like.

This really made me reflect on this idea of contentment. So many of us spend our lives jumping from one stage, one experience, one remodel, or one big purchase to the next. We have been taught that contentment comes with change. And so we are constantly changing.

Our culture has molded us to want and desire change. How often do we find a favorite scent or flavor of something just to find it has left the store shelves never to return? Or we go into the bank and the person you’ve talked to forever has been moved to a different branch? Just because. (That actually happened to me many years ago– my bank at the time moved their employees every three months so you could never get to know any of them. That was when I left that bank.)

But somehow in the midst of the constant changing, we became convinced that change is what it will take to make us happy. If my kid will just reach this stage. Or if my husband would just do this. If we’d just make more money or be able to redo the kitchen. Or if we could just lose weight or get a college degree. You can fill in your own sentence here. We all have our own “next thing”.

But I am learning–ever so slowly–that when that thing arrives that you thought would make you content, it only lasts for a bit and then your heart feels empty again and that next change calls your name. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.

So how do we find real and lasting contentment? Where does it come from and how do we get it?

As always, the Bible has something to say about this! Let’s take a look–

 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Before we get to that beautiful promise that God will never leave us or forsake us, we have this seemingly irrelevant sentence: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Why would the Holy Spirit direct the author of Hebrews to write that? Perhaps it is because God knows full well that His being with us and never forsaking us is enough. Why do we covet and crave the temporal? We can be content with whatever God has given us at any give time, knowing full well we rest wholly in His sovereign and loving care.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8)

These verses remind us that all of these things we hunger after are just temporary. We cannot take any of this with us when we die. It will all fade away back to dust. Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have a million dollar house and can buy anything they want? Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have traveled the world? Well, maybe…but maybe not. Because the Grandma over there who has submitted to the Lord’s will for her life and chosen to obey Him is going to have a much better life than the Grandma that hasn’t, even if they have everything money can buy. The young man who chooses to go into his trade job, joyfully living for Christ, is going to be far happier than the young man who has a prestigious career but follows his own selfish desires.

The choices we make in our lives that bring God glory always also bring us the greatest contentment. God’s plan and workings are both mysterious and quite amazing!

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

These are probably the most well-known verses regarding this subject of contentment. When we read Acts, we recognize that Paul isn’t just writing this out of thin air. He’s writing it out of his own personal experience. He has both abounded and has suffered need. He has learned this the hard way.

So what is Paul’s key to this contentment? First, we see from verse 13 that he recognizes that contentment comes from Christ alone. That it is Christ who strengthens us in all circumstances and that turning our eyes upon Jesus and taking them off of our circumstances is the key to this contentment.

But I think we can also gain a little insight into this contentment of Paul’s by turning back a few chapters in Philippians–

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7)

It is here that we recognize that Paul was able to find contentment because he understood that earthly gain matters not a bit. Christ was his center. Christ was the source of his contentment. To live is to live for Christ alone. To die is to be with Christ for all eternity.

________________________________________

And so scripture reminds us that true and lasting contentment isn’t found in changing our circumstances. Rather, it is found in changing ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13).

May we turn to the Word as we seek after contentment rather than turn to the world with all of its empty promises and fleeting feelings. The world might make fabulous promises but they are barren and hollow. The Bible, on the other hand, not only makes promises, but God keeps every promise He makes. True contentment only comes through trusting and obeying God.

 

 

 

Considering Our Legacy

The other day I was paging through an old photo album. I got to the page which held the sepia-toned likenesses of my great grandparents. I took a moment and stared at those eight faces. All but two of them were gone before I was born. The two that were alive died when I was a young child. Those eight people are strangers to me. I have little recollection of them nor did they have any input in my life.

Or did they?

They must have. For they shaped the grandparents that would shape the parents that would shape me.

But two generations later they are simply photos to those who come after them. There aren’t even memories to warm my heart as I look at their photos.

I think of this as I consider the children of my grandchildren. I will most likely not have any great impact in their lives. If God would so bless me then, for sure, that blessing would end by the time the great-great grandchildren came along. You see, we are always just a couple generations from being forgotten.

I was struck by this same brevity and insignificance as I have been reading Daniel. As God gives Daniel prophecies of the things to come, it brings to mind just how small I really am. It is both humbling and important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Most of us will die less than a hundred years after we are born and the majority of us will go unremembered in the annals of history.

But there is much we can do to bless future generations. We are given this precious opportunity to shape our children who will then shape their children who will then shape their children and on and on it goes.

So often, godly heritage is lost as the following generations go on a downward spiral. Whatever you choose to do, your kids will go just a step further, and on and on, until the future generations are lost to worldliness and immorality.

While we surely can’t stop this from happening, we can do our best to keep it from happening.

And I am reminded once more of the critical nature of following hard after God. We get lazy and we think our choices to not study the Bible or to remain prayerless for weeks on end affect only us. We somehow believe our choices to sin or to compromise are personal choices. But these choices echo into the halls of eternity through those that come after us.

Our daily choices are, by God’s very design, affecting future generations.

In light of this, we are led to a very important question–

Am I living life in a way I want my children and grandchildren to emulate?

So many people are just living for themselves these days. It’s the way of the world. As believers, we need to set a much higher standard. We need to not only live for Christ, we need to strive to be like Him. We must be intentional and single-minded in our submission and obedience to God.

Of course, we are reminded of God’s marvelous grace when we remember that some of you have been plucked right out of your worldly, ungodly families to be saved for God’s glory and His purposes. How awesome is that? You actually get to be the beginning of godly heritage for those future generations that come after you. What a privilege!

And, while setting a great example is of utmost importance, let’s also remember the critical nature of passing on the baton of godly heritage through communication. Let’s talk about the things that are of eternal significance with our kids and grandkids. Let’s point them to the Word, explaining why it is our only true anchor in this life.

We also can’t underestimate the power of prayer as we consider the future generations. Many years ago now, I started praying that the generations after me would grow stronger rather than weaker. It has been an awe-inspiring thing to watch God begin to answer that prayer as my kids grow–and that despite the many weaknesses and sin struggles of their parents. I didn’t realize until recently that my mother has been praying the same thing for her kids and grand-kids for many years. Prayer is an invaluable blessing, given to us by God.

So what if you don’t have kids? Does that give you a free pass in this legacy stuff? We know it doesn’t. There are young people around you that need a godly example. You can support godly parents of children you know by confirming what they are trying to teach their children. You can come alongside a child or teen that sadly lacks a godly example in their lives. How many people have been affected by godly men and women who are unrelated to them because that person reached out and gave them the gift of time and wisdom?

God will give all of us ample opportunity to build our legacies, if we will just look for the opportunities.

I don’t know how long we will be on this old earth but, for however long it is, may it be our deepest hope and ongoing prayer that the generations coming after us desire nothing more than to know Christ and to make Him known. May they stand firmly on the Solid Rock, be full of faith, and be bolder, stronger, and wiser than we are.

Because, as we watch the crumbling world around us, it’s pretty clear they will need to be.

____________________________________

Praise the Lord!

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.

His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

Psalm 112:1-2

 

 

What Really Matters When Life Falls Apart?

This world is full of so much suffering. The latest we’ve been hearing about (or experiencing, depending where we find ourselves in the world at this time) is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There are many different stories, accounts, and reports making their rounds and, as has become the norm for us, we wonder who we should believe. There are so many lies. So much false information.

This is why hearing from reliable, first-hand sources becomes important in these situations. What is really going on? While there is much we can’t know, there is also so much we do know.

We know, with certainty, that the lives of millions of people have been thrown into utter turmoil in just a few hours. Sleep, food, water, gas have all become so much more precious as the Ukrainians strive to survive in the midst of an invasion by a neighboring country. They are sleeping in bomb shelters or corridors in order to protect their lives. Can’t imagine any of them are getting much sleep in that situation, can you? The shelves at the stores are becoming empty and they are starting to wonder how they will get food. If they want to escape the city, they find they can hardly move as they fight their way through all of the chaos and confusion. If you can even get gas, which has become scarce. Overnight, apartment buildings of peaceful citizens have been bombed in several cities, leaving innocent victims without homes in the middle of the winter. If they even survived the bombing…

Some of these struggling people are our Christian brothers and sisters. There is a thriving church in that country. Years ago, I was in Ukraine for a couple of weeks and one of my fondest memories is worshiping with the Christians there. I can remember singing in English while they were singing Ukrainian and feeling our bond in Christ. If we are believers, then we have family in Ukraine. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And they are really struggling right now.

Last week, my daughter, Jess, sent a couple text messages that are the heart of today’s post. She said something that really made me reflect on what really matters when your life falls apart. Such as what is happening to our Ukrainian siblings right now. At this moment.

Basically, her thought was if your Christianity can’t sustain you through these times, then it probably isn’t genuine. If it doesn’t work for Ukrainians in bomb shelters, Chinese imprisoned for their faith, or Nigerians and Indians under death threats from extremists, is it even real? Or is it, rather, some made-up ridiculousness that has absolutely no value when life grows ugly?

Do you think our Ukrainian Christian brothers and sisters are talking about their dreams or self-fulfillment? Are they sitting around and discussing the feminist agenda or social justice? Do you think getting wealthy is even on their list of priorities?

When life falls apart, none of these things matter. Not even a bit.

What matters are God’s promises to sustain us. To be our shield. To protect and shelter us. To give us peace and joy and comfort. The kind of peace and joy that goes far beyond “happily ever after” because, let’s face it: We all know life doesn’t work like that. It is not happily ever after (at least not in this world) and Christians do die in explosions. They get cancer and heart attacks at the most inopportune times. They lose their businesses and their savings. They get viciously killed by those who oppose them.

Christians are not guaranteed a happy life without problems. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest we are. Christians are not to fight for social justice (a Marxist term, never a Christian one) or to fix the world. We aren’t to be focused on our own selfish agendas or to use God like a genie in the sky to get what we want.

If anything can show us that these types of “Christianity” are false, it is what is happening right now.

What exactly does the Bible teach us about the Christian life? What does it say we can expect?

Yes, we can expect trials and troubles. Rather than avoiding them, the Bible says God will use them to grow us (Romans 8:28-29; James 1:2-4).

Yes, we can expect to be hated by the world, because our own Lord was hated. But we know that this is proof that we are Christ’s own and that the Holy Spirit will help us endure…even unto death (John 15).

So, contrary to much that is taught from “Christian” pulpits today, we cannot avoid these things. There is no magic prayer or sum of money we can give to a {fake} apostle that is going to miraculously make our life wonderful.

But, while we know these things will come (and may already be upon us), we also have the rich and abundant promises of our Heavenly Father to carry us through–

He will never, ever forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

The peace He gives is not like the world; it surpasses understanding (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7).

He will walk with us through the “valley of the shadow of death” so that we need not fear evil (Psalm 23).

When we fall, we shall not be utterly cast down for the Father upholds us with His hand (Psalm 37:23-24)

Of course, as we read of God’s promises, we also find in scripture that there is an attitude we must have in order to experience these promises of God to the fullest–

We must keep our mind stayed on God (Isaiah 26:3)

We must trust in the Lord (Psalm 112:7)

We must choose not to worry or to be anxious (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:6-7)

We must cast our burden on the Lord (Psalm 55:22)

We must draw near to Him in truth (Psalm 145:18)

We must forsake the world and purify our lives (James 4:1-10)

And, then, after all of this, there is one important thing to remember that helps us to keep all of this in biblical perspective: The true believer knows that their best life isn’t now. It is the one to come!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:1-4)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

The verses I’ve shared above are just a small sampling of the promises, the hope, and even the instruction that we find in God’s Word for those who have repented and trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. We can experience peace in the midst of the greatest storm. It has been a great joy reading of Ukrainian Christians testifying to this very thing!

I don’t think there are any Ukrainians turning to God’s Word to find out how they can be rich this morning. They are trusting in God to see them through the next day, the next hour…perhaps just the next few minutes.

What kind of Christianity are you hearing about on Sunday mornings? What is your preacher preaching? Is he pointing you to God’s Word as the final authority for the Christian life? Is he interpreting the Bible historically, grammatically, and literally, rather than allegorizing great chunks of it and casting doubts on its authenticity?

These are important questions we need to ask ourselves as the world grows darker. If we aren’t being fed true, biblical Christianity we are at much risk for having shallow roots that will not hold in life’s storms, much less in the chaos and confusion that threatens to consume us in the days ahead. We must be in the Word, both personally and in our churches. If our church is not preaching biblical Christianity, then we should not stay.

I don’t know how I ended up on challenging you all on your churches, but I believe that it is probably a challenge that we all need to hear. So many sit under and are influenced by ungodly preaching these days. May we not be numbered among them.

 

 

What Do They See?

This past week, when I was at Target, I noticed a line of men about ten or fifteen deep snaking towards the back of the store. Without obviously staring, I assessed that they all seemed to be somewhere in their twenties and thirties.

I looked around to try to figure out what they were waiting for. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked a store clerk who stood nearby.

“Oh, some new Pokémon cards or something are coming out today.”

Wait. What? Grown men waiting for Pokémon cards? Are you kidding me?

The clerk at the check-out counter elaborated further. Pointing over to the lady who was restocking the shelves, she informed me that the men weren’t allowed to go to the shelves until they were fully restocked.

While I can’t know the story behind why any particular grown man was in that line (maybe it was for his kid?), the fact that there was a line of grown men waiting to purchase something that was designed for children was mind-boggling to me.

These full-grown men who are still interested in the toys of children stand in stark contrast to the three men of Daniel 3. Some commentators estimate that the incident in this chapter happened around 15 years after they were taken as exiles into Babylon. That would put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego around thirty years of age.

They had left childish things behind many years before. While only teens, they had had to make the difficult decision not to eat the King’s food out of their loyalty to God. They were already thinking about what is most important and who gets their allegiance.

When, years later, they were faced with the choice to bow down to the golden image as Nebuchadnezzar demanded or to stay true to God, they were prepared.

You have to just absolutely stand in amazement of these men as they answered Nebuchadnezzar’s demand for worship and consequential threat of the fiery furnace—

 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18

As I reflect on these three young men and the stand they took for the Lord, I can’t help but think of the men who stood in line for… cards.

The world is so obsessed with the things that do not matter.

And the world is teaching men specifically to never grow up. For a man captivated by a world of video games, sports, and children’s toys are men who are rendered ineffective in their families. If they are believers, they are rendered useless for Christ and stand unprepared to face the hard trials ahead.

Instead of digging deep roots of faith through prayer and Bible Study, they squander countless hours on their idols that matter not a bit in the scope of eternity.

Oh, what a sad, sad state this is. While we can expect this kind of thing from the young men of the world, how utterly devastating to see this in the life of Christian young men.

This leads us to consider our own role in creating godly character of the young men (and women, too) in our lives. Are we teaching them to love and serve the Lord above all else? As parents and grandparents, are we teaching them by our words and deeds to reflect and care about the eternal things of life?

Or are we ourselves obsessed with the stuff of life that just doesn’t matter? Education, entertainment, hobbies, popularity, careers, material possessions, recreation, health and fitness…all of these things (and so many more) can so easily become idols in our lives, replacing the eternal with the temporal; replacing what is everlasting with what is short-term; replacing our love for God with our love for ourselves.

Most of the things listed above are not wrong in and of themselves. It’s the obsession that brings the danger.

May we be like those three men in Daniel 3–turning away from those ungodly idols that would demand our time and attention and digging deep roots of faith so that we are fully prepared to take a stand for God and truth when necessary, no matter the cost.

Our kids are watching. Our grandchildren are watching. Your family and friends and co-workers–they are all watching. What will they see?

Will they see that you are sold out for Christ or will they see a person obsessed with something that just doesn’t matter?

What do they see?

 

 

Without Excuse

Several months ago now, we sat down around our conference table in the office and made the difficult decision to discontinue services for a few customers. These are excruciating decisions for any entrepreneur but the reasons were important and varied and the list was a very short one. For some of them, snow removal was included in their contract. We wanted to get this letter of discontinuation of services into their hands as soon as possible so as to give them plenty of time to find a new contractor. The letters were written and sent out.

A few days ago, we had our first snow of the year. Imagine our surprise when no less than three of these customers whom we sent letters to in a timely fashion called to yell at us for not showing up. One claimed they never got the letter. However, because we know of this particular person’s penchant to ignore letters such as these, we also emailed it to her. We know she got it. A second flippantly said he just didn’t bother to open the letter. I am not sure of the third’s excuse.

At first, I was astounded at the lack of professionalism that plagues this world. One of these was an apartment complex. Another was a business. The third was a homeowner. How do you justify not opening a letter if you are in charge of an apartment complex or a business? I have to admit I was floored at the lack of responsibility.

But even stranger– they berated and scolded us for not doing their snow. They listed all of the reasons why we should do their snow. They listed what all their good “customer” attributes were. One just yelled.

As if this were our fault. How dare we discontinue them as a customer?

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think on how this is such a wonderful analogy for man’s approach to God’s Word.

God has written them a letter and they refuse to open it. They refuse to read it and see what it says. In it, He has told us His wonderful plan on how we can be saved from eternal damnation. It’s amazing! But people just don’t bother.

And yet, people will shake their fist at God and blame Him. Why didn’t you tell me, God?? How could you send a nice person like me to hell, God?

But He has told us. He has told us everything we need to know.

But, you may be asking, what about that person who doesn’t have a Bible?

The Bible says in Romans 1:20 says that all men are without excuse. That there is something inside all men that tells them there is a God. It’s up to man to search after God rather than to give heed to their own futile thoughts and follow their darkened hearts.

I know of several Christians who tell the story of searching after God. For each of them, at some point in their journey, God provided someone to tell them the truth about Himself. Someone to point them to the Bible and to pure doctrine. God won’t let anyone suffer from the lack of His Word who truly desires to know the truth. Even illiterate Pacific islanders and tribes in the heart of Africa back in the 1800s were able to understand salvation. God will make a way for the searcher to find what he is looking for.

And so all of us are without excuse.

Just as our company wasn’t responsible for whether or not our customers chose to read the letters we wrote, so God is not responsible for the whether or not we read His letter.

May we choose to read that letter. Because nothing is more important. It’s life and death. Eternal life and eternal death.

 

 

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