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!

 

 

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.

 

The Power of Social Media

I was following a woman on Instagram who filled her stories with interesting information. Most of it I already knew. Some of it was new. And I was skeptical of quite a bit of it, as well. But she talked about Jesus and the Bible and the return of Christ and, so it seemed, even if a bit misguided, that she was fairly solid.

Until the day she had her followers ask her questions.

Oh, my, what a mess! She was encouraging mysticism while warning against mysticism. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so sad. She was speaking of Christ and His coming, while turning the attention of her followers to the books that “didn’t make it into the Bible” along with scripture. Oh, the danger of this! She is clearly so confused and I can’t help but think of the many women she is leading into confusion right along with her by answering those questions with authority and as if she knows.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

(I Corinthians 14:33)

And then, recently, we have been watching many in the reformed crowd, who have been historical amillennialists (believe we are in the millennium right now) turn post-millennial (believe we need to prepare the earth for Christ’s return before the millennium can start). What does this mean? Well, simply put, it means that these powerful presences on social media are encouraging their followers to change the culture and fix the world in preparation for Christ’s return.

For example, Dale Partridge, well-known and trusted by many believers, recently said this (emphasis mine):

“Sadly, the “Left Behind” series has shaped America’s eschatology more than scripture has. As a result, the church has become chronically pessimistic, disengaged, and now embraces a culture where we wait for decay rather than work toward dominion. Do not retreat, revive!”

Wait…what?? There are Christians who actually believe this? Yes, many. Maybe most of them now.

He is accusing the eschatology (the doctrine of last, or final, matters) of Left Behind as being unbiblical. While I don’t necessarily condone the movies; the ideas of the rapture, tribulation, and thousand-year reign are clearly in scripture.

If Partridge doesn’t believe this, then what does he believe IS scriptural? From that quote, we must assume it is the false doctrine of Dominionism. This is the false teaching that we must prepare the earth and build God’s Kingdom before Christ can return. (I probably should write about this false teaching of Post-Millennialism/Dominionism so you can see that this is clearly not in scripture, no matter how many people say it is.)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

(2 Timothy 3:1)

 

But here’s my point of this post: Christians are being swayed and confused by those they follow on social media. I gave two examples but there are thousands more like them. Christians have followed these people and have found them to be biblical. They have grown to trust them for truth. They view their opinions as authoritative without ever going to the Bible to check if what they say is true. And I understand. It is a lot easier to scroll through social media than it is to get out your Bible and study it. It just is.

But if we have little knowledge of the Bible, then we will be unable to judge if what we are hearing is actually true. Most of us have also never been taught church history so it is easy to imbibe the lies that we read on social media or hear from our favorite authors and speakers.

One such example is the lie that the pre-trib rapture/pre-millennial eschatology is a “new” theory. It’s actually not. There are examples of many from the early church who believed in both the rapture and a literal millennium (It was called Chiliasm back then). It wasn’t until Augustine spiritualized the Old Testament that the eschatology of the church went impossibly askew. But most people don’t know this. I didn’t know this myself until only recently when I finally took the time to delve into the subject because the confusion around it is growing exponentially.

So, my caution for today is that we take great care in who we follow. If someone is talking about fixing the culture or building God’s Kingdom, be wary. If someone is talking about kooky, extra-biblical stuff and taking the focus off of scripture, be wary. If someone says something “new” from scripture that you’ve never heard before, don’t only be wary but research it.

This phenomenon of social media is scary. People can become “famous” overnight. They can go viral just because they put up a cute or compelling video. Just because someone can make a reel or gives interesting information does not mean that they can be trusted. Just because someone has an immense following on social media does not mean they can be trusted.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that where there is popularity there is truth. But I have personally found the opposite to be true: Run the opposite direction of the crowd if you want to find the truth.

So be careful. Be oh, so careful, who you follow. And do your own Bible Study. Do your own study of Christian history. I know, for many of you, your immediate response is probably “but that’s not my ‘thing’ “. I know it is not everyone’s “thing”. But, quite honestly, I am not sure, in this current age, that we can afford to say that anymore. The deception is growing exponentially and the bottom line is this: LIES can only be overcome with TRUTH.

Many of us have viewed eschatology as a “secondary issue” and thought it didn’t matter all that much. But we are finding out that it matters a great deal. For Satan is using wrong eschatology to prepare the world for the antichrist system.

May we be diligent and persevere in our study of God’s Word. May we be dedicated to interpreting it literally, grammatically, historically. May we be willing to do the work to test EVERYTHING by the Bible. May we be willing to research historical statements when necessary. May we be willing to stand strong, no matter the ridicule we get.

And may we gladly join the unpopular remnant in believing what the Bible clearly teaches: The rapture is close and the Tribulation is just around the corner.

It may be a negative message for the world, but for those who are redeemed, it’s the most positive message we could ask for at this juncture!

 

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:11-14)

 

A Few Thoughts From the State of Texas

I have spent the past week in Texas, visiting my daughter, Adrienne, and her family. It’s funny how you never really know where your kids will land. I never dreamed I’d make so many trips to Texas!

As we headed to the airport, the weather was overcast and the sky was gray. As the plane lifted up, up, up through the clouds, the gray soon was replaced by clear blue sky and white clouds below. Underneath all of those clouds was a rainy, cloudy world but above them was this beautiful crystal blue made even brighter by the sun.

I couldn’t help but think that we are living in that rainy, cloudy world right now with a new storm on the horizon every time we turn around. But this is not our final destination. And far above all of this chaos is the mansion the Lord is preparing for us. We will fly there someday. I just can’t think it will be long now.

___________________

My daughter had minor surgery and so I was helping her care for her kids a little more than I would usually. One of the things that always had me stumped this past week were when the kids would need a drink. The cups were on a shelf with all of the lids in a bin. I could hardly ever find the proper matching lid. And if I did, I was sure to be confused about what “plastic thingy” to put in the lid–if it needed any at all. But, to Adrienne, this was as simple as…well, breathing. She knew every lid and plastic thingy and cup in that cabinet and she knew exactly what went with what. I did not and I needed her help. There was no shame in me asking for help because there was no way I could possibly know. Now what would have happened if I acted like I knew and put the wrong lid with the wrong cup and got all defensive when the juice spilled all over the floor and she gently told me that that lid doesn’t go with the cup?

I didn’t do this, of course, but are you following my train of thought here? It’s easy to admit you don’t know which cup goes with what lid. Not as easy to admit some other things. Oh, how quick we are to charge right ahead when we should have gotten counsel from those who are wiser than we are. How quick to get offended when someone knows more than we do. About anything.

Instead of humbly admitting we don’t know everything, we tend to act like we do and then get upset when things don’t work quite the way we wanted it to. If someone kindly mentions something we could have done better or even avoided, we get defensive and offended. Whether it’s about our parenting, our marriage roles, our life choices, false teachers and discernment, or anything else, how important to remember that we can all grow and learn. We are never too old, never too knowledgeable, never too wise. As long as we are on this side of heaven, we will have things to learn and lots of growing to do.

___________________

Adrienne and her husband live in a nice housing development that has a beautiful pool and splash pad. The other day we headed down there. It was a lovely morning to swim but only a handful of people were there. Besides a few others, there were three in particular whom we noticed. In one corner was an older woman sunning herself. In the other corner were two twenty-somethings. The reason these three came to our particular notice is because they both had their radios blaring loudly. With two totally different stations. One was country, the other was pop. Or maybe it was rap. All I know is that the two together made a cacophony of displeasing sound to the ear.

Oh, how like this world this trip to the pool was. One side is playing all of the songs of social justice, communism, and leftism. The other side is playing the songs of revival, freedom, and patriotism, and maga.

It’s all so loud. All the time.

Just as my daughter and I sat there annoyed to be hearing both stations all the time, so we Christians find ourselves frustrated by the loud noises on either side of these issues. If you understand that what is happening in the world perfectly lines up with scripture, then you know that both sides are wrong. Neither side is biblical. They are both simply two wings of the same bird that is flying to the same place.

But if we were going to swim, we had to listen to the competing music. Thankfully, we can leave the pool. And if we are going to live in this world, we have to listen to the competing sides. Thankfully, we can retreat to no-noise places.

I believe the world will continue to get louder and more dissonant as it prepares to accept the coming antichrist, who will bring a short time of tentative peace before things get considerably worse than they already were (Revelation 6:1-2).

But this is all a part of God’s plan and eventually we will leave this stormy place for the skies of crystal blue. So stay strong by the power of His might and keep looking up!

___________________

So those are a few thoughts I had this past week while spending time with family. Living life and daily happenings have so many lessons for us if we but open our eyes to see.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Twin Truths

A few years ago, a discernment ministry I had trusted to speak truth promoted an erroneous book. Recently, I was surprised and extremely disappointed to see another ministry I trust promote this book. Needless to say, I don’t quite trust them anymore. I wanted to take today and write about this because the book’s topic is so very important.

Well, I actually don’t want to write about this because, not only is it an important topic, but it’s also an incredibly inflammatory one. But the topic keeps coming to mind since I saw that post and I believe the Lord wants me to write about this. I ask you to read this thoughtfully. I am in no way claiming to be an expert on this topic nor do I have any interest in debating with anyone about it. I simply want to share what I have learned in hopes that it may be helpful to others who are struggling through this particular thing.

Let me back up a few years to when the “book” first came out. I received an email promoting this book and I was curious. The book’s premise was that Calvinism is heretical. Why would this author (and then this ministry in its promotion of it) put a line in the sand and say such a thing? That would have to mean that they believe that anyone who believes in Calvinism is a heretic, which means they are not saved. That is a very strong (and absolutely FALSE) statement and that, alone, turned me off greatly to the book and, if I am honest, to the entire ministry.

It is one thing to say I disagree with a certain secondary doctrine. It is quite another to say that the person who doesn’t agree with me is going to hell.

As I read the intro to the book in the email, I spotted something troublesome that caused further concern. Here was how the sentence started out: “We cannot believe in a God who…”

Do you see the serious problem with that sentence?

Who are we to decide who God is? God’s Word tells us who He is. We don’t get to decide which doctrines we do or do not like and what we will or will not believe. This was a huge red flag and discounted anything further that was written regarding the book.

But let’s back up a few years before this book to when I had no idea what I believed about free will and election. I had some wrong notions about how it all worked and was okay with that. Eventually, as I started to study the Word more, I began to understand that my conclusions were flawed. And then God led me to a sermon by John MacArthur called Twin Truths: God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility. It was by far the most clarifying and scriptural resource I have ever had the pleasure of listening to regarding this divisive topic. I recommend it highly.

Here is what I learned (in a nutshell): Both are true and run like parallel tracks into eternity. We can’t figure out how they work together and that’s okay.

You see, it’s man’s pride that makes him insist on choosing one or the other. It’s man’s pride that causes these arguments and divisions. It can’t be his dedication to God’s Word because no man dedicated to God’s Word could possibly deny election. And no man dedicated to God’s Word could deny free will. They are both clearly in the Bible.

So what does that mean? It means that our finite brains can’t understand.

We think we have to understand everything and we can’t understand this. And so men come up with (unbiblical) arguments that deny clear passages of scripture. It’s so tragic, really.

The funny thing is that Satan will seem to get you one way or another. Those who believe in God’s sovereign election rarely believe in God’s prophecy regarding the future of Israel. And those who believe in a future for Israel rarely believe in God’s sovereign election. I am here to tell you that both are clearly true. If you cast your preconceived notions aside and just read scripture, both are so very obvious.

But we get caught up in man’s systems and our denominations and intellectualism and following men and we get so confused. We don’t want to be viewed as stupid or unintelligent or unintellectual and so we follow the crowd. Ridiculous and destructive pride often keeps us from backing away from our wrong argument after we have made it.

The one other thing I believe it is important to mention is that, if you believe John Calvin was an evil man set on spreading an evil doctrine, I rather doubt you really know who he was. Spend some time getting to know this man. He was not perfect (as none are) but he did some tremendous things for the Kingdom and has been so wrongly maligned. I learned this upon my own study of him many years ago now.

So what do I want to communicate today specifically regarding this topic? Why am I writing about it?

I think the answer to that is simply that we cannot understand how these things work together and we must humble ourselves and be at peace with this.

The Bible clearly teaches election (Ephesians 1 is the passage that brought this home for me when studying it so many years ago but there are many others). To deny this is to deny scripture. Yes, it’s a hard and unpleasant doctrine to wrap our brains around but we do not have the option to say “we can’t believe in a God who…”! That is just plain sinful.

But the Bible also clearly teaches free will (that man is responsible for his choices).

So the only conclusion we can draw–if we believe God is absolutely fair- is that these two things work together in a way we can’t possibly understand.

As students of the Bible, may we be willing to believe what God says about Himself within its pages. Even when we don’t like it. Even when we can’t understand it. Even if it brings the ridicule of man.

This brings to mind an old song by the Heritage Singers. Here’s the chorus–

God said it and I believe it
and that settles it for me
Though some may doubt that His word is true
I’ve chosen to believe it, now how about you?

 

 

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Betrayal is an ugly word. The heart of betrayal is always love of self. Take Judas, for example. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Can you even imagine?

Here he was, impersonating a disciple and professing to follow Jesus, but deep down it was never real. Deep down inside this man had an insatiable desire for money that stuck with him because he was never saved.  He never believed the message of Jesus but was simply pretending.

There are many parables in Matthew with this same theme of impersonation. The parable of the seeds, the parable of the wheat and tares, the parable of the wedding garment, the parable of the dragnet, and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins all seem to focus in on this truth: There will be many who claim to follow Jesus but are actually only pretending. 

At the end of the age and when Jesus comes back in all His glory, He tells us that he will finally separate true believers from the pretenders (Matthew 25:31-46). True believers will go into the Kingdom that has been prepared for them and the pretenders will be cast into everlasting darkness.

This is a sobering truth.

And, with this truth, comes a few questions we all should be asking.

Am I living for God or for self?

Am I a true follower or a pretender?

What would it take for me to turn my back on Jesus? A little ridicule? Unpopularity among my peers? Severe persecution?

Pretenders always show themselves when it becomes difficult to be a true follower of Jesus. And with the way this world is going currently, I would guess we will start to see many who show their true colors.

The thing that makes it difficult to discern is that so many pretenders continue to pretend but they change the rules. They make up all kinds of falsehoods about God and His Word and twist scripture irreparably, all while claiming to be a follower of Christ. This is why all things must be examined in light of the Bible.

Judas betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. But many betray him for far less than that. They betray Him for a few extra dollars on their IRS return check. They betray Him for a job promotion or to be liked by their co-workers. They betray Him to avoid discomfort and conflict. Or to gain a popular following on social media.

May it never be said of us that we have betrayed our Lord.

Thankfully, in this same chapter where we learn of Judas (Matthew 26), we also see the failure of the disciples to acknowledge Jesus when He is arrested. This reminds us that a true disciple can really mess up sometimes. We can turn our backs temporarily as we fall to temptation.

But a true disciple will feel deep remorse and repent and change. That’s how we can know the difference. False disciples fall away and never return. True disciples ask for forgiveness and change.

I am so glad God put those verses about the disciples in that same chapter so that we can understand just how great His grace is and that sometimes true followers really fail.

And so Matthew 26 gives us so much to consider. What would it take for you to turn your back on Jesus permanently? Hopefully, the answer to this question for all of us is nothing.

I often think of something I read a long time ago about the martyrs who were burnt at the stake for Christ so many years ago. While they hung on a pole with the flames licking their feet, many of these martyrs sang praises to God. They sang.

Oh, what a great encouragement this is by demonstrating that God can give us a song in the midst of any trial or persecution. Oh, may we keep singing by and through God’s all-sufficient grace, all the while knowing that we have a far greater glory that awaits!

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The worst kind of deception is deception about our eternal destiny. Please click on link below to read what God says in His Word about our eternity–

What is the Gospel?

The Fragrance of Christ

As I sit outside writing this morning, the incredible fragrance of honeysuckle wafts up to the porch on a light breeze every once in awhile. We have a bit of woods behind our house and the last few weeks of May and the beginning of June always bring the blossoming of, first, the wild roses and, shortly after, the honeysuckle– both filling the air with their wonderful scents.

But to some people, farmers and others, these plants are viewed as noxious weeds to be destroyed. Many don’t appreciate their amazing– albeit brief– time of glory each year and seek avidly to rid their landscape of these pests.

One person views them in a positive light and one person views them in a negative light.

As I was enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle the other evening, I examined my own life and wondered if I am the fragrance of Christ to those around me. I long to be, although that sinful nature does trip me up all too frequently!

What is the fragrance of Christ? What does it look like? It’s love and peace and joy. It’s selflessness and self-control. It’s honesty and patience and kindness.

But is that all there is to it? And if it is, then why are we viewed as noxious weeds to so many? Why does the world hate Christians so? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 helps us understand, showing us that, while we are the fragrance of life to a few, to many we are the fragrance of death(!)–

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us [d]diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

None of the things listed above would ever make an enemy. Who doesn’t like someone who is kind and patient and loving? What is the fragrance of Christ that turns people off and makes them want to attack and destroy Christians?

Let’s turn to scripture to gain some insight. For it is there that we find some of these offensive principles that make people turn away from, reject, avoid, and rebel against God. It is here we find out why the world at large hates us Christians.

Being the fragrance of Christ to the world also means that–

–We are committed to the truth of the Gospel. We proclaim that Jesus is the only way. There are no good works we can do or supernatural, mystical happening we can experience to make us right with God. (John 14:6)

–We understand that we–and everyone else in this world– are not good people. We are all born sinners and are in desperate need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23)

–We intentionally surrender our own desires to live for God. We give up our dreams in order to obey God. We take up our cross and deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24)

–We separate ourselves from the world. From its passion for success. From its definition of love. From its goals and values. From its entertainment. (James 4:4) (please note that I didn’t say we separate ourselves from the people of the world–for we are clearly told to reach the lost. But, according to scripture, we must separate from the world’s system. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, you don’t need to participate in the world and its entertainment to reach someone for Christ.)

–We trust God instead of self. We turn to the Bible for answers instead of to man’s wisdom. (Psalm 118:8)

–We expect persecution and trials as we live our Christian life. We don’t want them, but we understand that we are swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream. (2 Timothy 3:12)

There are so many more things the Bible teaches that we must stand upon. And these are things HATED by the world. We teach that women are the keepers of the home and are to submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). That homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). That we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Can you think of others?

__________________________________________

 

These things are not very popular to teach and preach and write about, are they? And they garner the antagonism and ridicule of the world and even much of the church. Only someone who is already a true believer or seeking after God will be drawn to these principles for life. Only this small group of people will recognize the benefit and blessing of a life lived in obedience to the principles laid out in the Word. Only these few will find these words life-giving, and comforting.

But the rest of the world (and much of the church) will view us as noxious weeds. People to be destroyed. An invasive plant to be gotten rid of.

And we are seeing this, aren’t we? My daughter-in-law sent a photo of a response someone sent to a Christian on Instagram. It was the very essence of what we are talking about. In a nutshell, this woman declared that Christians are a bane on society and should be destroyed. If Christianity is only about kindness and love, why would she declare this? It is because Christianity is about more than love. It’s about TRUTH.

There are a few things for us to reflect upon as we consider this idea of fragrance.

First, we should examine our own lives. Are we giving off the aroma of Christ in all ways? Or just the easy, appealing ways that will gain the acclaim of the world? This is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all so susceptible to peer pressure. It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the entire counsel of God and defend the Bible. It is only through His power that we can be the light of truth in this dark, dark world.

Second, I have to confess that one of the biggest puzzles to this for me is how Christians who love truth are often strongly disliked–and even hated–by other Christians. These are good people who are living for Christ. And, yet, when you declare someone to be a false teacher based on their own words and actions, they get mad at you. When you give clear documentation of a false doctrine or some other unpopular truth from God’s Word, they declare you to be negative or legalistic and ridicule you. What is going on here? If they are saved, why don’t they love the truth? Why don’t they want to see the Church and its members protected? I don’t have any answers but it is a puzzling and discouraging truth. If you are a watchmen on the wall, trying to protect the church, the arrows will come from both sides of the wall. And the arrows from inside the church hurt far, far worse than the ones coming from the world!

The perfect Christian life is to live like Christ. We will never attain that on this side of heaven, but this should be our desire. This will consist of those wonderful things that everyone loves but it will also consist of those things that aren’t so loved. To be a true representative for Christ, we must embrace all of who He is. Not just the parts that are pleasant.

And then we must expect, just like the wild rose and honeysuckle plants, to be delightful and pleasant to a few and to be viewed as a pernicious and virulent weed to most. This is the life of the true believer.

 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

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