Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Narcissism of American Christianity

The year of 2011 has seen many natural disasters in America. Earthquakes, tornados, snowstorms, one hurricane so far, snowstorms, floods, and wildfires have visited this land. Of course there have been disasters in other parts of the world, but here in America we tend to cover these events with much more passion than those in other countries. I guess that is to be expected.

But the church in America has a tendency to use these events as the voice of God speaking to this nation. Many preachers, enamored with their own voice, suggest that God is warning and punishing America for her sins. If that be the case, God has lost His touch. I mean let’s compare what men consider God’s hand of disaster here with what has happened in the past. There have been two major cases of flooding in China that have killed almost two million people a piece. The earthquake in Haiti killed more than 300,000, and the Indonesian tsunami killed 250,000. And for the divine coup de grace of disasters, the Black Death claimed over two hundred million people. God was really hitting home runs back then!

But now some evangelicals claim that an earthquake on the eastern coast of America which claimed no deaths is God speaking to the nation. Poor God, He’s lost His voice. Old age maybe? And Hurricane Irene claimed under 50 deaths. God’s aim is way off these days. In fact, the terrorists on 9/11 did more damage than God seems to do these days. But sarcasm aside, can you not see how absurd these preachers are when they present natural disasters as divine mouthpieces?

But why do they claim such things? Well beside employing the melodramatic in order to draw attention to their superior spiritual insight, many America preachers hold both this nation and its people in much higher regard than the people who died in the disasters I mentioned before. As you listen to these men you might believe that God is consumed with America, and that He values American lives much greater than any other lives in the world. Think about this. During the war in Iraq, I have heard many preachers pray for the safety of American troops, and even some asking God for military victory. But I have never heard one ask God to protect Iraqi non military citizens. And I have not heard one ask God to protect the lost soldiers, and if need be, let a believing soldier die so that a lost soldier can still be saved. God isn’t consumed with America, we are.

Almost every church takes at least one Sunday to recognize people who have served or are serving in the military. What does that have to do with worshiping God? Have you ever been in a service where believers around the world who were martyred for Christ were identified and recognized? In fact, during the war in Iraq there were many believers who gave their lives for the cause of Christ, but they were not spoken of or honored the way American soldiers were. What kind of religion have we created? An American version of Christianity that takes the spotlight off of Christ and shines it on men and women who happen to be American. It is most sad.

This is not an American gospel, and God is not speaking to America. In fact, God IS speaking to the church about being His mouthpiece to this lost and dying world. But rich, lazy, and deceived men will still insist that the latest natural disaster is God’s way of speaking to a nation. While they sit in their air conditioned studios, offices, and church auditoriums, they remove the redemption and glory of the cross by suggesting God wants lost sinners to stop sinning. What God wants most of all is that sinners run to His eternal sacrifice and by faith be born again. I can remember when I was not saved, and I doubt that a hurricane or earthquake or a tornado would draw me to Christ. And if I had heard some bellicose preacher tag these events with God’s name, that would have repelled me from coming to Christ.

But do you know what might have drawn me to Christ during and after these natural disasters? If the followers of Jesus were passionate about helping those affected by those disasters instead of spouting divine judgment upon the idol they call America which in their words is designed to “bring America back to God”. Of course one major element in “bringing America back to God” is economic prosperity. What a sad state of affairs.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Does God Deal With Countries Today?

In the Old testament, for the most part, a nation as defined by geographical borders and a unified government, was also denoted by its ethnic makeup. The Syrians were Syrian in nature, the Israelis were Jewish or Hebrew, and the Egyptians were (you guessed it) Egyptian. So in essence God was dealing with people groups that were usually identified by their country’s name. But at Calvary, and the subsequent Pentecost, everything changed.

It is most unfortunate that many believers fail to see the distinction between how God revealed Himself in the Old Testament and how God reveals Himself in the New Covenant. And even though the way God deals with mankind in the Old Testament is completely different than how He deals with mankind in this gospel age, many lose sight of the nature of this difference and the repercussions of this distinction. And if that line of demarcation is obscured, then it is very easy to create a divine caricature that seems to be a hybrid rather than a revelation of Jesus Christ and His redemptive gospel. In fact, such a teaching is a grotesque creation derived from two distinct revelations of God, one of which was to give way and be subordinate to the other.

Heb.1:1-2a - God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son...

Men today still insist God is sending hurricanes and earthquakes and tornados to punish certain secular countries and their citizens, even though the majority of those citizens are lost and spiritually dead. “God is judging America” is a sentiment that is widely accepted within evangelicalism. And that sentiment is a result of a melding of the Old and the New Covenants. It unnaturally combines judgment and grace and misrepresents this present age of gospel grace before the end when God will judge the nations (people).

And of course, the men like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell never suggest God is judging them, but they conveniently use natural calamities for their own self righteous purposes while the evangelical choir sings “Amen!”. And abortion and homosexuality figure prominently in this judgment equation, but it seems divorce and adultery do not rise to the earthquake level. But in order to clearly comprehend our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” mission in this gospel age, we must reject characterizing Christ as both a cross embracer and a locust sender. And if God does send correction, it will be to the church and not those whose spirits are dead and stand in need of grace. Christ did not come to condemn the world; they already are condemned. God sent His Son so that the world might be saved through Him.

God dealt with Israel as His people, not just a country. And if you desire to see some similarities today, then you must see the church as a country. That might be significantly more accurate than suggesting America or Ecuador or France is being dealt collectively by God. In fact, God calls the church a “holy nation”. But listen as some of the politicians running for president are saying God is sending natural calamities in order to get the attention of the American people. But Jesus, in one of His parables, was asked to send someone who rose from the dead. The reply was that even that would not be sufficient to garner their attention. Romans suggests that instead of natural calamities, the wonder of creation should lead people to at least admit to a divine being.

But as is the all too familiar ways of western preachers, we are not satisfied with presenting Christ and His gospel. We are not satisfied with ministering to people’s earthly needs in order to gain a hearing to their spiritual needs. We seem to need to create some narrative whose underlying motive is to elevate America to a “God favored” status. When 300 Indians die in a ferry boat sinking, no one here suggests that God is speaking to India. Why? Because no one believes God really loves India in the same way He loves America. But the truth is God loves people, not countries.

Listen this political season and you will hear men and women reveal a robust love for America, and also openly suggest a divine love for the same. Then read the New Testament in one week and you will understand how wrong that is. But, you say, those are secular people. Well then, just listen to what the church is saying.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

False Prophets

Evangelist Pat Robertson suggested that the recent east coast earthquake was God getting “mildly peeved” at men on the east coast who act effeminate. He also suggested God cracked the Washington monument in order to represent a crack in America as a “great nation”, and he even likened that crack to the rent veil in the Temple when Jesus cried out as he died upon the cross. Robertson prayed that God will direct Hurricane Irene away from the east coast. I guess God and Pat Robertson do not care if it hits Puerto Rico and the islands of the Caribbean.

Is it any wonder why people reject the gospel when men like Pat Robertson and Harold Camping make ridiculous statements like these? They misrepresent the nature of God in this age of grace, they smear the gospel of God's amazing grace, and they draw attention to themselves. God deliver us from such. The true follower of Jesus, like Moses and Paul, would pray that the hurricane would steer clear of the poor even if it meant hitting us, assuming God directs such events. It rains upon the just and the unjust.
The Word Made Flesh

Was Jesus an inanimate set of truths? Was He a pro forma statement of faith? Or was He a living, breathing manifestation of the Invisible God with a rescue mission of redemption? When the Scriptures declare that the “Word was made flesh”, does that suggest that before He was flesh He was in written form on a heavenly wall? And when we are told that as followers we are “epistles, read of all men” does that mean we are to tattoo the New Testament on our bodies? Now if we can see the fallacies in some of these statements, then we are left with this question:

What is the Word of God and how is it manifested in us? When a sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence in his mortal being. Of course this is a great mystery, but it is a reality nonetheless. The Holy Spirit seals us until the day of our redemption becomes a reality in the life to come, but He also is sent to begin a metamorphosis within that believer which works its way out in observable behaviors that are far different than what had been practiced before. But to put is succinctly, the Spirit begins to mold us into a living, breathing facsimile of our Lord and Master, Jesus. But to take it a sacred step further, the Person of Christ lives within us, and the Spirit begins to crucify what is us in order to allow the resurrected Christ to come forth. Again, an eternal mystery.

But so often the evangelical church has defined itself in terms of what it believes at the expense of how it lives. Gather together 100 average evangelical believers and put them alongside 100 moral unbelievers and you will find precious little which distinguishes between the two groups, to say nothing of observing anything really remarkable in differentiating between them. That should be a shame to us, and in fact, calls into question what we really do believe. And in a subtle effort to soothe our consciences, we as evangelicals wear our statements of faith as a spiritual talisman designed to define us due to the lack of empirical evidence which should be found overwhelmingly in our lives.

We have used and abused the Bible for our own earthly benefit and spiritual self righteousness. The clarion call, “I believe the Bible!” has become a hubristic battle cry which usually exalts the evangelical choir and simultaneously assaults the lost world. But it cannot be ignored that we have to say it loud and clear because our lives are staggeringly insufficient to convey our Biblical adherence without our self serving commentary. Many church signs tout their Bible believing credentials with a spiritual pride that is contrary to the very Bible they profess to believe. In short, the church has become a sort of religious club which is revealed in doctrinal words far greater than it is revealed in remarkable lifestyles that run observably different than the darkness around them. Of course we can always cling to our pro-life stand and our traditional marriage convictions as proof that we “like Jesus”.

But the written Word of God was never meant to be a collection of doctrinal museum pieces that when neatly organized like a theological puzzle we can stand back and admire our work. Of course the Word is God’s truth, but it is not only in the abstract. The Word is powerful, and when allowed to be used by the Spirit it can both save a lost sinner, but also change a saved sinner. And so often when a believer is asked to give his testimony of how God changed his life, he speaks of changes made years ago experienced in the several years following his initial conversion experience. Rarely do we speak of how God changed our lives this year, or this month, or even this very day! How pathetic.

Paul warned the Corinthians against being of Apollos, or of Peter, or of Paul. To be identified with any man is not only unwise, it is unchristian. And yet we say we are Arminian, or Calvinists, or Wesleyan, and other monikers that do not exclusively mention Christ. Or we say we are conservative or fundamental or even evangelical which replace what we should be: Those who remind the world of our Master. And so often the Scriptures are treated as some spiritual algebra book that can only be understood by those with original language credentials. Some dissect the written scriptures down to the atomic level which appeals to the intellect but does little to change the lives of its readers. And many defend their inerrancy doctrine through words and Scriptural evidence without the foundation of a life which authenticates that same inerrancy.

But who among us can stand upon a platform and claim we have arrived? But if we have moved the destination, we then cannot even claim we are on the path which leads to Christlikeness. There is a vast difference between knowing the Word and eating it. A man shows you his pantry full of nutritious foods, well organized and with books that define and categorize all the different foods. He explains the different nutritious values associated with the different foods, and he even shows you how others have compromised their value by redefining the foods and by falsely attributing nutrition to those foods which have none. But since this man is sickly and gaunt, you can safely assume he understands nutrition and has a well organized pantry full of such foods, but he himself is not consuming them.

And such is a reflection of much of the “orthodox” community who have well organized pantries of doctrinal displays, but do not reflect the Christ about whom these pantries are supposed to speak. It is one thing to know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the prophetic significance of that birth, but it is quite another to be resigned to exhibit that same profound humility in our daily lives. It is one thing to recite the golden rule, but it is quite another to actually practice it. It is one thing to believe that Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, but it is quite another to walk daily in a personal crucifixion. It is one thing to have Louis Sperry Chafer’s systematic theology in your library, but it is quite another to live the demonstrative theology of Jesus.

Perhaps a fresh look at how we view God’s Word might help us to come into agreement with the Spirit’s ministry. And perhaps a fresh comparison between our lives and the life of the Lord Jesus might also break up the doctrinal fallow ground and plant a new and vibrant crop that when watered and nourished could bring a harvest of spiritual fruit that could be labeled, simply, Jesus.

Or we can remain as we are.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011



Moralism is a system of belief that believes the outside of a sinner's cup can be cleaned before the inside is changed. It is subtle and has crept into the church.

You may be a moralist if:

You are upset when sinners sin.

When you feel inconvenienced because of the sin in your neighborhood.

When you spend time reading about the sin of others.

When you sign petitions against certain sins.

When you see a sinner unredemptively.

When you believe sin can be controlled legislatively.

When you join hands with unbelievers over moral issues.

When you believe God is interested in changing the culture.

When you have a sin cast system.

When you preach morals to unbelievers.

When you see the sins of others as much worse than your sin.

When you seem to suggest being pro-life is a fruit of the Spirit.

When you feel the need to combat the homosexual agenda.

When you drive ten miles over the speed limit while on your way to an anti-gay marriage rally.

When you drive the speed limit while on your way to an anti-gay rally.

When you picket abortion clinics but do not adopt.

When you picket anywhere.

When you believe a sinner must give up certain sins before he can be saved.

When you place the Ten Commandments on public walls.

When you mix the Law with the gospel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Who is Jesus


Who Are His Followers?

Who is this man named Jesus? The word “Christ” means “anointed one” and is a description rather than part of His given earthly name. Even those who deny Him acknowledge His superior teaching abilities. And in the end He was put to death because He claimed to be the Son of God and thereby threatened the power of the religious hierarchy. And even though the Jews hated their Roman oppressors, they gladly used them to crucify this man named Jesus.

But the Scriptures are clear. This man named Jesus was born in Bethlehem to a young girl named Mary. However, this young girl was also a virgin. So right at the start there was a problem for the world. Who can be born of a virgin? Of course there are counterfeits who claim to have been born from a virgin, but the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold of this virgin born child. But today, in this enlightened age of technology and human analysis, this kind of truth is viewed as superstition and archaic religious tradition.

But as hard as society attempted to discredit and even expunge this Person from the world’s knowledge and religion altogether, still He remains a central figure among billions. But His historical remembrance as a man, even with communicative skills, falls infinitely short of who He was and is. Jesus of Nazareth was the Creator God in human form. Anything less than that is a caricature that removes the power of His mission and renders Him nothing more than a religious curiosity. This is what the cults, and what the liberal denominations, and what the health and wealth movements, and what the emergent movement continues to do. They change the Person and nature and even the mission of the Risen Christ.

But the Word, the Second person of the revealed Trinity, must never be minimized or diluted or downgraded. He is the only and exclusive hope for all mankind and all eternity rests upon His finished work upon the cross and inside the now empty tomb. And as the world, and sadly the church as well, become accustomed to sin and blind to its effects, the necessity of Christ’s redemption becomes less a necessity, to say nothing of a desperate necessity, and more of some placid moral alteration or some nationalistic mirage that claims to have been created by this Jesus. And what a diabolical spectacle to see what some have done to the glory of God’s Risen Son!

When Jesus Himself proclaimed that “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” He was establishing a truth that is in direct conflict with the pluralistic culture that adapts to accommodate all religious thoughts about ways to achieve post mortem nirvana. That statement was either a self righteous delusion, or it was the eternal truth upon which all eternity stands. This Jesus is also incongruent with the many different pictures of Jesus portrayed by all the different religious streams. The True and Living Jesus stands alone as the One and Only Redeemer. All others are counterfeits and eternally poisonous to a lost sinner’s soul.

But who are the followers of the authentic and glorious Christ? Some would claim that an orthodox doctrinal statement cements you as a living follower of Christ. Others would suggest that feeding the poor identifies one as a follower of Jesus the Christ. Others claim that being pro-life or pro-traditional marriage punches your Christ follower’s card. But I reject all those definitions as well as any and all manifestations that can be captured in some carefully worded depiction.

The true follower of Christ is one who has indeed been born again by simple and yet profound faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. But this follower is also one whose heart continues to be malleable and broken before His Redeemer, and he is cognizant about his own shortcomings. He strives to esteem others before himself, but often fails. The Christ follower is always in a spiritual classroom, and he genuinely rejects all personal accolades about himself. He is deeply aware of his standing upon God’s grace, and he strives to cultivate heartfelt humility and reflect it in a way that would draw attention to Christ and not his own humility. A superior challenge to be sure.

The follower of Jesus spreads the message of His gospel, and he is concerned with the eternal destiny of the souls he lives among, as well as the souls to which he helps send others. He wraps his gospel message in a package of love, service, and personal sacrifice. To him, there is no higher calling than being Jesus to this lost world. The cares of this world call out to him, but he prayerfully rejects their demands and rests fully in Christ and the things of eternal value. The heart of a true follower of Christ is a profound paradox. He is always rejoicing in Christ and His eternal love and salvation, but his heart is always broken for the souls of others. He is always grateful for the progress he has made in his spiritual journey, but he grieves over his shortcomings and many stumblings.

A follower of Jesus has a Biblically based theology, but he is not a disciple of a theology. He follows the Living Christ in ways that are demonstrably different than the average cultural pilgrim, and in fact, his motives are detached from the usual pursuits of money, pleasure, and self indulgence. But even though his lifestyle is dissimilar from the earth dwellers he lives among, his life is not a set of legalistic rules that are designed to draw attention to his own distinctive lifestyle and cultivate self righteousness. He lives his life to draw attention to the Person and work of Jesus Christ. And the denial of self is his daily challenge which is only achieved when that miscreant named “self” dies.

The follower of Jesus takes no pride in his orthodox doctrine, in fact, he knows he has come to truth completely by the grace of God through the Spirit of God. And when he comes across people who are deceived, he allows this admonition to filter his correction:

II Tim.2:24-26 - And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

And when he sees a professing believer stumble, he corrects him with a heart for restoration and remembers these words:

Gal.6:1-3 - Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

And in perhaps the greatest single sentence of discipleship, the follower of Jesus strives daily to achieve this:

Jn.3:30 - He must increase, but I must decrease.

But let us be honest, all these verses are pursuits whose destination remains in the life to come. But if we lose our passion for being a living sacrifice for Him, we have lost our salt and light and are just sitting at the bus station waiting for heaven as we watch millions perish. God forbid.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The King and His Kingdom

Eph.2:19-22 - Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Yes we were strangers from the covenants of God, but we also were His enemies. Walking in self righteous rebellion, we were dead in our sins and ambivalent about our Creator. We were consumed with us and our desires and we were on a daily journey to satisfy our own lusts. And even today believers sniff at scraps which many times do damage to the gospel. Debating over we should teach creationism in our fallen school systems is counterproductive. Have we won anything if someone acknowledges a design in creation? Is that what Christ dispatched us to share?

But after we came to faith in the Lord Jesus, we were made a part of His own household. We now are citizens of a different kingdom, one with a different message and a different King. But so often we walk according to the dictates of this fallen kingdom. So often we behave as if something eternal can be accomplished by repainting the culture with legislation and political leverage. So often we succumb to battling on the world’s terms.

But the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Why? Because our war is not with flesh and blood, but with evil principalities and wicked spirits. And our divine command is to spread the good news of redemption to a lost and dying world. Can we afford to get entangled with the things of this world? If we are about our Father’s business, how can we be about the business of this present evil world? There is a freedom which sets the captive free and allows the spirit to soar above the carnal fray. It is found in the shadow of the Almighty and under the intimate safety of His might wings. When we abide in Him we will quickly lose interest in the carnal battles which imprison so many who profess His name.

The mystery continues. We are part of a holy temple that is formed as an inhabitation for the Spirit of God Himself. Individually and collectively. There is something very disarming about such a thought. That THE Holy God would desire to live within us is unnerving and confounding. It is a sacred mystery that speaks to the eternal love of God and His redemptive plan. As cars drive past church buildings people recognize those buildings as places of worship. But as people come in contact with us, do they recognize the presence of Christ and us as His epistles?

But let us be clear about something extremely significant. In the days preceding the coming of the Lord Jesus there will be massive signs. And though the church has played games with the rapture, the catching away, that event is colossal in nature and will be a time of judgment for believers. The church has by and large dismissed the consequences of facing Christ as a believer and we have embraced the “I made it to heaven” monologue without addressing the accountability which must be rendered on that day.

Yes, we are saved completely by grace through faith, but that does not eliminate the Scriptural teachings concerning the judgment seat of Christ, the Bema seat. Why are the pulpits silent on this issue? Why do we live as though our heavenly ticket is punched and we are responsible for nothing? We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, but one day we will stand before our King. And although we are His child, we must give an account for the life we led. We will suffer loss.

About fifty years ago in a small, rural town in upstate New York, a mother gave birth to twin boys. They had flaming red hair like their father, and the entire town was excited since no twins had been born there for decades. The boys grew to be about one year old and they were the darlings of the town. One afternoon their mother put them down for their afternoon nap and hurried to the next door neighbor to borrow some flour. The house was several football fields away. As the mother stood on the front porch and spoke with her neighbor, across the field a billow of smoke began to rise from her own house.

She screamed and ran back to her house, but before she could get there the first floor was engulfed in flames. The mother attempted to enter the house but some men from an adjacent field had seen the smoke and came running and now were preventing her from killing herself. The two red headed boys died in those flames. Well, the entire town, even though the twin boys were not their own, suffered as if they belonged to everyone. The town suffered a great loss which was felt for many, many years.

How much more loss will we suffer when we stand before Him and agonize over an uncrucified life that was lived according to this world and our own flesh? The challenge is this: Whose kingdom are we serving, and which King will we stand before some day?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

False Teachers Among Us

II Pet.2:1-3 - But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you:

There was a time when the phrase “poor as a church mouse” actually meant something. But in this day of prosperity and huge church facilities, a church mouse may be the most affluent rodent around. In the world, a prostitute is one who sells sexual favors for a price. But the church in the west is a prostitute who pays its johns to violate her repeatedly, and she often applauds it and both returns for more as well as honor her violators.

The largest budget item in most western evangelical churches is staff salaries and benefits. The second is mortgages and building upkeep. The last is ministry. Does that seem strange to you, or do you consider that the norm and the divine order? I need not refer to the ministry model set by our Lord Himself, or the early church model. We certainly have long since improved on those flawed constructs.

But moving away from my obvious sarcasm, can we not at least admit that something is seriously wrong with the church? And the problems in the church are much more than the Rob Bell's of this world. We who claim to attempt to emulate the Master, can we point to His life and His teachings as proof that we are close followers of His? Oh, you say, times change, and so His teachings must conform to the dictates of the present world and culture. And where, pray tell, do we draw the line that makes the distinction between what we must obey literally and what we can make applicable through principle alone?

My point is that it is somewhat obvious and somewhat satisfying to identify the false teachings of others, especially when they are of the doctrinal persuasion, while we remain blind to our own falsehoods demonstrated in our everyday lives, but free from doctrinal scrutiny. So in effect, the man who loves John MacArthur and abhors Rob Bell is considered a faithful member of a local church, but he can save up great sums of money for His cruise filled retirement and openly criticize the current president. You see, the standards are now set by the behavior of the majority and not the dictates of Scripture. And I realize that an uncomfortable study of the New Testament teachings might bring us to either a malleable convenience, or a spiritual journey that will be considered radical when compared with what is considered the norm.

The definition of false teaching has become quite restricted. But when a survey of the New Testament is done, we should see how often we teach falsely by our actions. In fact, it is immensely easier to identify doctrinal errors than it is to see life expressions that are false as they pertain to manifesting Christ. That is why I remain defiantly against a feeling of satisfaction when I or you or others correctly rebuke false teachers like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Joel Osteen, and others. That, to me, seems like shooting doctrinal fish in a barrel. And vigilance concerning others can become complacency concerning ourselves. It is subtle, but with an insidious impact on our own spiritual walk.

I do not ever want to be a false teacher. I want to understand and teach the unalterable truths of God’s Word and lift up the Lord Jesus with accurate passion. But I have come to understand that teaching involves more than words and statements of faith. True and powerful teaching must also come through what we do, and even how we speak the truth (in love). Being orthodox involves much personal sacrifice and chronic seasons of brokenness over our own sins and shortcomings. Orthodoxy is not just some talisman that is kept in a doctrinal box to be admired by others who have the same box. To be truly orthodox, we must be living expressions of His image, which is far more profound than normally assumed.

This life of Jesus of which we are vessels is much more than just quitting smoking and cursing, this is a sacred mystery that begins with Christ in us the hope of glory, but proceeds with work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. We are not religious museums with legs; we are spiritual medics who must roam among the dead seeking those who might receive spiritual life. And our ministry is not hidden in the archives of theologians now passed, or even at Christ bookstores among the pages of today’s authors, or even in some obscure blog like this one. Our ministry to the lost world is Jesus. And to treat Him as just ink and paper completely misrepresents His surpassing glory and mangles the story of redemption.

I must admit, that as it pertains to actions and not just doctrine, I have often been a false teacher. I pray that God will continue to help me do better for Him.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Self Righteous Ideologues

I am a pacifist. I do not believe that violence and war promote the cause of Christ, and I do not believe they are divine methods in this age of gospel grace. However, lest I think too highly of myself I must admit openly that I admire and indeed am intrigued by those of human kind who will give their lives for a cause. I grieve for the soldiers who were killed recently in Afghanistan, and I pray for their loved ones.

I also know many Jesus loving men and women who are in the military, and I am aware of some who have come to faith in Christ while on the battlefield. God is so sovereign that He can often accomplish His purposes amidst the compromise of His very people. I am acutely aware that has more often than not been the case in my own life.

I share this short thought to make this point. Although we have convictions, both theological and practical, let us endeavor to humble ourselves as we view the actions of others. That does not mean we abandon our convictions or make our theology accommodate the errors of others, but it does mean we are always presented with this challenge: How do we stand fast in our beliefs without being bellicose, ungracious, and demonstrably unaware of our own shortcomings?
I fear I have often failed to meet that challenge, but I ask God’s Spirit to crucify me so that Christ may more remarkably live through me and be seen and heard by those with whom I come in contact. I abhor pride and self righteousness, especially when it rears its ugly head in my own life. As one name Paul once observed, “In me there dwells no good thing”.

The path of our discipleship should not be littered with our own footprints,

but with only His.
What Do We Say About This?

An evangelical pastor in Iran was arrested in October of 2009 and given the sentence of death unless he recanted his faith in Jesus Christ. He has been tortured, and in July of 2011 all appeals were rejected. In January of 2011 he wrote this letter to his brothers and sisters from behind prison walls:

"Saturday, January 08, 2011,

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 When someone internalizes the revelation of the Truth, he will be willing to share it with others and future generations. We are indebted to the people who, in the past, fought for the Truth, allowing us to have access to this glorious revelation of Jesus Christ. These believers understood the richness and the beauty of the revelation and they were ready to fight in order to pass down the fruit of the revelation. How can we bear similar fruit for eternal life? It depends on the way we choose.

First we have to close our ears to the voice of the darkness as it is written in the first psalm:Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Psalm 1:1. The second thing is to open our ears to the Voice of the Spirit speaking through the Word of God, as it is written:But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Psalm 1:2The fruit of communion with the Lord through his Life-giving Word is stability in this life and eternal fruit that others bear in their life, as the Scriptures say: And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3 “Come”A lot of people admire Jesus as a unique model to follow for generations and a lot of people would like to become like Him. Jesus did not come to be admired but to give us a perfect model to follow.

If we want to be like Him, we need to take a step of faith, like Peter. When the apostle saw his Lord walking on the furious sea, he asked to come to Him on the water. Jesus said: “Come!”Everyone willing to follow the Lord is supposed to have listened in some way to this seemingly imperious command: “Come!” a command which implies an act of faith, referred to sometimes as the “leap of faith.”

As it is clear from the Scriptures, what we are able to see is not faith, as the biblical faith is defined as : “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We have to decide “in spite of”’, in order to experience the power of God. But we need to remember that everything must be done according the Word of God.

Peter did not experience the possibility to walk on water because he decided to leave the boat but because of the Word, the Command of the Lord. The Word of God tell us to “expect to suffer hardship” and dishonor for the sake of His Name. Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings.

Anybody ignoring it will be ashamed in that day. Let us remember that sometimes the leap of faith leads us towards some impasses. Just as the Word led the sons of Israel leaving Egypt toward the impasse of the Red sea. These impasses are midway between promises of God and their fulfillment and they challenge our faith. Believers are to accept these challenges as a part of their spiritual course.

The Son was challenged at Calvary in the hardest way, as it is written in the Scriptures:“Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” Hebrew 5:7-8The cry “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” is enough to express the sufferings of our Lord at Calvary.

Behind this cry of distress, we can identify the great faith that led Him to accept the will of the Father. Yea, He knew that God will “not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” and he was to rise up within 3 days.

Beyond the power of death, the Lord perceived the victorious power of the resurrection. I don’t need to write anything further about the basis of faith. Let us remember that beyond beautiful or painful feelings, only three things remain: Faith, Hope and Love. It is important for believers to make sure which kind of Faith, Hope and Love will remain.

Only what we receive according the Word remains forever. I would encourage you to live in a way that is worthy to the Holy calling of the Word. Let believers, who are heirs of the glory, be examples for others in order to be a witness of the power of Christ for the world and the future. I beg you to live according the Word of God in order to chase the powers of darkness that generates doubts in your heart.

The overcoming faith that casts out the doubt comes by hearing the Word of God.Only a church based on the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will remain, for beyond the protection of the Word of God the destroyer destroys. Let us keep His Holy Testimony.

Your brother in Christ,

Youcef Nadarkhani

As you can see from his letter, this pastor was not interested in economic policies or moral issues within Iran. His heart has been consumed with being a faithful witness of Jesus Christ, and if necessary, a faithful martyr. These are the kind of testimonies that should make us in the west blush when we suggest our own persecution. And in the face of our Christless political involvement, our economic murmuring, and our blatant attacks on unsaved sinners, this man stands as a living indictment to our diluted brand of Christianity.

My heart is overwhelmed when I read his words, and I pray God will continue to strengthen him, as well as use this to bring the western church to repentance.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Go and Do Likewise

It is in vogue today to recreate the Christian faith, disregard clear Scriptural teachings, and generate an atmosphere that questions everything, including such things as the exclusivity of Christ and the necessity of the born again experience. And on the opposite side it is also in vogue to identify those who dismantle Scriptural truths, document their aberrations, and generally create a class of believers who have long since ceased to seriously examine their own spiritual depth and commitment since they are self affirmed by their own orthodoxy as opposed to those nasty false teachers. It is a vicious cycle that continues to lead the church either into apostasy or stagnation.

Why is it that some of the most gracious and affable people are not believers? Why is it that humility is now seen as weakness? Watch as believers observe their weekly pilgrimage to the designated building, and after supposedly meeting with the Risen Christ, they return home just as they left and resume their unremarkable lives inside a western culture. The exact same scenario is played out at synagogues and mosques, and in fact, the unbeliever awakens Sunday morning just as he will awaken Monday morning with no real change and little if any passion. The entire ritual is an affront to all we say we believe, and a fraudulent expression of the Person of Jesus Christ.

But, thank God, we are orthodox (and not gay). The average believer can be moved to anger with very little provocation, and he will aggressively press his rights in a department store or restaurant. Be rude to him and he may very well return the favor. Professing believers fill their spirits with all sorts of gossip and they love to listen to and agree with the most caustic and virulent talk show hosts who in essence spout the message of antichrist camouflaged as “conservative” values. And they don’t even have enough discernment to know when Christ is being subtly maligned by these same men and women.

And if per chance some believer is persecuted then let the squawking begin. After the Industrial Revolution the average mindset changed and people began to realize that through hard work and business savvy they could improve their surroundings and elevate their personal wealth. And although hard work is a good thing, it quickly became a means for self elevation and the accumulation of wealth, and is now generally accepted as such in the church. No longer were believers consumed with spreading the gospel message and exhibited lifestyles that suggested they lived in a different kingdom. Pastors began to be paid in line with what they could make in the secular world.

The sign of a God blessed church was a building program, usually financed by the fallen world banking system. Things that would never have been considered are now accepted and practiced. The best we can hope for is being a “friendly church”. In my former days I have been to friendly bars and friendly drug gatherings, and if you really want friendly go to a strip club with money in your pockets. Have we lowered the bar as to what it means to be a believer, or have we removed any bar at all?

And what do we sacrifice? Do we go without so that others may hear the gospel? Do we ride in automobiles that are decidedly below our means so that God’s money can be used elsewhere? And one of the more vicious spectacles of hollow humanism is in the arena of politics. Hatred and strife, hubris and seditions, moralism and self touting, wrath and idolatry, and a full compliment of the works of the flesh are practiced and applauded. But, the General has issued His own commands.

Phil.2:12-16 - Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Let us reject the changes that the flesh has made to the church and return to the ancient landmarks. We cannot be salt and we cannot be light if we walk like those who know not Christ. Oh to be like Jesus. And while many love to isolate the narrative of His cleansing of the Temple, the overarching life of the Lord Jesus was humble, gracious, and filled with redemption. Go and do likewise.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Discerner's Mirror


A commentor questioned my reference to emotion when we identify and correct false teachers. Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem as they slid into apostasy. Doctrinal evaluation must be more than a dry analysis. It must have a measure of pathos, including a broken heart over the matters in which we ourselves fall short. Just because I am not Rob Bell is not a matter of favor before God, and it is so very easy to cull out the most egregious heretics and overtly or subliminally claim some spiritual superiority. Who we are before God has little to do with how orthodox we are in our theology and everything to do with who we are when no one is looking.

Every believer in Christ should be a discerner of false teachings and doctrinal heresies. This is actually not a ministry per se, but it should be a part of a believers Biblical life. Now there are preachers and blogs etc. that claim to be a ministry of discernment or a watchman ministry, and although I cannot characterize them as “ministries”, I do recognize their value to the body of Christ in general.

But it is very difficult to maintain a balance if you become consumed with heresies and the false teachings of others. Very quickly you tend to lose any perspective concerning your own spiritual depth, and almost immediately you can move ever so subtly into self righteousness. In fact, if you are going to spend time in examining and discerning the teachings of others, you should be held to a higher standard of humility, personal devotion, and love. Your responsibility toward God and His church will not be measured primarily by how many heresies you expose, or how many false teachers you uncover, but you must be measured by your personal devotion to Christ and how appreciable that devotion becomes in your own life of discipleship.

Just being doctrinally orthodox is a pitiful standard of measurement as it pertains to being a follower of Jesus. One can impute an orthodox systematic theology into an iPad and lock it in forever, but although that makes the iPad doctrinally orthodox, it does not make it a faithful and broken follower of the Lord Jesus. It is almost effortless to allow the discernment of others, as well as doctrinal orthodoxy, to become the criteria for our own depth of devotion and discipleship. But it is not.

II Cor.10:12 - For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

Our standard is Christ. And although we are constrained to stand for truth and correct error, we are also called to be conformed to His image. That, my friends, is infinitely more difficult than pointing out errors in others. I do from time to time read articles and visit blogs which have some pertinent information about the growing doctrinal scandal in western evangelicalism, however I am often grieved by their tone and lack of any personal discernment. Everyone has struggles and everyone falls short. And without humility and brokenness we all are nothing more than caustic judges, regardless of how accurate our discernments are about others.

As was recently noted by one “admiring” commenter, I am “all over the map”. Guilty as charged. When I enter the realm of measuring truth, I often lose some of my grace. And when I put on the glasses of grace, I often am tempted to compromise. What am I saying? That being a disciple of Christ is not becoming entrenched in some doctrinal fortress and peeping over the trench to see what others are doing and saying. Pursuing Christ must be founded upon Scripture, but it is also a journey of the Spirit.

If there are not seasons of personal contrition and brokenness, then we have lost the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we can offer dry eyed evaluations of false teachers and their slide into apostasy, then we have lost the heart of the Great Shepherd. And if our primary evidence of being a believing follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is a statement of faith and doctrinal orthodoxy, then we are frauds.

A man points to a piece of ground and says to his friend, “Look at my wonderful tree!”.

The man’s friend looks around and says, “Where?”

Right here,” says the man as he again points.

I do not see a tree there,” his friend admits.

You see, the man was pointing to a very well established root system underneath the soil. That was the tree of which he was so proud. However, those roots never broke through the soil and grew and produced branches, leaves, and even fruit. You see, the man knew the root system was there but others could not see any real evidence of that tree. And so it is with some believers.

They have a very well established doctrinal root system, but sadly, that root system does not seem to produce leaves and fruit that would both substantiate the reality of their root system, as well as attract others who have no tree at all. To produce fruit a root system is absolutely necessary, however a root system itself must produce a trunk and branches and leaves for any fruit to come forth. The root system itself is not fruit.

An orthodox theology is not fruit, it is foundational. It can and should produce fruit, but it is not fruit in and of itself. The fruit that God is looking forth is not bound by ink upon paper. It is more than words, it is alive with actions that are self sacrificing, filled with unconditional love, and reach out to a fallen world of darkness. One time Jesus came across a fig tree which had produced no figs. It had a root system and a trunk and probably had some branches. But it had no fruit. Jesus cursed it and it died.

That is some serious stuff. Let us continue to look into the mirror much more than we look into a telescope.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Complaining About Money

There is very little that is more unchristian and more antithetical to the overarching teachings of Christ and the entire New Testament than a professing believer who complains about money. And in the west, many believers do not complain about not having food, clothing, or shelter. They complain about not having enough of all those things. It is unseemly and reduces the path of discipleship to a level consistent with those who do not believe. In short, everyone desires more money.

If you listen you will hear believers criticize President Obama and call him a “socialist”. And what they mean by that is that because of his policies they will lose more of their own money. Some of the same believers who loudly reject the health and wealth gospel are demonstrating the very same principles taught by the prosperity teachers who believe that God wants to financially prosper all His followers. Instead of trusting an all knowing Shepherd for their needs they trust in the chariots of political persuasions and the economic principles of fallen men.

Matt.6:28-34 - And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

What do these words mean? Nothing? How adept we are in manipulating the very teachings of Christ in order to blend in and even cooperate nicely with what we desire. Does that mean that everyone should be poor? No, but it does mean that in whatever state you find yourself should also find you dwelling in contentment. And yet believers by the millions complain and castigate the government (when it is one that they do not support) as if the government is our source.

I Tim.6:6-11 - But godliness with contentment is great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

And yet, in the very face of such teaching, the average western believer has succumbed to the hedonistic culture and seeks the same things as does the unbeliever, and complains just as loudly when even the smallest dent is put into his financial portfolio. We cannot serve money and God. But we have constructed a religious system that flows away from Christ and His teachings despite using and abusing His name clumsily attached to our ecclesiastical practices. It takes great spiritual hubris to proclaim that we believe the Bible while we overtly practice and desire things that are completely against the entire theme of that same Book.

But while the lifestyles of believers in the west move unremarkable within a culture of hedonism and religious diversity, it is in politics that this hedonism becomes most observable. Unabashedly and without any shame, believers will champion economic systems that they believe will financially benefit them. And either directly or by implication, they paint Almighty God as a capitalist who favors America. This of course is unbecoming of God’s church and is an horrific caricature of the Person of Jesus Christ.

This fallen culture and its lost inhabitants have gotten the impression that believers in Jesus are opinionated moralists who love capitalism and also believe that America belongs to the evangelical church. They see little humility or redemption, but they hear their sins loudly identified and very little about Jesus Himself. It is most unfortunate, and if you tune your ears to the Spirit you may well understand the depth of God’s heart, broken over His rebellious people.

What cannot satisfy, and what cannot fulfill, are the things believers complain and murmur about. My youngest son’s teacher at a Christian school would complain that because of the wretched economy he and his wife were forced to eat at Chili’s rather than the Outback. And he drove a Mercedes Benz! Would it not still be an unchristlike spectacle if believers complained when they had just barely enough to eat? Of course. But to listen to believers bellyache when they enjoy an abundance is the height of rebellion against God and manifests a profound state of unbelief in their Creator and Redeemer.

Let us rejoice in plenty and in famine. Let us be grateful in excess and in lack. Let us walk in praise when we are nourished and when we suffer. Let us be content in whatever state our God has chosen for us, and let us magnify the Lord always regardless of our earthly situation. Our lives are bound in heaven and our eternity is settled forever! What more could we ask for? Refrain your lips from complaining about anything, and refuse to get caught up with anything that goes against the nature of our Risen Christ!

Watch and pray.