Monday, December 31, 2012

A Lesson From Dogs


Dogs love unconditionally. They do not care if you are gay or straight; or if you are rich or poor; or if you have issues; or if you are black or white or red or yellow or mixed; they do not care if you are liberal or conservative, or Democrat or Republican; they do not care if you are having a bad day; dogs love without condition.

Come to think about it, Christians should be like dogs.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Can a Goat be a Sheep?


No human is God. None of us can identify who are goats and who are sheep with absolute certainty. “The Lord knows those who are His.” But throughout the New Testament God tells us about many character traits, beliefs, and the life changing effects of being born again into the kingdom of God. And to be sure God did not share those insights with us just for some benign information. In fact God also exhorts all of us to examine ourselves. But He also asks us to warn those who seem religious, or don’t even meet that criteria, and share with them the dire consequences of being religious but not being born again.

And there is a distinct phenomenon which occurs when the church itself becomes compromised by the world’s systems and slowly but surely it begins to wrest the standard from Scripture and move the parameters further and further away from God’s Word. Eventually people are received as true believers with very little if any genuine examination. And although we must avoid being seen as Pharisees, we still cannot shirk from our responsibility to speak what God says. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I hold God’s grace in high esteem, and I am far from being legalistic. But that cannot be used to deceive people by casting a nebulous blanket of redemption upon anyone who attends church or even has been made a member of a local church.

There is not one of God’s true children who are anywhere near perfect. The most pious and dedicated among us have observable feet of clay. In fact it has been my experience that the closer I draw to Christ and the more intimate my relationship with Him becomes, the more clearly I see just how far short I fall. It is quite a phenomenon. Although I can see Christ more clearly, and although the reward is just that in and of itself, one of the residual affects is that I can see myself as standing completely in grace and without one shred of holiness in and of myself. If anything is obvious to us who follow Jesus it is that. We are both children of the Most High God as well as miserable wretches. Another one of God’s glorious mysteries!

But we cannot just stand by and let millions of people be deceived. We must speak the truth in love with that dual emphasis. Evangelical church members throughout America believe they are assured a trip to heaven and yet show no heart for Christ and His Word. But since they attend a local church and since they may even support it financially, the so called shepherds are adverse to preach anything close to a convicting message. In many cases the preacher himself is walking in an elaborate ecclesiastical system and he bears little spiritual fruit as outlined by God’s Word. And so what we have is a self promoting system which captures unsuspecting sinners, teaches them a list of morals, demands they serve the local church structure, gets them baptized, and feeds them a few cardinal doctrines and we pronounce them saved and ready for heaven. And if by chance they should doubt that, we inundate them with assurance.

There. That is the state of the evangelical community in America. Yes, I purposely painted with a broad brush because I believe the situation is wide spread and has seeped into almost all corners and genres of evangelicalism. And when you do not see it you cannot fight against it. When you are presented with a false Christ construct, you falsely believe you are following Him. When you are exhorted to be a good citizen of America, you no longer strive to be a good citizen of heaven. And when the Word of God has been forced to bow to the word of man, then the church begins to walk a journey to nowhere, or more directly, a journey to itself.

And goats are invited to join that journey and they are called sheep. What a tragedy! What a horror! As if our pitiful missions efforts are not enough; as if our lack of Christ demonstrations are not enough; but now we must convince the unredeemed that are part of God’s redemptive family? What greater spiritual treason can there be? And Sunday after Sunday after Sunday the redundant mantras stream from articulate lips that seek to soothe consciences and draw other goats into there particular flock. The spectacle is wonderful to the flesh and most disturbing to the Spirit. Like an assembly line, the church has no passion for repentance, humility, and a genuine and self denying pursuit of Christ.

Millions of unregenerate sinners grace church pews every week and leave feeling good about themselves and good about the church and good about the preacher. Never in the history of the church has there been so many churches and so many members and so many buildings and so many bookstores and so many television programs and so many Bibles, but with so little impact. The evangelical church in America is so powerless that it cannot even elect who it desires, so what can it do in the Spirit? If the church doesn’t even have earthly power, do we really believe it has divine power? I don’t think we can even convince ourselves of that!

But dwelling in those many tens of thousands of chairs and pews are satisfied and well fed goats. They love the “how to” sermons which never mention Christ. They applaud the conservative politics spoken of by politically savvy goat shepherds. They enjoy wonderful and uplifting music. The fellowship is warm, the atmosphere is affirming, and the feeling of belonging blesses their lives. But yet they are lost. This is no trifle. This is life and death, eternity with Christ or eternity separated from Christ. But the church is consumed with the temporal and eternity is only a doctrine which finds no practical application.

The goats are offered spiritual security from the spiritually hollow. The entire atmosphere is designed to manipulate the senses and leave people feeling good. Altars filled with tears? People so under conviction that they cannot leave their seats? Shepherds so concerned for their hearers that they weep behind their pulpits? People openly repenting of secret sins? People arriving at the meeting having spent considerable time in prayer already? No, no. The redundant and predictable scenario marches on every week and every week all things remain the same. And yet no one even questions why?

Oh yes the Spirit can and does sometimes reach a lost sinner and lead him to faith in Christ. But that cannot excuse the spiritual condition of the church. Most churches now have slogans to aid in drawing people to their local fellowship. Most churches grow by either attracting and affirming goats, or by those who are already believers joining. And the criteria for most people for finding a church is the oratorical prowess of the preacher, the children’s program, the geographical location, the music program, the friendliness of the people, or even sometimes the building itself. Like walking through Rooms-to-Go and choosing a bedroom set, such are many people as they peruse the local evangelical landscape looking for a church will fit their needs and wants.

But lurking within these ecclesiastical walls are all kinds of people with all kinds of levels of spirituality including those who are not regenerate but assume a thin veneer of religion. And there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the church and the goats. The church lures the goats in with soothing and informational messages and many kinds of gimmicks, and when the goats come and join they affect and compromise the church even further. Even some committees are filled with people with very questionable spiritual lives. Money and social standing always play a part as well. And the entire system becomes an organized plant for capturing and processing people and arriving at the desired result - a functioning member of that local assembly.

And with that as the pursuit the western church has been more than successful. The church has bestowed upon people the moniker “Christian” with hardly any discernment or careful and loving discipleship. The entire church concept has morphed into a great machine which operates by the tools learned within the culture and an American competitive spirit which deems that more and bigger are better than less and smaller. And in order to achieve the desired ends, the facilities must be accommodating as well as alluring. Signs and slogans and literature and programs and advertisements and lighting and parking attendants and most everything that makes even a medium sized church a well oiled machine. There are many books that inform churches how to attract people.

And through that machine come goats, untouched, unruffled and received with only slight expectations of change which usually centers around a more pronounced participation in that machine. In essence, when a person embraces and participates within that machine not only is he looked upon as saved, but depending on the level of participation he may even be perceived as mature. And the spiritual condition, to say nothing of the spiritual quality, of church members is hardly questioned since doing so would require the same level of discernment toward the pastor.

This is a dangerous and eternally diabolical situation. How many church members are not born again? How many preachers are hirelings? How many churches are offering factories? How many church members go prayer less and without ever once witnessing for Jesus? I do not say these things from high atop a pinnacle myself. But how can we remain silent when precious souls are being deceived? They are not being led into Mormonism, or the Watchtower, or Christian Science, but let us be painfully frank. They are being led into a cult just as insidious as the ones we love to identify. And because these churches are considered mainstream, their deceptive practices can be even more subtle and eternally dangerous. It will only get worse as time goes on.

Let us examine ourselves, and then nurture and care for others without any earthly agenda.
Let us make disciples rather than church members.

The System of Man


Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.
But when the taxman comes to the door,
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale

They take a few hundred rich people, mostly white men, and they gather them together. They all take sides and reveal a literal disdain for each other. They are paid handsomely, they dine at the finest restaurants, they fly all over, and they enjoy much vacation time. They talk and talk and talk. And it is these people the country trusts to make decisions that will benefit us, the proletariat. And they spend and spend and spend and send people off to war and vote themselves raises whenever they can. The fringe benefits are incredible. There is always lying, manipulation, hatred, and much sexual immorality on the side.

Wrap it all up and they call that representative government, or democracy. But the only pure government is the one that is upon His shoulders. That government is on its way, but until then people will have to support which ever side suits them and deceive themselves into thinking human beings really do represent them. You will have to forgive me because I cannot bring myself to lend one ounce to that kind of system. I know too much about that system, and I know too much about God’s Word.

Jesus is Lord and there cannot be any vice-lords.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Wisdom and Warning of God


When Gen. Robert E. Lee approached Gettysburg and began to strategize that battle he was hindered in one very great way. The man assigned to provide intelligence had disappeared and Lee had to guess what the enemy was doing and where he was lining up his troops. Intelligence is primal in any battle, and the army which has the best intelligence has a significant advantage.

God has given us an advantage in this present world. We know who the enemy is and we are not ignorant of his devices. If we are willing to listen to God’s Word through the voice of the Spirit we will be prepared. And when we have the mind of Christ we know that we have not been given the spirit of fear. What will happen must happen, and God has told us what will happen. This entire world lies in the grip of the wicked one and in these end times he has unleashed his entire army of demonic forces.

Does that seem too much like Dungeons and Dragons for you? Does it sound like some kind of fairy tale or Greek myth? That is exactly what the enemy wants you to think. This is the war of all wars, and men’s souls hang in the balance. Melodramatic? Sensationalistic? Hyperbole? Oh no, regardless of what dramatic words any man can use they all fall embarrassingly short of the viciousness of this spiritual war. All of created history is driving toward a culmination which will astound the wise and bring to nothing the power of man.

The unseen boots march on. With a cunning honed from centuries these spirits of darkness have many ways to defeat and deceive the human race. They have infiltrated the church so that rare is the church that is even concerned about what is taking place, and even if that church mentions it, the lack of passion and crisis belies their words. If the church actually believed that Satan was using all his power to overrun the world right now would we not be gathering during the week in repentance and intercessory prayer? But our hearing is now dull and our eyes are now blind.

We have refused the divine intelligence given to us and we now use it for charts and graphs and to prove our orthodox eschatology. Who among us is diligently examining himself to see whether he is in fact in Christ? Who arrives at the Sunday gathering with tears streaming down his cheeks because some of those he loves are still outside the Ark? Who among is so consumed with the billions of lost souls around the world that he has lost the sense of hunger? Who among us so desires to be a part of the end times cause for Christ that he denies himself all kinds of luxuries or entertainment? And who among is so caught up with the coming glory of Christ’s appearance that he has lost all sense of desire for anything in this world? Our dry eyed and redundant religious expressions indict us before the world and our God.

The lethargy of the church, lip service notwithstanding, points accurately to only one thing. We no longer believe God and His Word. Instead we believe our cravings and lusts and the tepid and innocuous words that drip from the lips of hirelings. The stories, the jokes, the object lessons, the personal anecdotes, and all those carefully crafted messages soothe our flesh and provide contentment in the midst of a colossal tragedy. Of course there are times to laugh and times to teach, but where are the times to loudly sound the clarion call and warn sinners that the end is near and eternity looms large? In fact, do we even believe in eternity anymore? There is no sense of urgency and we are far from desperate.

Is this some kind of parallel universe in which we are living? Is it a fictional play we have constructed? Do we even hear what we say we believe? How can we chit-chat about how these could be the last days and go on about our business as usual? The Words of Scripture are ice breaker for religious conversations, but if we really believed them would we not have some sense of urgent compulsion? How can say we stand on the brink of eternity and yet love and embrace all that is temporal? Is it actually possible to know that your house is on fire and yet relax in your easy chair and watch the next television program? How can that be?

This is no game of pin the tail on the antichrist. This is the culmination of all things. We do not have the luxury that other generations thought they had, and in fact many who came before us were much more concerned even though Israel had not yet been reformed. What would they think of us now? But all this reveals the strength and depth of the demonic deception that has shrouded the church. Urgency? Please. Desperation? Even we cannot lie to ourselves. We are complacent and consumed with ourselves and this present world. It is quite a spectacle to listen to believers claim that the end is near and yet live as if there is no God. That is a colossal feat of hypocrisy that must amaze the angels.

It is time to awake and repent! Do not wait for the church to sound the alarm. Do not watch and see what others do. Look to Christ and open your hearts to the voice of the Spirit. Read again the precious Scriptures and receive them as transforming truths. Bring your mind and body under subjection to Christ and do not be afraid to appear as fanatical and out of touch with the evangelical mainstream. This is not a time for placidity or conservative perspectives. This is a time for bold personal changes which authenticate your commitment to Christ and His Word.

Stand back and watch how people come to church. Listen to what they speak about. Look around and see how they embrace the redundant and how everyone desires to be blessed but are content with a several sentence congregational prayer. Watch how they file out unchanged and unchallenged at all, only to return again next week in the same condition. And watch how the preacher seems ambivalent even in the face of such spiritual lethargy and such a mixed multitude. Notice the absence of tears or any sense of crisis. And then realize that you and I were once among them and walked in that same deception. Finney once remarked that when a preacher would deliver a message of warning and eternal consequences, and then smile and shake hands afterwards, it is as if he just played a part in a play and was receiving the congratulations of the audience. Today you may be hard pressed to hear such a message, but the smiling and hand shaking is now part and parcel of every service.

We live in dire circumstances. And listen to what concerns professing believers. The fiscal cliff? Gas prices? Gay marriage? Unemployment? Elections? But who calls another believer and breathlessly shares a concern for the coming judgment? Who weeps at all except when their dog dies? What kind of falsehood are we practicing? Brothers and sisters, the time is not coming; the time is now. Let us repent of our ways and turn wholly to Christ.

Eph.5: 14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

While we sleep walk in the temporal, the unseen world is teeming with spiritual activity. Our eyes and hearts are fixated on this world while the world to come will soon replace that which is seen. I realize it seems so melodramatic, but this reality must give way to the reality of eternity. The kingdoms of this world will soon become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. Words like this come from fools like me and the wise of this world mock such things.

But soon the very integrity of the Words of Christ will be revealed in a reality far more tangible that anything we have ever seen or experienced. When the true church is removed, and the events begin to tumble like so many dominos, the inhabitants of this world will experience fear and panic on a supernatural level. Men will beg for death and not find it. And then, at the very moment of complete chaos and comprehensive violence, Christ will appear. And it seems as if we will return with Him.

Oh my…oh my!!! I will return with Him whose face shines as the Sun itself? Redeemed and safely in His arms, we will come back to this world drenched in His everlasting glory. Yes it seems so unearthly and so mysterious and so beyond our imaginations, but so was the virgin birth and the cross and the resurrection. It is all too wonderful for human minds, much less human words. If you are reading this and you have never believed in Jesus, I exhort you, I beg you, consider His own claims. And if you do know Christ, I exhort you to reexamine your own spiritual walk, renounce this world and the hidden things of darkness, and prepare your heart and soul for His return.

Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

And His reward is with Him. Selah.

This is the wisdom (intelligence) that is from above. Do with it what you will.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy New Year


The strength of a thousand men can never compare with the strength of one desperate mother in Darfur who openly resists the dictates of bullets and deprives herself of the nutrition she needs to survive in order to desperately attempt to keep her infant alive. Her mission soars above the small minded rhetoric and the disgusting machinations that consistently take place within the “hallowed” walls of the congress. While congressmen dine sumptuously and engage in endless insanity, this mother gives what little life she still has in order to overcome insurmountable odds and save her child. While we live in Disneyland, she lives in death. Happy New Year.

Somewhere there is a gay man who hates himself. He cannot do enough drugs or drink enough alcohol to alleviate his self loathing and fear. He has been rejected by his family, his church, and he believes God hates him as well. Sometimes he cuts himself, but inside his head there are many different voices. He hears preachers rail against his kind, and without God, where does he go? He has even tried to suppress his attractions, but to no avail. He is depressed beyond words and his thoughts of suicide seem to compound daily. There is coming a day when that will seem like the only escape and he will embrace it as a gift. While we live in heterosexual heaven, he lives in homosexual death. Happy New Year.

In Anytown, USA there is a stripper. She does drugs and makes money lending out her body. When she was five her mother moved in with a man who began molesting her. She told her mother and her mother called her a liar. The weight of fear and guilt was overwhelming, and she began doing drugs. She moved in with the first man who would have her. She lives in a constant state of self loathing and deep depression. Without any skills she became a stripper. People protest outside her club and yell about sin. She wonders if Jesus was ever real, and if He is she knows He hates her. While we pursue the abundant life, she lives in a corpse. Happy New Year.

Here is a most successful man dying in his success. He has as much money as one could imagine, but all his money is useless to his spirit. It feels so hollow to him. He cannot understand what is happening. He has achieved what millions would want, and even those who profess religion seek what he has. His existence has become meaningless but he trudges on, hiding what has died within him. Material things have lost their luster, and the honor he receives from people has become an expected nuisance. Slowly he dies and dies and dies. While we call them God’s blessings, he knows them as the curse of death. Happy New Year.

She is a little Pakistani girl of eight years old. Her brother was killed last week by an American drone strike. She misses her brother terribly and she walks in mortal fear that the skies will reign death down upon her as well. She wonders why. Her parents, Muslims, have told her that people who believe in Jesus did this to her brother. She knows nothing about Jesus, but if that is what Jesus does, she hates Him. While we are inundated by all sorts of Christian literature and programs and elaborate music services, this little girl has no one to tell and show her who Jesus is. We worry about gas prices while she worries about falling death. Happy New Year.
She is approaching forty years old. Her husband left her for a younger woman last year, and she struggles to work and be both parents to her three girls. She has no money left over, and her husband has long since disappeared and sends no support. She attends the evangelical church down the street and prays continually that God would supply her family’s needs. Many months they run short. Her church is asking for pledges so they can build a new building. The pastor rides in a Mercedes and takes weeks long vacations with his family. The church borrows the money and makes monstrous monthly payments. The church rejoices in their new surroundings while she gives thanks for God supplying the monthly rent for the four of them. Happy New Year.

These scenarios could be duplicated many times over. They represent the poor and wretched among us. They represent the ones who Jesus sought. They represent those who we seldom consider. They are the sinful, the fallen, and the hurting. They are the fields to which we have been called. And if the church could ever extricate itself from itself these people might just see what they ultimately need. Jesus.

Happy New Year....

When Will We Believe in Jesus?


Professing believers are some of the most observable hypocrites in America. We have acquiesced to a fallen culture which is consumed with entertainment, ease of life, violence, and everything that pertains to money. Bigger is better and quantity is better than quality. And in the midst of a consumer driven culture the church has slowly but surely bought into it and now willingly participates with an unbridled effervescence. And please do not be deceived, when your heart has been given over to such things you cannot ,love and serve Jesus regardless of your doctrinal statement, your baptismal certificate, or even your profession of faith.

In truth your profession of faith must be presented on a daily basis, not just as an historical account. Spurgeon once said that it was dangerous to rely on your so called original profession of faith, but that we should always be turning from sin to Christ. How true that is, but how easy it is to rest upon an historical profession and thereby provide a place to be friends with the world. The church is filled with people who give lips serve to Jesus, and in fact the church is filled with people who do not give any lip service to Jesus. And with that kind of community of faith the church has genuinely become a scandal in the eyes of the lost and more importantly in the eyes of God.

The one fact that has led the church to this situation is that the church no longer actually knows who Jesus is. Yes, we have confined Him to a “ticket to heaven” status and with that we are satisfied. Once you are saved you no longer need to seek Him with all of your heart. Once you are saved everything else becomes an elective. You are done with the important part and now you can coast and audit the class called “Jesus”. Once you are saved you may concentrate upon you and your earthly life. You can now have all kinds of passions: sports, politics, success, fashion, entertainment, and almost anything else can be your core pursuit.

But reading and meditating on the Scriptures with an almost insatiable desire to know Him is really not necessary. A page from the Daily Bread devotional will suffice. Spending precious time alone in deep prayer is for monks, God wants to guide you to greater realms in the natural. And we have received what we desired, however let us not pretend it comes from God or that it in any way represents Christ and His teachings.

So when will the church once again believe in Jesus? It is so easy, self serving, and affirming to the flesh to post verses from the Psalms and other blessing verses while ignoring the self denying and cross bearing Scriptures. We love to quote how we will dwell under the shadow of His wings, but we do not often refer to the fellowship of His sufferings. We even love the Beatitudes but our focus is “Blessed” and what follows is an aside. Phrases like a “living sacrifice” or “forsake all” rarely make a cameo appearance, and when they do they have been whittled down to little more than a religious quote that enters our ears smoothly and arrives in our hearts without any real challenge.

Let’s face reality, in light of the Scriptures we so often claim are inspired and even inerrant, what is practiced toady bears little resemblance to their meaning, that is if they really are literal as we love to contend. Are we desperate enough to begin a new search for Jesus in our hearts and lives, the Jesus who reflects His own words? Or can we continue to summon the blatant hypocrisy which can easily reside in the redundant and innocuous demonstration exhibited by the western church? Have we traveled so deeply in deception that we can still live without an authentic pursuit of the Christ? Have we actually replaced the glory of the Risen Christ for an ecclesiastical construct which has been erected in the likeness of other earthly organizations?

But now let us turn our hearts inward and take a spiritual inventory of our own spiritual health and vitality. Many of us have left the organized church because it hinders our spiritual growth and it has become a compromised mess. Some still attempt to overcome what they see and remain somewhat attached. But in these last days we cannot depend upon the local church to lead and guide. Just the structure lends itself to the ways of the world. And even spiritual and sincere men have been corrupted by the insidious nature of the entire western structure. Fellowship with others has overtaken fellowship with Christ. But what about our own private fellowship with Christ? What about our own prayer life? What about our humility and our self denial and our sacrifice? Most of us have known Christ for some time now, so we cannot lie to each other. We are in a battle, and just pointing out the shortcomings and compromises in the visible church can never guarantee that we are pursuing Christ.

Everything in this temporal existence can easily become an enemy of our spiritual lives and they often do. We do not have the energy and relentless fortitude necessary to seek Christ with all our hearts. That must come from the Spirit as well. Turning over new leaves are temporary fixes, but we are in need of a much deeper resolve than that. And when we look inside our own hearts and seek out our own energies, we find we are wanting. Only God can grant us a supernatural will that sets our hearts like a flint toward His glory and His truth.

Shut the door and fall to your knees and as you begin to seek Him your mind offers thoughts that are temporal and distracting. You are bombarded from the outside with all kinds of earthly cares, and like Martha we are tempted to leave His feet and go help in the kitchen. The journey once begun in earnest is now abridged. This is a labor of love to be sure, but it is labor indeed. Doing spiritual business with Jesus Christ is not some easy pleasure cruise and it requires a cross upon which you must die. And although you will not be confronted with a real wooden cross, the spiritual cross will be extremely challenging and profoundly abhorrent to the flesh and all that we deem important in the temporal.

If we truly desire to worship Christ in doctrine alone than we have arrived. By if we desire to build upon that truth and seek a personal encounter with Jesus in the Spirit than that reward comes with a steep sacrifice. To renounce the flesh and all its desires is no small task. To even understand the craftiness and lusts of the flesh is a mighty undertaking that must be led by the Spirit. Paul says that in us dwells no good thing. Uncovering our fallen desires and removing our religious masks can be very painful and even surprising. That which we long ago thought was part of the kingdom of God is sometimes exposed as fraudulent and self serving. This kind of spiritual expedition shows only a few footprints, and many of those footprints stop before they reach the destination.

But as difficult and costly as that journey is, the rewards in the Spirit are unfathomable and miraculous.

Matt.13: 44 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
46 Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Sells all that he has? What kind of sacrifice is that? These two parables from the lips of our Lord not only reveal the intensity of the passion that seeks Christ, but more importantly it reveals the value and glory of the Person of Christ Jesus. And that can never be overstated or even fathomed. And that is what is ours if we desire it more than this life. Somewhere along the way we have lost the desire, to say nothing of the passion, to lay hold of Christ. He has been used politically, economically, nationally, and even ethnically, but those are only caricatures and not the Risen Christ Himself.

Contentment has become a deception. Doctrine has become a prison. Ceremony has replaced worship. Activity soothes the conscience. And a couple of hours on Sunday have become the core of our spiritual lives. But the treasure in that field, and that pearl of great price remain spiritual metaphors which are not received as spiritual challenges resulting in a sacrificial pursuit. Those men sold all to seek them while we believe they should bless us with more. The western church subtly teaches that the treasure and the pearl should seek us and our desires. That is not Christianity at all. That is humanism in a religious format. And that shames Christ, and that kind of thinking has spiritually decimated the western church. But again, what will God have of us? What are we willing to surrender in order to know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings so that we can be made conformable unto His death?

Or is it all so many words penned by unstable writers and scribes of days gone by? Are the words of Paul ethereal and airy, and more like fictional poetry than spiritual substance? If that is the extent of the truths revealed in Scripture, and if they are only as inspirational as the finest Hallmark Cards, then let us eat, drink, and be merry. But if they are tangible and eternal truths which when believed and pursued will lead to a deeper revelation of Jesus, and in fact a personal encounter with Christ, then what cost is too much? What sacrifice is too weighty? If it is Jesus whom we seek, than what price are we willing to pay? And more confronting, what sacrifice is He unworthy of?

This is not some monk retreating to the mountain top and spending his life engaging in some religious disciplines. This is the reality of walking in the Spirit in the midst of profound darkness. This is fellowshipping with Jesus Christ while all around you despise Him. This is the reward of the Spirit, unexplainable and miraculous, and while others seek God with an open hand you seek Him with an open heart. How many seek Christ for salvation and once they believe He has granted their request, they resume their selfish lives? How many genuflect to Christ in hopes of receiving eternal life and then walk away as if they had never met Him? How many have really met Him?

So when will we believe in Jesus? Not only in restricted doctrines and as a church membership requirement? When will we actually believe in the Jesus who lived and spoke and taught? And can we really believe in Him and not emulate Him? And can we emulate Him without knowing what He said and how He lived? And how can we know that with just a cursory and shallow knowledge of His narrative? When will we believe in Jesus?

When we cannot live one more day as we are.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who is Jesus and Who Are We? Who are We in Theology and in Practice? And Where Does that Path Lead in This World and in the World to Come?

What does God see? Does he see everything at every given moment? Oh yes, but even further God sees everything past, present, and future in one continuing intuitive glance. It is difficult to describe God is these human terms. In fact God does not really “know” which indicates a thinking process. God does not think, He knows, or more succinctly, God is knowledge. I know, we have waded in very deep waters.

But the point is that God is not sitting in America and looking out and seeing what is happening in the world. But so often the western evangelical church treats God like an honorary citizen of the United States, and although He cares about the world, His vantage point is somewhere in America. The Mormons have even taken it to another level suggesting the Garden of Eden was in Missouri and Jesus will come back to that same place. They even had to create a scenario where Jesus came to North America while He was on earth. That is how we have to make America so important top God.

But the truth is God is no respecter of persons, and God is not in any way an American nor dose He show the slightest favor toward America. And when people espouse a position where God favors America and even created it with His own hands, then immediately their view of Jesus suffers and the faith they espouse has been severely compromised. That phenomenon can be seen in the lives of millions of professing believers in America and in thousands of churches as well. Instead of wanderers and pilgrims whose home is in the heavens and whose very life is in Christ, we have become bound to this world and in particular this nation.

And nowhere is this more stark and crystallized than in how we assess the value of human life. It is quite a spectacle. Americans both subtly and overtly see American life as more valuable than any other life on the planet. We might expect that kind of evaluation from the American government, however it is rather disturbing when it emanates from the church and from professing believers. The church of Jesus Christ has become deeply Americanized and its members live, think, and act like Americans. Our minds have been altered to process everything through an American mindset and culture.

Just before Christmas 20 children were gunned down in Connecticut. It was a horror and it shocked the nation. All of us felt a pit in our stomachs. But allow me to expand our thought process for just a moment to include one of thousands of continuing events around the world that God knows about and cares about.

According to the latest UN reports, the United States carried out 447 drone attacks in 2012 in Afghanistan. And just in the two month period between Aug.1 and Oct.1 in 2012 at least 967 civilians were killed and 1590 others injured. Many of those killed were children. Correct me if I am wrong, but I did not hear about this with the same passion that we heard about the 20 children killed in Connecticut. Come to think about it, this is probably the first you have heard about it at all.

I use this to illustrate a greater principle. Americans care supremely about other Americans but the deaths of people elsewhere are sometimes little more than back page news items and benign statistics. And probably that is also the way other countries feel about their own. But other countries offered their condolences to America concerning the tragedy in Connecticut, but I heard nothing about the children killed in American drone attacks. You see, Afghan and Pakistani children deaths are unfortunate but necessary casualties, expendable because we are protecting American children. So in order to keep American children safe, other children must die. This is the way of the world and I get it.

But this is not the way of Jesus unless Jesus is helping to build and send and use these drones to bomb innocent children because He also desires to protect American children. And when an Afghan mother cradles her dead baby and weeps uncontrollably, Jesus must look the other way because He realizes the necessity of these deaths. And that is exactly what we are silently saying, but in order to protect our so called integrity we would never couch it in those terms. We desire to retain a form of compassion which ends at the triggering device in our bombs. When you actually think about it, it is all so insane and it reveals that the western church does not follow the Jesus of the Bible. We follow an American Jesus who lives and breaths the American way.

But that is not Jesus and is in fact a spirit of antichrist. And that false Jesus is what also ties together orthodox and liberal, Mormon and Baptist, McArthur and Bell, Sproul and Osteen, and this Jesus has created a religious mosh pit wherein almost every element which claims to be Christian can jump in and wallow. In fact, this pit welcomes all faiths if they claim to love America. Can there be anything more compromising? So Rob Bell questions the existence of hell and the evangelical church has a doctrinal tantrum, but that same church joins hands with the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and even the Jewish faith in an American cause?

But God processes world events equally and without nationality or ethnicity. While we make our interests front page, the divine editor knows no favoritism. When a child in Darfur dies at its mother’s shriveled breast, God sees that as equal to when an American child dies. God hears the grief stricken wails in Connecticut just as He hears the wails coming from Afghanistan. You see this business of nationalism is far more convoluted and diabolical than the church realizes. It has wounded the heart of the church and it has severely compromised our view of Jesus and our understanding of what it means to be His follower. Yes, in essence nationalism has created another faith and called it Christian.

The situation is that dire and the spiritual compromise cannot be overstated. And even our exposés of heretics have inadvertently served to shroud our own deep heresy. Yes, nationalism is a great heresy and cannot be summarily dismissed just because the doctrinal Bourgeoisie engage in it. This kind of divided loyalty seeps into the way we think about everything. And as I illustrated, that includes how we view human life. We are disturbed over American abortions, but we know very little about abortions in other countries. Why? Because killing American children takes precedence over other children. And even some children that are running and playing today in Afghanistan and Pakistan might have their bodies blown to bits next month by an indiscriminate drone attack. Do we plant crosses on our church lawns for them?

Make no mistake, though, liberals and conservatives and Republicans as well as Democrats give tacit approval of such a continuing narrative. And President Obama himself has overseen the increased drone activity. But I say this to point out that we should be different as followers of Christ. It is so easy to think the way the world thinks and the way our earthly peers think and in so doing we do not have the mind of Christ. Can we be followers of Jesus and not have His mind? What kind of spiritual insanity are we attempting to pawn off on the world? This counterfeit Jesus represents corporations, giant financial gains, murder, violent takeovers, sectarianism, capitalism, and the interests of western civilization? Which Jesus is this?

And the question arises, or at least should, who are we? Throw out the man made labels that are catch all phrases which offer no real specifics. The word “Christian” stands for almost nothing and even the word “evangelical” is a broad brush which covers a multitude of Biblical errors. Who are we in practice as well as theology, and who do we say we follow and obey and even emulate? We have yet to really have a penetrating debate with ourselves or with each other concerning the spiritual particulars which should accurately define a person who believes in his heart and follows in his life the Lord Jesus Christ. But that is THE debate which can alone separate the goats from the sheep and cast an indictment over the sheep at large.

I say let the debate begin and continue in very small venues like this obscure little blog. And as we approach this subject, let us not throw out the possibility that the entire western construct called Christianity must be discarded since it does not reflect either the person of Christ nor His teachings at all. And it is not enough to identify what is not of Jesus, but we also must diligently and uncomfortably pursue what is of Jesus. Then and only then can we have the confidence that we are following the true Christ, if that matters today at all. Stop, pray, and let these words consume your mind and heart and propel you into a realm of reassessment and change and repentance:

Who is Jesus in essence and in teaching.
Who are we in theology and in practice.
And just where does that path lead in this present world and in the world to come.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christianity - Doctrines Without Christ?


I do not have health insurance and I do have health issues. So from time to time I must go to one of those Doctor’s Walk-In deals. So I like to go very early for obvious reasons. This place opens at 8:00 AM so I got there at 7:30 AM and sat on the bench outside. A few minutes later a lady drove up with her husband in the passenger’s seat. She told her husband to stay in the car and she came and sat next to me. She was in her ‘70s.

We said hello and I mentioned that we were supposed to get rain. She agreed and said we needed it and God supplied it. I replied that yes, it rained on the just and the unjust. She asked me if I was part of the just. That opened a door for me to share Christ and she told me she was a believer and attended the Assembly of God church just down the street. I mentioned that perhaps we would not have to wait long for Jesus to come. She agreed, but here is where she revealed what millions of professing believers have living in their hearts and what thousands of churches feed them from the pulpit.

She said that the end would come quickly if Obama had his way. What?? Where did President Obama come into this conversation? I told her that President Obama was just a man and that the growing evil was because of spiritual wickedness in the unseen realm. And she replied that Obama was the king of those wicked spirits. Just then the clinic opened and we both walked in.

Now that kind of conversation is a replica of millions of conversations between believers. Some, if not most, are much more virulent and caustic as it pertains to President Obama. Yes, this lady was in her 70s but she is indicative of the spirit and attitude that now pervades the evangelical church. It is nothing less than hatred, pure and unvarnished. Dress it up in red, white, and blue, or hide it behind a convoluted righteous indignation, or contend you dislike socialism, or even suggest you are standing for truth, but regardless of how you present it, it is at odds with the gospel and the teachings of Jesus. Completely.

But this is what has happened to the western church. We have fallen in love with the Babylonian system and we have become accustomed to our hedonistic surroundings and with that we have turned our back on the teachings of the One we say we love and follow. And the political system has assimilated the church at large and now people who claim to be followers of Jesus can and do openly express hatred for men like President Obama, even to a stranger like me. I remember Franklin Graham on television referring to the President as “Obama” and after someone corrected him he said “President Obama” but you can be sure in the company of his own peers referring to the president as “Obama” is not only commonplace and used as a pejorative, but there are probably more labels that are much more demeaning.

This kind of rhetoric reveals not only a hatred for liberals and gays and the President, but it reveals a hatred for Jesus and His teachings. It is the language of darkness. You cannot serve Jesus and America. You cannot serve Jesus and conservatism. You cannot serve Jesus and hate sinners. You cannot serve Jesus and love money. We have lost the faith and now churches live and preach a diluted brand that is not only mangled by the culture but it is spiritually toxic. I say it again, Christianity as defined by believing in and following Jesus has become rare here in America.

It is baffling how we can get so deceived that we can no longer even read anymore. Just read the words in red and you have to see just how incongruous the practice of our faith is from that which was lived out and taught by our Master. Patriotism, nationalism, capitalism, and other philosophies have muscled out the faith that portends to follow Christ. And not only do people like the woman at the walk in clinic remain blind to it, but for the most part they practice it daily. And anyone who listens to men like Limbaugh and Hannity and Beck and agree with them is not walking in the Spirit but in the flesh. You cannot fill your spirit with hatred and falsehoods and then pretend to love and follow Jesus.

We have a handful of neatly crafted doctrines but void of Christ. Oh we may present our Trinitarian and virgin birth and Scriptural inspiration credentials, and we may even be clear about the exclusivity of Christ, but somewhere between those doctrines and our living revelations Christ has become lost. George Washington and Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich and even Mitt Romney have replaced Jesus. Do you thing that is hyperbole or an overstatement? I contend it is even much worse than that, and since we have completely lost the truth, we are blind to the depth of the deception.

Even men like Ravi Zacharius appear on Joyce Myers’ program and laud her with compliments about her teachings. Why? Because he also is imprisoned by nationalism and the ghost chasing of healing the morals of the culture. The evangelical world has absolutely lost its spiritual mind. And woven into this deception is a type of Christianity that can literally practice things completely at odds with the teachings of Jesus and yet claim to be “orthodox”. Our hollow doctrines have become our idols.

Following Jesus within a fallen culture is not easy, but we have made it quite convenient. We are allowed to have a critical spirit and criticize lost sinners. We are allowed to collect sums of money to one day lavish upon ourselves. We are allowed to offer poor excuses for a prayer life. We are allowed to seek out worldly entertainments. We are allowed to visit great monuments erected to men. We are allowed to hate and despise. We are allowed to complain about the cost of living while others starve. And all this under the banner of following Jesus. But we are only fooling ourselves.

Christianity without Christ is paganism. We can still have our baptisms, our communion, our Sunday gatherings, and even our Bible readings, but without sincerely following His teachings we are just following ourselves, and that is paganism. Or as I might define it - Pagianity.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Racism - The Shame of the Church


I grew up in the 1960s. I was not a believer. But I remember great strides in the culture as it pertained to prejudice and race. I never heard one single word of prejudice in my home. Perhaps it was because my mother was a thespian and had rubbed shoulders with black actors. I once asked my parents if they would object to me marrying a black woman and my mother said absolutely no, she would not object. However when pressed my father just said, “Stick with your own kind”. That was the extent of our discussion on race.

I attended a high school that was 99% white, but one of the two black students was a friend of mine. But here is what I have seen over my sixty years on this earth. It wasn’t the church which helped bring healing between the races, especially not the predominately white church. It was the secular music genre as well as professional sports. Yes, the secular arena helped push forward race relations. I loved Motown music. Michael Jackson was my brother’s favorite singer back in the 1960s. And we all loved Willie Mays, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a long list of black athletes. Every Christmas, my mother who was not an evangelical, would call a pastor of a black church and ask him for the individual names of a black family who would not have a Christmas this year. We would all help buying and wrapping and delivering the gifts to that church with all the appropriate age and genders. I never knew real racism as a child.

But where was the church in all of this? Much of the white evangelical church absolutely hated Dr. King and all he stood for. And the church in the south proliferated prejudice and segregation and even used the Bible to substantiate their racism. Instead of being Jesus to a divided nation the church in many ways became a stumbling block. As we look back, it was a disgrace.

What should be very easy to see from Scripture and from the life of Jesus seems to be difficult in many evangelical circles. I mean really, racism? Do you want a litmus test to see if you have any prejudice in your heart? Could you rejoice if your white Christian daughter married a black Christian man? Is there any hesitancy within you? If so, than there are traces of racism. Please do not hide behind the “They will have trouble in society” because that dog will not hunt anymore. And since when did the racism in the culture take precedence over the Lordship of Jesus?

A couple came to me once in one of my pastorates. He was black and she was white and Latin. They had been living together and yet they had both made professions of faith many months ago. They had children together and they had been coming to the church for well over a year. I did not know they were living together however what was I to do anyway. They desired to get married and baptized as well. I planned the event several Sunday’s in the future and advertised it in the bulletin. That Sunday came and I preached on the color blind redemption of Jesus. After the service I invited the congregation to stay for the ceremony and some refreshments. The majority stayed, but two elders would not stay. They disagreed with mixed marriages.

That was in the 1980’s. Can you imagine such a thing, and do you believe that does not exist anymore? And given the circumstances and caustic verbiage this past election, are you still blind to the overt and latent racism that still exists in the church? Are there any jokes still told with racial undertones? Do white parents watch their daughters very carefully in a mixed youth group? How many black ministers pastor white churches? In fact, why are there black and white churches? And of course I realize that racism exists in black churches as well, but as a white man I am very comfortable correcting white believers.

So let us not be liars and say there is no racism in the evangelical church. There is. And millions say that they “strongly” oppose President Obama because he is a socialist and not because he is black. Some of that may be true, but they are still blind to the latent racism that still remains in many hearts. And the socialism thing just reveals the level of fondness the church has for money and the callousness we exhibit toward the poor. But I contend without doubt that if Barak Obama was white and named Charlie Anderson, and if his policies were the same as President Obama’s, that the depth of hatred and dismissal would not be nearly as severe. The jokes would have to be different. Of course believers would still listen to enemies of Christ on the radio which would still reveal their hedonistic tendencies as well as their spiritual dearth.

But the church’s overall track record on race has been abysmal. And now new “enemies” have arisen. Latinos and Muslims have now overtaken the blacks. What will be the history of the church concerning those classes in the years to come? With the gospel at stake, and the love of God on trial, will the church once again resist the Spirit and worship at George Washington’s feet instead of the feet that are nail scarred? And allow me to throw a major hand grenade into the well fortified bunker known as the evangelical church in America. How will we treat the gay community in the years ahead? Apples and oranges, you say? Perhaps, but the gospel is for both the apples and the oranges. In fact, the love of God through Jesus Christ desires to reach the most rancid and rotten fruit among us. You see, I was some real rotten fruit when Christ reached me.

But I had an advantage. I was white and heterosexual and therefore embraced as a legitimate sinner by the church. As followers of Jesus we should be doing much better.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Serious Discussion About Salvation


II Cor.13: 4 For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.
5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

In March of 1975 I climbed the face of Garrett Mountain in Wayne, New Jersey at night. God had been dealing with me, but as of yet I still had not fully surrendered to the drawing of the Spirit. I was still in the curiosity stage, although I was very curious. Sitting on that mountain and gazing at the Manhattan skyline on a crystal clear and cold night, I again asked God some questions. Yes, I spoke out loud as if I was speaking to Him directly. To me, the whole thing hinged upon Jesus. If Jesus was indeed real, and if He was who He Himself had claimed to be, then nothing else really mattered. If that one fact could be established, then everything else would take care of itself.

On that night, somehow the Spirit of God revealed to me in a way that was more penetrating and real than audible words that Jesus was the Son of God and that by faith in Him alone could I receive eternal life. And I came to faith that night. I climbed up the mountain a lost seeker and I climbed down a saved sinner. Yes, I would never be the same. I could hardly sleep, and in the morning as I left for work I drove up into the park at the top of Garret Mountain and for the first time I not only met Jesus, I met my Savior. I can still remember those former days when I was first illuminated. Everything was different. Everything.

Now I realize everyone’s salvation experience is different than mine. There are different circumstances, and different time frames, and different locations as well. But there must be one thing in common. In order to be saved and become a follower of Jesus, you must be born again. This is the one common and immutable thread which runs through every legitimate salvation experience. Regardless of the particulars of your experience, if you are not born again, your experience was only that, an experience. And just as when Jesus said those words to Nicodemus, people today do not realize what they mean or their significance. In fact, the church at large hardly ever refers to them.

But therein lies the eternal line of demarcation. With all the talk of guns and violence and abortion and marriage, it all pales in comparison to the discussion about being born again. A person can espouse and even vehemently defend all these moral and social issues, but if that person is not born again he will never have eternal life. He will inherit eternal death. That fact alone should reveal in no uncertain terms the importance of being born again and the dire consequences of being moral and religious but not being born again by the Spirit of God.

Issues cannot save; being conservative will not save; feeding the poor will not save; being pro-life will not save; espousing traditional marriage will not save; being baptized will not save; being an active church member will not save; and being a good and caring person will not and cannot save. Only true faith in Jesus Christ can save. And that is the one issue that Satan has fought against most. If the evil one cannot get you to neglect or ignore your eternity, then he will get you to believe a lie. Many have erroneously placed their faith on other things and in so doing they are religious without question, and they even claim the moniker “Christian”, but they have never been born again. They are helping Martha in the kitchen but they have never truly met Jesus.

That is the pinnacle of spiritual discussion. Throw out the founding fathers or the moral crusades or the doctrinal battles. Who do you say Jesus is, and has that confession ever become a miracle in your life? Have you been translated from darkness to light, and if so, when? How can a lost sinner walking in chains of darkness be set free and walk into the glorious light of Jesus Christ and His kingdom and not know when that took place? I suggest that is preposterous. I realize, as my children did, that many make a profession of faith as children. But I also suggest that when that happens there will be a substantiating epiphany later that brings to life that profession and reveals its authenticity. If you are born again by the Spirit, your revelation of Jesus will not only be glorious beyond the natural, but it will be profoundly personal. And you will thirst to know more of Him.

And that is a curious and troubling issue. In today’s evangelical community millions of bone fide church members do not seek Christ and show no discontent about their lethargic spiritual condition. Yes they show interest in religious activity and political issues that seem religious. Yes they are active in their local church and support it financially. Yes they have been baptized and give lip service to church doctrine. But they show no compulsion to learn of Jesus through deep prayer, personal contrition, uncomfortable humility, and seeking Christ has never been a driving force in their lives. And the ultimate question is “Why not?”

In the movie “Star Trek Generations” some people get caught in what they call a “nexus”. It was a place of utter ecstasy which seemingly cannot be duplicated. But they are released from this place, and have returned to a normal environment. But they can never forget. In fact, they would return if given half the chance. And one man commits his entire life just to return to that place. He is obsessed to say the least. But let me ask ourselves this question: If we indeed have met Jesus, how can we be so ambivalent about meeting with Him again and seeking to know and experience Him deeper and with more fullness? How can anyone who has met the Risen Christ go on with their lives and live them in such a way that they bear little difference with those who never claim to know or care about knowing Jesus? How can a person who says they have been born again live contented with a life that has no thirst for Jesus?

There is a disturbing and awful answer for those questions. And when I think about the implications of those questions I shudder. Can it be that millions upon millions of people who say they are on their way to heaven are in reality not headed there at all? I do not profess to know who is or who is not born again, but I do know what the Scriptures teach. And I do know that when I have been cold toward Christ I know it. And I do know that before I met Jesus I was lost and walked in darkness, and that after I believed my mind, heart, and life changed. And like the blind man I do not have all the answers, but I do that once I was blind but now I see!

But there is a glory and a revelation that cannot be known apart from being born again. In fact, Jesus cannot be known without this new birth. You can know about Him and you can even defend Him, but you cannot know Him unless you have been born again. Without the transforming and illuminating power of the Spirit no one can know Jesus. It is freedom that allows the soul to breathe and sets the captive free. Before being born again, we do not even realize we live in captivity. Walking as prisoners we think we are free. But when the Spirit opens those prison doors, and when we have been transformed by that power, and when we look into the face of the Redeemer for the first time, we are changed forever.

Still imperfect? Oh yes. Do we still sin? Of course. Make mistakes? To be sure. But we have fallen upon the Rock and we have been crushed by the weight of its holiness, and in a miracle of eternal proportions, that holiness has been given to us as a gift of grace. Oh my, how can such a thing be? How can the unholy become holy? How can the profane be a partaker of that which is sacred? How can evil be consumed in good? How can God’s enemy become God’s child? The answer is and always has been, “You must be born again”.

And we who have been born again and know the Lord Jesus Christ must walk in wisdom toward those who are outside of Christ. That means most arguments with unbelievers are not only pointless, but they do harm to the gospel. God did not argue you into faith. He wooed you through the Spirit and He may have used human instruments to accomplish His mission. Let us be those human instruments. The debate rages around the nation and even in pulpits. Choose the issue and you can find a forum for discussion. Some are light while others are vicious. But while we may take a stand on some issues, we must never be distracted from our ultimate and singular mission. We are servants of Christ, and we have been sent in the likeness of our Master who came to seek and save that which was lost. We cannot do the saving, but we can bear witness of Him who alone can. Salvation has been kicked aside and has been made subservient to any number of issues. But one day eternity will reveal that most were fool’s errands and did nothing to promote the kingdom of God.

And in my theology, souls that might have been reached were not. And some western sinners were deceived into believing that morality, patriotism, and a form of Christianity was enough to secure heaven for them. It is not, nor will it ever be. This is not some pragmatic approach to make men moral. This is not a religious system wherein sinners can be made more acceptable within the culture. This is not the utensils of earthenware which helps serve sinners with the temporal.

This is the finest china of the eternal covenant. This is the invisible workings of Him from whose face the universe fled. This is the glory of the only Begotten. This is the ministry of the Paraclete, the everlasting Spirit of Holiness. God is not searching for more religion; He is now searching for a bride to be betrothed to His Only Begotten Son. Away with all these practical “how to’s” and success oriented falsehoods which bear Him in name only but not in Truth. When a soul is born again, and when that souls is whisked out of the darkness and ushered into the light, it is the miracle of miracles.

But it was not done through might or power as men would define such. Cast your eyes and hearts back and see a little hill just outside of the City of Peace. Look around at all the blood and gore. Gasp at the horror of the wounds. Smell the sweat, smell the death. See the pain; hear the pain. Allow your entire being to be enveloped in the scene and in the event itself. God is dying; God has died. Now are you willing to believe and fall in worship in front of that dying frame? Are you willing to see Him as God and you as His sufferings? If so, and if you are willing to leave that which is behind and surrender to whatever He desires and wherever He leads, then you are born again. But if you have your own agenda then you are still in love with yourself and not Him. And in that condition you still stand condemned and you have only been born once.

That is as serious as it gets.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The World's System


We call them successful and prosperous,
but God calls them poor.

The Gospel and Works


There is only one way to receive forgiveness of sins and that is by faith in Jesus and His finished work of redemption. His resurrection to be sure substantiated it all, but the cross was the culmination of all the shadows, types, forerunners, and prophecies. Nothing can be added and nothing can be taken from that glorious sacrifice. That alone is life.

But without an engine there is no car, and without a head there is no body. So the gospel message has at its core the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all. Upon that Rock there can be no dispute. But is an engine a car? Is just a head a body? And is the gospel message a stark doctrine of spiritual redemption but without any accoutrements that help present it and influence men? Or is it built upon the Chief Cornerstone and uses the sacrificial works of men to shine an eternal illumination upon the work of Jesus?

I am asking an important question. Are there things about the teachings of Jesus which have to do with our lives that should be tethered to the message of the gospel? No, not do they aid in redemption, but do they provide salt and light that when seen before men can and do help in drawing men to Jesus Christ. I suggests that if the answer is no, then our lives are little more than corpses waiting in sarcophaguses for heaven and without much good on this earth. But if there is a mystery, a ministry of the Spirit which empowers and directs the followers of Jesus, then it is imperative for us to establish what they are and do them.

And when we examine His teachings we find all kinds of exhortations which display His Person and the essence of redemption. And since the gospel pulsates with eternal redemption, any earthly works that reflect that redemption must be in and of themselves redemptive. In practical verbiage, our lives must be beacons of God’s love expressed by how we treat and minister to each other as well as those outside of Christ. And even though the gospel message can only be engaged through personal faith, are not the teachings of Jesus part of that gospel, at least woven into its fabric? In essence, the church preaches a message of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ, but it also lives that gospel through deeds that reveal the redemptive heart of God.

This symbiotic relationship between faith and works has been systematically compromised because of doctrinal fear and yet the very Bible that is so openly defended indicts this kind of unnatural and synthetic separation. For so long the message of James has made the doctrinal bourgeoisie very uncomfortable and over the years I have watched as various forms of linguistic gymnastics have been employed in order to explain James without wandering into sacred doctrinal territory. But if we embrace the teachings of Jesus as more than good manners or humanitarian suggestions, then we may be able to see something very practical and glorious. We may be able to see a divine relationship between the gospel message and the ministry to fellow human beings. This relationship is nothing short of breathtaking as well as a glorious mystery.

No one can be saved through human works. Regardless of how many poor you feed, or how many sick you heal, or how many prisoners you visit, only the blood of Jesus can forgive sins. And that must come through faith alone. What a work of grace! What a glorious offer from God’s very heart of love! It is the gift of all gifts, and it is eternal in the heavens. But Jesus clearly outlined a kingdom which not only walked in the power of that message, but exhibited living acts which came from that kingdom and which, when translated through the ministry of the Spirit, could capture the hearts of sinners who do not know Jesus. This entire “process”, if you will, is a great mystery and it was meant to be. Lest the church make the regeneration of lost sinners something that can be achieved through a manipulative and pragmatic approach.

But so many churches have cleverly designed evangelism tools which employ sales techniques that “guide” a person into buying what we are selling. And so we have a sort of assembly line kind of discipleship which can take a sinner from point A and lead him to point Z, all with a “trained” leader. And “poof”, we now have a church member. But do we have a born again believer? His life may now include going to a church and even being involved in some of the ecclesiastical activities, but has he been born again? You see, the church has removed the heart of Jesus’ teachings and replaced them with subtle ways to achieve what we desire. And when this kind of practice becomes widespread, then our churches are filled with religious and moral folk who are being told over and over again that they need not worry about heaven for they are going there.

There is an eternal difference between going to church and being a member, and being born again by the Spirit of God. And if you really do not understand that, then you are not born again. In 1975 when I became a believer I had never heard the phrase “born again”, but when I read those words after I was saved, I knew exactly what Jesus meant. Why? Because I had been born again, and when my experience met God’s truth, it was a match. I did not have to make God’s truth bend to my experience, but the work that the Spirit had done in me was obviously done by the power of God’s eternal truth.

So many of the teachings of Jesus are humanitarian in nature. And His teachings on nonviolence are radical and genuinely illogical when processed through the prism of the culture and the world large. But again, the church has been so uncomfortable with the implications of many of His teachings when received as literal, that alterations were necessary if we were to operate and live within the culture without being seen as fools. His teachings so stretched the parameters of reason that they have been diluted and are now little more than suggestions concerning situational ethics and making sure we include helping the poor in a way which requires no sacrifice. The uncontested volume of our lives is consumed with ourselves and the things of this world, and there can be nothing more at odds with what Jesus lived and taught.

I am suggesting, I am challenging all of us to read through the four gospels in a matter of a few days. And as you read invite the Spirit to reveal not only new truths, but an entire new revelation concerning what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Most church members have never read the four gospels, much less set out to seek the heart of God through them. They are content to hear a well crafted Sunday message and with that sustain their souls. But in fact many times what they hear poisons their souls and reinforces their current lifestyles bound by the interests of self and the pleasures of this present world. And through the western ecclesiastical world the gospel has been deprived of the Spirit’s life and has become a ticket to heaven and a power point on a church member’s resumé.

So after you are born again, what does the gospel require of us? Just our entire lives.
Lk.14: 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
 29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yes, The World Continues


The Process Called Faith


How do people arrive at a system of belief, and what ingredients are necessary for people to believe something? God does not hog tie a sinner and make him believe anything, regardless of some doctrines that suggest such a thing. There is always a process which has two immutable elements which are the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. We will expand on that later, but those ingredients are indispensable in leading a sinner to faith in Jesus Christ. And there are also some ingredients which are used that vary, but the challenge is always not to make other ingredients overwhelm and obscure the Word and the Spirit and thereby run the risk of eliciting faith in them and not faith in Christ.

God uses sermons and preachers and life experiences and testimonies and tragedies and many other things and events as limited aids for the Holy Spirit to use in drawing sinners to Christ. But if the person and work of Jesus Christ becomes less than the focal point then the message risks becoming manipulative rather than an instrument used by the Spirit. In this modern age many churches have been extremely successful at using images and theatrics and presenting all kinds of earthly promises in order to draw people. But in so doing many have draw people to certain preachers and certain churches and certain movements and not to Christ.

Many churches design their services to have a feel of excitement in order to make the people feel energized when they leave, and in so doing they have been very successful. The professionalism and the sensationalism that many churches employ in constructing a service is nothing less than breathtaking. Excellent music with its volume ebbs and flows; creative lighting; skilled worship leaders; screen images; all work together to form an atmosphere that invites excitement, drama, and all kinds of emotions. It is true that emotions are used of God, but when emotions are the goal and when emotions overwhelm truth, then they are detrimental to the ministry of the Spirit. And the underlying principle is this: That the environment in which we subject ourselves to influences the way we process truth. Whether we intentionally place ourselves in that environment, or whether the environment happens unintentionally, we still are influenced.

And let us delve a little further into that principle. The only way any of us can process truth accurately is through the prism of God’s Word and with the ministry of God’s Spirit. That means that all outside influences are more often than not contrary to God’s truth. So if we spend hours listening to or watching things that are at odds with God’s truth, we are influenced on some level by them. What we hear and what we see enters into the thought/heart process even though it may be clandestine. But I also contend that certain elements also enter in such as length of time and whether we choose or do not choose to listen and watch. What we willingly subject ourselves to has a little more of an impact than what targets us without our permission. But both venues impact us.

And the conclusion is this: The media has had a profoundly detrimental effect on all of us who say we desire to follow the teachings of Jesus. In fact, the media and the secular culture has so influenced the church that many churches are detrimental to the spiritual growth of believers. A poisoned tree offers poisoned fruit. The reading and meditating upon God’s Word has substantially given way to the consumption of whatever the media is offering to us. That in and of itself should expose what has happened and what continues to happen to the truth of God’s Word as it is processed through our hearts and lives. The outside influences have been given unrestricted access to our thoughts and lives with only pornography as a limit, and sometimes not even that.

A little rudder can change the course of a large ship. And when we spend most of our time working for the temporal and listening and watching that which is temporal, then eventually our hearts and lives are bound by the temporal. And God’s Word becomes good suggestions and sentimental anecdotes when served in the temporal and not the surpassing glory of the Eternal Christ. We cannot serve two masters. Regardless of our doctrinal statements, what we truly believe will manifest itself in our lips and lives. And when our hearts and lips agree with the fallen media, regardless of how “conservative” they may be by earthly definitions, then alarm bells should be going off in our hearts.

And lest we forget, the fallen media is always the enemy of Christ even when they espouse certain moral positions, or fight for observing Christmas, or defend the concept of religion. That is a smoke screen designed to camouflage the enemy’s true intentions. What seems right unto men are the ways of death. As soon as we step into the kingdom of darkness, what seems good is really evil and what seems right is actually wrong. If we take truth and mix it with self righteousness and covetousness, and when we present truth without the gospel and the exclusivity of Christ, then we have abandoned truth and it all becomes a free for all with the interests of man as its pursuit and not the interests of God.

There is a truth which is the gateway to pursue and find all truth. We as believers in Jesus must pursue truth through His Person and through the ministry of the Spirit who came to speak of Jesus. When we squabble about issues without having Jesus at the center then we present a car without a motor and a body without a head. And it is very easy to get entangled with the affairs of men and leave the essence of the everlasting gospel. And it is almost impossible to see and believe God’s Word clearly when our eyes and ears are overburdened with processing the things and thoughts of this fallen world. Just the invention of television has seriously compromised the church’s view of Christ’s teaching and now has the visible church in a life threatening condition.

And most of the situation we find ourselves in today is the result of the continuous bombardment of the fallen media venues. But it isn’t just the pro-choice or pro-gay outlets, it is also the pro-life and pro-traditional marriage outlets as well. That which is morally correct but without Christ is still death although it presents a more clever approach. If we as believers ever hope to draw closer to our Redeemer and His will, we are going to have to sacrifice some things. We will have to deny ourselves some entertainment luxuries and some mindless media outlets and replace them with broken times of seeking Christ. This is no easy task since we are way past the curiosity phase and now are addicted.

There is only one pathway to faith and that is lined with God’s Word and the ministry of Gods Spirit. And surprisingly enough, you can espouse an orthodox theology while still exhibiting traits that are completely in the fallen realm and even opposed to the teachings of Jesus. Let us take inventory of ourselves. Do we spend sacrificial time seeking Christ and His truth? Is that what consumes our thoughts and our hearts? But it will take more than some convenient honesty to face the reality of our won spiritual situation. And it will also take a penetrating and all consuming devotion which leaves behind our pretend devotion which is so defined by peer comparison.

This journey will necessitate repentance as a process, which when implemented over time, will see the stone rolled back and the Risen Christ in all His glory come forth in and through our lives. Until then we can present our baptismal certificate and our church membership as infallible proofs of His resurrection.