Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Shift from Doing to Doctrine


It is very easy to endorse a doctrine which supports a literal interpretation of Scripture. It is quite another thing to live a literal interpretation of Scripture. Believe me when I say they are light years apart. And as is man’s usual choice he takes the easier of the two. After the Industrial Revolution took place from the late 1700s to the early 1800s the literacy rate took a quantum leap. Libraries sprung up; common people could buy books; school taught more and more children; newspapers were birthed. All in all the general masses of people began to read.

And it was also in that time where the living standard began to rise. People could now own some modern conveniences. And an entrepreneurial spirit swept over America. Soon the common man would have running water and electricity and mass transit and later a car and a television. The entire national psyche was transformed and people became mesmerized by things and entertainment and the satisfaction of ownership and wealth. It was a seismic shift which had an enormous impact upon the culture, and the effect of that shift impacted the church as well.

Little by little the Christian faith became a set of doctrines at the expense of a life that follows Jesus and His teachings. The church now defended the faith through written doctrines and not through the unmistakable revelation of a life which is remarkable and conspicuous within a fallen culture. Doctrines were now not just foundational and important. They now were the faith itself. And therein lies a very subtle but very explosive shift. And that shift made room for all kinds of compromises within the church and the lives of professing believers.

Over the years the church has identified certain sins which are practiced within the culture. Sins like adultery and homosexuality and drugs and drunkenness and perversion and other sins were culled out, identified, and set up as targets. But while the church was pontificating about those sins a torrent of other sins came rushing into the church. And many of those sins walked into our lives because we did not see other elements of the culture as sinful and at odds with the teachings of Jesus. There are any number of sins which are related to money which the church embraces and even suggests they are God’s blessings. There are sins of self righteousness which are hidden within American politics and nationalism. But because the church considers itself patriotic it is blind to those sins.

And armed with a sound doctrine the church can practice a bastardized version of the faith. As long as you profess your belief in the Trinity and the virgin birth and salvation by grace through faith and even the inerrancy of Scripture you are a true follower of Jesus. And yet that is not what the New Testament teaches, and that is surely not what Jesus taught. After a person is born again by grace through faith in Christ the path to discipleship is much more than learning doctrines. And even though there are foundational doctrines of the faith they are not what discipleship is all about. There are some obvious indications that the evangelical church has succumbed to the dictates and practices of the world.

Preachers of the gospel were never meant to acquire wealth. Money always corrupts and consumed much space within our hearts and minds. Even the Tribe of Levi were not given land because the Lord was to be their inheritance. But look around today. I do not just mean the prosperity hucksters, but even famous orthodox men have become wealthy. They do not have to depend upon their “daily bread: since they have great sums stored up. Most, if not all, preachers who have written books and have large churches are wealthy man even if they are considered “orthodox”. In fact, as the church grows their salary package grows. And where did the church learn to adjust salaries upward in connect with numbers?

The world.

And given that sad state of affairs the church must rest fully upon her doctrines because her life practices are fully aligned with those of the world. Now let us hear the words from our Savior’s lips:

Matt.25: 31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Think about what Jesus is saying here. He is referring to last division between true believers and those who do not know Christ. And nowhere is there a hint of doctrine unless you believe that feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting those who waste in prison are doctrines of the faith. And to be sure they truly are. Now why are not these activities included in the “orthodox” list? Are we to conclude that nodding in agreement with the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture are pillars of the faith but ministering to fallen mankind in Jesus’ name are optional?

But Jesus seems to divide the sheep from the goats based upon these humanitarian deeds. I wonder how often we meditate upon the implications of such a teaching. And yet we say we believe the Scriptures are literal? This cuts to the very core of the essence of the faith which believes in and follows Jesus. Much of the orthodox world has made idols of their doctrines and lean fully upon them to prove their authenticity as a true disciple. And yet that flies in the face of the overwhelming content of the teachings of Jesus. It does not mean we saved by doing good works, however it does define the path to discipleship in stark contrast to just a list of carefully chosen cardinal doctrines.

The carnal heart of man can use some truths to provide a shield for his disobedience to others. And through the years in parts of the world that are well educated and “blessed” with material goods the church has paraded their doctrines as proof of their status as a disciple and defender of the faith while most, and I mean most, of Jesus’ teachings serve as fringe issues. That seems so unbelievable if you think about it.

But lest you misunderstand, at the core of our Christian life is the cross. And it is that very cross which motivates and empowers us to serve others. You see the cross is a truth and an event, but it is also the power of God. It isn’t a display in the doctrinal museum. It is life and life eternal. But when a sinner receives that life he desires to reflect that life through avenues of service while he is in this world. The cross was never meant to be a sign made by hands, or a piece of jewelry, or an element of doctrine frozen upon a page. It is the spiritual power of the universe which saves a soul and transforms a life from selfishness to selflessness.

So in light of all these truths and more how can we display lifeless doctrines as proof of our discipleship? In fact when you mention making a disciple of a new convert it almost always means teaching him the Word especially in the doctrinal vein. It seldom means to show him how to feed the hungry or clothe the naked or visit the prisoner. This has become a great sin in the church and a large stream for self righteousness. It has revolutionized the faith and created a man made clique called orthodoxy which is overwhelmingly doctrinal but absent scores of teachings from the lips of our Lord.

Over the last one hundred or so years following Jesus has shifted from a lifestyle into a doctrinal test.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Pedantic Journey?


There is such a thing as wresting and distorting the Scriptures. And there is such a thing as being true to the Scriptures. There are foundational truths which are non-negotiable. That is a spiritual reality. But do not be deceived. When we stand upon God's Word and truly embrace those foundational truths, the evil one does not just throw up his hands in defeat. He almost always provides a smorgasbord of self righteousness and self assuredness for those who have an "orthodox" doctrine. doctrine.
Do you see just how clever that is? The devil uses our accurate Scriptural interpretation against us by supplying our hearts with self righteousness. It is most subtle and clever and actually marginalizes our doctrinal purity by ensnaring us in other areas. And pride is a powerful poison which keeps us from Christ regardless of how Scripturally sound we are in our theology.

Do you see how clever that is? The devil uses our accurate interpretation against us by supplying our hearts with self righteousness. It is most subtle and clever and actually marginalizes our doctrinal purity by ensnaring us in other areas. And pride is a powerful poison which keeps us from Christ regardless of how Scripturally sound we are in theology.

We may be able to address the Westcott and Hort and the Alexandrian errors while at the same time being completely blind to Christ. You may be able to dissect doctrines accurately and provide Scriptural support for orthodox theology, but you still may be walking in your own flesh. Jesus is not a doctrine, and although truth is revealed in Scripture, without the Spirit we are left with making the Bible a theological math test.

If you do not know what I mean then you do not know what I mean.

There are movements and people who misuse Scripture and practice things they claim are of the Spirit and are not. And there are movements and people who are quite diligent in areas of doctrine and yet walk exclusively in those doctrines. And neither group actually seeks the Spirit in revealing their own shortcomings and deviations from Christ.

Phil.3: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

This is the man through whom most of the New Testament came forth? This is the man who met Jesus on the Road to Damascus and also received the gospel of grace from Him personally? And yet Paul says he desires to know Jesus? Didn’t he study his own letters? Did he not understand what he was writing? Does he mean he should study his letters with more scrutiny? Let us be honest with ourselves and honest with this Scripture.

Paul is revealing a great mystery and yet a great spiritual truth. Just studying the Scriptures with an eye toward systematic theology will not bring you to know Christ. You can have a list of all the heretics in your back pocket, and you can memorize the Textus Receptus, and you can agree with Calvin or Arminius in every point and still not be any closer to knowing Christ. Pursuing Christ and knowing Him with spiritual intimacy requires much more than your doctrinal mind. It is a path of great glory but which is filled with early mornings and late nights and excruciating areas of repentance and a kind of humility which almost immobilizes your very being. Go ahead and defend your doctrines and their Scriptural integrity, but if that is your claim to Christian fame then you only know Christ in the doctrinal flesh. And in that you are on the same fleshly coin as those whose claim to Christian fame lies in their emotional flesh. You are just on the other side of the same coin.

I appeal to my “orthodox” brethren to set aside an elongated season to diligent seek just how you have marginalized Christ in thought, word, and deed. I realize that kind of journey requires a level of humility that is very unpleasant and uncomfortable almost absent from any corner of the evangelical community. I admit you may have a sound doctrine especially when compared with the confusion and nonsense that is practiced all across the ecclesiastical landscape. I know that.

But the flesh is very mercurial and innovative and can mimic the voice of the Spirit. It knows the Scriptures and it can provide ample assurance to all of us that we are indeed following Jesus even when we are not.

Following Jesus must never be a pedantic journey which has no Spirit and rejects any emotion or experience at all. We must never rely on experience as the basis for God’s truth, but we must also never build walls that keep out any experience and emotion in our pursuit of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What You Do is What You Believe


The collection of writings known as the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind. There is no other. It is inspired and is trustworthy for all things pertaining to faith. They reveal the Person called Jesus and they clearly lay out a path to eternal life which comes only by faith in Jesus the Christ.

But as is the custom of man and his quest to feel important and feel as though he is God’s right hand man, there is a clique which not only claims that the Scriptures are inerrant in the original manuscripts, but they even spend millions to have conferences where they plant their flag in the ground together.

Books are sold, CDs are made of the speakers and sold, and generally they revel in their own doctrine. If you are a part of that group then you get all excited about standing for truth, and if you are not a part of that group you wonder what in the world is going on. They quote a long line of men who have been gone for centuries and suggest that they themselves are carrying on their battle. But in the end all they are doing is defending their doctrines. And in the very end what you do is what you believe. Everything else is a ministry to the doctrinal flesh. I have written about such things here.

I refer you to one of these conferences. Watch the video here.

This is a very fine line and must be understood as such. It is easy to defend doctrines, but it most difficult to live like Jesus. There is a vast gulf between the two. When you are an unwavering soldier of inerrancy then you believe you are engaged in a spiritual war. You are God’s standard bearer and in your mind you are doing His work. So you call expensive conferences where those who already believe what you believe can revel in the atmosphere of like minded doctrinal companions. It reinforces your position as well as reinforces the doctrinal celebrity status of the speakers. They are seen as the modern day oracles of God.

These kinds of conferences are considered the bastions of orthodoxy and yet they are structured just like the liberal wings they detest. It is alluring and enticing, but it is mostly of the flesh. These kinds of people have God’s approved music, God’s approved doctrine, God’s approved service structure, God’s approved attire, God’s approved Bible translations, and God’s approved Scriptural interpretation. They can identify and unpack compromises within other church groups but feel that they themselves stand upon God’s Word and are only imperfect as is common to man. The hubris is palpable.

Is that the essence of Christianity? Is Christianity a set of doctrines which must be defended or is it a faith built upon truth but which seeks to think and act like Jesus? And is acting like Jesus completing an orthodox doctrinal test? Truths are very important, but truth is not just what is written in our doctrinal statements. The truth IS Jesus and those who desire to embrace truth must follow Him in heart and life. How many believers place their head on a pillow at night content with the knowledge that they are doctrinally orthodox but completely unaware that many people who do not have all the doctrinal badges they profess manifest the Spirit and the Person of Jesus in ways some of those “orthodox” people do not? Think about what I just wrote.

This all boils down to just what is the faith that is built upon Christ? Does humility have any place in a faith and life that follows Jesus? Little by little self righteousness has been given a new and acceptable moniker named “boldness”. So men and women who hold their specific doctrines as divine as Joseph Smith’s tablets gather and stroke one another. This is a carnal spectacle even while claiming to be the zenith of orthodoxy. And when we hold our doctrines higher than our lives then we have entered into idolatry regardless of how true and Biblical they may be. In the end what you do and live is what you believe. And if you read the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus it is much more than articulating what He did and who He was. It requires your very life.

And since that is a colossal challenge that requires a profound level of self denial it is much easier to hold a conference and proclaim yourself a champion of God’s Word simply because your theology is orthodox. Loudly proclaiming the Scriptures are inerrant is light years from having your life reflect those same Scriptures in tangible and observable ways which authenticate your theology without books and tapes and Cds and conferences. So while you castigate the unbridled and emotional atmosphere of a charismatic gathering you create the same atmosphere without many of the observable signs. But make no mistake, the same spiritual hubris exists in both gatherings.

In the end do people see Jesus in you or do they see an orthodox theology about Jesus?

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Several years ago my youngest son set me up with a Facebook account. These are just some of the things I post. I try and teach believers as well as minister to unbelieves. The different things below are some of the things I have posted over the last several days on Facebook/
Matt.13: 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.
Perhaps our problem is that we have devalued that pearl and now it can be purchased at a bargain.

The world is hurtling toward an apocalyptic conclusion. With each passing year and with more leaps and bounds in technological advances the simple gospel appear more and more like an ancient fairy tale believed by uneducated masses of many centuries ago. When man steps upon the moon and unravels the mystery of DNA and has powerful weapons that can destroy all life then it is very hard for man to believe in anything but himself.
But when all is revealed, the most profound and the deepest mystery of all will be that Jesus was the only answer all along.

The only enemy of God's Word is unbelief.

The world is hurtling toward an apocalyptic conclusion. With each passing year and with more leaps and bounds in technological advances the simple gospel appear more and more like an ancient fairy tale believed by uneducated masses of many centuries ago. When man steps upon the moon and unravels the mystery of DNA and has powerful weapons that can destroy all life then it is very hard for man to believe in anything but himself.
But when all is revealed, the most profound and the deepest mystery of all will be that Jesus was the only answer all along.

Many people accept the teachings of Jesus about peace and love and forgiveness. But they refuse to believe that He was who He said He was. And they refuse to accept the fact that He said He would return one day. Even if you believe all His teachings but do not believe that He is God and has provided the only way to eternal life, it will profit you nothing and you will lose your soul.

When I heard the gospel I was too intelligent to believe it and too dumb to consider it. But it was the Spirit who opened my heart.

We as believers and followers of Jesus the Christ do not depend on world events. We depend completely upon the Rock. The world events will become more and more dangerous, but that does not move us at all. The news media and the politicians will wring their hands with dire predictions but we who know Jesus already know these things. Jesus told us they would happen. God has not given us the spirit of fear. We are in love with our Bridegroom and we await His glorious return!

If you want this seventy or eighty years to be the complete extent of your existence than pay no attention to my words. But if you feel that there is a life after death then I would ask you to sincerely investigate the words and claims of Jesus. It surely may affect your eternal existence.

Think about the first time you first felt love. For me it was in kindergarten when I was attracted to a little girl named Candy. Then in seventh grade I fell in love from afar with an girl named Fran. I was affected in my mind and my emotions and my body. And then I fell madly in love with a girl named Barbara in my junior year in high school. I was completely dedicated to her.
But one day in March of 1975 I came to know Jesus. And the love I felt for Him was unlike anything I had ever experienced or felt before. I am still in love with Him.

There is the temporal reality, and then there is the eternal reality. You must decide in which reality you choose to live.

Using the Lord's Name in Vain

Beginning in the 15th century, slave ships took more than 12 million people out of Africa. The vast majority went to the Americas. In 1776, a medium sized ship docked along the island of Madagascar. The ship was equipped to hold approximately 100 or more slaves. It is assumed that the white captain of the ship called Meermin paid the king of the village Toulier to ask some of his people to visit the ship, unaware that they would be caught and shackled.
After the Africans were secured below deck, the ship set sail for Cape Town. The conditions of these ships were unimaginable. The temperature averaged over 100 degrees, and the air was so compromised that often it became impossible to even light a match. Only a couple portals were available to the 100 plus slaves, and it was almost inevitable that some would die to disease. The white slave traders always figured in deaths when assessing how many slaves they would take aboard. And many slave traders took some extra slaves that they would not document but sell for their own profit.
But something happened on this ship. The white slave traders made the slaves clean their firearms, and led by one slave, these slaves rebelled against the slave traders. Many were killed, and the slaves took control over the ship. The captain and his crew had deceived the slaves into thinking they had returned to Madagascar when in fact they were anchored off the coast of a Dutch settlement. The sentence for a slave who attacked his master was death by impalement on a stake.
Fearing for their lives, and locked inside the gun room, the slave traders write a letter to the Dutch farmers and place it in a bottle in hopes it will be found and read. Here is what that letter said:
Through the guidance of our Almighty and beloved God, the 140 male and female slaves which we exchanged at Madagascar have revolted and taken over the Meermin. About 70 of them went ashore with the boat but at least 50 have remained on board. 32 of the Europeans are still alive, but most of them are wounded. The slaves are in control of the whole ship, except for the gunroom, to which we have fled.

Although we trust in the Lord to save us we kindly request the finder of this letter to light three fires on the beach and stand guard at these behind the dunes, should the ship run aground, so that the slaves may not become aware that this is a Christian country. They will certainly kill us if they establish that we made them believe that this is their country.

In the name of the Lord we remain your obedient servant.

Now can you imagine such a thing? Men have surreptitiously enslaved other men, ripped them from their home and their families, and placed them in conditions that endangered their lives as they sailed for the slave trading docks of Cape Town. And when faced with the specter of losing their own lives, they use the name of God and profess their faith in Him to save them. It is the absolute height of deception and self righteousness, and it illustrates just how deeply men can be deceived into believing God is on their side when in reality He abhors their very conduct. Shocking, you say?
Indeed. But think about this shocking scenario. Imagine people who profess Christ taking up arms and slaughtering other people because these people, or their countrymen, slaughtered the countrymen of the professing believers. Imagine them dropping indiscriminate bombs that kill and maim thousands of men, women, and children. Imagine these actions were in defense of a standard of living that these believers thought would be decreased.
But also imagine that these professing believers would bomb villages in countries that they assumed would in the future present a security risk to the country in which they lived in accordance with God’s will. And regardless of whether or not their fellow soldiers were believers, these Christians would gladly kill with them. Now like the slave traders, these believers had been brought up in a culture that taught them that violence was acceptable in God’s sight, just as these slave traders had been taught that God approved slavery.
So not only did they not question their behavior, they believed that they had divine favor. And just like the letter written by the slave traders, these believers prayed that God would protect their soldiers as they killed others, including women and children, and that God would give them victory in their military campaigns. Victory, of course, must be translated as killing more of the enemy than the enemy kills of you. And the only reason you and I see some difference between the slave traders invoking God’s help in their endeavor and Christians invoking God’s help in war is because we have been taught from birth that it is divinely acceptable, just as had the slave traders been taught from birth that slavery was acceptable.
Step back and see that man has constructed his own god and called him “jesus”. This jesus takes sides against other countries and abrogates his own commandments when it comes to violence and war, especially when a democracy is involved which has a large professing Christian contingent. A believer is not allowed by God to kill his neighbor when that neighbor constructs a fence two feet into his property and refuses to move it, but he is allowed to kill his distant neighbor if that neighbor encroaches his land elsewhere. What kind of convoluted Christianity is that? Let us be honest about it, we refuse to give up our lives for Christ. As Patton put it, “I don’t want our men to die for their country, let the enemy die for his!”
And there you have it. When it comes to sacrifice and being like Jesus, we use the tired and safe illustration of being patient when someone cuts you off in traffic. How pitiful we are to illustrate Christlikeness with such a shallow and worthless model that elicits no real sacrifice, much less any danger to our lifestyle or very lives. We are soft and comfortable and squeal at the first sign of discomfort, or God forbid, any abridgment of our earthly rights. But we have to preach about sacrifice so we talk about financial commitments to building programs or teaching a Sunday School class or helping teenagers go to camp. But where is the call to mirror Stephen and die with forgiveness on our lips for our persecutors?
Peter picks up a sword to protect Jesus and yet Peter is not only rebuked, Jesus heals the man who came for His life!! What Christianity are we practicing today? And in the tradition of the slave traders, we invoke God’s blessing upon our actions even though they are in direct violation of the Scriptures which we claim to believe. And even while waging war and violence by claiming self defense, we glibly leaf through Fox’s Book of Martyrs and revel in their courage, but we are blind to that which indicts us through the sacrifice of those same martyrs. Why didn’t the friends of those martyrs pick up swords and rescue their friends?
If the community of Christ followers had in these last few centuries became peaceful and humble followers of the Lord Jesus, and moderate livers whose lifestyles were significantly different then the culture, perhaps His power and Person would have been much more tangible throughout the communities in which we lived. But as has evolved, we have become faithful Americans whose religion is not much more than a box to be checked every ten years when the census is taken.
But let the lost around the world beware. If you attempt to threaten our lives or our lifestyles, we as believers will gladly stand with our lost brothers and sisters who happen to live near us and annihilate you and enjoy our technology as we watch our destruction take place in 3-D color on CNN, just before we get into the comfort of our air conditioned automobile and ride nicely to church on Sunday morning. All this while bombs kill and maim men, women, and children.
Oh yes, just in case we haven't already used the Lord's name in vain, when we arrive at church, and while carnage rages, we will sit on our padded pews, smiling to our neighbors, and let our pastor ask God to protect our troops and help us get a speedy victory. After about an hour we head off to eat again. Football awaits.
If that’s Christianity then I am an atheist.

Saturday, March 15, 2014



The word “worship” has in these modern days become a noun rather than a verb. It is bandied about as a thing. “They have great worship” is a revealing phrase. It places the value upon the kind and style of a particular worship “experience” rather than the object of our worship. And within this western culture man and his creativity are highly exalted even within the church. Even worship is a source of pride which usually centers around the quality of music or the praise team or the lights or the infective personality of the worship leader. But how can a person who has not engaged in worship privately throughout the week automatically thrust into worship when the music begins? The answer is he cannot.

Singing is not worship. Clapping is not worship. Dancing is not worship. Raising your hands is not worship. All those things may accompany true worship, but they are not worship. In order to worship in Spirit and in truth you must know Christ personally and intimately, and you must prepare yourself. The priests who ministered in the tabernacle did not just rise up, grab a bite to eat, and then rush in to perform their duties. No, they had specific things that would prepare, or better yet sanctify, their hearts in order to minister and worship the Lord God.

And yet how many people rise up on Sunday, hurry to make their outward man presentable, and quickly set out for the church building? But they have spent no time at all with Christ to say nothing of seeking Him and preparing their hearts to worship with other believers. And you end up with a room full of unprepared hearts which are manipulated by music and singing and the driving force of the worship leader. That, my brethren, is not worship in the Spirit. That is a “worship experience” in modern ecclesiastical parlance.

The world of experience and the senses and ambiance has slowly but surely replaced true worship of the heart and the spirit. When it takes professional music and lights and volume and a worship leader urging people on then what are we talking about? It may be sincere, but eventually the outward becomes the driving force and then what we have is literally a concert atmosphere. And when the “worship” has been allocated a certain amount of time of which the worship leader is aware, then how can we even suggest our worship is being led of the Spirit? Can true worship be a servant to our schedules? People’s emotions are susceptible to all kinds of manipulation. So when professing believers arrive at the gathering without a portfolio of worship throughout the week, to say nothing of that very morning, can we force them into true worship on the spot without a time of repentance? It is all of the flesh.

To truly worship God requires a sacred time of repentance, humility, and self denial. I am not suggesting it is complex, but I am suggesting it must come from a surrendered heart. Music has been used by God throughout the Scriptures, but when people wander through the week without times of prayer and worship to the Risen Christ then music serves as a replacement for what should have been already overflowing in people’s hearts. But the modern construct of the gathering is not set up to lead people into repentance and true worship. It is constructed to make people feel good and feel like a part of that particular local assembly and in so doing they will give. There. The emperor has no clothes.

Can the Spirit strive in that kind of an atmosphere? How often have I been in a worship service where the congregation seems to be exuberant, and as predicted the worship leader has led the congregation to an emotional zenith, and when the pastor steps forward he is in control of his emotions and shows no real sign he was in the moment and he goes into his greeting mantra? So I am to believe you can be before the throne of the Great God and of our Lord and Savior worshiping Him with your whole heart, and then on cue you turn into the greeter or the announcement giver? There must be something wrong, and there is.

The chronology of the service has been established and almost nothing can interfere with that schedule. That is not a worship time. That is an orchestrated set of events where on section is called “worship”. Just like an applause light that signals the Tonight Show audience when to applaud, so we have made our gatherings a slave to our order of service. And it isn’t just one Sunday. Most evangelical churches exhibit a Sunday after Sunday redundancy which reveals a program oriented format. Church members arrive at the gathering full expecting it to last a set amount of time. And if by chance there is a monthly or quarterly communion service that Sunday morning that everything else is adjusted in order not to go way over the usual allotted time. Can you really believe this honors our Lord?

True worship must have no competition. You cannot multi-task worship. This is a great challenge in these days where we have learned how to think about several things at once. Worship requires a warfare against our flesh and a capturing and recapturing of the mind. Do not think you can enter into worshiping our Lord and you can float downstream. Your flesh and this world and the evil one will do battle in your mind in order to keep you from a surrendered and focused time of worship. Sometimes it takes much time to enter into that sacred place. Sometimes I have left the gathering realizing I really did not worship God with my whole heart. I fault no one but myself.
But true worship not only glorifies our God, but it changes us. There are many things which transpire within us when we worship in spirit and in truth. We are filled with repentance and joy and contrition and gratitude and wonder and brokenness and humility and love and love and more love. And you just don’t turn off worship when someone tells you the time is over. That is why the early church did not operate on a time schedule. And there were believers over there studying the Word, and believers over there worshiping God, and believers over there breaking bread, and believers over there earnestly praying, and the Spirit working among them. It wasn’t an ecclesiastical cattle round up.

If any of this has reached your own heart I exhort you to begin with private worship. Cultivate a worship where you and Jesus fellowship in the Spirit and you are not limiting that time. I realize it is not easy because we are so imprisoned by the dictates of this life, but if you persevere, and if you are diligent, there will be times where you are granted a sacred place of revelation of our Wonderful Savior. And without you attempting to force anything…you will be changed. Remember, worship is not about worship. It is all about Him.

Why the Cross?


Phil.2:8 - And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
I Cor.1:18 - For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The Heavenly Father had told Adam to eat freely of all the trees of the garden - all but one. The Tree of the knowledge of good and evil was strictly forbidden to eat from. This tree obviously represented attempting to be a judge which was, like Lucifer, trying to be God. When Adam ate of that fruit there was no chemical that cursed him with death, no, it was the act of disobedience and rebellion against God and His Word that caused Adam's Spiritual death. Adam's sin fathered a family tree of death which grew with every birth. This sin would find its way inherently and volitionally in every person and with that inheritance came a trust account of Spiritual death to be drawn upon at physical death.
Now in the midst of the gross and complete darkness of this Adamic kingdom comes the Light, the Lord Jesus the Anointed One. His end would be our beginning, His shame our honor, His death our life. But why the cross? Why not a quick and private death which still shed Hid blood for the remission of sins? People were killed in all sorts of ways, why did God choose the cross? There are caverns of revelation treasure in those two wooden beams which were cut from a tree that Jesus Himself created. This wasn't some dead Jew on a cross, and this wasn't an arbitrary form of death. This was God Himself in human form and this was the mode God chose and ordained before the foundation of the world. Why?
THE FIRST TREE: In Genesis Adam partakes of the forbidden tree and he Spiritually dies. Every child of Adam, infected by this first tree, finds Spiritual life again from this last tree, the cross. Born of Adam through the tree of sin, born again in Christ through the tree of life. Two trees. One death, one life.
THE INTERSECT POINT: The cross has one place where both beams intersect and our eyes are naturally drawn to that place. It is there that the Son of God is presented as the Savior. The horizontal beam = the first Adam. The vertical beam = the last Adam. Horizontal = human. Vertical = divine. Horizontal = earthly. Vertical = heavenly. This is the intersect point of all history. It has been a little hazy until now, but after the cross there will be only two lines - a broad one leading to hell and a narrow one leading to heaven. The cross is the only place to intersect and change destination.
THE OUTSTRETCHED HANDS: Just the position of His body on the cross is significant. How many times did Jesus in life stretch out His arms and say, for instance, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden..."?. But here at His death it encapsulates God's heart, "Come let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool". The placement of His arms say, "Whosoever will may come".
THE LIFTING UP: Notice His feet don't touch the earth, He is lifted up between heaven and earth as a mediator between God and man. The only mediator (I Tim.2:5). By His own words, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me" (Jn.12:32). He is not just a man and yet not just God. He is the Son of man and the Son of God. He is suspended between both as the God-man.
THE PUBLIC SPECTACLE: Jesus will be crucified in front of everyone. Even the Romans won't be able to claim He didn't die, they'll have to make up a story about someone stealing the body. This public viewing will showcase the vileness of our sin and will be used by God the Holy Spirit throughout the years to convict millions of their sin personally. As grotesque as this sight was, it still mysteriously screams "I love you" from the very Person on this cross of shame. It isn't enough for God to have His Son brutally murdered, no, He allows Him to be openly mocked so we will know that Jesus knew how depraved we were as we ridiculed our only Hope.
THE SUFFERING: We know about physical pain and suffering, many men had been crucified. But we can never know about Spiritual pain and suffering which is beyond our limited scope of understanding. The depth of sin against the justice of God results in the suffering of the Scapegoat. Like the physical healing of the man in Mark 2 reveals His ability to forgive sins, His physical suffering reveals His Spiritual suffering as well. And just to let the Heavenly City remember how eternal His suffering on the cross was, He takes His wounds into His glorified body.
THE WOODEN ALTAR: In Genesis Abraham hears God's voice tell him to sacrifice Isaac and he takes his son and lays him on an altar of wood before God stops him and Isaac is spared. Now this cross becomes an altar of wood on which God offers His Son and there is no sparing. A vertical altar of sacrifice, magnificent and bloody, on which Abraham's ram is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, plucked from the thicket of this cursed earth. Now the ram had horns from which the priests made shofars, the horn which called God's people to worship. As we look on this Messianic Ram let us hear God's call to worship. At this cross we are on holy ground and it should move us to brokenness, repentance, and sometimes tears of love..
THE EXALTATION: Another reason for the cross is the exaltation of God's Son, even in death. which confounds the wise and gives life to the humble. He is symbolically lifted up to be praised and worshiped as He suffers and dies voluntarily and sacrificially for every son of Adam. How many of us once knew about Jesus dying on the cross as religious folklore, but one glorious day(!!!) the Holy Spirit revealed to us what that cross really meant and our knees buckled as we fell in adoration to worship this mutilated and bloody Lion of Judah who bled, suffered, and died in my place! Oh halleluiah, I found what I didn't even know I was looking for when by faith I knelt at this wonderful horror. To say I didn't deserve it is an infinite understatement!!!
THE CONTRAST: As we see the Lamb upon he cross it offers a visual and real contrast to the tomb. The cross was full - the tomb was empty. It begs the question, Where did He go?. We saw Him in all His incredible suffering, it was open for all to see. The Romans, the Jews, the unbelievers, His mother, John, the two thieves, and anyone else who wished to pass by saw the cross was full with Jesus. The Romans, the Jews, His mother, John, and anyone else could now visit the empty tomb. They saw the cross, they see the tomb. The contrast must be reconciled in everyone's heart, something happened - what?
THE DOORPOSTS: In Exodus God told His people to slay the passover lamb and apply the blood to the wooden doorposts and the Death Angel would pass over their house. Upon the wooden doorposts of this cross would be the blood of God's own Passover Lamb by which the angel of the second death would pass over all covered in this blood. The cross represents the bloody doorposts of Egypt and the Door itself bled in the middle of the beams. Wow, there is so much intertwined truth in all this that only the Holy Spirit Himself can lead us into it and make us not only understand the symbolism, but apply it to our hearts making it part of our worship.
THE WARNING: In Deuteronomy God instructs the hanging of men from a tree as a warning to everyone of the judgment of breaking the law. The cross in two tributaries of one great river both offers and warns people simultaneously. It screams REDEMPTION and JUDGMENT. The cross warns unbelievers that this is what they face without this cross being theirs. It is either Christ judged or you. There have been times when a hand grenade has been tossed into a crowd and a brave soldier dove upon it to die as he saves others. The cross warns there is the wrath of God coming, and only Jesus has placed His own body in the path of His Father's wrath, for us. The cross says me. We may never know until the Great White Throne judgment how much our King took in our place.
THE ROD: As Moses and the children of Israel came to the Red Sea the chariots of Pharaoh were quickly approaching. Death was overtaking them when God told Moses "lift thou up thy rod" and stretch it out over the Red Sea and the waters parted and they escaped death on dry land. The wooden rod that parts the sea of sin and provides the eternal escape from death. God holds out the wooden Rod of His cross, parts the sea which leads from eternal damnation to eternal life, and He beckons "walk through by faith".
THE WOODEN ARK OF NOAH: As the people ridiculed Noah as he built the wooden ark God had told him to they could not imagine the judgment that was coming. Why? Some believe it had never rained before so the people had no reference point, but ultimately they did not believe the Word of God. Noah preached for one hundred years with no converts, no seekers, and no baptisms. With no church members who financed the building program? God. The same God who provided the wooden ark of His cross that provided shelter to whosoever will. Judgment is coming no matter if we believe the Word of God or not and the only shelter is the cross. We better make sure we are in God's Ark, completely sealed and safe from the eternal flood of God's wrath, and not some pleasure craft of our own making.
THE MIRACLE OF ELISHA: Elisha had prophesied that a certain woman would conceive a son and she did. But after the child was grown he died and the woman went back to Elisha begging him to do something. Elisha went into the dead child and stretched himself upon the child and the child came to life. When the Son of God stretched Himself upon the cross He made an offering for everyone to come back to life. We were all once dead in trespasses and sins, but after we came to Christ He stretched Himself upon us and we came back to life.
THE AX HEAD: As the sons of the prophets were cutting down trees the ax head came off and sunk into a pool of water. They asked Elisha to help them especially because the ax head was borrowed. Elisha took a stick and threw it into the water and the ax head floated to the surface. Now we were drowning in the borrowed ax head of Adam's sin when God in His mercy placed a wooden cross in the midst of this world. And all who trust in this Holy "stick" will see the ax head of their lives come to the surface, plucked from this world of sin, and restored to become a servant of the Most High.
THE MANGER: God came into this world placed in a wooden manger and He left placed on a wooden cross. Remember He made everything at His birth, the manger, the straw, the animals, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, Jesus made them all Himself. He made everything at His death, the cross, the nails, the soldiers, His mother, John, the hill, Jesus made them all Himself. So next time you read about the wooden manger, see the wooden cross. That is why He came anyway.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT: Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up". The bronze serpent represented God's judgment, and all the children of Israel had to do was look and live. This symbolism is obvious. Jesus is lifted up on the cross, takes the judgment of God, and now anyone can, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved". That serpent, the Devil, has stung everyone with his poison but his judgment is sealed also on the cross. Jesus said, "...the prince of this world is judged".

There are many more symbolic representations of the cross of Christ that not only edify but teach and I suppose it would take a lifetime to exhaust them all. These are some that God renewed to me and I share them with you. In March of 1975 I don't recall how many of these I knew then, but I suddenly became aware that the cross provided a door for me that I could not provide for myself. By the grace of God the Holy Spirit quickened my understanding and I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. I did not even consider what God could do for me here, I just knew that following Him by faith meant I "would not perish but have eternal life". The honest truth before God is that when I became a believer in 1975 I could have cared less about the things of this world, I only cared about following Him. Thirty years later, after traveling along with the Church of the You Can Have it All with Jesus on the Side, I am trying to return totally to my first love. There is a place in Jesus, shadowed by the Father's wings, that remove the cares of this present world. It is a place of worship and prayer, guided and strengthened by His Word, that transcends and transfigures. To bow your head and meditate on the coming of God Himself and giving His life for you so you might have His life forever, what else matters? It is the Magnificent City of Refuge whose builder and maker is God and to which I continue to walk toward by faith. If you have already gotten there, pray for me.

Hold high His cross!

The Absence of Seeking


Ps.27: When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Jer.29: 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Heb.11: But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

The Scriptures are replete with exhortations about seeking God. And these exhortations are for believers. This word “seeking” is not about attending church. It’s not about supporting the building fund. It’s not about a five minute devotional. And it’s not about listening to your favorite teacher. This word seeking in context demands more than the average ho-hum walk of faith if we can even call it that.

Is.44: For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground:

Jn.7: 37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.

Imagine a man so thirsty that he would drink out of a puddle. He is parched beyond belief and he seeks water anywhere he can find it. Does he think about sports at that time? Does he peruse the stock market? Does he want to talk about politics? No! He is desperate for water. And therein lies a great problem with the church. People are not thirsty to say nothing of desperate. And therefore they do not seek Christ. They know about Him; they know Him as Savior; they have read His story; they hear His name on Sunday sometimes; and so they are content with what they know. And yet the Apostle Paul saw the glorified Christ on the road to Damascus. He was taught by Jesus Himself. So Paul could just draw on those experiences, right?

Phil.3: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

Yet Paul still seeks Him? Think about a man whose dog has escaped his back yard. He loves that dog. Does he open the back door and look around and return to his recliner? Does he get up once or twice a week and open his door and look around for his dog? Does he listen to other people tell about how they searched for their dog? Does he remember the day he brought that dog home and with that he is satisfied? Or does he throw on some clothes and rush out of the door yelling his dog’s name without any embarrassment? Does he search and search and search some more until he finds his beloved dog?

So how much more should we seek and seek and seek some more to see more of our Beloved?

Does the athlete become satisfied with knowing the rules? As soon as he can play does he stop training and stop seeking to be better? In the Star Trek movie “generations” a man has experienced what is called the nexus. It was a place of indescribable beauty and joy and ecstasy. He will do anything to return to it. If we have actually experienced a part of the infinite beauty of Jesus and just a glimpse of His glory will we not desire to see more?

A man follows a treasure map. He sails to a distant island and disembarks from his vessel. He follows the directions and arrives at the exact spot which marks where the treasure is. He rejoices since he has found the treasure! He calls his friends and tells them he has found where the treasure is. He reads the map again sometimes. He looks at the place right above the treasure. He relaxes and sails back to his home. When asked by his family concerning the whereabouts of the treasure he pulls out the map and tells them, “It is here!”. Ok, but they want to see the treasure. He makes copies of the map and hands it out.

But why did he not dig and uncover the treasure? It just doesn’t make any sense at all. But most of the evangelical community really does not believe more of Jesus can be revealed. They consider that mysticism. Read a little of the Bible, go to church, and don’t commit adultery and you have all the Jesus there is. That is the modern mindset so to speak. Oh but that is not what the Scriptures teach. The Scriptures clearly exhort us to seek Him with all of our hearts.

And so we are left to decide what seeking is. I have outlined seeking in the natural, but what does it mean to seek the face of Jesus. It sounds so ethereal and metaphysical. But it is real and authentic and unrelated to eastern mysticism. It is a gift of grace through the Spirit. But since the Industrial revolution the things of this world have muscled out the things of the Spirit. This is not transcendental meditation or centering prayer or some kind of mind trick. Seeking the face of God demands the sacrifice of fasting and prayer and meditating upon God’s Holy Word. It cannot be done by multi-tasking or in a convenient slot which does not conflict with other important matters. The reason we do not understand the concept at all is because the church has long since moved away from such things and most of us do not know anyone who seeks Christ in that way.

And so the evil one convinces us that there is no such thing. And after all our pastor never urges us into that kind of deeper realm. He suggests we read the Bible and pray and be faithful to church attendance, but to fast and set aside seasons of sacrificial prayer is not often heard. And make no mistake, the most difficult discipline a believer can do is to pray with fervor and labor. These are not “Polly want a cracker” prayers or “Bless Aunt Sue” petitions. To labor in prayer with adoration and worship and confession and repentance and humility and petition without balancing thoughts of this world in your mind is a great and sacred challenge. Not only is there a high cost, but most believers never desire such a thing.

So the faith once delivered to the saints has settled down into a comfortable religious practice and is now an appendage to a well rounded western lifestyle. It generally affects us only at the times of gathering. But to fast and pray and diligently seek His face is stuff of church history and in today’s fast paced world not even that anymore. It is quite ingenious how the western mindset has constructed a religious practice which has no cost and no inconvenience and no challenge to our careless way of life. While some men labored in the prayer closets we labor in brick and mortar and in the voting booth. Why seek when you already have found it?

Yes, you may have found “it” but have you found Him?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Eternal Scandalous

The Eternal Scandalon

The gospel and Jesus Himself have been so diluted and made to mesh with the culture that they no longer are scandalous. Even unbelievers are left unoffended and unmoved. I am reposting this from 2012.

Rom.9:33 - As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling block and rock of offense: and whosever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.
I Cor 1:23 - But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness;
I Pet.2:6-8 - Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to those who stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

The word in the Greek is σκανδαλον, which is translated “stumbling block” and transliterated in English “scandalon”. In a broad and colloquial sense we would say “scandal” and in the minds of men Jesus and His claims are scandalous. They are so absurd and so outrageous as to be a scandalon or scandalous. And as you can see from Scripture, it is Jesus Himself that is a scandalon to the hearts and minds of unbelievers. They can accept love, and they can accept mercy, and they can accept grace, but they stumble over Jesus which is the chief cornerstone without which the house of faith falls down and withers.

The man, the God man Jesus, is the first step of faith through which salvation is only possible. The disciples believed Him to be the Messiah, the One who the prophets of the Old Testament foretold. Not just another prophet and not just another teacher. Not just an anointed seer and not just a spokesman for God. Not just another Moses and not just another David. No, they said He was the Son of God, or as the Jewish mind would understand, God Himself in the flesh. And that is the eternal scandalon over which many continue to stumble.

In John’s gospel in chapter eight Jesus begins to refer to Himself as the light of the world. Of course the Pharisees took immediate offense that His witness about Himself was not true, but they just provided the Lord with an opportunity to add to His already growing scandalon. The Lord Jesus moves into some very uncomfortable territory as He claims that the two witnesses about who He is are the Father and Himself.(vs.18). And He presses further still by saying that He is from above while they shall die in their sins because they will not believe He is who He says He is.

Jesus prophesies of His own death in verse 28, and with that many believed on Him. The Jews begin to argue with Jesus about their heritage which they say is of Abraham, their father. Jesus points out their unbelief and His relationship to Father God. But then the Jews claim that Jesus is demon possessed because Christ said “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” And with that they ask if Jesus considers Himself greater than Abraham because Abraham is dead. You see the continuing transition? Jesus moves the conversation to the eternal and to the divine. And then Jesus makes a startling and arresting statement,

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad”.
ow He has completely crossed the line and they seize upon His seeming contradiction. If Jesus is not even fifty years old how can He claim to have seen Abraham? Hold on tight, because Jesus will now use a term we call the tetragammaton. It is the four consonant for God’s name which God gave to Moses. And the Lord God said that YHWH was “I AM THAT I AM”. Isaiah later shortened it to “I AM” without removing the power and the mystery. So Jesus says, “Before Abraham, I AM”.

What was He saying? The Jews knew what He was implying and they took up stones to kill Him because they knew that Jesus had just said He was God. Not just a god, but the One True God, YHWH. He was claiming to be the God of Moses, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. He used the tetragrammaton “eγώ εἰμί” in the Greek text meaning I am. This was the capstone of Christ’s scandalon and it is the stumbling block that without the Holy Spirit cannot be overcome. It isn’t just what Jesus said that was scandalous, it was the entire idea that anyone could be God. Jesus came right out and said He was God and that anyone who sees Him sees the Father God. Scandalous.

A modern Jewish Rabbi named Jacob Neusner wrote a book in 2000 titled “A Rabbi talks with Jesus”. In this book Rabbi Neusner imagines himself sitting and listening to Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. He listens intently to hear Jesus deconstruct the Torah, the law. But as he listens, he hears Jesus teach such unfolding depths of the Torah that he is mesmerized when he imagines himself returning to the group of rabbis. These rabbis ask Rabbi Neusner “Did Jesus leave anything out of the Torah when He taught?”

Rabbi Neusner replies, “No, He left nothing out”.

The rabbis then ask Rabbi Neusner, “Did Jesus add anything to the Torah?”

Rabbi Neusner replies, “He added only one thing, Himself.”

And with this, Rabbi Neusner admits that he cannot accept this from Jesus because if Jesus adds only Himself to the law, the Torah, it suggests that Jesus is above the law and indeed the embodiment of the law. And Rabbi Neusner says he must reject that because there is only one being above the law and that is Yahweh, God Himself. So if Rabbi Neusner is going to receive the Sermon on the Mount, he must accept Jesus as the Son of God.

So what we have in this book written by Rabbi Neusner is evidence that even Jewish scholars who examine the gospel writings with no bias to Jesus come to the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be God even though men like Rabbi Neusner reject Him in that context. And they reject the claims of Jesus because they are scandalous and He Himself is a scandalon.

One day in eternity, all unbelievers will realize that Jesus was the only way to redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God. He who was born in Bethlehem, He who walked to dust of this earth, He who shared over three years with 12 ordinary Jews, He who spoke on the hillsides of Judea, He, Jesus, was the Creator of the universe dressed in human form and coming to die. It was He who parted the Red Sea, He who met Moses on Mt. Sinai, He who spoke to Abraham, He who anointed King David, and it was He who John the Baptist announced.

It was Jesus who made the mountains, Jesus who made the oceans, Jesus who made Adam, Jesus who created the stars, it was Jesus who spoke everything into existence. And it was Jesus who was punished, Jesus who was beaten, Jesus who was mocked, Jesus who was betrayed, Jesus who suffered and died for our sins, and it was Jesus who rose bodily from the coldness of death for us.

It was Jesus who the apostles preached and died for, Jesus who anointed the early men of God, Jesus who received Stephen into glory, Jesus who called the Apostle Paul, Jesus who used Martin Luther, Jesus whose power brought mighty revivals, and it was Jesus whose message the missionaries carry into the uttermost parts of the world.

The entire Creation and redemption is centered around this Jesus, who is Almighty God Himself, and many cannot and will not see Him as who He is, for them, He is a stumbling block. And even for those who will be separated from God forever, Jesus will remain a scandalon, a stumbling block. How could they end up in hell? How could God have overlooked their good works? How could God have only provided one way to heaven? How could heaven be gained only by faith? For them, all these redemptive truths are much too scandalous, and the claims of Jesus being the most scandalous.

Jesus Christ.
The eternal scandalon.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Myth of Orthodoxy


The Scriptures are full of all kinds of truths. Of course the foundational truths are those which expose redemption. The non-negotiable truth is that man is sinful, Jesus died for our sins and resurrected from the dead, and only through faith in Jesus can a sinner receive eternal life. That is called the gospel.

But within the true body of Christ there are groups which have decided who is orthodox and who is not. Let us agree that there are many heretics today who deny any number of redemptive truths. Some deny the exclusivity of Christ or the substitutionary death of Jesus or even the bodily resurrection. And many in the orthodox crowd pick up their doctrinal billboards and parade them as if they are God’s exclusive spokespeople. The word “orthodox” has come to mean a handful of truths which people must embrace. The virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, the inerrancy of Scripture, and others comprise the platform for orthodoxy.

But here is where orthodoxy as defined by those same men comes up painfully and Scripturally short. Can you be orthodox and not love sinners? Can you be orthodox and not deny self? Can you be orthodox and not be observably humble? Can you be orthodox and join hands with unbelievers for political purposes? Can you be orthodox and complain about persecution or the economy or liberal politicians or the gay agenda? You see, this business of orthodoxy has been molded and shaped to a small checklist while many other unscriptural speech and attitudes are given license. That is not orthodoxy, that is open disobedience.

So what this all boils down to is a short doctrinal list which overwhelmingly requires no observable deeds which substantiate the claim that we believe them. What deeds undergird the belief in the Trinity? If I say I believe in the Trinity how can you tell by my life? If I say I believe in the virgin birth how which deeds substantiate my belief claim? But if I say I believe the Scriptures command us to minister to the poor there are deeds which can substantiate that belief. If I say I love sinners there are deeds which can provide some kind of proof that I do love them. But somehow those tenants of the faith are not included as being “orthodox”.

But therein lies a major problem with the modern version of the faith. In the so called orthodox community the teachings about meekness and love and feeding the poor and being clothed with humility are electives and not part of the foundational fabric of what is called Christianity. And it has become very popular and very comfortable to present a set of doctrines and call them “orthodox” but without any observable proof that we actually believe them. And in this process we have minimized and in many ways ignored many New Testament doctrines but as long as we can nod at these few we are called orthodox.

But let us examine just one of these orthodox doctrines we call hell. This word represents an eternal place of torment where unredeemed souls go for all eternity and endure conscious suffering forever. Do not just gloss over those words. The doctrine we call hell which is a vital and non-negotiable part of any orthodox doctrine teaches that unredeemed or lost souls spend a conscious eternity in great distress and suffering. How terribly easy it is to write or say those words. They roll of the doctrinal tongue with great ease and articulation. And many theologians have presented a Biblical basis for this doctrine and with that have earned the moniker “orthodox”.

But how can we say we believe that doctrine and yet live as we do? Of course Calvinism presents a wonderful cover since believers have little part to play in the work of the gospel. If people are not reached no one will wind up in hell who wasn’t inalterably headed there anyway. It’s all part of a grand script which God wrote long ago and He is just watching it happen just the way He has written it. So not only does God only offer redemption to a select and miniscule few but He also makes them believe. And yet that is considered "orthodox"?

But most of the church has the existence of hell in its theology. Imagine a man sits in his living room watching football. His neighbor has come to watch the game with him. The neighbor points to a bunch of papers the man has on his coffee table and asks what they are. The man says that they clearly show that a large bomb will hit this house and destroy it sometime in the next few minutes. The neighbor is astounded and alarmed, but because he sees his friend relaxing and watching football just as he is doing it comforts him. After a while the neighbor is once again fully relaxed. He does not believe a bomb is going to hit the house and because his friend seems so at ease he assumes he doesn’t believe it either.

So when the world see believers climb into their cars on Sunday and “go to church” and have a good time and return home to pick up where they left off they assume that religion is a part of some people’s lives but that the doctrines of eternity have little if any effect on them. And when an unbeliever is presented with the doctrine called hell he rejects it because even those who say they believe it live without the passion that such a doctrine would surely create. The doctrine of hell is so profound and so startling and so unnerving that to actually believe it in your heart and not your statement of faith would revolutionize a person’s life. In fact, he would have to reign in some areas because that person would have a tendency to become a raving lunatic.

But a raving lunatic who spends countless hours on the street corner warning people about hell is much closer to believing the doctrine than the millions upon millions who claim they are orthodox. The entire set of truths laid out in the New Testament are mind boggling when taken at face value. Just take one truth for a moment. Any sinner who believes on Jesus will spend eternity in heaven and any sinner who does not will spend eternity in hell. Pretty elementary stuff, no? But if we truly believe that then what in God’s dear name are we doing? Like a person who claims he is a vegetarian but eats a thick steak every night so is the church that claims to believe in eternity but lives for the temporal every single day.

But in the end we can claim we are orthodox. And if someone questions us we can always show them our creeds and doctrines. You see our faith is now about living creeds instead of living deeds.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Are We of This World?


Rom.12: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Jn.17: 14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

The word “world” refers to the world’s systems and thought patterns. We are still physically in this world but we must not be of it. This does not refer to sinful habits like smoking or drinking or drug use. This is much more insidious. We as followers of Jesus should avoid the systems of this world and come out from among them and be separate. And just why is this important? Because when we are participating in the fallen world’s systems we cannot be following Jesus. And eventually the church itself falls prey to that compromise and becomes a moral and political lighthouse rather than a gospel witness.

Look at what Jesus prayed in verse 14 of John 17. This business about how we as believers see this fallen world is very serious business. No suppose for a moment that Jesus never intended His followers to get involved with politics. Suppose He never intended His followers to run for elected office. Suppose He never intended His followers to be in the military. Suppose He never intended His followers to be capitalists? Just for a moment suppose those statements to be true and contemplate the implications of those intentions from the Master. If indeed they are all true, then who is following Jesus today in America?

Let us go on. Suppose Jesus never intended His followers to complain about money. Suppose He never intended His followers to be entertained by that which is evil. Suppose He never intended His followers to create an entire music business. Suppose He never intended His followers to join hands with unbelievers. If indeed these are all true, and I suggest no one can even debate these, then who is following Jesus today in America? And in the light of all these statements, does it even matter anymore to church members if they are following Jesus anyway? How many actually take a month or a week or even a day and fast and pray and earnestly seek the face of Christ about these matters?

The western church structure is much like the Roman Catholic structure. Most church members like their pastor and will believe most of what he says. Most pastors are friendly and quite persuasive and somewhat gifted oratorically. And most local churches are designed to foster a feeling of community and they provide an array of activities. Their children’s ministry and youth ministry help to cement the loyalty of the family. It has become quite the sophisticated phenomenon. But how many churches actually address the statements I offered with sincerity and passion? And if we suppose that all the statements I offered are true then how many churches are following Jesus? This isn’t some philosophical musing. This goes to the very heart of what it means to believe in and follow Jesus. Do we not even think that is important anymore?

You see my brothers and sisters, suppose that the entire American church construct in practice and belief is not following Jesus at all? Yes by God’s grace some sinners come to Christ and yes by God’s grace most churches have some sort of a missions program, but suppose the essence of what the church believes and practices is not following Jesus? Those are hard words to even consider and many will reject them out of hand. Many will see them as hateful or self righteous and with that they feel comfortable in dismissing them altogether. But that would be a mistake. The evil one strives with great passion to keep people content in their present spiritual situation. What he fears most is when a believer truly begins to see Christ and place everything they thought they knew on the Spirit’s surgical table.

But just suppose that everything that has evolved into the western church mindset and practice is significantly in error and even though many people are redeemed children of God they are not following Jesus at all. And instead of following Jesus we have integrated religious substitutes. Instead of elongated season of prayer we send up a few sentences several times a week. Instead of fasting we don’t. Instead of being hungry for the Word we have our little devotional materials. Instead of being dramatically different than our neighbors we are very similar. Instead of partaking of the Lord’s Supper every week we have a schedule to observe it which includes a well organized system so that the “service” does not run too long. Instead of the church leadership being a humble collective we have our pastor who has a “salary package”.

I know, it sounds so fanatical and unrealistic and, yes, even critical. I know. And to be honest, it brings a little fear into people’s hearts. We love to be content and we resist change, especially change on such a great scale. To step back and truly seek God’s face in all these matters is a daunting task especially since most believers have never really experienced a spiritual passion which literally captures their present reality and drives them for weeks. In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind people who came in contact with the alien ships were driven to seek a large mountain. They could not explain why but they could not stop either. They had an experience which changed them forever.

But that kind of experience is foreign to the average pew dweller. When we speak of fasting and praying in the morning and evening watches most professing believers are clueless. They have their lives, they have their jobs, they have their faith, they have their families, and they have their churches. Even the suggestion of a deep and sacrificial seeking of the Lord with everything on the table will get you labeled as a troublemaker. In fact, sadly, in most cases it soon become clear that if you are going to seek God with repentance and humility and openness you will have to do it without a church. That is a very painful journey.

At first it is a novelty to leave the church structure. At first your flesh desires you to feel self righteous and superior. But after the initial shock wears off you realize that any hint of self righteousness will keep you from Christ. And then there is a painful lack of former fellowship. This journey is not easy nor pleasant sometimes, but little by little the Spirit rains manna down to feed your soul. And then once in a while you receive a deeper glimpse into the Person of Christ. It comes on the heels of a deeper revelation of your own sin and helplessness. But you suddenly realize just how hollow all your doctrines are without a personal revelation of the Lord Jesus. That, my friends. Is manna indeed!

This post is meant to shake our faulty foundations. None of us are perfect, and just leaving a church structure is no basis for pride. But can you not see that a wrong structure and a wrong practice and a wrong system keeps us from following Jesus? We are to have some fellowship with lost sinners in a spirit of the gospel. We are to be law abiding people within this fallen culture. But we must view this culture and this government and this country as enemies of Christ and enemies of our spiritual walk. How can light and darkness become partners? But let all things be done in love which is another monumental task. And let us remain uncomfortably humble.

This quest, this journey of ours is not just a journey to find Jesus. It is in a real sense Jesus Himself. It is a glorious mystery which is easy diverted and misled by the things of this world. The depths of this journey are only limited by the depths of the Lord Jesus Himself. And the depths of Christ are infinite. So unravel the grave clothes and come forth from that tomb and walk in life, in resurrection life, or in other words walk in Jesus. There is no other life.

Or we can remain of this present world which will always be death.