False Teaching And The Signs That Help Detect It


Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels

I finished reading the book of Galatians this morning. I used to think that it was sort of a mini-Romans. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but as I read Galatians more closely this week, I realized it’s really about false teaching and false teachers and the lies that the churches in the Galatian region were apparently beginning to believe.

Paul handled the problem by drawing their attention to it and by laying out the truth.

As I see it, the Church in today’s western culture is wide open to false teaching. In fact a radio preacher recently said that’s kind of normal—that the Church is prone to take on some of what the culture believes, even things that are false.

I’d say, among the many problems western culture has—things like selfishness and pride and greed and placing a high value on personal pleasure over serving, either God or our fellow humans—is one that might color pretty much all of life. It is the idea that humans are good, not sinful, not in need of a heart change.

People bristle at this idea and many churches no longer preach this truth because they no longer believe it.

Paul was dealing with legalism in Galatia, and that’s something that the Church has faced from time to time. I’d go so far as to say, it’s been an issue in my lifetime, and many preachers teach against it. It’s a works kind of belief, valuing human effort more than the grace God has given us. So it’s sadly alive and well and something the Church must continue to guard against. But so are these other postmodern, post-truth issues. Not that contemporary society invented them, but we have given a new voice to them.

The rest of this article is a re-post, with some revision, of one that appeared here in March, 2010.

I’ve come to believe Christians should uncover false teaching in the church. A believer’s silence in the face of instruction contrary to Scripture can be tacit agreement. By and large, I feel the majority of Bible-believing Christians have been silent longer than we should have been.

I understand why—we are all too aware of what the Bible says about judging. Who am I, then, to say that this person or that ministry is engaged in false teaching?

Well, I don’t think we need to do any finger pointing or heresy hunting. Instead, I think we can see what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I used to think that deciphering false teaching was easy. Not after I read comments to a statement I made: Christians have a set of essential beliefs we hold in common—that’s what defines us as Christians. The push-back shocked me. In essence, the response was, “Who says?” In other words, those who don’t hold to those core beliefs still say they are Christians. Who are you to say they aren’t?

To me that’s comparable to saying, I live in Cuba which is near the US, so I’m a US citizen. Who are you to say I’m not?

Clearly, if we do not agree on an authoritative source or a set of core beliefs comprising Christianity, then anyone can claim to be a “Christian” teacher, even those with a different message, a false message that contradicts what Christian orthodoxy has held to be true.

But who’s to say?

I’d have to give this one to God. He gets to say, and He’s addressed the subject in His Word.

In a sermon at Truth for Life on Nehemiah, Alistair Begg dealt with false teaching. He referenced a passage in Jeremiah about false prophecy:

But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”

Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end! (Jer 14:13-15)

It struck me that these statements are similar to some of the teaching that passes as “Christian” today. I’m thinking in particular of any “universalist” teaching and any “Christianity will make you healthy and wealthy” teaching.

The first promises peace with God. All will go to heaven no matter what faith they embrace here on earth. In fact, there isn’t a hell to even worry about. This is nothing more than the spiritualized version of what the false prophets were saying in Jeremiah’s day.

The second is a peace-in-your-own-personal-world promise. Real believers, this false teaching says, will be rich and healthy. One particular TV false teacher scoffs at Christians who think God might be teaching them through affliction.

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that God was in fact teaching and punishing them through the drought they were experiencing and the war that threatened them, even though the false prophets said otherwise.

Which leads to the real sign of false teaching, according to Pastor Begg and his exposition of Nehemiah 9: God’s word—teaching that is true—will call His people to repentance. Here are two key verses in the passage:

While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God …

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. (Neh 9:3, 33)

In contrast, look at what Jeremiah says in Lamentations:

Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish visions;
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. (Lam 2:14; emphasis mine)

God’s word read—the people confessed.

False teachers spoke—iniquity remained unexposed.

Does universalism prompt confession? Does the health-and-wealth teaching expose iniquity? Does any false teaching do so?

Advertisements

A Common Heresy Of Our Day


Photo by Monica Silvestre from Pexels

In an insidious way the “emergent church,” which took the spotlight a decade or so ago, only to morph into “progressives,” has given impetus to one of the saddest heresies that could ever be. People like Paul Young (The Shack) and Rob Bell (Love Wins) reduced God to one quality: love.

But isn’t God, love? Yes, absolutely. But He is so much more. He is also merciful and kind, gracious and forgiving, creative and communicative, powerful and all knowing. But He is also some things we in western society seem to ignore or deny: He is jealous, the way a husband is about the purity of His wife; He is wrathful, the way a father might react to the rape of His daughter; He is just, the way a judge is who faces a mass murderer.

The truth is, God’s jealousy and wrath and justice are not contradictory to His love; the are extensions of it. A loving God cares for the oppressed and the needy, so what does that mean for the oppressor and for the one who is stingy or selfish? How does God manifest love to both sides of robbery or rape or scam?

By extending His forgiveness to both. Yes, even those who have received harsh treatment, unfair treatment, have committed sin. None of us is perfect. All of us need God’s great grace. And God offers it freely.

But not everyone accepts it.

The heresy of the day says that God simply waves off the part of Scripture that says someone must believe in order to receive life eternal. Apparently, in the thinking of those who fall into this wrong thinking, God is simply too loving to be just. He cares so much for the perpetrator of evil, He will not punish him. After all, the thinking goes, Jesus already paid the price for all our sins.

There’s truth there, which is, of course, how all error presents itself: it shows some truth before it twists it into abject falsehood.

I realize some Christians believe that, no, Christ died only for the elect, whoever they might be. We just don’t know.

As clearly as Scripture portrays the existence of an “elect” and believers who are “predestined,” it just as clearly portrays God’s gift of salvation as available to the world and free for all.

But there’s a huge gulf between those two positions—salvation for the elect on one hand and salvation for everyone on the other. Scripture makes a very clear case that salvation is given to all, but received by some.

Romans 5 is one of the best passages, but certainly not the only one, that walks the tightrope between the two extremes. Here are the pertinent verses:

For while we were still helpless [all of us], at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [all of us]. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die [but there is none righteous, none good]. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners [all of us], Christ died for us [all of us]. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. [all of us?] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. [sounds like all of us] And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. [only some—emphasis mine]

Clearly, receiving the necessary reconciliation—becoming restored to a relationship with God—is dependent upon receiving what has been offered. So God’s saving work is available to all, but only efficacious for some—those who believe and receive.

The sad heresy of our day would have people believe that whatever their path of spirituality, or no path at all, they will nevertheless be accepted into eternal life with God.

It’s sad and not loving because it withholds the truth about the eternal condition of the lost. They can go through life and hear from Rob Bell or any of these other universalists that they’re just fine, not lost, not perishing, not in need.

The loving thing is to let people know that we’re all in the same boat, all right there together in a boat headed for spiritual death. But there is hope, there is rescue, there is a Savior.

Problem is, no one will look for a Savior if they don’t know there’s something from which they must be saved.

False Teaching Really Is False


One of the objections to Christianity that I’ve heard atheists make is that anyone can say the Bible points to whatever they want, so all these “Christian” views are equally invalid, since they disagree with each other.

When I rebut that argument by declaring that words have meaning and there is actually an intended meaning in the Bible, which false teaching drifts from, I hear the common atheist objections that have cute and quick handles and serve as a way to dismiss the idea that false interpretations of the Bible are not the same as what the Bible actually says.

The fact is, false teaching has been around as long as the Bible itself. As it happens a number of New Testament writers warned the early church about these false ideas that distort what Jesus taught. Paul, for instance, said some where peddling a “false gospel.”

Later, in 1 Timothy 4:1 he warns his young student in the faith: “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” Paul continues for another three verses, uncovering the false ideas that were going around at the time before he turns to some related practical matters: have nothing to do with “worldly fables,” discipline yourself spiritually, teach the truth, read and teach Scripture, and so on.

Perhaps no passages in Scripture come down harder on false teaching than do Jude and similarly, 2 Peter. Jude starts with this warning:

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (v 4)

The rest of the short letter is basically an indictment and warning of these mockers “who cause divisions” and are “worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.”

Peter is just as straightforward, warning the early church of the dangers of deceitful teaching:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (1 Peter 2:1)

I think the key here is “denying the Master who bought them.” Today people who profess Christ “deny the Master who bought them” in a variety of ways. Some spiritualize His very existence—the Bible, they say, is not about a real, historical person but an idea, a good idea that we should try to emulate.

Others “sanitize” the New Testament. They believe Jesus was real, just not the miracle worker his followers claimed he was. The disciples exaggerated his deeds in order to get more people to follow them.

That one is particularly hard to believe because telling wild “Pecos Bill” type tales hardly seems like the way to convince others to believe. It seems more likely a way to create scoffers.

Still others completely distort who Jesus is: he’s just a man—God is not triune; he’s the son of God, as are we, as is Satan—spirit children conceived by God before time.

More subtle twists of the truth say things like, Jesus came to make us good and happy. He wants all His people to be rich and healthy and powerful. This one is particularly dangerous because there’s truth in the premise—just not in the working out of the idea.

God does want us healthy and happy—for eternity. To get there, He intends to fashion us in the image of Jesus. And that may involve suffering. And because we live in a fallen world, one which God has purposefully left us in, we know we will experience suffering and the cracking of this clay pot which we call our body. But thanks be to the Father. He promises to give us new homes, which includes new bodies. The 2.0 versions will be much better than the old models, though God uses the old to bring us to Himself.

All this to say, those who profess Christ are not equal. Some have conjured up a christ of their own imagining, based on the philosophies and traditions of men, some claiming an angel imparted this new and extra revelation to them. But some who profess Christ belong to the true Church, the bride of Christ who will be with Him forever.

The differences are vast, even though the claim of believing in Christ sounds the same. It is not.

Sunday “Christians”


Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Sunday Christians may not be Christians. Only God knows. A couple of the pastors I listen to on the radio when I’m doing dishes or the like, repeatedly challenge their congregation—and by extension, those of us listening to the broadcast—to examine our hearts to see if we are of the faith, because it’s too, too easy to sit Sunday after Sunday in a church service and not actually be saved.

But how is that possible? someone may ask.

One way is to sit under the instruction of false teachers who “tickle our ears.” Of course, no one forces us to choose false teachers. This is something we do because we like it that way: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, (2 Tim. 4:3)

In other words, these false teachers are giving people what they want to hear, but it’s not the gospel.

Another way people calling themselves Christians may not actually be Christians, is if they see their “religious activity” as their ticket to heaven. In other words, going to church is just one activity on a list that they can check off and add to the “good deeds” side of the ledger. In their mistaken way of thinking, as long as the good outweighs the bad, they can bank on heaven for their future home. It’s sort of like depositing money in your savings account so when it comes time to buy a new house, you have a sufficient down payment.

Sadly, for these folk, salvation doesn’t work that way.

There’s a third category, and of course, there well may be Christians in this group. Only God knows their hearts. These are people who come to church, listen, say they believe, and then go away and live their lives as if they are just like everyone else. In other words, their Christianity does not inform their daily lives—what they say, how they work, what they do on their free time—none of it.

Some actually think this is a good thing. The more they can blend in with society, the better they think it is. They don’t want to look too radical, too focused on “just Christianity.” They want the empirical data to govern their every-day lives and the Bible to govern their spiritual lives—never the twain should meet.

What I don’t see or understand is how this approach fits in with the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He told us that we who would follow Him should take up our crosses daily. We are to die to self, and we are to live for Christ. This approach requires a total reordering of our lives, our priorities, our purposes. Can a person be a Christian without such a renewed approach to life?

Maybe. God only knows. I mean, none of us enters the Christian life as fully formed, mature believers with all the right priorities. We talk about growing in our faith because we do need to develop from little seedlings into more sturdy plants, on our way to fully developed trees that will withstand the storms of life. We simply don’t start there once we acknowledge our need for a Savior and turn to Jesus for our redemption.

The point is, can a person be saved and still look like pretty much everyone else? Maybe. Maybe the Holy Spirit hasn’t convicted them about things others see in their lives. They might think there’s nothing wrong with porn, for example, because the world tells them nothing is wrong with porn. But at some point the Holy Spirit will convict a true believer and they will deal with that sin in their lives.

We all face this sort of roller coaster experience in our Christian lives. We repent and then find ourselves needing to repent all over again. To repent means to turn from, but our turning too often seems like a U-turn. We can’t seem to continue on the path of righteousness that God would have us walk. We want to. We pray to. And we see our baby steps taking us along the way more and more, but not all at once. Never all at once.

So who’s to say that another person is a believer or not?

Of course if they say they’re not, they’ve answered the question for us. If they think they are, but are sitting under false teaching, that’s pretty easy to see they have deluded themselves. Same with those who think doing religious duty is the same as following Christ.

Truly, becoming a Christian requires us to declare who Jesus is, what He’s done, why we need Him.

Who is He? Jesus is God’s Son who died for the world, to pay they penalty for our sins which we have no way of paying for on ourselves. He is Lord—not only in a future sense when every knee will bow to Him, but now, in my heart.

What has He done? He’s stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. He’s become the Mediator between God and humanity. He’s made it possible for humans to see God and to know Him and to enter into a relationship with Him.

Why do I need Him? Because I’m a sinner and have no way to reach God on my own. I’m mired in the world system, entangled by my own evil desires. I need Jesus to rescue me from the “dominion of darkness.”

In the end, I don’t want to go my own way any more. But sometimes I do. I wish it weren’t true, but that’s the reality Paul described in Romans 7—“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19).

So, do Sunday Christians exist or are they all pretend Christians who don’t exhibit a sold-out lifestyle? I have no doubt that some are saved and some are not. God knows who’s who. My responsibility is to examine my own life, to lay it before God, and ask Him where He wants me to grow in order to become conformed to the image of His Son. I really have no way of doing that for anyone else.

Published in: on June 11, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

I’m Stuck: Knowing The Bible Is True



Photo by Dids from Pexels

I know I sound like a broken record. The thing is, there is so much “fake news” when it comes to Christianity, it seems important to keep saying the same thing in as many different ways as possible. So I’m camped on an important theme: the Bible is true.

In fact, it is so true, it is reliable for life and godliness. In other words, it speaks to our eternal destiny and it speaks to the way we live our lives in the here and now. Kind of important, both those things.

Once again I’ve encountered the idea that the Bible is not in any way helpful because anyone can make it say anything.

That’s partially true, as so much fake news is. Yes, anyone can make the Bible say anything if they distort what it is actually saying. I’ve made that case myself. People can say the Bible proves there is no God because there are a couple places in Scripture that say it just like that: there is no God. Problem is, the first part of the verse says, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1 and also Psalm 53:1). In numerous places throughout the Old Testament, the phrase appears in a different context, all similar to one another. Here’s the idea from 2 Chronicles 6:14: “O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no god like You in heaven or on earth . . .” (emphasis mine).

The first point to remember when looking at the Bible is that context matters. Lifting a verse or part of a verse from its context can actually shatter the meaning, not reveal it.

The second thing to remember is that the historical details about the text also matter. Who wrote the passage? Yes, God did, but He used humans and they wrote from their own personality and sometimes for their own purpose. So David wrote some of his Psalms as laments, others as praise. The Law of Moses—the first five books of the Bible—preserve the history of the Jewish people and God’s involvement with them. Paul’s letters were to encourage or correct people or churches.

Not only is the writer important but so is the audience and the circumstance that occasioned the writing. The laws that God gave to the Hebrews as they wander in the wilderness for forty years, are not ones God expects the Church to obey. Yes, we actually can learn some important things from reading about God’s interaction with His chosen people, but God in no way intends for the Church today to sacrifice lambs and celebrate the feasts He instituted for Israel.

The third thing to remember is that “the plain things are the main things.” That quote which I’ve heard Alistair Begg say more than once, helps sort out some of the stuff that can be confusing and controversial from the stuff that is essential. After all, the Bible is God’s revelation. He’s not hiding. He made Himself known because He wants to be known.

Another thing to remember is that the Bible does not contradict itself. If it appears to, then we simply aren’t understanding things clearly. Most of the time, we try to oversimplify by taking a particular verse and making it the cornerstone of some doctrine. In fact, there might be other people who have selected a different verse that seems contrary, and they make that the cornerstone of a conflicting doctrine. Most likely, however, both “cornerstones” are true. We are just not understanding how they fit together. Or one group or the other might be misunderstanding the verse they have made ultra important.

I’ll give an example, and I realize I may be stepping on some toes here. In advance, I apologize. Some churches, my own included, take a position that the “ecstatic gifts”—speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, and such—were only for the first church people. They base this idea on 1 Corinthians 13 that talks about tongues and prophecy being done away with or ceasing. Toward the end of the chapter it states, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (vv9-10). They reason that the Bible is the “perfect” since it is complete and will not be added to. Hence, in their way of thinking, the perfect has come.

The problem with that idea is that the chapter—which was never intended to be part of a discussion about what has or hasn’t ceased; it’s a clarification of what God’s love is—goes on to say that when the perfect comes “I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t know God or the things of God or even this world the way He knows Me. Not yet. That’s still future.

But that’s a little beside the point. The plain things in Scripture dealing with these “ecstatic gifts” is that they are to fall under the orderly governance set down by Paul in the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians, that they are not to be considered as more important than other gifts, and more. In other words, there are extensive passages about spiritual gifts, where as there is one part of one chapter that would see to contradict all those other verses—but only if you understand “perfect” to mean “Bible.”

Even something like this that separates churches that believe in speaking in tongues from ones that don’t, actually does not separate believers from one another. It’s not an essential. It’s not of the same foundational nature as, Jesus is Lord. Or Jesus is both God and man. Or Jesus died for our sins.

All this to say, the Bible is true. Only people who misuse it or add to it or delete portions of it, will come up with strange and contradictory ideas from those that are the essentials of Christianity—things that the first disciples believed.

Example: Joseph Smith, whose followers sadly suffered much persecution and were chased out of more than one place, added many things to his cult, not the least of which was that marriage had to be polygamous—though today the Mormons have generally stepped away from that particular position. The fact remains that to be a Mormon requires a person to take positions that are not consistent with the Christian essentials.

The basic truth is this: someone outside looking in may not be able to distinguish true Christians from pretend Christians who rely on fake spiritual news, or may not be able to distinguish what the Bible actually says versus what some people claim it says. That’s likely because they have not read the Bible, and if they have, they have done so without understanding the principles of interpretation that apply to all written communication.

Published in: on June 7, 2019 at 5:41 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , ,

The Evils Of Idolatry


Most of us in the western world are unaccustomed to the idea of worshiping a statue. I mean the Psalms and the prophets pretty much put an end to the idea that carving a figure out of wood or precious metal and then praying to it, was a good thing.

Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them. (Ps. 115:4-8)

Other passages refer to a person taking a log, using part of it to build a cooking fire, part to make a fire for warmth, part to make a god. Worshiping an inanimate object seems ludicrous in that light.

The temptation, then, is to think we “enlightened” people have idolatry licked. We can cross out “Have no other gods before you” from the list of Ten, because we’ve got that one under control. No golden calves for us! No little fertility statues, no household gods, no gods on some nearby high place.

I know some Protestants point fingers at Catholics and say they are idolatrous because they “worship” the images of saints and Mary. But I tend to think this issue of idolatry is much bigger than some statue.

I was thinking about the “rich young ruler” in connection with a couple sermons about the use of money. This Biblical figure is often referred to in such contexts as evidence that having money isn’t the problem; rather, loving money is.

But here’s the context: This ruler comes to Jesus and asks Him what he has to do to “inherit eternal life.” In other words, he’s concerned for his eternal destiny. Jesus answers in a surprising way.

You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” (Luke 18:29)

The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Mark, record this same event and Jesus answering the ruler in the same way.

The guy responds, I’ve done those ever since I was young.

At that point Jesus had him. I mean, I think the point of this exchange was to show the guy that he had need of a Savior, not need of more things to do. Jesus had purposefully referenced the part of the Ten Commandments that have to do with how we treat each other. He had not mentioned the first four that deal with how we are to relate to God.

The first one is pretty simple and straightforward:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

This foundational command was followed by, Don’t make any idols, keep the Sabbath holy, don’t take the LORD’s name in vain.

In many respects, those three are subsets of the first command. Moses elaborated a little to make this point clear:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut. 6:4-5

Israel was not to love God, plus any other god or any other idol.

So when Jesus called the ruler on the subject of keeping the commandments, the first four really centered on whether or not he loved God in an exclusive way.

Chances are, if Jesus had asked him if he kept the Sabbath or avoided using God’s name in vain, the guy probably would have said, Yep, I’ve kept those commandments, too.

What he needed to see was that he didn’t love God exclusively. In fact he loved his wealth more. So much more that he was willing to leave Jesus, knowing that his original question involved his eternity, that loving God first and best and only was the way to what he desired, and yet he was unwilling to give up his . . . idol.

Because clearly, what the man loved most was what he was actually worshiping.

We in the western world can sin in the exact same way. Our wealth might not be the thing we love more than God. We might love our reputation, or our education, or our good job, or our country, or our family, or our religious affiliation, or our boyfriend, or our community (race, ethnicity), or our sports team. Those are all things that aren’t sinful until we make them idols. Of course we can also love our sin more than we love God. We can love our pride or our porn, our lust, our prejudice, our dirty jokes, our selfishness, our laziness, our addiction.

The issue is really where we put God in our priority list. If I love God first and best, it will have a profound impact on what I do.

I can’t imagine telling a spouse, I love you, honey, but I really don’t want to spend time with you everyday. I don’t want to get you a present for your birthday. I’d rather spend Christmas with my buddies. And yet we say those types of things to God all the time: I love you, God, but I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll catch you later.

The problem is much more serious, because the more we make other things our priority, the more we look at the whole world through the gray glass of our skewed value system.

Over and over the Old Testament prophets warned the Hebrews that they needed to stop pretending to love God when in fact they had a stack of idols that they looked to. I can’t help but think that there might be a number of professing Christians who are in the same boat.

Living In Joy?



Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

In Isaiah 55 the prophet says, “For you will go out with joy/And be led forth with peace.” In Nehemiah this governor of the returned exiles tells them, “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” King David write in Psalm 16, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” In fact, the various psalmists write about joy a lot.

Even the writers of the New Testament have a lot to say about joy, and those who penned the gospels report that Jesus mentioned it more than once. Yes, sometimes they speak of future joy, as Isaiah did, but sometimes they talk about joy in the immediate, even in the midst of trials.

James is a case in point when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

Of course Paul includes joy among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, in essence saying that every Christian has joy.

We do?

I was listening to Pastor Greg Laurie this afternoon. At the end of the program he interviewed a guest, Pastor Levi Lesko, author of I Declare War. He mentioned that often we reach a crossroad in our day at which we can choose.

Interesting that another sermon I heard at breakfast mentioned how under sin, we had no choice. Meaning that sin controlled us. Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from sin. We are no longer slaves.

And here was Pastor Lesko saying, we have a choice to live in a funk or to believe what God says in His word. Things like, the joy of the LORD is our strength.

He then told us about how casinos in Las Vegas are built. Apparently when you’re on the outside, the entrances are clearly marked and the access is easy. But once you get inside, in the middle of the casino, it’s constructed like a labyrinth and finding your way to sunshine is like walking the maze.

I don’t know how true that is, but the illustration certainly seems to apply to sin and specifically to choosing joy over its counterpart—despair, regret, discouragement, depression. Sin, even though we are free from its mastery over us, is still compelling. It’s gained strength over the days and years and has created habits that are easy to fall back on.

This is a really simple example, but I’ve decided I want to treat other drivers (and here in the LA area, we all have to drive all the time, everywhere, or so it seems) with more courtesy and respect. Which is good. Until someone cuts me off in traffic. At that point all the frustration and anger at someone not willing to wait his turn flares inside me.

It’s a habit. For far too long, I’ve been an angry driver, always in a hurry, more aggressive than is good for me, and wanting every other driver to play by the rules. Breaking that habit doesn’t come over night.

Instead I have to let the word of God inform me what is true. Behind the wheel of that car is someone who Jesus included when He said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life.

But I don’t love that guy even to the point of giving him a little grace on the road. In truth, I don’t know what the driver’s problem is. God does, though, so instead of steaming about his bad behavior, maybe I should bring him to God in prayer.

That’s the cool thing about joy. Yes, joy. We can actually choose joy in the same way that we can obey the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s not by trying harder. It’s by reminding ourselves, by preaching to ourselves—really by letting the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance—what God’s truth is.

And His truth is that no matter what circumstances we live under—financial pressures, wayward kids, unhappy relationships, unemployment, open disdain for our faith in Christ—we have the joy of the LORD. Not, we can have. Not, we will have some day. No. The Holy Spirit lives in every believer and gives us all His fruit, which includes joy.

I think the fruit of the Spirit is part of the abundant life. Jesus painted a metaphor in which He said He was the door to the sheep pen. But then He goes on to say, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Sin does steal and kill and destroy. For one thing, it steals our joy. But we have this fountain of joy in us through the provision of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a kid we sang the little chorus,

I’ve got I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart –Where?
I’ve got that joy joy joy joy down in my heart –Where?
Down in my heart to stay

There’s so much truth there, but it’s so easy to forget, so easy to let the old habits dictate and confuse, so easy to let sin steal that joy.

God’s truth makes it clear: we can live in the light of His word—and live according to the joy in our hearts—not in a maze of darkness and confusion

What God Has Said



Photo by Rodolfo Quirós from Pexels

I might be wrong, but it seems to me as if here in western society, specifically here in the US, there has been a devaluation of the Bible. Certainly as the secular mindset becomes the norm, there’s a noted absence of religion in the realm of entertainment. There are some exceptions, but they are notable because they stick out as NOT LIKE THE REST.

But more than this change from “religion as expected practice,” is a change in the attitude toward the Bible. Once, Biblical references punctuated literature in various ways. In fact I’ve heard of some professors saying the Bible ought to be required reading so that students would understand the classics. And poetry, I might add.

But as the Bible slipped into this role of foundational to literature, its status as the authority to govern our lives has faded. Now, even among those who identify themselves as Progressive Christians, the Bible is treated as little more than interesting (and sometimes boring) myth about things we know couldn’t possibly have really happened.

I’ve heard over and over in my discussions with atheists, either here at my blog or in the Facebook atheist/theist group, that the Bible is simply not reliable, can’t be trusted at any level, and—worse—shows god to be hateful, vengeful, cruel.

I was first made aware that people looked at the Bible like this when I had a lengthy exchange some years ago with someone who was a professing Christian, claiming that god the father “repented” of his anger, which is why he sent Jesus, a loving, kind, and gentle version of himself.

Clearly that guy did not get his ideas from the Bible. They came from what Paul calls “philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

And that’s the problem. Some people still calling themselves Christians have given up believing the Bible, understanding it as God’s revelation of Himself—His Person, His plan, His work, His Word. They no longer believe it is authoritative. They don’t believe it’s sufficient for life and godliness either, or that how we respond to it determines our eternal destiny.

Sadly, this attitude seems to be seeping into the Church as well—not just the false church, but the true Church. It starts with parts we start labeling “cultural.”

Don’t get me wrong. One of the things atheists do, if they read the Bible at all—and many don’t—is take verses out of context and treat Christians as if we are waiting in the wings to implement the Law of Moses right here in the US. They have no understanding at all of how God, because of His grace, satisfied His just wrath by the blood of Jesus, and thereby fulfilled the law.

So, no, Christians don’t want to stone adulterers or disobedient children or any other sinners. Because, as Paul said, “Such were some of you.” We are all deserving of God’s wrath, but because of His great love He extended to us—to the whole world, Jesus said in John 3:16—those who believe have eternal life, not judgment.

In short, we are saved by faith, not by works. But faith that saves, works. That’s essentially what James says in his letter to first century Christians running for their lives from the persecution brought on by the religious Jews (like Paul, before he became a Christian).

Yet I’ve heard James’s letter challenged by a preacher who claims to believe the Bible. Just not that book, as if it was mistakenly put into the canon.

Other people challenge bits and pieces of Paul’s letters, as if he wrote them without really meaning them. There are whole chapters about how the gifts of the Spirit are to be used in the assembly of the Church, but today there are whole denominations that claim some of those spiritual gifts aren’t around any more. So where does that leave the instruction of the word of God? Apparently on the cutting room floor. There are other parts, too—wives submitting to husbands comes to mind, as does women serving as pastors.

Because these things don’t fit nicely into the way our culture is moving, we Christians now want to dump the authority of the Bible instead of doing the hard work of understanding the principle behind the words of Scripture. We forget that all Scripture is inspired by God. All. Not just the parts we like. Not just the ones that sound good. Not just the ones that promise hope and help.

Scripture tells us to deny ourselves daily. Scripture says we are to take up our crosses. We can’t XXX out those passages because we don’t like them, because they are countercultural or contrary to the image we want to project to the world.

God’s word is absolutely authoritative because God is Sovereign Ruler of everything. What He says is true and right and good. Even the parts of His revelation that are hard for us—hard for us to do, hard for us to understand, hard for us to accept. The world will scream at us that the Bible is old-fashioned, out-dated, irrelevant. But the truth is just the opposite. God wrote about gender wars back in Genesis 3 and Paul talked about how to solve those problems in multiple passages. But we want to ignore those solutions because, well, some people might misuse his council or it might make us look foolish to our culture or . . .

Yes, ignoring God’s council is no better than XXXing out the parts we don’t like. So when He speaks about gossip, we ought not chuckle behind our hands and double-down on our hatred of abortion. Abortion is a horrible sin and we should stand against it, but shouldn’t we stand against gossip just as strenuously? Or lying? I mean, if God’s authoritative word says He hates lying (and it does, more than once), why do we view that as an “acceptable” sin and homosexuality as an unforgivable sin?

I just heard a woman speak on Christian radio who was saved out of a homosexual lifestyle, and in the conversation the fact came out that some Christian colleges will not invite her to speak to their student body because of her past. Apparently they missed the “and such were some of you” part of the Bible. Or they’ve decided they only need to concern themselves with the parts of the Bible they like. Which actually makes them authoritative in their lives rather than God and His word.

Do I Pray My Priorities?


Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

More often than not, when a speaker addressing Christians addresses the topic of priorities, an established order of what’s important surfaces: God first, others second, self third. Generally “others” is broken down into family over friends or neighbors or business associates or church contacts.

I suspect most Christians, when asked, would also say they value missions highly, care about their pastor, and are interested in evangelism, missions, or some other ministry. I’m confident many would add a concern for our schools, public or private, and what’s happening in national government, maybe in state government, and some even in local government.

These things and others that we care about according to our priority lists, should be occupying more of our time and money and energy and thoughts than what we so often do think—and pray—about: things that will make me, my family, and my friends happy or more comfortable.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t “live my list” like I wish I did. But even if I fail to welcome the new neighbors on the corner, can’t I pray for them? Even if I don’t have offering money beyond what I give to my local church, can’t I pray for missionaries or other ministries? Even though I don’t write a note of encouragement to my pastor, can’t I pray for him?

Living out our priorities is hard, hard work. Prayer? I know some people talk about laboring in prayer, but it seems to me conversations with God about the things I care most about ought to be conversations I rush to have, ones I look forward to, and have to be pulled away from with reluctance.

And if that’s not the case, then maybe the problem is my understanding of prayer, or my list. I know what my priorities should be … what I say they are. But are my priorities like my New Year’s Resolutions—a list I make knowing full well it’s more wishful thinking than a guide for what I intend to do?

I understand wishful thinking. I’ve wished I was a good housekeeper, a good correspondent, a conscientious exerciser. But do I wish those things to the point of change? The first clue to the answer to that question, I think, is whether or not I begin to pray for the thing I say I care about.

If I believe God hears and answers prayer, and I do, then why, why, why wouldn’t I pray about the things I say are top most on my list of priorities?

From the book of James:

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (vv 16b-18)

Elijah’s nature was just like ours. James was clearly implying that we have the same kind of power in prayer as Elijah had. But his prayer had to do with God getting the attention of a wayward king, a disobedient people. In other words, his prayer had to do with the spiritual welfare of those to whom he was sent as a prophet of God.

Would that my prayers will become more centered on spiritual needs than on physical ones!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2009.

Published in: on March 1, 2019 at 4:51 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , ,

What Does God Say about Christians?


While it is disturbing to realize that at least a portion of non-Christians are clueless when it comes to what Christians are about, I realize that I am also ignorant or forgetful about who I am.

The thing is, I know in my head what Scripture says, but I so easily fall into viewing myself as just another person. Nobody special.

Which is also true, in the sense that I haven’t done anything to earn a special standing before God. Nevertheless, my being a Christian sets me apart from others who are not Christians.

Here are a few things I can think of from the Bible that clarify who I am as a Christian.

I am a believer. Of course others believe, even atheists, though they like to say they don’t. But my belief is in the completed work of Jesus Christ, to which I can add nothing. I don’t think there’s any other belief system that puts a person so completely at the mercy of Someone else.

I am an ambassador. Not to France or China, though of course God could send me there. He hasn’t. Nevertheless, He’s given me this role of representing Him to those around me. It’s a high and holy calling that gives me purpose and significance.

I am a piece of clay, being molded into the image of Jesus Christ. I am not the Potter. I don’t get to call the shots, but that’s a good thing, because I can’t see beyond my own small space on the wheel. I could never know how many decorative vases or how many daily-use pots are needed.

I am light. Though I shouldn’t, I sometimes climb under a basket because I feel self-conscious having others surrounded by darkness looking at me. I don’t feel qualified or able to throw my light against the shadows. But it isn’t really “my light,” since I am actually a reflection of the Light of the World.

I am a hand. Or maybe a foot. Probably a mouth. 😉 The point is, I am a part of the body of Christ. One member, not the whole all by myself.

I am a branch, spliced into the Vine, deriving my existence from Him.

There are so many more I could elaborate upon: a child, a friend, a sheep, an heir, a soldier, a runner, a temple, and more. God has not left us in the dark when it comes to who He says we Christians are. 😀

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here originally in July, 2009.

Published in: on February 28, 2019 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: