The Difference God’s Word Makes


Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash

People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (7)  
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Wasn’t He Supposed To Wait Tables?


Stephen and Phillip lived in the first century when the Church had it’s beginning.

Generally Stephen is referred to as the first Christian martyr, and yet when you look at the Biblical account of his life, short though the record is, you discover that his position in the church, like Phillip’s, would have falling under the category of “helps.” I suppose the equivalent in my church would have been the now-defunct position of “deacon.”

Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to take care of a group of widows who were not receiving what they needed. When made aware of the problem, the apostles told the Church that they, tasked with teaching the fledgling believers, ought not “neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The plan, then, was for the Church to choose seven men “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The apostles would then be free to focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

One of the seven was Philip, and yet somehow he ended up going to Samaria and preaching to crowds. At what must have seemed like the height of that ministry, however, the Spirit of God sent him back to Judea in order to explain Scripture to an Ethiopian traveling back home from Jerusalem.

After he baptized the man, the Spirit of the Lord “snatched” him away and he ended up near the Mediterranean Sea, in Azotus (present day Esdûd), one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, where he picked up his preaching again. On he went from there to Caesarea, proclaiming the gospel in all the cities along the way.

And this was one of those men chosen to serve tables.

Stephen did what Philip was doing, but more so. After Scripture notes that the apostles prayed for the seven chosen to care for the needs of the widows, it next states that Stephen performed “great wonders and signs among the people.”

Hmmm, sounds like more than serving tables.

As if that wasn’t enough, a bunch of Jews, some originally from Greece and some from Asia, began arguing with him. The problem was, they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom, not to mention the Spirit with which he spoke (see Acts 6:10).

In retaliation they persuaded a handful of men to lie and say that Stephen had blasphemed. They also stirred up the people and eventually dragged him before the Sanhedrin.

In front of this group of the most important Jewish leaders of the day, Stephen preached a sermon like few others, to the point that the hearts of those that heard him were pricked. You might say, in today’s parlance, their consciences were seared.

As a result, they attacked him and stoned him to death.

By point of reminder, Stephen was one of the seven chosen to serve tables.

Since when did serving tables become so dangerous?

Well, obviously they didn’t kill Stephen for serving tables. They killed him because he didn’t confine himself to just serving tables.

That’s the issue, I think. In today’s desire for efficiency and clarity and categorizing, we study the spiritual gifts the Bible talks about and we take tests to determine which gift we have. Then we know what our ministry focus should be and we pigeonhole ourselves into a slot.

Not that there isn’t value in discovering our spiritual gifts. But I tend to think today’s Western Christian, myself included, doesn’t think large enough. We think, I’ve got this little greeter job, or this class of seven-year-olds, or this newsletter to create. What if God wants us to preach to crowds even though the job the church has commissioned us for is to work the sound equipment Sunday morning?

Here’s the question: Why should we let our church job define our ministry? Philip didn’t and neither did Stephen, though it cost him his life.

I wonder if today we are too afraid of what preaching boldly would cost. Not our lives, but perhaps our reputation, our job, or peace in our little corner of the world.

Not that we should go out looking for a fight, but I don’t think that’s what Stephen did. Instead, he let the Holy Spirit use him how He wished, whether that meant serving tables or preaching in front of the religious elite, or dying for doing so.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in June 2012.

Go Ye


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I’m reading a biography of Amy Carmichael, missionary to India and a few other places.

At a young age she was challenged at a missionary convention regarding the need to take the gospel to those who had not heard.

Elisabeth Elliot, who wrote this particular biography, put it this way:

Before the convention [Amy] had been pondering the agonizing question of the fate of those who had never heard of Jesus Christ. It was as though she heard “the cry of the heathen,” and could not rest because she could not gladly stay at home and do nothing about them. (A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot, p 52)

Still, she didn’t expect that she herself would leave home to go and become the ambassador for her Lord and Savior. But she prayed.

Four years later, when God called her to serve in foreign lands, He made His will very clear to her: “It was that snowy Wednesday evening [of January 13, 1892] that the categorical imperative came, not just once but again and again: Go ye.”

Regardless, the decision was not easy. She lived in a time without air travel, internet, or even international phone service. Going to foreign places meant a long term interruption to her familial relationships. She had commitments at home.

As she struggled with what she was to do she wrote of “‘those dying in the dark, 50,000 of them every day,’ of her own longing to tell them of Jesus, and her misgivings.” (p 54)

Convinced by counsel from her mother and others, who reminded her that she was God’s and that if God asked for her, how can she but go, Amy made her decision.

She believed she was responding to God’s direct call on her life. She was to go because thousands of people were living and dying without hearing the gospel. They were lost, in need of a Savior. And she had what they needed.

I can’t help but compare what weighed on Amy with what seems to weigh on Christians today. Honestly, I don’t hear about the passion for the souls of those living in places without Christ. I hear about poverty and disease and oppression, but not as much about people dying without Christ.

So I wonder if Christians today are as concerned for the lost as we are for the needy.

We seem to believe that our mission is to help people become more comfortable, and then, when they are no longer hungry or homeless or jobless or oppressed, they’ll give thought to their spiritual condition.

But I suspect that’s not true. The early Christians had no comfort or ease to offer those they evangelized. They preached Christ and Him crucified. The preached the fellowship of His sufferings. They preached dying to self and taking up their crosses. They told those who believed to be imitators of them as they were of Christ, and then they became martyrs.

The conventional wisdom today is that people who are hungry or homeless or living in danger are not open spiritually. Their focus is on their spiritual needs. Maybe that’s so. I’m no psychologist, I’ve done no studies on the subject. I do know that people in other ages and generations made a difference spiritually because they preached Christ.

Do we need a different approach today? We’re living in a different time, witnessing to people of the 21st century. Don’t we need a 21st century strategy?

Perhaps. But I can’t help but think of Romans 10:14

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?

God clearly cares for the needy. He chastised Israel for their treatment of orphans, widows, and strangers, and James specifies that “pure and undefiled religion” includes visiting “orphans and widows in their distress.”

But what’s the point? Our religion is to demonstrate what we believe. It isn’t to replace the commission we’ve been given to make disciples or to go into all the world to preach the gospel.

Amy Charmichael heard God’s call to “Go ye” because her heart was sensitive to the lost. May we the Church be just as heart broken over the spiritual condition of those without Christ. Yes, we can still care about their needs, but may we never be more concerned with meeting physical needs than with providing Living Water and Everlasting Bread.

Published in: on September 12, 2016 at 7:35 pm  Comments (10)  
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Doing Ministry In The Twenty-first Century


New_Spring_Church_Greenville_2Another pastor has been asked to leave his church—a megachurch, no less, so there’s lots of attention to his failings and his firing. I’m referring to Perry Noble, pastor and founder of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, who confessed to an ongoing overuse of alcohol.

Apparently he’s been trying to grow his church to a membership of 100,000, and the stress got to him, such that tension developed in his marriage. He turned to alcohol to alleviate the problems and of course, alcohol became one more problem on its own.

Noble’s statement said: “What we’ve seen the Lord do over the past 16 years has been a modern day miracle. However, in my obsession to do everything possible to reach 100,000 [members] and beyond – it has come at a personal cost in my own life and created a strain on my marriage.” (“Perry Noble enters treatment centre”)

I have to ask, was the church growth he referred to, a modern day miracle or a result of his obsessive activity? I don’t think it can be both. Either God does the work or man’s marketing techniques does the work.

I can’t help but contrast Pastor Noble’s obsessive work to grow the size of his church (which apparently is more like a denomination “which claims 30,000 members across 17 cities” [“How Perry Noble’s Alcohol Firing by NewSpring Compares to Other Churches”]) and that of George Müller a hundred and fifty years ago. The latter wasn’t trying for great numbers. He wasn’t obsessive about growing his ministry. He continued building orphan homes as God enabled because the list of children who needed a place continued to grow and grow and grow.

The only thing Pastor Müller worked tirelessly at was prayer. And preaching God’s word. He didn’t care if he was talking to a small group in Australia or a large church in Chicago. He preached, during the last eight or so years of his life when he felt called as an itinerant preacher, to any and all churches that invited him. Further, from the beginning of his work with orphans and with support for various other Christian endeavors, he laid his needs before God and did not publicize them.

Today’s churches seem to have capitulated to the organization and the marketing mechanisms used by corporations. We have boards that oversee churches, made up of pastors from other churches, not from a group of elders within the church body. We want celebrity pastors who Tweet and livestream and do Facebook, all for the purpose of growing the size of the “ministry.”

Gone, it would seem, is dependence on prayer and gone is the centrality of God’s word. Now “ministry” means seminars on addiction and dealing with autism and job loss or infertility or any number of other heartbreaking and difficult situations people might encounter.

Does no one still believe that the Bible is actually relevant to our times and our problems? Why are we so quick to look to the devices the world has manufactured, to cope with our hurts and sins? Why don’t we pay attention to Scripture instead?

In fact, shouldn’t we be so plugged into what the Bible tells us about how we ought to walk and please God, that we don’t find ourselves falling into the pit created by following the world’s way of doing things?

The Church should be like a hospital, I think, for those outside. But for those of us inside? We should be all about healthy habits that keep us from getting sick. What would we think of a hospital that spends the majority of its efforts and resources treating the nurses and doctors who worked there?

Of course Christians fail, we stumble, we fall, and we need people with whom we can confess our sins. We need people who will walk beside us so that we aren’t adding sin to sin. I’m not suggesting the Church should not provide a support system for those who need help. But that’s the thing—prayer, relationships with other Christians, a study of God’s word should be a regular part of our lives, allowing room for the Holy Spirit to work.

Churches need pastors who faithfully preach the word of God, in season and out. We need to hear the full council of God’s word, not just messages from favorite passages, hop, skipping, and jumping through the text based on a topic. That’s the way important passages get skipped. That’s why we don’t address addiction in the church or divorce or premarital sex. There are lots of other topics the church simply lets slide—apparently the marketing strategy says talking about a lot of “old time” topics isn’t appealing to the target audience.

I wonder if God’s heart isn’t broken by us going off on our own to do His work without Him.

Published in: on July 20, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (5)  
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Warnings Or Threats


Jesus Christ came to seek and to save. That cost Him His life. But Scripture also says He gave us an example to follow. Peter said it clearly in his first letter.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:22-24)

So Christ is our model. When he was condemned, censured, abused, attacked, He didn’t sling invectives back. While he was beaten bloody, while he hung dying, He didn’t curse those who were responsible. He didn’t threaten them with Hell, and surely He could have.

I started thinking about threats in the context of warning sinners about their eternal destiny if they don’t repent.

I’ve said before that part of a Christian’s responsibility is to tell people the truth about what their headed towards. How else can they turn from the error of their ways if they haven’t heard that their ways are leading to destruction?

I’ve likened the Christian’s role to that of an emergency worker warning traffic that up ahead the bridge is out. They can’t slow down and carefully easy their way forward. No, the bridge is gone! If they continue down the road, they will crash. No other option. They must either turn around or die.

Is that a threat?

I know some atheists think so. They look at Christians as gleeful in their pronouncements of doom.

The truth is, there’s a difference between warning someone of impending disaster and threatening someone with it. In the first case, the person is trying to prevent harm and in the second, he is calling it down on another’s head.

Sadly, I believe the Christian’s job to proclaim the truth about God’s justice is much harder as a result of a misguided group of people professing Christ but listening to false teaching–the Westboro Baptist folks.

They were in the news here in SoCal a week ago as they made plans to come and picket the funeral of a soldier killed in combat. As it turned out, they didn’t show up, but the local community was up in arms and ready to spring a counter-protest.

These wrong-headed people from Kansas are in no way following in Jesus’s steps. This from a news release sent out days before the funeral and still available on their web site:

GOD HATES AMERICA & IS KILLING
YOUR TROOPS IN HIS WRATH.
Military funerals have become pagan orgies of
idolatrous blasphemy, where they pray to the
dunghill gods of Sodom & play taps to a fallen fool.

The last line is the worst: “THANK GOD FOR IEDs.” That would be the weapon used to kill this soldier.

So how is it that people like this think they are walking in obedience to God’s will? Christ was suffering but He made no threats. Do they think that because they’re not the ones suffering, it’s OK to issue threats and recrimination?

In the end, all they accomplish is to confuse society so that when someone wants to issue a warning, it’s taken as a threat. But that’s what false teaching does–it plays right into the hands of Satan, the father of lies.

Published in: on June 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm  Comments Off on Warnings Or Threats  
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Wasn’t He Suppose To Wait Tables?


Generally Stephen is referred to as the first Christian martyr and yet when you look at the Biblical account of his life, short though it is, you discover that his position in the church was one of “helps.” I suppose the equivalent in my church would be “deacon.”

Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to take care of a group of widows who were not receiving what they needed. When made aware of the problem, the apostles told the Church that they ought not “neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The plan, then, was for the Church to choose seven men “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” The apostles would then be free to focus on “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

One of the seven was Philip, and yet somehow he ended up going to Samaria and preaching to crowds. At what must have seemed like the height of that ministry, however, the Spirit of God sent him back to Judea in order to explain Scripture to an Ethiopian traveling back home from Jerusalem.

After he baptized the man, the Spirit of the Lord “snatched” him away and he ended up near the Mediterranean Sea, in Azotus (present day Esdûd), one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, where he picked up his preaching again. On he went from there to Caesarea, proclaiming the gospel in all the cities along the way.

And this was one of those men chosen to serve tables.

Stephen did what Philip was doing, but more so. After Scripture notes that the apostles prayed for the seven chosen to care for the needs of the widows, it next states that Stephen performed “great wonders and signs among the people.”

Hmmm, sounds like more than serving tables.

As if that wasn’t enough, a bunch of Jews, some originally from Greece and some from Asia, began arguing with him. The problem was, they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom, not to mention the Spirit with which he spoke (see Acts 6:10).

In retaliation they persuaded a handful of men to lie and say that Stephen had blasphemed. They also stirred up the people and eventually dragged him before the Sanhedrin.

In front of this group of the most important Jewish leaders of the day, Stephen preached a sermon like few others, to the point that the hearts of those that heard him were pricked. You might say, in today’s parlance, their consciences were seared.

As a result, they attacked him and stoned him to death.

By point of reminder, Stephen was one of the seven chosen to serve tables.

Since when did serving tables become so dangerous?

Well, obviously they didn’t kill Stephen for serving tables. They killed him because he didn’t confine himself to just serving tables.

That’s the issue, I think. In today’s desire for efficiency and clarity and categorizing, we study the spiritual gifts the Bible talks about and we take tests to determine which gift we have. Then we know what our ministry focus should be and we pigeonhole ourselves into a slot.

Not that there isn’t value in discovering our spiritual gifts. But I tend to think today’s Western Christian, myself included, doesn’t think large enough. We think, I’ve got this little greeter job, or this class of seven-year-olds, or this newsletter to create. What if God wants us to preach to crowds even though the job the church has commissioned us for is to work the sound equipment Sunday morning?

Here’s the question: Why should we let our church job define our ministry? Philip didn’t and neither did Stephen, though it cost him his life.

I wonder if today we are too afraid of what preaching boldly would cost. Not our lives, but perhaps our reputation, our job, or peace in our little corner of the world.

Not that we should go out looking for a fight, but I don’t think that’s what Stephen did. Instead, he let the Holy Spirit use him how He wished, whether that meant serving tables or preaching in front of the religious elite, or dying for doing so.

Published in: on June 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Influence And Good Deeds


Since last Thursday when I wrote the post “Who Do We Follow?” I’ve been mulling over the question what it means to be “in the world but not of it”–a phrase that comes from Jesus’s prayer for His people just before the events leading to His crucifixion:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:15-16)

This “in but not of” creates a tension that apparently God wants, in large part, it would seem, because He has a job for us to do–that of making disciples.

But how, precisely, are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to go about letting our light shine?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)

Yesterday I received an email from Publisher’s Weekly that got me to thinking about influence and making a difference in our culture. It seems that a significant number of people in the publishing world have taken it upon themselves to see to it that President Obama is re-elected. Set aside for the moment how appropriate it is for an industry periodical to take this biased stand or for a group of people to presume to speak for the industry at large, the point in question is that these people believe their voices can make a difference. Their voices, their visibility.

I imagine news crews will be out filming authors and publishers marching along the streets of New York waving pro-Obama signs and giving interviews to say how much the US needs this President to stay in office.

My initial reaction is, Wow, they’re right. They’re speaking out and getting the jump on any number of the rest of us who have a different opinion. In politics, the bandwagon effect seems to be so important. Get the “right” people to voice an opinion, and those who believe in, follow, admire, listen to those influential voices will create an echo chamber that spreads the message far and wide.

So why don’t Christians do this, too? Wouldn’t that be the best way to bring people to Christ? Wouldn’t that be the Church engaging the world in the way the world will best listen? Isn’t this, in fact, why so many Christians are on the look-out for celebrity believers? If we can just get the celebrities to speak up for Christ, then surely their followers will do the same.

There definitely is a speaking out component in bring people to Christ. Paul says in Colossians, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” In Peter’s first letter, he says in chapter two, “…so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

But is proclamation the “light” that Jesus referred to? In fact, He couples letting our light shine with our good deeds.

Later in 1 Peter 2, the apostle says, “For such is the will of God, that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (emphasis mine).

As I see it, this is another line of tension. Yes, we are to be in the world but not of it. And we are also to proclaim Christ and do good.

Do we get to choose one or the other? Can we stand on the street corner and wave Bible verses in front of people as they drive by without doing good? Can we hand out tracts at the beach or leave them at restaurants without doing good?

On the other hand, can we give food for the homeless shelter or volunteer to tutor at the inner city school and not proclaim Christ? Can we make blankets for unwed mothers or work a shift at the thrift shop and not admonish and teach with all wisdom?

Must the two go hand in hand or is there a time to paint buildings for the underprivileged and a separate time to speak of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross? Do the good works allow us to speak because they first silence the ignorance of foolish men?

In the mean time, as we do good deeds, one person at a time, will the publishing industry band together with the political forces to regulate Christianity out of the public forum?

Where is the fight?

If it’s in the heart of man, as Scripture teaches, shouldn’t we focus our efforts there?

Then do we abandon the political arena, the media, and quietly work behind closed doors?

I don’t see easy answers. If we engage the issues in the same way those opposed to a Christian worldview do, then believers are labeled hateful and bigots and hypocrites. If we stay silent, those rejecting Christ speak to the culture anyway and define who we are and what we believe.

If Scripture is true, and I know it to be so, then it seems we are not silencing the ignorance of foolish men with our good deeds. Rather than increasing the rhetoric, perhaps we need to increase doing what is right. Of course, if that’s the answer, then we need to know what the Bible considers “doing right.”

Prayer for Our Pastors


Scripture is full of counsel, not the least of which is to pray. I’m becoming more aware how powerful prayer is. I mean, I have a chance to tell my woes to the Person most interested, the One who loves me most, and the Individual most capable of doing something about my concerns.

There’s just one little catch. God wants my requests to be aligned with His will. So how do I know if it’s God’s will for me to do this or that, go here or go there? I found myself tacking on, “if it’s your will,” to many of my prayer requests, which gave me an out for believing that God might or might not answer when I asked Him stuff.

But my new understanding of the power of prayer has directed me toward praying for things I know TO BE God’s will. The Bible is packed with stuff I can pray for with complete confidence that my requests are aligned with God’s will. For example, is it His will for a Christian to be salt in the world? Then why don’t I pray for my fellow believers to be salt? More to the point, why don’t I pray that I will be salt?

When it comes to pastors, there’s a couple really cool verses in Ephesians that guide my prayers these days. After telling the believers in Ephesus to pray for all the saints, Paul goes on to say this:

and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
– Eph 6:19-20

Why am I zeroing in on pastors? Because the church seems to be taking a lot of criticism of late. The world has a low view of Christians, and many Christians have a low view of themselves, or at least of the church.

Add to the mix that more and more false teachers are going about saying they have a new twist on the old gospel message. Or they have a better understanding than what Christians have had for the last two thousand years.

How, I started to wonder, have churches that once preached the gospel become nothing more than social clubs advocating some kind of moral tolerance or ethical righteousness? How have so many watered down Scripture? How is it that a growing number of professing Christians no longer read the Bible any more, apart from a few favorite passages around Easter time or Christmas?

Could it be that the problem starts with our preachers?

Actually no. I suggest it starts with lay people who do not pray for our pastors and teachers. What if we pray that God would give our pastors pronouncements or proclamations when they open their mouths to preach so that they boldly disclose to us the mysteries of the gospel? What if we claim them as ambassadors and ask God on their behalf to enable them to speak as they ought to speak?

My guess is, those pastors would not succumb to false teaching or trade in preaching the Word of God for some other gospel. My guess is, all of us in their congregations would hear revealed truth, delivered with power, even if it makes us uncomfortable. No more “preaching to the choir.” Not if we pray for our pastors according to God’s will.

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Comments (4)  
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What to Do About Apostasy?


Sometime the abundance of false teaching discourages me. On one side are professing Christians claiming freedom in Christ (or dismissing the authority of Scripture) in order to live immoral lives. These individuals claim knowledge of God based on their own intuition—God who is good must be like A because I think A is good. Using this argument, they condone premarital sex, homosexuality, greed, selfishness, pride, and any number of other vices the Bible teaches against.

Of course there is another camp that preaches the importance of holding God to his word. If he said it and you claim it, God has to come through. It’s a formula. Put in your faith, push God’s promise button, and out will come what you want. (When Satan tried this tactic with Jesus, God’s Son answered him by a principle laid out in the Bible: “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST'” [Luke 4:12].)

Apostasy—falling away from the faith—doesn’t stop there. Some fall away because of ignorance—they haven’t learned what the Bible says. As a result they are crushed when trouble comes, perhaps because they expected Christianity to make life easier only to discover it doesn’t.

Jesus spelled this out when he explained the parable of the sower and seed:

The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
– Matthew 13:20-21 (emphasis mine)

Apostasy exists today and seems to be growing. More TV “evangelists” and authors and emergent thinkers spring up every day it seems.

But this past Sunday I heard a sermon that reminded me God told us apostasy would grow.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits
– I Timothy 4:1a

Which takes us to the question under consideration: what to do about apostasy? God through the Apostle Paul, to Timothy again, had the answer:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 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, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
– 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Pretty clear: Preach the word. Reprove, rebuke, exhort. And when people turn away, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In other words, people’s response should not dictate what a Christian does or does not do. Some ridicule missionary work. Some mock evangelism. Some denigrate the teaching of the Word of God from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday as passe or irrelevant. Some tear down “preachy Christian messages” in fiction (not because they are poorly executed—that’s another issue—but because they are Christian).

None of those criticisms should keep pastors from preaching, evangelists from evangelizing, missionaries from spreading the gospel, or writers from writing stories with themes consistent with God’s Word.

The believer’s mandate is to make disciples. Apostasy might make it tougher but shouldn’t change the goal.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:33 am  Comments (8)  
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Affecting Culture through Stories


How important are stories? Next to actual Bible study, I suggest they are the most powerful teaching tools available.

Way back when—more than fifteen years ago, I believe—I read a book by Gary Smalley (which, it turns out, was re-released last year) entitled The Language of Love. In that book, Smalley suggested a communication technique that would especially help women reach men, not with abstract information but at the heart level. The technique, in essence is, tell a story.

After reading that book, I began to see ways in which our culture was shaped by the stories we embraced. Changes in attitudes often follow the gradual changes in depicting a subject in the media. (The typical pattern is first to make a joke about the subject until joking about it is normative; then joking changes to acceptance—open discussion; acknowledgment, especially of the rights an individual has in connection to the subject—which morphs to an attitude of “everyone does it” or “they’re just like us.” This pattern is evident in things such as the attitudes toward pornography and homosexuality).

I was reminded of this by two unrelated sources today. One, a letter from a US-based ministry, quoted statistics published in the AARP magazine (that’s for seniors), including questions like, do you believe in God, in heaven, in hell. The startling thing for me was this line: There was a sizeable number of individuals who believed in a second time around. 23% believed in reincarnation (50 years ago the % would have been 1.)

Now for the second source. In a blog post including information from an interview about his soon-to-be-released non-fiction book, Rethinking Worldview Mark Bertrand said this: After all, the average Christian has been much more profoundly influenced by non-Christian art and entertainment than he has by non-Christian evangelism and apologetics.

That line made total sense as I thought about the 22% of our population who have converted to belief in reincarnation, without people standing on the street corners handing out tracts about it. Or holding reincarnation tent meetings.

Mind you, I am not against these kinds of evangelism in the hands of Christians. The point is, persuasion often comes in more subtle ways—through pop culture, through art, through literature.

I’ve ranted before about the “innocent” little Disney movie that so many Christians embraced, The Lion King, in which many New Age teachings were front and center. Shortly thereafter (at least here in SoCal), makeshift shrines began to appear on the street when someone died, followed with claims that “I know my deceased ____” is watching over me/helping me/looking down on me. I’ve heard such anti-biblical comments from people who claim to be Christians. And maybe are.

The point is, the culture, and story in particular, has had a greater influence on forming belief about death and the afterlife than has the Bible and preaching about the subject. Well, to be fair, maybe not a greater influence. After all, the reincarnation number is still not the majority.

Sadly, however, only 29% believed they would go to Heaven because of a belief in Jesus Christ, though 88% said they believed THEY would go to heaven. Clearly, our culture is an eclectic hodge-podge of false teaching with truth mixed in.

And how can we sort through the sludge to show the gospel? Next to Bible study and good expository Bible teaching in church, I tend to think stories can be the most effective tools.

Published in: on September 28, 2007 at 10:02 am  Comments (8)