The World Divided


The world’s always been divided. I understand that. In Europe under the medieval system there were serfs and knights, lords and clergy, barons and kings. Essentially divisions were along economic lines which in turn created social lines. That’s why a royal marrying a commoner was pretty much unheard of.

Of course there were the natural barriers created by oceans that divided people groups. Then there was the development of nationalism and racism that divided people based on where they lived and what were their physical traits.

In the last 50 years the world has become smaller and smaller. The old dividing lines have melted away, but a new line is replacing all the old ones: worldview.

What do you believe? That’s the new dividing line. Of course nationalism, economics, social standing and race play into creating a person’s worldview, but I’m realizing a bigger aspect that forms the way we look at the world is our view of God.

People who don’t believe in God see the world one way, those who do believe in God, see the world in a very different way.

The discussion of the day at the FB atheist/theist group centered on the role of women. We are divided. Christians for the most part reflect the Biblical view of gender differences. Atheists think submission is a dirty word. One member even said that he would not EVER submit to ANYONE.

Which underscores the divide.

Christians first submit to God. Atheists, I believe, see the issue of obeying Someone who is over them in authority as the reason they reject God.

Christians submit to government. Atheists submit to government if they agree with it, if they have a say in creating it.

Christians believe in gender roles that involve love and submission. Atheists believe in “partnership,” which is destined to be unequal or contentious.

I know these are simplistic generalities, but I do think this divide—believing in God or not believing in God—is growing, at least in the US.

The fact is, our worldview dictates what we believe about various other issues, and ultimately what we do.

Lakers fans are Lakers fans. No one asks what your worldview is when you cheer for your favorite basketball team. But who smashes windows in the “celebrations” of a team’s successes? I don’t think anyone has ever taken a poll, but it seems hard for me to believe that someone who fears God would act in a destructive way. I mean, I’m not even saying, “Christian.” But someone who believes they either have to answer to God or they have to behave a certain way to please Him or they live by the command to love their neighbor, isn’t probably going to start fires, smash store windows, and loot local businesses.

Take that same idea to life in general. Who commits fraud against senior citizens, people who believe in and fear God or people who reject Him? Who hijacks cars? Steals purses? Shoplifts? Shoots people en masse?

I’m not saying there are no criminals who believe in God. As I noted earlier, this is a broad brush, painting generalities. But it makes sense to me that people who believe in a moral law, a Lawgiver, and a Judge, are much more likely to be law abiding than people who think law is whatever we make it and there is no one watching them 24/7, there is no just judge who will hold them accountable.

What’s the point?

I guess I think, there is no governmental answer that will bring us back into harmony. We can’t pass enough hate-crime laws or ban speakers or curb free speech in a way that will fix the great divide. I mean, telling one side to shut up and sit down is not fixing things in the first place. And a look at history will show that belief in Jesus has done well when the other side tries to stop the spread of His message.

The answer, I believe, is the one Jesus gave when He returned to heaven. We are to make disciples. The more disciples, the more people who learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

It is a little surprising that so many look at Christianity as dangerous. And I mean, not just theism, but Christianity. I understand, for example, there is once again a crackdown in China on the unregistered house churches. And even of some of the registered ones. Specifically crosses have been eliminated in one area.

Why?

I can only think of one reason: Christians see the world differently.

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Published in: on November 27, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Generosity


I have a generous friend. I mean, really generous. If someone is in need, her first instinct is to give. And not just a token amount of giving. Really sacrificial giving.

Funny thing—among western Christians today, many would think of her as reckless, not saving for a rainy day as the Bible instructs. But wait! The Bible does not instruct us to save for a rainy day!

Instead, the Apostle Paul, going through Macedonia and Greece, was collecting money from various churches in support of believers living in Judea because they were experiencing great need. Consequently, Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth was this:

this [giving to the Judean believers] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; (2 Cor. 8:13-14)

Sadly the tendency in our current Christian circles seems to be more self-help than reliance on God to supply through the generosity of other disciples of Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do think Christians are generous, but it seems as if we are more concerned about foreign missions and the urban poor than we are about needy believers. We support Bibles for Latin America—a really good thing—wells for Indonesia, food and water for a drought-stricken country in Northern Africa. Further, we give to Christian radio and to our missionaries and to our church.

As a group, Christians are generous, generous people.

Perhaps what we need most is a Paul who will tell us about the needy Christians we can empty our savings to help. Because it seems to me, we more often than not are giving of our surplus, our extra, some amount that won’t affect our current life-style.

True, Paul did say the Corinthians weren’t giving “for their affliction,” but I take that to mean, in comparison, they weren’t to go hungry so that the Judeans would have plenty to eat.

He introduced the whole subject of giving by telling the believers in Corinth what the believers in Macedonia were doing:

for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV)

Out of their poverty, they gave.

I don’t know about you, but they put me to shame.

And here’s an interesting tie-in: my church is reading through Exodus together. Yesterday and today we read about the people of Israel bringing gold and silver and wove cloth and all the stuff needed to construct the tabernacle. In fact, they brought so much, at some point Moses had to tell them to stop giving—there was enough, and more than enough of the materials needed.

All this giving came after the incident with the golden calf. With Moses away, the people decided to stray. They convinced Aaron to help. He fashioned an idol and they jumped in with feasting and dancing, and not in a worshipful way to their sovereign God who had just miraculously freed them from Egypt.

As a result, God, through Moses and the priests who stood with him, severely disciplined His people. Thousands died. Moses met with God again, and He revealed Himself, promised to go with the people, renewed the covenant He had with them. Part of what He told Moses about Himself was this: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth . . . who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6b)

When Moses returned to the people this time, the glory of the LORD shone on his face. He declared to the people the things that God had told him.

Afterward, they gave. The people were not thinking, I’d better keep back this bit of gold because I might need it later. They were not thinking about themselves at all.

My conclusion is this: the more the people realized who God is, they more they were willing to give. And, they did not look at their own circumstances but at what they had that they could give to supply a need.

My friend thinks like that: What do I have today that can help this person in need?

My tendency is to think, but I might need this tomorrow so I’d better not give it all.

Ironic since I’ve been the recipient so recently of the abundant generosity of so many who helped me through my medical crisis.

I have to wonder if perhaps, instead of thinking about God forgiving so generously, I’m not falling into the entitlement trap—God has to come through. Or maybe the “that’s for people who have a healthy savings account” mode of thinking.

I know we can’t give to every needy cause that comes our way. I mean, every radio program I listen to on Christian radio is “listener supported,” and hardly a week goes by that our local station doesn’t have someone telling us about a wonderful project needing our support that will help needy people.

So maybe there’s a little, “I can’t do it all, so I won’t do any” mindset.

Maybe there’s a little bit of callousness from one more collection for earthquake/fire/hurricane/tornado victims. Certainly in our information age, we know about all the needy people in the world in a way no other people knew before.

But in spite of all these factors, God’s word challenges me to be generous—out of my poverty even, in response to who I know God to be, for others in need. Which others? I guess He’ll show me if I ask Him.

Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Church Doing What The Church Does


Lunch at the Biola University cafeteria during the SoCalCWC

Last week I conducted two workshops and took appointments at a local writers’ conference. A Christian writers’ conference.

In my first class, I was part of a panel of editors/former editors/publishers who gave feedback to conferees who had submitted their first 300 words of a manuscript to us ahead of time.

In the mornings I attended a fiction continuing session, and then the last day I taught a class on point of view. In between I ate meals with conferees and faculty, talked with them in the appointment room, and generally had a great time interacting with other writers about writing.

But one thing was absent—well more than one thing. There was no mean spirit. No jealousy. No angry response. Not that the professionals who were teaching softened the truth. Well, maybe the softening was there in the form of love. After all, the clear intent of all the interactions I witnessed was to help these writers become better writers.

Because I’m an editor, I even had other faculty ask me in a class they were teaching, to add or suggest or to give my opinion. No sense of feeling threatened. No selfish hoarding of the spotlight. And that attitude was replicated over and over.

In the appointment room another faculty member brought a conferee to me, saying that I would be a good fit as an editor for this person. No dismissal of the person attending her first conference, though the faculty member could have said flat out that she no longer did any editing and let the newbie go her way. Instead there was care and concern and a willingness to go the extra distance to help someone in need.

Over and over on Facebook, conferees have said how helpful and friendly and encouraging the faculty was. Even though we critiqued their work and gave them better ways to do things. Even though we told them their formatting was wrong, that there was this or that error in their first page.

These attendees stayed open and willing to listen, willing to try, willing to put their writing out there for the world to give them feedback. The faculty and their fellow conferees responded with truth and with love. This is the mix that works. This is the feedback that helps a writer to learn and grow and become better.

But in reality, truth and love are the ingredients Christians are to mix whenever we relate to others.

And there we were, Christian writers, supplying truth and love for one another. For people we had not known before last weekend. But funny thing, the love of Christ for fellow believers is not hard, not when we purpose to let it shine in our hearts and for other people.

I met people from Texas and Michigan and Tennessee and Florida and Arizona and here in California. I met fiction writers and nonfiction writers. I met some people who weren’t sure what they wanted to write. I met men and women. I met some older people and some young. I met people of various ethnic groups. Despite our differences, we were united in Christ. The way the Church is supposed to be.

We sang worship songs together, we listened to inspirational messages from the keynote speakers, we prayed together. I’m sure we were all from a variety of different churches and denominations, though that never came up. We simply were there to serve one another and help each other grow and prosper as writers. As Christians who write.

That’s the Church being the Church.

Are Catholics Christians?


Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

Jesus – From God And To God


My (relatively) new pastor, Darin McWatters, has started a series in the book of Hebrews. What I love the most is that he is bringing out the focus on Jesus.

Sunday, in a message from chapter 3, he pointed out that the anonymous author of the book used two names for Jesus that aren’t used anywhere else in Scripture: Apostle and High Priest.

Apostle, he reminded us, means “sent one.” Jesus was sent from God. Interestingly, He not only carried the message, He is the message.

I’ve started a list of all the apparent contradictions related to Jesus, also known as antimonies:

Definition of antimony

1 :a contradiction between two apparently equally valid principles or between inferences correctly drawn from such principles
2 :a fundamental and apparently unresolvable conflict or contradiction (Merriam-Webster online)

For instance, Jesus is God, all God, but He is also man, completely man. How can both be true? They appear to be contradictory, but with God all things are possible.

Anyway, another to add to the list is that Jesus is God’s Messenger, but He is also the Message. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a KJV).

The other name the Hebrews writer uses is High Priest. In Judaism the high priest acted as the intermediary between God and His people. The high priest stood in the gap for them so that they could offer sacrifices for their sins.

Of course he also had to make sacrifice regularly for his own sins.

Jesus came as the perfect High Priest who could intercede for us without a sin issue of His own. As a result His sacrifice was perfect and complete. It’s not a sacrifice that needs to be repeated, and it’s so perfect it accomplishes forgiveness for all who believe. All. Down through time, all who believe.

That’s also amazing. Because of Jesus, God has fashioned a new nation: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9a). The Church does not consist exclusively of Jews. Or Americans, for that matter. We are brothers and sisters with believers in nations all over the world.

We are part of God’s family, whether we live in the 21st century or whether we came before.

We are one with Christ, whether we are men or women, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are young or old.

There is a unity among Christians that is unparalleled. We have a common Lord, the same Savior. We have one purpose, one destiny

Only God could do something so radical. Only His Son demonstrates how He reaches us, lost and in need, as the Sent One from God in order to bring us to God—something we could not do for ourselves.

What an amazing God we have.

Published in: on September 20, 2017 at 7:16 pm  Comments Off on Jesus – From God And To God  
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You Reap What You Sow


My church is doing this cool thing—have been for more than a year now. We as a congregation are invited to read a passage of Scripture together. One person from our body has been asked to write a meditation on the passage, so we read that too.

Why I think it’s so cool is that so many in the church are reading the same verses or chapter every day. We can also leave comments so if we want to pass along what impacted us the most, we can.

I had the April 2 mediation. Currently we are reading a Psalm Monday through Friday, and a portion of a chapter in Proverbs on Saturday and Sunday. So the section of Scripture I had was Proverbs 11:20-31.

I have to say, I find the Proverbs difficult to write about because the topic from verse to verse can change. It’s not easy to write in a cohesive way about verses that don’t necessarily hang together.

All that to say, I put more prayer into this meditation than just about anything else I’ve written. Praise God that He hears and answers prayer.

First the verses I was writing about (in the NASB), followed by my meditation.

20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD,
But the blameless in their walk are His delight.
21 Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,
But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.
22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout
So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.
23 The desire of the righteous is only good,
But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
27 He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
But he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.
28 He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
29 He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.
31 If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth,
How much more the wicked and the sinner! (Proverbs 11:20-31)

Much of Proverbs 11:20-31 could be summed up with the adage, “You reap what you sow.” When I was young, I wanted to reap good things, so I thought the natural course of action was to sow good things.

Consequently, when I was in fifth grade, I decided I should befriend a new student who other kids treated badly. Except, I hadn’t counted on the scorn and derision that would be heaped on me as a result.

That experience was my introduction to the idea that Biblical principles didn’t always “work.”

Of course, I was thinking short term, for the here and now. And I was trying to work the system. I was trying to make good things happen in my life by being “a good Christian.” When the outcome wasn’t what I expected, I bailed. To my shame, I turned from friend to one of the tormentors of that poor, lonely boy.

In reality, I was ignorant of the first verse of this passage—the part that tells us “the LORD abhors those who are perverse in heart.” In the original, “perverse” has the idea of “twisted,” the way I twisted the “reap what you sow” idea into “sow to get what you want.”

We are not to sow in order to get what we want. That’s manipulation. We are not to be generous, as a number of these verses say, because we want to get back more in return.

True generosity isn’t about getting. That’s twisted thinking. Perverse. The thing the LORD abhors.

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians, Evangelicals, And Jesus Followers


Westboro_Baptist Church protestersOn the internet I’ve had conversations with someone who claims to be an agnostic Christian, another person who said he might be nicer than God, others who say they believe the Bible but not the facts revealed in the Bible—only the intent behind the words (or something like that).

The point is, not everyone who claims the name of Christ believes what Christians have believed from the earliest years. A recent study noted in Christianity Today (CT) illustrates this point. Ligonier Ministries (R. C. Sproul) and Lifeway Research partnered to discover what Christians believe.

The survey quantified fundamental beliefs that have been key doctrines adhered to by two millennia of orthodox Christianity.

The results reflect what the observant believer already knows … error abounds. As false teaching gains footholds and favor, as churches forsake sound doctrine to instead scratch itching ears, the prevalence of error will continue to grow. (“The 2016 State Of Theology Survey“)

Error does abound. According to CT thirty-nine percent or more of the people in the survey, who also said they strongly agreed the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only be removed by Jesus’s death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior also agreed with the following statements:

  • Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature (54%)
  • My good deeds help to earn my place in heaven (39%)
  • Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God (71%)
  • God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (48%)

Things are even more complicated now that evangelicals are in the political spotlight. Some Christians say evangelicals need to explain ourselves for “getting Donald Trump elected.”

Most recently, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne wrote that “The Evangelicalism Of Old White Men Is Dead.” Instead our “Jesus-centered faith needs a new name.”

Apparently a Jesus-centered faith, rather than seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture, ignores most of the Bible, favoring the “red letter” parts—the words Jesus spoke which the gospels record.

I’ve tried to explain more than once that “Christians” aren’t always Christians. For instance, the Westboro Baptists clearly identified as Christians, but they spewed hateful things that in no way showed an ounce of understanding of what Jesus taught. There was no offer of grace, no mention of forgiveness, not any love for their neighbor, let alone their enemy, of whom they perceived to have many.

Others claiming the name Christian who go to church regularly, distance themselves from anyone who takes Christianity too seriously. You’re not one of those Christians, I was once asked.

Another group of “progressive Christians” want to update the faith. So they believe the Bible, but they also believe it contains a number of myths, and they clearly don’t know or understand what it says (see the point above about Jesus being created).

So there are legalists. There are cultural Christians. There are people who believe false teaching.

I’ve called these people “pretend Christians” because they claim the name, but they don’t believe what Christians believe. Some believe some things—those evangelicals who answered the survey agreed that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus as Savior. But are they referring to the Jesus they think God created? And what did He save them from if men are basically good? Do we actually need to be saved or do we need to simply try harder?

The thing is, none of this scrambled, confusing mashup of insincere people flying under God’s banner along side sincere followers of Jesus, is new. From the beginning, Enoch, who walked with God, lived even as “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Later Israel included people who obeyed the Law and those who challenged it, those who loved God and those who clung to their household idols.

Jesus helped to make some sense out of the confusion when he explained to his disciples the parable of the sower.

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)

So some people appear to accept the word, but their belief is superficial or is crowded out by things they care about more. They present as Christians. And they likely claim to be Christians. But they aren’t producing fruit.

Jesus gave another illustration to help sort out the Christ-follower claims, this one found in John 10:11-15.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

One day this confusion will all be sorted out. And that’s the shepherd’s job. He knows His sheep. Our job is not to try to separate the sheep that belong in the fold from those who don’t. Our job simply is to say, Here’s the good Shepherd. Listen to Him.

It’s The Church’s Fault


donald_trump_rally_10-21-16_30363517352

To the surprise of news analysts and voters alike, Donald Trump won yesterday’s US Presidential election. Today, on Facebook, I’m reading that some are pointing the finger at Christians. One fairly well-known name in the world of Christian communication wrote a post that says the Church “has some explaining to do,” and then launched into racist reasons Christians voted for Mr. Trump

As far as I’m concerned, this is simply the latest version of Church bashing. Three years ago, I wrote “Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil” and I’m re-posting it because I think believers have joined in with the culture at large to fault the Church for . . . whatever. It’s a dangerous trend, I believe.

I know some people will be thrown off by the idea that the devil has an active strategy to pull down the Church, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.

First, the Bible teaches that we have an adversary—not a flesh-and-blood opponent and not an advocacy group for some political ideology. Our adversary is spiritual. Paul says

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Peter identifies our adversary as the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

We’re also told that we are not to be ignorant of his schemes. On the contrary, we are to be alert. Consequently, we should pay attention to what the devil is doing. Many Christians know he’s not running around in red tights or holding a pitchfork. But what precisely is he doing?

Some may think he stands on our shoulder opposite our guardian angel whispering temptations into our ears. No. For one thing, Satan is not omnipresent. It’s highly unlikely, then, that he’s picked out an average Christian to lure into an illicit affair. (Our own sinful nature actually does an adequate job of presenting us with those kinds of temptations, so Satan doesn’t need to make that one of his schemes).

Still others think we need to go toe to toe with Satan in the same way Jesus did. There might be an instance when this is true, but I don’t think it’s the common scheme Satan uses. Even if he confronted men like Francis Chan or Tim Tebow, luring them with pleasure and power, it seems like a small reward for the investment of his time.

So what’s his great strategy?

Jesus told us one part of it. He identified Satan as a liar and the Father of lies. His grand plan, then, is to attack that which points people to the truth.

Following the Great American Awakening, then, rationalism opposed belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was all emotionalism and imagination and superstition.

“Higher criticism” came along to undermine the Bible, to question its authority, its inerrancy, its inspiration.

So now we have no Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, and we have no sure Word of God to exhort and testify of the grace of God.

But Postmodernism still values community, and Jesus Himself said that the watching world would know we are Christians by how we love one another. A worshiping, caring community of believers in Jesus Christ serves as a testimony, a witness, to this culture that God transforms lives. So Satan’s next scheme, it seems, is to go after the Church.

Here are some of the ways I see this attack taking place.

1. False teachers—people who preach as true something that contradicts the Bible directly or something that magnifies one segment of the Bible to the exclusion of other parts.

2. Those who do immoral things in the name of Christ or in spite of the fact that they are known by His name.

3. Collaboration with the culture—a type of “bend, don’t break” attitude toward morality which, in the end, makes us look eerily similar to the unsaved we’re supposed to be winning for Christ.

4. Honoring tradition more than we honor God’s Word. For example, I had a pastor I respected greatly preach against syncopated music. Another one I know preaches that there were twelve apostles and no more, though Scripture clearly identifies more than twelve.

More than that, there are segments of the church that by doctrine choose tradition over Scripture. Hence, the Pope can declare that believers are not to eat meat on Friday . . . until a new Pope says they can.

1420878_church_in_the_woodThe emergent church, of course, attacked the “traditional” evangelical church for honoring tradition more than it should be honored. Although I’m not sure what the offensive things the traditional church was supposed to be doing that was so egregious, I suspect one aspect was the spit-and-polish show that has become the Sunday morning worship service.

Other complaints seem to center on the fact that there are sinners in those pews! Well, that’s hardly something that will change whether the church is traditional or a small house assembly or one that meets out in a park. Hypocrisy, pride, greed, gossip, lust, it all follows us wherever we go–which is why Paul admonished believers to lay aside the old self with its evil practices, why James said to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.

All these attacks against the Church should renew our efforts as part of the Body of Christ to create the community God intended. We are to represent Him to the world–not by haranguing the world to act more like Christ when clearly no one without Christ could possibly live a holy life, when we ourselves are works in progress. Rather, we should go back to basics.

First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think it’s important not to rush past that most important command to get to the love-your-neighbor second command which people apparently want to emphasize these days.

Mind you, I don’t see how we can create loving communities without loving our neighbors. But I don’t think we can manufacture this love from our own nature. This extraordinary bond between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women, corporate execs and day laborers, comes because we first love God with all of who we are.

We don’t see ourselves as special or deserving or important. No matter who we are or where we fall in the pecking order of society, we can never be more special, deserving, or important than God. He is the one we are to magnify. And He’s asked us to do that by serving each other.

This is the clear teaching we need to focus on. This is the best way to counter Satan’s lie which would have us believe the Church is finished, washed up, on its way out.

God’s bride? We may appear a little tattered around the edges, but our Bridegroom has not forsaken us. He will bring His Church through, and as we submit to His plan for us, we will be the testimony of His amazing love and transforming power to the world, He intended from the beginning.

We’re Going About It Backwards


california_academy_of_sciences_san_francisco_2013_-_16Like so many other things, the Church swings and sways on a pendulum, shifting from one extreme to the next in our effort to follow the path of truth our God set down for us in His word. The Reformation, for example, was a correction that brought the pendulum swinging back to the belief in grace and forgiveness, not law and rule keeping.

Another clear shift came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the social gospel replaced the fire-and-brimstone emphases of the Great Awakening preachers.

The Social Gospel movement emerged among Protestant Christians to improve the economic, moral and social conditions of the urban working class. (“The Social Gospel Movement: Definition and Goals of Urban Reform Movements”)

And much needed to be improved in both America and other western civilizations. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the urban poor were a growing population. How did the Church respond? First, there was no unified approach to the changes in society. Protestants didn’t even agree with one another, let alone with Catholics. Two factions formed among Protestants, the one

focused on saving individual souls; in revivals in the rapidly expanding cities, they attempted to get people to turn away from their own sins and to embrace personal salvation. The [other] party focused on the sins of society, such as poverty and inequality, and asked people to seek salvation through building “the Kingdom of God on this earth.” Through the 1880s and 1890s, the [former] raced ahead of the [latter] in popularity and public appeal.

Each of the groups was evangelical, meaning that they drew their message from the Bible, and each of them focused on redemption. But their objects of concern were very different. (“The Social Gospel And The Progressive Era”)

Around the turn of the century the pendulum swung toward those focused on correcting the sins of society. Organizations arose and articles were written.

But two world wars and a Great Depression doused the hope that society was self-correcting and the injustices of capitalism were stemmed. The pendulum swung again, back toward personal salvation.

Now we find ourselves in another shift. The pendulum is moving again toward the remedy for societal ills. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’re reminded. And we are the “hands and feet of Jesus,” we’re informed. In the past we aimed to carry the gospel to foreign lands but neglected our own urban poor.

These are all true, and the swinging pendulum does, perhaps, need to move back toward the center. But there’s one major problem. We seem to be leaving out the most important component, the first and greatest command, Jesus called it: we are to love the Lord our God with our whole being.

Before we are to take the gospel across the ocean or across the street, before we are to volunteer at the homeless shelter or donate to the fund for Haiti, we are to love God.

Deuteronomy expands the response we’re to have to God by adding “fear Him”—that is, have an awe, a reverence for Him. Throughout the book, God’s people, newly escaped from Egypt, were instructed in God’s ways. They repeatedly received instruction to pay attention to their relationship with God, and then to go about serving and obeying.

They weren’t to serve and to obey first. They were to love and to fear first. But here’s the key:

Loving God and obeying His commandments don’t happen because we try harder. Loving God is a response to His first loving us. Obeying God is a demonstration of our love for Him. The elements are entwined, and we confuse the issue when we try to separate one strand from the others.

Or if we forget which is the greatest command. (“The FIRST Commandment Is To Love God”)

In other words, loving God isn’t something we can isolate from obeying Him. Obeying God isn’t something we can isolate from loving Him. Or that we can put ahead of loving Him.

In short, there ought not be a swinging pendulum. We should not over emphasize personal salvation more than serving our neighbors. Unfortunately we’re in a period of time that threatens to de-emphasize salvation in favor of caring for the physical needs of those less fortunate than we are.

One ought not exclude the other. Neither should be emphasized at the expense of the other. Both are necessary to fulfill God’s commandments. We love God and then we serve Him. We fear God and then we obey Him.

How can we love God, fear Him, serve Him, obey Him, without telling others about Him? How can we love God, fear Him, serve Him, obey Him, without caring for the less fortunate?

God’s heart is for the most vulnerable—for the orphans and widows and poor and strangers.

He has told you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

But that’s not first.

Loving God is first.

Today I fear we’re going about things backwards. We are focused on programs and events, we’re challenged to do and to go, we’re encouraged to work and to serve. But where are the sermons about loving God?

Maybe more churches have pastors helping worshipers fall in love with God and His word. Maybe there’s a renewed interest in prayer groups. Maybe Bible studies are gaining traction again. Maybe Sunday evening church services are taking place in other parts of the country. I don’t know.

All I know is, if the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our being, why don’t we spend more time focused on loving God than on doing good works?

Published in: on October 28, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.