Prayer Changes Things?


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I don’t understand prayer. I’ve thought about it, written about it, heard sermons about it, studied it in scripture, participated in it corporately and individually, and I still don’t understand it. Not really.

Here’s what I do know—it’s a short list.

1. God doesn’t pay us for being righteous by answering our prayers. In other words, getting what we pray for is not in direct correlation to doing what God tells us to do. Somebody like Job lived righteously, but he lost everything. Daniel prayed and still got thrown into the lion’s den. Sure, he survived, but he still spent the night with the lions. Is that what he prayed for? I doubt it.

2. God doesn’t give us a formula to follow: Do steps A through F just exactly as I tell you to, then I’ll answer your prayer.

3. God will not be manipulated. He’s God. He does not move mountains at our behest! He moves them because moving them fits His plan and purposes.

4. God wants us to pray. He actually commands it, but He also promises to hear, wants us to ask without doubting Him.

5. We don’t receive from God because we don’t ask. And too often when we ask we do so with wrong motives. That’s actually what James say in chapter 4, but I recognize the truth of what he said in my own experiences.

I might also say, I also pray with impatience. I get tired asking for the same thing over and over, and I just give up. Am I to be more persistent or has God said no?

Paul asked three times that the thorn he lived with would be removed and God said no. One of the Old Testament prophets was apparently praying for God’s people, but God told him to stop because He determined to judge them for their disobedience.

But Jesus told parables about prayer, particularly about being persistent in prayer.

So how do I know if I am being persistent, faint-hearted, not willing to hear God say no, or filled with doubt?

I have this sense that prayer is more than what I make it to be.

On one hand, I don’t think I pray believing as I should. I mean, Jesus seemed to be making a huge promise in Mark 11:23-24 when He said

Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 2Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

He also told His disciples to “seek first [His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing] will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

So perhaps prayer should fit in with what we seek. If I’m seeking my own good and glory, that’s not seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Don’t selfish pursuits fit into James’s “wrong motives” category?

Perhaps this motives question explains why repentance should be a part of prayer. Of course, not everyone thinks it must be. After all, believers in Christ have already been forgiven our sins. But I see David sorrowing for His sin in various Psalms, and James tells us to confess our sins to one another. David also says,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps. 13:23-24)

It seems such an approach to prayer would be perhaps the only way to have right motives.

But I come back to the basic point of prayer: what is it? Is it a way we can get what we want from God? Right there, that seems to shout, WRONG MOTIVE.

But Jesus, in response to His disciples’ request that He teach them to pray, modeled a prayer that included requests for both physical things (daily bread) and spiritual things (forgive us our trespasses, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil).

So asking for things isn’t wrong in and of itself. But I can’t help but notice that the spiritual things in Jesus’s prayer outnumbered the physical ones three to one. And if you add in His opening: Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, then it’s actually a six to one ration.

But people in the Bible prayed for physical things. Hezekiah prayed that he wouldn’t die from his illness and God extended his life fifteen years. Gideon asked as a sign of God’s choice of him as the leader of the army, that dew would fall only on his fleece and nowhere else. Then the next day he asked for the opposite: dew everywhere except on his fleece. Both times, God answered. Then there was Elijah who prayed that it wouldn’t rain. God answered by sending Israel a three and a half year drought.

Were these prayers selfish? Hezekiah was clearly praying for something for himself, but Isaiah records his prayer and there is more to his desire than simply his own life extended:

It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness,
For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
“For Sheol cannot thank You,
Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.
“It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today;
A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.
“The LORD will surely save me;
So we will play my songs on stringed instruments
All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.” (Isaiah 38:17b-20)

These physical things, then, seemed to have a spiritual motive.

But there’s something else about prayer that I know I neglect: friends talk to each other. Prayer doesn’t have to be about asking for things. It can be communication for the sake of “getting to know you better.” I think it’s good to ask God questions: I don’t understand this passage of Scripture, God. What does it mean? Or, I have this dilemma and I don’t know which to choose. What do you think, God?

I think those kinds of prayers make me mindful of God’s way—what He values, how He looks at things. That’s the real key. Prayer is not me telling God what He should do. Prayer is me getting to know the heart of God and asking Him how I fit into His plans.

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Published in: on January 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Decision Making


In light of the upcoming election, it seems to me we here in the US, in particular, we Christians, ought to be thinking about decision making.

Whether we like it or not, we all need to make decisions of one kind or another. Some choices, like when to get up in the morning or whether to shower before heading out the door, don’t seem like decisions any more because we’ve done them so long they’ve become a habit.

Mixed in with those automatic decisions are hundreds of smaller ones we make without realizing we are. Do I stop three feet behind the car in front of me or seven? Do I wear the blue or the black? Do I have a piece of toast with my cereal or not? Do I stop at the post office on my way to work or after? Do I take a jacket? And on and on.

Besides these daily, almost trivial decisions, are the Big Decisions of Life—who to marry, what school to attend, what job to apply for, who to vote for. Then there are the life changing decisions—will I read God’s Word today? Who should I pray for? How should I pray?

Interestingly, the Old Testament gives us three kings of Israel who model different decision-making styles. First was King David. He repeatedly went to God and asked for specific leading. Should he go up against this army, should he stay in that city? In return, God answered him quite specifically, at one point even giving instructions about setting up an ambush.

David wasn’t perfect. He didn’t ask God about how he should bring the ark into the place he prepared for it, for example, and a man died as a result. But on the whole, as God indicated, David was a man after God’s own heart. Despite his sin with Bathsheba and the resulting death of her husband, God said David’s heart was “wholly devoted to the Lord his God” and that he followed the Lord fully.

1 Samuel 17 tells us “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day [of his anointing] forward.” David, then, had the Spirit of God and he inquired of God. He remained faithful to God, loving and serving Him to the end.

His son Solomon who took the throne next, encountered God and when given the opportunity to ask for anything he desired, asked for wisdom. God granted that request, but nowhere does Scripture say His Spirit came upon Solomon. He, too, made mistakes, marrying foreign women and setting up places of worship for their gods. When he was confronted, he did not repent as David had, but remained resistant. In summary, he had God’s wisdom, but he relied on himself. As a result of his decisions, he brought God’s displeasure.

The third king is Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. He was confronted with a decision right away—should he lighten the load of servitude on the people as they asked? He had the elders who counseled his father and he asked them what he should do. Yes, lighten the burden, they advised. Apparently Rehoboam didn’t like that answer because he turned around and asked a group of counselors his own age. Be tougher than your father, they said. And that’s the path Rehoboam decided to follow. The result of that decision was civil war.

Three kings. Three methods of decision making:

  • David, filled with God’s Spirit, inquired of God.
  • Solomon, gifted with God’s wisdom, followed the influence of his wives
  • Rehoboam, provided with the counsel of elders, listened to the counselors who told him what he wanted to hear

The most apparent thing in the decision-making process of these kings seems to me to be whether or not they were filled with God’s Spirit.

It’s instructive to look at a fourth king at this point—King Saul. Scripture tells us the Spirit of God also came upon him, though He did not stay. Why? Saul inquired of God, heard what He had to say, then did as he pleased. In practice he behaved more like Rehoboam than like David.

So what’s the application? I’d say we should pattern our decision making after David. Above all, he had a right relationship with God, and then, more often than not, he depended on God to show him what he was to do. In short, he trusted and obeyed. I don’t think we can go wrong in our decision making if we follow his model.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here under this title in November 2012.

Published in: on August 2, 2016 at 7:01 pm  Comments Off on Decision Making  
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The Thanksgiving Psalms


David017I may have mentioned in the past that there are some psalms I have a hard time with. Not so the praise and thanks psalms, especially those in chapters between, say, 90 and 104. Those psalms magnify God by recounting His character, seen in His dealings with His people.

My favorite might be Psalm 103. Might, I say, because I also really like some of the others, particularly 91. But 103, one David wrote, contains some memorable lines, and it throws the spotlight on God in such a beautiful way:

1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3 Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4 Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5 Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
6 The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
9 He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
17 But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
19 The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
21 Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
22 Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Published in: on January 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Promises


Adam_and_Eve019God keeps His word. He’s shown His integrity all through history. He told Adam and Eve that they’d die if they ate from the tree in the middle of the garden. Genesis 5 records that what God said came to pass.

God told Abraham He’d give him the land which became known as the Promised Land. Sure enough, within two generations his descendants had multiplied to the point that the people around were beginning to see them as a threat. Consequently, God led them to Egypt and shielded them there, only to bring them out in another three generations.

Forty years later, despite their rebellion, He brought them into the land He’d given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For five years Joshua led the people on campaigns to claim their land. When they finally dispersed, each tribe to its allotted territory, he said,

you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. (Joshua 23:14b)

The same was true for David. The LORD directed Samuel to anoint him as king over Israel, but for years he was on the run, chased by the megalomaniac Saul who refused to believe God’s word. Samuel had told Saul that God would tear the kingdom from him because he didn’t obey God. Instead of bowing in humble submission, Saul did everything he could to kill David and to preserve his kingdom for his descendants.

Foolish man, to believe that God didn’t keep His word.

David himself had his doubts though. He went through a period where he basically said, I’m done. If I don’t get out of here, Saul is one day going to be successful and find me and kill me. Apparently David forgot that Samuel was God’s prophet, and he had anointed David according to God’s direction. It wasn’t Samuel’s idea, and David wasn’t even the man Samuel thought should be the king. It was God from start to finish, but David wavered in his trust that God would do what He said.

Nevertheless, the day came when David ascended to the throne, and God’s promise to him was fulfilled. Later, when David decided he wanted to build a temple for God, he received another promise. Through the prophet Nathan, God told him it was good that he desired to build a house for God, but it wasn’t going to be his job. Rather, God was going to build his house. His descendants would reign forever.

But surely, that seems like a promise God didn’t keep. Except, to think God failed to keep His world ignores who Jesus is. He, the descendant of David, is the Messiah, the Christ, the King immortal, invisible, the Only God. Nothing can or will remove Him from the throne.

God kept His word to David’s son Solomon, too. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign, God had told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom to rule. God then gave him His promise:

Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. (1 Kings 3:12b-13)

1 Kings is a book filled with facts and stories verifying that God gave Solomon what He promised. He gave him wisdom:

Now God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and fnDarda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:29-34)

God gave him riches.

All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None was of silver; it was not considered valuable in the days of Solomon. For the king had at sea the ships of Tarshish with the ships of Hiram; once every three years the ships of Tarshish came bringing gold and silver, ivory and apes and peacocks. So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. (1 Kings 10:21-23)

And God gave him honor.

Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with difficult questions. . . . Then she said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. (1 Kings 10:1, 6-7)

Clearly God fulfilled His promise to Solomon.

Throughout Scripture God’s word is confirmed, His prophecies fulfilled, whether it was Jeroboam becoming king over the Northern Kingdom or the wayward prophet from Judah dying because he didn’t obey what God told him to do.

The point is simple. God means what He says and He says what He means. We humans struggle to trust. Did God really say . . .? But that’s a line of thinking Satan introduced as long ago as the Garden of Eden when he suggested Eve rethink what God had said.

He’s been making the same suggestion ever since. But he is the father of lies, and a great liar himself. God, on the other hand, speaks the truth and fulfills His promises. We may not always agree with God’s timetable. The first century Christians expected Jesus to come back within their life time, so we’re not alone when it comes to thinking God’s timing is something it isn’t.

But the cool thing is, He said in His word that He delays because of His kindness and patience, not wanting any to perish. So we can trust God even when, like David, we think things are so bad and have no chance of getting any better.

God is a God of His word, and He will not fail us or forsake us. He will keep His promises, and He’ll do so perfectly. After all, He’s proved it throughout Scripture.

Published in: on November 9, 2015 at 6:19 pm  Comments (7)  
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Going Over To The Enemy


David055David, the future king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, went over to the enemy. King Saul had falsely accused him of treason and was hunting him down with the intent to kill him.

Despite the fact that God miraculously intervened time after time to protect him from Saul, David apparently grew weary of living as a fugitive, hiding out in caves, and escaping to neighboring countries. It was just a matter of time, he reasoned, before Saul got the right intel and tracked him down. He was just as good as dead.

Except, God’s prophet Samuel had anointed David to be the next king of Israel. So, was God lying? Or mistaken? Did He change His mind? David’s actions would lead a person to believe that something had gone wrong—that Samuel had gotten the wrong guy or was not a true prophet or that he was making it all up. Because from David’s perspective, this on-the-run-to-avoid-death deal was not part of becoming the king.

In fact, he decided something had to change. Did he turn to God to reach this decision? No. Did he consult the priest or look to a prophet or cast lots (a way followers of God discerned His will)? None of the above. He turned to his own logic, his own ideas about his situation, his own judgment:

Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” (1 Sam. 27:1, emphases mine)

And where did David’s own thoughts lead him? To the enemy. The Philistines, remember were the people who sent Goliath to terrorize the army of Israel. The Philistines were the people David killed in battle when the people praised him by saying, Saul has killed his thousands/And David his ten thousands.

Granted, David was walking a tight line between the two groups. He lived with the Philistines and pretended to be against Israel, but in reality he was raiding cities that were not in Israelite territory while making the Philistines think he was raiding in Judah. If he had been operating on the sea, we’d have called him a pirate. I guess the closest occupational title on land would be mercenary. But David did not target Israelite towns as he led the Philistines to believe.

David’s duplicitous life style almost cost him. His patron Philistine king decided that David and his men should join him and all the other Philistine kings in one grand battle against Israel. So off they went.

I’ve wondered more than once what David would have done had he still been around when the battle started. But he wasn’t. By God’s sovereignty, the other Philistine kings ordered David’s patron, a man named Achish, to get rid of that Israelite—you know, the one about whom all the woman sang praises. After all, he might turn on us in the middle of the battle, they said. And they had a good right to fear such a thing because an untold number of Israelites had done just that same thing some forty years earlier when Saul first came to power. Achish may not have known his people’s history, but these other kings did.

So David left. But when he got home, he found his city burned to the ground and all the women, children, animals, and goods gone. Such is the consequence of going over to the enemy.

On top of everything, his own men were so distraught and angry they consider stoning David for leading them on a wild goose chase while their own homes were under attack.

And now, at last, David turns to God. Should he go after the raiders and try to recover their people and possessions? Yes, God answered. Go.

David and his men went and successfully recovered everything and everyone and even brought back spoil from the raiders. His days with the enemy were over.

Interestingly enough, David was not the only one who went over to the enemy.

Back in Israel, with war looming over the nation, King Saul inquired of God what he should do. God was silent. He didn’t answer Saul in a dream or by a prophet or from a priest. He simply shut Saul out.

Ever since Saul took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice—something reserved for the priests—and as a result received God’s judgment that the kingdom would be taken from him, he worked against God to hang on. His number one goal was to eliminate his biggest threat—David. But now the whole nation was at risk, and he needed God.

But God was silent.

OK, Saul thought, I can get around God and find out what I need to know. So he sent his servants to find a medium. When he learned there was one in Endor, he disguised himself and requested that the woman bring up Samuel.

Amazingly she did. But the passage already said the LORD did not answer Saul. So the power to bring up Samuel was not from God. It was from the enemy.

Saul was determined to go his own way, get what he wanted, thwart God’s stated plan. He did not care that God had told him as if it was a done deal that the kingdom would be taken from him. He lived to make sure that didn’t happen.

But despite all his machinations, God’s word did come about.

Saul was willing to go over to the enemy in order to keep his kingdom. He had a wrong view of God and simply believed he could out-maneuver Him, that God’s word wasn’t final, that God didn’t have the say over his life.

David went through a period of doubting that looked similar. He didn’t believe God would keep His word, or that He had the power to do so. David went over to the enemy because of his wrong view of God.

I’m willing to say, a wrong view of God will end up leading us to the enemy’s side every time. Thank God He revealed Himself to us by what He made, by what He said, and by His Son whom He sent.

“Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:24)

Wisdom, Correction, And False Teaching


Bible-opening-859675-m
Some while ago I read Ridge Burns’s article “Wisdom and Correction.” At the time I was reading in the book of Proverbs.

As it happens, Ridge anchors his article on Proverbs 12:1.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is stupid. (Emphasis mine)

Harsh!

Ridge used the NIV which says “correction” instead of “reproof,” but regardless, the thought is just as pointed, if not more so.

I couldn’t help but think about how important “correction” is to a writer. Without input from readers/critique partners and eventually from an editor, a writer’s work will rarely be as good as it could be.

Writers learn from rejection letters that sting and maybe even carve away a pound of flesh, but they have the potential of pushing him on to better writing. Those of us who are pre-published also learn from contests or writing exercises. Any objective opinion can serve as correction from which we can learn and which we would be “stupid” to ignore.

The second thing that came to mind when I read Ridge’s article fit with something I had prayed about. It seems to me that false teaching, which so often gets started from inside the Church and has its origins in Scripture, develops in large part because the person who deviates from the truth does not and will not receive correction.

I thought first of Solomon himself. Unlike his father David who repented when he was caught in sin, Solomon hardened his heart and drifted further from God. Because Solomon took up the idol worship of his foreign wives, God sent a prophet to tell him He planned to divide the kingdom, taking all but the tribe of Judah away from his son and his son’s son. Instead of getting on his knees and repenting, Solomon acted like Saul had in regard to David and went after the man anointed to take the throne of the northern kingdom, intent to kill him.

Solomon seems to say, God said? So what. I say I can do what I want.

And isn’t that what false teachers do? The Bible says, No one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, but the false teacher says, I know.

All have sinned, our righteousness is like filthy rags, and even Peter had to confess his hypocrisy toward the Gentile Christians, but the false teachers says, I no longer sin.

And what about the one who ignores the clear counsel of Scripture to love our brothers, our enemies, our neighbors, and justifies mean-spirited, judgmental attitudes and behavior?

Or how about the universalists who are so sure they know better than God that Mankind is just too deserving of “fair” treatment than they are of punishment?

I could go on and on about false teaching concerning gender, the Bible, Creation, who Jesus is, and more. So many different false teachings, and the people behind them claim Scripture. Except, not the verses that contradict their position. Those they explain away or ignore.

For example, I’ve had a discussion with someone in the Holiness crowd (those who claim they no longer sin because in Christ they have a new nature). I pointed to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about the brother who was living in an incestuous relationship and the church that was divided by bickering and greed.

Look how Paul addresses them:

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Cor. 1:2a)

Yet just a few verses later, Paul confronts and reproves them for the quarrels in the church. Then in chapter three he says

for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:3)

But in the very same chapter he says

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16)

Clearly Paul identified these Corinthians as Christians, and yet he confronted them about the things they were doing that were sinful and needed to change.

You’d think such a clear example would demonstrate that Christians in fact do sin (and need to repent). And if not this example, then surely Paul’s clear statements in Romans 7 that the things he doesn’t want to do he does, and the things he wants to do, he ends up not doing. He concludes, Oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God.

Clear. Unequivocal, right? Yet those I’ve held this discussion with have ways around each of those verses. They do not accept the correction of the Word of God, saying instead that they understand more fully what these passages intended, all so that they can hammer Scripture into the shape of their theology.

It is no different than the professing Christians who “re-image” Christ (see for example the discussion that would not die – “Attacks On God From Within”). In the end, they are no different than those of the liberal persuasion who bowed to higher criticism to determine what they would or would not accept the Bible.

Since the presupposition of the higher critics was based on rationalism, anything supernatural had to go. Out went the virgin birth, healing the sick, raising the dead, Christ’s resurrection itself, and all you were left with was a milquetoast Christ who sat around saying platitudes that have formed the basis of today’s “tolerant” society—stand for nothing and accept everything.

Well, well, well. I could keep going, but I think the point is clear. Scripture itself is the corrective, but if someone rejects it … what was it Proverbs said about him?

This article, minus the various editorial changes and revisions, first appeared here in February 2012.

Apostasy


walk-away-739834-mI’ll admit, apostasy—leaving the faith—has been something I’ve thought about a great deal. When I was young, I had the false idea that if I sinned I might not be a Christian. And I sinned. So I worried about how I could be sure I was a Christian.

Later, when I learned my Bible better, I discovered there were some apostates. Solomon was the one that continues to haunt me. I mean, the wisest person in the world? If he could doubt and question and go his own way, who couldn’t?

In the end, it’s been a good thing that I learned about him because it’s pushed me to my knees, pleading with God to keep me from straying from Him. I don’t want to be Solomon—I don’t care how rich he was or famous or powerful. He knew God’s secrets about child rearing, but look at how his son Rehoboam turned out! He knew that the beginning of wisdom was the fear of the Lord, but look how he strayed from God and even sought to have a prophet of the Lord put to death for confronting him about his sin. It’s a sad, sad end to his life, even though it appears from Ecclesiastes 14 that he did finally repent.

But I’ve been thinking recently about apostasy because of that atheist I’ve had conversations with and whose video explained how a young man headed for the ministry ended up believing God doesn’t exist. “Coincidentally” Alistair Begg, the pastor I listen to on the radio, has a 1 Timothy sermon series airing.

He’s reached chapter 3 where he addressed apostasy. Interestingly, Paul first brought up the subject when he mentioned something to Timothy late in chapter 1:

fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (vv 18b-19)

Paul goes on to name a couple of these shipwrecked former followers of Christ, but he gives more detail about apostasy in chapter 3:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

Pastor Begg equates apostasy with what Jesus said in the parable of the sower. Some seed fell on rocky soil and it immediately sprang up only to quickly wither away. Luke records Jesus’s explanation:

“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.” (8:13)

They are Solomon.

It’s kind of amazing to me to hear any number of atheists or “Progressives” tell how they once believed as I do.

Well, no, they didn’t, because if they did, they’d still believe, more now than when they first believed. Paul explained it like this in his Colossians letter:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Col. 1:21-23a; emphasis mine)

This continuing in the faith is both the means to counter apostasy and the sign proving actual relationship with God. The idea is that when the word of Christ richly dwells within us (Col. 3), we won’t turn our backs on God.

This topic is something we Christians don’t talk about much because of a doctrine known as eternal security. There are lots of verses that say we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, engraved the palm of God’s hands, held where nothing can snatch us from Him, loved in such a way that nothing can change or interrupt or redirect God’s care for us.

But there are a handful of other verses like these Sower verses from Luke and Matthew that seem to indicate some people embrace faith, then walk away. The passage in Hebrews 6 is the one that describes apostasy in the most chilling terms:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (vv 4-6)

I understand God’s nature (as much as I can understand what He’s revealed), and ultimately I trust Him to do right. So if someone who once professed faith, and really thought he was a Christian, walks away from God, I have to say, I believe in eternal security, and I believe in apostasy. I’m not sure how the two work together.

Most say those who walk away never truly believed. Others who walked away, come back, as did the prodigal son in Jesus’s parable, so I’m not sure the verses in Hebrews 6 say what they seem to be saying.

Here’s where the whole counsel of God needs to come together. There can’t be any pulling verses out of context to use as proof texts for the doctrine of choice while ignoring others that seem to call in question that doctrine.

I heard a sermon once that was dealing with passing on our faith. I forget who the examples were, but let’s say David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. The first knew God, trusted Him with his life, literally and lived for Him. His son knew God and trusted His gifts, the wisdom he’d received and the wealth, fame, and power. His son didn’t know God and trusted his own desires.

The preacher said, we often worry and fret over how to move that third generation “Christian” away from his apostasy. Instead, he said, we ought to be focused on whether or not we’re in the place David was—living for God wholeheartedly, trusting Him with our lives. If every Christian prayed to become that kind of Christian in which the word of Christ dwells richly, apostasy would be a non-issue.

For those who have walked away, I pray God’s mercy on them.

Published in: on March 5, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments (9)  
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Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

It’s Not About Us


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith–such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, but I don’t see the rationale behind the idea that a person is an “agnostic Christian.” The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong–it’s thinking that our answers are better than God’s that is wrong.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding–all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.