Thoughts about faith

christianity

Where Does Our Hope Come From?

What concerns me is the degree to which American Christians have become involved in politics and in so doing are compromising their faith to back the “lesser of two evils.” In the NT, we see no mention of politics whatsoever except the command to “obey the governing authorities.” When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into either supporting Rome or disobeying Rome, He turned their question back on them telling them to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Israel, at the time of Jesus and the Apostles, was a Roman province under the rule of a Roman governor and the Roman army. Israel’s laws were pre-empted by Roman law. Despite Roman injustice, neither Jesus nor the Apostles spoke out against Roman rule. While Paul made many missionary journeys and even spent time under house arrest in Rome, his message never turned political. The focus of Jesus and the Apostles was to spread the Good News. Physical freedom meant nothing if one were in slavery to sin.

Yet in our time American Christians have become obsessed with politics. We put more time and energy into politics than we do into evangelism. We think that by involving ourselves in politics we can slow the decay of society and maybe even bring about revival rather than realizing this world is not our home and our job is to preach the Gospel no matter the times in which we live. Surely, we know we can’t legislate morality or salvation. We have become mired in America’s two-party system equating Republicanism with Christianity and the Democratic Party with secular humanism. The reality is that secular humanism has infected both parties and there is no such thing as a Christian party. While the Republican Party is pro-life in its platform, many other policies of the party put financial gain as the highest good despite the Bible’s teaching that money is the root of all sorts of evil. We bend over backwards to excuse the many sins of President Trump believing he is a “baby Christian” and thus we must not expect him to be perfect. Yet the free pass we give to his behavior and lying is making Christians look hypocritical to the world. When we fail to exhort and admonish the President we fail to live up to what the Scriptures teach us. We are not going to our brother in sin and calling him to repentance. We assume his spiritual advisors are taking care of such things despite the lack of evidence of change. We think because Trump is pro-life and pro-Christian everything else, he does can be excused.

No president will ever be perfect. We can’t expect Trump to be. That is not a fair standard but remaining silent on his sins is also not acceptable for those sins committed in the public realm as he executes his office. His private sins are another matter. If as president, he lies, he breaks the law, he is a poor witness, then an unqualified endorsement does not seem proper to me even if the alternative is an even worse candidate. Our witness demands we be consistent. If we are going to attack another candidate for unchristian views, we cannot turn a blind eye to president Trump.

When I discuss president Trump with fellow Christians, I often encounter a lot of white-washing of his conduct. Rather than truly analyzing his actions, I too often hear back the press briefing talking points. I’m not encountering much critical thinking.

I know to some Christians, questioning Trump is near heresy. I’m treated as if questioning Trump is “going over to the enemy.” It’s back to the binary politics we’ve accepted in this country. I feel we have to be consistent. We need to fight corruption and lying and not give free passes to public officials even if they are Christians. Otherwise we are perceived by the world as being just as corrupt.

The government is not our savior. We need to reach individual hearts not political parties. A Christian president is not going to fix this broken land. It is well and good to promote Christian values and vote for good candidates but our hope is in Christ, not politicians.


Proof Texting

Non-Christians often quote Scripture to make a point but in doing so they are guilty of proof texting. What is proof texting? It is when a single verse is pulled from the Bible in support of a particular belief or doctrine. The problem is that you cannot properly understand the Bible by pulling verses out of their context in a stand-alone fashion. Verses must be understood in their Biblical context understanding who wrote it, what historic or grammatical understanding is involved, what the rest of Scripture have to say on the subject, etc. Many verses in the Bible can be made to say all kinds of things if not understood in their proper context. Sometimes people are quoted “out of context” and when accused of saying something offensive, will protest that their words were taken out of context. We all understand that context is key to understanding words. Depending on the context, the same words can mean different, sometimes even contradictory things.

I recently ran across an example of this in a blog. It was a counseling blog and followed a question/answer format. The question came from a woman who was wrestling over feelings of shame over her sexual feelings. She was in her 30’s and was raised in a religious household and felt the teachings of her parents have led to this sense of shame.

In her response, the licensed psychotherapist responded to the writer having called herself a “child of God.” She stated that sex and sexuality are integral and an intimate part of a person’s very being and is the very opposite of shame. She then quoted Ephesians 5:29 (which she misattributed to Ephesians 5:20). She wrote:

You write that you are a “child of God.” I don’t know how you express your spirituality, but I wonder if you have come across this quotation from Ephesians 5:20: “For no one has ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, as the Messiah does the church.” In short, take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love. (Somerstein, n.d.)

She then asked the writer a rhetorical question regarding her self-care and suggested counseling to deal with her negative emotions. I cite this as an example of proof texting because in context the verse does not teach anything about loving yourself. When you read the passage, the Apostle Paul was giving teaching on marriage. He specifically was addressing husbands and instructing them to love their wives like they love their own bodies. He adds that “no one has ever hated his own body.” In other words, Paul assumes we all love ourselves and take care of ourselves and so as a husband loves his own body, so should he love his wife. As he would nourish and cherish his own body, he should nourish and cherish his wife. Paul gives and even greater example, Jesus’ love for the church. As Jesus loves the church, so a husband should love his wife.

The psychotherapist is implying the verse teaches that the Bible teaches that we are to love and care for our own bodies and that since (in her opinion) expressing your sexuality is a loving thing, the Bible therefore would encourage such thoughts and not be a source of shame.

The verse actually assumes we love our own bodies. It also gives no teaching on what proper self-love entails. It is also not at all given in the context of sexuality and its context is marriage which is not the state the writer was in. What the Bible teaches on self-love and sexuality are found in other passages. Using this verse as a proof text for what the Bible teaches about self-love and sexual shame is totally taking the verse out of context. To conclude it teaches you should “take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love” is reading a meaning into the passage that it’s author never intended. Theologically we call that isogesis (reading into). Proper understanding of the Bible comes from exegesis where you read the meaning from the text taking into consideration the context, the grammar, the history, etc.

While the earliest comments left on the article date back to late 2016, not a single commenter pointed out the psychotherapist referenced the wrong verse leading me to conclude none of them looked up and read that verse for themselves. One commenter called it a “beautiful verse” but no doubt took it with the meaning the psychotherapist gave it.

Proof texting happens all the time. Often secular writers employ it to try and suggest the Bible teaches something different than what Christians take it to teach. In many cases I suspect they got the verse from another’s writings and did not read it for themselves. One person’s proof texting gets multiplied many times over each reuse assuming they understand the verse. Sadly, the recipients of this proof texting never look up such verses for themselves and thus continue propagating the misrepresentation.

We will never be able to prevent the use of proof texting. Sometimes it is intentional but often the result of sloppy research. The author has a belief or bias and thinks they see a Bible verse that supports that belief or bias and builds an argument around it. Satisfied they have the proper understanding; they never bother to read the verse in context for themselves. All we can do in such cases is to gently correct and point out the misuse of the verse.

Non-Christians often make assumptions about what Christians believe or what the Bible teaches. In doing so they are often guilty of proof texting.

Works Cited

Somerstein, L. (n.d.). https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dear-gt/how-do-i-overcome-shame-of-sex?unapproved=721820&moderation-hash=e6f028786c1f6ea8629b6609263eb5e7#comment-721820. Retrieved from GoodTherapy.


Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation?

The Doctrine of Imminency
The return of Christ has been expected by the Church since the time of Christ. This expectation that His return could happen at any time with no preconditions is known as the Doctrine of Imminency. The Church is told to “watch” and to “look” for his return. In the description of the Rapture of the Church, we see believers going about their daily lives working in the fields and doing other normal activities. Suddenly some are taken while others are left behind. To me this suggests they were not aware the Lord was about to return (other than knowing it could happen at any time. If any of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation had to occur before the Rapture, then Christ’s return would not be imminent. We would have recognizable events we would expect to see first. This contradicts all the Scriptures that depict His return as imminent and without warning.


The Church in the Tribulation?
In John 14:1-3, in connection with the promise of Christ, “I will come again,” the purpose of His coming is revealed to be to take believers to “my Father’s house,” by which term He describes heaven. After He meets the church in the air, He will take them to the place prepared. In contrast, at His coming to establish the millennial kingdom, all believers remain in the earthly scene. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10, believers are assured that they are children of light, not children of darkness. They are comforted with the promise that the day of wrath will not overtake them as a thief, as it will the world. They are promised, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 our hope is stated: “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” If believers are delivered “from the wrath to come,” why inflict upon them a day of wrath designed for the ungodly? Are not believers assured: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9)? In Revelation 3:10 the godly church at Philadelphia is promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” In a word, they are promised that they will be kept “from” the period of tribulation ahead. That is different from being kept “through” this time. (https://bible.org/seriespage/6-will-church-go-through-tribulation)

We see in Scripture two programs of God. First, God established the nation of Israel and revealed Himself to them. There were many faithful Jews who responded to God’s revelation and faith in the future-coming Messiah. Not all did, however. Many strayed and by the time of Christ’s first coming faith among the Jews was waning. They thought themselves righteous by virtue of lineage and thinking they were keeping the law. While much of Jesus’ ministry was to Jews, not all of it was. He spoke of “other children” and in the Book of Acts we see the Gospel going to the Gentiles which had been God’s plan all along. While some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the majority have not. In 70 A.D. Roman soldiers sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple putting to an end the sacrificial system of Judaism. Jesus’ death on the cross had already rendered that system of no further value. It was to point to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Once Jesus died, there was no longer a need to sacrifice in the Temple (see Hebrews 10.) Most of the Jews rejected Jesus and continued in their useless ceremonies until the Romans destroyed their Temple and dispersed them.

In the over 2000 years that have followed, we have been in the Church age where God’s focus has turned to the Church though He has not forgotten Israel. The Church age will culminate with the return of Christ and the Rapture where His church will join Him in heaven to dwell with Him forever. That is not the end though. As God always saved a faithful remnant of Jews in the OT, He will also save a remnant during The Tribulation. God’s gaze now returns to Israel and the fulfillment of His plan for them. Some Jews and some Gentiles will come to believe during the Tribulation. They are who are in view in Revelation 13:7. They will suffer for their faith but spend eternity with God. At the end of the seven year Tribulation, Christ will return again with His angels and end the reign of the Antichrist and bound up Satan and the demons and the 1000 year Millennial Kingdom will begin.


Romans 13: Obey the Governing Authorities

Anyone living in the United States today knows we are in a political mess. Our nation is more polarized than it has been since perhaps the run up to the Civil War. We have two parties diametrically opposed . If one says black the other says white. They seem obsessed with opposing each other. Both parties was the “Holy Grail” of having the Presidency, the House, and the Senate under their control. Then they can push through all their legislative priorities.

Of course it rarely happens that all three line up under the same party and even when it does, the next time the other party has control they attempt to undo whatever the first party accomplished. The two parties are so gridlocked that increasingly our Presidents are resorting to executive orders to accomplish their goals. Rather than debate budget priorities, now the solution seems to be giving both sides whatever they want resulting in huge deficits.

Each party automatically opposes anything the other party proposes. At the very least they must find some fault with it they can correct and thus take partial credit. Politicians live for re-election and parties live to gain control. It now takes millions of dollars to get elected President requiring huge political organizations. Without the backing of a one of the two major parties, getting elected is nearly impossible. Unless you are a very rich person capable of funding your own campaign, it’s impossible. It takes more than money though. You need media consultants, political consultants, grass root workers, speech writers, and on and on. The two major parties have such people and tend to use them regularly so there are not a lot of people like that waiting to be employed. So while we have more than two parties, for all practical purposes we have just two.

Consider also that in Congress the majority leader of each legislative party gets to be the leader of that body. They are voted on by their own party. A minority leadership position is given to the minority party. What about members from other parties like independents? Bernie Sanders, while an Independent, still aligned himself with the Democratic Party each time he ran for President. He know as an Independent he could never fund and run a successful campaign. Our two-party system also results in each party nominating their most popular candidate to run in the general election. There is no chance for the public to choose among multiple Republicans or Democrats.

Countless hours and millions of dollars are wasted in each party opposing the other. Instead of accepting their have different visions and compromising to get things done, they dig their heels in and refuse to compromise except on minor issues or when forced to. Agreement between the parties seems like a pipe dream and the national debt just keeps piling up.

What should we do as Christians? Romans 13 tells us:

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Some Christians have thrown themselves into politics and made it a personal crusade to support whomever they feel is most conducive to the Biblical worldview. While this is the right and privilege of every citizen we should remember Jeremiah 17:9 tells us:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Sinful hearts will never lead to perfect government. Until Christ reigns on earth, there will be corruption, strife, and disorder. While we should strive for good government we have to understand the limitations of human nature. Unless redeemed by God, man is foolish, willful, prideful, and corrupt. Yet we are still told to submit to the governing authorities as they are instituted by God.

The Pharisees tried to draw Jesus into politics hoping to trap him between the people and Rome. When asked about paying taxes, Jesus answered that they should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. They had hoped if he told them taxes were unjust they could get him in trouble with the Roman authorities. If he told them to pay taxes they hoped the people would turn on him for being a “Roman lover.” Yet his answer disarmed them. As oppressive as Rome was on her subjects, Jesus never spoke out against Rome. Neither did the Apostle Paul who was in chains due to Roman justice. Their focus was always on saving souls not saving governments. Only by changing hearts could society change. Laws will never what the Spirit of God can.

The Supreme Court may change it’s make up and reverse former rulings but they do not determine truth. The Constitution was written over two decades ago and applying portions of it to today’s world leads to different interpretations. As justices retire, who replaces them is largely up to the President. The balance of power between conservative and liberal is ongoing. Justices are not ruling based on God’s Word.

We can’t and shouldn’t expect our government to save us. Nor should not despair if our government is corrupt. Our missions remains unchanged. We are to love the Lord our God, which all our heat, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. We are then to fulfill the Great Commission taking the gospel to the world. As citizens of this country, we should be informed and participate but not get distracted so much by politics that we forget our mission. We should not fear government but rather fear God who can throw both body and soul into everlasting fire. Rome did not last forever. Kings and rulers come and go. Only God is everlasting. Live not in fear and despair but in joyful expectation of the return of our Lord.


The Times We Live In


Church History

Church History

Let’s look a bit at the development of the church as seen in Scripture and history. Jesus died around 30 A.D. Starting about 30 years later, the Apostles and a few authors directly associated with them began writing what we know of as the New Testament. Their writings were circulated among the many fledgling churches scattered throughout the Mediterranean area. Copies were made. The early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, largely met in people’s homes. A few got to use the facilities of Synagogues but Cathedrals and modern style church buildings were still centuries away. Scripture does not give us a blueprint for their gatherings. It only tells us what the major elements were. They sang hymns and spiritual songs, they prayed and worshipped, they were instructed from those early writings and the teaching of men who either were Apostles or trained by them. They also broke bread and remembered the Lord’s death and resurrection through communion.

There were no priests, choirs, mentions of incense, robes, specific prayers, the order of affairs, etc. No liturgy. Anything that was later added by churches as the “proper way to do things” was not described for us in the Bible. They are manmade traditions we’ve added and like all things must be judged by Scripture.

Scripture (the Bible) is the Word of God. It alone is God’s perfect revelation to man. While it was written by men, those men told us they were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote. It wasn’t something cultic like automatic writing but the Holy Spirit, using their vocabulary and writing style, guided them in writing each and every word. It’s true the formal declaration of what constituted the canon of Scripture (i.e. the official books) did not happen until much later, history tells us that the books chosen were universally recognized as meeting some important criteria. They had to be written by an Apostle or someone closely associated with an Apostle (e.g. Luke who traveled extensively with Paul). There had to be evidence they were widely accepted and changed lives. Through these and a few other criteria, it was obvious what belonged. This became the New Testament. Together with the Old Testament, It is our only source of revelation from God. It was understood that these writings were unique as were the men who wrote them. Future writings would have to be judged by these writings. They set the once and forever standard. No future writings or teachings could be added to them.

As the early church grew and spread, it continued to be guided by these early writings and Apostolic teaching. We have recorded one time when the Apostles met as a group with Paul to discuss a few matters Paul brought to them. Otherwise, the Apostles themselves eventually left Jerusalem and ministered in different places. There was no ongoing Apostolic council. There was no hierarchy, no single leader. The NT speaks of teachers, elders, and deacons. No mention is made of priests, bishops, cardinals, or a pope. No nuns or monks. No presbyteries, church committees, or denominations. There was no central authority except that of the Scriptures.

In the mid-300’s A.D., the Roman Emperor Charlemagne converted to Christianity. After centuries of persecution, Christianity finally had a patron in a position of power. The Emperor. This is when we start to see some formal organization beginning. Being Emperor of the vast Roman Empire required much delegation and organization. Charlemagne expected the same of the church. He wanted someone in Rome who could be his appointed head of the church so he had someone in a position of power to deal with. Thus was born the office of the Bishop of Rome. Prior to this, there were some learned teachers who were called Bishops in recognition of their gifts but not yet part of any larger organizational structure. It was more a title of honor.

We have some writings of these early church leaders that have survived. They are often collectively referred to as the Church Fathers. None of these men were Apostles or alive during the time of Christ. The earliest or their writings are from time after the Apostles were all gone. Much of their writings come hundreds of years later. While their writings are of great historical value to us, their writings are still the writings of men and not Scripture. Their writings were not chosen to be part of the NT. Jesus lived in an age where there were no recording devices. Spoken words had to be written down then copied. That is one of the reasons a criterion for writing to be part of the NT is that it had to be written by an Apostle or someone in direct contact with an Apostle. Any writing outside of that could not be trusted and had to be judged by those writings. Even today, with all our technology, we don’t have perfect or complete information about things that happened 100 – 200 years ago. There are elements of the story of the founding of the United States that are rumor and not verified fact. The Church Fathers were not writing Scripture. Their letters and other writings were their own thoughts and must be compared to Scripture. We are not free to consider their teachings on par with Scripture. Nothing is on par with Scripture. No subsequent teachings or writings. The Scriptures are the only revelation given by God for our instruction. All teachings must be based on them.

Over the centuries after Charlemagne this new Roman Church, led by the Bishop of Rome, began to expand its power and influence added many traditions and teachings not found in Scripture. While some were consistent with Scripture and allowable, others weren’t. Worse, some of these teachings and traditions were treated as equal to Scripture. Certain decisions and declarations made by this new Roman Church were considered church canon and carried the weight of the Scriptures. All the major teachings of the Roman Catholic church came into being after Charlemagne. Things like the mass, the office of the Pope, Papal infallibility, Mariology, etc. The seeds of some of these traditions may have existed earlier but were not practiced by the early church. Over centuries the Roman Catholic church claimed the authority to establish these things and declared them on par with Scripture but by what authority? They could not claim the authority of Scripture as they were adding to it. Their attempts to find support in Scripture have been contested by many and often are misinterpretations or insufficient. The fact that Peter made the summary statement when the Apostles met with Paul in Jerusalem is often cited as proof he was the early head of the church and thus the first Pope. Some claim Peter was the original organizer of the church in Jerusalem. Even if he was, that does not establish the office of the Pope. As the church scattered, some Apostles stayed primarily in Jerusalem while others made extensive missionary journeys. Naturally, they took on different roles. Paul was the leading missionary of the Apostles whereas Peter ministered more extensively in Jerusalem. Neither one was over the other. In fact, Paul later publicly called out Peter for his hypocritical behavior as recorded in Scripture. They were equals. The Apostles as a group were unique and never repeated but among them, there was no hierarchy. Scholars agree that for centuries the church had no overarching organization of leadership. No Pope can be found. It wasn’t for centuries that the Roman Catholic church sought to establish the office of the Pope and then tried to look back through history and claim a line of succession starting from Peter. Based on what? How good were their records to really know these men they were declaring Popes centuries later? Why is there no record of these men acting as some universal head of the church in their time?

We would do well at this juncture to remember what the “church” is. The church began on the day of Pentecost. Simply put, the church is the collection of believers across the world and throughout history. It is all those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Lord in Savior. The church is not a building, an organization, or those who hold to certain interpretations of Scripture. While Charlemagne was establishing the Bishop of Rome (the forerunner to the Pope and one of the many titles for the Pope) the church already existed and had since the day of Pentecost. What we know as Roman Catholicism is a manmade institution created over time by those claiming authority and thereafter establishing their rule of what correct doctrine and practice should be. There has always been those outside of the Roman Catholic church that were still a part of the church. One did not have to come under the authority and practice of the Roman Catholic church to be a part of God’s church. Eventually, there was a great schism in the Roman Catholic church in 1054 which lead to the east-west split. Later, in the 15th century, the Protestant Reformation caused another schism. So which tradition is right? Is there an overall leader of the church? The answer is found in the Scriptures as it should be.

The church is all those who belong to Jesus. It is not a function of what local church or denomination they belong to. They are subject to no Pope or other ecclesiastical authority. Scripture only defines accountability to one another and to local elders. The Roman Catholic Church has priests leading their local churches across the world. Yet Biblically, Priests were unique to the OT and the Temple. They belonged to an era, pre-Christ, when man still needed representation before God in certain functions. The Book of Hebrews teaches that in Jesus the entire OT religious structure, including priests and the Temple, were done away with. Jesus became our new high priest. Scripture declares that there is now no intercessor between God and man except Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic function of the priest came about in the 2nd century when some churches began to formalize communion feeling it ought to be administered by those holding a priestly office. This is not found in Scripture. As Paul established churches, he appointed elders who were put in charge of the church but did not give any teaching as to how communion was to be celebrated. The early church met in people’s homes. There were no priests presiding over these meetings or the celebration of communion. If only a priest can preside over communion (later called by the Roman Catholic church the Eucharist) then was the early church’s practice of celebration communion invalid? Over time, the role of the priest expanded to hearing confessions and granting absolution. After Christ freed us from the need for representation, man was reinstituting it. When Jesus died on the cross, Scripture tells us the curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. This was a very thick curtain made from sewing many layers of material together. Tearing such a curtain in half would be like trying to tear a phone book in half a feat very few can do. It happened in an instant and not by the hand of man. Scripture tells us that the renting of that curtain represented the removal of the veil between God and man. We no longer need sacrifices, a Temple, or priests. We have direct access to God through Jesus. We can confess our sins to Him in prayer. Why do we want to go back to the OT and have to have others ministering on our behalf when we have been given the great freedom and blessing to go directly to God! The Jews were afraid to even say the name of God. They took the vowels out of Yahweh and abbreviated it so they would not speak His name. God was always approached very formally. Yet in the NT we are told we can call God “Abba” which means father or more intimately, daddy. We have been given a great privilege, why do we reject it and feel we have to go through others? We are trying to overlay OT ritual over the NT freedom we have in Christ. Jesus described the OT law as a yoke too hard to bear. He’s freed us from that yoke! Why do we want to put it back on?

If you want to see the church that began on the day of Pentecost, read the Book of Acts but keep in mind that for the birth of the church age, God gave signs and wonders and appointed Apostles. We see them planting churches, spreading the Good News, appointment elders and deacons to carry on the work, performing signs and wonders to give testimony to the Gospel and to their unique office, and then they fade from history except through their writings. As they left us so did the signs and wonders that accompanied them and so did the office of Apostle. Their work complete, they joined their Lord in heaven. Their writings became the NT and their pattern of evangelism and church planting was left for us to carry on.

Centuries later men started to add to the church things that are not found in Scripture claiming an authority only the Apostles had. They claimed their teachings were equal to those of the Apostles. This is nothing but the work of man claiming to be the work of God. This is why our faith and our worship must be grounded on Scripture. Many have come forward in the centuries since claiming new revelations from God. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to have received revelation from God to restore the “gospel.” With no proof the Gospel was ever lost, he preceded to offer new teaching that was not in agreement with Scripture. He set himself up as a prophet and claimed new revelations. Sadly, he deceived many and continues to today although the deception is from Satan with Joseph Smith only being Satan’s tool. Countless cults have come and gone some in bloody endings. The Roman Catholic church continues on yet has been racked in recent years with terrible revelations of child abuse often hidden by the very church that claims to be God’s true church on earth.
The church is not an organization, a denomination, a building, or a local gathering. The church is all who have put their faith in trust in Jesus Christ and who worship in spirit and in truth. It is built upon the Word of God and the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God who died for our sins and rose on the third day and will come again to judge the living and the dead. We have direct access to the Throne of Grace through Jesus Christ. We don’t need priests or prophets or those claiming special anointings. We are called the children of God and saints. Not saints as invented by the Roman Catholic church but true saints – disciples of Jesus.

Jesus had barely returned to heaven when false teachers arose. Paul wrote extensively about the Judaizers and Gnostics and other false teachers. Satan loves to counterfeit the things of God to mislead us. Church history is full of such counterfeits. Scripture must be our rock, our foundation against which all things are tested and judged. Any human organization that claims to be the true church or is headed by someone claiming to be God’s representative speaks falsehood. If we build on anything but the solid rock of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Scriptures, we build on shifting sand and what we build will not last.


Parable of the 10 Virgins

TenVirgins


Are the Sign Gifts for Today?

gifts


What Comes Next?

Jesus Christ Second Coming N2 image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org


What Christmas Means to Me

That’s What Christmas Means to Me

I don’t have decorations or a tree,
They’re not what Christmas means to me.

No stockings or cookies or gifts to see,
That’s not what Christmas means to me.

No holiday parties, no cards or carols.
You must think I’m the Grinch,
With no heart and no Christmas apparel.

It’s actually a birthday, I hope you can see.
A savior was born amid the debris,
Soon there were wise men, down on their knees.

He put aside His crown,
For the earth to come down.
He lived His life to die for you and me,
That’s what Christmas means to me.

Jesus is the reason I celebrate the day,
He was God’s gift as He lay in the hay.
So as you gaze upon the star atop your tree,
Remember that first Christmas and who was born for thee!
His love is a gift, no cost it’s free.
You just have to ask Him down on your knees.

Then next Christmas you will say indeed,
Jesus is the reason, that’s Christmas for me.


Justification

justificationWhole books have been written on justification and imputation. I am not going to attempt to replicate them or give as full of a treatment. My purpose here is only to give an overview.

Let’s start with the term impute or imputation. It comes from Latin and is an accounting term that means “to apply to one’s account.” In finances, expenses are debited and income is credited. So, if something is imputed to you, it is credited to you or your account. The Reformer’s chose this term to differentiate it from the term the Roman Catholic church used which is infuse or infusion. When something is infused it is added to and mixed in with what is already there.  Some people have health conditions that require them to receive infused medication. Instead of receiving a pill or a shot, they spend hours hooked up to an IV that drips and infuses the medication into their blood. An example of this is chemotherapy. Theologically, the term double imputation is used. Consider 2 Cor. 5:21:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This verse (though not only this verse) shows us double imputation. The first imputation is that of ours sins being imputed to Christ: “for our sake he made him to be sin.” Our sins were not infused into Christ’s as He “knew no sin.” No, our sins were imputed to Christ. Though He had never sinned he took upon Himself all our sins. God did this so that Christ’s death could atone for our sins. Jesus had no sins of His own to atone for but by imputation, he had our sins to atone for. The second imputation is that His righteousness was imputed to us: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is a righteousness that only God can have. We can never, on our own, posses such righteousness. We become “the righteousness of God” through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Infusion says Christ’s righteousness is added to ours and it is this mixed righteousness that becomes our righteousness before God. What can we add to the righteousness of God? Since God’s righteousness is perfect and complete there is nothing we can add to it. Can you add more time to eternity? Can you add more numbers past infinity? If you have the righteousness of God then you have perfect and complete righteousness. The very righteousness of God Himself! That is what this verse teaches us. Christ took on our sin and atoned for it so that we could take on His righteousness and be saved. One theologian said that two of the most beautiful words in the Bible are for us. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected for us. For us, He took our sins upon Himself and shed His blood to atone for them and gave us His righteousness.

Underlining has been added for emphasis:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith (Romans 9:30)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:21-22)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30)

Note here we become “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Sanctification is listed as separate from righteousness and after it.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4)

“In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:6)

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

Note that righteousness is a gift. If it was something, even in part, we earned it would not be a gift.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5)

Here we see the world credited which is the same concept as imputation. This verse expressly says faith is “credited as righteousness” to “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” God justifies “the ungodly.” That does not sound like someone who has had Christ’s righteousness infused into his own. Were that the case, he would not be ungodly. What is credited to him as righteousness? His faith. It is his faith, not his works that are credited as righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19)

for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26)

Who does God justify? The “one who has faith in Jesus.” Faith, not works.

and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:9)

Again, our righteousness is not derived from the Law (works) but “through faith in Christ.” That righteousness “comes from God on the basis of faith.”

I hope these verses show that we are justified on the basis of having been imputed the righteousness of Christ on the basis of our faith in Him, itself a gift of God.

As I have previously written, sanctification necessarily follows justification. Sanctification is an ongoing and progressive work in our lives as we gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6)

Sanctification is that ongoing work that God has begun and will one day perfect.

One misconception I find about salvation by faith alone, is that it becomes a license to sin. Since you are “saved by faith alone” then you can sin all you want once you express faith. Paul addressed this and wrote “May it never be!” Here is the fallacy in that. First, you can express faith but not possess faith. In other words, no expression of faith saves you unless you truly possess faith. You can say all the right words but if in your heart you don’t truly believe what you are saying then that is a counterfeit faith. Ever heard the term, “foxhole faith?” It’s been said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In times of crisis men will sometimes cry out to God for protection or deliverance. Such faith may not be genuine. It may be just a “hail mary” (i.e. just in case God exists I will ask for his help). That’s not to say deathbed faith or foxhole faith is never genuine. God, who alone sees the heart, knows. True faith, while it can be born in a crisis, remains even when the crisis has passed. In His parable of the seed, Jesus talks about how some of the seed sown gets choked out by weeks or never grows. There are those who respond to an invitation of faith, but we see over time that their faith was not genuine. The thief on the cross, one might say, was a “foxhole believer” yet Jesus said he would be with Him that day in Paradise. While his faith might have been expressed under extreme crisis, He possessed true saving faith.

I wrote previously, that God saves us to “walk in good works He prepared beforehand for us.” If you truly possess saving faith it will produce fruit in your life. When God declares you just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through your faith, He doesn’t just change your status from sinner to saint and then leave you alone. That is a misconception! That is not what salvation by faith alone teaches! When God saves you, He changes you. You are given a new nature. That new nature cannot help but produce faith. Thus, a changed man will not have an attitude of  “I can sin all I want because I am saved by faith alone.”

When we realize how sinful our sin is, and how Christ took our sin upon Him, how can we not want to please and obey Him? If someone saves your life, would you not be grateful to them? If we would be grateful to someone who saved our physical life, would we not be much more grateful to someone who saves our spiritual life and thus our eternal soul?

Sometimes, to try and question salvation by faith alone, people will put hypothetical questions to you like “Could you murder someone, feel no remorse, and still be saved?” My answer would be no! It’s possible a saved person could murder someone (though unlikely) but not without remorse. The Holy Spirit would convict their conscience of their sin. Usually these hypothetical questions presuppose situations that would never occur with a truly saved person. However, if you answer (even with qualification) that yes that person would still be saved, they say “Aha! See, you don’t think how someone lives matters at all. You can say you believe, live like the devil, but still be saved.” If someone is “living like the devil”, and never repents, then I would seriously question their possession of saving faith. I would suspect they never had saving faith and thus are not saved. It is exactly this time of “easy believism” that James and other NT authors write against. Their writings do not teach that we need works to be saved, but that without works we weren’t saved. God does not wait to see those works before He saves us. He saves us when we possess no good works, but transforms us such that good works necessarily follow.

I believe the key to all this, is to understand that saving faith is a gift. God choses who receives this gift. The possession and expression of saving faith is a work of God through us. Without that gift, we can express faith but it is an empty faith and not from God. We should not confuse the two. If you merely express faith without possessing it, you might “live like hell” or have an attitude that you can sin all you want because you are saved by grace, but you will be mistaken and find yourself on Judgment Day hearing “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)


James 2:24 – Faith vs Works

Hebrews111In examining the difference between the Catholic understanding of James 2:24, and the Protestant understanding, I am going to begin by asserting that the Scriptures contain no true contradictions. We may see apparent contradictions (which atheists love to point out without sharing how those apparent contradictions are resolved), but if God is the author of Scripture (which both Protestants and Catholics affirm), then God does not contradict himself. If we think there is a contradiction, then the error is with us, not God. We also must admit that all of Scripture must be considered and we cannot pull one verse out and have it stand on its own. We must consider not only the immediate context but the context of all of Scripture.

Some people think they see a contradiction between Paul’s teachings and James’. They say Paul teaches salvation by faith alone whereas James says saving faith requires works. Who’s right? If we begin with our earlier assumption, that Scripture contains no contradictions, then we must dig deeper if we are to resolve this apparent contraction.

In Ephesians, Paul writes:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB emphasis added)

Here, Paul clearly states that we are “saved through faith”, and to further clarify salvation is by faith alone, Paul adds “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” His words are very clear as is his meaning. Salvation is by faith alone. Yet, in verse 10, Paul concludes that we (those saved) are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Why does Paul add this right on the heels of saying salvation is by faith alone? Why mention works at all? Paul does so to show that good works are something God “prepared beforehand” so that we would “walk in them.” In other words, God has prepared good works for us to do once we are saved. God does not save us and then leave us as we were. He gives us a new heart, a new nature, no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)

As the saying goes, salvation is by faith alone but faith is never alone. In order for us to walk in those good works God prepared beforehand for us, we must first be saved and changed. God must swap our old heart dead in sin, for a new heart that is a slave to righteousness. Then, and only then, can we walk in those good works prepared beforehand for us.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time contrasting the Jewish understanding of salvation with true salvation. The Jews thought that works made them righteous. God gave them the law and they thought by keeping the law they would make themselves righteous. Yet none of them (or us) could perfectly keep the law. James writes:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

You don’t have to break every law. If you break even one, you are guilty of breaking all. It’s interesting that James (who some think is arguing for works salvation) would say this. If our works are necessary for salvation, what happens when we stumble on one point? We become guilty of breaking all the Law. Since none of us (save Christ) can keep the whole Law perfectly, how can we hope to be righteous on our own when even one failure makes us guilty of breaking the entire Law? Obviously, we can’t be righteous on our own.

Back in Romans, Paul anticipates the person who heard his words thinks that if salvation is by faith alone, by God’s grace, then why not go on sinning? After all, our sins are forgiven and covered by God’s grace! Paul answers that thought with an emphatic negative when he writes:

Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)

So, we are saved by faith, not works, and we are now slaves to righteousness but if we stumble in even one point of the Law, we are guilty of breaking the whole Law. Thankfully, Paul adds that we are now under grace and no longer under the Law. Therefore, we do not have to keep the whole Law perfectly. Does that mean the Law was pointless and of no importance? Paul answers this:

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

The problem, Paul writes, is not the Law but rather sin which dwells in us. The Law itself is holy and righteous and good. Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus perfectly kept the Law and thus fulfilled it. When we believe, we receive the righteousness of Christ. We are justified. It is “just as if” we never sinned.

We already saw that Paul says that once we are saved, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves to righteousness instead. He goes on to say:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

After having been freed from sin (a result of salvation) we derive a benefit namely sanctification (that change and the walking in the good works God prepared beforehand). The ultimate outcome is eternal life.

Given that, how are we to understand Jame’s writing?

If we return to our assumption that Scripture does not contradict itself, then there is only one possible way to understand James. He is writing to warn us, that true saving faith will produce good works. This should not surprise us, as early we read that we were to walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us by God. So works are a necessary and guaranteed outcome of saving faith. Only God can see the heart. Anyone can claim to have been saved based on a confession of faith. Faith though is not just a matter of saying certain words. You have to mean what you say and truly put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savoir.

People have all kinds of mistaken ideas about salvation. They think if you were baptized or if you attend church or if you “lead a good life” you will go to heaven. Other ideas abound. Yet none of these things save you. In multiple places in the NT, we are told to test or examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. There could be nothing worse than thinking you are saved when in fact you are not. Scripture does not give a list of required characteristics of someone who is saved, but by studying Scripture you can arrive at a pretty good idea of the kinds of that ought to be true of a believer, and if you see these things in your life, and you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you can know you are saved.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Much of what James writes is about those marks of a true believer. James contrasts for us the true believer from the false believer. To quote John MacArthur “The error James assails is faith without works; justification without sanctification; salvation without new life.” (https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA81/does-james-2-contradict-romans-4)

Someone who thinks they are saved because they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or did some other religious act, will have to examine themselves by James’ words. They say they are saved. James said, show me your salvation by your works. James point is that faith without works is a dead faith because true saving faith will always produce good works as we saw earlier. God has prepared “beforehand” good works for the believer to walk in. If we are not walking in good works, then we have a problem and better be questioning our faith to make sure we have not deluded ourselves into thinking we are saved when we aren’t.

The issue between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics say salvation requires sanctification and thus is not by faith alone. Yet if we make sanctification a requirement for salvation then salvation requires works and Paul clearly wrote that salvation is a free gift of God based on faith alone (not on works that no man should boast…). At times I almost think Protestants and Catholics are saying the same thing but differently. Protestants affirm a saved person will show the fruit of sanctification by good works. If not, they presumably were not ever saved. The exception, of course, would be someone whose salvation happened immediately before death or some severe health crisis (a coma for example) and thus is not able to show the fruit of sanctification. Such a person is still saved. The thief on the cross is the classic example given. Thus, from the Protestant perspective, a saved person will be sanctified. It’s just that sanctification is a process that begins after salvation. Catholics say you have to have sanctification in order to be saved. They allow the exception of the thief on the cross saying he lacked the opportunity to become sanctified (sounds like he was saved by faith alone…). For them, sanctification must happen before salvation. So both say faith is required for salvation. Both say sanctification is a mark of a believer. The difference is when sanctification occurs. Does it come after salvation (Protestant view), or before (and a requirement for) salvation?

If Scripture contains no contradictions, then the answer must be after salvation or Paul’s statement that salvation is by faith alone, not by works, could not be true. To take the Catholic view, you must conclude Paul is wrong in saying salvation is by faith alone.

I don’t know why the Catholic church wants to add sanctification to faith (presumably their understanding of Scripture though to my mind it requires the belief in a contradiction in Scripture). I can see some human reasons why someone might want to add sanctification. One reason is that salvation by faith alone leaves man out of the equation. Since we are told that our faith is a gift of God, then man has nothing to boast about. He can’t say “I did my part.” He can’t say “my salvation is 99% God and 1% me.” No it’s 100% God. Human pride wants to believe we played some part in our salvation. In the Catholic view, you get this. Even though they say faith is from God and sanctification is from God, yet they believe that a single “mortal” sin is sufficient to completely kill all of the grace you possess and send you to hell. They believe you have free will to choose whether or not to commit a mortal sin so in the end, you could always say “I chose not to commit a mortal sin” and therefore I played a small part in my salvation.

I also think we like the idea because we want a way to measure ourselves. We want to make examining ourselves easier.  If we can say, I’ve done good works and never committed a mortal sin, then we can feel good about ourselves. From the church’s perspective, it is a good way to keep the faithful in line. If you feel like you better have good works and need to avoid mortal sins, then you’ll tend to do as you’re told. Fear can be a powerful motive. That’s one thing I found sad about my Catholic mother and other Catholics I have known. While they all felt they would go to heaven, they were never totally sure. There was that fear that after leading a good and faithful life they might lose it all with a mortal sin or get to heaven and find out they did not have enough good works. The Apostle John wrote:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:15-18)

Notice John says that “we may have confidence in the day of judgment.”  He also says that perfect love casts out fear. We don’t need to be fearful about our eternal state. Or, as Paul puts it:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

The word translated “know”, is in the perfect tense in Greek. That means it speaks of a permanent knowledge and the Greek word means to know with absolute certainty without a doubt. Therefore, if we can know with a permanent, absolute knowledge that we are saved, then there is no reason to fear and no chance we can lose that salvation which is an issue for the Catholic belief in a class of sins known as mortal sins.

So, in conclusion, if we can know now that we have eternal life, and have no reason to fear, then our salvation is sure. We cannot lose it. We are saved by faith alone, a faith that is a gift of God. That faith is followed by a lifetime of sanctification as we walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us. There is so much more than could be said, but I will stop here.

Why is this important? Paul said if anyone gives you another gospel, other than the one he delivered, such a person should be anathema (cursed or excommunicated). If we love the truth then we cannot tolerate a lie. A salvation that includes works as a requirement, is a lie. Some Catholics will say, they do not believe in works salvation but rather faith plus sanctification. They try to say sanctification is not a work. What is sanctification then? It is a process in which we live according to our new nature and walk in good works. What Catholics are saying, is that your faith must be accompanied by a sanctified life that produces righteousness. Not as a result of salvation but as a requirement of it. That is by works. If you read the anathemas of the Catholic Council of Trent, anyone believing salvation is by faith alone is to be anathema. According to the Catholic church, this is a grievous error. If so, then we must say their misunderstanding of salvation, and teaching others the same, is also most grievous. You cannot have it both ways. You are either saved by faith alone or faith plus works. Paul answered the question for us; salvation is by faith alone.


Differences: Catholicism vs the Bible

I grew up Roman Catholic. My Mom was a devout Catholic so I did it all from infant baptism to first communion and confirmation plus catechism classes every Sunday until I graduated from high school.

There was a kid at my high school who was in my class but I did not know him well. He approached me in the spring of my freshman year and asked if he could share the “Four Spiritual Laws” with me (Campus Crusade for Christ pamphlet). I said he could but would not have time after school until track season ended. With about 2 weeks left in the school year we met in a classroom after school. I can still picture the room. He went through the booklet and asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Christ into my heart.

Now after all those years of Catholic education you would think I would have told him I already had Christ in my heart. After all I had been baptized and confirmed. I had committed no mortal sins. Yet I wanted to pray that prayer. I felt no pressure. It was just him and me and God. I didn’t care what this kid thought of me. I knew, by the grace of God, that I needed to give my life to him.  Those things I had done as a Catholic were just a matter of following the plan. You did those things because it was time and expected. I don’t recall the nuns ever saying confirmation, for example, was optional and we shouldn’t participate if we weren’t sure. I imagine my mom would have been perplexed had I announced I didn’t want to get confirmed and the nuns would have been talking to me… It’s not that I didn’t want to get confirmed when that time came but I did it because it was expected. I didn’t really feel like I was making a commitment or a decision. It wasn’t being done on my initiative. Now I was deciding on my initiative that I wanted to give my life to Christ. No one knew what was happening that afternoon except me, this boy, and God. So I prayed.

The heavens didn’t open and I felt no different, though I felt at peace. Yet what a change started in me! We had an over sized, soft covered, gold edged, Catholic Bible sitting on our coffee table at home collecting dust. My Mom had filled out the section at the front with birth dates and such but otherwise that Bible was never opened. No one told me to read the Bible. Not the kid at school, not the nuns or priests, not my parents. The Holy Spirit led me to pick that Bible up and start reading. I started in Genesis and over several months read to the end of Revelation. I became the first person in my family to read the entire Bible. Over the remaining three years of high school I read that Bible completely three more times. Not normal reading for most high school kids especially kids who went to the Catholic Church and had no one encouraging them to read the Scriptures. I learned so much. I quickly learned far more than I ever learned at church or in those Catechism classes. As I read, I encountered truths that did not agree with doctrine taught by the Catholic Church. Once you read the Bible for yourself, you realize it’s not that complicated or difficult to understand. A few things are, but not the Gospel and many, many other things. I didn’t need a priest to tell me what those passages meant. No priest or Pope could be a better teacher than the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.

My faith was now in Christ. He was my mediator. Not a church, not a priest or Pope. In time I left the Catholic Church after sharing the Gospel with a priest at the church. He believed that people were leaving the Catholic Church because they wanted something nicely laid out for them in black and white whereas in the Catholic faith you had to think for yourself and wrestle with the gray. I will grant there are some Protestant churches that overstep Scripture and try to run people’s lives, but most just teach the Word of God and let us pray and decide how to respond to it. Scripture is usually pretty clear. In the Catholic Church everything has to be approved and blessed. Priests read everything when saying the Mass. Other then their homily (mini sermon) the rest is all scripted. Altar boys and girls hold open books for them to read their prayers from. That seems a lot more black and white to me.

I have Catholic friends and it always strikes me how they talk a lot in terms of their church. It’s the church this and the church that. When they have questions, they don’t turn to Scripture, they go ask a priest. I was talking to a Catholic lady friend the other night, and she shared how she went to her priest to ask him about sex before marriage because a friend had asked her and she wanted to know for her and her friend. At first I was shocked she didn’t know the answer. She’s in her 50’s and been a lifelong Catholic. How could she not know? Then I was sad because she’s probably never read the Bible because if she had she’d know the answer. I asked her what answer the priest gave her. This was an 89 yr old man who had been a priest since his 20’s. Not someone you would expect to hesitate to answer such a question. His answer was not an answer at all but merely an irrelevant observation. He said that people today have a lot more sex than they used to. I asked her if he said anything else and she said no. She then added that “he didn’t say it was wrong.” True, but really he didn’t say anything. Perhaps she made that remark because that’s the answer she was looking for? I can understand her thinking that he is an ordained priest charged with shepherding the faithful so he would be obligated to tell her if something was sin even if he knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. Therefore, it was (in her mind) reasonable to assume his lack of prohibition against premarital sex was implied permission. Sad that a supposed minister of God could not give a straight answer or quote a single Scripture. Maybe that is what my old priest meant when he said people liked these Protestant churches because they made everything so black and white. What he should have said, is that they use the Bible to answer questions, and if the Bible clearly addresses the issue then there’s the answer. My friend’s priest left her with a non-answer, total murky gray.

When we stand before God, the question won’t be “did you believe in the church and put your faith and trust in her?” No! It will be “did you believe in Jesus Christ and put your faith and trust in Him?” Yet millions of Catholics are trusting in their church for their salvation. They don’t know the Gospel. I never heard it in the Catholic Church. Yes there are some Catholics who have come to know the Gospel and accepted it. Praise God! Some say they have stayed in the church hoping to reform it. How did that workout for Martin Luther? They will never grow if they stay in a church that won’t teach the Word. If I were to ask my friend why she didn’t just open a Bible and find the answer I am sure she would say it was quicker to ask her priest as after-all he has already studied these things. If she is depending on her church to teach her all she needs to know for life and salvation then her faith is in her church and not in

the Lord. Church teaching is all well and good but we are called to be like the believers in Berea who did not just take the Apostle Paul’s word but searched the Scriptures to see if he was teaching the truth. Do Catholics think their priests or even the Pope is greater than the Apostles? If Paul commended them to search and check the Scriptures for themselves would he not say the same to us today?

I am so thankful, God is His grace, gave me faith and led me to read His Word. What a treasure so many miss out on. How can we hope to obey and serve God if we don’t even read His words to us?


The Great Secularization of America

Christmas is always a touchy time of year. It’s America’s favorite holiday but also fraught with political correctness. Afraid of offending customers, retailers long ago changed the season’s greetings from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Nativities and other public displays of the Christian celebration of Christmas were banned from public display. The holiday tunes played in the background at stores were cleansed to remove the more religious ones.

Christmas in America is big business. Estimates put annual retail sales during the Christmas season at 30%. That is almost one third of annual sales done in a little over a month. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday and a plethora of sales and daily specials. No parent wants their children to wake up Christmas morning to a tree not laden with presents. We go into debt and run around like chickens with their heads cutoff looking for presents, buying wrapping paper, getting holiday meal fixings, and whatever else needed to fulfill the expectations of the holidays. It is a month plus dance that is over all too quickly as children rip through unopened presents. What took hours to shop for an wrap are opened in a matter of seconds.
I read an interesting article in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker. The title of his article is “Jesus doesn’t need Christianity. His example is powerful without any religion at all.” The crux of his article is that Jesus is a great moral example and if we just separate him from the religious beliefs about him, then we have something honorable we can all celebrate. Just separate Jesus from his claim to be the divine Son of God and view him as a philosopher and teacher and bingo – problem solved.

Of all the world’s major religions, Jesus is unique. He alone claimed to be God. Mohammed only claimed to be a prophet. Confucius and Buddha were teachers not gods. None of these men predicated their own death and resurrection and rose from the dead. If you take the divinity from Jesus and he’s just another holy man, guru, sage, with insights we can benefit from. To quote Krattenmaker,

“If secular people can focus on the values and teachings of Jesus without getting tripped up by the religious context — which comes naturally for some, not so easily for others — they might find a surprisingly relevant source of guidance and uplift.”

Does that sound much different than this description of Buddha by Barbara O’Brien?

“The Buddha who lived 2,600 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Siddhartha Gautama, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
You could almost rewrite her description of Buddha so it reads:

“The Christ who lived 2018 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Jesus of Nazareth, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
For years secularists and atheists have sought to eliminate Jesus but failed. Atheistic dictators from Stalin and the communists in China have sought to eliminate all religion including Christianity yet underground churches have sprung up all over their lands. Since that strategy has failed, “if you can’t beat ’em, redefine them.” The problem isn’t Jesus, it’s relgion and the religious beliefs about him. That’s what causes division and offense. So simple. Secularize Jesus and focus on his moral teachings and now you have a Jesus we can all celebrate. As Krattenmaker put it:

“Just as the person of Jesus came before Christianity, so might the figure of Jesus — philosopher, teacher, moral exemplar — outlast American Christendom.”
Of course Kratternmaker is wrong. Jesus IS Christianity. He did not come before it. God’s plan of redemption and sacrifice began long before Jesus’ advent in the life of the nation of Israel. Jesus’ incarnation was the continuation and culmination of God’s plan of redemption. To say Jesus came before Christianity is like saying Martin Luther King Jr came before Civil Rights. Christianity was not founded by the followers of Jesus after his death. Jesus discipled them to carry on and spread the faith after his resurrection. Christianity is not a man-made religion started after Jesus’ death. Jesus started Christianity.

It’s true America is in it’s post-Christian era. While belief in “God” is still prevalent, what “God” means to people is all over the map. A century ago when people said “God” they meant the Judeo-Christian God. Not “God” can mean anything and everything. Even among church goers faith is down. Many attend out of a sense of tradition more than a sense of conviction.
Christian author Josh McDowell wrote a classic book titled “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” In it he says you have three choices when it comes to Jesus: He is either Lord, liar, or lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, a claim which caused the Jewish leaders to label him a blasphemer and seek his death. They did not view him as a harmless moral teacher. They viewed him as a liar who blasphemed by claiming to be God. To the Romans he was a harmless lunatic crucified ultimately because the Roman governor Pilate feared unrest and how it would affect his career even though he believed Jesus to be innocent of anything deserving death. His disciples and millions or billions since viewed him as Lord. God incarnated. You cannot reduce Jesus to a mere man who had inspiring insights. If he is not God then he is either a liar or a lunatic. Are liars and lunatics the source of inspiring insights?

There may be a post-Christian place for Jesus in America but if so it will be the latest chapter in the great secularization of America. We’ve tried to eliminate Jesus, marginalize Jesus, but those efforts have failed. So now we will embrace him but not the real Jesus but a homogenized Jesus who gives no offense. We are seeking harmony by blending the moral teachings of the world’s religions to something we can all embrace. Religion is being replaced by philosophy and personal truth. Absolute truth is strictly forbidden. Embrace the moral teachings of Jesus and that’s okay. To claim, as Jesus did, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through {him} me” and now you are offensive and intolerant.
I do agree with a sentiment expressed by James S. Robbins, in another USA Today op-ed piece. He writes:

“Americans have a right to celebrate holidays in whatever manner they wish, and not to be shamed and bullied by the PC police. People are only driven further apart when they are forced to walk on eggshells out of fear that some sullen victim-in-waiting will take exaggerated offense at their innocent, heartfelt expressions of good cheer.”
He goes on to say:

“People should say Merry Christmas — or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali, Eid Mubarak, or any other holiday greeting proudly and happily, and hope others will take it in the festive spirit it is offered. Americans can — and should — be kind and joyful for each other, no matter what they believe.”

Isn’t that true diversity? We preach the value of diversity and how our differences make us stronger yet when it comes to Christianity that is one diversity we don’t see as worthy of inclusion. We celebrate some types of diversity while attempting to homogenize others. Sadly some Christians will seek the path of least resistance and embrace this watered down, homogenized Christianity. The true followers of Jesus will not hesitate to say Merry Christmas and celebrate a risen Lord rather than an easter bunny. This is the wake up call the church in America has needed. Too long now American Christianity has been easy. It has not cost us much. It’s when our faith comes at a price that we find out how real it is.
Without Jesus there is no Christendom. Strip Him of his divinity and you are left with a liar or a lunatic. America turns her back on God to her own peril. While humanity possesses more knowledge than ever before in history. our knowledge has proven to be foolishness as we are rejecting our Creator. As the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right unto man, but in the end leads to destruction.”


The Foolishness of Humanity

When I think about all the bright minds in the world and the things we’ve discovered and created, it makes me sad that so much thought and money has gone into things that either do not benefit mankind or that benefit for a profit when a less profitable but perhaps better or more lasting solution might exist.

Take the military for example. We have 5th generation fighters and bombers that can reduce their radar signature to that of thimble making them virtually invisible. We have jets that through various thrust nozzles can literally stand on end and “walk” across the sky. We have smart bombs that can fly through an open window and destroy a building with amazing precision. Now the 6th generation is upon us where operator less drones will fight in future wars. Some voices even warn that AI (artificial intelligence) will one day be the downfall of humanity. You need only watch the movie series The Matrix to see such a scenario.

Men have orbited the earth, walked on the moon, sent unmanned spacecraft across the Solar System and beyond. Talk of putting humanity on Mars is not that far fetched or far off. Time does not permit for me to mention our advances in medicine and computers and so much more. Yet for all these accomplishments we still have people starving, children dying, and families living outdoors exposed to the elements. We see women preyed upon and sold as sex slaves and all manner of evil existing upon this earth. For all our brilliance humanity has done little to solve the same basic problems that has plagued us from the beginning. Some will blame it on population growth or communism or greed. There are a million reasons but they mostly boil down to one fundamental truth that God gave us thousands of years ago. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said that sin starts within. It is in the wickedness of our hearts that sin is conceived. We lust for what we don’t have. We steal, we attack, we torture to get what we want. Did Hitler start a world war to benefit humankind? Did Stalin really care for his countrymen as he imprisoned and put to death millions of them? Can you even begin to understand the evil in someone’s heart who could lure a young woman into their control then put her on drugs and sell her body to whoever will pay? The problem for most of us is that we don’t live close enough to see these evils with our own eyes. Yet its not “out there” far away, it is all around us and in us. Some of us might be just as wicked were our circumstances different.

We collectively spend trillions of dollars on our militaries to fight or deter wars yet think of what all that money could do if spent on more worthwhile endeavors like curing cancer or providing enough food and clean water and medicine to everyone in the world. What if all those brilliant minds that spent their days figuring out how to kill with weapons more efficiently were instead retasked with solving age-old problems like hunger and sickness? It comes down to priorities.  The United States has never won a World Cup. We are a rich nation of approximately 300 million and have many great athletes yet the focus here has never been on soccer. Nations much, much smaller than the US regularly field teams that are much better than the best we have. I’ve often thought that if we didn’t have football (American football that is) and all of that talent was funneled into other sports just how much better at soccer might we be? Not all football players would excel at soccer but surely some would. Those speedy wide receivers, cornerbacks, and running backs might be awfully good if they grew up playing soccer and never went into football. Other nations best us at soccer because they live and breath it and every child in their country grows up idolizing their soccer stars and their nations take great pride in the success of their national teams. While all but a few lacks the resources of the US their focus enables them to exceed us in this one sport. Now imagine if humanity’s focus was on solving world hunger or sex trafficking or pollution? Imagine what could be accomplished? Instead we are like American and soccer. Oh we like it a little and we’ve had some success but we still lack the sheer passion and popularity to rival those nations that dominate the sport. For our great love of American football we get little return on that investment in the international sports because outside of North America football is simply not played. The rest of the world doesn’t care. No harm, no foul because football is a sport and it hardly matters whether or not the US has a competitive soccer team. US soccer fans might beg to differ but part of what makes this world so interesting is that we are not all clones. We have major sports played all over the world but also have more regional or country specific sports that are still greatly enjoyed. I don’t know if Australian Rules Football is played outside of Australia but I am sure the people there love it. We don’t have to all be equally passionate about the same sports. Yet some things should have a shared passion. Who among us is ok with starving? Who wants to be sick and have no access to medical care? Who wants to be forced into slavery? I think we can all agree to those things. Yet our wickedness forces us to spend trillions on weapons and soldiers to fight wars we hope we never have to fight. We spend billions on creating and maintaining a nuclear arsenal in the hopes its very existence will prevent it from ever being used. While I understand the rationale and won’t deny it has worked, if you step back for a moment and really think about it you realize how incredible insane that is! We have people dying of hunger, women or young girls forced into being sex slaves, we are polluting our earth, and we terrorize each other and these problems must wait because we need to spend billions on weapons we pray we never will use. Just ponder that for a moment.

Can we solve all the world’s problems with money? No. Can all the brightest minds solve all the world’s problems? No. There are no easy or sure answers to many of these issues but wouldn’t you just love to see what we could come up with if we did put our focus on those and other problems? We may not cure cancer but what if we could make it so cancer no longer was a death sentence? What if everyone could get good and affordable healthcare and life saving drugs didn’t have to consume your life savings?  Imagine that?

I am not the first to imagine that and a famous songwriter and musician had his own thoughts on the problem. His name was John Lennon. He wrote the song “Imagine.” While he imagined a way in which all these problems could be solved his solution would never work. Why? Because he did not consider that the heart of man is desperately wicked. In his imagination there were no countries so no need to fight over borders or resources. He imagined no possessions so we all shared and shared alike. No religion so nothing to live or die for. Somehow this produced a “brotherhood of man” in his imagination. His solution to the problem was to take away all those things are wicked hearts lust for so we would no longer have them to fight over. Yet only pure hearts would live without possessions, could live without borders, could be a true brotherhood. The fundamental truth is: unless you change the heart of man you cannot change the actions of man.

We know this but we lack the means to pursue it. We know instinctively that incarcerating a criminal will not necessarily take the criminal nature away. Once freed many former prisoners return to a life of crime. In prison you removed them from society so they could not practice crime. Once back in society their nature was to be criminals again. Thus, in some corners we seek to reform criminals. If we can get them to see the error of their ways and learn a new way then perhaps they can return to society and no longer be criminals. Free a criminal and he will return to his criminal ways. Rehabilitate a criminal and he will become a productive member of society. So why is it not that simple? Aside from resource limitations it comes down to unchanged hearts. Rehabilitation can work and sometimes does and is certainly better than strict incarceration but its success rate is nowhere near 100%. You see ONLY GOD can fix the wicked hearts of humanity. If we continue to seek solutions apart from God, we will continue to live apart from the life God created us for. There is only one answer. JESUS.

Oh, but how we HATE simple solutions! We’d rather pay thousands for some drug with a million side effects than pay nothing and change the way we eat or get out and get some exercise. We’d rather lose tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to get a divorce then learn to love each other. We want the quick fix not the real fix. This highlights the other problem. We want to sit on the throne of our life and the second anyone tells us what we need to do we bristle at that! We are so desperate to hold onto control that we reject the loving guidance of the very ONE who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The very ONE who loves us so much He sent his Son to DIE for us. We are forced to accept that we are controlled by governments and employers but we cling for all we’ve got to our free will and we will not submit it to God. God sent us the solution in the person of Jesus Christ and what did humanity do? They crucified him. That was a big fat NO THANK YOU GOD! We not only don’t want your solution but we are going to kill your only son just to really let you know how we feel.

No can you imagine having incurable cancer and a doctor comes to your door with a treatment that will cure you of your cancer but you’re going to have to make some lifestyle changes you’d rather not make. So, you not only decline his treatment but you shoot him in the head to send a message to those who sent him that you want NO PART OF THEIR TREATMENT. Apparently, you’d rather die than give up control of your life! You might say that’s ridiculous and no one would ever do that yet how many people have died from lung cancer who could have simply given up cigarettes and never contracted it? Lung cancer from smoking cigarettes is 100% preventable! Not a single person needs ever die that way. According to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, 80% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking resulting in the deaths of more than 7 million people globally each year. Sad isn’t it? Yet these people suffer from a terrible addiction that can be very hard to break. In the name of free choice corporations exist that make millions of dollars of profit from selling the cigarettes that kill these people. You see even when we know the way to prevent our death we still often fail to do so. Without God’s help we are powerless to do the very things we know we need to do. John Lennon’s solution sounds good on paper but without God changing hearts it will never work. I will agree with him on having “no religion” but only if we accept the definition that religion is man’s attempt to know God whereas Christianity is God’s revelation of truth to man. Lies divide but the truth unifies. It is not by having “nothing to live or die for” that we find true freedom. Jesus said “the truth shall set you free.” Freedom comes from knowing God through his Son Jesus Christ. In that truth is the power to not only know what you need to do but the power to do it.

That’s good news! Maybe that’s why they call it the “Good News” 😉 You’ve heard the expression “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want first?” The bad news is that we are sinners clinging to our thrones and unless we accept God gracious offer of forgiveness and love we will die in our sins eternally separated from God. He won’t force it on us. We can choose to continue to sit on our thrones and suffer. We can go to our graves separated from Christ singing “I did it my way.” We can then spend eternity separated from Him because we rejected Him. God not only won’t force Himself upon you now but He won’t force Himself upon after you die either. The time to believe is now! It really is pretty simple. Just get off the throne and give it to God. Kind of like giving up cigarettes and never contracting lung cancer. Why do 80% of the people who die from lung cancer contract it from smoking cigarettes? Because they are addicted and lack the willpower to quit and not restart. My point here is NOT to belittle those who struggle with smoking addiction. I have never smoked but I sure am addicted to diet soda which I know is not good for me. Worse I was born addicted to sin. In heaven God will give me a new body so the mess this life has made of this one won’t matter then (but it’s in my best interests now to take better care of it) but my chance to break the addiction to sin only comes in this life. I’m glad I let Jesus break me of that addiction. I still sin but I am no longer a slave to sin. I am free now. You can be too.

It starts with humility. We have to admit to ourselves and to God that we have sinned and turned our backs on him. We have to admit that we can’t fix the problem and we need Him. We have to get off the throne and let Him take over. You might say “that’s too hard…I can’t do it.” Kind of like giving up cigarettes is too hard. Yet God loves you so much he will give you the strength to do what you cannot do. Supernaturally He will supply everything you need. All you have to do is ask Him. Don’t worry that it might be hard or that you don’t feel you have the strength. Just ask Him. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to be in a church, or on your knees (though humbling ourselves before God is a good thing), or clean your act up first. God will take you as you are, right here, right now. There is not a single thing you need to do before you ask Him. There is nothing you could do that will prevent Him from coming into your life once you do ask Him to. So, what are you waiting for? Why would you wait another minute? I don’t say that to pressure you. Take all the time you want. God is patient. I say that because usually things that are “too good to be true” aren’t but this one is. Why not start living that life of freedom now? I only pray you ask Him before this life is over for you because once it is that invitation goes away. You might say it’s a limited time offer. God wants you to ask him today. Why doesn’t God’s offer go on for all eternity? If you know the truth and won’t accept His offer in this life then you never will. God gives you enough time in this life to see the truth. If we don’t then God will leave us in our sin and give us what we want which is to have nothing to do with Him. That’s what Hell is. It’s where everyone ends up that want nothing to do with God. Unlike the songs and movies though, Hell is not the fun place where all the parties are. We don’t realize it but whether you love God, hate God, or think He doesn’t exist, you still benefit from God’s grace in this life. You haven’t even had a taste of what existence would be without God’s presence. In Hell God will totally withdraw His presence. Evil will have full reign. God’s restraining power will be withheld and evil will consume everyone who rejected God’s forgiveness. This world is full of evil but it’s not all evil. There is good too. Imagine though if all the good left and only the evil remained. Is that where you’d want to spend the rest of eternity? I guarantee you that you are not even capable of imagining how horrible that will be. We can’t because we’ve never experienced it. Yet that doesn’t have to be your future. Say yes to God and experience true life. In this life God won’t solve all your problems or take away all your pain. He will use it to grown you and mature you and make you more Christ-like. Some of it He will take away or lessen but no matter what you go through He will go through it with you. In heaven though He promised us there will be “no more sorry and no more tears.” We will no longer get sick or go hungry. Evil will be gone. Just as we cannot imagine an existence without good and only evil so we cannot imagine an existence where there is only good and NO evil. That is why Paul, who briefly visited heaven, wrote to us:

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In other words, heaven is going to blow our minds! I don’t know about you but I find that amazingly exciting and I am not one to get easily excited.

I love how a favorite song by an artist named Phillip Sandifer put it. “What its all been said and it’s all been done, did you go my way child, did you know my son.”

Do you know God’s son? Do you want to know him? If so, cry out to Jesus and you will know Him!


Single Point of Focus

Image result for point of focus images

I recently took a photography class from one of the best fine art and commercial photographers in the world. The number one concept he shared with us is having a single point of focus in our photos. The idea is that every photo should have a single point of focus you guide the viewer’s eyes to. Through the use of focus, lighting, lines, and other elements, you direct them to what he termed “the payoff.” You don’t want to direct their eyes to nothing but to something. They should leave viewing your photo having found that point of focus (just one).

I thought later about how our lives should have a single point of focus. As followers of Jesus Christ, He should be that single point of focus.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) emphasis added

Notice we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus. If we are to run “with endurance the race that is set before us” then we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. Long distance, open-water swimmers, always pick a point on the opposite shore of horizon to use as their single point of focus. Every few strokes they glance up and check their location relative to that single point of focus. If they are a little off, they correct course. For that to work that single point of focus has to be fixed, constant, unchanging. It does no good to pick a point that might move because if it does you will move off course following it.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hewbrews 13:8)

Talk about a fixed point! Jesus never changes. He is the one point we can fix our eyes on with perfect confidence.

17Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:17-19) emphasis added

This verse goes on to say how Jesus has gone into the inner sanctuary for us. Our hope in Him is an “anchor for the soul.” Again, we see the idea of having a single point of focus or an anchor. Things that fix us to one location.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, keeps us on course, but as we follow Jesus our lives become an element in God’s “picture” to lead others to Christ. We might be a guiding element in the “photo” of someone else’s life.

1And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

We should strive to be like Paul, who urged his followers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we become imitators of Christ. As such we can point others to Christ.

What then is the focus of your life? Does it have a single focus?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:5-8) emphasis added

Notice what happens when we have more than one point of focus. We become double-minded and Scripture says such a person is “unstable in all they do.” Hardly seems like a good recipe for life. We need to be single-minded. We need to have a single point of focus.

Just as a good picture should have a single point of focus, so should a godly life.


What About Psychics?

psychics

You see ads from time to time from people claiming to be psychics. A psychic is a person who claims to be able to identify information hidden from the normal senses, particularly involving telepathy or clairvoyance, or who perform acts that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws. People sometimes go to psychics to inquire about a love interest, a business matter, or some aspect of their future. Some claim such powers come from hidden spiritual knowledge taping into spiritual energy. Some even claim Biblical prophets were examples of such knowledge and power and it can be available to you and I if properly trained.

Is this Biblical? Does God give men such powers and approve of it’s use? Where did the Prophets (of the Bible) get their power and how did they use it?

Leviticus 20:27

27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones;  their blood shall be upon them.”

First a few definitions. A medium is a person who uses “his or her psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events of a person by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding that person. This means mediums rely on the presence of non-physical energy outside of themselves for the information relevant to the person being read.”[1]

A psychic is a person who “tune into the energy of people or objects by feeling or sensing elements of their past, present and future. Simply put, psychics rely on their basic sense of intuition and psychic ability to gather information for the person being read.”[2]

As the above cited article states, “a psychic is not necessarily a medium, but a medium is a psychic.” According to our passage from Leviticus a medium was to be put to death.

Deuteronomy 18:10–13

10 There shall not be found among you anyone xwho burns his son or his daughter as an offering,5 anyone who ypractices divination or ztells fortunes or interprets omens, or aa sorcerer 11 or a charmer or ba medium or a necromancer or cone who inquires of the dead, 12 dfor whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And ebecause of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God,

Once again we see that those who practice divination, tells fortunes, interprets omens, is a sorcerer, a charmer, or a necromancer should be driven out and are an abomination before the Lord. It doesn’t matter what they claim the source of their ability is. No exception is given for those who claim their power comes from God.

How did the Apostles respond when they came upon someone with the power of divination?

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. (Acts 16:16-18)

While this slave girl apparently was able to foretell the future, they cast a demon out of her. The true source of her power was demonic. While she presumably had some ability it was demonic in it’s source and a violation of God’s law. In the book of 1 Samuel, Saul consults with a medium. He wanted to know what his future would be and why he was being pursued. What did God think about his consorting with a medium?

13 “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.”

Notice a contrast is made between Saul consulting with a medium versus seeking guidance from the Lord. Saul should have sought the Lord. Instead he disobeyed God and sought a medium and God took his life from him. Clearly God did not approve.

What about the Prophets? First, we need to understand who the Prophets were. They were men, called by God, to speak messages from God to the nation of Israel. If you read the words of God spoken through the Prophets you will find that the vast majority of what they spoke was not prophetic (future telling) but rather God confronting Israel with a message of judgement and deliverance. At times they did speak of future events but only a minority of the time.

The signs of a true prophet were these:

In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 God listed five certifying signs by which a true prophet of God could be recognized: (1) a prophet must be an Israelite, “from among [his] own brothers” ( Deut 18:15 ) (Balaam is the exception that proves this rule); (2) he must speak in the name of the Lord (“If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” [ Deut 18:19 ]); (3) he must be able to predict the near as well as the distant future (“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken” [ Deut 18:22 ]); (4) he must be able to predict signs and wonders ( Deut 13:2 ); and (5) his words must conform to the previous revelation that God has given ( Deut 13:2-3 ).[3]

Notice they were all Israelites. Anyone today, claiming to be a modern-day prophet, cannot claim to be in the line of the OT Prophets if he’s not a Jew. Secondly, he must claim to speak in the name of the Lord and his prophecies can never fail to come true. One false prophecy and he is to be considered a false prophet. His message must not ever contradict God’s past revelations.

Prophets spoke as God directed up until the coming of Christ. John the Baptist was the last of the Prophets though Jesus was a prophet but much more than a prophet. We have no more need of prophets because:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1)

These “last days” refers to the time period between Christ’s first coming and his future second coming. We are in the last days now. The need for the Prophets has been done away with as we now have Christ. The Prophets did not speak by their own will or for their own purposes. They never prophesized for financial gain nor to answer man’s inquiry.

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20)

Another thing to note about the prophets is that prior to their calling by God they never prophesized. The also never did it outside of God’s express will and only when God had a message for them to speak.

Now let’s consider those who are modern-day psychics. One such person is Gary Spivey. On his official website his title is “Psychic, Medium Spiritual Healer.”[4] His own claim to be a medium is clearly in violation to our passage from Leviticus. His bio goes on to describe how his prophetic gifts began as a child. Yet none of his predictions were said to be “from the Lord.” Later he appeared on radio and television which lead him to be “ doing private sessions with people where he could help them with any problem they might have from love and relationship questions to channeling a passed love one, or miraculously healing people from physical ailments.”[5]

Once again we find necromancy (talking to the dead) and speaking not as God commanded (in the age where there are no more prophets). He also does so for financial profit. None of these things are consistent with the Bible.

How do such people ever have any insight or correct predictions? The answer is by the power of demons.

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15)

While demons do not know the future (beyond what God has revealed), they are able to gather vast amounts of information and have lived for all of human history so have tremendous insight into human thinking and activity. This gives them the ability to make predictions that have far greater chances of coming true than anything we could make. Why would they do so? Satan’s highest aim to is keep us from God. He is a master of deception and one of his greatest deceptions is selling us a brand of spiritually that we find appealing, and almost Christian, yet is far from it. Anything to keep us from following as true disciples of Christ. It is appealing to man to have spiritual power. Organizations like the Masons have gained members for centuries by appealing to their possession of hidden knowledge. Our egos want us to possess something others don’t. We want to have special powers that only those who are “enlightened” can possess. Make no mistake. Satan can heal so not all healing is of God. If it will further his purposes he will heal.

Does God heal today? Of course, he does but generally quietly and without fanfare. He also only does so when it is His will. We have no ability to bring about God’s healing. While we are told to pray and ask in faith, not doubting, our prayers are always subject to God’s sovereign will. God never puts His power at our disposal to wield as we will. Faith can move mountains but only when God wills.

It should be clear that no Christian should ever consult with a psychic or medium. We should never “channel” or consort with the dead or those who have “passed over.” Once again Satan can make us think such things are happening. He can appear as anything, or anyone, he wants and having existed since before mankind he knows all about our passed love ones and specific knowledge only they and us share. He can easily deceive us into thinking we are hearing from a loved one. We should never trust such experiences when they clearly contradict the revealed will of God. We are not to seek the future nor expect special powers simply by special knowledge. God instructed us to pray for the sick and call the elders to pray for them but not to seek a psychic or medium to heal them.

We have all we need and all God has revealed to us in His Word. We need not nor should not seek other knowledge and should avoid those who claim to know “secret things” hidden from us. If you can read the Bible then you can know all things that God has made available to man to know.

One final note. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 and Romans 12:6 the gift of prophecy is listed among the spiritual gifts. What is this gift of prophecy? As noted earlier, the gift of prophecy was far more about “forth-telling” than “fore-telling.” Forth-telling was when a Prophet declared the will of God, gave messages of warning or deliverance, and in other ways spoke to influence the people of God. Only on occasion did it include fore-telling (i.e. predicting the future). In that sense a modern-day pastor can be considered a “prophesier” as he is speaking forth the counsel of God. With the completion of the NT canon, prophesying changed from declaring new revelation to the completed revelation God had already given.

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)

Jude speaks of the faith that was “once for all delivered”, meaning the revelation has been made complete. The modern gift of prophecy is that of teaching and proclaiming those things already revealed by God. There are some Christians and churches today who believe God speaks special messages of revelation to individuals. Whether you believe that or not we know a few things. First, any such message must be tested against the Word of God. God never contradicts Himself and would never give a message contrary to His revealed will. Second, such messages when given in the Bible were never for personal gain or financial use. God forbids us to seek out the counsel of those who claim to be able to channel spirits, energy, or fore-tell the future. Personal experience is not a substitute for the revealed will of God. I will not personally judge someone who claims a word from God but I will test that word against Scripture and understand that such “words” are still subject to human frailty and error and not on par with the verbally inspired written Word of God. They never take the place of Scripture nor are on par with it. The focus of our faith should be God’s written revelation not ours or someone else’s personal experiences. There is not hidden meaning or spiritual powers yet to be discovered.

[1] Read more: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/what-is-a-medium-rebecca-rosen/all#ixzz57zXAf400

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/prophet-prophetess-prophecy/

[4] http://garyspivey.com/about-gary/

[5] Ibid.


What I Have Learned – So Far…

You never get a do over in life. You can start over but you can never do over.

God never promised us an easy life. He never promised we’d be free of pain, sadness, loss, or persecution. He did promise He’d be with us to the very end of the age.

God never said He would take away all the consequences of our sin or of those whose sin harmed us. He did say He would wash our sins away as white as snow.

Sometimes God’s greatest work is accomplished in our pain and suffering. How we handle suffering is sometimes our greatest witness to a world that suffers but sees suffering as something to be avoided.

We will not find justice in this life but before the throne of God justice will be handed out and by the grace of God so will mercy.

Happiness is not a feeling when all is well or we are having fun. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is learning to be content and give thanks no matter what our circumstances.

Trials are a part of live as a believer. God is preparing us for eternity and to make us more Christ like.

Nothing on this earth will satisfy the longing of our soul. Only God can fill that vacuum in our hearts. The only true soulmate we will ever have is Jesus Christ.

If we do find happiness and joy, friends and family, good health and good living we owe it all to God and His good grace and good pleasure.

The greatest words we can ever hope to hear are “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and enter into the rest I have prepared for you.”

The greatest act we will ever perform will be to take the Crown of Glory off our heads and cast it to the feet of Jesus on His throne.

What we have cannot be bought with all the money in the world and the richest man or woman will never have as much as us. Our treasure is in our hearts and bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore rejoice and give thanks to God Almighty. He loves you, cherishes you, died for you, and calls you His child.

There is no greater love and this truly is the greatest story ever told.

Look to Jesus and you will never lack for anything again.


Starting Over

I’ve come to a realization that has only taken nearly 56 years of life to come to. That realization is that no matter what has happened in your past you can’t get a do over but you can start over. The real significant part though is that while you can start over you can’t always erase the scars of the past. God can help you deal with them but He doesn’t always erase them.

I’ve heard and read amazing stories of people coming to the Lord from highly troubled pasts and instantly being healed of them (e.g. drug addiction). Praise God! If you know the Lord then you know He can do ANYTHING. Yet Paul prayed three times to have the “thorn in the flesh” removed from him and God did not grant him that desire. Whatever that was Paul had to carry it with him to the grave. What Paul learned was that when he was weak God was strong. He learned to lean on God and be content no matter what.

I’ve met many well meaning people who perhaps had some difficulties in their past who hoping to help me have told me I just need to make up my mind that I am no longer controlled by the past and everything will change. It did for them they say. Perhaps that worked for them and I’m not denying their claims but such thoughts seem inspired by the school of thought that says we are what we think and if we truly believe something we will have it. Christians know better. God is sovereign. Paul did not suffer from a lack of belief. His faith was amazing. The problem was not with Paul. The problem was Paul at first not seeing that his affliction was being allowed by God to bring about a greater faith and trust in Paul. God was using “all things” to work together for good in Paul’s life (Romans 8:28).

It reminds me of the gospel story of the military commander who sent word to Jesus through a servant that his son was dying and he wished for Jesus’ healing of his son. He added that it was not necessary for Jesus to come to his house. He believed that if the Lord would just “say the word” his servant would be healed. But it was “if” the Lord said the word. God is always sovereign. Jesus marveled at his faith.

Happiness is not having all our thorns removed. Happiness is learning to praise God and lean on His grace with our thorns. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. Think about that. Happiness is NOT dependent on our circumstances but on our relationship with God and that is something no one, no disease, no trauma, no tragedy, nobody, can take away from us. Thus we can be happy even in the midst of those things. That’s not to say we have no emotions except happiness. Tragedy still troubles us but we see those things through God’s eyes. We see the big picture; the eternal picture. We’ve read the end of the book so we know what will ultimately happen.

We can’t believe away our problems but we can believe our way to victory over them. God does sometimes take them away and what an awesome God we serve! Yet even when He doesn’t He brings about good (Romans 8:28). Faith is not asking why but saying why not? Why not me? Faith is growing through our trials not just asking God to remove them.

I can’t go back and make my past different as appealing as that seems. To be honest even if God gave me that power as a one-time gift I would not exercise it. I don’t know what I would be like today were it not for the trials in my life. Perhaps I would be an even better believer but perhaps I would take so much for granted and not have the battle tested faith I have. I would not risk that and I trust that God is causing all things to work together for good, that His preparing me for eternity, that my tears will be turned into joy, and that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

Starting over is realizing you have no strength in yourself but can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. It is learning like the Apostle Paul to be content no matter what our circumstances.

At the end of his trial Job received many blessings from God yet the family he lost was still gone. Gone at least until he joined them in heaven. Job’s memories of that trial did not get erased. Job though knew God better than ever before and saw his own limitations and foolishness. His ultimate act of character was to put his hand over his mouth acknowledging that he had no right to answer back to God.

Ultimately we have to trust in God’s goodness, love, and grace. If we believe in Him then we must trust Him. That means trusting our daily lives to Him and His will. Can we do it any better than to do it His way?


What About Homosexuality?

Homosexual rights and same sex marriage have become the civil rights battle of our age. Supporters of same sex marriage often shake their heads at anyone in opposition calling us narrow minded, ignorant, bigoted, or religious whack jobs. We’re told no one is hurt and we should all be equal under the law.

Before I move onto my main point I would suggest a quick detour to the nature of our laws. Almost every law we have is somewhat arbitrary and and won by the majority. Why was the law of the land a speed limit of 55 for so many years? Why not 50, 60, 65? Why not let each state determine on their own roads what the right limit should be (technically they still had that right but would be denied much needed federal highway funds if they chose a higher speed limit). Why is sex between a 18 year old boy and a 17 year old girl a crime? We might question a 50 year old man having sex with a 17 year old girl but an 18 year old boy? What changes when someone turns 18? Are not some 17 year old’s far more mature than some 20 year old’s? I could go on and on but in the end society has to establish some laws, some limits, some minimums and maximums. We don’t all agree with each and every law. Some change with time. Public morality changes with time.

So why should I, as a Christian, stand in the way of a same sex couple who love each other from getting married? Well for starters I live in a democracy where we are each allowed to vote according to our conscience. How I arrive at my voting choice is up to me.I have just as much right to my opinion as does everyone else. Those opposed to me seem to think I have some moral requirement to “live and let live” and not stand in the way of the choice of others. Yet in a democracy we don’t have to all agree.You may not agree with my reasons but that does not make them less valid. I may live in a secular society but that does not mean I have to put aside my spiritual beliefs when it comes time to vote. We are all guided by something be it personal values, religious beliefs, philosophy, or whim. Their belief that same sex marriage is just as valuable as opposite sex marriage is still a belief!

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis was once asked about this very topic (of homosexuality) and this is what he wrote:

I have seen less than you but more than I wanted of this terrible problem. I will discuss your letter with those whom I think wise in Christ. This is only an interim report. First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forgo otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be? I wish I had a letter which a pious male homosexual, now dead, once wrote to me—but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women could not give. But it is all horribly vague and long ago. Perhaps any homosexual who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way. Jealousy (this another homo. admitted to me) is far more rampant and deadly among them than among us. And I don’t think little concessions like wearing the clothes of the other sex in private is the right line, either. It is the duties, burdens, the characteristic virtues of the other sex, I suspect, which the patient must try to cultivate. I have mentioned humility because male homosexuals (I don’t know about women) are rather apt, the moment they find you don’t treat them with horror and contempt, to rush to the opposite pole and start implying that they are somehow superior to the normal type. I wish I could be more definite. All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it must be sought.

Lewis took a unique perspective here. He did not get into the debate as to whether people are born gay or not nor what made them that way. He simply stated that regardless of their circumstances they were to still obey God’s Word and see a vocation from their tribulation. Any honest reading of the Bible must conclude that God intended sex and marriage to be between the opposite sex. Most people in this country oppose polygamy yet what if they argued they were born that way and it was just as natural for them to have multiple wives (or be one of the wives of a man) as for others to stick to one partner? Does not society have to decide and do we not do so by voting our consciences?

It is time to stop the name calling and labeling and accept we each have a view and are entitled to it. I will vote my conscience as informed by my faith. I don’t believe in same sex marriage because God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. That has not nor ever will change. I live in a democracy though and others will vote according to their beliefs. I fully expect that at some point in time same sex marriage will be the law of the land. Not with my support but then this is a democracy and my vote is but one. It is my right and not born out of ignorance, hatred, close-mindedness, or bigotry. It is a reasoned decision based upon my faith.


Who Hijacked Christmas?

CrossTree-1

So it is Christmas time once again and once again I must ask why in the world do non-Christians celebrate Christmas? It makes about as much sense as the British celebrating the 4th of July. Sure fireworks and BBQs are fun but the 4th of July was when their American colonists turned their backs on Mother Britain and declared their Independence. Hardly a reason for celebration.

Yet that is precisely what the vast majority of Americans (and other nations) do at Christmas.  They turn their backs on God and have hijacked Christmas and turned it into a celebration that has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. We might tolerate some sacred Christmas hymns in the background at the mall and we might even let our shadow fall upon the entrance of a church on Christmas Day but deep down inside these things are not what Christmas is all about for most.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the celebration of God’s gift to us. The most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, sums it up perfectly: “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life.” So the gift giving was from God to us. What about those Wise-men? They gave gifts back to God in recognition of His gift to us. They did not give each other gifts. If we truly want to emulate them we should give to God by giving to those in need (as God needs nothing).

Yet we run around like proverbial Chickens with our heads cut off trying to figure out what to give to Aunt Jean and nephew Josh who seemingly already has every X-Box game in existence. We fight the traffic, fight the crowds, stand in Black Friday lines, and overspend to give more to those who already have more than enough! Now what on earth does any of that have to do with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?

The problem with Christmas today is that it is missing Christ! He is not the “reason for the season” (truly He is but not as we celebrate Christmas). Buying, giving, and receiving gifts is the new “reason for the season.” We’ve forgotten God’s gift to us and instead substituted our gifts to each other. Spending time with family and having traditions is wonderful but if Christ is missing from Christmas we are celebrating a phony holiday. Christmas has been hijacked.

There were no reindeer or Santas in the stable when Jesus was born nor were there any bunnies with baskets full of candy when Jesus rose from the dead. If those holidays for you are not about Christ could you do us all a favor and be honest and create some other holidays at some other time? Yes the emperor Constantine hijacked the end of the Winter Solstice to assign a date for Christmas. I wish he has never done that. The birth of Christ can stand alone quite well thank you. We don’t know the exact day on which He was born but that doesn’t matter you see because those who welcome Christ into their hearts celebrate His birth every day. Charity also has no time of year. You can give to the poor and those in need 365 days of the year. When children write lists and pout when they don’t get everything on them and we spend more than we can afford to “give our children a good Christmas” we know we have the wrong priorities at least if we are claiming to be celebrating Christmas. Now Christmas has encroached upon Thanksgiving! A day started by the Pilgrims to thank God for their survival has turned into the beginning of the holiday shopping frenzy. I read this morning of people waiting in line for K-Mart to open at 6am on Thanksgiving Day. We have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now Green Monday. Where does it end?

If Jesus is not your reason for the season, do us all a big favor and start your own holiday. Quit hijacking Christmas! The only present I will ever need God has already given me. Jesus!


What is Greatness?

I just finished watching (again) the excellent HBO mini series “John Adams.” It is a wonderful account of our Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation. Woven throughout the account is the story of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They began as allies working together on the Declaration of Independence and being great friends. Politics though divided them as Adams was in favor of a strong Federal government whereas Jefferson stood for State’s rights with only a small Federal role. Jefferson stooped to low blows (all too common today) in order to defeat Adams in his bid for re-election after becoming our second President. Late in life for both men they reconciled though only through the pen never visiting each other again. The deep respect and friendship survived the years of politics and age brought wisdom and charity to both men and ironically and providentially both men died on July 4th on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Without doubt both were great men with great vision and passion. They had the courage to risk their lives to stand for rebellion and the dissolution with England. Both had great wisdom in formulating the government for this nation while flawed still stands as perhaps the greatest government of men ever created save God’s own governing of Israel. Their names are still known to us over 250 years later yet for all their great accomplishments it still comes down to one thing. Did they know Jesus Christ and follow him? No earthly accomplishment no matter how great and no matter how many are benefited can overcome a lack of faith. In the light of eternity what we build in this life, no matter how good and lasting, will not last. The Roman Empire stood for a thousand years yet eventually was conquered by Germanic hordes. The United States is still young compared to the Romans. If the Lord tarries it will one day be supplanted.

I sometimes fear my life has not accomplished much and indeed I should desire it to do so providing I labor for the Lord’s glory. Yet one life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is immeasurably more valuable than the greatest of secular giants if it is lived for the glory of God. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us with and so until He returns we are to strive to govern as best we can, cure diseases, and provide jobs yet all of that will one day be destroyed when God remakes the universe. What lives for eternity is our souls and our faith. That no fire will ever touch.

I applaud such great men as Adams and Jefferson. Truly their Creator endowed them with great gifts. Let us pray for such gifts but let us use our gifts and resources, whether great or small, to the glory of the one, true God. For indeed what profits a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?

Perhaps Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson are in heaven. I hope so. Let us never though fear our accomplishments too meager if the love of God is in our hearts. Such love triumphs over all accomplishments for it is not by works but by faith that given by the grace of God that saves us. Praise be to God!


Two New Saints?

Statue of Pope Paul II falls and crushes a man to death just 2 days before John Paul II is declared a Saint. Where was his intercession on behalf of this man?Image: Statue of Pope Paul II falls and crushes a man to death just 2 days before John Paul II is declared a Saint. Where was his intercession on behalf of this man?

Yesterday Pope Francis honored John XXIII and John Paul II declaring them saints. Sainthood is a uniquely Roman Catholic practice that is not well understood by non-Catholics and perhaps even some Catholics. I’ve read where some Catholic commentators liken a saint to a hero of the faith. Someone to look up to and celebrate.The Roman Catholic Church teaches that saints are to be venerated which means to revere or hold in deep respect. Nothing wrong with having heroes or great examples of faith. However, in Roman Catholic theology a saint is more than a hero.

The Catholic Church has redefined the Biblical term “saint” or added a new class of saints. Biblically anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is a saint. Saints are not a special class of believers set apart by especially noteworthy lives or supposed miracles attributed to them nor subject to any earthy inquiry and ceremony. All who are in Christ are saints. So the Roman Catholic use of the term saint and declaring certain people saints is not using the term in its Biblical sense.

More than that though their belief about what sainthood means is also non-Biblical. Among other requirements, candidates for sainthood must have two miracles attributed to them. One while living and another after death.The purpose of there being a miracle after death is to prove the candidate is in heaven, receiving our prayers, and interceding before God on behalf. Yet nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to anyone other than God! There is not one example of Jesus, the Apostles, or any of Christ’s followers praying to anyone but God alone. 1 Timothy 2:5 says there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The Catholic Church tries to side step this verse by claiming it does not preclude “lesser mediators.” Therefore Christ is our “one mediator” when it comes to salvation but other mediators are possible in lesser matters. They cite the Apostle Paul exhorting men to make intercessory prayers. Yet Paul was writing to living men. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest there is any possibility of someone in this life communicating with someone in heaven other than God Himself. In fact, prayer, but it’s very definition is communication with God! To use the word prayer to cover communication with someone who has died and believed to be in heaven is a misuse of the word. Christ is the one who intercedes on our behalf before the Father and it is to Him alone we pray.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34 NIV)

If we have Christ interceding for us why would we need anyone else? Do we imagine a sovereign God is persuaded in His actions by the intercession of a “saint?” No! We pray not to persuade God but to be changed by our prayers into trusting God, His mercy, His goodness, and His will. Prayer changes us not God. God does not change His mind because of our prayers or anyone else’s. So why do we ask other people to pray for us? It gives us comfort, it reminds us that we are all one in Christ, it teaches us all to look to God, trust in Him, and accept His will. God though is sovereign. His will is not moved by our prayers nor swayed by the sheer volume of prayers. To suggest a “saint” or Mary “has God’s ear” and can intercede on our behalf is not only un-Biblical but robs Christ of His role as our sole mediator.

What about the miracles attributed to the intercession of these former Popes or other past saints? Certainly God has and can perform miracles but Biblical miracles are always done for the glory of God. In the Book of Acts we find in chapter 14 an account of Paul healing a lame man. After the healing the crowds became excited exclaiming “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” (Acts 14:11). What was Paul’s response?

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you…” (Acts 14:15)

Paul was desperate to open their eyes that this man was healed by God and not be some “god” as they supposed he was. The focus of all the Biblical miracles was God never the servant through who attended over the miracle. The disciples of Paul did not venerate him because he healed people nor any of the other Apostles. They attributed the miracle to God and God alone. If someone would have tried to honor Paul because it was his intercession that brought about the miracle I can imagine Paul tearing his shirt and demanding that he was nothing and it was by the hand of God the man was healed and not due to Paul in any way. Yet the Roman Catholic Church goes to great lengths to attribute these miracles to the intercession of some saint and the focus quickly becomes the saint and not the Lord.Suddenly everyone is praying to that Saint. One woman was said to have been cured by holding a picture of the late Pope to the tumor on her neck and leaving it there overnight while praying to him. I have a very hard time with that. Biblical miracles never drew attention to the hands through which God worked but to God Himself. While Jesus once used spit and mud He never gave someone a piece of his clothing and told them to wrap their lame leg in it or sleep with it on their eyes. The whole focus is wrong in the case of the Catholic sainthood “miracles.”

I would even suggest it’s possible these were not true miracles. While only God knows it would not be unlike Satan to cure someone if it put the focus on a man and not on God. Now we have a billion Catholics world wide praying to “saints” and venerating them rather than focusing all their attention on the Lord.

Many have also suggested that the choice of these two Popes is to politically be inclusive by making saints of two different styles of Pope. While I cannot read the mind of Pope Francis the mere suggestion makes the whole thing more laughable. Should “saints” be chosen for political considerations?

Sadly sainthood, like so many other uniquely Catholic traditions, is not Biblical. The Catholic faithful don’t seem to mind though. They have bought into the authority of the church and its traditions and do not test by Scripture what they are taught. The Book of Acts highlights the Berean Christians:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

The examined the Scriptures to test what Paul was teaching them! Even the great Apostle Paul with all the miraculous things God did through him was checked up on by the very people he was teaching. This is mentioned to their credit. That meant opening, reading, and knowing their Scripture. It was not enough that Paul said it. Yet in my 24 years as a Catholic and in the lives of almost every Catholic I know no one questions the priest, the bishop, the cardinal, or the Pope. No one learns their Bible and checks for themselves. If pressed they run to Catholic Answers or some Catholic site to look up a response incapable of searching the Scriptures for themselves.

I hope these two past Popes are in heaven but if they are I guarantee they are not hearing our prayers. Do I question their salvation? Possibly as the Catholic Church does not preach the Gospel as they add works to faith thus preaching a false Gospel and Paul sternly said that if anyone preaches a false Gospel they shall be damned to hell. I will let God decide that though as He is judge.

Let us celebrate all who follow Jesus Christ. They are the saints. They don’t need a ceremony, the blessing of a living Pope, or any man made process. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and not on men.


Is This the Gospel?

An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion[1]” is on the decline.

So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.

Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’  I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house.  Don’t put that in front of my house.  I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)

Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.

In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”

In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?

Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?

God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.

In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)

Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”

Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?

Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.

Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”

Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”

“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”

That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.

I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like  Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.

I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:

“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”

His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?

God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).

We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.

The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?


[1] As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.