Simon Says

“Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” [3 John 1:11 ESV]

“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” [Eph 4:30-5:1 ESV]

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” [2Ti 4:2 NIV]

NOTE: this blog is a lot like a cross-country trip by car. The subheadings are rest stops. Please don’t speed. [insert smile]

Part I: The Bar

Most of us have played the game Simon Says (at least if you’ve ever been a kid). Most psychologists and educators view this game as helpful to a child’s development physically, mentally, and socially. But I was just pondering what would occur if we had an evil Simon who, instead of suggesting harmless actions like making a happy face or running in place, gave out more diabolical suggestions, like to hit a classmate or spit on the teacher. The thought then occurred to me that in the life of a Christian, we have an enemy very much like this. I am not so much talking about Satan himself, but the prop he uses. He is often the most successful when making subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) suggestions. And the world is adrift in an ocean of suggestions. Satan is the ruler of this world: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” [1Jo 5:19 ESV] He uses the world–what our society accepts as “normal”–and dangles it in front of our eyes to tempt our sinful propensity to consider and imitate what we see others doing.

How many times when we were growing up did we tell our parents that our own disobedience was not so bad because, after all, our sibling did the same thing? Or how about seeking a perk that our friends had, like staying out late on Friday nights? I can hear myself whining, “but Johnny gets to!” My brothers and sisters, I challenge you: have we really outgrown our penchant to excuse our own sin by considering how the world, our friends, or even other believers act or feel? The everbody-else-does-it-too attitude that our parents always corrected is not just youthful folly. It is part of our sinful nature. I have heard Christians in retirement age, even PASTORS, say things like, “I asked my brother how he handles sex outside marriage, and he says he has his fleshly needs.” The conclusion being that fornication is normal and it’s okay if we entertain it, too. We’ve compared notes and feel relieved that the Lord’s standards are just not plausible in real life. Is this not the same as the fourteen-year-old who minimizes and justifies his various forms of rebellion by looking to the standards set by his peers? What standard are we to hold to? Certainly not our own, as we make the bar purposefully low so we can step over it. And certainly not our peers when their bar may be what they’ve seen on TV or their latest Google search, which are both bathed in worldly attitudes and the vain philosophies of man. Our standard should be nothing less than the example of our Lord and the Word of God:

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [Eph 5:3-6 ESV]

Brothers and sisters, all the sinful behaviors listed here are considered “normal” in our society and even promoted under the guise of “sexual liberation,” “self-expression,” and “the pursuit of happiness.” In other words, self-love. I don’t think it is happenstance that one of the latest coined terms these days is “influencer.” Social media, television, and the movie and music industries all play huge roles in shaping social standards and influence us in ways we may not even be aware of. They are piped into our homes through big screen TVs, stereos, computers, and video consoles. Either consciously or unconsciously we begin to imitate the behavior and human reasoning we choose to expose ourselves to. For example, the constant barrage of commercials on TV and web ads stimulates our appetite for stuff. Crime dramas can desensitize us to the real-life social ills of rape, incest, and murder. Even chick flicks on the Hallmark channel can tend to ingrain an expectation, especially for young people, that our own life dramas always end well. They may feed not just a desire but a demand for comfort and ease, or at least contribute to a feeling of personal injustice or despondence when life doesn’t cooperate–even when we rationally know life is not always a feel-good movie. All these are a bit more subtle forms of influence. The in-your-face influences are getting bolder every year, from the dark and occultic to the lewd and crude in movies and YouTube music videos. Maybe we don’t feel it intensely because we’re a lot like the fabled frog in the pot of slowly heated water that won’t jump out because he gets used to it so gradually. He doesn’t recognize at all the peril of being in a pot on a hot burner at dinner time. Brothers and sisters, our world is that pot and the devil’s hand is on the temperature control.

In the mid-eighties, in my late teens, I distinctly remember watching the old black and white movie Wuthering Heights with my grandma one night. I was engrossed in a scene where the female lead told her romantic interest that she’d let him hold her hand under her fan so that no one would see and think ill of the two. I was smiling at the sweetness of the scene yet highly amused by the antiquated courtship mores depicted in the movie. Then, all of a sudden, the station cut to a commercial of Cher dressed in one of her mostly mesh thong bodysuits paired with a leather jacket while she seductively posed and peddled the latest fitness gimmick. I was completely jarred to the core at the romantic innocence of the first image and the brazen sexualization of a body in the second. The temperature of the water went from cool to boiling in an instant!

Flash forward another thirty years and we now have stars like Madonna, J Lo, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus all on board, flagships of the entertainment industry and its version of the female fantasy. Their stage outfits consist of fabric fig leaves patched to mesh, leather, and fishnet. What once would have been considered brothel attire is now lauded as “iconic.” Is it any wonder we have a Me-Too Movement? Like I’ve said, we can rationally know something isn’t real, like this false representation of the ideal woman and the resulting innuendo of her sexual availability. But many men still hope in the back of their minds that the illusion is reality, that somehow women always feel flattered to be desired by men. And some do when the man happens to have chiseled good-looks and sport six-pack abs. The flattery stops when it’s an aging politician making crude advances like an oh-so-romantic grab of one’s privates. Then real women get mad. Then twerking does not seem so sexy. I do not take sides on this. It is a two-way street involving gobs of money, a false sense of power, insatiable vanity, and a deep thirst for pleasure. It is called sin. Think about this. Nearly two millennia ago Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” [Eph 5:15-16 ESV] If Paul could say that of his day and time, how much more so should we walk wisely in our day so late into end times fulfillment.

Our propensity to imitate the world in attitude, speech, conduct, dress, thought, goals, focus, and values is reflected in many churches today. For example, I’ve seen women in church who wear revealing ensembles appropriate for a bar. Whether they are a believer or not, it shows at least an attitude of grandstanding one’s body at a location that is supposed to be known, even to an outsider, as a place of worship. If you think I am being too critical, I know a pastor who would agree with you. When a brother complained one time of a woman’s skirt being too short, this pastor’s flip reply was, “Well, how short is too short? Should we measure?” Yet the heart of the matter is not creating a legalistic rule (or ruler!), but rather seeing our vanity and lack of love. All we need to do is ask ourselves if what we are wearing would make a brother (or sister) stumble. Paul said, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” [Rom 14:21 ESV] Out of love for others, believers should refrain from giving a visual impression of immodesty. We are to honor God with our bodies, not showcase them to the world. [1 Cor 6:20]

Now, I want to encourage young believers not to lose heart. I want to reassure older believers as well, those who may see themselves being influenced by these worldly attitudes and behaviors. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and confess and turn away from these sins. Choose to please your Abba, not yourself or the world. The Lord’s intent is always to correct for our good. He loves a humble heart: “For this is what the high and exalted One says–he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” [Isa 57:15 NIV] DO NOT let the devil come along, the original tempter, and berate you as being beyond God’s forgiveness or His ability to conform you to the image of His Son through the power of His grace. The scripture says, “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”” [Heb 12:5-6 NIV] Just like any loving parent would, God disciplines us to protect us from the heartache and harm that come from sin.

Part II: Spoiler Alert! How NOT to Build An Amazing Church Culture

“Every church has a culture. Once you have a healthy church culture, the challenge is how to reproduce it. Here’s the secret sauce.” –Slug line from a church culture how-to web site

Not only are believers tempted to imitate the world, but we are also not immune from imitating other religious folks as well. Apparently, according to the above quoted blurb and subsequent article, Paul and the troubled church at Corinth did not get a copy of The Five Step Guide on How to Create An Amazing Church Culture and this “secret sauce.” The apostle seems to have failed because he did not eliminate enough toxic people. He must have not exuded enough passion, and did not appreciate the qualities of the movers and shakers while blaming the church’s current state of failure on the dead wood (those toxic people again!). Paul missed his “breakthrough” because he did not identify the values that would accomplish his vision for Corinth, values like “make it happen” (kind of sounds like a Nike ad?). Nor did he create short, memorable phrases that could be “exported” (i.e. that would catch on) with a follow-up temptation, I mean, question like, “Am I allowing what is good to to stand in the way of being great?” Huh? I think this speaker and author has hit his secret sauce a little too hard! Really. Secret sauce? The Church is not a Big Mac nor a candidate for these success-driven strategies that hijack its true power, message and mission. This crafty influence Satan is instigating from within Christianity’s walls and from the apostate church, this entire “church culture” idea, effectively supplants the work of the Holy Spirit with a man-centered vision and his own ability to execute it. The fruit is maimed lambs and a marked straying away from the pure spiritual milk of God’s word, so much so that the standards and values of a church are elevated far above sound scriptural doctrine and authority.

A good example of this is the Bethel megachurch in Redding, California that offers a school in the supernatural to teach its members how to prophecy, heal, and work various miracles to advance the Kingdom of God and bring heaven to earth. After three years of this school and a cool eleven grand, students are then fit to use their gifts for Kingdom service and become the heavy hitters they were called to be. While the entire theology is heretical, my point in this case is: Since when do the gifts of the Holy Spirit need to be taught? For that matter, since when do the gifts of the Holy Spirit need to be bought? Didn’t Peter rebuke Simon the magician harshly for offering to pay for the gift of receiving the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands? “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money. But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” [Act 8:18, 20 ESV]

The Lord has taught me over the years, as I have grown in knowing His word, how to prayerfully dissect false teaching, of which I have been or would be completely unaware without His help. Please let me share them with you so that we can recognize the devil’s errors and always pray for the Lord’s wisdom. One of the ways that the enemy tried to temp Jesus was to offer a proof text from the bible to support an erroneous conclusion. All false teachers do this today. We need to counter such subterfuge with the entirety of God’s word, His heart behind it, the result (fruit) of the attitude or action, and the actual true biblical model practiced.

For example, when considering whether a school of the supernatural is a doctrinally sound idea, we can look to the authentic example recorded for us in the bible. Did Ezekiel go to some special school for his undergrad degree? Did he then go on to offer glowing insights and flattering promises of God’s plan to do great things through Israel’s leaders, those movers and shakers, and the whole nation? No. He didn’t mince words. He wasn’t a flim-flam man. I can’t think of any true prophet in the bible that did not correct error or warn the Lord’s people at some point to repent or face a coming judgement. Apparently, Ezekiel didn’t have the “anointing” that a Bethel education confers. He did not prophecy a glorious coming revival nor promise that the work and effort of man would reestablish God’s Kingdom. We can also ask: did the Apostle John consult a master of visions before writing Revelation? Did he do a second draft with corrections because he forgot to fact check the first draft, or felt it wasn’t convincing enough for the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, or was told to spice it up because his publisher didn’t think it would sell? We can look for the source of the idea, too. Isn’t it rather the magic arts that stress teaching the next gen the tricks of the trade? Wasn’t it a nation steeped in false gods that felt compelled to teach Daniel all their own arts? Yet it was the wisdom that God GAVE him that proved far superior to that of Babylon’s own astrologers. Daniel’s faith caused his pagan peers and kings to stand up and take note, a faith that always pointed to the one true God.

Brothers and sisters, this is a blatant example, but there are more subtle ones. Consider the entire seeker-friendly model of doing church that has permeated the fold. Instead of preaching the gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe, of which we are not ashamed (?!), pastors are preaching hip and culturally-relevant sermons so as to not offend anyone by pointing out the sinful nature of man’s heart. In reality, this is not friendly or loving at all. Now, Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He laid down his life for the sheep. So should we. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” [1 Jo 3:16 ESV]

So, let’s check some fruit. How many popular preachers today would give up their multi-million dollar ministries and mammoth church buildings and fat bank accounts for the good of the Lord’s sheep? Not only can we see rotten fruit, but we can also see absent fruit, like love. The seeker-friendly mindset cares not one whit for the eternal welfare of the lambs. It misleads even pastors into the corporate model of running a successful organization. They are lured into studying trends, survey results, and strategies that will put them on the religious map, on the up-and-coming list. They turn into hirelings that leave the sheep open to danger because they are focusing on bringing God glory through these man-made efforts and not on God himself. Jesus made it very clear to Peter that if he wanted to show his love for Him, he was to love His sheep: “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” [Jhn 21:15-17 NIV] Can the Lord’s point here not be clear?

The seeker-friendly, corporate model of doing church, however, is very much concerned with packing people into the Kingdom. Ahem. I mean church. More people mean more wallets and bigger budgets so that a new building is justified, so that we can bask in each others’ adulations of how the Lord is abundantly blessing our inferior human methods. The pursuit of numbers is esteemed, speaking truth is too controversial and old, nor is it as lucrative as giving people what they want or offering what is desirable. Having a successful ministry is the in thing, so much so that faithfulness to feed the lambs is given a back seat to feeding one’s ego. Having millions of followers on Facebook is coveted, following Jesus, bearing one’s cross, is spoken of less and less. Let’s use one of the falsehood detectors I’ve mentioned to test these attitudes. Would and did Moses, any of the prophets, or the apostles seek their own or their ministry’s popularity? Would their goal have been to get as many Facebook likes as possible or have their YouTube sermons go viral? Isn’t this people-pleasing disguised as “growing your ministry?”

Part III: A Bitter Pill to Swallow

The truth is that spiritually sick people want to avoid pain. Conviction is a lot like the setting of a broken bone or taking strong-tasting medicine. Sinners do not seek out encounters that humble them to the core. They do not seek to be discomfited by the Holy Spirit for their sin, vanity, and pride. They do not seek to peer in a mirror that accurately reflects the filthy rags and poverty of soul hidden under their respectable attire and “I’m a good person” mantra. It is human nature to avoid physical or emotional pain. We don’t seek God in the natural man. We seek any balm to ease our pain but balk at His offer of genuine healing. It is true of all pain we try to comfort with things like drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or any host of other escape mechanisms. It is true even of religion, especially the diluted gospel of these last days. The phrase, “religion is the opiate of the masses” isn’t so far off the mark nowadays, is it?

This is really just another case where man has the whole notion of “seeker-friendly” upside down and in reverse from the Lord’s vantage point. Isn’t it rather true that Christ seeks us? Isn’t it His initiative? David wrote under inspiration that “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” [Psa 14:1-3 NIV] An unsaved person seeks many things, even seemingly good and healthy things like a sense of belonging and feeling loved. But all of us have an impulse to turn away from the offense of the cross, from the prideful charade of external religious activity and man-made rules, from self-effort, and from self-love. Friendly people, coffee, and donuts emptied of the cross of Christ is just another Tupperware party, folks. [1 Cor 1:17]. Jesus said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” [Luk 7:23 ESV]

Really, how can using carnal methods draw people to Christ? Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” [Jhn 6:44 ESV] Brothers and sisters, this is a grievous error that we dare to subvert and replace the power of God in His work of salvation. If the intent in all our human manipulations is to reach the unchurched for Christ, isn’t it in reality just trying to make the gospel message more palatable? To make us less offensive? It is kind of like a group of church members I heard were going out on the street to hand out tracts. This is noble in itself. But these same folks were giving out candy with the tract to passersby and saying, “Jesus loves you.” They sadly wonder why they haven’t seen a revival from their efforts! Now, can you imagine Paul or Peter doing this? Milling about in the Jewish synagogues or Gentile gathering places and handing out phylacteries and a first century equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? Is this the gospel? Is this the gospel which Paul spoke of when he said, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” [Gal 3:1 ESV] Is this the gospel of which Paul said, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” [1Co 1:22-24 NIV]

Now, what fruit do such human methods have? In the above example, the people on the street are assured of Jesus’ love and it is substantiated with their satisfied sweet tooth. What of sin? What of judgement? What of Jesus’ sacrificial love needed to suffer and die for us, not the proffered chocolate covered sweet sentiment? Would the apostles go about asking people (like many tracts do these days) how they can get to heaven? Did they glorify the reward, or the Rewarder? What did Jesus do? None of the apostles, nor Jesus, tried to appeal to the flesh: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” [Jhn 6:26 ESV] Our overweening concern about offending people is proved to be the people-pleasing bent of our flesh. We avoid criticism, a backlash, being disliked, a bad reputation, and more outright forms of persecution. We want to share in the glory of Christ but not His sufferings. [Phil 3:7-11]

Jesus always modeled a heart attuned to pleasing his Father, not man. We need to imitate Him. He did not placate his listeners, like so much of the New Age leaven that teaches humanity is one big happy family. Even Pope Francis has been quoted as saying that we are all the children of God. No. Jesus called the religious leaders of his day a brood of vipers, evil, and children of the devil. John said that becoming a child of God was a right given to those who received and believed in Jesus, not just any god. [John 1:12] Christian faith dares to uphold the specificity of one Mediator, not wishful generalizations in the name of unity, another false god. Did Paul mean unity in the sense that we ignore what is blatantly false for the sake of getting along? How did he view pagan religion? As one path among many to reach God? Then why even preach? This great man of faith suffered for the sake of the gospel and was beheaded for his faith in Christ not because Jesus was one of many gods, as if He has competing peers. Paul died a martyr because he knew “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

What about other teachers who talk about Jesus quite a bit but throw in an admixture of things that make us pause and say, “Hmm. That’s not quite right?” How did Paul handle these false teachers? He did not sit down and play patty-cake with them. Did he not say, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” [Gal 1:8-10 ESV] Paul stuck to the Lord’s script and did not improvise to suit his own or his audience’s mood. Our Savior did not withhold hard sayings, either, like denouncing popular practices of his day such as divorce, or demanding preeminent love for him, or challenging the status quo. No. He taught things like “you heard it was said….but I say” and “woe to you scribes and Pharisees.” [Matthew 5] He turned crowds away from him with a boldness not of this world. [John 6:60-67] Our Savior was always about his Father’s business, not big business, preaching the good news, not filling the pews. [Luke 2:49]

Part IV: A Worldly Mock-Up

There is a spiritual tide taking the Church out into a very worldly sea, my friends. It is in its essence a slick marketing model. The spiritually healthy things that sinners need, like truth, reproof, doctrinal correction, and exhortation to do the right thing are often left out because they do not make sales conversions. And this marketing model is being replicated and imitated more and more. It is growing in many churches throughout more affluent countries, not because it is blessed, but because man’s sinful propensity is to jump on every bandwagon and march under every banner that seems so successful, so righteous, and so God-honoring that we must do it, too. But these things honor our egos more than Christ. We are told we can and will do great things for God if we [fill in the blank]. This appeals to our flesh. We all want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But few of us want to be servants. Few of us want to suffer. Few of us want to labor in the vineyard while encountering thorns. Few of us want to wait patiently for our heavenly reward. Few of us want to bear our cross and suffer like the examples throughout scripture that we should be imitating.

For example, I do not see Paul justifying his own private luxury ship to fulfill his busy ministry itinerary. I do not see John living out his earthly life in a twenty-two bedroom mansion. I do not see Peter’s preaching engagements prefaced with a rock-band like production or opening show. No. They were not kings. They were not celebrities. They were not among the who’s who of the upper echelons. Their winsome personalities did not draw the world to Christ. Rather, Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” [Jhn 15:19 NIV] Our Lord speaks truth. He warned His disciples. They were indeed hated, mistreated, and killed by the world. The heroes of faith, those we actually read about in the bible and not in Christian media, were the ones who spoke truth, too, and were held in animosity because of it. [Heb 11:35-38]

Nowadays, we are being marketed spiritual greatness in the Kingdom sans the crown of thorns. And many are listening to this deception because all false teachers “are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. [1Jo 4:5 NIV] Brothers and sisters, it is better to be obedient to the Lord in the few things he gives us, to go unnoticed for them, and to desire only His glory–not our own popularity and success or visions of grandeur. [Matt 25:23] If we are faithful, He may give us more. That is the key. HE gives it. HE chooses the what, the when, and the how. If He impresses on us a clear need to care for an elderly parent but we would rather get out there and “do ministry,” guess what? Caring for one’s family honors God more than any of our grand ministry schemes ever could: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” [1Ti 5:8 NIV] It starts with humble obedience, day by day and task by task, not by entertaining thoughts about what great things God will do through us in the coming years. If we do this we will lose sight of obedience today and get carried away by all of our illusions of tomorrow. We don’t put on our can-do, let’s-make-it-happen attitudes stoked by some religious pep talk and take heaven by storm. The Kingdom does not work that way. It would be like an army’s privates telling their commanding officer that they plan to lead a key offensive against an enemy stronghold because they felt pretty jazzed and wanted to make him proud. The commander would just shake his head at the gall, naivety, and foolishness of assuming his capitulation to and blessing of insubordination and a reversal of the chain of command. Samuel told Saul, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. [1Sa 15:22 NLT]

So, we see most modern “ministry” is merely religious, feel-good marketing because it appeals to the carnal nature of man. Preaching has shifted to using a bait-and-switch method of outreach that appeals to the flesh. You can be okay with God and assured of a heavenly home. These are half truths that lead one to hell. The gift is stressed more than the Giver to the point of muting out preaching on repentance from sin, practicing sacrificial love, warning about false doctrine, or preparing us to face persecution for the sake of Christ. It’s the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too mentality found in almost any worldly ad campaign. We are following the crowd on how to “sell” our faith. We package it as nicely as we can to make it much to be desired. Heaven without hardship. A no-brainer offer. But what did Jesus warn? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” [Mat 7:13-14 ESV] No wonder so many fall away when we sow on rocky ground. [Matt 13:20-21]

Now, we know who took the original fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and made it so appealing. He first planted doubt in Eve’s mind, a suggestion to question the rightness of God’s command, so that the outright lie, “You will not die!,” could even sound somewhat credible. Disobedience became less weighty once the consequence of sin, death, was swept aside. All the negative aspects of disobedience were removed or not mentioned. That first slick salesman then proceeded to talk up the fruit’s amazing benefits, its key to knowledge and a god-like life. Sound like any of the overrated promises hawked today? How about something like my personal pet peeve, the “sowing a faith seed” gimmick. These TV hucksters promise you’ll get more from God back if you generously give to their ministry. You’ll see spiritual breakthrough. God’s blessings on you will flow! People long for these things. Yet what happens when the return on their investment isn’t seen? Often, bills go unpaid. In extreme cases, people may file for bankruptcy. Children can suffer for the financial need created. These are all interpersonal effects, but what about emotional? People can feel less-than for being tricked. People may become angry at God and abandon their faith when the rotten fruit falls. People can come to the wrong conclusions that God must not love them or their faith is tainted because the false promises held out are empty. See? Same tactic. Don’t mention any of the actual harmful consequences and just focus on the item’s desirability. It’s encroaching on the mainstream evangelical crowd, too. I can envision a billboard flashing the next gospel knockoff, something like: Ten Steps to Eternal Happiness–Now Showing at a Church Near You. Like a red tide, the slick methods of the world are leaching into how religion “does business.”

Most newer churches in America have coffee shops that rival Starbucks (remember when it was the old $40 Nesco coffee urns?). They have game rooms with big screen TVs and pool tables, rock concert-like worship music, holiday fanfare that uses stunts, and the like. It is no wonder that the cost of reaching the lost is snowballing with each added attraction needed to draw the crowd. One church unabashedly admits that these things are the bait to draw people in so they can “hear the gospel.” But is it the gospel these people are hearing? Or those half truths we mentioned? Or another gospel? And if the gospel in all its integrity can be heard, is this what the candy-tempted and gimmick-led crowd was seeking? A warm and fuzzy group of people, an opportunity to make new friends, an exciting modern atmosphere? Probably. And we aim to please. We have to go the extra mile to prove we’re a really cool bunch. It’s like we’re trying to make up for the bad rap Christianity gets, and justifiably so considering the human knack of determining guilt by association. Scandals like the Catholic church’s sexual abuse fiasco and subsequent cover-up, the bilking of the sheep in the name of tithing, or the psychological manipulation and dishonorable treatment of women by male church leaders. Friends, Jesus warned about the tares that would grow up with wheat. And by no means are we perfect, either. We can go the other extreme and we get stuck in the trap of selling a “perfect product” made and marketed by fallible people instead of a perfected people made and led by an infallible God, and we will despair. We should warn believers and unbelievers alike that we will all stand before God and give an account for what we have done. We need to remind the unsaved when they see hypocrisy what God will do with all the disobedient, the “workers of lawlessness.” We should expose them and their error, not bend over backwards to assure people we are not like them to the point of side-stepping straight talk about hard issues. We recuse ourselves from the dilemma by passing such topics off as too controversial, too offensive, or best left up to one’s “Christian freedom.” Lord, help us speak the truth in love.

Conclusion: Are We There Yet? YES!

So, what can we learn from all this? My hope is to reassure those that are reading the bible and asking themselves “What has happened to the Church?” that they are not alone. My prayers are for the misled sheep to gain spiritual sight so that their faith is not shipwrecked when they are stumbled. My purpose is to sift out error through the power of the Word. God’s Word is indeed a two-edged sword: it should be used to fight for and protect the children of God, but at the same time to reveal man’s sinful motives. It may be a wake-up call to some. My desire is for the lost to be truly found and not fall short of the promise. God’s heart and motive behind all He has said in his word is love, the same love that moved our God of glory to leave heaven for a foul manger, a finite body, and a cruel cross in order to restore our dignity and redeem us as His own.

Many may read this and explain it away by saying, “Well, our culture is different now so we need to use new methods, more relevant sermons, more modern means to reach the lost. Some claim the bible is no longer relevant in our modern culture. So, unlike the Bereans who searched the scriptures daily to confirm Paul and Silas’ gospel message, the answer nowadays is to disavow the power of God’s word and relegate it to obscurity instead of teaching its lifesaving truth. Wow. Isn’t this kind of like saying the bible is getting in the way of our ministry? My friends, do not fall for it. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb 13:8 ESV] So is His cross. If the gospel message was sufficient for the saving of souls in Paul’s day, if by it the Lord worked in power, if through it the Church was born, then it still retains its life-giving purpose. It remains the Church’s responsibility to preach it, regardless of our society’s criticism of our cherished book of God’s counsel, works, and words. If we feel we need to prop it up, tone it down, or tweak it to suit our own or another’s sensibilities, we are kowtowing to the masses at best. At worst, we are yielding to the spirit of the antichrist. We might even consider, too, that perhaps our ear-tickled world is nearing the point in time that Jesus referred to when He said, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” [Luk 18:8 ESV]

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [Heb 13:7 ESV]

“I [Jesus] can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” [Jhn 5:30 ESV]

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” [Act 5:41 NIV]

Let us imitate our Lord and His faithful servants throughout the ages. Be encouraged to fight the good fight of the faith. Our power to do this comes from Him. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. [Phil 4:13] Amen.

What Audience Are You Playing To?

The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” [Jhn 8:29 NIV]

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” [Mat 6:1-6 NIV]

Back in the seventies there was a song called Playing to An Audience of One. The songwriter was referring to himself, that he would be the only one listening to his performance some day. What if Jesus were the only one in your audience? How would that impact your motives and actions?

Did you know that the Greek word for hypocrite is hypokritēs and means “actor, stage performer, or pretender?” Many people more often, when defining this term, think along the the lines of the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Which is not the root of the problem. The root is whom you are seeking to please. We have three choices: we please ourselves, people, or God.

In our cited scripture above, Jesus said He always did what pleased His Father. When Jesus came across injustice, he stood up for those people looked down on by religious leaders of the day: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [Mat 9:11-13 NIV]. When He encountered falsehood, He spoke truth: ‘”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”‘ [Mat 5:43-45 NIV] When He faced crucifixion on a Roman cross, He surrendered His human will to His Father’s will: ‘Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”‘ [Mat 26:39 NIV] He is our model, our way maker, setting an example for us to follow with the power of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a people-pleaser this post may be a bit uncomfortable for you. But take heart. I have that tendency as well, and not only that, but also to please whatever suits me in a given moment. So I promise to be as gentle on you as I can. I’ll start with my little story.

When I was a baby Christian, I worked in a nursing home as a nursing assistant on the third shift. It was the custom of my coworkers to do our two-hour rounds as quickly as possible so that they could sit at the table and chat. Now there is nothing wrong with socializing, but what was happening was the patients were not being cared for appropriately because of shortcuts that were taken, leading to bed sores and the spreading of infection. The Lord placed before me two options: to go along with the crowd, or to please Him. Since these lovely elderly folks were being neglected, I could not stand by and say or do nothing. I decided to take a stand.

What followed were what seemed like years of backbiting and mistreatment (in reality only about six months). I decided to model love for our patients, which did not go over well. It was interpreted as “knowing better than us” or whatever evil thoughts they had of my motives. I simply told them I wanted to treat the patients like my own mom. I went out of my way to be kind to my coworkers so that they would not feel abused in any way, even if it was not returned. One woman in particular made a point of making life difficult for me. I remember coming home from work one morning wanting to give up and quit, and praying, pounding my fists on my bed in frustration (because I longed to fit in, I wanted acceptance, I wanted easy). And in the midst of all this, the Lord whispered to my heart, “Greater is He that is within you than SHE that is within the world.” How’s that for some confidence-building, well-timed humor? So I continued at that job for another few months until the Lord called me out of the situation.

Had the Lord not made me stand, I would have, quite simply, pleased everyone around me, and since that was the easy route, it would have pleased my own self as well. I can’t begin to express how hard it was for me to go through this experience, as I was going through a personal crisis as well, but I knew I wasn’t alone. A good friend in Christ told me when I was at work to envision Jesus at my side. It made a HUGE difference. Looking back, I am so so thankful to the Lord for experiencing this with Him. I still struggle from time to time, but it has given me so much compassion for others who struggle with pleasing people, too.

I did not make the connection at that time, but what I unconsciously did was make Jesus my Audience of One. Fast forward some twenty-odd years (I am also a slow learner) and I consciously prayed that prayer: Dear Father, may you be my only audience to please, a prayer I believe was Holy Spirit breathed. How would our lives look if we had this mindset? I would like to challenge and encourage you to think of an area of your life where you could shift your focus from pleasing yourself or other people to pleasing the only One who, in the end, really matters. Desiring to please God helps us bear the fruit of the Spirit and impact others for their present and eternal good. Think about the times you chose to do the easy thing or not speak truth to a neighbor. Did it bear eternal fruit? It makes no lasting impact for good if I live to please myself, my spouse, my parent, my friends, my coworkers, my boss, my teacher–anyone--more than our Lord. I am not saying pleasing people out of a motive of godly love and kindness is wrong. Only when it contradicts God’s Word, standards, and leading.

I really think it is helpful to have this mindset, because many Christians have model lives to people outside their homes, but show very unloving concern for their own family or live a different lifestyle out of the church. If this is you, you are playing to the crowd, not honoring your Heavenly Father. Like a chameleon, we can change our color (behavior) to suit the environment we find ourselves in. Jesus said when we want to appear righteous to others, when that is our sole motive, our reward is their approval, which benefits no one. If our self-worth is based on mere human feedback, we need to shift our focus to the only One who can give us dignity and honor. Don’t we long to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” [Matt 25:21] Instead of constantly defending ourselves, we then become confident that the Lord will defend us. So, take heart, He wants you to grow! Ask Him to help you and guide you in everyday situations. He sees our heart’s desire to change and will honor that prayer.

Brothers and sisters, it is very hard to go against the flow of society. Whether it be in areas of sexual morality, or entertainment, or life goals, or attitudes–we have to remember what is “acceptable” to the world is so often not acceptable to our God. Our fallen nature wants to go with the crowd instead of fighting the current. Ask the Lord for His Holy Spirit, for boldness with gentleness. Ask Him to conform you to the image of His Son. He hears us, even when we fail. He will pick us up and gently say, “Try that again.” And like Jesus stated in our opening scripture, our Heavenly Father will reward us for our right motives. So, how can you make His heart glad? Make Him your sole audience. There is so much JOY in pleasing the Lord. Amen.

Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord. [Eph 6:5-8 CSB]

I Am Not Ashamed

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:9–11 NLT]

Oh, speak to me not

Of a higher being–

Mine has a name,

It is Jesus, my King.

 

An unnamed man did not die on the cross

Or breathe his last at such high cost.

He had a name unlike any other

Force, or being, or “neutral” power.

 

An unnamed man did not rise from the dead

After they mocked, and He suffered and bled

To raise us to Heaven and with Him reign

As sons and daughters of the King again!

 

So, here I am to tell you all

About the Gospel, just like Paul

Who was not ashamed

Of his Savior’s beautiful name.

 

From Eden, that Garden

Where we first learned God’s pardon,

He spoke His victory into eternity

And at His word, it came to be.

 

We little knew

The seed that grew

From a tiny thought

To salvation bought

With God’s own heart

At the very start.

 

He foresaw it all,

The pride and fall…

He knew the end,

His Son to send

 

From Heaven to earth

Through the Virgin birth.

The story is as famous

As my God’s name is.

 

The angel told Mary

God would no longer tarry

But bring forth a Savior

To experience His favor,

To forgive us our sin

And the victory win.

 

Gabriel told her to name

This child that came

Jesus, God With Us,

So that grace wouldn’t miss us.

 

He had a name

And it’s not the same

As your higher power

It’s unique, beloved, unlike any other.

 

It’s not some force

Like a star’s known course,

But rather their Creator!

There is no debater

 

Who can look to astrology

For full apology.

No, only Jesus,

My only thesis.

 

See, even stars know their Maker,

Their Giver, and Taker—

Why worship the low and created?

It’s His name that’s so elevated! 

 

We credit justice and revenge

To karma’s unnamed hinge

That swings a door wide

To a whole host of lies…

 

Likenesses of nothing we crave–

Mere cosmic ideas that can’t save–

That demand and promise the same

To our scorned and eternal shame.

 

We make it up to be free

Of our Heavenly Father’s dignity,

Which He died to reclaim

And raise us to reign!

 

Oh, the glory we forsake,

In such falsehood we partake!

In all reality then,

Even our imaginations are sin.

 

Call on your higher power

In your final hour,

And I will call on the only name

That saves me from my broken blame.

 

You say it’s an intolerant word–

You have, with your heart, just not heard.

I speak to you truth

From the Giver of proof!

 

Paul saw an unknown altar,

But he did not fear or falter.

He used the occasion,

With much persuasion,

 

To tell them to repent.

For it was his intent

To make known the name

Jesus, and why He came.

 

If Paul thought,

As many are taught,

All roads lead to Heaven,

Why did he even

Bother to preach

The gospel and teach?

 

How God sent His Son,

His only One,

To suffer and die…

Why even try?                                                                                                                            

Because Paul knew:

The very thing true

Is that victory is won

Only in Jesus the Son.

 

He was raised to life

After He bore our strife–

With those nail holes in his hands

He reaches out, and faith demands

 

That there’s no other name

Of renowned fame

Given by Heaven

To save us from sin and this modern leaven

 

Of a higher power…

 

As if there are many!

There is One only

So holy and true,

So infinitely few.

 

In this time, at this hour,

Let us boldly proclaim there is only One power;

May His Church speak loud her King’s name

With the honor due Jesus, with proper acclaim!

 

Oh, speak to me not

Of a higher being–

Mine has a name,

It is Jesus, my King.

 

 

 

I Am Not Ashamed © Christan Therez 2021

Orthodoxy Drift: How Semantics, Euphemisms, & Coined Phrases Influence the Church–Part III

I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.” [Gen 26:4–5 NIV]

‘”Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.”‘ [Jhn 8:39 NIV]

This week, I’m picking up where we left off in the last post and forging ahead to the word “works” and how the semantics behind this word has caused a wide rift between Catholic and Protestant faith traditions and also seems to be shifting to what it was never meant to define, and, therefore, twisting God’s truth. As for myself, the tension between Paul and James had left me feeling very confused at one time, because my whole heart was to please the Lord, but it felt like if I “worked,” or served the Lord in any way, I would displease Him, and if I did nothing, that would displease Him, too. I was caught in a double bind. Perhaps it was only peculiar to my emotional makeup, but I think that in considering the constant push and pull engendered by this word in theological debate that it affects more folks than I imagine. I also truly believe that my struggle in this area will not be for naught, for as my good friend always says, “God wastes nothing!”

Maybe the best way to approach this is to define what the word “works” means, then discuss what it does not mean. First of all, the Hebrew word for “work” in the Old Testament is “maʿăśê” and means an action (either good or bad); an act, deed, or labor. In the New Testament, the Greek word is “ergon” and similarly means a deed, doing, labor, or work. In the Old Testament, the main idea behind the word is one’s actions, whether God’s or man’s. In the New Testament, again, it alludes to actions, as in the above cited scripture in John 8:39. The Mounce Interlinear phrases that scripture like this: “They answered him, saying, “Our father is Abraham!” Jesus said to them, “If you were really Abraham’s children, you would be doing the deeds [ergon] of Abraham.” So, the sense is always doing something, our actions. Both testaments agree. There are so many scriptures that show this that I won’t cite them all here. A good resource is the Blue Letter Bible, which lets you search a word or phrase and then look up the words in the original languages.

There is a similar Hebrew word, āśâ, that means simply “do,” that has also been tranlated “to work.” For example, Isaiah 64:5 says, “You meet him who joyfully works [āśâ] righteousness, those who remember you in your ways.” Which is confusing, because the very next scripture is translated in some bibles as, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” The word for “righteous deeds” here is ṣᵊḏāqâ, which normally means “righteousness and justice” in a moral sense. For example, Deuteronomy 9:5 uses the same Hebrew word here:

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. [ESV]

This is such an interesting verse because the Lord is warning the Israelites that they should not feel conceited or proud, as if their own natural morality has earned them their favored position with God. Rather, the Lord acts because the other nations are so wicked that He has deemed judgement necessary, and because He is fulfilling His promise to Abraham and his descendants. We know, from the verses that follow, that most of the Israelites were a “stiff-necked” people, stubborn: “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. [Deu 9:7 ESV] Moses goes on to list their faithless acts that show their lack of moral righteousness [ṣᵊḏāqâ].

So, I humbly suggest that the word ṣᵊḏāqâ should not be translated “righteous deeds,” in Isaiah 64:6, but, “righteousness,” or moral soundness, for the simple reason that the very preceding verse says that God meets those who joyfully work [āśâ] righteousness [ṣeḏeq, which is from the same root word listed above]. We can see from this that God welcomes righteous actions and justice–what he doesn’t condone is Israel’s unfaithful acts and disobedience under His rule. So, through our more modern lens, we see the words “righteous deeds” in verse 6 and associate it with Paul’s denunciation of works throughout his New Testament letters, that they are “filthy rags.” I suggest a fuller understanding is that the prophet spoke of the Israelite’s very moral fiber, their righteousness before God, or lack thereof as evidenced by their behavior, which better aligns with Deuteronomy 9:5.

The next logical questions would be, “Well, what was Paul’s definition of works?” I suggest that in his letters his emphasis is on “works of the law,” i.e. observance of the entire Mosaic Law, and often, specifically, circumcision. This seems to be a big contention back in his day, with some of the Jewish converts requiring and teaching that circumcision was still needed for Gentile believers. Paul vehemently denounces this, stating, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” [Gal 2:21 ESV] He is saying these Jewish converts are trying to add to initial belief in Christ, that in order to be righteous before God, to be saved, one had to also observe the custom of circumcision and the Law of Moses. This contradicts the Council of Jerusalem, where Peter there stated, “and He made no distinction between us and them [the Gentile believers], having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” [Act 15:9–11 ESV]

From this whole heresy by these Jews, Paul begins to reason out why rules and regulations do not save a person, but only our faith in Christ. He often drops from “works of the law” to the shortened “works,” which I think is confusing for young Christians. He must not mean righteous deeds done after we place our faith in Jesus, because he encourages those! He even EXPECTS that! For example, Paul’s famous line in Ephesians 2:8-9 is:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works [ergon], so that no one may boast.”

But we see in the very next verse that good works, good deeds, are part of God’s plan for us:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works [ergon], which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Eph 2:10 ESV]

In the context of these verses, Paul is talking about the Mosaic Law, the “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (verse 15). Those works. Any works (external rules and regulations that supersede love and justice) set up by a religion that expects strict adherence or you will not be saved. Paul and the other Apostles argued that God welcomed the Gentiles, baptizing them in the Holy Spirit with the visible sign of speaking in tongues to confirm His acceptance. He did this once they put their faith in God’s Savior, not because they observed Jewish rules and regulations, or, for that matter, had done anything but repent and believe: “The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” [Mark 1:15 NIV] Once they were born again through the Holy Spirit’s power, they would do by their new nature the good things of God’s law, those things that called for a righteousness and justice in morality. They would grow in grace: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” [Eph 4:15 ESV].

From all this we can see that in Paul’s mind, he defines “works” as rules and regulations that supposedly give us a favored relationship with God. Just as the Jewish people contradicted the spirit of God’s good law, we can do the same today. Like the Lord told Israel through the prophet Zephaniah, we can develop the same heart attitude: “Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” [Zep 3:4 NIV] For example, Jesus told the Jews, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” [Luk 11:42 ESV] They practiced the rules, but had no moral fiber, no innate righteousness, no justice in their hearts. They stuck up their noses at “sinners” without thinking to help them to repent or show them kindness. They wanted to follow the rules. There was to be no work on a religious day, and they got angry with Jesus for healing sick folks on the Sabbath, viewing it not as mercy, but as a work. They accused Jesus of having a demon because He spoke truth that contradicted the Jews views and customs, yet He was God’s beloved Son.

Likewise, we can proudly tithe, go to church every Sunday, or sing in the choir, and we are satisfied because people see us do all these good things. Then we go home and arrange clandestine rendezvous with our lover, without thinking of love for our spouse. Then we go to work and steal from our employer. Then we go to the bar and get wasted, picking a fight with the quiet guy in the corner minding his own business. Then someone offends us, and we vow never to forgive them. Then we buy a big screen TV after refusing a meal to the homeless man on the corner. And we feel righteous? Like so many of the Israelites wandering in the desert, we behave abhorrently. We live faithless lives. For the love of God, where is the love of God? We twist what is good, namely, God’s grace, into an excuse to work our own selfish deeds: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Gal 5:13–14 ESV]

So, we can see Paul is not saying that mere righteous actions after salvation contradict faith. If you are ever made to feel guilty for trying to express your love for God in doing good, tell the enemy, the father of lies, to talk to the hand. Just like Jesus “worked” on the Sabbath, we too can do good in the Sabbath rest of God. For instance, our scriptures cited under the heading show God said that BECAUSE of Abraham’s obedience and the keeping of His commands he would be blessed and shown God’s favor (the commands God gave him that came before the Mosaic Law, not the rules of some other menfolk who happened to set up religious shop). Abraham first believed the Lord–he took Him at His word. Then a beautiful obedience flowed from that heartfelt faith. Paul never indicates that any of Abraham’s actions were somehow a work. Rather, he emphasizes that God’s promise of favor came to him before the covenant of circumcision and the Law, therefore we don’t receive the Lord’s favor by performing rituals or following any rules. We receive favor by faith in and obedience to Christ. Paul argues that an outward rule does not touch the heart, that it can never engender true faith and therefore is quite powerless to change one’s life. But faith in Jesus IS life-changing, because He is THE Life-Changer! He is constantly working His grace in us to conform us into His own likeness. A rule cannot give life. It is itself a dead thing, and only produces after its own kind. Christ begets Christians (little reflections of Himself). Paul never advocates that because Abraham did nothing, that we should do nothing! Abraham would never have been a hero of faith or have been called God’s friend had he not acted out his faith.

Since I’m venturing into what “works” is not, what Paul does not have in mind, let’s discuss morality. May I state clearly that holiness is not a work–it is an expectation of conduct. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. [Act 26:20 ESV] So many in the church today think that works include living a holy life, or conversely, excuse their lack of morality, their purposeful sin, by crying out, “Grace, grace!” Now, please don’t hear me wrong. The following is a warning to do you good, not condemn you if you repent. God is always trying to do you good! Now, the Lord himself states:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does [poieō: to work, perform] the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works [miracles] in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers [ergazomai, a form of ergon] of lawlessness.’ [Mat 7:21–23 ESV]

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do [poieō] what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” [Luk 6:46–49 NIV]

So we see that moral and godly conduct is not a work. It is expected. It is fruit from the holy seed of rebirth and regeneration. Of course, this is the caveat. Morality without Christ is useless, for just like Paul reasons that if the Mosaic Law could make a person righteous, then Jesus did not need to come to earth, suffer, die, and be resurrected for our salvation. Like I stated in my last post, God has an order in salvation. The seemingly good things we try to do before salvation are works, because, for the most part, we are trying to please man or ourselves. The good things we do after salvation are fruit, because we are trying to please God.

We can see from all of this then that James is not contradicting Paul, he is contradicting those that misunderstand and misquote Paul. James says:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” [Jas 2:14–26 NIV]

James cuts right through the ring bologna, the illogical conclusion that Paul means one needs to never do anything after we come to faith. Our faith is meant to produce a crop, to multiply, to produce fruit, not be buried like the inaction of the wicked and lazy servant (Luke 19:11-27). When James says, rather sarcastically, that even demons believe [pisteuō] there is one God, he is rather sassily saying, in modern English, “You say you have faith and don’t need anything to support it? That you believe in one God, and that’s enough? Well, you do beautifully well, ‘cuz folks, demons believe that, too. I’m just sayin’! How can I tell the difference between you two if I do not see your works (fruit)?” Brothers and sisters, our faith needs to be a living, breathing testimony to the belief that Jesus is the Savior and Good Teacher. If not, it would be like taking a physics class and learning all the theorems but never getting a job and putting your newfound knowledge to good use. If we tell someone in need to go and be warm and well-fed but do nothing to make it happen, how does our wish for them align with the outcome to see them well-fed and clothed? It would be like an artist confident that he or she can paint a beautiful masterpiece, but never picking up a paint brush! Doing good, then, is not work. Belief worth any salt will produce action.

So, James is correcting error, not Paul. We can see how semantics can be used by the enemy to lead people astray, even back then. And the enemy is still doing it today. I think for Martin Luther, his anger at the Church was directed toward the vice he saw rampant, the manipulation of the sheep, the consignment to superstition in so many “doctrines” that were unscriptural and made up by man. The leaders in Rome had fallen into the same trap and were rowing in the same boat as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. In our present age, the pendulum has seemed to swing to the other ditch (so often the enemy gets us off track by going to extremes), so that faith is so simple you can practice ongoing sin and have it swept under the rug by grace. How does that work for a nine-year-old? Don’t they refrain from what they know is bad because they either fear being disciplined, or because they love their parents and see the good they desire for them? Guess what my next topic will be.

I just want to add that in my life, I have often felt the Lord’s good correction and his love for me behind it. But there have been times that seem like the Lord is harsh. I firmly believe that if the result of what you are thinking or feeling is defeat or complete rejection, that this is the enemy trying to dishearten you. If your thinking or feeling is that you regret your sin and want to turn from it, and you are thankful for the correction, this is the Lord’s loving hand. I feel like the enemy’s tactic is to make a thrashing seem like it is from our Abba. It’s kind of like how a good father will sit down and correct us, maybe even dole out discipline, like grounding, but the evil neighbor comes over, blindfolds us, and gives us a beating. So be aware, brothers and sisters, that the Lord only desires our good: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2Co 7:10 NIV] Our God is the Author of life! Just because as a believer we are corrected does not mean that our Father has rejected us. Matter of fact, it shows that we are indeed His children:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined–and everyone undergoes discipline–then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. [Hebrews 12:7–8 NIV] And again, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. [Proverbs 3:11–12 NIV] See? He corrects us because He LOVES and DELIGHTS in us! Please hear me: if the enemy is calling you a failure, a loser, a no good so-and-so, with no hope of remedy, this is spiritual battle. The proper mindset is to confess our sin and know that God is faithful and just to forgive us AND purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) Once we do that, once we humble ourselves before the Lord, we are submitting to God. THEN we resist the devil and he will FLEE! [James 4:7] Yes. AFTER we repent and submit to God, we can tell the devil to go retire to a warmer climate and, as one dear brother I know suggested, remind him of his final fate. Amen.

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:19–20 ESV]

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but He who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. [1 John 5:18 ESV]

Are Christians Supposed to Make the World a Better Place?

“Jesus said…In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” –John 18:37

I’ve often heard people, well-meaning believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, say things like: “We need to make a difference in our world, in our country, in our community, and in our homes.” Or, “Let’s get out there and change the world.” Should we? Or do we, ever so subtly, even by something seemingly good, get sidetracked from our vocation as Christians? I often have felt a check in my spirit when I hear things like this. Up until maybe 4 or so years ago, statements like this confused and weighted me down. I would ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do? Should I start a charity for refugees, protest for the anti-abortion movement, support veterans, fight for civil rights?” The list expands with every desperate need we see in society. So the Lord Jesus has taught me something from all this that I’d like to share with you, with the hopes that it will keep you on task and at peace.

First, let me ask that you read this with care and knowing that love is the motivation. I am NOT saying we are never called to do good works. That is unscriptural. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). I merely want to draw your attention to the purpose and order of our to-do lists, which, sadly, these days are way too long. We live in a world of Marthas! Remember that it was Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, that chose the good part. It is a distraction and tactic of the enemy to drive a wedge between us and our Lord—always doing and having little time to build our friendship with the Lord. When we love others, we want to spend time with them, yes? How much more should we spend quiet time alone with our Lord and Savior, prayerfully reading His Word and enjoying His presence. He has called us to friendship, not a productivity initiative. We first have to receive from Him, then share it with others.

To start off with, lets talk about our purpose in doing good works. What did Jesus say? “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Is our purpose here to make a difference in the world? Or to bring glory to God? I beg you to see that our purpose behind our good works is to bring the magnificence of our God to light. So that we can point lost people to Him, not ourselves. So many churches have big programs and events and drives and whatnot. What gets headlined in the local paper or their own web site? Their church! I suppose the idea is to get people to church to hear the gospel. Then they get there to find lots of friendly people, coffee bars, rock concert-type music, and a message that basically says, “God loves you just the way you are.” Which is true in the sense that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” But then they say, “Hey, this church ain’t so bad!” But I suspect most folks walk away with the idea that God loves them so much that they need not change their sinful way of life. This is perverted love! What parent would allow or encourage their son or daughter to continue using something like heroin if it would destroy their life or even cause their death? Is the Lord less loving than a human parent?

I digress a bit, but the preaching of repentance is sadly missing in our seeker-focused churches we have today. But we hear, “God’s love is unconditional.” This is a lie straight from hell. I’m not saying His love is withheld if we do wrong, but it is enforced! Most unchurched people use the term unconditional love to mean that God accepts me as who I am and will allow me to do whatever I want. He will never tell me I’m doing wrong, because that’s being judgmental. ?! Listen. When you get a call at 2 AM from a police officer who informs you that your son or daughter was picked up for drunk driving and has totaled the family car, most parents say, “Oh, that’s okay. No big deal. We will buy them another car so they can go kill themselves or someone else in a head-on collision going the wrong way on the freeway of life. After all, we love them. They’re our child. We need to cheer them on!” NOT. So, anyone who argues that God’s love is unconditional in an attempt to excuse their sin, I challenge to let their own children run their home. Let’s see how that turns out. The church needs to let the Lord run His home, not placate sinners.

Repentance is the one main ingredient lacking in the gospel message today. I even read somewhere that repentance is a work and therefore not necessary because salvation is by grace. This is twisted. Please read in the Word how the apostles preached. Paul said, “[I] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Even ‘[Jesus} said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”‘ (Luke 24:47)

There are many more scriptures I could list. Bottom line is that the modern church looks more like the world than a Jesus follower because its kowtowing to the society’s likes and dislikes. Sermons are more akin to a sales pitch or grand marketing scheme to draw the most conversions, because mega is “in” and truth is so outmoded. What does the bible say? “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

It feels so good to scratch an itch. The Church needs to stop it’s co-dependent relationship with its members. The coffers may run dry, the pews may look pretty empty, but let’s let the truth be told out of love. Paul said, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2: 7-8) What? Works? No. Holiness and righteousness are not works. They are fruit! Remember, Paul said this, the champion of salvation by grace through faith! We need to repent. Itching ears need truth or they will perish. We may even be surprised at the result when we stop striving to fill the seats and let the Lord of Hosts do His saving work.

Okay. So the purpose of our good works is to bring glory to our loving God, out of love for Him and our neighbor. The next point I want to make is the order of our to-do lists. What should be our priority? What is our purpose in this world which is passing away? What was Jesus’ purpose? “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” (John 18:37) What was the disciples’ purpose? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We are to be witnesses for Christ, preaching His gospel, testifying to His truth. The Lord’s desire is to fill his house! This should be our number one priority. We can lobby for anti-abortion laws, protest for civil rights, be a champion for the homeless, but if the gospel message is not preeminent, the work will swallow up the purpose of our lives. Truthfully, if our focus gets shifted to the cause, we end up with the same sad world BECAUSE it is the Lord who changes hearts, not man-made laws or government action. The laws may change, but the individual’s heart remains cold. I am NOT saying that any of these causes are not good. I am saying they are out of order. God wants us to speak truth so that He can renew and conform us into the image of his Son. A law does not do this. Only the gospel message can. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)

Brothers and sisters, please understand. A follower of Jesus is not called to make the world a better place! No amount of doing good will fix this world. Jesus did the ultimate good. He died for us and has given us new life. Did this change the world in the sense of making it a utopia? The early church was brimming with good works. How did they fare in making the world a better place? Who is the ruler of this world? Did Jesus tell us it will eventually get better over time? Or worse? Did he not ask that at the day of his coming, will he find faith on the earth? My concern is that this “better place” thinking is more of a New Age type idea, that if enough people get together and do good to one another, they will impact the world for the better and will evolve into superior humans. Do they see good results? Yes, at times. But devoid of a clear gospel message, people may have all their rights secured and their bellies filled but they are still going to hell. The fix is temporal, not eternal. We need to stay on task. The Apostles preached and testified about Jesus and worked hard making disciples. They apparently, if you look at the world then and now, did not make it a better place. They made eternity a better place!

So what should a Christian do when the world tempts us with all its needs? Look to a person’s overarching need for salvation, then let the Lord supply. Otherwise, we go bankrupt. We have not enough resources or energy or power. Our heavenly Father, on the other hand, can reach into his infinite storehouse. Listen. When we feel tugged and guilty to meet some need in our world, and feel overwhelmed with the task, that is not the Lord calling you to serve. It is a distraction. Jesus, God in the flesh, did not abolish slavery or any other “just” cause because he stayed on task. He came to seek and save the lost. It was His mission, and it should be ours. I am not saying to not get involved in any of the things I’ve mentioned. Just don’t let it distract you from the top of the list. Pray for direction. Do not feel “pushed” or burdened with guilt. It is the order of things that I contest. Any good to society that comes from our good works must ride on the coattails of the gospel message, or it loses its eternal value. So let’s focus on making eternity a better place. Let’s be about the Father’s desire to make His house in eternity full. Amen.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” —Luke 14:23

Are You In God’s Way?

“Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” –Exodus 33:15-16

I have often struggled with the fact that the Church of our unchanging God and Savior, Jesus Christ, has become so worldly in its methods and judgement. For example, we meld worldly ideas into our mainstream churches as easily as a new fad, as if trying them on like the latest fashion trend. Remember platform shoes? If you were “in,” you wore these silly creations and were accepted, viewed as conforming to the current standard of beauty. But the eyes of the world are fickle. Beauty fades with the latest “new” thing, not because it is actually new, but because we are tired of the old. We need a change. The bible says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

Some of the current fads in the church have crept in like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are worldly ideas that have been “Christianized,” made to look as innocent as a lamb, tweaked here and there so as not to offend our delicate consciences. But does it offend God? Our consciences can be hardened like callouses by repeated sin. They can also be overly tender, or most superstitious. For example, one could believe that if we don’t go to church every Sunday, we will go to hell. The truth of the matter is that if we don’t want to go to church on Sunday because it’s boring, God probably doesn’t want us there either. And that works both ways. He doesn’t want us there because it’s probably a dead church. If we go to a Spirit-filled church and still think it’s boring or that we’d rather be doing something else, He’s probably not too thrilled with us being there taking up pew space so we don’t feel guilty about our loveless weekly obligation. Because then we’re sleeping, or worse yet, spiritually dead. Does not even the world say, “The first step to getting help is admitting we have a problem?”

If you recognize yourself in any of this, take heart! He wants to wake us and bring us to life. Because He is anything but boring. Or unjust. Or bent on our ultimate demise. Our image of God is often a caricature of His perfection based on all the things that make up a modern church service: all the external rites and routines, the bad sermons that are full of hellfire and brimstone, and the false teaching that grace is given to excuse our unrepentant practice of sin and live like the rest of the hurting and miserable people in the world, because God is “love.” Love? As if he were an absent Parent not caring a whit about our safety, growth, welfare, education, or relationships. A worldly love that is sickening-sweet and always smiling down on whatever we do and dares to swallow the demonic lie that “all roads lead to heaven.” That we are all on the “same path.” That God is much more “tolerant” these days. As if he were sorry for his past insistence that He get all the glory due him. Truth says of Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Worldly love is not godly love. It’s flattery. Our Lord did not leave heaven, teach us about His Father, suffer crucifixion, take upon Himself God’s wrath, die, and raise Himself to life again so that He could now and forever flatter us! He did all these things to paint a poignant and painful heavenly mural of how lost and wretched we are without him. It’s as if the Lord were making His Church look in a mirror. We are asleep to what Jesus is doing. Or we are dead to His beauty. He wants us to “see” Him clearly, so that we don’t go around inflicting our faulty image of God on others. He wants us to “see” ourselves clearly, so that we repent.

One of the “new” ideas that has crept into the Church today is the teaching of the Enneagram. Its roots date back to many non-Christian sources, but became popular in the late 1960s when Oscar Ichazo studied many worldly spiritual ideas and founded the Arica School of Knowledge. The gist of the site is a mix of psychology, philosophy, and New Age mumbo jumbo. The goal is knowledge and self-awareness. Why are we drinking this in? What is God’s goal for us? Is it to know ourselves better, or to know Him better? Is it knowledge, or friendship with God? I know some are well-meaning, but that is the temptation. We want to “know” our strengths and weaknesses so that we can serve God better. That’s the Christian slant.

Do you think God does not see through this? The focus is on ourselves, on how we, mere mortals, can deduce from worldly assessments and typologies a way to serve God better! Doesn’t God provide us with His gifts and talents through His Holy Spirit? We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. He is the potter, we are the clay. Are we not knit together by Him in the womb? Do we not trust the Lord who paid it all to also finish it all? Did Paul need to know his Enneagram to serve Jesus any better? Did the Apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved, need his Enneagram to be loved any more? Aren’t we saved and sanctified by the blood of Jesus, new creatures to be conformed to the image of His likeness? Are our destinies determined by philosophies of man, or the providence of God? John the Baptist said, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.” Does knowing our Enneagram equip us any better than the Holy Spirit poured out on Peter and his audience on the Day of Pentecost? My people, the leaven of the world is invading my Church. Such worldly wisdom dressed in a Christian guise is trading the rivers of living water for brackish water!

Another practice of the Church today is the celebration of Halloween with the rest of the world. It has been explained away as a holiday for our children. We dress them up as princesses and dinosaurs, something less ghoulish, to placate our Christian sensitivities. Then they see worldly children dressed up as witches and ghosts and monsters, and since they walk shoulder to shoulder with them on trick-or-treat day, they grow dull to the dangers all around them. They get attracted to “good” witch stories, ghost stories, and progress to demon-inspired movies featuring grotesque modes of death by evil forces, seeding our minds with the idea that Satan is more powerful than any child of God! What does the Word say? We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

We even use this holiday to “draw” people to our churches. I read recently about a megachurch that had a huge Halloween bash for the purpose of inviting the unsaved to the party, so that they can rub shoulders with us “righteous” folk. While getting people to church may seem to be a noble motive, a most assuredly God-honoring goal, does it really honor God? When a church holds a trunk-or-treat or some such popular idea, and has a big turnout, what do the newspapers take note of? “Thousands Celebrate Halloween at (insert your church here).” Notice what the world sees us celebrating, even though we dress it up in Christian garb? Shouldn’t we be noticed for celebrating Jesus? You may object. These innocent events are “family-friendly,” “safe,” and “fun.” The problem is that it is still imitating the world. Christians “need” a holiday to give candy to their kids, too. Do we? We don’t want to deny our kids some fun on that particular day, so we make it more “acceptable.” To whom? Many churches start well, even, but when they lack the “draw,” they add haunted houses and “spooky organ concerts,” advertising with smiling jack-o-lanterns so that Jesus is not too overwhelming to the dear lost souls we want to save. As if we’re going to hoodwink them into coming to church! Aren’t they rather confused? What is different about this church than the world? Isn’t it Christ’s presence? If not, how will the lack thereof glorify God? Isn’t Halloween just a less-scary version of the steeped-in-paganism original holiday?

It is a fact that Halloween is a Satanic high holiday in our present culture. It has been said by the founder of the Church of Satan that, “Halloween is the most important day of the year for devil worshippers.” Ages ago, it developed from Celtic superstitions and pagan practices devoid of God’s truth. Even if we “tone it down,” does it not obscure truth? What truth? That Goodness and Love triumph over evil, that Christ has overcome the world, that the prince of this world now stands condemned. That hell is eternal life without God, and that He made the way to heaven wide open through one tiny door of faith in Jesus’ deity, death, and resurrection. That He is not out to “get us,” but out to save us. Always. Halloween and everything associated with it obscures this with its association with evil and superstition.

You may still object. You say, “No, it is harmless. You’re making too big a deal out of this.” There are reasons, my fellow brothers and sisters. First, let’s look at the pattern of practices established throughout the bible. Did Moses need or use a pagan holiday to convert the Israelites? Didn’t they try that? Golden calf? They actually called it Yahweh, by God’s name! We know how that ended. Did the Lord command that the Israelites adopt the practices of the pagan nations? Weren’t they supposed to not want to be like them? Would an Israelite have sent their kid to a Baal festival because it was harmless fun? Listen to Paul:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
    and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Therefore,

“Come out from them
    and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
    and I will receive you.”

And,

“I will be a Father to you,
    and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.” –Romans 6: 14-18

Did Jesus need or use a toned-down Roman festival to a false god as an opportunity to glorify His Father? Did Paul? Paul once saw an “altar to an unknown god,” among all the idols in the city of Athens, and subsequently preached Jesus to them, using it as a springboard to speak God’s truth. But he didn’t hold a festival for Artemis in Ephesus and invite the locals! We make up opportunities to share our faith because we know we “should” share the gospel, when in truth God creates all the opportunities to share the gospel for anyone who wants to, for anyone led by the Spirit of God to speak. Like Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35) His statement was prompted by the events that took place with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus saw Opportunity approach him in the form of a woman, a water jar, and a heavy heart. Then the entire town believed. Think about it. When His disciples fished and found nothing, when did they haul in the big catch? When Jesus was present. When he told them where to throw their net.

Which brings me to my next point. The Church tries to draw worldly people to Christ by being worldly. A couple thought processes are probably that if I can just get them into church, they’re on my own turf and I’ll have more chutzpa to share the gospel. Or, if they see us as being more lenient on sin, they will not be so offended. I see this in the above example, and also with a lot of music. Not that all Christian music is bad. It’s just that if it looks like the world, sounds like the world, it is of the world. In some Christian music, you can’t even hear the words. And they may be great words! But if they can’t be heard by a non-believer, how can it be a good witness? It looks and sounds just like Metallica to them. Yes, you have liberty! But do you look like Jesus at that point, or the world? Do we want to exercise “our rights,” or bring people to Christ? Didn’t Paul say, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) How much more so for an unbeliever!

But you say, “The motive is to get them saved!” That’s well and good. But does our working and trying and finagling improve on the power of His Holy Spirit? Are we not born again by the power of God? And how did the early disciples get the chutzpa to preach? Jesus told them to “wait for power from on high.” It is not something we muster up. It is received. When we are ready. When we will use it for only God’s glory. When we rely on these worldly things, who gets the credit? Isn’t it often us? Hear the Lord: “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:11) Isn’t our whole approach to evangelization discussed here one of distrust? “How?,” you say. Does music, or the friendliness of our church, or any host of “good” things draw sinners to Christ? What does scripture say? “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44) No amount of cajoling will bring the lost to Christ. It is the power and work of God from first to last. So that He gets the credit. So that people look to Him, and not mere man. He glorifies Himself for our own good.

I am not saying the Lord will never use our feeble attempts to share His love if done in humility. I know of a church that hands out little candy bags and inserts a gospel tract to the kids who come to visit. This is much more God-honoring, because the seeds of truth go out. Many times I sense He does use our “two little fish” out of compassion for the lost, and recognizes any good motive we have, especially godly love. But I sense he wants more. He wants to glorify himself fully. Who better to glorify God than God Himself? I hear him saying to His Bride, “Get out of the way.” In other words, cease striving, and start surrendering. Trusting. Obeying. Waiting. Seeing His opportunities. If a nurse tries to do an open heart surgery, she would either be thinking more of herself than she ought, or feeling completely inadequate. The surgeon would know she isn’t skilled enough, and would want her to step aside and let him take over. It is the same with the Great Physician. “Get out of the way!”

One last point. How do unbelievers recognize God’s people? John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Who is everyone? Isn’t it believers here? How can unbelievers recognize godly love? So how do unbelievers recognize the Church? Is it our collective love? Hmm…many times sadly missing. Is it our holiness? Hmm…again, we are not perfect, but all spiritual children growing at various stages. Is it our unity? This is downright laughable these days…sorry, not sorry. Were these markers in the early Church? Or did they seem to have problems imitating the world, too? How does the bible say the pagan nations recognize Israel’s God as the One True God?

“Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” –Exodus 33:15-16

Right before these verses, the Lord is telling Moses to take the Israelites, with whom he is displeased, to the land He promised their forefathers. He tells Moses that He will not go with them, but will send an angel before them to subdue their enemies. And in the verses above, we have Moses’ humble response. His heartrending disappointment at hearing God say He would not be with them. A little bit further on, we have hope:

“Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped. “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.”

“Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” –Exodus 34: 8-14

See? God did not say He would be known by what the Israelites did or did not do. He would be recognized by His power and His work. For us. Doesn’t he tell His people by the Red Sea, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still?” Just like salvation. ‘”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We need to get smaller, so that God can be greater. Like Jesus. He gave us the example. He was God incarnate, yet a servant to all. He was more royal than the the loftiest earthly king, yet allowed the lowliest into His court. He was more beautiful than the vast majority of Jews imagined him to be, yet He came to earth to fully reveal His love. Yet He left it all–His glory, His royalty, His dazzling beauty–to be born a plain and helpless baby in a humble manger, in a little-known town, among headstrong and willful people who would not recognize Him as their God and Savior. Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” See? God was with Him. Let’s pray like Moses, with whom God was pleased, that He will go with us wherever He sends us, as well. He is faithful, even when we are not. That is pure grace. Amen.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” –John 28:20

“Can’t Tip Someone Who Doesn’t Love Jesus.” Check, Please!

“Remind [believers] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy….” –Titus 3:1-5

Neo-Nazis. Antifa. The Right. The Left. The Liberals. The Conservatives. Muslims. Blacks. Gays. I can feel the hate. What is fake news, and what is responsible journalism? Where is truth? Then I read the above note quoted in my title, scribbled on a restaurant bill to a lesbian waitress, and my first thought was: have Christians actually forgot that their goal in life is to help lead others to Jesus, to WANT to see them go to heaven? I’ve read quite a few comments posted in response to this, and many common-sense opinions offered. I wanted to add my own, but decided to pray about it first. I find that I am often over-eager to weigh in with my own opinion, without first praying about it and finding out God’s take on things, found in the Bible, which is often misquoted or taken out of context.

To wit: many people responded to the above discussion by saying, “Jesus loved everybody. He would give a generous tip.” True, but sometimes I think this leaves the impression that he would smile and lie to you to win public approval and give you a false sense of security. But is this a true picture of God? How do we know unless we read his message to us for ourselves? Jesus said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Jesus’ words and testimony are in the Bible. You cannot know God without reading his Word!

So, did Jesus love everybody? God’s MAIN message to us is one of love. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) There are many people, including some professing Christians, that think that God is “out to get them” or others for the bad things they’ve done, to punish them. Yet 1 Timothy 2: 3-4 says: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  Notice it says that God desires “all people” to be saved? Neo-Nazis. Antifa. The Left. The Right. The Liberals. The Conservatives. Muslims. Blacks. And yes, those who wear gay pride tattoos. God is not “out to get us.” He is out to save us.

If you get the impression from other Christians or have the impression yourself that God is a cosmic killjoy who wants to punish people, consider the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The entire chapter is actually Jesus’ response to the judgmental attitude of the religious leaders of the day, who grumbled about Jesus’ habit of hanging out with “sinners” to teach them about God.

Jesus starts out by relaying a story about a young man who dishonors his father by demanding his inheritance early, then goes off to another country to squander it on “reckless living.” A famine arises in this land, and the son finds himself destitute, having less to eat than the pigs he was hired to tend. He comes to the realization that if he goes back home and asks his father for forgiveness for his rebellion, he might be merciful and take him back as a servant, where he’d at least have enough food to eat and a warm bed. And the following is the picture Jesus wants us to have of our Heavenly Father when we come back to him humbled and destitute:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” –Luke 15:20-24

What is Jesus saying? God is waiting for you to come home. He wants to throw his arms around you and kiss you, because he never stops loving you, even when you wander off and act foolishly. His heart overflows with joy that you are safe at home, back in his care. Note in this story that when we are separated from God, we are spiritually dead to God? A dead person cannot revive themselves. We are powerless to fix the problem. We need divine help. If we don’t realize we are spiritually dead, or lost, we won’t ask for help, until, like the prodigal son, we realize our hopeless state. Thank God Jesus said: “I have come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) Are you lost? God is actively looking for you!

Jesus also referred to God as our Heavenly Father, a figure that should represent the most tender relationship between a caregiver and a child. Jesus left his glory in heaven to be born as a human, to teach the truth about God, and to lay down his life for us and rescue us from the peril of spiritual death. I don’t know about you, but that is love in action. When men and women give their lives to save another, we call them heroes. We put up statues. We learn about them. We sometimes try to emulate them. We honor them. Why not God?

So, back to the starting point, we have ample proof that God is love. Maybe, instead of asking if Jesus loves everybody, we should ask, “Does Jesus treat everyone “nicely” so as not to offend?” Truth be told, no! “I thought Jesus was the embodiment of love,” you may say. He was. He is. So much so that he will tell you the truth, even if it offends you. His motive is not to offend you. It is always, always to save you. If God is love, he cannot do wrong. He cannot lie. Just like a natural father teaches a child & disciplines a child, it should be out of love, out of wanting to protect that child from hurt and pain. When people reject God’s moral laws and insist on their own, they will find that they are hurting themselves and other people. Over and over again, the bible warns us about living a life that pleases ourselves or other people, and not God. That is the problem with homosexuality. But let’s not single out homosexual conduct. It is ANY conduct that is contrary to God’s loving wisdom.

We see churches these days wink at sin, refusing to correct those practicing it, because they don’t want to offend anyone. It’s the norm of society, so they reason that we have to conform to the world’s standards or folks will not come to church. This is what religion does. It tries to make God palatable. This is not Jesus’ example. As a mother or father of a child you love, you wouldn’t lie to them to avoid hurting their feelings if you knew their behavior would end their life. You would tell them the truth, even if it hurt, so that they would not die. It is not bigotry to call homosexuality a sin. It is not bigotry to call engaging in pre-marital sex a sin. It is not bigotry to call any sin “sin.” God does, and he is not a bigot. He is our Heavenly Father. He is love. He cannot lie.

God inspired the apostle Paul to write, “ Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

I write this not to judge you, but to bless you. I do not write this out of a superior attitude. I would like you to know that before I became a Christian, I lived a very sinful, immoral lifestyle, and I was miserable because I was hurting myself. I was trying to meet my needs my way, instead of relying on God to provide for me. I would like you to know that after I became a Christian, I did not become perfect overnight, nor am I now. I would like you to know that when I experienced God’s love for me and his forgiveness, despite my messed up life, he put in me a desire to please him and trust him like a young child who listens to her dad because he knows better. I would like you to know living a life under God’s care is the richest blessing imaginable.

So just what IS bigotry? Is it intolerance toward someone who has a differing opinion? Yes and no. When we have an attitude of fear or superiority toward another group of people, and act on those attitudes, that is bigotry. But society seems to twist this to suit their own agenda. For example, if we stand up and tell people what they are doing is wrong in God’s eyes, we may be called a bigot. Yet we know how to stand up to racism, and would think it is crazy to be called a bigot for doing so. We know how to correct our children when they do wrong, and would think it strange if they called us bigots for doing so. Just like any parent, God does not allow his children to do anything and everything they want. Is this intolerance? Or is it love? The difference between bigotry and love is now obvious. When our motives lack love, our actions will give us away.

Jesus always treated others with respect and compassion, with one surprising exception: he was very blunt with the religious leaders of his day. In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus publicly denounces them, saying, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!,” no less than five times. He calls them “blind guides” and “blind fools,” finishing his critique up with, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

Likewise, religious leaders and their followers today who do everything to be seen by people and be approved of by people in their groups have no heart for God or other people. People who judge and condemn others do not have God’s Spirit. I actually saw a post recently that a professing Christian was praying that certain people they didn’t like would go to hell. Not as a flip statement. Actually praying that God would damn them. To those who think like this I would say, “What was Jesus’ example?” Jesus may not have made nice with the Pharisees and Jewish teachers, but he had the common decency to warn them about the consequences of their own willful actions. He also prayed for them.

We can choose to listen to God, or ignore him. If we ignore him, there will be negative consequences, not because God wants to see us suffer, but because we chose to do things our way. We bring it on ourselves. Anyone who has a teenager or has been a teenager can relate. Jesus wanted those religious leaders to believe in him as God’s provision for their salvation, to not rely on their own perception of themselves. They thought they were righteous, but they wanted to kill Jesus for speaking the truth. Think about that. They wanted to kill God’s most beautiful revelation of himself. Yet when Jesus hung on the cross, and those same people were ridiculing him and hurling insults at him, this was his heart: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Next time, leave a tip. Give people a reason to love Jesus. Next time, for the love of God, pray that all sorts of people will go to heaven, even if you don’t like their actions, don’t agree with them, or they hurt you. That’s what Jesus tells us to do. Next time, talk with a sinner. Eat with them. Jesus did. After all, you’re one, too. Not tipping someone because they identify with the gay community is not standing up for God. A tip doesn’t represent support for someone’s lifestyle. It is a gift given in thanks for good service received, not a reward for our morality. If that were the case, none of us should get tipped! And how can we know a person’s heart? God knows our hearts: our angry thoughts about others, our hatred for certain people, our lack of generosity, our insistence on our own way, our pride, our lack of a forgiving attitude…and more. Yet, he offers us forgiveness and eternal life if we first do one thing: believe in his son Jesus as our Savior. Gratis. Without cost. Complete and utter gift. After that simple act of trust, we become his spiritual children, and grow and mature just like our own children do.

Not tipping someone is a missed opportunity to share his mercy: “And as Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

He called me. Now he’s calling you. And if you’re already a Christian, thank God for next times, the absolute grace of God that allows us to grow and learn like any child.

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