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.

Easy Does It…or Doesn’t It?

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” [Mat 11:28-30 NLT]

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” [Jer 32:27 NKJV]

Remember back, oh, fifteen years ago or so, Staples had an ad campaign featuring “The Easy Button?” I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, wishing I had one to instantly fix any of my struggles and difficult situations that we all face in life. Can y’all relate? My flesh does not like to be challenged by having to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and exert myself. I LIKE easy.

But you know what? Chasing after easy is the most common cop-out in loving Jesus and other people. Think about it. When things require effort, patience, time, money, or sweat, people gravitate naturally to a microwave-type fix: we want it done in less than a minute. In our culture here in the United States and most affluent countries, we have been conditioned to even expect quick and painless solutions. Hungry? Hit the drive-thru at McDonald’s. Need an answer? Ask Google. Need to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or reduce your cholesterol? Take a pill. When the fix is not as fast as what the golden arches, Alexa, or our doctor promise, we fidget and fuss like, at least in my case, an inconsolable two-year-old! It may look a wee bit more mature, but inside I’m just as demanding that MY need for comfort be met as any toddler.

You want to know a secret? God Himself is our comfort. Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [2Co 1:3-4 NKJV] Wait. You mean it’s not that triple chocolate cake in the fridge you reach for when you’re stressed? It’s not the shot of Seagram’s at night you slam down to “take the edge off?” It’s not the latest Netflix binge? It’s not that co-worker you fantasize about loving you better than your current spouse? It’s not even sleep (my personal favorite)! No, it is God: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” [Isa 66:13 NKJV]

Not only does God the Father comfort us, but also the Holy Spirit: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth.” [Jhn 14:16-17 KJV] The Greek word for “Comforter” here in the King James version is paraklētos, which carries the meaning, “called to one’s side, advocate, one who pleads another’s cause, intercessor, and helper.” That same Greek word is used here: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. [1Jo 2:1 NIV] Dear brothers and sisters, we have the whole Godhead as our defense, help, and comfort! The God we worship–the God who stretched out a universe that science keeps discovering is bigger, badder, and more beautiful than our imaginations can muster; the same God who numbers the hairs on our head and notes when a sparrow falls to the ground; the God who gave us our ultimate well-being by leaving His glory and heaven to bend down and wipe the tears from our eyes–THIS is our Comforter. His power will not fail us, His eye will not miss us, and His love will not forsake us. Isn’t our God grand? Brothers and sisters, put away the cake, the booze, the TV, the fantasy, and the nap. Let’s RUN to our Abba!

Since we have such a wondrous Comforter, what can we do when we’re smack dab in the middle of HARD? Our flesh wants to reach for the easy button, but I suspect the Lord would rather have us “walk in love.” The Greek word “walk” in 2 John 1:6 is peripateō, and means “to live, to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self, to progress, and to make due use of opportunities.” All these things require effort, just like physical walking. And most of the time, love requires some effort on our part. Love requires us to trust the Lord when we’re waiting for answers or situations to resolve. Love requires us to be patient when we don’t see the spiritual fruit we want to see in other people’s lives. Love requires us to be bold when defending our children. Love requires us to lay aside time to invest in others. Love often requires us to come out of our comfort zones. Love requires a little coaxing and a dash of daring to venture into unknown experiences. In our human strength, walking in love is scary. It is scary because we don’t know what to expect. We imagine all the things that could go wrong: how we will get hurt, how we will embarrass ourselves, how our efforts will go unnoticed, how we’ll be rejected. Our focus is on all the negative risks that could happen to us. This makes us squirm and want to run and hide!

What if, instead of looking at all the ways we live in self-preservation of our bodies and egos, we look to the One who risked it all. Jesus did not push the easy button when it came to solving the pain of sin and death. He became a proactive participant in humanity for some thirty years. What if we make it our prayer to be more like Him? A proactive participant in the lives of those around us, those people the Lord puts in our life and those He sends us to seek out? What would that look like in your little corner of the world? Going the extra mile, giving the shirt off your back? Jesus says in Matthew 5:40-41, “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” [Mat 5:40-41 NIV] In other words, hanging in there when your marriage isn’t perfect, your child is rebelling, or your boss is unfair. How about offering your adversary something like a coat, something that keeps you warm and comfortable. It doesn’t have to be a physical item. It could be attempting to understand how they see the world and you, offering them forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness. It could be offering friendship to that one person no one can figure out, including yourself. It could be standing up for a person and speaking truth in a group that is gossiping. It could be anything that goes against the status quo of society–even the status quo of your own comfortable life. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” [Luk 9:23-24 ESV]

Our way of living in denial is not God’s way of living in denial. You may be thinking, But Jesus said His yoke is easy to bear! Well, the word for “easy” in our main verse above has the meaning, “kind, good, and benevolent.” Jesus’ thought here was not life sans difficulty or struggles or effort, but rather life lived in His love. His love FREES us and releases the burden of our self-centered focus. He desires us to deny our soul-sick insecurity and be secure in Him. In His power, in His divine providence, and in His provision.

The Lord always provides for His people. He provided a way out of Egypt by parting the Red Sea. He provided a way through the desert by having manna rain down from heaven and water gush from rocks. He provided a way into the Promised Land by parting the Jordan River. He is our way-maker when our situation seems to be at a dead end: “for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” [Isa 52:12 ESV] The Lord is still our provider par excellence: “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” [Rom 8:32 NLT] Everything He was for the Israelites He is for His Church today.

He is also the One who provided clothing for Adam and Eve when they were naked. So, let’s give away that “coat,” whatever comforts and protects us in s sinful & selfish way, whatever fig leaf we are using to cover our shame and protect our pride. Let Him clothe us with His righteous white robes and a dignity that reflects Him more and more. My prayer is that He grant us a bolder love, the kind He modeled. Let’s stop hitting the easy button. Amen.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. [1Jo 4:16-19 ESV]

And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, behind [him] a ram caught in the thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of Jehovah it shall be provided. [Gen 22:13-14 ASV]

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]

Remember the Gospel Means GOOD News

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. [Eze 34:11, 16 NIV]

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn…. [Isa 61:1-2 NIV]

Back in 1983, I was a junior in high school, and my eclectic musical tastes ranged from hard rock to the likes of Anne Murray’s “A Little Good News.” This song really spoke to my heart in so many ways because even at the ripe old age of seventeen, listening to the news of foreign wars, the woes of a bad economy, the uptick of robberies, gun crime, and senseless violence–just the constant barrage of bad reports–left me feeling tense and quite dismal. I longed for good news, like Anne mentions, about things like county fairs, children playing, and people truly caring. I guess most good news is not as sensational, nor as appealing to our fallen nature as a little dirt on other people mixed in with otherwise helpful truth. Fast-forward almost forty years and we now even have the unenviable challenge of trying to figure out what is even true in the news. Now that I am a Christian, I have an eternal hope that comforts me. But what about the lost? Aren’t they aching just as bad for a little good news today?

I think this song struck a chord with many, however, it failed to point to the One who gives hope amid every uncertainty, crisis, or chaos. More than ever it is evident in our society here in the United States that we lack truth. Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” [29:18 KJV] In the New Living Translation, it puts it this way: “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” The word “vision” here in the KVJ can mean “divine communication in a vision, oracle, or prophecy.”

The bible is the greatest revelation of God ever given to mankind, and when it is mispreached or misapplied, we perish. It is ironic that in this “Christian” nation, where we have a cornucopia of bibles, books, and Christian teachers, that we find ourselves in “such a time as this,” a time of strife, self-seeking, lies, and its fruit: distrust. It does one no good to simply read or listen to God’s Word. We have to understand and obey, “keepeth,” to be blessed. For example, spiritually, our society can be likened to a well-marked route, complete with street signs and the assistance of GPS. But if we ignore the stop signs or the Siri voice from our smartphones, we will get in a wreck or be lost. If we are distracted by the carnival-like pull of the world, no matter how well the road is lit, we will miss our destination. My prayers have been for the Lord to reveal to His Church just how worldly we have become. And if the Church looks like the world, how can we shine God’s holy light? His word says, “Do not be conformed to this world” but “be conformed to the image of his Son.” [Rom 12:2; 8:29 ESV] I challenge you: whom do you most resemble?

Another way to understand the word “vision” in the above verse is in a prophetic sense. It is interesting that Revelation says that “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” and that our brothers have conquered Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” [Rev 19:10; 12:11 ESV] Did you hear that? Do you see it? We CONQUER the enemy by Jesus’ shed blood at Calvary AND by our testimony of what He did for the world. Jesus prophesied, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” [Mat 24:14 NIV] If the world ever needed good news, it’s today. If the world ever needed truth, its today. Let’s point to the One who is true:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. [Rev 3:14]

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. [Rev 19:11 NIV]

Jesus said, “You say that I am a king. 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.” [Jhn 18:37 ESV]

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [Jhn 14:6 NIV]

Let’s also point to the One who brings GOOD news. I often see well-meaning Christians try to preach the gospel in a harsh manner, perhaps imitating past fire and brimstone teachers from many centuries ago. But we need to imitate Christ. We need to be balanced. He seemed to pronounce His woes on the religious leaders of the day, not on the common people who struggled with sin or life in general. Rather, he ate with them. In my own hometown, I recently saw a group with signs saying homosexuals are going to hell. My thought was why pick on one group of people, one sin, when all sinners are lost? Why not share a meal with them so that we can introduce them to the Savior? The bible says that the lost are spiritually dead. Can we argue with or condemn a dead person? Little effect there. First, they need to hear about Jesus and believe in Him to be free! Jesus didn’t look at people as spiritual tinder. He looked at them as spiritually sick and needing a physician. He is the Great Physician. His desire is to heal, not destroy. He has a good “bedside manner,” truthful, yes, but full of compassion. Jesus said he came to “bind up the brokenhearted.” It reminds me of setting a bone. Even in antiquity, they knew about reduction, splinting, and binding up a broken bone. When I hear a harsh approach to the gospel being undertaken, it makes me sad because it motivates people using unhealthy fear, when the bible says that the Lord leads with love:

I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. [Hos 11:4 NIV]

In our main verses at the beginning of this blog, the Lord says He himself will search for His sheep and care for them. He wants to “proclaim good news to the poor,” to those who lack physical or spiritual riches. He wants to proclaim freedom and a release from spiritual darkness. He wants to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to comfort all who mourn. Charles Spurgeon points out that the Lord’s favor is for a year, but His vengeance only a day. That day may be coming soon, and there may be a time for a more dire warning, but right now I sense a weary world, a weary nation, that may just want a little truth-filled good news.

Can I challenge you to share your faith? It does not need to be big and bold. It can be any little thing you ask the Lord to bless. I know of someone with an online retail business that sends out with every order little bible cards that point to Jesus. When they started years ago, they asked the Lord to bless it. Ten years later, they are on their 15,000th sale. It’s like the little boy that brings his two SMALL fish and five SMALL barley loaves to Jesus. He just blesses it, and it feeds thousands:

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” … Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. [Jhn 6:5-9, 11-13 NIV]

Let’s be little, and bring our little things to Jesus trusting that He will multiply to provide more than enough. Let’s take our eyes off the crowd’s needs and fix them on Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. Amen.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” [Mat 9:37-38 NIV]

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

He Invites Us to Sit at His Feet

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2Ti 3:16–17 NIV]

Have you ever noticed that when God breathes, what seems impossible happens? I’m thinking of Adam, the Red Sea closing over Pharaoh’s army, the starry host’s existence, a valley of dry bones coming to life, and our very lives being sustained. How much more is the power of His God-breathed Word? He Himself says:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” [Isa 55:10–11 ESV]

I’m taking a little break from the series on semantics to write about something the Lord has laid on my heart. I want to challenge you: what percentage of your reading is directly from God’s Word, and what percentage is from Christian writers? Do you find yourself reading five-minute devotionals because they are usually quick and painless? Or do you search Christian books for answers to questions about doctrine or counsel? I assure you, I am not saying that is wrong, in and of itself. The Lord has given us many good teachers. However, if you are over fifty percent of the time reading sources other than the bible, I would like to caution you. We all need to be grounded in God’s Word so that we can be discerning when reading another’s writing (including mine–that is why is so heavily quote the Bible in these posts!). I hope to show you a much better way, to bless you.

First, I’d like to say that so much of my writing is based on personal experience (a euphemism for failures, in my case!). There have been times in my life where I felt the Holy Spirit’s displeasure with my over-zealous focus on our endless supply of devotionals, self-help books, doctrinal aids, and even Christian fiction. I didn’t understand at the time, because it wasn’t that the reading material was at all bad–it was that my focus was on the opinions of other Christians. It was like the Lord was whispering, “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” [Isa 2:22 NIV] The root of my heart problem was that I was looking to them as the authority or expert, and not exclusively to God. I think, looking back, that at the time I mistakenly thought these writers were easier to understand.

But should this be our outlook on scripture? Doesn’t God’s Word say, “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” [Luk 10:21 NIV] Notice that it is the Lord who reveals Himself to us–it is not based on our education, titles, or our own intellect. In the context of this scripture, Jesus is referring to the disciples as little children, not literal infants or youth. Their heart attitude was one of a child: teachable, humble, and keen to learn. The same account in Matthew goes on to say: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” [Mat 11:27 NIV]

There are so many scriptures that show that the Lord is always revealing himself to us. For example, in the Old Testament, David says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” [Psa 16:11 NIV] In Proverbs, it says, “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.” [1:23 NIV] In the New Testament, Jesus says:

‘”I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what He will make known to you.”‘ [Jhn 16:12–15 NIV]

“As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in Him.” [1Jo 2:27 NIV]

“I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” [Jhn 17:26 NIV]

Some interesting things to glean from these scriptures are that God DESIRES to make Himself known, He INITIATES making Himself known, and that Jesus PROMISED that the Holy Spirit would guide all believers into truth and teach us! If you ever feel frustrated or confused because you don’t understand something in the bible or your life, I love to tell you to pray back to God His promises! We may have to wait a bit, which seems uncomfortable in our Google-driven instant-answer world, but it is WORTH it! It delights the Lord when we know His promises and look to Him to be faithful in His answer.

I remember once, when I was a young Christian, I was on vacation with my better half and with a friend’s daughters who were in their pre-teen and teens. It was a summer day, and it was our custom to enjoy one cold beer on a hot day. However, this upset our young guests, who believed that all alcoholic beverages were off limits for Christians. We felt it was nothing wrong, but as we tried to discuss this with the girls, I sensed they were discomfited. I did not know how to proceed, but I sensed the Holy Spirit nudging me to stop discussing and start praying. Later on that night, I asked the Lord for wisdom as I was at a total loss. I finished praying, and opened my bible to where I had left off on my daily reading. The very next verses were about how Paul addressed the issue with conscience and food, how we should never stumble any one in what we eat or drink, but have the attitude to gladly give it up if it causes offense. [Rom 14:20-21] So I was able to inform these dear little ones that I would not drink a beer if it upset them, and that I wanted to seek their good. We all rejoiced. And we see the wisdom from above is so pure and peaceable! Worldly wisdom is full of self, demands our own wants and desires, and deems our own way better.

Some other godly wisdom we can gather from the above scriptures is that we need to be humble when we search for truth and guidance. Proverbs teaches us to repent when the Lord rebukes us, THEN He will pour out His thoughts and make known to us His teachings. This is wisdom calling us. To illustrate, I want to share a bit of a humorous part in my coming to the Lord. I was brought up in a well-known cult, and although many people were trying to persuade me of sound Christian doctrine, I was thoroughly brainwashed into thinking all my knowledge was correct and everybody else was in error. I was searching for God, but was stuck in my head knowledge and pride. Discussions with my spouse and a local pastor left me frustrated. I vividly remember the day that I prayed and asked the Lord for help with the right attitude. Up until this time, my prayer was, “Lord I’m right. I know I’m right. Help these people understand.” But this particular day, a thought popped into my little brain that I could be wrong. What? Me? Wrong?! It was a bit unsettling! But it also felt refreshingly FREEING. So I changed my prayer to “Lord, if I am wrong, show me the right way.” He answered THAT prayer beautifully, leading me to cult expert Ron Rhodes to untangle all the bad doctrine I had been taught. See? I have lots of past “experience!”

Another insight from the above verses is that the Lord holds back on some teaching, telling even the disciples that they were not able to bear it at the time. Can you imagine giving a lifetime of knowledge to a two-year-old? That would be double trouble! I think the Lord views us quite similarly (after all, even a ninety-year-old is only a few steps into the road to eternity!). So, I’ve learned that seeking a quick answer for a pressing question is not as sublime as seeking an Almighty God for a truthful answer! I know it is foreign to our culture here in the United States, but waiting is often good. It is good when making decisions, it is good in gardening, it is good in growing up, and so much more. I have often found quick answers to questions and totally misused the wisdom because I hadn’t waited for my experience to catch up. Doesn’t the Word say, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time?” [Psa 145:15 NIV] God is perfect. Therefore, His timing is perfect! And, so are His answers.

So my point is that I think many in the Church today rely a little too heavily on extracurricular Christian reading. Please don’t hear me say it is wrong to ever consult a theology book if something seems just not quite to you, or to read someone else’s testimony of how they worked through difficult times. It is the nature of our world today with the wide availability of print and digital resources that what once was in-person teaching and edification is now done through these modern means. That’s fine. My appeal to you is to do the bulk of your reading from God’s Word. I can not begin to tell you how blessed I have become seeking the Lord’s teaching and relying on Him for understanding, guidance, and godly wisdom. I have thought, and I think many other people might think, “What if I go astray? What if I understand something incorrectly? What if I don’t have an answer to someone else’s question? Let’s flip that on it’s head.

We have, available freely to us, without electricity, computer, cell phone, universities, television, or any such peripherals, an All-Knowing God who DESIRES to teach us and loves us as much as the heavens are high. Last time I checked, the universe is bigger than my little brain can even fathom. So it is with His thoughts (knowledge) and love for us. We can sit at His feet and learn from THE Master. Why would we trade our backstage pass to hear a master musician for a lesson with his students? Not that the students can’t be pretty good. Just not the only instructors. I am thinking of folks who may hinge on every word from a television evangelist or popular preacher. Now, if they speak truth, amen. But if that is your only source or the major portion of your instruction, please reverse the trend. There is nothing, nothing, nothing as precious as being taught by our Lord. How’s that for bolstering my readership?! But I am serious, too. If you are reading this blog post but have not read your bible in over a week, get busy!

What about feeling inadequate to understand or explain something to someone else? For me, the answer is a trust issue. We can trust our Lord to teach us truth and keep us from erring, just like he did some ordinary fishermen long ago. He does not change. It’s kind of like the saying, “out of the mouths of babes,” which is, incidentally, in scripture [Matt 21:16], or our saying, “Kids say the darnedest things.” I remember my mother telling me that when I was a baby, my older brother asked her, “The baby’s eyes are so blue. When it cries, will the tears be blue, too?” Or, I remember a testimony of a mother who renounced her faith in Christ under pressure from the authorities because she did not want to see her young daughter suffer in prison. The little girl turned to her and told her, “The Lord is not pleased with you. If I promise to not complain, can we go back to prison?” If our God and Savior can bring forth praise and wisdom from a child, He can certainly do the same for us. We need to switch the focus from us, our frailty, our lack, to Him, His goodness, His faithfulness.

Now, I am not bashing higher education. For one, it is required for many Christian vocations. And two, it is helpful to learn history and language, and many practical things. But even in that situation, I urge students to put more weight on the Holy Spirit’s teaching from God’s Holy Word (NOT just any uttered saying–let’s not go there–we see some pretty quirky things when we overstep God’s Word). Why do I say this? Because we need to TRUST the Lord to guide us, to place our focus on his fatherly goodness. If we trust our education or credentials for our soul’s welfare, we can go astray. Just think. How many preachers and teachers who held doctorates have now fallen away from true faith? Please, please. To everyone, I say, seek after HIM and place you anchor in Christ! Choose the “good part,” like Mary [Luke 10:39-42] Amen.

“But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” [Deu 4:29 NIV]

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]

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

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Heb 11:1 NIV]

So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. [Gal 3:9 NASB20]

As promised, I’d like to continue this post I started a few weeks ago and talk about the words “faith” and “believe.” There has been quite a bit of discussion already from several well-known Christian teachers who, like me, have a desire to address and correct what is called “easy believism” in the Church today. It carries with it the idea that one needs only to believe in Jesus to be saved without anything ever further required, that intellectual agreement with the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He promises eternal life to everyone who believes on Him is all that is necessary for our salvation.

To me, the whole idea of “easy believism” reacts to Catholicism and takes the idea of grace into the opposite ditch in the road. I get the image from proponents of easy believism that we are “born again,” then left on a spiritual doorstep somewhere in China. I mean, even a gardener knows his seedlings need tending to grow into strong and fruitful plants! I think the crux of the matter has to do with the fact that there are scriptures in different places in the bible that seem to be incongruous with each other or seem to, when isolated, support this more extreme idea of grace, or misinterpretation of it. My understanding of easy believism is that it twists the grace of God into a justification for ongoing sin, which Paul warned against several times, saying that those who practice immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God. I also think that to understand grace, we must consider that there is an order to things, God’s order, that helps us reconcile what seems to be two conflicting scriptures. A classic double-bind develops in our minds when we are presented with two truths that seem to disagree. For example, Martin Luther, our champion of salvation by grace through faith, struggled with the epistle of James because this leader in the Church at Jerusalem stated that “faith without works is dead.” Luther considered it an “epistle of straw,” or of lesser value than other books of the bible.

I once talked with a Lutheran pastor who said that all you need to do is believe in Jesus, and God expects nothing more. But don’t we expect more of our children as they grow? Wouldn’t we be REALLY concerned if we were still changing diapers on our eight-year-old? [Heb 5:12-13] Don’t we expect and desire obedience? True faith listens to God and obeys: “because Abraham obeyed Me and fulfilled [his] duty to Me, [and kept] My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” [Gen 26:5 NASB20]

Now, this pastor would most likely support his statement based on the following scriptures:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. [Jhn 5:24 NIV]

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. [Rom 10:9–10 NIV] And a little further on, Paul says, “for “EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” [Rom 10:13 NASB20]

There are more verses, of course, but for the sake of space, let’s limit the discussion to these two. In the first given, in the gospel of John, Jesus is defending His healing work on the Sabbath and declares that, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.” His entire thought process seems to be that his own work, based on what he sees His Father doing, is offending the Jews who think that breaking their religious rule proves that Jesus is a false teacher. So He answers that those who hear His word and believe in God have eternal life, will not be judged, and have crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life.

So, what is His “word?” The Greek used here is “logos,” which means spoken words, message, or teaching and instruction. Now, obviously, Jesus spoke more words than just those in this passage, so He must have in mind the first necessity in this instance: to believe in Him as the One promised and sent by God to save Israel and the whole world, the Messiah. The idea of “first things first” makes sense in scripture. Nowhere does Jesus say you have to do any work or task to receive eternal life. His only requirement is repentance, to turn from our way of doing things to God’s way, and to turn from our sins and embrace the Lord’s provision for our salvation. The thief on the cross could do nothing more, and Jesus assured him of his home in heaven in that instance. So please don’t say that proves that to be grace all I need to do is believe in Jesus. Because, when you stand before Him after a long life and He asks you what you have done with His gift, and you point to the thief on the cross to justify your lack, He will ask you if you were nailed to a cross and nigh about to die these past forty years!

Now, the Lord presents Himself as the Giver of a gift always. We receive the Kingdom like a child. [Luke 18:17] We don’t break down heaven’s doors. He states elsewhere to the Jews who ask Him what work they must do to do the works of God, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent.” [Jhn 6:28–29 NIV] Again, first things first. The Greek word “believe” here is pisteuō and can mean to have a mental persuasion or to commit to the charge and power of someone. Bill Mounce defines it: to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow; to entrust.

Like a child who depends on their parents for the necessities of life, we, too, depend on our Heavenly Father to provide for our eternal life. Any child brought up in a loving family simply trusts the parents to feed, clothe, and shelter them, and to love them. In other words, a well-adjusted child does not need to hunt, sew, or be a carpenter and mason. He or she does not need a religious ritual, like climbing steps leading up to some religious historical site on one’s knees to hopefully gain their mom and dad’s favor (or redeem a bad little brother!). In a normal family, love is freely given and assumed. Children know that a pilgrimage to a “holy place” to somehow feel closer to their parents is not needed because the holy place is at home in dad’s lap.

This primacy of simple belief is important, because God always directs attention to Himself. He is the embodiment of love and justice. To point to any other person or thing would harm us. He demands His glory for our good! He is the catalyst and initiator of faith so that we don’t detract from the focus and honor due Him. Just as a baby cannot contribute to his formation in his mother’s womb or “help” her give birth, so we are spiritually. The work is God’s. We can’t take credit for any heroic efforts to make our labor and delivery into this world any easier on our dear moms. I’ve also often envisioned the ember of faith and grace (as opposed to works) along the lines of the potter and the clay analogy in scripture. The Word says that we are God’s workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Eph 2:10 ESV] An artist or sculptor will use the right tools and his skill to fashion his work according to the image he envisions. So, too, the Lord wants to fashion us into the image of His son [Rom 8:29]. The sculptor needs no “help” or “input” from his slab of marble. Imagine then, us, some layman in the field of humanity, trying to direct, correct, or help the Master Artist!

So, Jesus’ above words ARE true. He always speaks truth. We can think of it in reverse: that if our new birth needed anything else, any requirement or action outside of trust in God’s ability, then we could and would take credit for, take pride in, our part. It’s like the Lord is saying YOU NEED ME and He demands dependence on Him because in and of ourselves we work foolishness. We cannot help Him. He is always helping us. I envision salvation like a chain reaction, that the Lord initiates the momentum that begins with His word, then the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the good news is preached, we hear and accept (faith), the Holy Spirit gives us new birth, we continue to be nourished on the milk of God’s Word, and we grow. I once heard it explained that Jesus has saved us, is saving us, and will save us. He is always teaching, correcting, and protecting us. This is His grace at work in us. Whatever we do (work), or however we act, after salvation, is good fruit because it is directed by God.

On the flip side, for an example of man-directed work for God, there is a well-known Christian ministry to the poor and dying in a country where Hinduism is the main religion. The people involved are so enamored with doing and providing physical relief and comfort to the people that they’ve lost their focus on these folk’s eternal welfare and God’s heart. They are taught to not attempt to convert people to Christ, but to make them the best Hindu or whatever faith tradition they happen to embrace. So the ministry workers meticulously clean festering wounds, give baths, provide medicine, and heroically tend to some very base problems. They then subtly boast about their humility in serving such poor people. They feel satisfied that the comforts given provide for a dignified death and look good on their spiritual resume.

But the reality is that these poor people, in man-pleasing politeness and misplaced compassion, are being prepped for hell. It’s like the nominal Church is dressing people up in the finest lace and embroidered silk, but fails to clothe their sin-sick souls with Christ’s robe of righteousness. They leave this world in “dignity” but stand before God naked and ashamed. These ministry “projects” die and go to an eternity without Christ! No wonder Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [Rom 1:16 ESV] No wonder Isaiah says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. [Isa 64:6 NIV] We cannot, in our flesh, spiritually care for others. Our goal should always be to guide them to the One who can.

Now, Paul is also in complete agreement with Jesus when he says that it is with our hearts (i.e. our inmost being) that we believe. It is not just mental knowledge, although even that can prompt action. For example, I know that the sun in the summer makes for a hot day. I know this by experience, and also because I can Google just about any fact out there and find out that the surface of the sun is 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. Because I have mental knowledge of these things, I am careful to use sunscreen if I go swimming, or wear a tank top and shorts to stay cool. This is mental assent in action. I have a fact known and experienced to be true, not only by myself, but others, too, and I have science to back it up. But is this believing, pisteuō? The other related word, faith, in Greek, is pistis, and is defined one way in Strong’s as: “conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it.” That begs the question, “Is fact the same as truth?”

So many people do not believe the gospel (the gospel truth!). They will argue it is not factual or that it was written by mere men, men who, oddly, gained fame and fortune for their own opinions. Oh. Wait. I’m thinking of another book, The Power of Positive Thinking. Like all of God’s faithful instruments used in writing the bible, I think that author was persecuted, insulted, beaten, crucified, or beheaded for his testimony for Christ. Oh. Wait. I’m all mixed up again. That was the mere men who wrote the bible! In direct contradiction to the bible, the message in the “Positive Thinking” book is to just “believe in yourself.” And that has even been shortened now to just, “Believe.” When believing in ourselves gets old, we seem to need to reinvent ourselves from time to time. When we recommend our sinful selves, it only draws people to our grossly inadequate selves and away from the One perfectly adequate to author a book that does not present man in glowing terms or mince words or placate sinners. The shortened quip popular today, just “Believe,” conveniently relegates any true Object of our belief to oblivion. I mean, congratulations, folks. If it has achieved bumper-sticker status, why, let’s advertise it. And our actions illustrate what we do believe–everything and nothing! It’s as if we first replace God with ourselves, then with an open-ended invitation welcome a host of other more palatable possibilities, which actually, upon reflection, look a lot like ourselves and bend and shift and change to be acceptable to our own whims and society’s mores. We may not bow down to wooden idols in this country, but we certainly do bow down before our mirrors.

There have been many great minds that have argued for and have done fact-finding for the cause of Christ, such as Lee Strobel and Sean McDowell, so I don’t want to go over ground already covered, but only suggest that sadly, even if all the facts were supported by history and science, presented, and proved, there would be many people who would still not believe the gospel. Jesus said, “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” [Jhn 6:36 NIV] And, “But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'” [Luk 16:31 NKJV] We must remember that Jesus, God in the flesh, walked this earth, taught, performed miracles, and indeed, raised someone named Lazarus from the dead, yet the Jews not only didn’t believe Him–they crucified Him! Does fact, or proof, then, cause faith?

Please don’t hear me saying we should not even try to put our efforts into apologetics. My point is that the gospel message is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, the Holy Spirit gives us words to speak, and the Father draws people to the Son to place saving faith in Him. [Rom 1:16; Matt 12:11-12; John 6:44] Jesus, by the very fact he performed miracles to testify to the truth of His message in order that people would believe shows us that the Lord is always trying to plant and grow faith! We just need to be aware of God’s authorship in salvation. He is the Architect and Prime Mover in all things! And we also need to be aware that sometimes people will be engaged in mental ping-pong because they simply want to win the match or enjoy the exchange, not because they are truly trying to understand.

I digressed a bit. So, is fact the same as truth? A certain Roman prefect must have wondered this, too: Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say [rightly] that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” [Jhn 18:37–38 NKJV]

Jesus said He was born to bear witness to the truth. He lived up to this, didn’t He? There are 79 search results in the bible for Jesus saying, “Truly I tell you.” He himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. [Jhn 14:6 NKJV] And, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [Jhn 8:31–32 NIV] John describes Jesus this way: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. [Jhn 1:14 NIV]

Now, in the natural world it is a fact that the number one Contemporary Christian song as of the date of this post is “Scars in Heaven” by Casting Crowns. It is also a fact that the number one CC song is “Hurricane” by Kanye West. How can both be fact? The former is based on popularity according to iTunes, and the latter on popularity by Billboard.com. So, iTunes ignores all other streaming and supporting evidence and ranks songs and bases popularity on actual purchases and downloads on their own service. Billboard.com uses sales information, radio airplay data, and streaming statistics from many sources to rank their artists. So you see, while both are facts, truth is skewed because of a different data set. A fact or truth is only as good as the data set that is used. If the data set is flawed, the conclusion will also be flawed. We see this in the scientific method used in clinical trials for medication efficacy or in cancer research.

Recently, some studies on the efficacy of ivermectin to prevent death from COVID-19 were found to contain erroneous data by independent reviewers. The result of the faulty studies was to lead people to take the ivermectin and have high hopes in it. However, when the data errors were exposed, its credibility lessened. My point in all this is not to take sides on anything too personal–it is to illustrate that our minds are all filled with different data sets, and for the most part, they are all faulty! The only way to correct the situation is to “independently review” the many conclusions we leap to, to consider that they may be wrong. We need a source of absolute Truth, which is found in Jesus Christ and the Word of God. “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” [Mat 4:4 NIV] He is our Source for the perfect data set.

So, the Lord in His infinite wisdom, first keeps faith simple. We trust Him when He says He is the promised Savior. But then, like any new acquaintance, we learn more about Him, and our love for the Lord grows. We read His Word and at some point we hear Jesus warn us, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ [Mat 7:21–23 NLT]

This seems to be in direct contradiction to Paul’s saying that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” However, the word translated “calls on” in the Greek is epikaleō and has the sense “to appeal unto for help or worship.” In plain English, then, Jesus is saying our words add up to a pittance if we do not practice God’s revealed will. What is God’s will? First and foremost, Christ preeminent, it is this: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [Jhn 6:40 NIV] I’m sure I have read somewhere that the words “looks to the Son” has a sense of ongoing activity. We don’t just look once and forget. We keep on looking to Christ throughout our entire Christian life. If we don’t, Jesus said we are like branches that break off from a vine. We whither and die without the nourishment from the firmly-planted root we have in Jesus. We grow from the Vine and find our security in Christ. The same God that keeps the entire cosmos in complete order, who pitches earth on a perfect axis, who spoke into existence the sun, moon, and stars, also guides our eternal destiny. This is the same power He uses toward us who believe. Our confidence can rest in Him. He is always working. He is always speaking!

All of this reminds me of the parable of the seed scattered on different soils. Jesus explained:

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. [Luk 8:11–15 NIV]

There’s so much in these verses! We can see how “believe” in these sayings of Jesus is defined or implied to have a sticktoitiveness, something long-lasting and ongoing throughout and in spite of life’s distractions and challenges. Another gleaning we can get from this parable is that the impetus behind belief is the word of God. All things begin with God, His Word begins with “In the beginning.” John starts his gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word.” The Lord is “the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” [Rev 22:13]

An active belief…one that is engaged over a long period of time–for the long haul–should also be congruent with one’s behavior. For example, when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I just knew I could not go on living the kind of immoral lifestyle that I had. The Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin. I understood that it was my sin that separated me from God–how could I go on living in it? I didn’t just give mental assent and walk away. I acted upon my belief. Now, what about the reverse of faith? Most people know that stealing is wrong and we have laws to enforce it. But many people still steal. They are then violating what they know to be true by doing the contrary. They are acting in bad faith. Can one know stealing is morally wrong in God’s eyes, but still do it and escape His displeasure? So we see, knowledge, even that which is sublime, does not save us. Knowledge of a fact can’t always motivate us to do right. Knowledge needs to find an “amen” in our hearts, a robust love for its Source, an agreement to it in our spirits and appreciation for its purpose, which in God’s heart is to keep us and our neighbor from harm.

So, what about a natural event, like our response to a hurricane warning? Most people believe the hurricane is real and will act in accordance with that belief, either by seeking shelter, shoring up their homes, or leaving the area. Belief will always, at some point in time, spur on or influence our behavior, whether for the good or for the bad. It is obvious with the COVID-19 pandemic that some folks in this country believe our government has a hidden agenda in mask and vaccine mandates and so refuse the recommended remedy. Others trust the government to have their citizen’s best interests in mind and so follow CDC guidelines. We can see even in this that our behavior starts out with what is seeded in the mind, progresses to what facts we decide are true, and results in action in accord with our faith. And I would like to point out that a belief in a fact is different from faith in what God says is true–faith entrusts one’s whole life on the entirety of His teaching. Just like we can’t pick and choose what subjects are required in a college major because we would not graduate with the knowledge and skillset needed, so too we need the totality of God’s teaching to be conformed by Him to the likeness of His Son. And just like any secular education, learning takes time. God only expects us to use what we know or have learned at a certain point in time, as we can see from His parable of the talents. [Matt 25:14-30]

Now, what about a positive belief, such as that mountains are beautiful, breathtaking, and awesome to behold? That is pretty much a universal belief, yet we know other things about mountains that inform our actions, such as that they can be dangerous to climb, that you can get altitude sickness from their tremendous elevation, that avalanches can occur, and the like. If we only believe they are beautiful, and act only with that information but disregard everything else, we could easily get hurt! Likewise, Jesus’ words do not exist in a void. He speaks truth all the time, so we must pay attention to ALL He speaks. Amen!

I hope this post has clarified the nuances of the words belief and faith. Please don’t use it to judge (look down on) another person’s spiritual state. We are better served by looking at our own face in the mirror of God’s Word. Then with the mercy we receive we can humbly and mercifully minister to others. And I don’t want to so much make a distinction in another’s quality of faith, but rather his or her spiritual fruitfulness, for God works and improves that over time, too! Doesn’t the Lord say, “”A BENT REED HE WILL NOT BREAK [OFF,] AND A DIMLY BURNING WICK HE WILL NOT EXTINGUISH, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY?” [Mat 12:20 NASB20] Good seed + good soil = good fruit! My intent is rather to encourage you to grow in His loving care.

In my next blog post in the series, I’d like to talk about the semantics of the word “works” and the ongoing rift between Catholic and Protestant theology. I have touched on it somewhat in this post, because the words seem so intertwined. I will be writing a lot more on it, and sharing my own personal struggles, so if you sometimes get the feeling that you may be “working” for your salvation, please come back (and hopefully be blessed!).

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. [Psa 119:103–105 ESV]

Worthy Is the Lamb

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” [Rev 5:11–12 NIV]

I am going to interrupt my planned series for an important message on discipleship and its requirement of absolute surrender to the Lord’s will. My hope is to always encourage you, so if you feel challenged, keep reading and be blessed!

You know, Jesus said some really tough things to people when He walked the dusty roads of Judea. For example:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” [Luk 14:26–33 NIV]

Wow. Jesus did not mince words, did He? And apparently, He was not concerned about the large crowd following Him being offended or turning away. Why? Because He always spoke truth and knew that His words were life to us. He said, “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” [Jhn 12:49–50 NIV] He also said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you–they are full of the Spirit and life. [Jhn 6:63 NIV] Want to speak life into someone’s heart? Imitate Jesus! Don’t flatter, don’t speak your own opinion, don’t fear to offend. Simply speak the truth in God’s Word.

Now there are similar passages in the bible that show Jesus’ demand for complete surrender to His will and obedience to His kingship:

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” [Mat 10:37–39 NIV]

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? [Mar 8:34–37 NIV]

I think fealty or loyalty, the type demanded by a king or military leader, is a good illustration in discussing these verses. Back in medieval times, a knight swore his fealty to the king on his life. The same in our military today. Complete loyalty and obedience to the superior officer is needed in the midst of battle or your own life or the lives of your fellow soldiers could be lost. So my questions are: How much more worthy is our King and Redeemer than a medieval monarch? How much more necessary to obey in battle when we know our fight is all-out war in the spiritual realm? We know how noble it is when a Marine or any military man or woman serves and defends their country and will give their life for that cause. How much more so for Christ? I want to challenge you to pray about these scriptures. If you are hesitant, ask the Lord to help you pray and what to pray, then wait. He will provide His steadfast love!

Let’s look at the contexts of some of these scriptures cited. In Luke, Jesus had just addressed the crowd of Jews and was pointing out that their priorities were out of whack. In the parable, people refused a great royal banquet because of a new field, a new pair of oxen, and a new wife. Now, I can understand a new wife being a loyalty challenge, but a couple of oxen and a plot of land? They just loved their possessions and relationships more than the Giver of the banquet. They were distracted by the newness of these earthly things, and didn’t recognize the honor owed to and greatness of the Inviter.

In Matthew, Jesus warns that He came to bring not peace to the earth, but a sword. One that would divide family members. He was emphasizing love for and loyalty to Him above any other loves in our life, especially including our own self.

In Mark, Jesus had just told His disciples that He would suffer many things and die. And Peter began to rebuke His master! I wonder what he was saying? “You surely won’t die…that doesn’t befit you…how will you rescue Israel?” Maybe. Yet Jesus’ answer was, “Get behind me Satan!” So, if you ever are tempted to think you won’t suffer for Christ, KNOW it is from our enemy. This is in direct contradiction to scripture: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….” [2Ti 3:12 NIV]. Will be. No might be. The Word speaks of it in other places as our destiny! So, I challenge you, when it comes, will you commit to being faithful to our Lord?

Now, did you ever consider that Peter had heard all these things? Yet, after adamantly telling Jesus he loved Him more than all the others and would follow Him to death, he still denied Christ. Doesn’t the Word say we are to be a living sacrifice to our Lord? I remember a quote from many years ago I heard that stated: “The only problem with a living sacrifice is that it crawls off the altar.” This is so human. And so was Peter. He loved, loved, loved our Lord. But something in his heart crumbled when faced with the reality of Jesus’ arrest and foretold death. Perhaps, when Peter boasted that he would die even if all the others betrayed Jesus, his pride, his confidence in himself, and not God, was the root of the cause. But even in this, the Lord restored Him, gave him power from on high, and used him for many years to shepherd the Church. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter would become a powerful preacher, healer, and teacher, and the Lord procured Peter’s victory in his martyrdom. So do not just resolve in your mind or feel cheerled or inspired to serve our Lord. Like Jesus said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Pray for His power.

Now I want to share the beautiful thing I promised would encourage you. The Lord tells us these things to prepare us, not scare us. And the best way we can be prepared is to have our hearts totally surrendered to Him–to give Him free reign in our life. It is a complete act of trust in the absolute and undeniable goodness of God. We often get cold feet when we think of giving complete control to God. At least I know I do! But remembering who He is and that He is the same One who showed His faithfulness and eternal good working throughout scripture can give us boldness. And this is the truth: He DEMANDS our complete surrender and INSISTS on love for Him above any other person or thing BECAUSE if we trust Him that much, He will give us the strength and the assurance of victory to live out our Christian lives. Paul said, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” [Phl 4:13 NIV] Paul lived a holy life, preached, pastored, suffered, endured prison, and died with the strength given to Him by our Lord. We simply can’t complete the tower or go to war without all the wealth and strength of our Almighty God. With our love and our very lives, let’s count Him worthy. Amen.

“He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes. [Deu 10:21 NLT]

He Alone is Worthy–Alvin Slaughter

Who’d be found worthy
In the heavens or the earth
To pay the debt of sin for everyone
Who could win the victory
Over death, hell and the grave
The Lion of the tribe of Judah
Jesus Christ the Son

He alone is worthy
To worship and adore
The Lamb of God victorious
Our risen Lord
He purchased our redemption
Our righteousness is He
Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy

He purchased our redemption
Our righteousness is He
Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy

Exalt the name of Jesus
He is worthy
He is worthy
He is worthy
He is worthy
Worthy worthy

Orthodoxy Drift:

How Semantics, Euphemisms, & Coined Phrases Influence the Church–Part I

“Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” [Jer 7:2–11 NIV]

I am going to attempt in a series of posts, relying fully on the Lord’s help, to point out that many words used by the inspired authors of the bible and coined phrases in use now have experienced or are experiencing a semantic shift in today’s culture, words like grace, works, freedom, and unconditional love. A semantic shift occurs when a word takes on a different connotation and meaning over time. For example, the term “gay,” back in the thirteenth century, meant “lighthearted or joyful, but in the fourteenth century also took on the connotation of “bright and showy.” The term “the gay ’90s” refers to the 1890s period of a happier and more simple time in the United States. I remember back in my high school days using the word to mean “dumb or boring,” as in, “No way. I don’t want to hang out with Pete at his house. That is so gay.” Today, of course, it almost always refers to a homosexual person or practice.

We also recognize word changes in today’s political euphemisms, terms like “ethnic cleansing” or or “the Final Solution” or “alternative facts.” The diabolical nature of using these words is that they obscure truth when they are used to justify an action or soothe our conscience. What kind of fruit do these words produce? That is my major concern in this post. When words get redefined in the Church, it has far-reaching effects. It leads to either great error such as occurs in heresies, or in well-meaning folks, misunderstanding that leads to either an incongruent life or a double bind. The devil can use this to confuse, mislead, and beat up the Lord’s sheep! So let’s look at a few biblical words, euphemisms, and coined phrases that have changed or are beginning to change in our time.

The first term I will tackle in this post is unconditional love, and then I’ll touch on the euphemisms we use for the word “sin.” We hear the phrase “unconditional love of God” a lot in churches today, so please don’t feel like I’m being critical of the folks who are–I am only trying to help us recognize the enemy’s subtle error (which I also have accepted in the past without any real evaluation of the term). The secular website, “The Good Men Project,” explains the phrase this way: “The general idea behind unconditional love is to love someone wholeheartedly and unselfishly under any circumstance. It is a love in which one person cares for another person’s overall happiness and health without expecting anything in return.”

The trouble with this definition is that most folks leave out a lot of qualifiers and exceptions not contained in the synopsis. For example, the article admits that staying in an abusive relationship is not productive, nor is objection to a unhealthy habit a negative. If we didn’t add these qualifiers, that would be taking the short definition way too far. We would become a doormat by letting others treat us however they want or giving to others every whim they demand. If humans can recognize that unconditional love is in this sense not healthy, because there are always exceptions, because we have boundaries, how much more can we not recognize that to expect unconditional love from God is not healthy for us, either? The Lord is not a doormat. He is God Almighty! But what the world reasons is that unconditional means just that–no conditions whatsoever. Why? Because it appeals to our flesh to have someone else totally committed to our happiness. The problem gets twisted because we, in our natural state, don’t know what makes us truly happy. For example, I used to think smoking cigarettes made me happy. The reality was it was not my overall happiness that was in view, but my momentary pleasure at experiencing the rush of the nicotine. (At the Lord’s command, I quit. I truly believe I would not be alive today had I not listened to Him. This is true happiness!).

Unbelievers do the same thing. They equate happiness with what is giving them pleasure at the moment. And that changes so fast because we are all fickle. A person may experience some negative consequence from one pleasure, then run to a different one. Then we preach the gospel message and the Holy Spirit convicts an unbeliever of the illicit pleasure, and they say, “You are being judgmental. You are not loving me unconditionally.”

Do you see the shift in meaning for the average person? Now, in psychology it is defined more appropriately, and professionals will correct these erroneous applications and the unhealthy outcomes they produce. They often liken unconditional love to a parent, especially a mother’s love for her child. She will patiently teach, correct, and fight for her child–even die for her child. This does reflect God in so many ways. But I find it interesting that that they choose the likeness of a mother, rather than that of a father. God likens Himself to a father. Perhaps because mothers can tend to be less harsh or can take love to unhealthy extremes because of their emotional makeup. (On a side note, I would like to point out that psychology recognizes the unhealthy application of the term unconditional love in people, but because of unbelief, will not acknowledge it toward their view of God, if any!). So, the mother analogy is more correct, but I think there is a tendency to forget the Lord’s more stern side because of this. And, inevitably, as we shall see, the parent-child analogy does not even uphold a loose or even strict reading of the term.

For example, the above definition says that unconditional love does not require or expect anything in return. How often do we find ourselves telling our children, “We feed you, with clothe you, we give you shelter–and you treat us like this? The natural reaction is pain and anger at the failed expectation of obedience or demonstration of love. What about the illustration of marriage? I think I’m getting this from a sermon I heard or book I read a while back. What if a couple got married and the husband never showed his wife affection, never spent time with her, never talked to her, and constantly hurt her feelings? Would the wife just accept this in the relationship? If human beings will not feel healthy or put up with (either emotionally or in actual action) such treatment, then how much more would the the Godhead not tolerate such things? “But He is God, He can handle it,” you might say. It is true He is more longsuffering than us, but that does not mean His expectations change or are canceled out because He is perfect. If He did, we would not be the benefactors of His ultimate good He intends! His love necessitates conditions, or we would come to spiritual ruin and die.

Now, a bit on the euphemisms for “sin.” The world today does a couple things when confronted with the gospel message that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Euphemizing sin makes it less offensive to ourselves, like a subtle justification that we are really not that guilty. People make “mistakes,” and are “not perfect,” or, my favorite, are “just fun-loving.” We use euphemisms for many other words for particular sins in the bible, such as “cohabitating,” for “fornication,” and “cheating” for “adultery.” My point is that people, even Christians, don’t like to be confronted with their sin. I feel it is important to use and define these words properly, especially for unbelievers, for the simple fact that they are used over and over in scripture. If the dots aren’t connected, or connected to a different meaning, the truths in God’s Word will not be understood or lose their power. For example, in Jeremiah, the Lord says, “Israel treated it all so lightly–she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. [Jer 3:9 NLT]. So, if the common word “cheated” is used here, it brings to mind the word “dishonesty,” instead of the repugnent sin the Lord used to illustrate Israel’s propensity to worship worthless idols. Our Lord desires understanding: “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.”[Hos 4:6 NIV]

Not only do the unsaved balk at the word “sin,” but they also associate it with rejection of their natural human worthiness or identity–a denial of the God-given dignity He desires for everyone. So, if we tell someone that homosexuality is sin in God’s eyes, they will shoot back that we should love unconditionally like Jesus did. They are right that we should do as Jesus did. He corrected. He reasoned. He told parables. He condemned sin. Did He love unconditionally as they mean it–to accept them just the way they are and bless their continuation of sin? Absolutely not! Jesus said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. [Mat 18:8–9 NIV] Jesus used violent terms and hyperbole to illustrate how we need to handle sin. We are not to mollycoddle our flesh. We are to crucify our flesh: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” [Gal 5:24 NIV] We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through any human means.

So, if we are to be imitators of God, does God love unconditionally? The term “unconditional love” does not occur in the bible. It was supposedly first coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm in the 1930s, then picked up on by the free-loving sixties culture. How is it that the Church has adopted this coined phrase from an atheist? Or, pardon me, to use his own euphemism, his “nontheistic mysticism?”

Now there are many illustrations in the bible that seem to allude to the unconditional love of God, such as the prophet Hosea marrying an immoral woman to illustrate to the Israelites the Lord’s fidelity even after all their spiritual prostitution to foreign gods. But this is not unconditional in any sense of today’s layman terminology. The Lord sought Israel’s repentance, a turning away from their sinful ways to embrace His righteous ways. God’s love is many things: compassionate, longsuffering, and faithful far above any human ideal. He draws us with His loving kindness: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” [Hos 11:4–5 NIV] So, in the sense that God overlooks sin or winks at it, continuing to bless us and let us continue in it, no, it is not unconditional. Our Lord has given us so many conditional, or if-then statements to receive His blessing –requirements to be met–and an expectation of obedience and for His love to be returned. Consider just the following verses from scripture:

You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. [Gen 4:7 NLT]

If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. [Deu 8:19 NIV]

If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God. [Deu 28:1–2 NIV]

If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. [1Sa 12:14–15 NIV]

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. [Isa 58:6–10 NIV]

If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me. [Mal 2:2 NIV]

You say, “But that’s the Old Testiment. We are under grace now through Christ our Lord.” Okay. Let’s check that out:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Mat 6:14–15 NIV]

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. [Mat 18:6 NIV]

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. [Mat 18:6, 15–17 NIV]

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” [Mar 8:38 NIV]

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. [Luk 14:26 NIV]

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. [Mat 10:37–39 NLT]

“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]

If you love me, keep my commands. [Jhn 14:15 NIV]

Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. [Heb 10:26 NLT]

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Rom 8:13 ESV]

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [1Jo 4:11 ESV]

And this is just a spattering of scriptures. How is it that we have bought the lie that the Lord’s love is unconditional? It seems that the Lord’s forgiveness and compassion rather show His faithfulness, not His tolerance of sin. Repentance and change is required to have God’s blessings. In order to do those things, there is an order in God’s wisdom. First, we need to believe in the Son of God. Jesus, when asked what work the Jewish people must do to be doing the works of God, said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [Jhn 6:29 ESV] Our response to the gospel message of faith in Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life MUST begin there. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [Jhn 3:3 ESV] We must experience new birth through the power of the Holy Spirit, new life in Christ wrought by His power. It needs to be in this order first so that it agrees with the rest of scripture that states salvation is an utter gift and victory given before we do anything good, and is lived out by the power of God. So belief, not in a god, a higher power, Allah, Buddha, or any other gods, but only in Christ Jesus (a condition, no?)–that He was who He said He was, that He did what his disciples said He did, and that His words are truly Spirit and life. I think part of the problem in the Church today is also the definition of faith or belief. How should we think about these two words? I will discuss that in my next post.

For now, I’d like you to be sure of what I am not saying. I am not saying God’s love isn’t amazing, nor longsuffering, nor superhuman, nor dependent upon who I am or how I live when I hear the gospel preached. That’s important, because Paul says that “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. [Rom 10:9–10 NIV] But please realize this is the start. This is the embryo of faith. We do not stop there. New birth happens. Growth should follow. How to walk in faith should follow. A baby that is fed and nurtured naturally grows. We are fed by the words of the Lord in the bible. We are nurtured and matured by the Holy Spirit.

I am also not saying that the Lord will not accept us when we repent. That is always his goal, to restore us, teach us, correct us–not condemn us. This side of eternity, His love is always held out to us. If you hear any of my words any other way, it is most likely spiritual battle (or I have not made myself clear enough). Often the enemy attacks when the Lord is trying to correct us for our good. What the Lord desires is godly sorrow that leads to repentance. [2 Corinthians 7:10-11] Do not listen to what Satan says:

Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” [Gen 3:1] What type of fruit does this produce?

We need to listen to our Lord: “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. [Isa 55:10–11 NLT] May God’s word prove true always! Amen.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross | Isaac Watts

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.