A Nation that Hates God

I have waited to pen this post for my emotions and news to settle down.  Yet despite a couple of days passing and even allowing myself to vent a bit on social media via various memes and shot statements, my emotions and my burden have not diminished.

You see, just this week, on the 48th Anniversary of the most divisive and evil decisions the US Supreme Court has ever issued – the Roe v Wade decision that with the stroke of judge’s gavels, opened the door the toe slaughter of over 60 million babies in this nation. Sixty million children never given the opportunity to experience life (for better or worse). It was that date in 1973 that the official seal of the United States was affixed by the justices of that dark court on the condemnation papers of this nation – officially rejecting God and any possible claim to “Christian Nation”.

On January 21, 2019, the New York State Legislature celebrated that evil day by passing a bill that had failed many times going all the way back to 2006.  Touted as the “New York Reproductive Health Act” (Senate Bill 2796, now Act 1748, having been signed proudly into law by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on January 22), this piece of far-reaching legislation not only removes all criminal penalties and even the definition of a crime from the death of infants from conception to natural childbirth, it seals the “right” to abort a baby for any reason a woman deems justifies her act in the State Constitution. Some argue that this law requires the pregnancy to be danger to the mother’s health to terminate in the last weeks of gestation – yet this caveat has been proven ineffective in many previous cases and state laws. pregnancy, by its nature, is a “risk to a mother’s health”. Childbirth itself still holds some risk to a mother’s health, and women really have died in childbirth. Therefore, the state of New York took a 48 year-old decision that already proclaimed a nation’s hate for God, and built a cathedral to the pagan god Moloch and is now laying shredded unborn babies on the high altar.

In the early days of Israel, the people were often led astray – pursuing the pagan gods of their neighbors. Among those pagan false gods was Moloch, a demonic religion that is believed to originated with the Phoenicians who lived in the area now known as Israel between 1550 BC and 300BC. Moloch was symbolized by a giant medal statue of a man with a bull’s head. Each statue had a hole in the abdomen and had outstretched arms that made a ramp into that hole.  The leaders of this religion would light a fire in the statue and babies were placed in the statue’s arms and pushed into the hole. The greatest sacrifice was believed to be that of the firstborn, and by offering that firstborn, the couple beloved Moloch would promise them financial prosperity.

moloch3.jpg

Sadly, the Israelites failed to root out this pagan religion when they were led back to the Promised Land and they quickly began incorporating Moloch into their own traditions. God specifically forbade such practice (Leviticus 18:21), but remnants continued even through King Solomon, who set up high places for Moloch and other pagan idols (1 Kings 11:1-8). In fact, Moloch worship wasn’t truly eradicated from the Israelite practices until they were carried away in the Babylonian captivity. You see – it took repeated and incredible judgement befalling Israel before they finally turned from this evil practice.

While you won’t generally hear purveyors and supporters of abortion refer to Moloch – you do hear the mantra “my body” – self worship – lifting themselves up as their own god. You will hear “its just a mass of cells” – completely ignoring scientific fact, biology, and genetics proving that even the freshly-conceived is a unique human being. They definitely ignore Scripture that plainly says that God knows us in our mother’s womb, that He Himself knits us together with His Divine hand (Psalm 139:13-14).

Indeed, if you want to discover why racism and hatred doesn’t seem to ever really die out? It is the root disregard for human life that has been systematically sustained via the practice of abortion. A practice that has so radically affected the Black community as to be on -par with the most egregious genocides in history.  When in New York State, a Black baby more likely to be aborted than born! Between 2012 and 2016 black mothers in New York City terminated 136,426 pregnancies and gave birth to 118,127 babies (Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2018). Staggering – yet exactly the kind of outcome Margaret Sanger was looking for when she founded Planned Parenthood. She was a proud purveyor of eugenics, and an avowed racist.

But we cannot stop at pointing fingers at New York for this recent abominable legislation, for abortion is still legal in all 50 states. Yes, some states have passed, or are trying to pass legislation to restrict the practice by age of the unborn, and some have gone so far as to try to ban them from the moment a heartbeat can be discerned (a threshold just as nebulous and stretchable as “health of the mother”). At the same time, another state (Vermont) is actively trying to pass a bill that is very similar to New York’s law, also making abortion legal from conception through natural childbirth. But lets be honest – one major factor in the abomination we are seeing unfold is that many churches have failed to proclaim the value of human life, or have selectively chosen which lives have value. How many so-called Christians have decried the inhumanity of deporting immigrant children brought into this nation illegally, have fought to pass laws regarding the protection of children from a variety of ills – yet refuse to call abortion what it is: murder? Abortion has gone from dark secret and shameful sin, to today’s “SHOUT YOUR ABORTION!” gleeful and open rebellion against God. And many Christian leaders have sat idle by, many of which only feigning grief over the issue. Further, entire denominations within the (overly-broad) umbrella of “Christianity” have chosen to throw their proverbial hat to support so-called “choice”, among them are the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church (according to the Pew Research Center). Even the traditionally “staunchly Pro-Life” Catholic Church is seeing major rifts.

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And when you combine what can only be accurately labeled as the American Holocaust of Abortion with the other paths our nation has chosen to run in direct opposition to God’s revealed will and design (not the least of which is the LGBTQetc… capitulations), and American has truly given the worst of Old Testament Israel and its neighbors a real run for the title of most ungodly and begging for judgement. Indeed, while I pray God withholds judgment on this nation, I cannot help but identify with the psalmists who wrote imprecatory psalms, crying out for God to judge the wicked, to squash the unrighteous and oppressors, for His namesake. And the sad truth is – just as happened in the Old Testament judgements, it isn’t’ just those practicing the worst of the unrighteous behavior that suffered.  Famine, pestilence, sieges, and captivity affected all, even those who were passionately pursing God.  Men, women, and children all suffered when judgement came. 

How much longer might God stay His hand of judgment on this nation? And with abortion becoming the #1 cause of death worldwide in 2018, we shouldn’t be surprised if we see God’s wrath poured out in a global sense.

And to those who still insist on calling the United States of America a “Christian Nation” – Please spare me the rhetoric. No nation has the right to call itself “Christian” when it kills 60 million of the most innocent of all humanity.

So – what is a genuine believer to do?  Should we just chew our nails and cry ourselves to sleep?  Far from it.  God calls His people to be watchmen on the wall – to cry out when danger is approaching. We are called to reveal the evil, to shine the Light on darkness.  And yes, to even share the Hope of Christ Jesus, even to the woman has has exercise “choice”. For the Grace of God is sufficient to redeem all who would believe (John 3:16) giving eternal life to all who come to genuine faith, who repent and believe the good news – and who experience the heart transplant only God can perform. And indeed, while we should be yelling from the rooftops, and in the hallways of capital buildings for real justice – we must also genuinely humble ourselves on our knees, repenting of our own sins, and begging God to send a revival across our land, beginning with US – those who profess to be His.  Because we cannot forget  1 Peter 4:17

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

2018—>2019?

What’s in a date change?  Beyond some business and personal fiscal year change (particularly tax year) stuff – the change from one year to the next is little more than the turn of a page on a calendar (or the putting up of a new calendar).

Yet we have made the year change into something bigger – though maybe with the wrong motives!  The calendar change doesn’t by some miraculous action “close out” any pains or griefs you experienced the year before (in this case, 2018).  The page turn doesn’t suddenly set you up for some grand spiritual “breakthrough” as some are posting.  And the changed digit in the year designation does not somehow give special powers to some grand and optimistic “resolution” you might make to undertake any number of changes (weight loss/health improvement, financial renovations, relationship adjustments, etc.). But the flipping of a number does give us an opportunity to reflect on the past year – to give an honest evaluation to where we have been, where we went, and where we are today – all in preparation for setting our eyes every more on the goals, aims, and purpose GOD has set before us in the new year.

But let me begin with a caution – don’t set some unrealistic goals and resolutions that you won’t keep!  You are simply adding to the burden society and the world in general throws at you and you are setting yourself up to fail – and year-after-year, what have the countless “resolutions” done for you? For most people, these repeated failures have done little more than to add defeat and disappointment.

I would propose a different tact this year as you begin trying to look forward to this new year: Focus on the LORD.  In Mark 12:30, Jesus responded to a Scribe who was questioning Him on which was the greatest of commandments with “…AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.”  The focus of God’s commands all go back to giving everything to the LORD – and trusting HIM with what comes.  It’s the spirit behind Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,

And He will make your paths straight.

One of the most difficult parts of life we face doesn’t’ come from the outside world, from those we work with, or those in positions of authority and leadership.  No – among the most difficult parts to deal with are those set up by our failure to heed these words!  We don’t place God at the very top and unquestioned position of priority in our lives.  Because of our low view of God, we don’t “trust in the LORD with all our hearts” – we trust in “ME” – until I fail… again.  Then we seek those in which to place blame, or even worse – we mess it up then blame God!  But what do we actually see here in this passage?  An incredible promise made when you quit relying on yourself and our own (in)ability to grasp the whole picture and to actually make good judgement in directing your path – and instead you acknowledge HIM in ALL your ways: acknowledge isn’t just naming or giving God credit, but literally means to KNOW Him – an intimate, close, life-changing, life-directing relationship with HIM where you are constantly seeking HIM and His will in everything you do.  Thus bringing a promise that if we will quit doing it “our way”, quit trying to be masters of our own fate – and simply seek HIM in all things, in all ways – He WILL “make your paths straight”.  What is a straight path here? It simply means that He will – just as we can see over-and-ver in the conquest of the Promised Land in the book of Joshua – when Joshua and the people committed everything to God’s will and plan – they experienced 100% victory.  When they deviated from God’s direction -they often stumbled and suffered greatly.  And in every single time – when they completely sought God’s will and followed it – God always delivered – and He still does today!  We just have to realize that HIs answers and direction may very well run contradictory to our own desires and opinions!

Life is a minefield – and God has not promised us a smooth, explosion-proof journey.  He has promised to direct our paths and to guide us IN that minefield.  But sometimes we are in a minefield to make a difference for others – especially those who have deviated from God’s path and stepped on those mines!  And lest we forget – helping people (truly loving our neighbors) can be a dirty and messy endeavor!  But if we are there WITH God – following God with everything in our being – trusting HIM and HIS way over our own – He will see us through, and ultimately – see us Home!

So – regardless of what your flesh and culture are telling you to focus on in 2019 – or the resolutions that you may be mulling around in your brain – how about being resolived first and foremost – in truly KNOWING the LORD as never before, fully trusting in HIS grace – and following HIM in all things as He directs your path!

Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

…because we love the brethren

As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more.  Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.

As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.

Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain.  You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)

Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross!  And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”.  A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”.  It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).

And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.

Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.

Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.

It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.

And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).

Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.

Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?

Or do you abide in death?

The Problem…

As I sit on my scheduled “day off”, soaking in the after effects of our Palm Sunday services while also ruminating on all that I see in the news of the day, I can’t help but reflect on all the insane finger-pointing. The United States is a nation in decline.  Yes, our economic state is slightly improved, but that is rapidly being undone by uncontrolled Federal spending (thanks to a brand new Omnibus spending bill of over $1.3 Trillion that carries us through 6 months… seriously!) We see lots of senseless death, from school shootings, to a literal epidemic of young black males killing each other on the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities.  We see a radical discrimination – where the media and rabid freedom-hating protestors get emotionally up-in-arms, organizing widely-expensive “March For Our Lives”, funded in large part by radically Leftist (and almost universally unregenerate-acting) celebrities, over a single school shooting where the victims were, interestingly enough – caucasian, while these same deep-pocket celebrities essentially ignore the hundreds already dead in inner-city, predominantly black communities.  It takes the “tears of white mothers” to stir up action?  And then the “action” is against inanimate objects and totally ignores the perpetrators, the government and law enforcement agencies that flat-out failed to take any action that would most certainly have prevented this most recent mass shooting altogether – all adding up to a failure to see our problems as symptoms of a greater illness – indeed a disease that is absolutely going to destroy this nation.  It isn’t guns.  It isn’t video games. The disease isn’t violent entertainment or misogynistic, hate-filled music, or a failure for people to be able to even acknowledge basic biology (gender). The problem is not a tool or the endless list of symptoms above – but a heart issue.

Scripture is clear – Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that:

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

We have a problem known as sin – and it is a disease that has infected mankind since almost the very beginning. In fact, Scripture clearly says that All have sinned… (Romans 3:23).  And the sin problem in our nation (and world) is not improving – and I would like to propose that a major part of the problem is “US” – the evangelical world.  Oh – we may say we love Jesus.  For that matter, we have libraries full of love songs to Jesus (that too often sound more like love songs between high school sweethearts than adoration of the Holy, Righteous, and glorious Sovereign Creator!)

We have a sin problem – and while the problem isn’t new, the “Church” (especially evangelical churches) have dropped the ball – whether it is simple laziness, complacency, or even proclaiming what the Apostle Paul called “false gospels” – we have actually contributed TO the sin problems in our nation.  Doubt this?  Take an honest look into your local church. Look around – what do you see?  Yes, you see a room full of sinners – we all fit that category.  BUT – do you see in those same people – growing, maturing, and sin-shunning (constant-repenting) believers who are walking by faith?  Chances are, in many “evangelical churches” (regardless of denomination), you will find quite the opposite.  You will find a percentage that fit the above, but you will find far more who are little more than church attenders who have two persons – a Sunday Morning face, and the other 6.5 days personality. Let me further explain.

Jesus gave His great command to His church to make disciples.  For many years, from the first church in Jerusalem, we see a model laid out before us – people lived out their faith in a way that strengthened said faith, that aided each other to grow together in their walk – to see lives genuinely transformed in such a way that they were a beacon of hope, even when under incredible persecution. We still see some startling examples today in nations that are far from Christ-friendly; where Christians indeed walk in faith and where they absolutely understand the need to make disciples.

Return for a moment to the USA – where many see a man-centered religion. What happened? Back in the late 1800’s, a wave swept across evangelical Christianity – some look back with fondness, while most Bible-believing Christians who look through a more Berean lens (discerning) see something far different.  Preachers like Charles Finney began preaching dramatic, emotionally-charged sermons pleading for listeners to come to Jesus. It was the advent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” movement – where “decisions” were made based on feelings and tears (often contrived) verses genuine conversion via the Holy Spirit’s conviction and regeneration. The movement became all about what is known as “synergistic salvation”: a gospel that lays as much or more of salvation’s work on the heart of men (remember the Jeremiah quote near the beginning of this entry?). A feelings-based, emotionally-driven profession of faith, followed rapidly by baptism and adding to a church roll. Great!  But where are the growing disciples who are then to be disciple-makers?  That just didn’t really happen.  Numbers-driven ministry  only continued to take over Gospel-driven ministry. In fact, it was this same existential, pragmatic religious movement that gave birth to what we now know as pentecostalism and other Charismatic faiths, and the erroneous belief that mankind, once genuinely saved, can somehow be plucked form Jesus’ own hand (John 10:28-30). As the dramatically evolving Christianity in America began to spread – Christianity became more and more man-centered and less God centered.  We saw church building expanding along with growing church staffs to manage these growing churches – and with it the ever-growing budgetary needs to sustain these growing organizations.

But it wasn’t just these growing local churches (and so-called “mega-churches”), but even smaller local churches also started to shift towards man-centered ministry and beliefs (even doctrines). With this came the various degrees of the “prosperity gospel” and now the Social Justice/Social Gospel that substitutes the doing for proclamation and motives.

Let me return in this rambling post back to core doctrines that have contributed to our national issues – We have two common models that have evolved since/from the Finney/revivalist era – those that have attempted to remain true to core doctrines and biblical teaching – but have slipped into a form of practical legalism: after a person says a prayer for Jesus to come into their heart (I have yet to find a biblical reference or example), and we get them quickly baptized – we then throw what amounts to a list of rules for Christian conduct at them – then hope it sticks. Keep the 10 Commandments – Don’t make or bow down to idols – yet we have no problem with filling our homes and lives with literal shrines to our favorite sports team, entertainment stars, or hobbies (Whoo Pig Sooie!), don’t kill (though we forget Jesus equated hate towards a neighbor to be like murder), honor your mother and father (while we sit idle by watching society tell kids to dishonor parents and always buck the system). We say to not steal (while many cheat on their taxes, have no problem with being accidentally under-charged for a purchase, or take advantage of someone’s lack of understanding to gain an extra dollar). We say “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while turning a blind eye to the rampant divorce and remarriage rate WITHIN churches.  We MIGHT say to not “covet” what others have – yet we church folks can run with the best of the “keeping up with the Joneses”. And the list goes on –

On the other branch, we see churches that make similar please to “love Jesus”, yet make no expectation at all of change.  Indeed, the functional message is – come as you are (great!), and when you go home – go home unchanged – except with a smile on your face! We see a catering to the tastes and preferences of specific “target groups” through affinity-based churches (churches that are centered and founded on interests or lifestyles – think biker churches, cowboy churches, outdoorsmen churches, etc.) We see the growth of entertainment/flash-based churches where style, excitement, and experience reigns supreme over the Word of God and the clear-preaching of it.

The Gospel, when it is proclaimed is a gospel that helps people understand the genuine nature of sin – the genuine cost of sin (both in this temporal world and more importantly – in eternity).  The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love that was demonstrated in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but is also recognized as genuinely good news because we see also Gods’ wrath that is poured out on ALL unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And when God (not man) applies the true, and full Gospel to the hearts of men – regenerating their heart of stone for His heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we should anticipate – indeed fully expect change to come. A desire to please God, to know God, to serve God who paid such a high price for our forgiveness – the same God who, through Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath WE deserve.

And with that change of heart and progressive sanctification (the ongoing growing more like Jesus) we begin to better reject sin and more interestingly – we begin to be able to exercise Judgment/Discernment.  Yes – that ugly word that so many, even professed Christians, are so scared of. We mis the understanding of just what KIND Of judgement we are suppose to exercise.  Our judgment should be connected to and based on Scripture.  We should see God’s Word as inerrant (in its original manuscripts) and completely trustworthy from cover-to-cover and trust it to be the judge of all that we see and must make decisions about. See more about this HERE.

And as we bring this all forward and look to the downward spiral of our nation- where we point fingers at guns, politicians, organizations, etc – let us not forget that many who march against rights, who point blame, who even spew some pretty nasty words – are folks who sit in a char or pew on Sundays. Let us not forget that many who commit crimes and other acts of violence were “brought up in church” and were even considered by some to be “good people”.

Some shout: “THEY NEED JESUS” to which I give a hearty “AMEN!”. But they need Jesus then they need to see good, biblical, Godly examples – not a soup of rules and contradictions along with selective picking and choosing of what parts of the Bible are applicable and dependable.  They need Jesus – and discipleship.  They need churches to not just throw rules at them, but preach doctrines that are 100% Bible-based. They need genuinely born-again Christians to extend a hand to them to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (that we can’t forget included whips and overturning tables as well as calling sin – sin, and calling wolves and snakes what they are). It means that, while we recognize that God is the “Great Physician”, He owes us nothing! While God can and will provide our needs, He is under no obligation to provide the lusts of our flesh! It means recognizing the absolute necessity to die to self every day (to prefer the will of God and the needs of others over ourselves).

This also means that we must come out of our little protected enclaves we call “churches” and open our hearts and lives up to “those people” – whether they look different than us, act differently than us (are we shocked when people who are unregenerate and without Jesus act like they are unregenerate and without Jesus?). It means we must be willing to call out those who profess to be born-again believers in Jesus who walk in unrepentant sin, reflecting the flesh of the world instead of the Light of Christ.

Lest we forget the message of this little Jewel from the Mark Trammel Quartet:

We cannot guilt and arm-twist people into saying a “sinners prayer” and expect real change. WE must recognize that salvation is not of man, of grand speech, or clever argument – it is 100% of the Lord – as a FREE GIFT, granted by faith, not of any merit of ability we have – (Ephesians 2:8-10). But again, this is just the beginning. While genuine salvation is sure – and we can confirm it by seeing the very change it brings both immediately and long-term, we are called to repentance for a purpose – to be the living, breathing Gospel to those around us as we ourselves journey to know Christ and to make Him known!

And the sooner we realize and trust that it is God who converts the sinner into a saint, the quicker we begin to get about doing what Jesus actually commanded US to do – MAKE DISCIPLES.  Not mindless religious zombies.  Not another generation of unrepentant and shallow “church members”, but to teach, equip, and walk along-side those who we know and seeing them through from lost, to saved, to growing and mature Disciples who then become disciple-makers themselves.  If we in the Evangelical world would take Christ’s command as given, turn lose of measures that revolve around numbers (seats filled in church services and offering totals), and get serious about helping people to grow to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ – we will see first – a resurgence of the true Church of Jesus Christ – we will see churches that are spiritually healthy.  But as an extension, we will see communities changed for the good, the needs of those around us better met – and we will see the Kingdom of God as never before!

But as I preached yesterday (Palm Sunday) – it will cost us something – it will cost us our idols, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But let us not forget – it cost Jesus everything!

It isn’t about being a “social justice warrior” as many en the evangelical world have become – for the works of our hands alone will make no real difference. It isn’t about a social “gospel” – for that makes no eternal difference at all (indeed – it makes do-gooders who can’t seem to do real good at all). Let us be Christ-followers – as individuals and as local churches.

If you currently are a part of a local church that not only proclaims the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ – a church that places a top priority on actual, one-on-one, Bible-based, Christ-glorifying disciple making – congratulations – you have found  a Jewel!  Treasure it and be an active part in it.

If, on the other hand, you find upon real, Berean-like examination according to Scripture that your “church” really isn’t much of a church at all – but a purveyor of man-centered doctrines and theologies – of flesh-pleasing programs, of man-glorifying religion – then I implore you – seek out a church that truly sees the Bible as the Word of God: every page of the 66 books of the inspired, divine revelation of our Lord – a church that takes seriously the command to make disciples – submit to sound Biblical teaching and to being discipled – with a goal of becoming a disciple-maker and using what God has given you in material and spiritual gifts to serve Him.

And to that – I humbly submit the church I pastor – not because I am the pastor, for anything good First Baptist Church may have or display is more in spite of my leadership than because of it! Yes, we have “issues”, as any and every institution made up of human beings will have.  But you will also find that we recognize our shortcomings and are constantly seeking ways to grow in Christ, to deal with the “demons”, and to be the salt and light.  We would love to have you visit, but even more – if you genuinely want to be what Christ has called people to be – join us in our journey! First Baptist Church.

A Burger King god

This post was originally posted by the author on his Old Blog and represents one of his favorite (and oldest) posts.

There is a “new” and destructive trend blowing through Christianity.  But in reality, this trend is nothing new.  The Apostle Paul wrote stern warnings, and Jesus Himself warned of this trend.

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.(Galatians 1:8-9)

From the earliest days of Christianity – even when Jesus still walked the earth – there were already twisted “alternative” views of the gospel developing, even in the hearts of Christ’s own inner circle.  This trend really began to take off once the Gospel began to spread soon after the day of Pentecost.

I have said from the pulpit that the root of all of this is Satan and his use of the natural human nature towards pride and selfishness.  After all, Satan is described as being like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Which brings us to a quote I heard (and read) several years ago:

  Satan couldn’t beat the church, so he joined it.

The first time I heard that, I was speechless.  And then I began to open my eyes.  If God’s Word is unchanging.  If God HIMSELF is unchanging, then there can be only one correct understanding of scripture – thus only one true Gospel.

So how do we get to where we are today?  Simply by people, under the leadership of Satan (and I believe oftentimes these people are not even aware of it – they have also been deceived, to a point), have “joined” churches, have worked/manipulated themselves into positions to teach and eventually preach another gospel – all with the intent of helping themselves (fleshly/selfish desires), and Satan in “devouring” those they can deceive.

Somehow today, we have, just in the mainstream “versions” of Christianity (denominations).  This chart is in no particular order, except the first column being the biblical statement:

chart

All claim to be “right” in regards to who Jesus is – who God is – and what the gospel is.  But can these be all correct?
Let us return to Paul’s warning in Galatians – if ANYONE – angel or human- preaches to you a gospel different from the one Paul and his ministry companions did – let them be “accursed” – run from them, do not tolerate them.
Jesus dictated a series of 7 letters in Revelation 2 & 3.  Five were subjected to serious condemnation and warnings – and the primary reason – false teachers.  Those who were teaching and preaching another gospel.  Whether it be “Judaizers” or “Jezebels”, they were leading people down the path of destruction – and those churches were to deal strongly with them – and not tolerate it one bit.
And this all comes from the selfish “belly” of people and Satan.
So where does the title of this post, “Burger King god” come from?  In each case – when the image or character of God is changed to the preferences of mankind, that is no longer God.  He becomes nothing more than a Whopper ordered “your way” at Burger King.
Just this morning, I saw a reply to a post regarding the young girl, Jahi McMath, who has been declared brain dead after an apparent serious reaction to anesthesia having a tonsillectomy.  This post reminded me of just how much of a “custom-made-to-order” god that is being preached in churches.
claimit

Where in scripture are we, as believers, given the authority to command God perform a miracle and raise someone from the dead (or to demand He do anything else?).  Nowhere.  Pray- yes.  Plead with God on behalf of others (intercessory prayer)?  Yes.  But the only god that is subject to human commands is a Burger King god – done YOUR way.

And we wonder why there are so many disillusioned professed “Christians” floating around in this world.  It’s because they were sold a bill of goods by those “enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ” who told them that they could just “ask Jesus into their hearts” and he would make life easy, bless them financially, and they would be “heaven-bound” no matter what happened.

  • No repentance (a change of mind and heart regarding sin – an intentional TURNING FROM sin).
  • No God-transplanted heart of righteousness
  • No sincere sustaining faith
  • No real conviction of the Holy Spirit
  • Just have an experience and/or see “signs and wonders”
  • And god becomes your servant…
  • It is time for churches who have allowed false teachers to hijack them to repent!  It is time for Christians to repent!  It is time to get back to God’s Holy Word. It is time to stand up and call sin what it is – sin.  No situational ethics.  No ever-changing and “living” God’s Word that conforms to the times.
  • It is time to stand against those who proclaim a prosperity gospel.
  • It is time to stand against those who preach a gospel of liberation theology.
  • It is time to stand against those who would create their own Burger King god.

It is time to get back to the Word of God.  The same Word of God that says clearly that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  The same Word of God that clearly states that the wages of sin – is death.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you have decided you were “made that way” – sin, is sin.

It is time to get back to who God (in Jesus) really is – the perfect Lamb of God who came, not “to be a good teacher”, not even to heal and preach (though in His grace, He did).  Jesus came with one and only one purpose – to die in our place, pouring out His precious blood on the cross, that sinners might be saved from the wrath of God.  Yes – the very wrath that so many want to ignore or forget about.  Jesus died that we might live – eternally.  But that will never happen with a Burger King god.

Jesus didn’t die (and rise from the dead) so you can command Him to raise your loved one or friend from death.  Jesus didn’t die and rise from the dead so that you could have a fat bank account, a fine home, and all the luxuries this world has to offer.  Jesus died that sinners might stand before a Holy and Righteous God and be viewed in the righteousness of Christ, not our own unrighteousness.

And for those who are truly saved, born-again, in Christ Jesus, are made new creatures.  Put off the old self, for in Christ we are made new.  Read Colossians 3.

God is not who you, in the flesh, want Him to be.  God is God.

Who Is Jesus? (Deity of Christ) Part 5: Who Can Forgive but God?

Luke 5:20-21 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus clearly made many claims of His own Deity – see the previous installments of this series of posts. But we finally see an acknowledgement from even His opponents in the above passage. The Scribes and the Pharisees themselves knew that ONLY God had the authority of forgive sin. Yet here was Jesus, the lowly Carpenter from Galilee, son of Mary and Joseph – a man who was forgiving sins.

Under what authority did anyone have to forgive sins?  None – because sin, ultimately, is an offense to God almighty – the Sovereign of the Universe who is “Holy Holy Holy”. and here Jesus either is usurping the title and works of God (an act of blasphemy), or He was simply doing the very work of His Father which he repeatedly said He was doing (See John 6, for example).

And indeed, Christ’s one and only mission in His incarnation as God in the flesh – and that was to march head-long to the cross – to offer Himself as the only, perfect, and complete sacrifice for the payment in full of the sin debt of all who would believe.

At the most fundamental level – and the most important theological reality of all: God Himself paid the price for the very sins that separate mankind from Him.  A price that we could never pay ourselves. The price that the blood of millions of goats, rams, bulls, pigeons, doves, and so much more could never reconcile. It required the perfect, sinless blood of the Spotless Lamb of God – and He paid it all that we might live. No angel, no created being could ever be enough to settle the debt, but God Himself.