Saturday, November 3, 2012

Identifying Evil

What is evil? When someone refers to an “evil” person, chances are they're referring to a murderer, or a criminal, or someone sexually degenerate. But what if that sweet little old lady next door is an evil person? What if a family member is evil? What if someone sitting next to you in church is evil? How do you know?

Even by definition (the world's, not necessarily the Bible's), evil means “morally wrong or bad; harmful.” So if someone is morally wrong – even though perhaps they are a good neighbor – then they are appropriately defined as evil. If someone causes you harm, then they can be defined as evil.

“But wait a minute! Every person has a different standard of morality. What's to say you're right and I'm wrong?” And that argument is exactly why we need the word of God. If there is no moral standard, then evil is in the eye of the beholder. If right and wrong are measured by who harms me and who pleases me, then now you have reached the classic textbook definition of narcissism. “It's all about me!”

Here's what the Bible says, “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:12). Even without the further definition of the Scriptures, there are some things that can be immediately pulled from the text concerning an evil person. If the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and against those who do evil, then an evil person is someone who is NOT righteous.

What does it mean to be righteous? As the word suggests, it is to do right and to be right – not according to our own standards or definitions, but according to the Lord's. If God says it's right, it's right … and to do otherwise is evil. As James says, “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

The second definition of evil regards that which is harmful. Lazarus is a good biblical example – the beggar, not the dead guy. Jesus tells us about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man – in torment – begs for mercy from Father Abraham, who responds, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” (Luke 16:25).

Lazarus received bad things in life (lit., evil). We can't assume this is simply misfortune, since God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Everyone experiences misfortune … this is about mistreatment. Lazarus was poorly treated because of his position in life, while the rich man was treated well in life because of his money. James speaks of such partiality, “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4).

Notice also the way Jesus describes those who simply will not prepare for the Master's return … His return. “If that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:38-51).

So Jesus' description of an evil slave is one who won't prepare for His return, one who mistreats his fellow servants, mixes and mingles with the world, and is actually nothing more than a hypocrite. No wonder James says that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4).

How do we identify evil though? That's the question on the table. Yes, a mass murderer is evil … but so is your aunt Susie who goes to church every Sunday, but gossips about everyone in the neighborhood on Monday-Saturday. What she is doing is harmful. It is evil. Your friend, Billy Bob, is evil, too. Yup, he's a good guy. He would loan you his mower, fill it with gas, and do the mowing himself … but he's cheating on his wife. What he's doing is morally wrong. It's evil.

Jesus said, “The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matthew 12:35). That means all we have to do is pay better attention, because “the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The fact that someone is related to you doesn't change the fact that their fruit is rotten. The fact that they sit next to you in church doesn't excuse the sins being committed out in the community.

The apostle Paul writes that “the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Oh, and he wrote that to the church … not so that they could identify things that were happening out in the world, but things that were occurring within the church.

Modern congregations have somehow come to believe that they can live one way on Sunday and another way throughout the week … that their behavior on this earth doesn't really matter … that God's love will tell His justice to put its hands over its eyes and count to a zillion. Folks, these are nothing more than lies. This earth and it's works are going to be destroyed by fire. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV).

For most of biblical history we read about the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews were Jews … the Gentiles were everyone else. It's the same way today for Christians. Either you are one or you're not. Either you're living a righteous life, or you're not. Either your life is holy and godly, or it's not. Either you belong to Christ or you belong to the devil … “the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious” (1 John 3:10).

Identifying evil isn't as difficult a task as some want to make it. The word of God is still our standard, and Christ our example. Fruit – or a lack thereof – still speaks volumes. This is a message that the world – and the church – so desperately needs to hear.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Will the Lord "Give You Five"?

I have heard all my adult life concerning law enforcement that they will “give you five” where the speed limit is concerned. The idea is simple enough, and certainly understandable. Holding exactly to the speed limit is a tricky thing. Perhaps in order to pass someone going 59mph in a 60mph zone you speed up to 63mph. Maybe you hit a long downhill stretch, and gravity takes you over the speed limit. It could be that you just have a nervous foot and your speed fluctuates a mile or two here and there. Holding the speed limit PERFECTLY is near impossible, therefore the cops “give you five.”

But will the Lord?

It has become commonplace in the churches to excuse sin. One congregation describes themselves as “a place where an imperfect people can meet a perfect God.” Oooh! That sounds spiritual, doesn't it? “We're all just sinners saved by grace!” That's another catchy phrase that's thrown around. One congregation not far from me claims on their signboard to mimic the “tolerance and acceptance and forgiveness” of Christ. How wonderful! Or is it?

Is there even one passage of Scripture in which Jesus excuses sin? Is there even one verse in which God forgives sin apart from repentance? Is there even one apostle who taught that now – under the New Covenant – sin is tolerated and accepted?

Unless you are content to completely ignore or dismiss them, what do we do with Scriptures like the following? “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus said it, I didn't. How will you rationalize it in order to make it say other that what it says? “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4). Yup, there it is … in black and white. “... prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). “... be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).

My, oh my! These verses seem to be pretty obvious. How come we never hear words like “perfect,” “holy,” “blameless,” “innocent” and “spotless” being preached from the pulpits, or printed in the church promotional brochures? Why do the committees putting together church outreach and mission statements choose to focus on the admission of sin rather than the remission of sin?

A brother's article I read this last week made a startling point – and a valid one: If God did not excuse sin within His own Son, but allowed Him to be crucified with it – because of it – then what makes us think God will overlook our continued attraction to what Jesus died to remove from us?

Maybe it's time to revisit the truth of our original statement, that law enforcement “give you five” where the speed limit is concerned. For the sake of the argument, will use a speed limit of 60mph. Regardless of whether the law officer overlooks it or not, 61mph is over the speed limit … and therefore against the posted law. The sign does not say you MUST go 60mph, it says that is the limit you must not exceed. Therefore, if you want to stay within the confines of the law, why not drive 55mph? That way, even if you fluctuate a bit you will not break the law. The fact that everyone else exceeds the speed limit is irrelevant, it's still against the law. The fact that no one else is around does not matter, it's still against the law.

Now let's talk about God. Do you really think He'll “give you five”? If He tells you clearly not to do something, do you feel safe doing it just a little bit? Are you going to bet your soul that His forgiveness will come to the rescue when you “just weren't paying attention” or were just “going with the flow” of the spiritual traffic?

I say, why take the risk? The Lord has established limits and boundaries … so stay within them! “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? [2] May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). But if you do sin, then do not hesitate … repent of the sin! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

That's what we want to be before the Lord … clean! Perfect! Blameless! Innocent! Spotless! Holy! “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, [15] but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; [16] because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

It's time for people – and the churches – to stop making excuses for sin. The Lord will NOT give you five. As the Lord said to the woman caught in the act of adultery, so He says to each one of us, “Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Plastic Fruit Generation

When I was a child, I remember visiting numerous homes that had a bowl of plastic fruit on the table. The apples, bananas, pears and grapes looked absolutely perfect. They looked just like the real thing … only they weren't the real thing. No matter how they looked, you couldn't eat them. They were stunning representations of fruit, yet they were completely hollow inside. They were not genuine. They were fakes.

Such fakes are abundant among the contemporary church. Congregations celebrate their anniversaries – 50 years, 100 years, 150 years – yet they cannot celebrate spiritual growth. There is a deficiency in biblical knowledge and moral excellence that rivals any time period in human history. So many people call themselves Christian, but the claim is like the plastic fruit – false and hollow.

If I pass a flock of sheep on the road and see that every one of them is suffering from malnutrition, then it would be logical to assume that the shepherds are at fault. If one or two were thin and gaunt, I could perhaps blame it on the sheep. Maybe they refuse to eat. Maybe they're sick. But if an entire flock is deficient, it is because the shepherds have failed in their duties. If preachers are not preaching … if shepherds are not shepherding … if the flock does not receive food that is either sufficient in quantity or quality … then it is no wonder the churches are dying.

Where is the REAL fruit of the Spirit?
Galatians 5:22-23 says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

The modern church claims to be bearing such fruit, yet it is clear upon further inspection that – despite its perceived beauty among the community – it is not a genuine fruit. Love is acceptance, joy is happiness, peace and patience are tolerance, kindness and goodness refer to good works, faithfulness is applied to church attendance and giving, gentleness means keeping your mouth shut and not rocking the boat, and self-control is pasting on a Christian face, which in truth is hypocrisy.

So what's missing? The word of God! There is no fruit of the Spirit that is real without a foundation in and connection with that which has been the primary work of the Spirit. “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). If so-called fruit of the Spirit does not define itself against the backdrop of the Scriptures, then the fruit is fake.

Love is so popular in the church today, yet Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). “The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; [5] but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:4-5).

Joy is used interchangeably – and wrongly - with happiness. Happiness is based on physical stimuli, while joy is the product of a spiritual relationship with the Lord. I'm happy when my day goes well and sad when it goes bad, but in Christ I can be joyful despite a bad day, knowing that it has no affect on my eternal status. Again though, there must be an attachment with the word of God. “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, [7] so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). The Thessalonians were not happy to receive tribulation, but they accepted the word of the Lord joyfully, knowing it was producing something eternal.

Everyone wants peace, but the peace which is in the Lord's fruit basket isn't a peace with the world or with your fellow man. Jesus asked, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). This is about peace with God through Christ. “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, [35] but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. [36] The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:34-36).

Patience is what we show to those who are resisting the word of God. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Kindness is what we have received from the Lord … and what we must show to others in the same manner. He was kind enough to give us His word. We must be kind enough to share it with others. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, [3] if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Goodness is excused in almost every congregation I've ever attended. The excuses pour forth … “We're just sinners.” … “We're imperfect.” John Welsey's “social holiness” is substituted for real holiness and moral excellence. This is not what the Bible teaches. Paul says, “Walk as children of Light [9] (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), [10] trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

Faithfulness is falsely associated with records of regularity in attendance or giving. It is properly associated with the word of God. “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Gentleness does not mean you are a pushover. As one of my college professors used to say regarding the beatitude, “Meek does not mean weak.” We must confront false doctrine. We are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Thus Paul writes, “The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, [25] with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

And self-control implies that knowledge alone is not enough. It must be tempered with wisdom. Consider Peter's words, “in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, [6] and in your knowledge, self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-6). To those who say they have faith, show me your moral excellence. To those who depend upon their moral excellence to save them, show me your knowledge of the Scriptures. To those who claim to be experts in the Scriptures, show me that you have the wisdom to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

A bowl of fake fruit may impress the world. It may look good on the cover of “Better Homes & Christians.” All the bad apples will applaud and invite the top fake banana to speak at their conventions. The hollow grapes will whine for a copy of the latest bestseller from the popular pear. To me, it just looks fake. I wouldn't eat it. And I'm certainly not going to claim that it's real. If I'm going to worship, I want to worship with those who do so “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

“Oh, you shouldn't judge!” someone screams out. “Jesus said so!” What did I say earlier about knowledge without wisdom? In that same chapter – Matthew 7 – Jesus said very clearly, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? [17] So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

I'll take the eternal wisdom of Christ over the tolerant wisdom of the weak. Watch out for the fakes! Pay attention to the fruit! See if it's hollow or rotten. If so, then it's of no value. Stay away from it! Check to see what kind of a tree the fruit's attached to. If it isn't attached to the word of God, it's a bad plant … a destructive plant which will eventually be thrown into the fire.

I want more than plastic fruit! I want real fruit! Thus I will fix my eyes on Jesus – “the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). “He is the radiance of [God's] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). I will also look for those who are fitting “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20) … those who understand that we also are to be exact representations of God's nature. “As He is, so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

It's up to us to inspect the evidence. That was Christ's intention. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). The proof is in the fruit bowl. All you have to do is look. Would you like plastic or perfect?

Monday, October 22, 2012

When Is the Church Not the Church?

I understand why Jeremiah wept for his people. Their willful ignorance brought about spiritual blindness. They accepted leaders who led them in error. As Jesus said, “If a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Unfortunately, this describes the vast majority of churches today … blind men leading blind men.

I'm sure that many will consider me overly critical or too judgmental. How I wish such people would actually read the Scriptures they claim to follow! Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Righteous judgment is that which God has clearly declared in His word. This is a pattern clearly established for us by the apostles.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of those who preach “another Jesus” and “a different gospel.” He speaks of Christians who have received from such preachers “a different spirit” (2 Corinthians 11:4). It is righteous judgment that causes him to declare such men to be “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” (2 Corinthians 11:13). His rationale for making such a declaration is based upon the evidence of comparison. He has set their words and actions against the measuring rod of God's revealed word and found them to be liars. And “no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. [15] Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

Now then, as Christians who are supposed to let God's word guide us, how do we apply such reasoning to the church today? We already have the Spirit's prophetic words recorded, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, [4] and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, [12] in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Let's use a little simple common sense here. Two churches each declare they preach and teach the truth, yet their doctrines are the polar opposite of one another. Either one church is right and the other is wrong … or they're both wrong … but logic dictates that they cannot both be right if they teach opposing viewpoints.

Now let's apply that to modern churches. They all teach different things, yet none of them will admit to being wrong. Therefore – by virtue of simple logic – the majority, if not all of them, are wrong based upon they're doctrinal inconsistencies with one another. This is not the working of the Spirit of God. We have an apostle of Christ who has declared, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). The divisions prove “a different spirit” and “a different gospel.”

So when is the church not the church? When the claim is not backed up by the evidence. When preachers utilize more of men's words than God's words and preach a gospel of ease and convenience. When church leaders are so ignorant of the Scriptures that they do not know the difference between real teachers and false teachers. When members blindly imitate the faith of such leaders before first “considering the result of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7).

The Bereans of old “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Today's Christian knows nothing of God's word. They are given simplified versions of the text with accompanying pictures and videos and STILL do not grow spiritually. “Always learning,” they are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” By their own willful ignorance, they “oppose the truth.” They are a people “of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith.” The apostle – writing this about supposed “Christians” - says “they will not make further progress,” and “their folly will be obvious to all” (2 Timothy 3:7-9).

It is obvious to me. I wish it were as obvious to everyone else. When tolerance replaces faithfulness, there is a problem. When Christian behavior is determined by the majority rather than by our Master, there is a problem. When preachers can keep their jobs for thirty minutes – let alone thirty years – preaching that which is 50% laziness, 49% internet and 1% God, there is a problem. When elders are continually reelected based upon their congeniality rather than their Christian character, there is a problem. When members gather weekly – year after year after year – and show zero signs of growth, there is a problem.

Just because people say they love God doesn't mean they really love God. Just because people call themselves the people of God, doesn't mean that it's the truth. Paul says that the children of Israel all witnessed the same miraculous power of God. They all shared in the supernatural provision of food and water. Yet still a majority did not really believe. “With most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). And most of them is a serious understatement, since in fact only two of the original generation coming out of Egypt – Joshua and Caleb – actually entered the promised land.

“Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). “The gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, 'THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; [28] FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY' (Romans 9:27-28). “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice” (Romans 11:5).

Today's congregations do not believe or accept such teaching. They believe that God loves everyone, and that apparently no one will be lost. The truth is far more sobering. The strong majority of those claiming to represent Christ today DO NOT REPRESENT CHRIST!

So when is the church not the church? Isn't it obvious? When they're not the church at all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's Wrong with Wandering?

I am amazed at the false trust which is placed in this world's goods. I know people who have lived on the same piece of real estate their entire lives. I have known others who have large homes and even larger bank accounts. “Woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full” (Luke 6:24). “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).

At the age of 48, I find myself in a position that I did not select for myself. I have been married 26 years (that one I chose), and in those 26 years have moved all my belongings 12 times. My worldly things currently reside in storage units … and I live in an RV. I have been unemployed for over a year and a half. I know for sure that some in this world would look at my situation and bemoan my sad fate. But why should they? Hebrews 11:38 speaks of “(men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” If the Bible associates wandering with the faith and righteousness found in Christ, then what's wrong with wandering?

Abram had wealth and a home in Haran … until the Lord called him. Hebrews 11:8-9 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. [9] By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise ...” There we go … more wandering!

Even after Abraham left his home, he was still “very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold” (Genesis 13:2). Yet for all his wealth, he couldn't do a thing about his wife's barrenness. God provided him with Isaac – a child of promise – but the Lord then asked him to sacrifice that son. His money could not buy a substitute for what God required from him. There is a reason the apostle instructs us to focus on God, rather than the goods. Providence is greater than property!

It would be easy to complain about my situation. All I have to do is look at “things” that have been taken away from me, or “circumstances” beyond my control. But I cannot do so, because the truth of Scripture convicts me. “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing” (Deuteronomy 2:7).

The normal temptation is to look at what I do NOT have, rather than at what I do have. Satan wants me to consider myself jobless and homeless, but the Lord reminds me that I am not unemployed because I am “a bond-servant” of Christ. Neither am I homeless. Unlike those “who set their minds on earthly things. ... our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:19-20).

So how do I move forward? The same way I have always moved forward regardless of whether I have had a home or a job … in faith! To those who focused constantly on their needs – even though physically legitimate – Jesus said, “You of little faith!” (Matthew 6:30). But to those who trust in the Lord, He says, “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ [32] For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. [33] But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34] So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:31-34).

The world in which we live today revolves around money. The chief factor in the our national election will be the economy. Ever fiber of our physical being screams out to worry about unemployment figures and the national debt! What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear for clothing? My, oh my! Don't those questions sound familiar?

The better question is: What will the Lord provide? Of more concern to me than an Obama administration or a Romney administration is “the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:4). Following Christ may indeed lead to my “being destitute, afflicted, [and] ill-treated” (Hebrews 11:37), but at least I know that someday I will have “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). I have all confidence that “what is mortal will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4).

So until that time … what's wrong with wandering?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Untaught and Unstable

There is a growing trend among the churches to "simplify" the Bible. If they cannot understand it, then use an easier version ... or leave out difficult parts ... or include more stories and illustrations ... or use pictures and videos. Church leaders are doing whatever they can to make the Bible palatable to the public, because a media-addicted generation has been screaming, "I'm bored!"

Why is it that parents will coddle their children when it comes to the church, but push them when it comes to sports? The same dad who makes his son go through his pitching drills "one more time" because a major league career could be at stake doesn't think to make him read a Bible verse "one more time" because his soul could be at stake.

Church leaders are following a similar logic. Attendance and participation are more important than spiritual maturity. As long as the member drops a check in the plate, they are deemed "spiritually healthy." Then they scratch their heads in confusion when they need a Sunday School teacher, but can't find anyone who is able.

The "pastor" provides the answer! "Let's take our people on a 685 week journey through the Scriptures. We'll tell them the stories just like they did in Sunday School when they were growing up! We'll use lots of pretty pictures ... maybe some VeggieTales videos. This will be great, and we'll all learn together!"


2 Peter 3:14-16 says, "Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, [15] and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, [16] as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."

Where are the preachers and leaders encouraging their congregations to be "spotless and blameless"? It's so popular to stand up in the pulpit today and remind the masses that "we're all sinners." One church I attended recently had as its catch phrase - "An imperfect people serving a perfect God." Doesn't that just sound "relevant" and "timely" and "fresh" and "spiritual"?

Know what it sounds like to me? Wrong ... and deadly. The apostle Peter admitted that some of Paul's writings were "hard to understand," but also recognized that this was "wisdom given him" by the Holy Spirit. Today's presumptious leaders obviously believe that the Spirit was wise, but not very smart. "Thank you, Lord, for your word ... even though we now have to dumb it down for people to understand it." Heaven forbid we actually educate people.

What did Peter do? He admitted that Paul's writings were "hard to understand." Did he suggest simplifying the message? No, but he did clarify the single largest problem in the churches today. He spoke of the message, "... in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort ...." If your flock doesn't understand it, it's because they are "untaught." If people are changing the message to make it more palatable, it's because they are "unstable."

Modern congregations would do well to wake up and pay attention to the simplified Bibles that they praise so highly. The Message is popular. It says, "Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the Scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it." It seems like most churches preach from the NIV. It says, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

In fact, it really doesn't matter how "simply" you put it. Those who are working so hard to make things easier for people rather than educating them are "irresponsible" and "ignorant." By dumbing down the Scriptures, they are actually distorting God's word and twisting it every which way. The end result is the same ... destruction. They are "destroying themselves."

When I was five, I wouldn't have been able to understand algebra at all. But I have been taught and trained. I understand it now just fine. Our "church members" would also learn ... if we would actually teach them. If we want people to avoid the coming destruction, they must learn ... even things which may be "hard to understand." A real Christian education will produce members who are TAUGHT and STABLE. Isn't that what we want? 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Liberal Church

Perhaps as never before we see the dividing line in the political world between liberals and conservatives. Liberals believe in equality above all. Monarchies and state religions - those principles which exalt one class above another - are rejected thoroughly. Liberals view government as a tool to level the playing field, thus creating the large American welfare state. Conservatives on the other hand focus on maintaining the natural hierarchies within church, family and state. They believe that man is at his best when allowed to fully express his own work ethic; the government should not do for a man what he can do for himself.

The large majority of those in the churches today are professed conservatives, who take their political stand on issues like abortion and homosexuality. They look with disdain and distaste upon anything joined to liberalism. They truthfully cannot understand how anyone who calls themselves a Christian could ever be a liberal. Therein lies both the problem and the hypocrisy, because the modern church has become exactly what it claims to despise ... liberal.

Today's church is about progress. The old ways wouldn't be good enough even if they believed they were good enough. They believe in change for change' sake. They believe in the freedom of expression, with services designed to level the playing field and include everyone. They believe in tolerance, and easily set aside any portions of the Scripture deemed bigoted or prejudicial. They look for and support leaders who are like them,and who will please them, and who will work for them,  and who will support their causes. They will push aside any who are seen as too strict or traditional. Leaders in mainstream churches are not shepherds who feed and protect the flock, but representatives who work to alleviate the perceived problems of their constituency.

I'm sure there are many so-called conservative churches which would disagree with me - declaring themselves "conservative Christians" - but the proof as they say is in the pudding. In spite of overwhelming evidence, the addict always says, "I don't have a problem," and then proceeds to blame their problems on someone else. "These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage" (Jude 16). Isn't it amazing how good Satan is at his job? He has manipulated the "Christian" masses into becoming the very thing they claim to oppose.

The church of the day screams for tolerance, even though Christ praised the church in Ephesus for a lack of tolerance - "... you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false" (Revelation 2:2) - and chastised Thyatira for theirs - "I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray ..." (Revelation 2:20).

The overriding theme of the mainstream church is love. "God loves everyone!" Yet Jesus praises the church for their hatred, "Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6).

"But we must move forward!" the church will say. "We must be relevant to our culture. We have to find new ways to reach a contemporary generation." Is that what Christ said, or did you read that in the latest bestseller from the Christian bookstore? Jesus' instructions to the church make no such declaration. In fact, we see just the opposite. "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent" (Revelation 2:4-5). "... what you have, hold fast until I come" (Revelation 2:25). "... remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent" (Revelation 3:3). "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown" (Revelation 3:10-11).

I will never forget Haley Joel Osment's famous line in The Sixth Sense, "I see dead people." Yeah, kid ... I do, too ... within the professed church ... claiming to be the body of Christ. It's sad and appalling that the modern church - a liberal church if ever there was one - is more focused on themselves than their Liberator. "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires - by sensuality - those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved" (2 Peter 2:18-19).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What Are Preachers Thinking?

There is something odd and confusing happening within the professed church today. Those who are called "preachers," "ministers" or "pastors" are working in a manner completely foreign to the Scriptures.

We must begin with the Bible. Only three books in the New Testament are specifically directed to "ministers" ... 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. A quick perusal of the text gives us insight into their expected function. They were to instruct the elders not to teach strange doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3). They were to help guide worship by defining proper roles and identifying proper leadership (1 Timothy 2-3; Titus 1:1-9). They were to teach and live sound doctrine, and warn against those who would stray from the truth (1 Timothy 4; Titus 1:10-16). They were to actively and authoritatively involve themselves in the wise direction of members and leaders alike (1 Timothy 5; Titus 2-3). They were to separate themselves from sin and urge a focus on the spiritual rather than the physical (1 Timothy 6). They were to retain "the standard of sound words" (2 Timothy 1:13). They were to take what they learned from the apostles, and teach it to those who would be able to pass it along in the same manner to others (2 Timothy 2:2). They were to accurately handle "the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). They were to stand firm and preach the truth of God's word, knowing that so many will not (2 Timothy 3-4).

But when I look at the modern "professional minister," I see a completely different picture. I see those who are following the lead of untrained elders rather than leading the leaders. I hear more quotations from the wisdom of men - more humor, more entertainment - than the distribution of God's word. The sermons of the day seem more the product of commentaries and the internet than of the holy Scriptures. I see those who are afraid to speak out against sin in the lives of the flock, fearing the loss of their employment.

What are preachers thinking? Why are they more concerned with pleasing "itching ears" (2 TImothy 4:3) than their "commanding officer" (2 Timothy 2:4)? Do they not believe that God will provide for them? I listen to the men who have been "hired" by the churches and wonder why they are not "ashamed" of their mishandling of the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). In many cases it isn't that they mishandle it ... they just don't handle it at all!

We have been clearly warned that "difficult times will come" (2 Timothy 3:1). Such days are upon us. We don't need men who pander to the majority - only "holding to a form of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5) - but those who are "holding fast the faithful word" (Titus 1:8), who have been called "with a holy calling" (2 Timothy 1:9).

The vote of a congregation means nothing before the Lord. It is not the sheep who are to be directing the shepherds. Neither is the "authority" of overseers recognized by the Lord when such men are untrained and unrestrained. They expect the submission of members and ministers when they themselves will not submit to the One with "all authority" (Matthew 28:18). Where is the holy and righteous minister who will "teach and preach these principles" (1 Timothy 6:2) ... the Lord's principles? Why would you ever acquiesce to "anyone [who] advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words" (1 Timothy 6:3)? Just because a person calls themselves a church member does not make them one. The Lord is the only One capable of adding someone to the church (Acts 2:47). And just because a congregation has elected elders does not make them overseers of Christ's church. It is God who gives some as "pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11).

To those who minister, I urge you to be "faithful men" (2 Timothy 2:2) - not to your earthly employer, but your heavenly Father. “The Lord knows those who are His" (2 Timothy 2:19), but that's not enough. The world needs to know "those who are His." The church certainly needs to see it. "The sins of some men are quite evident" (1 Timothy 5:24). Unfortunately, the evidence in the modern church is pointing to preachers who are not preaching sound doctrine and ministers who are not ministering "without stain or reproach" (1 Timothy 6:14) before the Lord.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Weight of Water

71% of the earth's surface is water. 60% of the human body is water. 70% of the brain is water. When you're really thirsty, nothing quenches your thirst like water. On a hot summer's day, what's more refreshing than a dip in a cool pool of water? After a long day of work, nothing feels better on your tired muscles than a long hot shower. Water is essential! We can't live without it. You can go for over a month without food, but less than a week without water and you'll be dead.

Biblically, water was created on day one. Land didn't show up until day three. When God decided to destroy the world, He did so by water. How many miracles - Old Testament and New - involve water? In Old Testament purification rituals, cleansing in water was a standard. Spiritually speaking, the term "living water" is used to describe that which flows from the Lord and provides real life (Jeremiah 17:13; John 4:10-11; 7:38).

So why is it that so many churches, denominations, pastors, so-called teachers, or whatever want to argue with baptism by immersion? It is the most simple, understandable thing in the world. If you want to get something clean, water should be the first thing you think of. It is THE most common thing in the world. I don't sprinkle a few drops of water on my car and call it clean. I don't pour a cup of water over my kid's head and say I've given him a bath. Duh!

So why the arguments? Jesus was baptized. Jesus commanded that we be baptized. His apostles all taught that we should be baptized. STOP THE INSANITY! Just obey the command! Stop making excuses ("I don't have to be baptized to be saved.") ... stop trying to redefine what it takes to make someone clean ("Sprinkling or pouring is just as good.") ... just stop, because you are simply making a fool of yourself before the Lord.

Consider the likeness to which the Lord attached salvation ... new birth (John 3:3). A baby exists for the length of the pregnancy in a sack filled with water. "Oh, no! It's amniotic fluid!" someone will say. Really? What woman has ever said, "My amniotic fluid broke"? But you WILL hear a woman say, "My water broke." Birth occurs through water. There's no such thing as a "dry" birth. Even after a woman's "water" breaks, one third of it is replaced every hour until birth. Is it any wonder then that the Lord chose immersion by water to represent new birth? What else would you use? It's the only thing that makes sense.

Again, I would plead for rational thought to prevail. It is not the Spirit, but Satan who would urge a person to find a reason to argue against something as basic and foundational as baptism by immersion in water.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Day of Dry Bones

"The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry" (Ezekiel 37:1-2).

The Lord offered this vision to the prophet concerning "the whole house of Israel" (v. 11). But here's the thing: The "whole house of Israel" ... the people of God ... a very religious people ... did not realize that they were "very dry" bones. They had no clue that - spiritually speaking - they were dead ... and long enough that everything good in them had rotted away.

The book of Ezekiel brings judgment against the Lord's people, but it is also a book of prophetic evidence. God wanted Israel to "know that I am the Lord." The phrase is use 77 times in Scripture, and 63 of them are in Ezekiel. God is making every effort - via mercy or justice - to open the blind eyes of His people ... to raise the dead to life.

But again I note, the people did not realize they were dead! One of the chief sins of the people was the profaning of the Lord's sabbath day (Ezekiel 20). They were worshiping ... and sinning all the while! They were sincere, but sincerely wrong. God does not accept false offerings or prayers or worship.

Let this be a clear warning to the contemporary church. What is being accomplished by the accumulation of popular teachers, and the acceptance of stylish methodologies, and the constant desire to be associated with the world? How is God pleased when we draw closer to the world, rather than closer to heaven?

Like the Israelites of old, a strong majority among what is called "the church" do not realize that they are nothing but "very dry" bones. I'm sure some will argue with me, offering a picture of their physical growth and popularity as proof of God's blessings. Yet these are the very same people - offering their sincere teachings and good works (Matthew 7:22) - to whom Christ will say on the Day of Judgment, "I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matthew 7:23).

As the Lord said to the stomach-turning congregation of Laodicea, so He says to the church today, "You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see" (Revelation 3:17-18).

The Lord is still offering evidence. Although man is making every effort to dumb it down, trim it down or cut it out, God's word is still available. "He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day" (John 12:48).

I pray that "the people of God" will open their eyes and ears and hear the word of Christ, "... all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds" (Revelation 2:23).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dumbing Down Disciples

I'm really confused by the logic of the so-called religious powers that be. Wait! Let's start with an illustration ...

Little Billy is in the 5th grade ... for the twentieth time (which means he's now 30 years old). He just can't seem to understand the material and pass the tests (Insert 'Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?' jokes here). The local school board wants Billy to succeed, therefore they make a decision which will not only help Billy, but all the other little Billys out there. They decide to give him 2nd grade work. He passes all those tests successfully, and they gratefully pass him into the 6th grade. But knowing they cannot give him 6th grade work (because he didn't pass the 5th grade material), they continue to give him 2nd grade work ... all the way through middle school and high school, until Billy proudly walks across the stage holding his diploma ... a diploma that says he completed 12 grades, but in truth he simply repeated 2nd grade material eight times.

Now let's talk about today's Christians, who have sat in church for years and years yet have never grown in their spiritual understanding of the Scriptures. The KJV was too difficult to understand at a 12th grade reading level, so a board of scholars gathered to update the language and bring us the extremely accurate New American Standard Version at an 11th grade reading level. Still too much? People aren't growing? Let's make an easier version!

The New Internation Version was created at a 7th grade reading level ... and we've had it since 1978 ... yet the religious leaders still scratch their heads, wondering why no one's growing.

Two of the latest fads are The Message and The Story. These are being accepted as the next great thing among the churches. The Message - which isn't written by a team of scholars at all, but by one man (a Presbyterian minister) - brings God's Holy Word down to a manageable 4th grade reading level.

The Story takes a different approach. It uses the 7th grade NIV text, but chops out parts that are deemed difficult or redundant. Remember those Bible story books we had when we were children? You know, like three years old? They had pretty pictures and gave us a nice cheery view of God's world. The Story basically does the same thing, yet without the pictures (bummer). Doesn't the Bible specifically warn about not adding words or taking them away (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:19)?

Has anyone stopped to consider that the reason people are not growing is either A) because they really don't care to learn, or B) because they've been dumbed down to the point where they no longer have the ability to learn?

2 Timothy 4:3 (from the 11th grade NAS) says, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires." Well, we're there, folks! Today's religious leaders are trained well ... in the same way as the parent of the unruly Wal-Mart child, who gives the screaming child whatever will shut them up the quickest.

Church leaders do not want grumbling church members - as it tends to hurt the attendance and offering - therefore when they complain they aren't understanding the message, the answer is to dumb it down. Give them an easier version of the Bible! Have the preacher give less Bible and more stories, jokes and illustrations! Give them a flashy Powerpoint! Bring on the drama team! Let's spend more time singing, and less time learning!

Why are people so eager to praise God with their mouths and hearts, but not with their minds? Jesus said (and I'll use the New International Reader's Version which is only a 3rd grade reading level, so that everyone will understand), "If you remain joined to Me and My words remain in you, ask for anything you wish. And it will be given to you. 8 When you bear a lot of fruit, it brings glory to My Father. It shows that you are My disciples" (John 15:7-8).

Disciple means learner. If someone's not learning from Christ, they are not a disciple of Christ. If a person does not have the word of God within them ("the seed is the word of God," says Luke 8:11), then they cannot possibly bear fruit.

So what's the answer? STOP DUMBING DOWN THE PEOPLE AND GIVE THEM THE WORD OF GOD!!! "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32, NAS). "STUDY to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Examining the Church's Fruit

A somewhat rhetorical question was asked by a brother this morning, "If, as Jesus said, a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:17-20), what are we to conclude when degenerate lives are being lived by professing Christians?"

Profession of the Spirit does not equate to possession of the Spirit. I can claim I am an Olympic athlete, but one look at my body will prove the claim false. In the same way, "the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious" (1 John 3:10).

The apostle of love is also an apostle of truth. In the context leading up to his determination of obvious behavior, he uses words like "lie"  (1:6; 2:21, 27), "deceiving," "deceive" or "deceives" (1:8; 2:26; 3:7), "liar" (1:10; 2:4, 22), "in the darkness" (2:8, 11) and "blinded" (2:11). He speaks of those that "were not of us" (2:19).

Fruit is abundant in the modern church. The problem is that there are very few qualified fruit inspectors left who can tell that it's rotten. The "lies" and "deceit" have done their work, creating a pseudo-Christianity. The "false prophet" (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) is alive and well.

Degenerate lives signify a "worldly-minded" people "devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 19). It is obvious to those who "judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

So how can we help them to see the truth? By continually preaching the truth! "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). The preaching of light will very quickly expose those who prefer the darkness.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Premier Work of the Church

The modern church has put an inordinate emphasis upon soul-winning, moving forward under the banner of what they have called the Great Commission. While over emphasized today, that does not mean that there isn't a kernel of truth that caused the plant to sprout.

What IS the premier work of the church, if not evangelism? The original command to man was “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Such a command did not have to be constantly repeated, since the basic biological function occurred naturally. That this biological function would be replaced with a spiritual function was made clear in the prophecy of Jeremiah, “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply” (Jeremiah 23:3). And the fulfillment of that prophecy is seen in the fact that “the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied” (Acts 12:24).

Is soul-winning the preeminent function of the church? Is procreation the preeminent function of marriage? How often do the Scriptures use the bride/bridegroom metaphor? If we – the bride of Christ – are not procreating, then what other premier purpose would we have? To be married is not the premier function of marriage, nor is companionship, nor is the honeymoon, nor are the anniversaries. “Women will be preserved through the bearing of children” (1 Timothy 2:15).

I agree that little is said in the epistles concerning the commands issued by Christ, not because it is not central but because it occurred naturally (God's nature, not man's) within the church. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32) … which is exactly that the church did! “We preach Christ crucified,” said the apostle (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Why was Christ preached? “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Is soul-winning the premier function of the church? Equally so with the edification of the body, per the authority of our Master. “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Where in the New Testament is the work of pastors and teachers exalted over the work of the evangelists? Both are fundamental to body function, thus Paul told Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:4).

Lest anyone try to make a case from this that soul-winning is only the concern of those labeled as “evangelists,” may it be said that it is we the Christians who are told to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). We are the ones who should show “every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures ...” (Titus 3:2-3). We are the “royal priesthood” who should “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; [10] for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). If we do not show mercy as the Lord has shown us mercy, how will we stand in the Day of Judgment? “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

So to answer the question as to why the church wasn't specifically told to evangelize after the Day of Pentecost? For the same reason you don't tell sheep in the field to procreate. They will do so on their own, whether you tell them to or not. The same thing occurred within the church, and there are ample Scriptures demonstrating that such work was taking place – and was to take place (i.e., 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Romans 1:5, 16; 15:9; 1 Corinthians 9:22; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:15; 5:11; Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26: 1 Peter 2:12; 3 John 6-8; Jude 22-23).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Considering Our Associations

The belief of many homosexuals today - a belief encouraged by those with a liberal agenda - is that Christians are anti-gay. This should not be true, and the Bible says so!

Peter was anti-Gentile (as were all Jews), until God granted him a vision. "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean" (Acts 10:28).

How will I save sinners if I have no association with them? I do not have to participate in their deeds, but I do have to participate in their lives.This was the pattern of Jesus, and the world saw it. "This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). What was Jesus' response? "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Jesus shared in the lives of sinners, but we know He did not share in their deeds.

So Jesus participated in the lives of sinners. Peter associated with the sinners. What about us? How can any Christian - in light of the Biblical evidence - refuse to associate with sinners? The Lord is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

In fact, the apostle Paul gives the church clear instruction as to our associations ... and it's far different from what most people believe or practice. Listen! "I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one" (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Yes, I must consider my associations, for the sake of Christ. I WILL associate with the world - with fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) ... because I want to save their souls!

But I will NOT associate with false Christians. I will NOT labor beside "deceitful workers" who "disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I will NOT give a greeting to "false brethren" who want nothing more than "to bring us into bondage" (Galatians 2:4). I will NOT give ear to "false teachers" who "secretly introduce destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1). I will eat with the sinners, but not with "so-called" saints. If you say you're a Christian, then act like a Christian ... otherwise, stay away from me and mine.

There is no language in the Bible that speaks of being anti-gay or anti-"any other sin." There is only one "anti-" in the Bible, and that is antichrist ... a term which is very specifically aimed, not at those who oppose Christ in the world (They're sinners! What else would they do? Duh!) but at those who oppose Christ in the church. "... even now many antichrists have come ... They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" ( 1 John 2:18-19, NIV).

When considering your associations, remember that it was the supposed people of God and their religious leaders who crucified Jesus (Luke 23:13). Pilate, the worldly pagan, tried everything he could to get Jesus released (Luke 23:14-15, 22). Even to this day, the greatest obstacle to salvation is the hypocrisy of false Christians ... and the harshest persecution against God's chosen servants will be from those called "brothers."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

I'm not anti-gay ... I'm pro-Christ.

Wow! What's happening in our nation? A man cannot declare the values of his own company without being labeled a "hate-monger"? If I say that I believe it's wrong to steal, is it because I hate all thieves or simply because I value my property? In declaring my belief that homosexuality is wrong, why is it assumed I hate all homosexuals? I simply value God's word. I believe it. I don't hate homosexuality any more than I hate anything else declared by the Lord as sin. I'm not anti-gay ... I'm pro-Christ. In all cases, it is my task to urge those who commit sin to repent of it, and to forsake worldly things in favor of heavenly things.

I am worried though that soon it will be a criminal offense to speak the word of God. Will it soon be labeled as "hate speech" if I merely read what the Bible says? I have reason to be concerned, because I find this in the Scriptures: "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2).

Saul, as one of the Jewish religious leaders, asked for a standing warrant for all who declared themselves to be Christians. These people were not violent - in fact, they were just the opposite - yet he asked for and received permission to bring them back to Jerusalem "bound." Is this the direction America is headed? Will my beliefs be criminalized and vilified?

I oppose gay marriage ... because the Bible opposes it. But I also oppose those who are anti-gay. Groups like Westboro Baptist prove by their actions that they are not Christians ... not because I say so, but because they are in conflict with the word of God.

So how should we treat those who do not want to hear what we have to say? Well, two of Jesus' disciples - James and John - shared the attitude of many today, "'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But [Jesus] turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.' And they went on to another village" (Luke 9:54-56).

We must defend our faith - absolutely! - but not at the expense of our Christian behavior. "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Do we need a "Christian" President?

Why are we so surprised that there is no "Christian" candidate for the presidency? Our American forefathers forwarded a Christian agenda and were blessed for it, but a nation in which the government's leader is also God's appointed leader has not existed since the days of Solomon. Even the men God raised to the heights of political power in the Scriptures (Joseph, Daniel, etc.) were put in place NOT to aid the world, but specifically the people of God.

Isaiah told the people that a new government was coming (Isaiah 9:6-7) with a Leader we could fully trust. This kingdom has been established and is fully and properly functioning, but "is not of this world" (John 18:36). Herein lies the point of confusion for so many who are focusing on what Barack Obama or Mitt Romney does, rather than on what Christ is doing.

Come November, I will vote for Mitt Romney because his sense of morality is much closer to the Scriptures than our current President. Some are worried that he will push a "Mormon agenda." I could care less about any such plan he might have. The Lord is still on His throne. "There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Romans 13:1). If the gates of Hades cannot overpower Christ's kingdom (Matthew 16:18), then neither will a Mormon or socialist agenda.

Certainly I want the best leader for the American government possible. This is where I live, and the decisions made by such a man will affect my family. I will vote for the man who most closely mirrors God's moral values ... but that is as far as my involvement can go. My real citizenship lies elsewhere (Philippians 3:20), having surrendered my full allegiance to Jesus Christ. "No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier" (2 Timothy 2:4).

It is a mistake for us to so thoroughly involve ourselves in a world from which Christ died to remove us (Colossians 1:13; 3:2). Our primary allegiance is not to a man labeled as Commander-in-Chief, but to "the King of kings" (1 Timothy 6:15) who has been given "the name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:9).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Who are the Real Heroes?

For every preacher who headlines the North American Christian Convention, how many will never receive any worldly recognition? For every successful 30 year ministry, how many are driven out of town every few years? For every man who regularly publishes articles and books, how many are scorned by the world? For every one who preaches to thousands on any given Sunday, how many have been forced out of the churches and into private homes? How does heaven measure success?

What about those who were "tortured," or "experienced mockings and scourgings," or "chains and imprisonment"? What about those who were "stoned," or "sawn in two," or "put to death with the sword"? What about those who were "destitute, afflicted," and "ill-treated"? What about those who wandered "in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground"? The word of God declares that "the world was not worthy" of them (Hebrews 11:35-38).

Jesus said to His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:19-20). 

So how do we explain the popularity of some preachers? Why do crowds flock to them? Why are their speaking calendars and church pews full? If they are saying what Jesus said ... and doing what Jesus did ... how are they receiving better treatment than their Master?

How many of the apostles and prophets were popular among this world? How many of them were hailed as heroes within their communities? Paul said, "To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now" (1 Corinthians 4:11-13). Was the apostle exaggerating? Or perhaps we don't see this kind of mistreatment because the church has acclimated so well to the world.

If our churches - especially our mega-churches - are doing such a great work for the Lord, why are they so well-tolerated by society? Is it possible that a church with thousands - with tens of thousands - can become so popular with the world that they fall away from the Lord? How many churches today are like Sardis? "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelations 3:1).

Numbers, book sales and speaking engagements are not godly standards of success. God's best leaders have never been popular. "But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me" (Galatians 2:6).

Who are our heroes? It's hard to say, since the Bible never uses such a term in relation to godliness. "Hero status" does not mesh well with the whole concept of self-denial. A discussion did arise among the disciples as to which one of them was the greatest. Jesus simply said, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35). That tells me the servant may be unrecognized by the world around him ... he may even be scorned by his fellow servants ... but the Master is watching!

Peter abandoned his position of Jewish superiority to declare, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34-35).

Paul realized that the popularity he had experienced as a Pharisee did not accomplish the will of God, admitting, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). 

I thank God for the real heroes of the faith ... those whom Satan is constantly sifting like wheat (Luke 22:31), yet keep "straining toward what is ahead" (Philippians 3:13), their eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2),  "contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). The crowds may not be applauding, but heaven is.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Pursuit of Perfection or a Hint of Harlotry?

What do you expect from God?

Movies such as "Clash of the Titans" and "Wrath of the Titans" portray the gods on Mount Olympus as fickle and prone to mood swings, not caring about a man's behavior as long as he prays, feeding their power and fueling their immortality.

Personally, I expect more from God that that. If God is holy, then I would expect His offspring to be holy. I would expect His creations to be holy. I expect a perfect God.

If there is one criticism I have heard more than any other in my lifetime, it is this: There are too many hypocrites in the church. For years, as a minister, I have excused the behavior with lines such as: "Well, at least they're going to church. That's the best place for them." But now, I have come to believe that the criticism is valid. There ARE too many hypocrites in church. ONE hypocrite is too many in church.

The real questions isn't what I expect from God. He has no obligation to live up to my expectations. The question is: What does God expect from me? What does He expect from His people?

I certainly understand the church is no longer bound by the Law of Moses, but that does not mean it is without value - the same perfect God created both the Old and the New Covenants. Within the Law, He declared - clearly - His expectations from man.

Take, for example, those who would serve as His priests. "They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God" (Leviticus 21:6). If God is holy and perfect, then isn't it right that He would expect such behavior from those who serve Him?

Examples of such perfection are offered in the chapter. "They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God" (Leviticus 21:7). When they married, they were to marry someone "perfect" ... "He shall take a wife in her virginity" (Leviticus 21:13). 
The priests themselves were also to be perfect. "No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God" (Leviticus 21:17) ... and the defects are listed in the following verses - no one who was blind, lame, disfigured or deformed could serve as a priest of God.

Is God anti-women? Is God anti-handicapped? *sigh* Those aren't the focus the passage ... perfection is the point! God is perfect, and He expects His servants to be perfect. The reason we of the New Covenant have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is to allow us to fulfill that expectation. He is rightly called "the Spirit of holiness" (Romans 1:4).

But today, I see just the opposite. So called "men of God" are reveling in their imperfections. They are shouting from their religious rooftops, "Hey, we're all just sinners!" There is no effort toward holiness in their own behavior ... no expectation of perfection in their preaching or teaching.

What we see today is the hint of harlotry. Churches claim that God is their Husband, yet chase after worldly lovers. Such has never been God's expectation. God speaks to His church, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

God's desire has not changed. He still expects us to be holy before Him, and not to profane His name. But we cannot do that as long as the hint of harlotry remains. "... beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My people do not understand

Dogs are very different in their personalities. Like people, there are smart ones and dumb ones. Owners all have various expectations for their pet. One thing I've always desired from mine is that they know my voice and respond to it. I want my dog to be friendly with those who I say are alright, and stay aloof from those who are not. I don't want a dog that is so friendly he will go to anyone without thinking. I don't want someone to be able to come along and say, "Here, boy!" and lead my dog off its property.

God is the same way. He wants His creations to be friendly with those He says are alright, and aloof from those who are not. He doesn't want a people who are seduced by just any voice that calls.

Isaiah 1:3 says, "An ox knows its owner,And a donkey its master's manger,But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.”

How stupid can you be? The Lord labels the ox and donkey smarter than His people ... because they know where they belong and to whom they belong.

Oh, did I forget to mention that these aren't pagans God addresses, but His own people. These are the so-called "religious" people. These are the ones who were claiming to worship God, yet acting like they worshiped Satan. These were the people who were supposed to belong to heaven, but lived clearly like they belonged to this world.

"Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him" (Isaiah 1:4).

The Lord's people abandoned Him. Religious people despised their God. Children turned away from their Father. The Holy One of Israel wanted Israel to know her Master, and be holy like Him. He wanted them to stay with the "confines" of their relationship and covenant. They chose not to do so.

I have heard preachers who have applied v. 4 to America. "Oh, what a sinful nation we've become! America has abandoned her God!" While I freely admit that America is a sinful nation, let's keep the verse within its context. This is about God's people. Therefore, if we are going to apply this verse to anyone today ... it has to be the church.

1 Peter 2:9 says we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." Yet where are the holy people who belong to this holy nation? Where are the people who know their Owner and refuse to listen to anyone offering a "different gospel" (Galatians 1:6)? Where are those who cannot be "carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14)?

Christ made His intentions clear. He has the future in mind. He's looking forward to His wedding day. He wants to "present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27).

"But [the church] does not know, My people do not understand."

Why not? Because preachers are preaching about this world, rather than about heaven. Because leaders are leading people to a building or to a particular group of people, rather than to the Lord. "They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).

"Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him."
The modern church must turn back to her Master. They must "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:1). Congregations of today must become what they were designed to be ... "the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing."

"An ox knows its owner,And a donkey its master's manger ..." What about you?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why doesn't anyone listen to John the Baptist?

Oh, the abundance of human wisdom flowing from pulpits each and every Sunday morning. Good jokes will be told ... and many people will laugh. Tender stories will be related ... and tears will flow. Books and commentaries will be referenced, powerpoints and multimedia will be utilized, and - supposedly - the truth will have been proclaimed!

I cannot testify to the heart of every preacher, but I do know that sincerity alone is not the measure of a message. How many people sincerely thought the way was clear to cross the road ... only to be hit by an unseen vehicle. They were sincerely wrong.

Oh, but today's preacher is well dressed, and gets along fine with everyone. He shakes hands, mixes and mingles, and is a pillar of his community. "Surely Preacher So-and-So would never lie to me!" Perhaps not intentionally. Perhaps he sincerely believes that his message was sent to him directly from God ... although the bulk of the material was taken from a Christian bestseller ... and only two Scriptures were indirectly quoted.

Why doesn't anyone listen to John the Baptist? We know for a fact he was a man sent from God, because the Bible says so (John 1:6). True, he doesn't dress like a normal preacher (a garment of camel's hair cinched up with a leather belt) or eat like one (locusts and wild honey were preferred). But surely no church of today would dismiss a man just because he didn't dress and eat like them ... would they?

No, we must evaluate the content of the preacher's message before kicking them to the curb! So let's take a look at what John was preaching. His chief message in preparing the way for Christ was "repent" (Matthew 3:2).

"Maybe I didn't hear you right, Jonathan. Are you suggesting that preachers stop peddling fluff and start challenging people to leave their sins?" I'm just reporting what John the Baptist preached (although my answer to that is "yes"). I'm simply acknowledging what I know was ordained by God. John preached repentance ... and people repented (Matthew 3:6).

He confronted the religious leaders of the day and truthfully assessed them to be a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7). They wanted to be baptized so that they could associate with the common man ... and John turned them away, demanding they not only repent of their sins but that they bear fruit in keeping with that repentance (Matthew 3:8).

So again, why aren't we listening to John the Baptist? Oh, I remember ... it's because he didn't preach a popular message. He preached in preparation for the Christ, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:10). Hmmm ... Jesus was coming. In order to be ready, people needed to repent of their sins and start bearing real fruit. Hmmm ... which part of that is not still relevant to this day?

John - in preparing for the Messiah, the Son of God - didn't preach on social issues of the day. He didn't warm up the crowd with a quick laugh and a witty anecdote. He didn't preach what he read from a man, but what he had received from God. He didn't spend his preaching time telling us how to resolve conflicts with one another, or how to be better parents or spouses. Why? Because there was something bigger at stake ... something far more important than our mundane inadequacies. The Lamb of God was coming, and it would be His job to take away the sins that condemned us to hell (John 1:29).

Sin? Wasn't that John the Baptist's message? Repent of your sins? Yup, that's the one! Why exactly aren't we hearing THAT message being preached today? Oh, right ... I forgot again ... it isn't popular. Preachers don't stay employed for long when they start preaching about sin.

But John the Baptist, sent by God, preached sin ... and it's repercussions. He didn't preach a coming Jesus who would love and hug everyone ... and heal everyone ... and feed everyone. He preached of a landowner coming who wasn't very happy with the way His fields were being managed. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12).

Again, which part of that is irrelevant? The eternal assessments are being made ... both of those who preach and those who listen. Standing before the Lord's throne someday, the question will be asked often I'm sure, "Why didn't our preacher ever tell us about how serious You were?" The answer is simple: If he had, you would have fired him and replaced him with someone to say what your itching ears wanted to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). 

Shame on you, the supposed people of God who refuse to hear truth! Shame on you, leaders who lead by their own wisdom rather than the Lord's! Shame on you, preachers who preach that which is temporarily popular rather than what is eternally profitable! Shame on those who are holding to a form of godliness and denying the real power of righteousness! Avoid such men (2 Timothy 3:5)!!

Jesus is coming again. He is going to gather up the wheat and burn up the chaff. Knowing that, why are we content to listen to preachers who will not warn us of that fact and help us rightly determine our status before the Lord? We need more men like John the Baptist, who will warn us - day in and day out - to put away the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1) and repent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Narrow Is "Narrow"?

Texas takes twelve and a half hours to cross while Florida takes only two to three, yet I don't call Florida “narrow.” Usually within common speech, narrow is reserved to describe something that goes beyond the point of comfort.

I drive each day on a two-lane street with room for cars to park on each side, but if you were to put large ditches on the side of the road, remove the shoulders and extra parking space, and build a road in which only inches separated passing vehicles, it would definitely be considered “narrow.”

I'm a large man – 6'5” and 290 lbs, yet I fit through most doorways just fine. I've been in some caves though where I had to turn sideways and suck in my gut to scoot through a particularly tight passage. Now that's “narrow.”

The United States of America has become a melting-pot of belief systems. You can believe in whatever gods you want … or no gods at all. Yet if I express – according to my belief system – that something is wrong, I am considered “narrow” if it conflicts with someone's belief that it's okay. Isn't America great confusing?

So what exactly did Jesus (considered by “narrow” me as Lord of all, by others as a good man, and by still others not at all) mean when He (notice the capitalization in keeping with my belief system that He is the Son of God?) said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14)? How narrow is “narrow”?

Well, He (Jesus) said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6), therefore that removes Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and whoever else does not believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That's pretty “narrow.”

Hmm, He also said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees? They were religious people. They were VERY religious people leaders. Unfortunately, they were hypocrites (as declared and defined by Jesus). They did not practice what they preached. If that's what Jesus was referring to, then there are a LOT of so-called Christian leaders who are surely going to be in big trouble someday because of Jesus' “narrow” way.

It's not just leaders though who may have trouble finding or staying on the path. Listen to what Jesus' hand-picked apostles were preaching. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). “The deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Wow! If there are people who actually believe this and practice it, then they must be REALLY “narrow.” Wait! I'm one of them!

“Jonathan, I can't believe you're so narrow-minded. Don't you understand that we're all just sinners?” I've had some church leaders who have tried to correct my thinking on this matter. Or is it my thinking? I believe all of these verses of Scripture, but I didn't write them. This is apostolic thinking. This is Jesus' thinking. I'm just following my REAL leaders.

Oh, and they don't spend any time at all trying to convince me that I'm just a sinner like everyone else. The apostles teach, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:4-10).

How narrow is “narrow”? I believe it is much more narrow than is commonly taught and practiced within the churches. The King of kings, in whom resides all authority, declared the truth of the matter, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Sounds to me like there will be a lot of surprised people on the Day of Judgment, although they need not be. The way – although “narrow” – has been clearly defined and set forth. “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). If we follow Jesus … if we live righteous and holy lives, even as He is righteous and holy … if we obey His every command … then we are guaranteed to end up where He is, in heaven.