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.