Monday, April 29, 2013

The Need for Seed

“Houston, we have a problem!”

It is the Bible by which we are reborn. “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The process of new birth starts with spiritual seed (sperm, Greek sperma), as Jesus says, “the seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11).

It is the Bible by which Christ's disciples would be set apart as unique to the Lord. “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

It is the Bible for which we are to long and by which real growth is produced. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

It is the Bible which is both our foundation and basis for judgment. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). “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).

Christ's disciples have been commanded not only to baptize, but to teach the Bible. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, ... [20] teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The apostle of Christ warned the church of a time when people would not want the Bible. “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).

The church has also been warned about the danger of ingesting the Bible in a shallow manner. “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (Hebrews 5:13).

With the abundance of evidence as to the importance of the Bible … of its necessity for our spiritual lives … why then is there so little of it utilized within the modern church?

Preachers do not preach Bible sermons, they preach “Bible-based” sermons. It is rare when a 30-40 minute “message” contains more than two or three verses of Scripture. There is more emphasis on relevance than righteousness. Truth is watered down to the point it is deemed non-offensive. And even among those preachers who claim to be preaching “tough messages” and “the whole truth,” the majority of them prove to be more knowledgeable of theatrics than theology. The seed sown is of the spiritual Monsanto variety … GMO all the way.

Elders – those who are supposed to be qualified as “able to teach” the Bible (1 Timothy 3:2) – barely know it, and cannot teach it without a workbook or teacher's guide. In thirty years of ministry, I have rarely ever missed a board meeting. Decision after decision has been made concerning the forward progress of Christ's church, yet I can count on less than one hand (even if I were missing a couple of fingers) the number of times that what the Bible says has ever been considered. In fact, just the opposite. On countless occasions I have brought up what the Bible says about a subject, only to be told, “We know what the Bible says, but ...”

Members – who have been given voting privileges (not according to the Bible, but according to the democratic society in which we live) – do not know the Bible, yet they elect their own leaders and hire their own ministers (again, the marks of the republic in which we live, not the eternal kingdom of Christ). If these infants – these sickly sheep – have no knowledge of the Bible, how then can it be expected that the elders chosen from among them or the preachers hired by them will be of any real value? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16). Nowhere has this proven to be more true than in biblically ignorant congregations. If fifty morons select one of their own to lead them, it doesn't make the leader any less a moron than the other forty-nine.

It was Maverick (played by Tom Cruise), in the 1986 classic Top Gun, who said, “I feel the need. The need for speed!” Well, I see a need for seed! We need it sown, and sown abundantly … and not just among the unsaved, but among the church as well.

“Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; [17] so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sunday, April 28, 2013

One Purpose

Philippians 2:2 speaks of “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” This verse seems fairly simple to understand, because all of it is understood by applying Christ. The “same mind” is the mind of Christ. The “same love” is the love of Christ. We are “united” by Christ's Spirit. Therefore, our “one purpose” also has to do with Christ.

It would be easy to say – as many ministers teach – that our purpose is Christ's purpose, to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Because of such verses – and because of the commission accounts that Jesus spoke to His apostles – it is thought that our “one purpose” is salvation … soul-winning … evangelism. But is that true? Salvation was God's reason for sending His Son to this earth, but Jesus declared as He drew near to death on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

While I am not belittling the importance of evangelism, I do not believe it is our “one purpose.” Soul-winning is a byproduct of our purpose, but not the purpose itself. It is this misunderstanding which has led the modern church astray in it's thrust to do whatever is necessary to bring people in.

Salvation was Christ's work, completed on the cross. But concerning us, He said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). This was the work that was intended to remain, even after He ascended back into heaven … the building of the church.

“That's what we do!” some say. “We build churches!” And indeed there are many church planting bodies which secure buildings, provide leaders and people, establish services, and begin new congregations. Is that what Jesus meant though? Is our purpose just to flood the streets with more and more congregations?

How about first examining what is NOT our job? It is not our job (elders) to make decisions for the body. “Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:22). Jesus is the One with “all authority” (Matthew 28:18), therefore church leaders need to stop acting as if they have some power base.

Second, it is not our job to lay a foundation for the church, because it's already been done. God's household has been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Yet when churches proceed to write THEIR books … the cathechisms, the books of discipline, the bylaws, the organizational charts, the vision plans, etc. … they are saying in effect that the Bible is NOT sufficient to meet those tasks.

So what is our “one purpose”? Ephesians 5:25-27 says that Jesus “loved the church and gave Himself up for her, [26] so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] that He might 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.” Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. Jesus cleansed us. What was His goal? To prepare His bride for heaven.

Today's services see lots of people shaking hands and making friends. We see people clapping their hands and singing their praise songs. We see them all bow their heads while someone prays for Aunt Suzie's cancer treatments. We hear the preacher preach about the good works we can do in our community. We take up an offering to pay for all our ministers, secretaries and missionaries. We take up a special collection to send our youth group to Six Flags. We gather midweek for a Bible study and some cheesecake. There are even a few people left over who drop by the church on Saturday for the work day.

What do any of these things have to do with preparing the bride of Christ for heaven? Which of those things make us more holy or more blameless? Which of these things prove to the world that we have been sanctified – set apart – for a special and unique purpose? I believe those things serve the opposite purpose. They do nothing but make us more like the world, and less like Christ. If our mind is on our favorite style of music, or our friends, or our stomachs, or our kids' fun time … then it is not on how to please Christ our husband.

If there is soul-winning to be accomplished, it will be done because we are salt and light in our communities. Our “bait and switch” techniques and the “carnival barker” atmosphere we have created within our congregations will never produce real growth. The answer to bringing people into the church (not a building) is not to be like them, but to be like Christ. They will not join us because they see that we are just like everyone else, but because we stand out from everyone else.

“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. [29] For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:28-29). Are we becoming “conformed to the image of His Son”? There are churches declaring themselves as “imperfect people” and “sinners,” yet the word of the Lord says, “God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

“Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7), says the apostle. “... in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12). I have heard within the church the profanity and coarse jesting of elders and members alike. I have seen within the church adultery and immorality, gossip and slander. I have witnessed arguments, divisiveness, hatred and the literal gnashing of teeth. I have seen those who call themselves Christians fall away from Christ at the slightest sign of trouble. I have watched as people turned their ears away from the truth of God to listen to the whisperings of mere men. I have seen countless lives on display, but none that can be described with the word “purity.” And these are the “examples” for a community that needs to know Christ?

One purpose. Just one … and we can't even get that right. Just be the bride. Act every day as if you are wearing white robes (Revelation 7:9, 13) and you must not get them dirty! Your husband, Christ, is coming back. Be ready when He gets here. That's our one purpose … to prepare for the return of Christ.

“But what about soul-winning?” ask those who have been brainwashed by the Bible colleges. What do you think will happen if we start acting like Christ? What will happen if start living what we preach? Do you really think the sheep in the pasture has to be told how to procreate? Does the shepherd gather them together to give them a seminar on the subject? #sigh #readthebiblepeople

“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. [11] For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:10-11).

One purpose, people. Be the bride.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

New Birth

I am so grateful to the Lord for the safe birth of my second grandchild. Holding little Tabitha Ruth for the first time was truly a joyous moment. So too was my grandson's birth, and the birth of my children. But – not to diminish these births for a second – an even greater joy … an even more emotional moment … took place as I baptized my two children into Christ.

Currently my grandchildren – Jonah and Tabitha – are beyond the reach of Satan (Romans 7:9). They are protected by their innocence. But a day is coming when they will learn the difference between right and wrong. They will – at some point in the future – choose to sin, and in that moment stand in need of a Savior.

I am grateful though that there are at least five of us – Christian parents, Christian grandparents, and a Christian uncle – who stand ready to teach and instruct these two little ones. We stand together – warriors ready for the conflict – prepared to fight for their souls.

Recently, evolutionary biologist and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins spoke to a large crowd of people gathered for a literary festival. In his speech, Dawkins stated that what Christians teach their children – the “indoctrination of religion” – should be labeled as “child abuse.” “We must not indoctrinate our children,” he says.

You see? Already the fight with the devil for their souls has begun. This is exactly why we must indoctrinate them. We must tell them “the old, old story of Jesus and His love.” We must teach them of a God and His “amazing grace.” We must warn them of the enemy who wants to destroy them.

I will never forget the first song I sang in public at the age of three. “Mommy told me something a little boy should know, and it's all about the devil and I've learned to hate him so. She said he causes trouble when you let him in the room. He will never, never leave you if your heart is filled with gloom. So let the sunshine in, face it with a grin! Smilers never lose, and frowners never win! So let the sunshine in, face it with a grin! Open up your heart and let the SON shine in!”

My mother taught me that song – and so many others. My parents read me the Bible stories. They taught me the difference between right and wrong, according to God's standard. Eventually, my father baptized me. I baptized my children. I look forward to seeing Joshua baptize his children.

This is why the Bible is so important … from the earliest age. God's word was delivered “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged” (Deuteronomy 6:2).

Yes, the life of a newborn child is reason to celebrate. But a greater celebration is coming! “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). We may not have to worry about that yet … but if the Lord continues to tarry, the day is coming when we will, because “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Regardless of what the atheists say, God has declared, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Therefore, we have a duty to our children … to indoctrinate them … to protect them … to prepare them … to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Thank you, Lord, for a new birth! And I mean that both physically and spiritually.

“How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives. But greater still the calm assurance this child can face uncertain days because He lives!”

Andrea! Josh! Barak! Lee Anne! It's not too early. Let's get started. The fight starts here and now. If we don't draw a line in the sand, Satan will come and kick it in our face. Our preparation has a purpose … “whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4) … and those two little souls are worth far more than a mere existence on this earth.

Don't get me wrong … I look forward to spending time with my grandchildren. I want to play with them, go fishing and camping with them, pray with them, sing with them. I want to see them grow up and become superior citizens … of the kingdom of God.

I'm glad I was there for their physical birth. I hope I'm still around to see their rebirth. And while I am grateful for time spent with them in this world, I hope even more for an eternity with them in heaven.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Behold My mother and My brothers!"

Much is said of the family relationship. It is said that “blood is thicker than water.” One person says, “Whatever happens, always remember that we're family.” I have also heard it said, “There is nothing more important than family.”

If any of those statements are true, then how exactly would you explain the following comments by Jesus? Taken from Matthew 12:46-50, “While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. [47] Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” [48] But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” [49] And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! [50] For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.””

Were the disciples of Christ REALLY Jesus' family? And was He dismissing His human mother and brothers as no longer being His family? To accurately assess the passage, one must understand that it has been God's intent from the beginning to move man to a higher order than that which is merely physical. So much of the Bible is misunderstood – or not understood at all – because it is spiritual in nature. As it is written, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Is a Bible college education valuable? Sure, under the right conditions. But if a man has a Ph.D. in theology yet does not have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, then his teaching cannot be correct or profitable. Thus David said, “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99). It wasn't that his teachers lacked education … they lacked the Spirit of God.

What does that have to do with our text? Everything. To many people, family truly is their all in all. I know those who spend an exorbitant amount of time hauling their kids to every extracurricular activity under the sun. Yet those same people will rarely spend time in prayer or Bible study. No matter what the lips say … the evidence says clearly that family is more important than God.

In our text, Jesus was making a very clear distinction between the physical and the spiritual. He was NOT saying that physical family is unimportant, but that the spiritual family relationship supersedes the physical one. When one is worldly, the family relationship can indeed be everything. But when one is spiritual, the blood relationship is reevaluated and reconsidered in light of the heavenly relationship.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This is not hyperbole, but truth. The physical must give way to the spiritual, because the physical is tied to a world destined for destruction. “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— [13] for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [14] For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).

Jesus spoke frankly, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; [52] for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. [53] They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). If the physical relationship is more important than the spiritual one, then it proves a misplaced priority. How easy it is for family to become a god!

In the case of Jesus' own family, they did not correctly evaluate Him or the heavenly cause He represented. In John 7:1-5, we read, “Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. [2] Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. [3] Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. [4] For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” [5] For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”

His family gave Him good worldly advice … which was of no heavenly value at all. They believed in Jesus the Man, but not in Jesus the Son of God. They evaluated His situation only with physical wisdom, lacking any spiritual wisdom.

The same thing is true of so many leaders in the contemporary church. They raise their hands in agreement on physical issues, because the world tells them that a majority vote is a proper method for laying out a course … even though the Bible has never suggested such a method as a pattern for spiritual leadership. They think physically and act physically … and prove by their actions that they are not spiritual men.

This is also true within families. “Because I said so” was good enough for me as a child under my parent's authority, but now I have given all allegiance to a higher authority. What my heavenly Father says is of far greater weight than what my earthly father says. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Even the physical command, “Obey your parents,” is qualified by the spiritual parameter, “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1).

When I was adopted into God's family, I was removed from my earthly family. In fact, if my earthly family is not also a part of my spiritual family, then I owe them nothing at all. Perhaps blood IS physically thicker than water, but it was not the blood of my parents or siblings that purchased my salvation.

God is my Father, Jesus is my elder Brother, and – according to Christ – “whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Thus my consideration of any real family connection is tied directly to their behavior … it is associated with their response to God … it is obligated not by the blood of my progenitors, but by obedience to the One who is “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

The word of the Lord says that we are to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and ... run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Earthly family is such an encumbrance if they hold you back from full fellowship with the Lord. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). And if the agenda of a physical family is prioritized over the agenda of almighty God, then it becomes a “sin which so easily entangles us.”

“But I love my family!” Do you love them more than you love God? And if you TRULY love them, will you not do whatever is necessary to save their souls from hell … even if that means sharing hard spiritual truth which might cause them to withdraw from you?

Ultimately, we will all stand before the Lord on the Day of Judgment. On that day, I will be held accountable for my actions … and for my associations. The Spirit of God has commanded, “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17) … which includes, if necessary, even my own flesh and blood.

I look forward to the splendor of heaven, in which I will have eternal fellowship with my REAL family … with my REAL brothers and sisters … with those who have placed the Spirit above the flesh … with those who have denied themselves and accomplished the will of God.

But until that day comes, I will “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1) … even if they share my DNA. “Forgetting what lies behind” (that which is earthly, even if it is family) “and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (heaven, and the real spiritual family into which I have been adopted), “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). I will let nothing – not even family – deter me from that goal.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Conflict Resolution

One need not be a rocket scientist to see that this world is deteriorating. Not merely the material order, but society as well degenerates. Forget for a moment the so-called “pagan” nations. America – that which has been called a “Christian” nation – has become anything but Christian. As one contemplates current events, it is not hard to imagine what it was like for Lot living in Sodom and Gomorrah. 2 Peter 2:8 says, “for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds.” I understand, Lot … I understand.

It is not surprising that the moral values of our nation are in decline. As a people, we no longer give God anything more than a cursory lip service. And if in fact the heart of a people is evil, then it is no surprise that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Such is the state of our union today that people can no longer even communicate. We have technology that enables communication greater than at any time in human history. We've come a long way from smoke signals and the telegraph, from postcards and letters. Now we have cell phones, satellite phones, VoIP, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Facetime … and the list goes on.

But for all of our communication capabilities, we have actually lost communication ability. Two people are brought forward during a television news segment to represent opposing political views. Both claim to have the facts, and both claim to be in the right. The problem is, logic dictates that for both of them to be right and hold contradictory views is impossible. The easy solution would be for someone to step forward and check their facts to find out who's right and who's wrong. But such a simple thing is no longer simple … a platform of absolute truth is never reached … and both sides resort to name-calling and belittlement.

Unfortunately, this communication breakdown has invaded the church. “One body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4) has degenerated into parties and cliques. As the apostle noted in Corinth, “when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Brother Paul, such divisions still exist. Friend group opposes friend group. Family opposes family. Communication comes in only two forms: 1) thinly-veiled hypocrisy, as everyone pretends to get along, or 2) outright hostility. I have yet to see an earthly congregation in which everyone is “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

So if we truly desire to be “Christian,” then how should we resolve these conflicts?

First, there are certain things we must NOT do. We cannot give into the flesh and let our base instincts rule. Too many people speak without listening. Too many speak in anger. Too many gossip and slander, considering themselves experts on things of which they have no first-hand knowledge. Too many follow party lines rather than thinking for themselves. Too many are talking behind backs rather than communicating face to face. Too many are whispering in corners rather than bringing their conversations into the middle of the room. Such people are like roaches and rats – bold in the darkness, but scurrying for the holes when the light hits them.

But this is the world in which we live. Cowards become bold behind the anonymity of a computer screen, yet those bold enough to speak face to face cannot disagree or debate without red faces and angry words. Satan has been victorious, because “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

The Scriptures offers a better pattern for those willing to listen and learn. First, let's consider a conflict presented for our edification. Galatians 2:11-14 says, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. [13] The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. [14] But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?””
There are three points in particular which jump out of that text regarding conflict resolution. First, this problem was dealt with face to face (v. 11). Second, this wasn't about personal opinion, but about “the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). And third, when the situation did not appropriately resolve itself from a private meeting, it was then dealt with “in the presence of all” (v. 14).

Some might suggest that what Peter (Cephas) did was none of Paul's business, but Peter's behavior was affecting the Christianity of others. His attitude became a stumbling block for the body. Absolutely it was Paul's business. It would have been my business … or your business. “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

But the right way to deal with such a problem is one which follows the biblical pattern established. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. [16] But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Step #1: Identify the sin. If real sin has occurred, then you will be able to provide chapter and verse for the transgression. If you cannot provide a biblical foundation for what you believe is a fault, then it is probable that you are allowing your own personal feelings to interfere.

Step #2: If you believe sin exists, go to your brother personally and privately. This is not a matter to be shared with others. Nor is it right to simply shove a note in their pocket anonymously. Do you care about the body of Christ or not? The primary goal in conflict resolution is repentance and restoration. Whispering behind someone's back does not suggest credibility, and anonymity only displays cowardice. The only way a person will potentially see sinfulness within themselves is against a backdrop of righteousness.

Step #3: If your brother continues in sin and will not listen, confirm the sin. This is the step that is most often abused. Too often in confronting Joe Sinner, a few people are taken along as “moral support” or as “backup.” Perhaps others are brought in because they share your opinion of the other person. If there's anything worse than being confronted by one person with his chest puffed out and nose in the air, it's two or three more just like him. The verse stated explicitly though why others were involved. They were “witnesses,” so that “every FACT may be confirmed.” Therefore, I don't care what you think you know. Don't come to the table unless you have facts. Someone saw me do something thirty years ago? Really? You “think” I've committed such and such a sin because so and so informed you? Was so and so even a reliable and credible witness? Maybe you and your little gang don't know as much as you think you know. If you are going to truly resolve a conflict in a holy and righteous manner, then it must be based upon FACT. Confirm the sin!

Step #4: Eventually if a sin becomes blatant enough, it will begin to affect others. Trying to keep it behind closed doors will do nothing to protect body members who may be exposed to such sinfulness. As the doctor will tell you if you have cancer cells isolated in one part of your body, cut it out to protect the rest of the body! In the case of willful and blatant sin, the wrong thing is to ignore it. The whole church needs to know eventually … not to expose the shame of the sinner, but to protect those who have not yet succumbed to such temptation. And if the sinner will not repent even after being exposed to the congregation, then reject them even as they have rejected Christ. The modern church falsely speaks of unconditional love. The Bible though speaks of loving discipline, by which real repentance and restoration is brought about.

It is easy to see that in today's world, people don't really want to resolve their conflicts. What is held aloft as idealism is often nothing more than personal favoritism. People believe what they want to believe – regardless of the facts – and all the debate in the world will not change their minds. Such a mindset is not of God. The Spirit of the Lord works to unite, not divide. God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We therefore have a responsibility. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1). “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; [4] do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

This isn't about you, it's about Christ. This isn't about your feelings, but about God's word. As the Lord prayed to His Father, so I pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Forgive and Forget

On my birthday, a relative who had spiritually wounded me sent a card that contained a reference to Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The implication is that I should forget the past and move forward. First, I would be remiss if I did not correct the misinterpretation of the Scripture. Paul is not suggesting we forget the past, he is telling us to forget the sinful life we left when choosing to accept Christ and walk the narrow path to salvation. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). He is giving us an eternal recipe for success: Forgetting the old man of sin that should be dead and buried, and reaching forward to what only a new creation in Christ can attain.

So Paul's text is not about forgetting the past. It is not about forgetting grievances against you. In fact, Paul is the first to warn against those who have proven to be “dogs” and “evil workers” - those who have received a “false circumcision” (Philippians 3:1). He implores us to examine the evidence which our past contains in order to make a determination between those who “walk according to the pattern” and those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:17-18). As the apostle examines his own life, he remembers distinctly which single congregation supported him when he first began to preach and the fact that every other congregation neglected to help him (Philippians 4:15).

But my relative – who claims to love me – has suggested that I need to let go of the past and move on ... to forget any perceived sins against me. In effect, I am being asked to consider the family relationship as more important than whatever grievances I may have. This certainly is a popular thought. Modern psychologies – which have invaded both the world and the church – teach us that we cannot move forward – in our lives, in our relationships – unless we learn to forgive. It is said that we must not harbor resentments. “You have to forgive and forget!”

But is that the truth? Why then has God said to the churches three times, “I have this against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20)? In fact, can you find even one passage of Scripture in which God forgets the past and overlooks sins committed against Him? Only one thing – ONE – causes God to forget sin, and that is repentance. In every other case, God has indeed harbored resentment. “I will set My face against you” (Leviticus 26:17). “I will act with hostility against you” (Leviticus 26:24). “I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:28).

““You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting! [7] I will winnow them with a winnowing fork at the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy My people; They did not repent of their ways””
(Jeremiah 15:6-7). Why didn't God just forget about the past? Because “they did not repent of their ways.”

Forget psychology! Forget Oprah Winfrey! What does Jesus say? “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. [4] And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). According to the Master, there is no forgiveness apart from repentance.

I have made my grievances crystal clear against my family members. I would love for the family relationship to be restored. I long for the fellowship of those who desire to be my Christian brothers and sisters. But this isn't about a petty insult. This isn't about getting my feelings hurt. This is about the rejection of my ministry to Christ, and therefore Christ Himself.

I have been fired by “Christian” congregations four times. In each case, members who claimed to love me and my family believed lies and turned away from us. They would not support us. They denied the evidence of my life and my preaching. I cannot forget that. God does not forget that. A separation has been made. “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11).

Only once in almost thirty years has someone from a former congregation contacted me to say, “I was wrong.” Once. That brother I graciously accepted back into my life with tears. The repentance was sufficient to warrant forgiveness. For the rest – even from my family members – I'm still waiting.

I cannot forgive sinful behavior apart from repentance, because God does not. Not one unrepentant sin has blindly being overlooked by the Lord. He does not ignore our transgressions with a conspiratorial wink. Man is superior at excusing sinful behavior. “Oh, we're only human. We're all just imperfect people.” God never makes such declarations. Can you really imagine Him saying, “Oh, it's all right, you're only human. I'll ignore that sin since you're all just imperfect people.” Only by repenting will proper fellowship be restored.“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).

My family treat me as if I have severed the ties that bind us as some sort of temper tantrum. Just the opposite. I take no pleasure in the separation, nor have I walked away from them lightly. What has been done was affected only after much prayer and consideration of the Scriptures. Before I ever considered their sins, I first considered my own, as Jesus says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:5).

Also, they (my family and former congregations) have in effect – by their behavior and speech – suggested that no sin was committed. If they do not see their sin, that is their problem not mine. I am responsible to the Scriptures, which state, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). I cannot force someone to understand, or even to listen. All I can do is speak truth.

God did so in abundance, yet His people – those who claimed to love Him – rejected His spiritual assessment. “How have we despised Your name?” (Malachi 1:6). “How have we defiled You?” (Malachi 1:7). “How have we wearied Him?” (Malachi 2:17). “How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8). Jesus also warned of such blindness – and its repercussions – early in His ministry, “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).

In fact, considering such Scriptures, it becomes all the more necessary for me to remove myself from such people. Overlooking the sin would only perpetuate the blindness. The right thing to do when unrepentant sin remains blatant and outstanding, according to the apostle of Christ, is to sever fellowship, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Sometimes it is only by an extraordinary measure that wickedness can be revealed and realized.

Our Declaration of Independence claims that when it becomes time to “dissolve the …. bands which have connected them with another … a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Our founding fathers were following a biblical model … and so have I. As Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. [16] But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

Friday, April 5, 2013

That's Not Trust

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; [9] indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; [10] who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

The circumstances in which the apostle found himself were dire indeed. When you've reached the point where you truly believe you are going to die, how much lower can you go? But God specializes in the impossible. As Jesus testified, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). What is required from man though is trust.

I would define trust as responsive faith. It believes, but doesn't only believe. It has faith, but that faith actively works. Trust means putting what you believe into practice.

“Did God really say that?”
"Yes, He really said that.”
“Did He mean it?”
“Yes, He really meant it.”
“And He actually wants me to do something about it?”
“Yup, that's the fact, Jack.”

I would suggest that there is little evidence that the modern church understands trust at all. For example, let's imagine Jesus is standing right on the other side of a deep chasm. He says, “Walk to Me.” Now, in the Bible we read of Peter and the trust that He placed in Jesus, getting out of the boat and walking on the water. But walking on air? Joe Christian is ready to obey though, so he grabs a hatchet, cuts down a few nearby trees, fashions a makeshift bridge, and is able to walk out on it just far enough to reach Jesus' hand. The Lord looked at him, sighed, shook His head, and said, “That's not trust.”

Imagine Jesus handing a note to Joe and saying, “Take this to your next door neighbor.” Hmmm. Joe's never actually talked to his next door neighbor. Doesn't even know his name, but he's willing to be obedient. So he calls a bunch of his friends and invites them to a party at his house. Knowing the noise of the party will get his neighbor's attention, he rents a large flashing signboard, programs in the message from Jesus, and sets it directly between his house and the neighbor's. And Joe, watching from his house, finally sees his neighbor look out his window and read the sign. The next day, Joe returns to Jesus with a big smile. “Mission accomplished!” The Lord looked at him, sighed, shook His head, and said, “That's not trust.”

Imagine Jesus taking Joe to a small lot in a relatively poor neighborhood. Joe notices a concrete foundation and a stack of building supplies nearby. Jesus says, “I want you to build a house.” He points to the supplies, “Everything you need is right there.” After Jesus leaves, Joe – ready to obey – rolls up his sleeves and gets to work. Framing the house doesn't take very long, since the wall studs were already together. Joe only had to raise them into place and secure them. He noticed a bag full of nails, but understanding the principles of construction, went out and bought power screws instead. He knew they would last much longer and be much more secure. Then Joe was ready to place the exterior walls. He noticed the boards Jesus provided weren't very attractive, and wanting to really please his Master, went out and bought better boards with his own money. By the time Joe was finished, the outside of the house was attractive and much more pleasing to the eye than those simple boards. All that was left was the inside. Again, Joe noticed the Lord's supplies were basic and minimal at best, so he called some of his friends in the community and asked if they would donate some better supplies for finishing and furnishing the inside of the Lord's house. Lots of people got involved, and soon the house was a veritable showplace inside. Joe smiled. He knew the Lord would be pleased with his initiative. About to contact Jesus, Joe had one last flash of brilliance, contacting a local company to completely landscape the yard. When the Master finally arrived, Joe smiled, asking, “Isn't it beautiful?” The Lord looked at him, sighed, shook His head, and said, “That's not trust.”

Can you imagine Jesus warming up the crowd with a few jokes before the Sermon on the Mount? Do you really see the apostles on the Day of Pentecost using a praise band to get the audience pumped before convicting them of crucifying the Christ? Can you really see one apostle or prophet surfing the internet during office hours, or attending the local meeting of the ministerial alliance? Can you see the early Christians, persecuted heavily because of their beliefs, gathering together for an exercise class? In fact, how many – if any – of our modern practices can be justified in Scripture?

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

What reason do we have for believing that the Lord will be proud of the congregations we have constructed? Is it because our buildings are so beautiful? How beautiful are the lives of those within? Will the amount of acreage we own make up for the lack of knowledge we possess or the lack of faith we display? Do we really believe that our improvements to the church are superior to what the Lord of all creation provided? Are we really so bold as to think that marketing experts know more about reaching the lost than the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords? The “Christian” church that is being presented to the world today is nothing like that found in the New Testament, yet our “Restoration” leaders smile, pat each other on the back, and say to Jesus, “Mission accomplished!”

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus turns away, saddened by the vain attempts to supplant His eternal wisdom. He sighs, shakes His head, and says, “That's not trust.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?"

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1).

Just imagine. Jesus, hanging on a cross, slowly and painfully dying. Every sin of the human race was upon Him. All the enmity of Satan was being brought to bear against Him. God the Father – in righteousness and justice – had no choice but to turn His face away from His only Son.

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

What man would not cry out in anguish in the midst of such suffering? How obvious that Jesus fully shared our humanity. As the divine Son of God, Jesus had always been in fellowship with His Father. Yet, because of sin, that eternal fellowship was broken. At that moment on the cross, Jesus was separated from His Father. Is it any wonder He cried out?

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

The entirety of the human race was represented on that cross – Jesus by His presence, and everyone else by their sins. Of that race, only Jesus deserved to live. He was the only One who had completely and thoroughly separated Himself from sin. He alone rejected every facet of that which belonged to the realm of Satan.

I have heard with my own ears men – elders, shepherds, church leaders – pray corporately, “Forgive us our many sins.” I have heard them as they stood before the flock, declaring, “I'm not perfect. I'm just a sinner – like we all are.” I have seen with my own eyes on church websites slogan after slogan stating, “We are just a group of imperfect people.”

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

Jesus said no. He refused. He would not sin. “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). So even though He was hungry and thirsty after forty days of fasting in the wilderness (Luke 4), still Jesus declined Satan's temptations. Even though He knew He would die horribly and bear the sin of the world, “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He accepted the weight of the world's wickedness and suffered the indignity of a public execution, rather than for one moment submit to sin.

So why has it become so common within the church to make excuses for sin? Why do we gloss over it? Why do we look the other way? When the elder prays, “Forgive us our many sins,” I have to ask what kind of life he has been living that would require such a prayer? According to God's word, an elder is to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). So why would such men constantly remind us of what sinners they are? In fact, all Christians – as the bride of Christ – are to be “holy and blameless” (Ephesians 1:4; 5:27; Colossians 1:22). The church is to be “sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10). Those who are called saints are to be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Philippians 2:15). It is Satan who wants us to be an “imperfect people.” God wants us to be “spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

I have asked that question, but I have not suffered as Christ did. I hear the word of the Lord, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). Yes, I have lost friends and family members for the sake of Christ. Yes, I have lost homes and property. Yes, I have lost jobs. Yes, I have been persecuted. Yes, I have had entire congregations of people turn away from me. Yes, I have been run out of town. Yes, I have experienced hatred, lies and the gnashing of teeth. Yes, at times it feels as though the Lord has abandoned me entirely. But I have still not suffered what my Lord suffered. Therefore,“I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11). There is no excuse for the so-called people of God to tolerate wickedness, much less advertise it. Jesus turned His back on sin, and gave us an example to follow.

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

When the church gathers her collective voice and declares to the world her “imperfect” status, it is obvious that she has forgotten the presence of Christ's Holy Spirit, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

God was forced by His holiness to turn away from His Son while bearing our stain of sin upon Him. But Jesus – even in such a horrid moment – would not turn away from His Father. The church must be reminded of her King's fortitude. What is so casually accepted in the assembly today ignores completely the warning of Scripture, “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:13).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

How have we become so callous … so complacent? When temptations are set before us, we must refuse! “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). When you feel the sting of sin and the attack of Satan, then you must take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). But do not bow to sin … ever! And certainly there should never be a public recognition that imperfection reigns within the body of Christ. The command and promise of God has obviously been forgotten,“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

Thank God that those were not Christ's last words. Yes, He experienced human weakness and suffering. Yes, He experienced anguish and heartache. Yes, He was assaulted by hatred and abandoned to die alone. But His trust in His Father overcame every obstacle that Satan placed in His path.

“And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last”
(Luke 23:46).

Jesus' trust was well placed! “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-9).

In the face of such dedication, where do we find an excuse for sin? When will the church open her eyes and see the grand deception of Satan? “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

“My God, My God, Why have You forsaken us?” My question, not Christ's. Therefore, I will provide the answer: Because we have believed the lies that we must acclimatize to our communities ... that we must do whatever it takes to attract sinners … that we must be like everyone else … that everyone must like us.

That wasn't the example of our Savior. He refused to sin. He rejected it completely. He preferred death on a cross to fellowship with Satan. He would not bow to peer pressure, and He certainly wasn't worried about social standing.

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

No one wants to suffer, but it is preferable to surrendering to sin.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul's response should be our response: “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. [10] 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 12:9-10).

“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”

Jesus did not submit to sin, but He submitted fully to His Father. We must so submit – not to the trials and temptations … not to the world and its works, but to “the author and perfecter of faith.”
“Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Praise God for a real Shepherd ... a great Shepherd who wants to lead us away from sin, even through the valley of the shadow of death, to a permanent place "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13)!