Monday, June 10, 2013

How serious is God?

Somewhere along the line … somewhere between the fallacy of unconditional love and the constant desire for programming that is the product of human wisdom and reasoning … man has lost his fear for God. Everything about the modern church suggests that God is weak and compliant to the whims of His creations.

Mere men – calling themselves religious leaders – sit behind closed doors and make decisions about the life and progress of their congregations. They discuss their ideas for hours, finally taking a vote to ratify their will upon the flock. A closing prayer invokes God's blessing upon the product of their collective wisdom. Meanwhile, the few Bibles in the room remain closed.

Paid ministers – professional “pastors” – sit behind office desks. They scour the internet searching for tips and tricks on how to tweak body programming in order to bring in more people and generate more revenue. They download graphics for their Powerpoint presentations, and cut and paste all the appropriate stories, jokes and illustrations for Sunday's message. They turn off the screen only long enough to read the book on their desk … not the Bible, but the current religious bestseller from which they are drawing their latest sermon series.

Meanwhile, the members of the congregation simply go about their daily lives. They get up and put on their Christian t-shirts, drink their coffee from a mug that has a picture of Jesus on it, turn on the computer screen and wiggle the mouse to take off the inspirational screen saver, then proceed to check the internet for sports scores and recipes, and to surf Pinterest and Facebook. The amount of God's word they digest in a day is limited to the random “verse of the day” that is sent to their email account.

Forgotten is the fact that God so detested sin that He attached to it from the beginning of creation the death penalty (Genesis 2:17). Forgotten is a flood which destroyed a world which had ignored God and become corrupt and violent (Genesis 6:11). Forgotten is the destruction of wicked Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24). Forgotten is the God who brought devastating plagues against Egypt (Exodus 7-11), and buried their military strength in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:27). Forgotten is the God who ended Korah's rebellion by causing the ground to open and the earth to swallow up the offending leaders (Numbers 16:32), and then sent a plague to wipe out those who followed his false leadership (Numbers 16:49). Forgotten is the God who sent poisonous serpents among His rebellious people (Numbers 21:6).

“Oh, but those are all Old Testament references. The New Testament God is a God of love!”

Oh, really? Is that what your religious leaders are teaching you?

Forgotten is the declaration of Jesus, “I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5).

Forgotten is the judgment against those who would ignore His word, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. [15] Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Matthew 10:14-15).

Forgotten is the verdict delivered against those who fail to repent, “It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22). “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:24). “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).

“You shouldn't take things so literally! You make God sound so serious.”

Was Jesus serious when He said “that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36)? Was He serious when He sent His Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)?

Was God serious when He caused Ananias and Sapphira to drop dead for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-10)? I believe it produced the intended result, as “great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11).

“Well, our church is a church of love, acceptance and forgiveness! If you don't believe me, just check our signboard out front. It's printed in big letters.”

Meanwhile – in not so big letters – comes the warning of the apostle Paul, that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18) … that “because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

“So what's the problem, Paul? Why are so many congregations failing to produce real Christians? Why are so many religious leaders compromising with the world? Why are preachers preaching watered down, crowd pleasing half truths?”


“Stop it, Jonathan! You're just trying to scare people!”

There's only one problem with the logic of such an assessment. I wasn't the one who wrote, “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES” (Hebrews 10:26-27). “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

“Well, I'm just glad my Sunday School teacher doesn't teach like that!”

“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

“But you're making it sound like I should spend more time scared than happy!”

“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:17). “IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?” (1 Peter 4:18).

For those of you who regularly attend a congregation focusing on strong emotional content and positive, uplifting messages, what exactly should we do with the entire chapter of 2 Peter 2? It isn't that pesky Jonathan Ingram, but an apostle of Christ who states that “false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. [2] Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; [3] and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. [4] For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; [5] and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; [6] and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; [7] and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men [8] (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), [9] then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, [10] and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, [11] whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. [12] But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, [13] suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, [14] having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; [15] forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; [16] but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. [17] These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. [18] 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. [20] For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. [21] For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. [22] It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.””

Oh, and by the way, did you catch that Peter was speaking not about worldly people, but about religious leaders? That's some pretty strong language he uses about supposed Christians. But you've probably never even heard that chapter read in the non-threatening, non-judgmental atmosphere of most contemporary congregations.

I find it ironic that churches create their own worship traditions which have no biblical basis, while ignoring completely the very few passages that actually DO refer to corporate worship. The greatest example I can think of is in relation to non-believers who attend our assemblies. Today, it is believed that you must not offend non-believing visitors, but instead to placate and woo them. Yet the apostle Paul – writing to a congregation that was exalting the soaring emotionalism of tongues over the sober message of prophesy – says that we must keep the main thing the main thing! The word of the Lord must be declared in such a way that when “an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; [25] the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).

Where are the men today like Abram, who “fell on his face” when God spoke (Genesis 17:3)? When God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). Where are the Christians today – when they read the revealed word of God – who “work out [their] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)?

Today's worship services are designed to inspire and entertain, to produce sentiment and solidarity. There is nothing at all to be afraid of!

Maybe that's the problem. Perhaps we need to reintroduce the concept of “the fear of the Lord,” which – according to God's word – is “the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10).

To those congregations which continually struggle to please both men and God, Jesus makes it clear, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30). To those who try to walk that imaginary line, your Master says, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. [16] So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

Do you still think that the New Testament God is a God of love? Certainly there is love available for those who would accept the Lord's terms and accept Christ as both Lord and Savior. But this world has already been marked for demolition. “By His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).

This is nothing new. The God of the Old Testament is not a different God than the One presented in the New Testament. Jude writes that “Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, [15] to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him”” (Jude 14-15).

Kind of neat, huh? A writer at the back of the New Testament directs our attention to the front of the Old Testament … to a prophesy that directs our attention back to the end of the New Testament.

OR … we could just sum it all up by saying, as written in the Revelation, “if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty serious to me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


“How do you invite someone to church when you're ashamed of your congregation?”

What embarrassed the individual was not peeling paint and dated carpet. It had nothing to do with a choir member out of tune or kids running in the aisles. This was about Christians living clearly hypocritical lives. The concern was for leaders who were incapable of expounding upon the Scriptures. The shame was in the desire to bring people to the truth of Christ, yet nothing about the individual's congregation revealed that truth. A strong emphasis was placed upon meeting perceived needs rather than real needs. The thrust of the services was entirely physical. The goal always seemed to be in pleasing the senses and the masses, rather than the Spirit of the Master.

How do you invite someone whose life you are hoping to change to a congregation full of people who have never changed? How do you ask them to sit next to you in a service that you cannot in good conscience support? How do you explain to them the benefit of a message in which you found no benefit?

The answer is: You don't. Invite them, that is. If you believe that something is wrong, why would you willingly support it?

I have heard it said, “Attending some church is better than attending no church.” What horrid thinking! Do you care so little for the person? Perhaps then you would hand them a glass containing water and poison, saying, “Drink this. Some water is better than no water.” Why would you purposely encourage the propagation of false doctrine? Why would you lead someone to drink from a polluted well?

From others, I have heard that you should never leave a troubled congregation … that you should always stay and try to fix the problems.

“Running away doesn't do anyone any good,” they say.

While that sounds noble, it is an answer born of human pride rather than the Holy Spirit.

“No one's going to drive me out of my church!”

What about the apostle's doctrine? “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. [18] For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18).

“But if I keep plugging along, maybe someone will listen.”

Listen to who? Jesus? You mean, the One who said, “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)?

So clearly there IS a time to separate yourself from those who do not represent Christ, accept His words, or receive those who have been sent by Him.

Another phrase I've heard countless times – primarily when the church splits loom - is, “You should support the church, not the minister.”

While I would never recommend following a man simply based on the power of his charisma, the statement itself has always seemed more concerned with “customer retention” than with the care and tending of the soul. Such a statement misrepresents the very nature of the church, which is to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Well, the truth is … this isn't about the church at all, it's about Christ. Christians are the ones who wear His name, not the other way around. The church didn't die for your sins, Jesus did. We are the body, but He is the head.

Have you ever noticed that no one in the New Testament ever invited someone else to church? The Samaritan woman ran back to her village – water pots forgotten – to tell people about Jesus (John 4). The apostles weren't out preaching the church, they were preaching Christ (Acts 5:42; 1 Corinthians 1:23). The church was growing not because of their programming, staff or facilities, but because “the word of God kept on spreading” (Acts 6:7). And those who became Christians weren't going on and on about the church, but were “rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48).

So when someone wants to force you to make a decision between the congregation and the minister, the correct choice is to turn to the best food source. Who's providing “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and “rivers of living water” (John 7:38)? The answer could be a) the congregation, b) the minister, or quite possibly c) none of the above.

When your local religious leaders begin to speak of what a friendly congregation they are a part of, or what a great _____ program they have (insert youth, music, men's, women's, drama, outreach, benevolence, missions, or whatever is locally popular), or what tremendous facilities they possess, ask them which one of those things will have a greater impact upon the lives of mankind than the word of Christ, which “implanted … is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

And as far as the original question goes, “How do you invite someone to church when you're ashamed of your congregation?” The answer is still: You don't. First, we don't invite people to church at all, we lead them to Christ. He is the only One able to make someone a part of His body (Acts 2:47). Having said that, we invite someone only to where Christ is preached and magnified. Many congregations will claim they do so, but let the seeker beware, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

And finally, if you are ashamed of your congregation … if you see behavior – especially among the leadership – which does not accurately represent Christ … if you hear preaching that is focused more on this world than the next, and is filled more with stories, humor and opinions than with Scripture … if you see that the programming for daily life has superseded the preparation for eternal life … then don't be afraid to speak what you already know in your conscience and your heart … that your congregation is not the church at all, but are “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4).

May we do what the apostle Paul did when faced with such deception, “But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” (Galatians 2:5). Not even an hour! Not one “worship” hour do I want to waste in pleasing myself, rather than pleasing the Lord … in being entertained, rather than edified and encouraged … in considering earth, rather than heaven … in listening to fiction, rather than fact … in giving attention to the straying sheep, rather than “the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Most people believe their congregation is just the greatest … and list out every (physical) reason why that is true. Yet the word of the Lord demands that we “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Perhaps your congregation will pass the test! Perhaps the Spirit of God is working among them. You will not know it by means of numerical patronage, but by their adherence to the Spirit's mission to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). If your preacher and leaders do not speak of such things, turn and walk away. Such a congregation has been created by the traditions of men and the desires of the membership, rather than “in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).

If you are ashamed of your congregation, perhaps there is a valid spiritual reason for that shame. Certainly such a body is not the one for which Christ died. No one should ever be ashamed of that which is divinely created. So there must be another explanation ... another power at work ... another "head" who has introduced a need for shame. “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” [17] But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:16-17). Therefore, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? [15] Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? [16] Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. [17] “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. [18] And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).