Friday, June 30, 2006

The Primacy of Idolatry

…what must I do to inherit eternal life?
(Mark 10:17 – NIV)

An idol is something that, when it is present, it is the prime motivator. It is what we are most passionate about. Perhaps it’s not what we spend the most time doing, but what will cause us to do things differently then “normal”. The test is that when “it” comes around and then “it” has precedence, then “it” is your god.

Some identify habits, and say, “I hardly ever do that; it has no control over me”. But smashing down idols isn’t just doing something less and less; it is confessing their primacy and power over our lives and asking for cleansing (1 John 1:9 / John 8:31-32).

The storms of our conscience will reveal the substance of our character – “seekers” such as the man in the passage above, what most would call “good people”, may have the best of intentions, know they are missing something, and have a right attitude as well. They seem ready to “do what it takes”, as far as good works are concerned. If they just knew what to do, they would do it, fulfill their duty, and then they would be okay.

But none of us is good enough, no matter what we do (Romans 3:10), which is how Jesus answers this man. They don’t realize that it is the inside of the cup that needs to be washed clean (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus used both tables of the Law to reveal to this man his true condition, and He does that to us as well.

We compartmentalize our faith; we fail to grow up in the Lord, just adding activity instead of being transformed. We are different on the outside, but when the prime motivator pops up we find out that we are still the same on the inside. We are still governed by the same passions, and we try to silence them by retreating into a Christian ghetto, or by staying busy.

This is why some children never go on with God because they see no relevance, church is just another thing they do, just a part of their life, but their passions ARE their life. Then, because they haven’t been taught that God can become their passion, and how to receive the life of God daily, they become frustrated and take the easy way by dropping out, giving up, or medicating with some secret sin.

They may keep going to church for years feeling inadequate, which they are in themselves, but not knowing what God wants to do through them, they harbor guilt and stifle their walk. They still fear God and hell, but never really commit their whole lives as true disciples of Christ. It is our fault to an extent, because we have done the same thing; we are those same kids all grown up physically but not spiritually. We are living defeated lives that go up and down depending on how successfully we can avoid our “it” rather than deal with “it”.

This may be you. To those who have the Holy Spirit as witness to their conscience (John 16:8-11), they don’t feel free. However, most, when confronted with this truth, would say that this is just their burden, their cross to bear. They would rather justify than just deny themselves. Even when it is something “good”, like service to God, or the feeling we get when we preach, or whatever, it can be an idol.

Oswald Chambers said, “You can never sanctify to God that with which you long to satisfy yourself”. Your destiny isn’t what you will do for Christ, it is not becoming the best you can be; it is Christ himself! Jesus was always preaching self denial, anti self realization, if you will. The ruler wanted to know how to be the person that would be enough, but Jesus says no! Those who would have us discover the heroes in ourselves are leading many down the primrose path to perdition. They would have thought that this young ruler was the best Christian in the church.

Some don’t even know that they have a need of eternal life; most people who we “convert” today just want to find something to fulfill their longings and felt needs. They have anxiety and frustration, and they think by adding faith to the mix, they can achieve joy, peace, and hope. They don’t see the need for forgiveness; they do not want to see their sinfulness as the problem.

We evangelize, not by making promises and having someone say a prayer, but by having them come to repentance, which leads to true saving faith, a believing that brings true joy and peace (Romans 15:13). If someone doesn’t realize their sinfulness, it is not a true conversion; repentance is a requirement for eternal life. Luther, in the first of his famous 95 theses, said that repentance is the whole life of a believer. We find out what is wrong, we repent, turning away from it, and in faith receive more of God in our lives.

This is how we bring Christians to maturity: some desire to escape from hell but don’t desire for the actual life of God in them (Galatians 2:20 / Philippians 1:21 / Colossians 1:27). They won’t empty themselves of themselves and therefore cannot be truly filled by the Spirit. They ride the rollercoaster of emotion, always going through a boom and bust cycle in their spiritual life depending upon circumstance. They try and “get better” by trying to control the circumstances in their life, but to try and control every circumstance is to be controlled by every circumstance.

Be sure of the fact that your idol will surface and you must deal with it or you will miss out on the power of God in your life to that extent. Most of us try and treat the symptoms and not the disease by doing “good works” or “staying busy”; we deal with the symptom not the sin. You may be saved but you can have more. You can be delivered from your sin in this life as well, and you can know what rivers of living water is all about (John 7:37-39). Become an iconoclast.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Tale of Two Saviors

What follows is a story I recently received: please read it, and my response that follows.

Billy Graham and Oprah - What a good story!

Last year I watched Billy Graham being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on television. Oprah told him that in her childhood home, she use to watch him preach on a little black and white TV while sitting on a linoleum floor.

She went on to the tell viewers that in his lifetime Billy has preached to twenty-million people around the world, not to mention the countless numbers who have heard him whenever his crusades are broadcast. When she asked if he got nervous before facing a crowd, Billy replied humbly, "No, I don't get nervous before crowds, but I did today before I was going to meet with you."

Oprah's show is broadcast to twenty million people every day. She is comfortable with famous stars and celebrities but seemed in awe of Dr. Billy Graham.

When the interview ended, she told the audience, "You don't often see this on my show, but we're going to pray." Then she asked Billy to close in prayer. The camera panned the studio audience as they bowed their heads and closed their eyes just like in one of his crusades.

Oprah sang the first line from the song that is his hallmark "Just as I am, without a plea," misreading the line and singing off'-key, but her voice was full of emotion and almost cracked.

When Billy stood up after the show, instead of hugging her guest, Oprah's usual custom, she went over and just nestled against him. Billy wrapped his arm around her and pulled her under his shoulder She stood in his fatherly embrace with a look of sheer contentment..

I once read the book "Nestle, Don't Wrestle" by Corrie Ten Boom. The power of nestling was evident on the TV screen that day. Billy Graham was not the least bit condemning, distant, or hesitant to embrace a public personality who may not fit the evangelistic mold. His grace and courage are sometimes stunning.

In an interview with Hugh Downs, on the 20/20 program, the subject turned to homosexuality. Hugh looked directly at Billy and said, "If you had a homosexual child, would you love him?" Billy didn't miss a beat. He replied with sincerity and gentleness, "Why, I would love that one even more."

The title of Billy's autobiography, "Just As I Am," says it all. His life goes before him speaking as eloquently as that charming southern drawl for which he is known.

If, when I am eighty years old, my autobiography were to be titled "Just As I Am," I wonder how I would live now? Do I have the courage to be me? I'll never be a Billy Graham, the elegant man who draws people to the Lord through a simple one-point message, but I hope to be a person who is real and compassionate and who might draw people to nestle within God's embrace.

Do you make it a point to speak to a visitor or person who shows up alone at c hurch, buy a hamburger for a homeless man, call your mother on Sunday afternoons, pick daisies with a little girl, or take a fatherless boy to a baseball game?

Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful you look when you're looking for what's beautiful in someone else?

Billy complimented Oprah when asked what he was most thankful for; he said, "Salvation given to us in Jesus Christ" then added, "and the way you have made people all over this country aware of the power of being grateful."

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same person, he said, "Ruth and I are happily incompatible."

How unexpected. We would all live more comfortably with everybody around us if we would find the strength in being grateful and happily incompatible.

Let's take the things that set us apart, that make us different, that cause us to disagree, and make them an occasion to compliment each other and be thankful for each other. Let u s be big enough to be smaller than our neighbor, spouse, friends, and strangers.

Every day, may we Nestle, not Wrestle!

Now for my response:

Oh, contraire! We must wrestle, we are called to not only wrestle, but to be casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every though to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). People are not at the bottom of this idea, and we are not to physically confront them; this is not a call to violence, obviously, it is a call to discernment. Sorry to rain on the parade, but feel good stories won't save Oprah; or you, or me. God takes us just as we are, but fortunately, He doesn't leave us there: He saves us from His wrath, which we deserve, and saves us to Himself, which we don't (Ephesians 2:1-10).

We are not all born as children of God. We must be born again (John 3:3), which has been Billy's message, but it was missing here, conspicuously. We cannot, we should not, and we must not allow our feelings for one another to override our duty to Christ. We are to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus, and He will draw those who will be saved unto Himself. What happens so often today is that we leave off the part about repentance, and give a false assurance to those who have no intention of trusting in Christ alone. We give the people what they want, a sense of being God's children without any requirement at all. Yes, it is all of grace, but those that do trust in Christ alone are changed, they are born again. I do not profess to know with certainty the state of Oprah's soul, but if she were born again, I believe she would not stop at "let God hug you", nor should Billy Graham. That is simply a message that will appeal to anybody, but that is not what we are to do. We are not honoring God by telling others that they may nestle in God's embrace, all the while leaving them to their sin. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, yes, but that love is only found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39), and we only become children of God through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26).

Oprah represents all that is wrong with the man made religion of the world. And friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God (James 4:4 / 1 John 2:15).

We are not talking about being mean to people, we must show them God's love, but we must not capitulate to the world's idea of it; we are to shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). The love of God in Jesus Christ is different from the sentimentality we see here in this message from Oprah and Billy, and the writer of this piece. It is incomplete, and it isn't enough.

As Christians, we must understand that we are at war. Indeed, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). How does this look? Well, not by looking for a demon behind every doorknob, but by understanding how these evil powers operate. Satan uses people, nice people who look as if they are doing good things, but they don't do them for the glory of God, but for the glory of man. It isn’t godly principles, as we see in this article, it isn't those that save you, it's God himself. They have a form of godliness but the deny the source of true godliness' power, which is Christ (2 Timothy 3:5). And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

I plead with you; see this as it truly is, just another ploy to get you to slip into a feel good coma, all the while slipping down into hell. Repent, trust Christ alone, and leave Oprah to the rest of the world. Billy Graham ought to know better, but we have seen this before. Now is the time to discern between the Holy and the common. The old redemption story is the only one that saves.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20)!

Here is a link to several articles about the Oprah phenomenon:

Here is a quote from one of the articles: Oprah's newly-packaged positive-thinking spirituality is tailor-made for the empty souls of our postmodern age. She promises meaning without truth, acceptance without judgment, and fulfillment without self-denial.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Program Police

…and the spirit rested upon them;.. but went not out into the tabernacle:
(Numbers 11:26)

In this passage from the book of Numbers, we see the children of Israel had been complaining about wanting flesh to eat. The people were grumbling, and Moses was becoming weary. God had Moses appoint 70 elders to help handle the burden, and the men were given of the Spirit that was upon Moses. Then these elders began to prophesy, and went into the tabernacle, but two stayed behind and prophesied in the camp. Joshua, believing that these men were in the wrong, and out of order, told Moses. Joshua was probably “right” in his zeal for order, but Moses’ answer holds significant impact and import for us today. Moses told Joshua his hope that all would receive the Spirit. Rather than feel threatened by the delegation of power, Moses understood something Joshua had yet to learn. He had the presumption of faith; he had become one of the program police.

The two men who did not go into the tabernacle shows us an interesting point; these men were apparently supposed to go to the tabernacle, but the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32), and they did not go. God may have someone do something out of the ordinary, or perhaps a person isn’t quite in the way they should be, but we must not be so “rash to do good” that we lack patience or meekness with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jealous for the Kingdom, yes, but we must remember that we are dealing with fellow fallen humans, and must not forget the words of our Savior, For he who is not against us is on our side (Mark 9:40). Not everyone is going to do things “in order”, especially our version of it!

J.I. Packer has said that God has an “ardor for order”, and this is true, God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). However, sometimes we take this concept too far, and impose our own rigid standards where God has left room for spontaneity. Surely we have seen the excesses of going too far to each side. Paul said let all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40), but notice he said let all things be done. We should be wary of becoming so structured that our ministry runs like clockwork, instead of Christ-work.

Moses’ desire to see the Spirit poured out can be linked with the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28-29) and the events of Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21). Today, we can all enjoy the gifts of this anointing: Jesus Christ, the Anointed One lives in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. While all may not be prophets in the strictest sense of the term, the Spirit is indeed upon all who believe, and we are all given spiritual gifts. God does not simply use the gifted talkers and thinkers to lead his people; the most well read scholar is not chosen because of his much learning of the Greek or Hebrew languages alone. How many men leave seminary as a “Master of Divinity” yet they are a disaster of ministry? Pushing through a program, whether for ministry training, discipleship groups, or Sunday morning service does not guarantee the blessing of God.

It is good, and even important to study, and specialized, formal training has its place. We need scholars, but true pastor-teachers, prophets, and evangelists of the Lord are called by Him, and will be empowered by Him. Consider the unlearned disciples, but also the learned Paul; the point is that God isn’t in the business of calling the gifted; He goes about gifting the called. And as Christians we are all called. Whatever the task God calls us to, He is sure to provide us with the grace by the Holy Spirit to fulfill His purposes. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What are you thinking of ?

What does this image bring to mind? Perhaps somewhere you have been, or somewhere you have lived, or would like to live.

Maybe you don't think of a place, but an idea. Like peace, tranquility, or relaxing. Could it be that some of you think about the calm before the storm? Or about the fence? Or the fact that the sun is setting?

What comes to your mind when you see things says a lot about your mindset at the time.

Think about it.......

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Strike Four: Ichabod!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this series of disturbing stories. The Episcopal Church USA (2.3 million members) is part of the larger Anglican Communion (77 million). The ECUSA has apostatized beyond repair: GET OUT NOW!

Strike One:
In 2003, Episcopalians angered many conservatives in the United States and abroad by electing an openly gay man from New Hampshire, V. Gene Robinson, as a bishop. Before Robinson's consecration, no openly gay priest had become a bishop in the Anglican Church's more than 450-year history. In 1998, global Anglicans voted that homosexual behavior was contrary to Scripture. In 2004, top Anglican leaders officially called for American Episcopalians to repent.

Strike Two:
Sunday, June 18, 2006, the Episcopal Church chose Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as its leader, making her the first woman to head any denomination in the Anglican Communion worldwide. She was known as one of the most liberal bishops in America. Only the United States, Canada and New Zealand have female bishops, although some other provinces allow women to qualify for the position. The Church of England does not allow female bishops. Jefferts Schori, 52, a former oceanographer, backed Robinson's election.

Strike Three, Your Out!
Newly elected leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on Monday, June 19, 2006 that she believed homosexuality was no sin and homosexuals were created by God to love people of the same gender. Interviewed on CNN, Jefferts Schori was asked if it was a sin to be homosexual. "I don't believe so. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us," she said.

Strike Four, Ichabod!
The 2006 ECUSA General Convention tabled discussion on a proposed resolution that would put the Church on the side of saying that Jesus Christ is the only name by which anyone is saved; the resolution was deemed too controversial to be discussed.

Say what you want about the first three items, but there is no way you can argue the fact that the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to salvation. There is no way you should remain in this synagogue of Satan.

John 14:6 – Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Acts 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sign Language

… the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.
(2 Thessalonians 2:9)

Not all signs and wonders point to God. Even if done in the name of God, and done in a way to promote virtuous ideas, i.e. healing someone, the overall message must be discerned. Do the signs bring glory to Christ? Is it consistent with Scripture? Do we think that it is a righteous sign just because the person performing the sign says so, or because they profess to love God?

The spirit of antichrist will indeed do the miraculous; at first, it will even be for “good”. If we are looking at the “goodness” of actions, and not judging by the Word, we will be deceived. You may scream, “But I won’t be here when antichrist appears!” The study of end time events (eschatology) is debatable; however, even now we must beware of lying signs and wonders. The spirit of antichrist is already among us (1 John 2:18).

We may tend to think that “lying signs” mean ones that don’t “work”. But God is talking about signs that distract from His glory, and away from His truth. God warned the Jews in the days of Moses about lying signs and wonders, and the warning still rings true. If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth (is testing) you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

Notice that the sign or wonder comes to pass; it works! Remember we discussed signs that worked yet people who won’t make it into the kingdom in Matthew 7. The false prophet described here is one who may perform a sign or wonder, one that is “real”, but then introduces some new idea, one that is different than the way we know and have learned about God.

This is the key to the deception; the sign was just to disarm our discernment. Now the innovation is introduced, and under the guise of a new “level” or power or experience, or supposed deeper intimacy with the God of the Bible, a false God is ushered in, unbeknownst to those unsuspecting souls made spellbound by the sign.

Here is the key to discernment; Paul said if any man preaches another gospel than the one he delivered, let him be anathema (Galatians 1:8-9). That meant that if he didn't say it, don't believe it! If there is some new thing that someone else says that we cannot find in some seed or other form in the canonical writings of Paul, it is anathema. In the scripture, we have all we need for life and godliness, and an understanding of the scripture will yield the defense we need against the presumption of faith, heresies, and all such foul flavors. The scripture is our shelter.

Today, most ministers performing signs under the presumption of faith would not deliberately give an overt call to seek other gods, but they may be deceived as to where they are leading people. Discernment must be used to see if a sign or wonder is truly an act of grace that glorifies God, or if it draws us away from the Lord and to our own desires. We must be diligently on guard because God will test us; He has said so in His Word.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What Are You Looking For?

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign… blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed
(Matthew 12:39 / John 20:29)

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not His ruckus. What we are attempting to do here, by giving these verses together, is to show the problem with seeking after signs and unusual manifestations today. Why do some people NEED to be at every so-called revival or outpouring? Prayer, fasting, worship, Bible study, witnessing, discipling, journaling, etc., are all blessings in themselves. It is a privilege to be able to be in communion with God through these “methods”. Why do we feel the need for more?

Could it be that our spiritual maturity is lacking? Maybe our spiritual disciplines are not exercised at a high level? Why do we not see signs in our own walk? Do we feel that we will become more spiritual if we go to an event where there is a “move” of God? Does greater emotional response equal a deeper relationship with Christ, or does it mean that we are experiencing a closer touch of the Holy Spirit?

These questions are intended to stir up awareness about possible problems with our motives. Of course, a move of the Spirit is wonderful, exciting, and to be longed for. But are genuine repentance and a deeper relationship, a casting away of sin, and a new, more Christ-like character our goal? When we truly have an encounter with the Holy Spirit we will be changed, not for a week, but for forever.

Think of all the biblical examples, and how Isaiah etc., realized how holy God was and how pathetic they were (Isaiah 6). Moses at the burning bush, Paul on the road to Damascus, John on the island of Patmos; a visitation by an angel or the verisimilitude of the Lord, or the presence of the Holy Spirit should in the first instance be a reverential, and even fearful thing, not simply a state of euphoria. Signs and wonders happen, but are we seeking the signs or a more intimate fellowship with Jesus? Do we define intimacy with feeling or fusion? Is intimacy simply experience or is it a bonding through time and commitment?

Seeing and being part of signs and wonders does not necessarily equate with loving God more, or growing in faith. For example, we could be using someone’s tools but not know the person. Someone could use our tools better than we could but that doesn’t mean they own them. Does Christ own you, or are you just using His stuff to get what you really want?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Take Heed

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall
(1 Corinthians 10:12)

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul warns of this twisted thinking, retelling the story of how the Israelites displeased God in chapter 10. In their self-confidence, masking as confidence in God, they presumed upon the Lord; murmuring about lack, tempting about His power, and mixing idolatry with supposed godliness. Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians had been doing this and that they (and we today) are to keep a diligent heart toward the Lord. Standing against such self-confident presumption he wrote the verse you see above.

Sincere, serious, God-fearing Christians with any amount of spiritual discernment can obviously tell that there are many false “apostles” and “prophets” in the world today. However, there are multitudes of immature or new believers that are being taken captive by the schemes of supposed servants of God. These “servants”, while occasionally outright children of darkness, more often than not are just deceived themselves, only presuming to lead into the light of God’s truth, while actually being led by their own passion for glamour.

Under a false sense of humility and dependence, they entice carnal Christians with comforting words about “restoration” and “revival” rather than convicting with character words like “repentance” and “reformation”. People get caught up in seeking “a move of the Spirit” while not taking heed to their own lives, foregoing an abundant life of obedience for the “spiritual red-line” of emotional release.

This is not a new phenomena; it has been going on for centuries, but is cloaked with an ever-increasing sophistication. Truly, we need more spiritual discernment in the pulpit as well as within the laity today. Within these following missives, a history of some of the excesses and heresies of the past will be detailed, and statements that point to the truth will be given so that we may be trained to see the warning sign – “the presumption of faith” – with regards to gifts and heretical movements. Biblical examples of what to do and what not to do will also be provided as further evidence that this presumption can (and does) happen.

J.M. Stifler said it well when he remarked, “There are two ways of despising God, one is to ignore His power, the other is to presume upon it.” Perhaps many who are reading this believe certain spiritual gifts, such as tongues, continue today as in the early church. Others may not, but both sides wonder how they can know when people, especially themselves, are actually being Spirit-led, as opposed to being emotionally-led. What they see today is “going too far”, they might conclude.

These following days will deal with the notion that we can be deceived. We will also discuss why signs and wonders are not necessarily to be sought after, and will show how others have been taken captive. We will introduce some clear-cut instruction on avoiding the “pit” falls, and talk about the antithesis of the presumption of faith – the obedience of faith: Christ’s emphasis on discernment of God’s will by continual communion and ever-mindful humility.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Perception and Deception

…the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil
(Hebrews 5:14 – NASB)

Unfortunately, many in the church today seem to think that all one has to do is “trust in Jesus” and you cannot be lead astray. They will say things like – “If you love Jesus, and you keep your eyes on Him, you can’t go wrong.” The problem with this is that while it seems to be solid advice, and it is, it is only applicable if we actually do have our heart prepared and we actually do have our eyes set only on Jesus.

However, many times we may feel like our motives are right, but not accurately judge them in light of God’s Word, or we believe that we know God’s will when we do not. Wanting to do the right thing does not mean we are actually doing it, just as believing something does not make it so.

There has been, and continues to be, many individuals, churches, movements, etc., that have lapsed into error, heresy, and even outright blasphemy – all in the name of God. To presume that just because we want to do right (or think we do) does not mean we are doing so. We are not all given a spiritual sixth sense that bypasses the mind.

Nowhere has this presumption been more evident in recent times than in the area of spiritual power, i.e. gifts and manifestations. Hordes of believers are flocking to wherever the current “scene” or “move” is. The problem is that many seek only an outward manifestation, a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit at work extrinsically, rather than an inner transformation, a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit at work intrinsically. This leads to an inconsistent spiritual life, where one keeps getting moved by the Spirit but does not get moved within their spirit. They may soon become dependent upon continual “signs” to keep them in the flow spiritually (emotionally / psychologically).

As a consequence, the believer seeks to imitate or duplicate this “power” within their personal life, and begins to rely on feelings, impressions, etc., believing that they are being Spirit-led. A wrong view of God develops, and God becomes a projection of their best feelings. They bring God down to their level, and presume their intentions to virtue are God given. But our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), and we must depend on the continuing counsel of God’s Word, not on our feelings. The Psalm of David needs to be prayed “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psalm 19:13).

Nevertheless, when addicted to signs and wonders, the perception of God becomes distorted for many, and they are easy targets for deception. They see their deliverance as needing to come from the outside, as a move of God, moving their particular problem out of the way. But the deliverance that they desire is not the deliverance that they require. What they need is reformation in their lives; but what they seek is a so-called revival.

In this scenario, because of now depending on outside manifestations for spiritual food, the believer is deceived into thinking God will supply all their needs (really just their wants) from the “outside”, as a result of supernatural power. They begin to look for those who will “tickle their ears” with talk of God meeting their every financial need (desire) and so forth. The merchants of the microwave miracle come calling and they are more than willing to answer. They are all too easy accommodated by those who prey upon the weak.

Primarily, this comes from so-called men and women of God who sell these dupes a warped view of the Gospel, playing to the fleshy desires for gain, promising peace, success, and longevity on earth, as if this is what the Gospel is all about. Certainly we have hope for a better life here (see 1 Timothy 4:8), but our focus must be heavenward and not earthbound (see Colossians 3:2). C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in, aim at earth and you get neither.”

These people are soon “all the way in”; they believe that they love the Lord, they have seen His power, and they trust that He will “just take care of me”, without any proper semblance of a maturing and diligent relationship with God. They just go and get their fix, as it were. Don’t let this be you.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Presumption of Faith

Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
(Psalm 19:13)

It was said long ago, and has been repeated often since that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Thinking back on our own lives, it isn’t hard to remember times when we thought or felt like we were doing something noble or just, only to realize that we were misinformed, deluded, or just plain wrong. Maybe we wanted to tell somebody something nice, but we put our foot in our mouths, or we wanted to inform somebody of an item that we thought they needed to know, but it upset them greatly and was unnecessary. How many times have you had to use the excuse, “I was only trying to help?” We presumptuously jumped into a situation with both feet, but we just didn’t have all the right info or our motives weren’t as pure as we thought they were. We look bad trying to be good, and nothing is more frustrating that that.

Well, this happens so often in the spiritual realm that there is no one that has been immune to the disease. We all know how often we misstep and mistake our way around the Kingdom. Why do you think so many people today are always asking “what is God’s will” about a particular situation? It is for the simple fact that we understand our proclivity to fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing right when we are actually doing wrong. We desire to do something good, and then we “step out in faith”, only to fall flat on our face, embarrassing ourselves and hurting others in the process. We place our faith in the wrong thing, presuming that our good intentions are God’s will when they are not.

The subtle nature of this type of deception can be seen in all its various forms throughout the Bible. Sometimes it is obvious to us, other times not, but if we place ourselves in the shoes of those who lived out these passages, we can begin to see where we have fallen into the same traps. Indeed, humanity may have come a long way technologically, but we are still the same fallen race that we have always been, and Satan knows how we can be fooled into thinking we are noble, when we are really being naughty. We presume to be doing the right thing and end up making the situation worse.

However there is hope for us all. The scriptures are chock full of various types of “good intentions but bad actions” scenarios, so much so that they cover basically all the problem areas that we have concerning this human condition. These things were written for our learning (Romans 15:4). Learning the biblical examples of what we will call the presumption of faith will allow us to become equipped to rely on God more fully, while developing discernment and the ability to patiently wait on God before rushing head first into trouble.

Truly, we must have the correct “kind” of faith, and what (who) we have faith in is of the utmost importance. Doubtless, most Christians realize that the object of our faith must be God in order to be the right “kind”. But how do we know when we are putting our faith in Him, and not in our desire to do (or be) “right”, or something else? And what constitutes faith as opposed to foolishness? Is faith a matter of believing God for something, standing on the promises, or trusting Him when the chips are down like Job? Are there different types of faith?

That is exactly what we need to know, and what we intend to point out in the following missives: the traps of our emotions and how to test our “faith” by the Word of God.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Green Monster

…are you envious because I am generous?
(Matthew 20:15 – NIV)

There is a difference between jealousy and envy in Scripture. Jealousy involves the desire to have what somebody else has. That may be wholesome, particularly when we desire to develop in our own lives the positive spiritual qualities we see in others, or when we seek to enjoy the spiritual riches which are ours in Christ just as we see others enjoying them.

In like manner, God wants what is His: the exclusive devotion of His people. It is only right and good that He should. “Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people” (Joel 2:18). We should strive for a godly jealousy, as Paul had; “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).

But for us, jealousy may degenerate into something bad, as when we feel frustrated and bitter because we cannot obtain what we want, or when we find fault with those who have what we want or who keep us from getting it. God is not capable of experiencing that sinful jealousy. The point is jealousy can be either good or bad. On the other hand, envy is nearly always bad. It is a feeling of displeasure over the blessings others are enjoying and it makes us want to deprive them of that enjoyment. Jealousy wants what others have, while envy wants to keep them from having it. It is a vicious and malicious trait which Solomon calls “rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).

There are some notorious examples of sinful jealousy and envy in Scripture. For example, because of Joseph’s favored position with his father and because of the regal coat that Jacob gave him, “his brethren envied him” (Genesis 37:11). Their sinful attitudes resulted in sinful acts; first they plotted his death, then cast him into a pit, and finally sold him into slavery. Selfishness and sinfulness were written all over their lives.

Another example of sinful jealousy is found in the book of Acts when the apostles preached with power and performed miracles of healing. Multitudes were added to the Lord and the Jewish religious rulers were furious over this threat to their position and authority. Scripture records, “they were filled with jealousy” (Acts 5:17 – NASB). First, they threw the apostles into prison and later had them flogged. Their selfish motives were unmistakable.

When we are jealous in a sinful way, we often try to hurt others, just as Joseph’s brothers and the Jewish religious leaders did. We pick at them, find fault with them, and gossip about them. Critical attitudes toward other people are often spawned by selfish jealousy. But there is not a trace of selfishness in God’s jealousy. It is perfectly pure, as its expressions reveal.

Not one of us likes to be called “green”. We relate that color to being nauseous, being ill. When we see someone that is seasick we tell them that they look green, and they do. There’s an illness that we have all dealt with, though, that causes the color green to show through in our lives. In fact, William Shakespeare called it the “green sickness”. Envy demands us to be sad at someone else’s success and be a fan of their failures. But God calls us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15 – NIV).

We should be thankful when those around us are successful. But when we allow envy to come into our lives, we flash its fangs to those around us – its green spirit fangs. We’ve all done it at some point. We’ve flashed the green spirit fangs of envy at our neighbor when they bought the new car that we wanted. When our co-worker got the big promotion that we were going for, we flashed the fangs. The word that is used in the Bible for envy translates literally to, “having an evil eye”.

Envy is evil. There’s no way to get around it. When we are envious, we exude evil. God, though, tells us that we are not to be envious of others. He wants us to see that He blesses each of us in different and unique ways. When we let envy into our lives, we forget the blessings that God has given us because we are too concerned with what other people have. This week, remember the blessings that God has given to you. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Thank God for his grace and mercy in your life. And when you see that someone else has been blessed, be thankful that God has done that, too. Don’t let the green spirit fangs of envy ruin what God has done in your life.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Losing Faith or Losing Focus?

Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be brave and strong
(1 Corinthians 16:13 – HCSB)

Faith is based upon fact: if you feel that you are losing your faith, it is because you are either not looking at the facts, or you have placed your faith in something other than truth. If you have actual faith from God you cannot “lose” it, because it is given to you (Ephesians 2:8-9). What you lose is focus. True faith is not simply belief, speculation, presumption, or mere wishful thinking.

Firstly, place faith where it belongs, in something outside of you, outside of people, outside of things, and outside the wisdom of men. Faith must be something you can rest in. This is why it is critical to stay in the Word of God, to continue to renew your mind in the knowledge of God by reading, studying, memorizing, meditating upon, and praying about God’s written Word, the Holy Bible (Romans 12:2 / John 17:17).

The struggle of faith is one reason we need to attend church, to be with other believers who have similar problems (1 Corinthians 10:13 / 2 Corinthians 1:3-7). These people are the Body of Christ and are there to encourage, edify, and empathize with you in your situations (1 Corinthians 12:26 / Hebrews 12:12). Even when they let you down, however, God is still faithful, and belonging to and attending church puts you in position to hear from the Lord through your pastor, receive the benefits of Communion, and allows you to help others, which lessens stress upon yourself.

One way to renew your strength in the Lord is to recall His prior faithfulness to you and to others. By journaling your walk with the Lord, you can look back and see where God brought you through before, and where you learned lessons about being conformed to His image in spiritual maturity. This is why God told the Israelites to teach their children by rehearsing the goodness of God through stories, why they keep the Passover, and why they placed the Law, manna, and Aaron’s rod in the Ark of the Covenant, as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness.

By reading and listening to testimonies of others who have weathered the great storms of life you can remember God is Sovereign, that He has a plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), and that He will work all things to your eventual good (Romans 8:28). Reading the trials of the martyrs, or the stories of grace in Christian periodicals or at your church can encourage and equip you to better handle your weakness, and rely on His strength.

Daily devotional reading has a peculiar way of becoming a providential means of God speaking lessons about faith to our hearts. Starting your day in devotion is a great way to keep your mind focused on God and His will for your life. Our daily lives will change, but Jesus does not (Hebrews 13:8). Godly devotion can overcome wayward emotion.

A key to consider is that even when we falter, God does not, and remains faithful to His Word (2 Timothy 2:13 / Psalm 138:2). When we sin, as we will continue to do (1 John 1:8), we know that we fall, not away from the faith, but into the Everlasting Arms. It isn’t about our being good; it is about Him being God. We do not place faith in our strength, but faith in His grace (Ephesians 2:8 / Job 22:3). We can pray for God to help us with our heart of unbelief (Mark 9:24), which will increase the steadfastness of our faith. It is about God’s faithfulness, not our human “faith”, and He will give us abundant, steadfast, and unwavering faith if we will pursue it. After all, faith is a supernatural gift of the Spirit (Romans 12:3 / 1 Corinthians 12:9 / 2 Corinthians 4:13 / Galatians 5:22).

We must recognize our motives, to see if we are really “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). We are not in this to try it and see if we will like it: faith is exactly that, faith no matter what (Job 13:15). True faith is faith in God, that He will forgive our sins and change our ways (Philippians 1:6). We must have faith through circumstance and in circumstance, not simply faith because of circumstance, because circumstances change, but God does not! This is why we must always look to Jesus Christ, the author and the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Those that only “try” Christianity will almost always fall away, for their faith is about their circumstances, not God, repentance, and trust. “Real faith is always increased by opposition, while false confidence is damaged and discouraged by it” (J.B. Stoney). Faith is based on knowledge, and seeking knowledge of God and Jesus Christ through His Word will allow the Holy Spirit to impart true faith to our hearts (Romans 10:17), and make us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-4).

The BASIS of our faith is the Word of God: not feelings, impressions, probabilities, circumstances, other people, positive thinking, or presumption.

The FOCUS of our faith is Jesus Christ: not our own strength or well-being. The focus needs to be upward, to understand Jesus and His plan for our lives, not inward, to understand ourselves and have our own needs met. Christ centered, not self-centered.

The RESULT of our faith is holy living: a repentant mindset focused on the grace of God through Jesus Christ, and a yielding to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. We fall down, we look up, and He lifts us up to Himself.

The END of our faith is salvation: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:9). Amen.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Padding the Ropes

So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern…
(Jeremiah 38:13)

One Old Testament narrative offers insights into helping someone after loss. Jeremiah, the "weeping" prophet, was incarcerated for predicting Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 37). After meeting with King Zedekiah, who wanted a different spin on the future, Jeremiah was confined to "the courtyard of the guard" (v. 21). After a group accused Jeremiah of discouraging the people, the prophet was lowered into a muddy cistern (38:6). The Bible says he was down in the mire.

This cistern is a powerful analogy to the grief that follows any loss: dark, restrictive – an unlikely venue for hope. But Ebed-Melech decided to challenge the mistreatment. He delicately reproached Zedekiah, pointing out that Jeremiah "will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city" (38:9). The king reconsidered and ordered Ebed-Melech to take 30 men and retrieve the prophet.

Yet Ebed-Melech didn’t rush to the cistern. Instead, he detoured to a room where old rags and worn-out clothes were kept. Then at the cistern, he dropped the rope to Jeremiah and instructed, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes" (v. 12).

Possibly when Jeremiah had been lowered into the cistern, the rope had broken his skin. To prevent injuring him further when pulling him out, Ebed-Melech wisely padded the ropes.

Our task in ministering to those who are living with loss is to "pad the ropes." Many well-meaning people wound individuals living through loss by babbling a well-intended cliché. We are so convinced we have to say "something." But instead we need to “do” something. We should look to those simple things, the seemingly meaningless “old rags” that God can use to pad the ropes. We help pull those who are down in the mire up when they are ready, not before, and we ease the burden by padding the ropes.

Ebed-Melech did not have to get involved in Jeremiah’s situation. But he did. He didn’t just pull, he also padded. He waited until Jeremiah was ready and pulled and worked with him.

Every griever has three needs: to find the words for the loss, to say the words aloud, and to know that the words have been heard.

If all the things that make me happy, successful, and safe suddenly disappear, in that loss, I can still know God. He will not leave me in that cistern.

The only way to live through loss is to pay thorough attention to the grief and to take that to the Lord in prayer – and to hope someone will show up with "rope and old rags."

Loss doesn’t get better — it gets different. The older I get, the more the repertoire of losses I accumulate. But one by-product of an apprenticeship with loss is wisdom.

There are life lessons we learn only through loss. Ebed-Melech extracted one muddy prophet from the cistern. Jeremiah wasn’t home free, but remained a prisoner "in the courtyard of the guard." Don't expect or encourage them to "get back to normal". Normal no longer exists for them and their job is to create a "new" normal for themselves. This takes a long time.

Sometimes, in losses, we find no "and they lived happily ever after" endings. But we can experience one in which we "live ever after the loss — aware of the grace and peace of God."

You see, in this story Jesus is Ebed-Melech, and we are the thirty men who help get Jeremiah out of the mire. God will help you when you are ready, and He will send others to pad the ropes, Amen.

We will all face losses, and some will be unexpected and quite grievous to us. However, God says He gives us songs in the night, and so we must expect that it will be night sometimes.

If you want a rainbow you have to deal with rain
If you want a healing you have to deal with pain
If you want victory you have to deal with sin
If you want salvation you must be born again

Jesus died for sins, and He died for your and my sins as well. Jesus is the hand at the end of your rope. The truth is that everyone has sinned, and that everyone dies.

The real question is, do you believe?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I’ve Got the Power

…thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased…
(Acts 8:20)

This passage in Acts 8 points out a danger of seeking signs and wonders. Simon wanted this new power so as to reclaim the prestige he had with the people before, not to further the kingdom. Perhaps in his mind he probably felt justified, as if to say “I will do what is right, I will further the kingdom”, being deceived with regards to his motives.

Not only was Simon wrong for trying to offer money, he also was not called by God to do that thing which was the apostles’ duty; otherwise, why didn’t Philip (not one of the twelve, but still an apostle, of sorts) get to do the laying on of hands. He presumed a place of leadership based upon his previous status.

This may hurt, but doesn’t this remind you of many famous former hellions who, upon conversion, presume to immediately know the power and plan of God so well as to be able to “start a ministry.” Perhaps some are called to this, for it is true that if someone has been through a certain trial, say drug abuse, they can often help others who have similar problems (2 Corinthians 1:4-6), and those hurting are more apt to listen, being able to identify easier than with someone not involved in the experience.

That being said, it is presumptuous to think that just because you were a famous, visible personality who became “religious”, that now you are to assume a place of visible prominence in the body of Christ. And just because you are or were a prominent businessman doesn’t mean you should sit on the church board. Power and influence in the world doesn’t give you instant clout in the kingdom of God. Just because you have a platform doesn’t mean anyone should listen. Why are so many of these ministries of the para-church variety? Who are these people’s pastors, and where is their spiritual covering?

Knowing the character of God, one would understand that this would RARELY be the case, for those former children of disobedience would have to lose their lives, not keep them! Think about the parallel with today’s cult of personality, and how we cater to movie and television stars who pontificate about political matters, as if they know better than anyone else, even the professional politicians!

This demonstrates the fact that there are roles within the body of Christ, and we are not to presume which are our own. Today it seems that many put the title “prophet” before their name instead of letting the evidence speak for itself. We may know more Bible, or even have a closer relationship with God than anyone around, but that doesn’t mean that we merit certain gifts. They are grace gifts, after all, and undeserved. The “village idiot” may be allowed by God to be the prophet; we are to know our role and to perform it in humility. Pride is an all too often side effect of seeking after signs and wonders, or of trying to gain Christ while keeping our fame.