A Time for Choosing

A Time for Choosing

 

In Jeremiah 26 we read an account of Jeremiah standing before the Temple preaching the word of the Lord to the people of Judah. He did this because the Lord commanded it so:

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” – Jeremiah 26:2

Notice the Lord’s command was not only to speak, but to speak everything – not to hold back a single word of God’s commands.

We never have the option of truncating or soft-selling God’s word. Our job is not to make it palatable but to make it clear. Unfortunately when you do that, people don’t like it.

In Jeremiah’s case, they wanted to kill him:

“When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” – Jeremiah 26:10-11

This will always be the result of sharing the truth of God’s word with a lost and dying world. They will not only not like you for it, they will in some cases actively seek to do you harm.

The problem with much of the church today is we can’t handle that. We want everyone to like us. We’ve confused loving people with making them feel good about themselves. And, as much as we say we do this out of a desire not to offend or to be loving, the reality is we do it for ourselves because we worship the idol of popularity and being liked. We are people pleasers (Galatians 1:10) rather than people lovers.

When we present God’s word and get the reaction Jeremiah got (or that Jesus got, for that matter), we think we’ve done something wrong when, in fact, we’ve done something right. We measure our effectiveness by people’s reactions rather than by our faithfulness to the message of scripture. We think by softening the edges or not speaking of things like sin or God’s wrath and judgment we will obtain a hearing for the gospel. But, with no understanding of sin or God’s wrath there can be no understanding of the gospel.

The irony is, the more we try to be inoffensive, the more we compromise with the world, the more they dislike us – because nothing short of complete capitulation will satisfy the wicked.

That’s the choice we have, complete capitulation or faithfulness to the word of God. If our goal is to be honored by the world, we must choose the first, if our goal is to honor God we must choose the second. There is no in between. We must either be cold or hot (Revelation 3:15).

The Christian life is difficult. That’s a promise from the Lord (John 16:33). If we seek to make it easy and non-confrontational, we will end up being unfaithful. But, if we stand firm in the face of opposition and are uncompromising on the truth of the gospel, the reward is great (Matthew 5:11-12).

The time has come for the church of Jesus Christ to choose this day whom they will serve.

 

Photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

How to Fire Up Your Spiritual Growth

How To Fire Up Your Spiritual Growth

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17

When my boys were in Cub Scouts (back before the gender and sexuality warriors made such innocent places ground zero in their war on manhood) we learned how to make a fire. We explained to the boys that fire requires three things: oxygen, heat and fuel. If one of those things is missing you will never start a fire.

As I read Jesus’ words in John 17:17, I had similar thoughts about our growth as Christians. As with fire, certain things must be present or it won’t happen.

The first is prayer. Jesus is praying here for the sanctification of his disciples. We too must pray for the sanctification of ourselves and others. God has ordained prayer as one of the ways He works out his will for His people.

Second is truth. Christ says we are sanctified by truth. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell us what truth is. Truth is the word of God. Again, one of the means God uses to grow His people in the faith is His word. We must be continually in the scriptures if we are to grow.

Finally, while not directly mentioned in this verse but taught directly in scripture as a whole (Hebrews 3:13, Colossians 3:16), is other people. We’re not called to practice our faith in isolation. That is one of the reasons Christ created the church – to be a place where believers are taught the faith, loved and equipped to do the same for others.

Prayer, truth and people. If any one is missing, I won’t grow in the faith as I should.

Why (Insert Group Name Here) Leave the Church

You’ve seen the blog posts and articles – why group X is leaving the church, men, millennials, college students, teens, etc.

Can I just say something? I’m tired of that approach. There are two and only two reasons people “give up on the church” no matter their demographic:

  • They are immature Christians. (Hebrews 5:12)
  • They were not Christians to start with. (I John 2:19, 3:10)

Listen to what God’s Word says about the importance of the church to the Lord and, by extension, to His people:

  • Christ died for the church, not for a collection of autonomous individuals. (Ephesians 5:25, Acts 20:28)
  • The church is Christ’s bride (Revelation 21:2)
  • The church is Christ’s body (Colossians 1:24)
  • The church is God’s plan to sanctify His people (I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 5:26-27)
  • The church is God’s plan to evangelize the lost (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • The church glorifies God to all creation (Ephesians 3:10)

Someone who does not see the church as essential to the Christian life is not viewing life through the lens of scripture, not viewing life from the perspective of one transformed by the Holy Spirit. That’s not to deny that sometimes one must leave a particular local congregation. However, a mature Christian will always seek another local expression of the Body of Christ with which to affiliate, no matter how difficult or hurtful their experience at a specific local church. Being part of a church is what Christians do. To say I’m a Christian who has given up on the church is like saying I’m a husband who has given up living with my wife. “Husband” implies relationship with the wife. “Christian” implies relationship with the church.

So next time you see an article on “5 Reasons Why Duck Hunters in the Midwest Leave the Church,” you can save yourself some reading: they are leaving because they are either immature Christians or not Christians at all.

 

When God Strikes Someone Dead

When God Strikes Someone Dead
Death of Ananias by Raphael

In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts we read one of the more interesting and chilling passages in the New Testament. A man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell a piece of property, keep part of the money and give the rest to the church. Trouble is, they tell the church they are giving the full price received for the land (Acts 5:8).

As a result of this deception, God struck both of them dead. This has always seemed harsh to me. While it’s true the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), that payment is not usually required on the spot – thank goodness!  Why so in this case? Of all the sins we see recorded in scripture, why instant death for lying about the price of a piece of property?

The answer can be found by looking at the context of this passage in the Book of Acts and how God deals with His people throughout scripture.

This passage comes between the first arrest of the Apostles by the Jewish authorities (Acts 4:1-31) and the second (Acts 5:17-42). From her beginning the New Testament church was under attack.  The Enemy tried to destroy her one of two ways – the same two ways he does today – either from within or from without. When the first attempt to stop the spread of the gospel using the external threats of the Jewish leaders failed, there was a change of tactic. Satan tried to weaken the church from within using the deceit of Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:3) and the Holy Spirit dealt with that decisively. This was God protecting the church in her infancy.

God takes the purity of His church seriously. A pure church is a powerful church. So it’s no accident that right after Luke tells us about the purge of Ananias and Sapphira we again read about signs and wonders done by the apostles and the increase in the number of believers.

You see a similar pattern in the Old Testament.

Shortly after the Levitical priesthood was inaugurated, the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, failed to follow God’s instructions regarding the fire used for burning incense before the LORD. This was likely because they were drunk (Leviticus 10:9). As with Ananias and Sapphira, God immediately struck them dead and their bodies were carried outside the camp (Leviticus 10:4). Then, right after the conquest of Jericho, the very first battle in the Promised Land, the disobedience of Achan was dealt with similarly. He and his entire family were stoned to death at the LORD’s command (Joshua 7:15).

In each of these cases, a new chapter has begun in the history of God’s people. In each case as well, an internal threat to that new work arises and the Lord takes decisive action to address the threat and provide an example for others. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira lead to a healthy fear of the Lord within the church (Acts 5:11).

It’s significant that it was not the Jewish officials persecuting the church who were struck dead on the spot but two church members. The lesson is that internal threats to the church are far more serious than external ones. External persecution tends to strengthen the church whereas internal threats tend to weaken her.

When churches die or apostatize it is virtually always because they failed to take seriously deceit, false teaching, personal sin or other disobedience to the Lord within their ranks.

The Trojan Horse is more dangerous than the battering ram. To remain healthy churches must, as Jude tells us, “contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3).

World Vision Jumps the Shark

UPDATE: World Vision in the US has reversed this policy as of March 26, 2014.

It’s one of those things that caused me to do a double take. The headline was “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in World Vision Jumps the SharkSame-Sex Marriages.” Had I stumbled on one of those news parody sites like The Onion? No, this was on Christianity Today and the headline was real. Heretofore Christian ministry World Vision was seriously making the case that the best way forward for their ministry is to drop the requirement that those hired by the ministry must exercise their sexuality only within the bounds of a biblical marriage.

Their reason? Because, according to president Richard Stearns the issue of homosexual “marriage” is:

…tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.

He goes on to claim this issue is no different than mode of baptism or women in church leadership, issues on which many denominations differ but on which World Vision has chosen not to take a stand. He claims it’s an issue of church unity – implying of course that those who take a biblical stand on the issue are contributing to disunity. This unity at all costs approach is what decimated the liberal mainline denominations in the United States over the last hundred years and I predict it will similarly impact World Vision.

But the kicker was this:

We are absolutely resolute about every employee being followers of Jesus Christ. We are not wavering on that.

Clearly then, in Stearns’ view, one can be a Christian while living in open and unrepentant sin. There is no other way to read that. He sees no conflict between a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and being proud of one’s sin, of flaunting it, of calling the God of the universe who designed sex and marriage, a liar.

So what’s driving this nonsense? My first thought was that they are cowards unwilling to take a stand on a difficult issue, but I think it’s worse than that. This is an issue of pride and self-importance.

Here’s the bottom line from one of their board members:

It’s a matter of trying to decide what the core mission of the organization is…

As with so many other para-church organizations over the years, their mission has become paramount, eclipsing the mission given to the church and to Christians. They see themselves and their organization as indispensable and the truth of scripture as dispensable in service to their cause.

Christian, if you give to World Vision, I urge you to stop. If your church supports them, I urge you to urge them to stop. This is a gospel issue. Either Christ calls us to die to self, repent of our sin and follow Him or He does not. World Vision says for those in bondage to homosexuality He does not. But the Scriptures disagree (I Corinthians 6:9-11) as do countless Christians down through the ages. Therefore, we should not support an organization that claims to be Christian but is committed to putting their personal agenda ahead of truth and of speaking the words of life to lost men and women. It’s as simple as that.