Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loving Our Pro-Life Neighbors (A Response to Karen Swallow Prior's Article in Christianity Today)

In the wake of the shooting a week ago at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility, Karen Swallow Prior wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled Loving Our Pro-Choice Neighbors in Word and Deed. The article has caused a bit of a stir, particularly because she said it's unchristlike to call a woman who gets an abortion a murderer or describe abortionists as monsters.

We're supposed to try and encourage a person to choose life, not push them away with inflammatory rhetoric. She says, "Referring to abortion providers as 'abortion ghouls,' clinic volunteers and workers as 'deathscorts' or 'bloodworkers,' and women who obtain abortions as 'murderers' is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike."

The short response to this is no, it's not. Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed sepulchers full of dead mens' bones and all manner of uncleanliness (Matthew 23:27). He said it to their faces in the presence of a crowd. That's the same as calling an abortion doctor or Planned Parenthood-loving democrat an "abortion ghoul." There's no difference.

On the one hand, I understand the point Prior is trying to make with her article. Like Prior, I've volunteered in pregnancy care centers and done some counseling with men and women who have had abortions (we often forget there are men in this equation also). We're probably not going to gain any ground by breaking the ice with, "You killed a baby. You're a ghoulish murderer. Now repent and get saved." The truth can be said in an a way that's inconsiderate, and we've been commanded to have compassionate hearts (Colossians 3:12).

On the other hand, we can become so politically correct in our rhetoric that the words we don't say are also inconsiderate. When it comes down to it, Prior is making an argument for political correctness. The logic is that we shouldn't say "murderer" because in the current string of political thought, abortion isn't murder and we're just going to turn off the people who need help and encourage trigger-happy vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

But even from a counseling standpoint, it is not a good idea to withhold describing abortion as murder. A person will not experience true healing until they understand what they have truly done. God will forgive a sin even as great as the murder of a baby, which is what abortion is. A person must learn that abortion is murder. The loving thing to do is teach them. It is love for the person we are counseling, and it is loving the future generations of children that need saving.

While We Were "Messed Up"

Romans 5:8 says, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." A few times, I've witnessed someone (usually a youth pastor) quote that verse like this: "God shows his love for us in that while we were messed up, Christ died for us." Often I've approached them and asked why they said "messed up" instead of "sinners."

Typically they will tell me that those who aren't Christians don't understand what sin is. On one occasion, the individual was actually bold enough to tell me that "sinners" is too harsh a term. I replied this way: Instead of changing the wording, you should teach your hearers about sin so that they can know repentance, grace, and the love of God.

By substituting "mess" in for "sin," we completely lose sight of what sin is. "Mess" can be your lack-of-style, the funky cowlicks in your hair, the people who have failed you, the lack of friends that you have, the opportunities you never got, the debts that aren't your fault, the pile of trash on the floorboard of your car, or your sports team that just can't seem to win the big one.

That's what we think of when we think of our lives being "messed up." We don't actually own any of our mistakes. It's all these unfortunate circumstances that have contributed to my mess. Even though no one else loves my mess, even though my parents don't love my mess, even though my ex doesn't love my mess, God loves me and my mess.

While it's true that God loves his children no matter how "messed up" they are, sin is worse than a mess. It is breaking God's law. It is rebellion against God. It's blasphemy. It's selfish. It's saying that our ways are higher than God's ways. It makes us enemies of God.

And sin is our fault. It flows from a foolish and ungrateful heart (Romans 1:21). There is no one else to blame for our sin. We are willing participants in our sin. And for that, what we deserve is God's wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Fortunately, God loves us so much that he didn't let us remain his enemies. He sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, and all of the wrath that was due us for our sin was poured out on Christ instead. God didn't merely pardon our sin. He paid for it! He took the record of debt that stood against us with all its legal demands and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

God's eyes are so holy that he can't even look at us in our sin (Habakkuk 1:13). But Christ has removed our filthy garments and clothed us with new robes (Revelation 3:18). We are called to repent: seek forgiveness from God for our sin and no longer walk in our old sinful practices. We are to put on the new self which is being made after the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24).

As I've shared this with those who misquote Romans 5:8, I said the loving thing to do is to teach the Scripture as God meant for it to be understood, and then explain to your hearers what sin is and what repentance is. To withhold the truth about sin is unloving (Ephesians 4:15), which Prior acknowledged in her article. The Bible calls it stupid to not reprove others (Proverbs 12:1). Withholding the truth is lying.

Don't Lie to One Another

Colossians 3:9-10,16 says the following: "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator... Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

When saying that calling abortion doctors ghouls and women who've had an abortion murderers is unchristlike, Prior never mentioned any Scripture related to the point. She played with a few passages to set up her argument (all of which were from Proverbs, which is not read the same way one would read, say, the gospels), but no Scripture to hammer the point home.

I was left with the impression that she placed some of the blame for the shooting in Colorado Springs in the hands of the people who have raised their voices in the public square and called abortion "murder." Maybe that's speculative on my part, but that's the impression I got. In which case, according to Prior, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Matt Chandler need to tone it down.

She thinks it's unwise to use the word "murder" even when trying to persuade a person to choose life. So abortion is wrong, but we shouldn't tell them it's wrong? (I'm not twisting her words. That's how the logic plays out.) Why would someone ever be convinced to choose life if they're not convinced that abortion is wrong? What's the big deal then?

Perhaps we should look at what Christ actually said. There is much to learn from Proverbs. It is as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible, and I've argued before the whole Bible is the word of Christ, not just the red letters. But to know the mind of Christ, we're going to have to go beyond Proverbs and look to more direct Scriptures for our understanding.

What Did Jesus Actually Say

In Matthew 23, we read what are called the seven woes. Jesus addressed the crowd and his disciples in the presence of the Pharisees, and warned the people not to follow their false teaching. In the last of his woes, he said the following:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in the shedding of the blood of the prophets.' Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." (Matthew 23:29-36)
Brood of vipers = Abortion ghouls. Same thing. Prior's argument that "referring to abortion providers as abortion ghouls... is unchristlike" simply doesn't hold water.

Did the Pharisees murder Abel and Zechariah? No, they did not. In fact, they probably hadn't murdered anyone yet, and still Jesus called them murderers. He warned his disciples that the murder that was in the hearts of the false teachers would be revealed when prophets sent to them by God (referring to himself and later the apostles) would be killed and crucified.

Likewise, those who are not the children of God have murder in their hearts. God will give them over to their sinful passions and they will be revealed (Romans 1:28-29). He will send them a strong delusion "so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Last month, I made a very impassioned appeal to a former congregant who showed signs of following a delusion instead of walking in the truth. In that moment, I really didn't care how he perceived the manner in which I said what I was saying. I feared for the eternal state of his soul, which I said to him. You are not listening, I said, and this will go very bad for you unless you repent. But he remained stubborn and cold.

There are settings when that kind of passion is necessary and Christ-like. Jesus did it. So will I. (My eyes have filled with tears as I write. Emotions surrounding some recent events have gotten to me. But I hope you understand the sincerity by which I write when I say these things. I boast not in myself but in the Lord.) There may be other settings when that kind of passion may not be as helpful, and a more gentle touch is required. It takes discernment to know the difference.

Consider Jesus's conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He was direct but loving, showing her more care than was customary according to the cultural norms. When addressing her, he didn't say, "You're an adulteress. Now go get all your friends to hear me preach." It should not be overlooked, however, that Jesus indeed pointed her sin out to her, and the woman quickly changed the subject (John 4:16-20).

Jesus showed himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. The woman responded with such enthusiasm that she brought the entire village to listen to him preach. Part of her testimony was, "He told me everything I ever did!" (John 4:29). It didn't scare her off. It led her and many Samaritans to repentance.

Wise to the Ways of God

There is a gentle way in which we should go about reaching women (and don't forget men also) who have had an abortion. Jesus said to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Pointing a finger at someone and calling them a murderer might be the correct label. But it might not be the wisest or most gentle course of action.

It is equally unwise and disingenuous to make the "murderer" label completely taboo. A man or a woman guilty of abortion must be shown why what they have done is murder. They have destroyed what was made in God's image. To not show them that is worse than unwise. It's unloving. If they don't know what they've done, they cannot repent of it, nor can they be healed.

In Psalm 51, David prayed that his sin would be ever before him so that he could be purged of his sin, washed of his iniquity, and completely restored in the righteousness of God. Then and only then would he be able to lift praises to God that would not be rejected. For if we cherish sin in our hearts, the Lord will not listen to us (Psalm 66:18). Don't let a person hide the sin that keeps them from God's healing and saving grace. The truth will set them free (John 8:32).

Let us be wise to the Scriptures and the ways of God, imitators of Christ and also his apostles. "When human lives are at stake, our language must reach not the bears but the heavens." That's not my line, by the way. It's Karen Swallow Prior who said that. And on that point, I wholeheartedly agree. Let us speak to please God and not men.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are T.D. Jakes and Steven Furtick Heretics?

Through the ministry When We Understand the Text, I've fielded a few questions about Steven Furtick and whether or not he is trustworthy. To give the best answer that I can, I've decided to use Steven's recent appearance at Bishop T.D. Jakes' mega-plex, the Potter's House, where he preached this past Sunday. This is written in love, so that the people of God will be able to test and know that not everyone who claims to be of God speaks the counsel of God (1 John 4:1).

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

I went to the Potter's House website to pull up Sunday's sermon, but first I had to sit through more than five minutes of Potter's House commercials. Then the camera showed this multi-millon-dollar stage with "Endure the Race" lit up on a video screen. Someone off-camera sang-shouted, "I just want to tell you what I think about you!"

Suddenly a bunch of singers and dancers came running out to pop music and a dazzling light show. Multiple video screens went into hyper seizure-inducing screen-saver mode. Everyone rushed the stage and started jumping up and down. Oh, great. I thought I had accidentally clicked on a link to a concert. Nope. This was a Potter's House worship service.

After the music, Jakes came out to do announcements and his money pitch, all to flashing lights and drum and organ fills. There were some more videos of other preachers at recent Potter's House events. Apparently everyone at the Potter's House -- black and white, men and women, young and old -- preaches with a throaty grovel, and you're just not preaching unless you're also removing all phlegm from the presence of God. (At one point, Jakes coughed and eluded to phlegm and dry throats being from the devil. It's probably because you're abusing your throat, Thomas.)

Jakes' wife joined him on stage and they prayed to God rebuking disease, infirmities, and abnormalities, because "we're about to step into our blessing. I declare and decree in the name of Jesus that the blessing of the Lord will break out." Apparently no blessing can come unless you declare with your mouth it will come. That's what Jakes believes and teaches. The Bible says no such thing.

He said, "We give you the praise as if what we are believing you for is already done. We don't have to wait to see it. We don't have to wait 'til it comes in the mail. We don't have to wait 'til the loan is paid. But right now by faith, we praise you as if it were already done, in the name of Jesus." (Of course, he's shouting this as he goes.)

Now that sounds about right. Don't we worship God believing the victory is already won? Doesn't God ordain all things, good or bad (Lamentations 3:37-38)? What would be the problem with believing that it's already done? Because again, Jakes believes it is the power of the human will that manifests the blessing of God. If we just believe that it's already done, and say that it's already done, then it will be done.

But that's not how the will of God works. It's not the Christian equivalent to mind-over-matter or wishing on a star or a motivational speech. God will accomplish his will whether we will believe in it or we will not. Are you in obedience to God's will, or are you trying to accomplish your own will?

The Hidden Will and the Revealed Will

There's a difference between God's hidden will and his revealed will. What has yet to be seen is his hidden will. Our obedience to God now is according to his revealed will. Ephesians 5:17 says, "Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." That doesn't mean that a person try to find the hidden counsel of God. It means knowing how to live according to counsel of God as found in the Bible, his "revealed will."

When Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10), he was teaching us to ask God for the ability to obey the decree of the King, the commands of Christ, his revealed will. This was not a lesson in mind-over-matter: "If you just believe in it hard enough, then God will make his will come true for you." Praying for God's will to be done according to your will-power is praying that your will be done.

Jakes does not pray for God's will to be done. He can't, in any way that is pleasing to the Lord, because he does not know God (Romans 8:7-8). That seems pretty bold and judgmental for me to say that. You're right, it is. But I'm not making that judgment by my own authority. I'm simply stating what the Bible says. T.D. Jakes denies the nature of God. He does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God the Father. The Bible calls such a man an antichrist (1 John 2:22).

Jakes' Rejection of God's Revealed Will

In The Potter's House statement of faith, it says, "There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." But God does not manifest himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. He is Father, Son, and Spirit. He is one God, three persons.

God has clearly revealed himself to us this way in the pages of Scripture. A person comes to the faith in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). As I've said elsewhere, salvation is a Trinitarian work: It is given by the Father, it is acquired through the Son, it is experienced in the Holy Spirit.

All three persons of the Trinity are distinctly displayed at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16-17). Jesus said he was sent by the Father to do his will (John 6:38), and whoever else does the will of the Father is his brother and sister (Matthew 12:50). The will of the Father is to look on the Son so that you might have eternal life (John 6:40). He said the Father would send the Spirit in the name of Jesus, the Son (John 14:26). Jesus prayed to the Father, not to himself (John 17:1-5).

Jesus said that whoever knows him knows the father also (John 14:7). He said that no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matthew 11:27). Therefore, we can know this: a person who does not know Jesus as the Son, and God the Father as his Father, knows neither the Father nor Jesus and is not saved, for God has not been revealed to him.

T.D. Jakes Does Not Know God

Hey, at least Jakes believes God is one, right? Well, the Bible says even the demons believe that, and shudder (James 2:19). More than that, the demons know the Son of God (Mark 5:7), so it could be argued the demons know God better than Jakes does! Though Jakes knows God is one, he does not know him as Father, Son, and Spirit -- not three manifestations, but three persons in one.

In his book Judge Not, Todd Friel writes, "In other words, if T.D. Jakes went to a party with God, he could not attend with the Father, Son, and Spirit at the same time. T.D. could attend with only one manifestation of God at a time. That is a heresy called modalism. The Council of Nicea condemned this teaching as heresy in 325 AD."

Friel went on to quote the Athanasian Creed, written in 385. The Nicene and Athanasian creeds did not make up Trinitarian doctrine; they simply summarized and affirmed that which the Bible taught. The Athanasian Creed states as follows:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the universal faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. 
And that faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Faith, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit... 
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord and yet they are not three Lords but one Lord... 
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
The early church taught from the teachings of Christ that if you deny the Trinity, you will go to hell. You are in league with the devil. You are an antichrist. It's that big a deal.

Now, that doesn't mean when you show up to heaven's gates, you're going to have to give a theological textbook definition of Trinity. Your pastor is not going to tell you, "Boy, you better be able to explain Trinity to me right now or you're not actually saved!" (at least, he shouldn't tell you that). You're not fully going to be able to understand this concept of One God in Three Persons because you're not God. But to deny the doctrine of the Trinity is to deny something fundamental about God. It's to deny God himself.

That's Jakes' theology. And as I've written about before, when a doctrine as fundamental as the Triune nature of God is rejected, a lot of wormy doctrines will wriggle up instead. It is common among Oneness Pentecostals, as it is of Jakes, to believe that you have the ability to unlock the power of God with your words. You can hear it in the way Jakes prays. But the reason he believes that is because he does not know God.

And Steven Furtick Probably Doesn't Either

Steven Furtick is a Southern Baptist minister, pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, one of the fastest-growing churches in the country (as I keep hearing over and over and over again). Does Furtick affirm the doctrine of the Trinity? Yes, he does. But though he appears to know God, he still advances heresy, glowingly lifting up those who, with just a little discernment one can tell, are against God.

I should clarify that a person can praise a false teacher and simply be mistaken or misled yet not compromise the authenticity of their faith. Tertullian did this in his defense of Montanus. I believe Francis Chan and Ronnie Floyd also misunderstand how much of a false teacher Mike Bickle really is, but I don't doubt the genuineness of their saving faith.

So why would Furtick's endorsement of Jakes also make him a heretical preacher? Because this is not merely a shared respect for one another. It's not like Furtick just met Jakes and gave some weird "I love you, man" speech like Chan did of Bickle. Furtick hails Jakes as one of the greatest preachers on the planet, and openly admits he watches Jakes to learn how to be like him, even taking material from Jakes' sermons and putting them in his almost every week.

Here's what this comes down to: The Bible describes T.D. Jakes as an antichrist, and the bulk of church history would say he does not yet know the way of salvation, yet Steven Furtick is borrowing the teachings of an antichrist and repeating them, telling everyone else to listen to them, extolling his greatness, attempting to emulate him, and, as you would have seen in Furtick's presentation at the Potter's House on Sunday, pouring a great deal of money into it.

From Elevation to the Potter's House

Jakes welcomed Furtick to the stage and Furtick began his warm-up with cheap cheers from the crowd like some kind of hypeman. That's what he does: "Who's excited to be at the Potter's House? Let's go by section: Who's excited over here? Who's excited over here? How about you guys? Let me hear from the balcony! Everybody down here wave at the balcony!"

His attempt at humility was facepalm-worthy: "You will probably have better preachers than me come through here, but you will never have one that is more honored to stand here than the one you have standing before you today. I promise you that." Crowd applauded. "No, I'm serious, man." He gave a check for $35,000 to Jakes' ministry, which had something to do with Furtick being 35 years old, and he made sure everyone heard about it and saw him do it.

This is shortly after Furtick did this big interview where he said that Jesus wouldn't want him to reveal how much money he makes. But then he showed up to reveal to everyone how much money he gives, which apparently corresponds with his age times 1,000. I don't know what Jesus told Furtick about how much money he makes, but I know he said not to lavish praise and adoration upon yourself for what you give (Matthew 6:1-4).

Furtick also said it would be arrogant for him to reveal what he's given. Um...

Furtick jokingly said to Jakes that the check was a peace offering for all of the times he stole material from Jakes' sermons. He said that if Jakes received royalty checks from everyone who swiped stuff from him, he'd be the richest man on the planet. Between Sunday services at Elevation church, Furtick said he would get on his computer to watch the live stream of Jakes' sermons at the Potter's House. He called Jakes "the greatest preacher on the continent," and his wife the "first lady."

He said, "For all of us preachers, you know no matter how good you preach on any Sunday morning, you are only one click away from the T.D. Jakes app to be reminded that your sermon was just okay. You gotta time it carefully when you watch it on Monday. It'll make you suicidal."


"And that's his announcements," Furtick continued to fawn. "His announcements are better than your sermon."

Coming from an antichrist? No. They're not. As Furtick continued to lavish praise, he said Jakes is ambidextrous and "can beat the devil with both hands." In fact, he is doing the work of the devil.

This was nearly 90 minutes into the service, and it took me two days just to get that far, so I didn't listen to Furtick's sermon. But I bet I could tell you what it was about: he grabbed two or three verses from an Old Testament Bible story having something to do with a king or a battle, and took it out of context and applied it to explain why you're not getting what you want.

He used rhyming contrasts, like "It's not a stumbling block, it's a humbling block." His cadence went up and everyone cheered. He said "you" a lot. He talked about how great Steven Furtick was and how God blessed him because of how faithful he was, and how unfaithful others were who didn't have the believing power that Steven Furtick has. It's always the same.

His teaching is lacking in biblical discernment in a lot of ways. I've never felt like his sermons pointed the hearer to God, but rather to himself or themselves. However, he sure dispenses a lot of gusto when it comes to directing others to false teachers. Be careful of those who have an appearance of godliness but deny its power. The Bible says to avoid such people (2 Timothy 2:5).

Why Be So Direct?

Why was it necessary for me to be so forthright in calling out these men by name? For a couple of reasons. First of all, it's because I love God and desire his glory to be proclaimed. It is the church's calling to do that, even a defender of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16, 1 Peter 2:9).

The second reason is because I love you and I love Jakes and Furtick enough to show them their errors and call them to repentance. As a pastor, I have been appointed to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that I may give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). There are those upsetting entire church families, teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach, and they must be silenced (Titus 1:11).

Paul said that of those who fancy themselves shepherds and teachers, as Jakes and Furtick do, if the persist in sin, they must be rebuked in the presence of all so that the rest may stand in fear (1 Timothy 5:20). Names are named when necessary because names are named in the Bible (1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Timothy 4:14, 3 John 1:9-10).

So Christian, I appeal to you as I contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints, keep your ears from turning toward the irreverent babble of false teachers. I hope that Jakes and Furtick indeed repent before it's too late, and that those who listen to their teaching will listen no longer, but instead fix themselves on the sound words of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Are You Praying for Paris?

#PrayForParis has been a common hashtag on Twitter and Facebook since the terror attack in Paris, France on November 13, 2015. About 129 people were killed in coordinated attacks around Paris, and over 300 more injured.

Should we pray? Absolutely we should. I spent some time in prayer Saturday evening that God's will and his justice would be done, and that through this tragedy people would be saved, repenting of sin and coming to know the Lord Christ as Savior.

But the call to pray is not in and of itself a noble thing. We can pray with the wrong kind of motivation (James 4:3). A person can pray to the wrong god (Jeremiah 14:22). ISIS is praying for Paris, too. They're praying Paris would be destroyed.

You could argue that I'm taking #PrayForParis out of context: "No one is posting #PrayForParis and calling for them to be destroyed," you might say. But let me ask you something: What are you praying for? Are you praying for the victims and their families? Good! But what are you praying will happen for them? That they would find peace? What kind of peace are you asking for when you pray that?

I hope you understand my heart as I'm asking these questions. I'm not trying to be cynical. I want to help you, and I want God's name to be glorified. That's all I am after here. Do you know what you are praying for when you are asking God for peace?

The Bible describes the peace of God as being beyond all understanding (Philippians 4:7). That's because the peace that comes through Jesus Christ is not as the world gives (John 14:27). It is peace with God (Romans 5:1). It is understanding that if we are in Christ, our sins are forgiven, and we are no longer under his wrath (John 3:36). That's real peace.

Is that the kind of peace you're praying for? A peace that's more than just relaxation of the body and a stillness in the soul? Are you praying for peace that comes through forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ our Lord?

More specifically, let me ask you this: Are you praying for repentance in Paris, France?

There are some who will decry what I am saying here as being "too soon." It is never too soon to call anyone to repentance. I have stood at the hospital bed of a man dying from COPD brought on by exposure to Agent Orange, and though he was clearly suffering, in love I told him to repent of his rebellion against God and know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

In that moment, politics didn't matter. Anyone's opinion of past events that resulted in the respiratory condition that this man was dying from were not going to save him. What mattered was the man's soul. He did not know the Lord, and he needed to. And that moment was the only moment I had to pray for his rebellious heart, sing hymns to him, and tell him about Jesus.

This is how we should be praying for Paris, France -- standing by the hospital bed of a sick culture, calling upon them to repent of their sin and know Christ as Savior. If you care about Paris, that is what you will pray for. It is never too soon to preach the gospel and call the lost to repentance.

Do you understand that the worst of the Paris carnage occurred at the Bataclan, a concert venue where a band called Eagles of Death Metal were playing? Eighty people were killed there. Have you looked up Eagles of Death Metal? One of their songs goes like this...
Who'll love the devil?
Who'll sing his song?
Who will love the devil and his song?
I'll love the devil!
I'll sing his song!
I will love the devil and his song
The next verse is, "Who will kiss the devil? I will kiss the devil on his tongue!" That's the first song of theirs I came up with just Googling "Eagles of Death Metal Lyrics."

Please understand, this is not me pointing a finger at eighty people and saying here's why they deserved to die. We all deserve to die because all of us have, at some point, followed the devil (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, saved us from death by giving us life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-6).

The terrorists were following the devil also. They were not listening to God. They were listening to the father of lies who's been a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). Whether we're talking about the terrorists or those being entertained by singing the devil's praises, they must turn from their sin and follow Jesus or they will suffer consequences that are far worse (Matthew 10:28).

Jesus was once asked about a terrorist attack. Pilate had slaughtered some worshipers in the temple and mixed their blood in with their sacrifices. Jesus said, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:2).

For many that night, victim or terrorist, it is too late to repent. It is appointed for a man once to die, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). For many who live on in the aftermath of that attack, they have not yet learned that they need to turn from following the devil and repent of their sin. It is for them we must pray.

Did you know that there is a social media push right now to try to send Eagles of Death Metal to the top of the charts with their cover of Duran Duran's song Save a Prayer? Here's the lyrics of that tune...
You saw me standing by the old
Corner of the main street
And the lights are flashing on your window sill
All alone ain't much fun
So you're looking for the thrill
And you know just what it takes and where to go 
Don't say a prayer for me now
Save it 'til the morning after
No, don't say a prayer for me now
Save it 'til the morning after
If you go on, you'll see that the song is clearly about a one-night stand. The singer, Simon Le Bon, is trying to coax a woman into going to bed with him. "Don't say a prayer for me now, save it 'til the morning after." In other words, let's get our "thrill" on right now, and then pray for my forgiveness in the morning. But for some, the morning is too late.

This is the song that Paris and the many who are "praying" for them want to see rise to the top of the charts as some kind of remembrance anthem. When you change your social media profile picture to a French flag overlay and say that you stand with Paris, is that what you're standing with? (Admittedly, I'm a little more cynical about French flag-waving. ISIS bombed a Russian plane on October 31 killing 224 people, but we didn't start waving Russian red and gold.)

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with changing your Facebook page to blue, white, and red. You may have sincere and heart-felt intentions, not just because everyone else is doing it. This still comes back to the question: Why are you doing that? What exactly do you want to have happen?

God is doing something, even in the aftermath of violence, that we would not understand even if he told us what it was (Habakkuk 1:5). Let your heart's desire be that God's will would be done, and that all would come to a saving knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).

Pray for Paris. Pray for repentance.

Monday, November 2, 2015

When Elijah Mocked the Priests of Baal

In 1 Kings 18:21, the prophet Elijah as directed by God stood before Israel and told them to pick a side: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, then follow him." Yet the people did not answer him.

So Elijah issued a challenge. A fight to the finish. Elijah vs. the priests of Baal. One true prophet against 450 false prophets. Each would take a bull and place it on their own altar. The priests of Baal would pray to their god, and Elijah would pray to his God. The God who answered by fire, igniting the sacrifice on the altar, was the true God. And all the people said, "Let's do it!"

Elijah let the priests of Baal take the field first. They built an altar and chose their bull. Then after preparing the animal and laying it on the wood, they danced around it calling on Baal from morning until noon. "O Baal, answer us!" they cried. But there was no voice, and no one answered as they limped helplessly around their altar.

The word for "limped" in verse 26 is the same word for "limping" in verse 21. The priests of Baal had this awkward dance that they did, an ascetic contorting of the body that was rather uncomfortable and painfully exhausting. Eventually the priests started cutting on themselves, a self-mutilating display of false humility before a false god.

As they did this, the Scripture says that Elijah mocked them. "Cry aloud for he is a god," he shouted. "Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened!" The priests raved on all the more, their blood all over them. But as verse 29 records, "No one answered. No one paid attention." Because there was no god there.

Elijah's turn. He called on the people to come near to him, and they did. He took twelve stones that represented the twelve tribes in Israel, and with them he built an altar. He dug a trench around the altar deep enough that if a person stood in it, the top would have been above the knees. On the altar Elijah laid the wood, then cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood.

Then he instructed, "Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood." These were huge storage jars which would have held enough water to soak the altar and run into the trench. Yet Elijah said, "Do it a second time." And they did. Then, "Do it a third time," and they did until the trench was full. Then Elijah prayed;
"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back." (1 Kings 18:36-37)
The fire of the Lord fell from heaven and consumed the offering. The wood. The stones. The dust. Even the water. All of it. Gone. And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!" Then Elijah instructed that all 450 prophets of Baal who deceived and manipulated the people be seized, and they were taken to Kishon where they were slaughtered.

Why do I mention this story? Because it's a great story, of course. And through it we might be reminded of God's loving patience, his faithfulness, and his mighty power. It is God who saves us, and to him belongs all glory.

But I confess, there's another reason I wanted to bring this up. Sometimes I hear this story used to justify how it's okay to make fun of the lost; those who are on their way to hell unless they repent and follow Christ. Hey, Elijah did it in 1 Kings 18:27, so therefore I can do it, too! I've observed this reasoning given by apologetics and discernment ministries responding to criticism because they mock unbelievers and false teachers.

But those who use 1 Kings 18:27 in such a way are taking it out of context. When Elijah mocked the priests of Baal, he wasn't just throwing random jabs and blind haymakers. Each one of his insults had a specific meaning. Yes, even his point about Baal going off somewhere to take a leak (relieving himself).

The word that appears in 1 Kings 18:27 for "mocked" is a variation of the Hebrew word hathal, which doesn't just mean mocked. It also means "deceived." Elijah was doing more than just mocking. He was egging-on the priests of Baal, pushing them to become more emphatic so that the Israelites would see no matter how loud they got, Baal did not exist to answer them.

Each insult, if you will, was specific to the attributes of the god that the priests of Baal were calling out to...
  • "Either he is musing..." The false gods the pagans worshiped were considered to be a source for knowledge. Different gods possessed different knowledge. If Baal was off somewhere being contemplative, then apparently he had to get his knowledge from somewhere else and couldn't be considered a reliable source of understanding.
  • "Or he is relieving himself..." Baal was a god of rain, which in this story Israel had not seen in over three years. Elijah was mocking the priests by saying that Baal must not care about the Israelites, and was off in some other land giving them water instead. That makes Elijah's insult all the more hilarious, saying that Baal's "rain" was the god's pee on his worshipers' crops.
  • "Or he is on a journey..." Elijah was suggesting that maybe the priests of Baal were worshiping in the wrong spot. Sometimes pagan gods had to be journeyed after in order to be found, or there were certain spots designated as a channel through which that god could be contacted. A wandering god, whose location is inconsistent, makes things pretty difficult for the people to find him.
  • "Or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." According to the pagans, the reason why there was no rain was because the god of rain was asleep. Therefore that god's priests had to awaken him. Elijah was straight-to-the-point with this insult; the idea that a god needed to be woken up was pretty ridiculous. This was also said to provoke the priests to cry louder.
Contrast these insults about Baal with the attributes of the true God that Elijah called upon...
  • God does not seek knowledge. He does not need to be contemplative. He is the source of all knowledge (Proverbs 9:10, 1 Corinthians 1:4-5, Colossians 2:2).
  • God stores up and sends both fire and rain (2 Peter 3:6-7). Remember, Baal's a rain god, and Elijah told the priests of Baal to call upon their rain god to produce fire. Not only can Baal not do that, he can't do anything. He doesn't exist (1 Corinthians 8:4).
  • God does not wander, or needs to be journeyed after on the earth in order to be found. He is always with his people (Matthew 28:20, John 14:18).
  • When God rests, this doesn't mean he is asleep or inactive (Psalm 121:3-4). He listens to the  prayers of his people (Psalm 6:9), and knows their words before they say them (Psalm 139:4).
This was Elijah saying, "Your god does this, but my God does this!" All of his comments were intentional and purposeful, meant to direct the nation of Israel to what the true God was about to do before their very eyes.

The Israelites saw the 450 priests of Baal doing their little song-and-dance giving it everything they had and getting no response. Then over here was one confident prophet of God. He took a stand when no one else would, mocking Baal and all of his false attributes because he knew that false god did not exist and therefore could not retaliate.

Elijah precisely and obediently prepared his sacrifice. His methods were wise, raising up stones that represented the people of Israel, as if to tell them, "What you are about to see is grace for you, because the Lord your God loves you. He is faithful to you though you have been faithless toward him. He is calling upon you to repent."

As God with fire consumed that sacrifice and everything around it, the Israelites became astounded and worshiped God. God turned their hearts back to him (1 Kings 18:37). Just as God burned up the stones that represented the tribes of Israel, so he could have done to them for following false gods. But he was patient and loving toward them.

The point of the story is not 1 Kings 18:27. The point of the story is 1 Kings 18:37! Elijah's purpose was not to denigrate the priests of Baal. It was to exalt highly the saving grace of the Lord our God. It is God alone who saves.

Folks, it is not okay to act like jerks toward those who are supposed to be our mission field. There may be times when rhetorical devices like parody or sarcasm can be employed in order to get a point across. I've done that before. But we must be wise in how we use them. There are other times when such devices can be misused and are not acceptable. I've done that before, too.

When you take a Bible verse out of context in order to build an entire hermeneutic around the idea that it's okay to insult others or point fingers and laugh, your motives are self-serving. That is not loving and it is not Christ-like. You're using the Scriptures to justify your behavior rather than being filled with the entire counsel of God and letting his word guide your behavior.

We are instead to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who wrote "even with tears" about those who "walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things."

Paul did not grab these individuals to be used as material for his vlog or podcast (or whatever the first century equivalent was) and deride them with put-downs much to the applause of his audience. He wept over them, even the ones who made his ministry hard on him (Philippians 1:15-18), just as Christ wept for those who would not listen to him (Luke 19:41-44).

Paul went on to say, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:17-21).

If we are confident citizens of the kingdom of God, as Elijah was a confident prophet of God, we must preach the word of God in love and care knowing that he will do his work to bring about repentance and saving faith.

I think also of Charles Spurgeon who said, "If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for."

As Dr. Russell Moore has said, "The message of the kingdom isn't, 'You kids, get off our lawn!' The message of the kingdom is, 'Make way for the coming of the Lord!'" That was Elijah's message. That is to be our message, too. In the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation for all who believe.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why I Deleted the Jefferson Bethke Parody "Jesus Hates Religion"

The WWUTT video "Jesus Hates Religion?" was posted on Sunday evening. In 48 hours, it had about 3,000 views, received 240 likes, and been shared a few hundred times. I'd received comments of it already being shown in Bible studies. But by Tuesday night, I deleted the video.

I'd like to be able to say, "Numbers don't matter," but that wouldn't be true. I am grateful for every share and every view we get on a video (and every listen I get on the podcast).  I read every comment and e-mail, though I may not always get the chance to respond. The feedback does matter.

But the feedback did not have to do with why the video was removed, nor was its popularity and approval-rating enough to satisfy the conviction the Spirit impressed upon me. The tone in the video simply wasn't kind. That's why I removed the video. I've since re-written the script and posted a new version, still under the same title...

In 2012, 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke created a video called Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. It was an instant YouTube sensation, viewed 6 million times in less than three days (and admittedly makes this video creator a tad jealous).

In that few days after the video dropped, Rev. Kevin DeYoung wrote an article posted through the Gospel Coalition entitled Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really. Just about everything that needed to be said about Bethke's video, DeYoung nailed it.

The short response is this: No, Jesus does not hate religion. Christianity is a religion (despite the often-repeated pulpit cliche, "It's not about religion, it's about a relationship"). And while Bethke does make some solid gospel points, he misuses so many words that DeYoung rightly labled Bethke's poem, "unhelpful and misleading."

Within a day of DeYoung's article, he and Bethke had a personal exchange. Bethke said his intention was not to deride religion altogether, but specifically "false" religion, targeting the hypocrites and those who claim to be Christian but don't act like it. He admitted he had chosen his words poorly and that if he could do the video again, he would have done some things differently.

This was just a few days after the video had first been posted. It had already been seen six million times, but why didn't Bethke go ahead and delete it? Maybe I'm asking for a simple solution that isn't all that simple. I just have to wonder -- If Bethke understood the problems, why didn't he at least create a follow-up? Instead, he rode the popularity to the New York Times bestseller list, writing a book entitled Jesus > Religion.

I'm guessing that's pronounced, "Jesus [is greater than] Religion."

Personally, the video was an eye-roller the moment I saw it. Bethke's very first line is, "What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion?" Already, it's wrong. Jesus didn't come to abolish religion. He came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). Though Bethke later clarified what he was really trying to say, thirty million people have not read DeYoung and Bethke's exchange to know the truth from the not-quite-the-truth.

Bethke said, "If I can be brutally honest, I didn't think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn't as air-tight as I would've liked." The size of one's audience is absolutely no excuse for bad theology.

I don't expect any one of my Sunday-morning sermons to be heard by more than 200 people. But brothers and sisters, I labor to make sure the doctrine is Bible-based and rock-solid. Those 200 people that hear my sermon are under my care as their shepherd. For their sake and to the glory of God, I want to get it right.

Bethke put together a planned, written, choreographed, and directed video. And yet in all that planning, why didn't he check his doctrine? I've not seen enough to believe that Bethke's conviction for his theological errors runs deep enough. He has used the popularity of Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus to the point of making himself a teacher, and he probably shouldn't be. At least, not yet.

But I agree with DeYoung that Bethke seems like a solid Christian young man who desires to make Christ known. That I'm not in disagreement with. And that's why I removed the first take of Jesus Hates Religion? and decided to come at the subject with a slightly different tone.

My first video started with a poem that parodied Bethke's. I changed my voice not to imitate Bethke or make fun of him but just for differentiation. However, after posting the video and hearing it a couple times, it did sound like I was mocking him. The poem I wrote may have been funny, ear-catching, and may have made a solid point, but it wasn't the best approach.

A person who needs to know the truth might hear me in that video seeming to mock Bethke, and the message they needed to hear would get lost: "Well, this guy is just annoyed because this other guy made a really popular video! That's why he's making fun of him!"

Peter said to give a gentle and respectful answer so that when we are slandered, those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-17). I don't think I did gentleness and respect well in my first attempt. The second video is more direct, maybe less-creative, but it's a more respectful way to approach the issue.

And again, the conviction was all mine. I did ask one of my fellow elders what he thought of the video, but that was after I already deleted it (he agreed I went a little far). The video was otherwise getting as favorable a response as any other video. Yeah, I received a few negative comments. We get those, too. But no one person's comment caused me to remove the video.

Originally I was going to do a two-video series on religion. The first one was "Jesus Hates Religion?" The second was, "It's Not a Religion, It's a Relationship?" (all of the video titles end in question-marks, in case you didn't notice). After I removed the first video, I combined the two scripts. I think the result is a stronger and more gospel-centered point than I started out with.

I've noticed that Bethke just came out with a new book this week. (The timing of my video with his book release was purely coincidental as I don't keep up with Bethke.) I remain concerned about his place as a teacher. I don't think he's fit and I don't think he's ready. But I agree with DeYoung that Bethke is a Christian guy who wants to make Christ known.

The Lord is using Jeff Bethke. I've said stuff on the internet before I regret saying. I get that. His video is still problematic, and the truth needs to be understood. But he shouldn't be mocked by a brother. As Paul said in Philippians 1:18, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."

Hey, maybe since I can't parody Bethke, he could parody himself. Like, make a follow-up to Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus, as DeYoung suggested he do. Only do it right this time. With sound doctrine.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Was Hurt By the Church. How Can I Re-Engage?

I used to be involved in a Christian community back when I was in college. Needless to say, I graduated and moved on. Now that I'm in the workforce, I understand I should get involved in a local church. However, something is holding me back.

Quite a few times, I felt betrayed and ostracized by the community I was in due to some of the drama that happened. It is hard for me to get involved into a new community given the fact that I've felt let down. Furthermore, it takes me a long time to get to know new people. How can I start anew and change my expectations for a better outcome? 

Let Down

Dear LD,

Though you sent this question in to Relevant Magazine, they gave you a lame answer. A lot of that article didn't even make sense. First of all, no one should ever be applauded for leaving the church over "drama." How do you start anew and change your expectations for a better outcome? What Relevant should have told you was this:

Repent of your sin, ask God for forgiveness, and go back to church.

You need to get over yourself. Your question was chock full of you and your expectations. There's no love for Christ in your approach. I see no desire to really change. You want everyone else to change, but you can stay exactly as you are. Not only is that not church, that's not Christianity. Jesus said no one can be his disciple unless he denies himself, takes up his cross daily, and follows after him (Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).

There was not even a hint of that in your question, though you did take a few backhanded slaps at Christ's bride like it was all her fault. That's typical. All the people "slow clapping" (as Relevant put it) are just like you, and that's not a good thing. You're all about what you want, and it sounds like all you want is a group of people to hang out with who won't judge you and will let you do whatever. You need to ask God to forgive you and fix your perspective. Then find a church to attend that is grounded in the sound words of Christ.

Even the most community-oriented, seemingly-selfless congregation is worthless if they aren't grounded in the truth (Romans 3:12). You might find the friendliest bunch of worshipers you've ever encountered. But you can find that in a bar! The church must have the word of Christ. It is that word that has called them together in one body, teaching and admonishing in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in their hearts to God (Colossians 3:15-16).

You need correction. The church will help to give that to you; telling you to stop being selfish and be conformed to the image of Christ. You must be set apart, holy and beloved, as God's chosen ones are to be. You must have a compassionate heart and put on kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).

You must bear with one another in the church as they will bear with you. If you have a complaint against another, you must forgive; for as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14) -- not "love" according to what you think it is. You must recognize love for what God says it is.

What God says love is does not mean letting a person do whatever they want and making sure they feel warm and fuzzy, which is clearly what you're after. Love absolutely does not mean "never having to say you're sorry," despite a ridiculous movie line you may have heard.

Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It's not irritable or restful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). When Paul wrote those famous words, he was rebuking a church for doing it wrong. Right now, LD, you need those words. You're doing every one of those things wrong:
  • "Love is patient." You have not been patient.
  • "Love is kind." Turning your back on the church is not kind.
  • "Love does not envy." You envy the community of the church, but you don't actually want to sacrifice anything in order to take part in it.
  • "Love does not boast." You're boasting that you did everything right while the church was wrong and she needs to fix it.
  • "Love is not arrogant." You think you're above correction. You're standing outside the church telling her to correct her problems, and then she'll be worthy enough for your company.
  • "Love is not rude." Your backhanded slaps at the church are rude.
  • "Love does not insist on its own way." At this point, do I really have to tell you how you're insisting on your own way?
  • "Love is not irritable or resentful." You're irritated with the church, and you resent your experience. You've got a chip on your shoulder and are holding on to a grudge.
  • "Love does not rejoice and wrongdoing." Refusing to attend church is wrong. You've found some sense of "joy" in not attending church because church was a burden. If you actually love Christ (and I must caution you, there was no evidence of that in your letter), you must love his bride.
  • "Love rejoices in the truth." Do you actually know the word of God? Do you love it? Do you rejoice in it? If you did, you would desire to be with other believers who rejoice in the truth despite all their shortcomings.
  • "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It's necessary to put these four together because they have to do with endurance. Belief and hope don't stand alone in this context. They're about how we conduct ourselves in a relationship with the body of Christ. Because you love other Christians, you bear with them, believe with them, hope with and for them, and endure with them.
Lest you think I'm being completely insensitive, I confess that there are some legitimate reasons to leave a church -- not ever leave the church altogether, but perhaps leave for another one. Even in such cases, a person should rely upon the advice of several counselors, they must be in prayer, and have open and honest communication with their current church before making such a change. Then if they leave, they must still treat one another respectfully, not talking ill behind one another's backs, even if one party does not behave themselves accordingly.

I don't get the impression you've been through one of those legitimate reasons, though. You say you left "due to some of the drama that happened." Yeah, I'm not buying it. That's not the reason you left. Your reasons for leaving were most likely selfish, and I'm drawing that conclusion based on the self-centered and Christless tone of your letter.

I've been a pastor in the same church for five years (associate for two, head pastor for three). In that time, I can't say that I've seen one single instance of a person leaving our church and having a legitimate reason to do so, especially not the way they left. In fact, I know of only one occasion where I felt like a person was genuinely wronged by us, her church, and probably did have a legitimate reason to leave. I would not have blamed her for leaving over what happened. But she didn't. She would later tell us, "I pulled up my big-girl pants and got over it."

Some people have left our church over completely ridiculous reasons. If I went through the list, even you would say, "Are you serious? Someone left over that?!" If you were to go to those individuals and ask them why they left, they would probably give a generic answer like yours: "Oh, I felt so let down." "Oh, I didn't feel like I belonged." "Oh, it was just so much drama." Right! And they were part of the drama!

And there's the rub, LD. When you were in church, you were part of the drama. You always will be. The church is going to be full of people you won't always agree with, and they won't always agree with you, but they love you anyway. If and when you repent and go back to church, you will find yourself sandwiched between a couple of sinners who have given you every reason in the world not to love them. But if you have been called by the Spirit of God, and you have a heart that has truly been transformed in Christ, you will love them anyway.

Look, I put myself in that as well. I'm a sinner saved by grace. My wife and kids and I will give reasons to my congregation for them not to love me. But the flock I've been entrusted to care for (pastor means "shepherd") will be faithful and will keep coming back because they know it's not about me. They've not placed me on a pedestal and made unrealistic expectations of their pastor. They keep coming back because it's about Christ. What I teach is his word, not mine.

It has to start there. It must start on the word of God -- not community, not goosebumps, not the style of music you like, not great programs, not atmosphere, not heating and air conditioning, not any other warm/fuzzy you're expecting of the church. The church is described as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25). It starts with Christ and his word.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Be honest -- Is that passage not talking about you? Have you ever really known the sound words of the Lord Christ? Because you haven't known them, you've been conceited and understood nothing; about God or his church. You've had this unhealthy craving for controversy over the church. As I've already pointed out, you've been envious. You've been the cause of discord and slander, deprived of the truth yet thinking that the church is a means of gain for you.

It's time to repent, LD. If you don't know your sin, you don't know you need to be saved. If you don't ask God to save you, you have no business asking to be a part of his body. After seeking God's grace, ask him to help you find a church that is grounded in the truth. Then you must ask them for forgiveness. It may not be the church you attended before, but you still need to confess your sin. The Bible says to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).

I'll be honest with you because love does not withhold discipline (Hebrews 12:6) -- If you refuse to repent and you continue to slander the church, you will go to hell (see also Matthew 24:45-51). Now, don't hear me saying that attending church saves you. It doesn't. Jesus saves. But if you love Jesus, you'll love his bride, no matter her shortcomings. She's not yet perfect, and neither are you. That comes later, if you endure with her to the end (Revelation 19:7).

There are times when a church must be called out for wrongdoing. I've already cited one example in 1 Corinthians. But you are not in that position. Right now, you must receive correction. If you love Jesus, you will show it by obeying what he commanded (1 John 5:2). And what he commanded is that you love his sheep and feed them (John 21:17). You also need to be fed, trained, and disciplined. First, you need to be humble enough to know that.

I'm sure this is not the answer you wanted to hear, LD. But it's the answer you needed to hear. Repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ -- for real, this time -- and you will be saved.

Grace and peace from God our Father
Pastor Gabe

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Review of "90 Minutes In Heaven" You Don't Need

At the end of August, I received an invitation to a private luncheon showing the film 90 Minutes In Heaven. The movie was free, and best of all the lunch was free. I was tempted to accept the offer, not because I actually want to see 90 Minutes In Heaven. I very much don't want to see it. And that's why I wanted to see it! A chance to offer a preemptive review of a bad movie with bad theology before it comes out? For a free lunch?! I'm there.

However, the lunch was on a Tuesday which is the day I help feed lunch to high school students and share with them the gospel. It's an opportunity that I treasure and I hate missing it. Thinking about accepting the invitation to see 90 Minutes In Heaven lasted for about as long as it took you to read that first paragraph. Then I declined. When it comes down to it, I know all I need to know to tell anyone why they should not bother seeing this movie...

1. It's a lie.
I'm going to present five reasons here about why someone doesn't need to see this movie, but the number one reason is enough. The whole premise behind 90 Minutes In Heaven is a lie. The author did not visit heaven, but he presents his tale as truth and the film is pitched as an "Incredible true story."

On January 18, 1989 (as it says in the trailer), author Don Piper (not John Piper), died in a car accident and went to heaven for, you guessed it, 90 minutes. There he saw everyone who preceded him in death, greeted first by his grandfather (apparently everyone who has an afterlife experience authenticates it as genuine by seeing a grandparent). Then he came back to write a bestseller about it.

I have Don's book. It's sitting in the heresy section of my study next to the Book of Mormon and Blue Like Jazz (John's books are on a completely different shelf). Despite the title, it doesn't have much to do with an afterlife experience. The account of Don's heavenly visit lasts all of fifteen pages. The book and the film are mostly about his journey of recovery from his accident.

If that's all this was about, I'm sure it would make a compelling and inspirational story. But the selling point is centered around the false notion that Don visited heaven. He didn't. I know he didn't because I read the Bible which says something completely different about heaven than what Don says it is (coming up in point 2).

Don's account of heaven is like that of every other American who's never been there: being greeted by dead friends and relatives, angel's wings, pearly gates, beautiful sights and sounds, time and space have no meaning, light everywhere, light and more light, increasing light, going towards the light, and incredible heavenly music (which gets its own chapter, pg 29 to 36).

And that's pretty much it. Don didn't see God. He wasn't even in his presence. He says, "If I had actually seen God, I would never have wanted to return. My feeling has been that once we're actually in God's presence, we will never return to earth again, because it will be empty and meaningless by comparison." (pg. 33)

So his theology about heaven is based entirely on "feeling," not at all grounded in truth. Not once in his 15 pages is the Bible ever quoted. Time and space have no meaning in Don's heaven, and apparently God's word doesn't either, though God has said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

Even if Don's story was true, and he actually visited heaven and came back to tell us about it, Jesus said that such stories have no credibility. If a person will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe someone who comes back from the dead (Luke 16:31).

2. It makes a mockery of the Bible.
The thing about books like 90 Minutes In Heaven, Heaven Is for Real, Flight to Heaven, The Boy Who Went to Heaven, Proof of Heaven, and other heaven-tourism tales is that experience trumps fact. The authors require their readers to accept whatever they have to say over what the Bible has to say.

I'm going to say that again another way because it is so important: The authors of books about visiting heaven and coming back are demanding that we take their word over the word of God. Therefore, a four-year-old boy (Colton Burpo, Heaven Is for Real) has more authority than the apostles themselves, on the beaten backs of whom Christ built his church (Ephesians 2:20).

A person who believes and eats up these kinds of stories believes in their heart that the Bible is merely a helpful guide but cannot hold a candle to experience. Experience is the real gospel.

John MacArthur confronts such heaven-tourism accounts in his book, The Glory of Heaven, where he says the following:
For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies -- with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God -- are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception. 
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: 'Who has ascended to heaven and come down?' (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: 'No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man' (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
Adds David Platt, "Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus who had a lot of time in a grave for four days."

Heaven is the place where God dwells in all of his magnificence and holiness, unabated in all his glory. When we read the biblical accounts of those who saw heaven, in the very presence of God they become terrified (Isaiah 6:5), fall on their faces (Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 1:17), or are silenced (2 Corinthians 12:4). They do not embrace friends and family members or have these self-gratifying experiences they can regale us with like they just returned from vacation.

Seriously, I don't see much of a difference between Don's account of heaven and the caricature of angels with halos sitting in the clouds playing their harps.

3. There will be no gospel.
The gospel is the message that God is reconciling all things to himself, in heaven and on earth, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the grave so we can know that in him, we are rescued from death and will live forever with God. No such message will be presented in this film.

While stumping for the movie, Don has said, "It's about learning to embrace the new normal and that's where people get hung up. People have to realize that you must turn your test into a testimony, and turn the pain into purpose." He said at one point he was angry with God, but heard God telling him, "Take the fist you are shaking at Me and open it to extend as a hand to others."

Turn your test into a testimony? Turn the pain into purpose? Turn your fist into an open hand? Ugh. It's the tired trend of the American pastor trying to be a motivational speaker. Though Don's testimony is peppered with mentions of "God" and "Jesus," his story is not about God. Don's ministry is about giving people the warm-fuzzies. It is not about winning lost souls.

The difference between a film like 90 Minutes In Heaven and the latest Pixar movie Inside Out (which I highly recommend, by the way) is that the latter incorporates real experiences into a work of fiction, while the former incorporates fictional experiences and presents them as truth. Both are feel-good movies. But Inside Out is honest in their approach while 90 Minutes In Heaven is not. (I can't believe I just said Disney was the less-exploitative one.)

Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love. If a person is lying, they are not loving, no matter how genuine their intentions. Even if Don saw something resembling heaven and he is convinced that what he saw was real, it's still a lie. He does not care enough for those he shepherds to test his experience against the Bible and know whether or not it lines up with God's word. Worse yet is he doesn't love God's word enough to test his experiences by it.

4. The acting is just terrible.
I know, this reason is a lot more subjective, but there's a point. The big-name star of this film is Hayden Christensen, most recognized as little orphan Annie Skywalker in Star Wars, Episodes II and III. If you've seen them, I doubt I need to comment on his acting chops. The actress playing his wife is Kate Bosworth whose most notable work is Superman Returns. "But Gabe, I happen to know you liked Superman Returns." I did. The acting was still terrible.

They're not in this movie to be professional. They're Hollywood names meant to draw in an audience. I was very disappointed to see Michael W. Smith was a part of this cast. Hey, I grew up a Smitty fan. I had hoped his presence in The Holy Ghost was just a fluke, like he didn't actually know the Wanderlust crew making that joke of a documentary were frauds. But you'd have to be irresponsibly naive to not know what 90 Minutes In Heaven was about before signing up for it.

Don't be fooled into thinking any movie is legit by the names of big stars, even if those stars are commonly associated with the Christian genre. The Bible tells us to test everything, clinging to what is good and doing away with what is not (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

5. If you buy a ticket, you're a sucker.
There is money to be made in heaven-tourism books, and business is a-boomin'. The best-selling Christian book of the last decade is Heaven Is for Real, which has sold over 10 million copies. Don's book, 90 Minutes In Heaven, has sold over 7 million copies. Both books have been made into movies and are now making money off of the movie-rights.

Someone could argue, "Wait, I heard that Giving Films, who produced 90 Minutes In Heaven, is giving 100 percent of profits to charities!" Sure, they probably are. But not Samuel Goldwyn, the film's distributor, or the actors or the screenwriter or anyone else behind this production. The only reason the movie got made was to bank off of the success of a false-teaching book about heaven.

Again, it doesn't matter how great anyone's intentions are. It doesn't matter how many lives they claim they've made a difference in. They could be building fresh water wells for poor families in Africa. It's noble work, but they're leading people to hell in the process by presenting something that claims to be greater than God's word.

Who goes to a movie to donate to charity? If that's important to you, then take it upon yourself to give to the charity that you feel led to give to. These filmmakers are just suckering you into a film. They play off of the sympathies of others first by making a movie about heaven that's not actually about heaven, then they double-down by announcing the proceeds go to charity.

It's all a con, orchestrated by the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). It has the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). The Apostle Paul wrote, "Avoid such people." Or in this case, avoid such films.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Don't Be Anxious, Be Thankful!

The following is a chapter from the book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). You can pick up a copy here. Since we've been going through Philippians in the podcast (find the podcast player on the right), I decided to post this chapter...

Philippians 4:6
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (NIV)

Generally when you see an online list of the most searched-for verses, Philippians 4:6 is clumped together with verses 7 and 8. This being at the conclusion of the letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul brought to their attention the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon On the Mount: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

The ten verses in Matthew 6:25-34 are where we read Jesus' teaching about not worrying. The Lord cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. How much more will he also care for you? God knows what you need. We are to, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek God first, and we know that he will provide for us all things, there is no need for us to worry.

Worrying displays a lack of trust in God. Philippians 4:6 actually starts right in the middle of a sentence. By adding in the portion from verse 5, we get this: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything." If we believe the Lord is in control, there's no reason to worry. Then when we pray, we can come to him with thanksgiving—not in a panic, which would display a lack of appreciation for God, thus hindering our prayers.

Thanksgiving is a full-on assault against worry. Anxiety cannot thrive when we have thankful hearts. There's not a letter Paul did not write without expressing or calling for some form of thanksgiving. It is the will of God in Christ Jesus for each of us to give thanks in all circumstances. It is the expression of a heart that is satisfied in its Creator and Savior for all things.

If we follow the instruction of verse 6, then we gain "the peace of God" mentioned in verse 7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Wow! A peace that "surpasses all understanding" guarding our hearts and minds. What's that like? Some of us can be so anxiety-laden that we can't even imagine such a feeling.

The "peace" being talked about here is not simply relaxation or being stress-free. That is certainly a blessing from God, but it's not the point. We're talking about a peace that is afforded to us only through Jesus Christ, and no other way. As New Testament scholar Leon Morris once said, "The peace the Christian enjoys has no existence in its own right; it is possible only because of the presence of the Lord."

Again, as mentioned earlier, it is rooted in the peace we have with God. Christ's death on the cross has appeased God's wrath which was burning against our sin and unrighteousness; our former selves before we came to Christ and the knowledge of his sacrifice. As it says in Colossians 1:20, he made "peace by the blood of his cross."

"Soteriology" is the word that's used to describe the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk Magazine and co-pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel, has a great way of summarizing soteriology. He puts it, "Soteriology simplified: God saves us by himself, from himself, unto himself, for himself."

And in him, we have peace—peace from the world, peace from the future, peace from guilt and the burden of our sins, peace with God. It's an eternal peace. It's not something that will be here for the moment but tomorrow we're back to stressing again. It's a peace we will have always because we can be confident and assured of God's total deliverance and unrelenting faithfulness.

Because it is a peace that's eternally significant, it "surpasses all understanding." How can we possibly fathom such a peace with our finite minds? Understand it or not, the blessed assurance that results will "guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." As we read in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Therefore, let us put our hearts and minds, guarded in Christ, toward things that are pleasing to the Lord. Philippians 4:8 goes on to say, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Now, we could start going through examples of what we should put our minds toward and what we shouldn't. I often see Philippians 4:8 come out when someone starts talking about what television shows we shouldn't watch or the movies we shouldn't see or the music we shouldn't be listening to. Those sermons have their time and place.

For now, let's consider it this way: If we devote our hearts and minds to the good things of God, we are able to help others in cases of urgent need and keep ourselves from being unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Whatever inspires us to worship God and share his love with others, let that be our full investment. And the God of peace will be with us (Philippians 4:9).

Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
To whom? The Christians of the Philippian church.
What was the setting? Read aloud to the Philippian congregants who were likely meeting in the house of Lydia.
When did this happen? Approximately 62 A.D.
How did he say it? Through a letter.
Why did he say it? To encourage Christians to trust in Christ in any and all circumstances.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Yes, Kim Davis Is Being Persecuted

Kim Davis is the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. "On whose authority are you not issuing such marriage licenses?" she was asked by the media. "On God's authority," she replied. Same-sex marriage goes against the laws of nature, she clarified, which have been set by God and stated in his word, the Bible.

Yesterday, Judge David L. Bunning ruled that Davis was a dangerous criminal who needed to be put behind bars. After sentencing her to serve time in jail, cheers went up outside the court house, rainbow flags waved in the air, and gay men celebrated outside the clerk's office by making out. None of that was sensationalized or exaggerated. Davis was yelled at and spat upon as she was ushered past the crowd. "Love wins!" my foot.

Good thing we got this criminal off the streets and locked away. Amiright, folks?

Upon her sentencing, Judge Bunning said, "The idea of natural law superseding this court's authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed." Yes, he really said that. Expect Judge Bunning to rule next week against gravity, a law that sets a dangerous precedent.

Said Rachel Held Evans of the ruling, "No one's being jailed for practicing her religion. Someone's being jailed for using the government to force others to practice her religion." In case you're not familiar with her name, Evans claims to be a follower of Jesus.

But make no mistake: Kim Davis is being persecuted. She is being persecuted for being a follower of Jesus, and no other reason.

Folks, it has been said to us that this was coming. None of this should take us by surprise. We read in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." There's no "if" about it: by standing on godly principles, you will be persecuted for it, some even put in jail as Kim Davis has been.

Consider something shared by evangelist Paul Washer in the previous decade: "The church in America is going to suffer so terribly. We laugh now, but they will come after us and they will come after our children. They will close the net around us while we are playing soccer mom and soccer dad, while we are arguing over so many little things and mesmerized by so many little trinkets. The net even now is closing around you and your children and your grandchildren and it does not cause you to fear.

"You will be isolated from society as has already happened. Anyone who tries to run for office who actually believes the Bible will be considered a lunatic until finally we are silenced. We will be called things we are not and persecuted not for being followers of Christ but for being radical fundamentalists who do not know the true way of Christ which of course is 'love' and 'tolerance.' You'll go down as the greatest bigots and haters of mankind in history.

"They've already come after your children, and for most of you they got them. They got them through the public schools and indoctrination and the university and indoctrination and then you wonder why your children come out not serving the Lord. It's because you fed them right into the devil's mouth. So little by little the net is closing around, and then it's not little by little. Look how fast things are going downhill just in a matter of weeks.

"But at the same time, know this: Persecution is always meant for evil, but God always means it for good. And is it not better to suffer in this life to have an extra weight of glory in heaven? You must settle this in your mind, this is the one thing I want to say over and over.

"Down through history, you have a wrong idea of martyrdom and persecution. You think that these men were persecuted and martyred for their sincere faith in Jesus Christ. That was the real reason, but no one heard that publicly. They were martyred and they were persecuted as enemies of the state, as child molesters, as bigots, as narrow-minded stupid people who had fallen for a ruse and could contribute nothing to society.

"Your suffering will not be noble, so your mind must be filled with the word of God when all people persecute you and turn on you. And then the Spirit of God and common grace pulls back and you see even your children and grandchildren tossing in the lot that you should die. This is no game. You want revival and awakening, but know this: for the most part, great awakenings have come only preceding great national catastrophes of the persecution of the church.

"I believe God is bringing a great awakening, but I believe that he is raising up young men who are strong in trust in the providence of God to be able to wade through the hell that is going to break loose on us, and it will be on us before we can even recognize it -- unless, in God's providence, he is not done.

"This is not silly talk. Apart from a great awakening, these things are going to come upon you. Be ready to lose your homes and your cars and everything."

So you can stand on the side shouting down Kim Davis for "not doing her job." Or you can stand with Christ. A day will come when he will judge the living and the dead. Those who by the power of his Spirit remained obedient to his word, he will welcome into his eternal kingdom. But those who did not love his own and obey his word will be under the wrath of God, cast into eternal fire (Matthew 25:46, John 3:36).

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother or sister is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). Everyone who hates, as people are hating Kim Davis, even so-called Christians, is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15). Anyone who says "I love God" and hates a brother or sister is a liar. If he can't love a brother or sister whom he sees, he cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God. Whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 1:11). Pray for Kim Davis. May we be as bold to follow the convictions of God as she is.

Oh, and in case the word of God has not been enough to convince you, though it should be, perhaps this will blow your mind: Kim Davis actually isn't breaking the law. She's an innocent woman, jailed though she has not even broken the law of the land.