Judge Not!

"Judge Not!"
This is a constant refrain from people who don’t like to have any personal conduct addressed as ungodly.
It is also used by those who teach falsely, or defend those who do. The former group are always a fascination when they pay little attention to biblical matters of all kinds, but in this area they become bible thumpers and theologians in their own defense.

With that said, what does scripture actually say on the matter?

Matthew 7:1-2
1Judge not, that you be not judged.
For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged;
and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Sounds straight forward enough, but is it? There is always a danger in quoting select passages without looking at the larger section in context .
One question should be asked immediately for such an important matter: did Jesus elaborate on this further?  
Does this mean we are to make judgement on nothing, ever, for any reason?

Matthew 7 continues with the thought behind these opening verses. Here are a few interesting passages to consider that Jesus said at the same time. Let’s remember, this is the closing chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. Here are some other passages in chapter 7 to consider.

Verse 6
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

I ask this: is a judgment needed to determine what constitutes a dog or a swine?
Or what is holy and how can we determine if we are being obedient to this without making a judgment?

Verses 13-14
13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it.

14 
Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

 

What constitutes narrow as opposed to wide gate?
How do we identify who teaches in which direction without examination of content in the message?
What standard do we use to determine truth?


Verse 15
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

 

How much clearer could this be, honestly? How do we measure the prophet?
Do we look at words spoken and look for the accuracy of what was proclaimed?
Are we to assume Jesus meant there was a difference between sheep and wolves?
Should we judge the content of what makes them appear to be sheep, when in fact they are wolves.
Can this be done without judging any number of things said or done by them?

Verses 16-20 
16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?
17 
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
19 
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

 

By now the same questions don’t even need to be asked, do they? These verses should help us to better understand Jesus’ opening words.
We can judge fruit, but we don’t know the heart of those producing it. Are all of these wolves willingly deceiving people?
Jesus doesn’t say.  They may be just as deceived as those they are deceiving.

We need to leave matters of the heart and intent to The Lord.  As for us, we are fully capable and able to inspect and judge the fruit.
Now the most important part from here is to be sure we judge what we are supposed to, based on God’s Word and not our opinion.  

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Back to Calvary Distinctives.

This is the one I am most passionate about as a pastor. If not for God's Word, there would not be distinctives to know,
learn and teach. This is a matter so desperately missing in today's church.
There is plenty of talk about bible principles a scripture reference may be given, followed by a lot of philosophy and self help entertainment. This passes for "church" for so many and it produces biblically illiterate people with superficial faith.

This very well describes my DNA in Calvary. Thank you Pastor Chuck and Pastor Jack.
Your faithfulness to teach God's Word is a wonderful marker to me.


Chapter 6: The Priority of The Word

"Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." I Timothy 4:13

Another primary distinctive of Calvary Chapel is our endeavor to declare to people the whole counsel of God.
We see this principle illustrated when Paul met with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. As they were on the shore of the Aegean at Miletus, around the coastal area of Ephesus, Paul said that he was innocent of the blood of all men,
"For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." Acts 20:27

Now, how is it possible for a person to claim to have declared, 'the whole counsel of God?" The only way a person could make that claim to his congregation would be if he taught through the whole Word of God with them, from Genesis to Revelation.
Once you've taken your congregation through the Bible, then you can say to them,
"I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God."

This can't be done with topical sermons. Topical sermons are good, and they have their place, but when you're preaching topically, you're prone by nature to preach only those topics that you like.
And there are topics in the Bible that aren't very inspiring. They don't excite the people,
but they are necessary issues that have to be dealt with. The human tendency, however, is to avoid these.
If you're only preaching topically, you may also tend to avoid controversial or difficult topics,
and the people won't gain a well-balanced view of God's truth.
So the value of going straight through the Bible is that you can say,
"I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God."


Now, I believe that I can say to the people at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa,
"I have declared unto you the whole counsel of God,"
because we have taken them from Genesis to Revelation seven times. We're currently beginning the eighth round.
We don't skip anything. And that's why in the majority of the Calvary Chapels, and the most successful ones, you'll find the systematic teaching of the entire Word of God, going through the Bible from cover to cover.

For the most part, the teaching ministry of Calvary Chapel is expositional in style. It doesn't mean that on occasion we don't address a particular topic or give topical messages. We're not saying that topical messages are wrong or evil.
They have their place. We don't want to fall into strict legalism where we analyze every sermon to see if it was homiletically correct and expositionally presented.

Another advantage of teaching the whole counsel of God is that when you come to difficult issues that deal with problems in an individual's life or within the Church body, you can address them straightforwardly.
We need not worry about people thinking, "Oh, he's aiming at me today." People in the congregation know that it's simply the passage of Scripture being studied that day. So it can't be, "Oh man, he's really picking on me," because they realize that you're going straight through the Book, and you're not jumping from topic to topic.
We're just going straight through the entire Word of God.
In Nehemiah chapter 8 verse 8, when the children of Israel had returned from captivity and were rebuilding the city, the leadership gatherd the people together and constructed a little playform.  
They began in the early morning to read the Word of God to the people. 
Nehemiah 8:8 declares,
"So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."

 

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Pope Calls For All World Religions To Pray

There is video circulating with a call to prayer from the Vatican that has created quite a stir,
perhaps you have seen it. If not, I linked it directly from the Vatican Youtube.
It raises an enormously important question, though I don't believe they would see it
as I do, or more importantly, as The Bible does.

Pope Francis' Prayer Intentions for January 2016
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6FfTxwTX34


The difficulty with the video is complex because of the authority many invest in
the Vatican's position, but the theological error in it is actually quite simple to see.
Even people who do not believe in the accuracy and authority of The Bible, as I do,
would have to conclude that the writings found in The Bible are at odds with
the Pope's words. He says, "Most of the planet's inhabitants declare themselves believers."
This is true, but believers in what? Or better said, in whom do they believe?

Following these remarks there are other faith traditions represented.
Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. The God represented in The Bible is the same to the Jew
and to the Christian. The difference between us is regarding the person of Jesus and who
He is, essentially. We believe Him to be God in human skin.
We hold to the same view as they do regarding the Old Testament.
We disagree on the continuation of the covenant of The Law as it has been made
perfect in Jesus, but He is the same God in both Testaments.

The difficulty is taking the Pope's words, as they relate to all other religions
because all other religions do not follow God on His terms, but theirs.
The god of Buddhism is not a god in the personal sense, but a consciousness.
The god of Islam, according to their writings, is not deeply personal
nor is he presented as loving his creation, let alone directly engaging it,
as The God of The Bible did and still does.
By contrast, The God of The Bible is deeply personal and loving, in His Own words.
Islam rejects the deity of Jesus, as does Buddhism and all other religions for that matter.
This is why the Pope's appeal to other religions cannot and would not be honored by the Biblical God.

Now, this is why the video is so deeply troubling.
The implication is that since we all believe in "God,"
we should all pray for peace and justice, whatever that means.
But does God hear the prayers not directed to Him?
God does not recognize these other god's, nor does Scripture teach
that God grades on a curve, based on sincerity.
Quite the contrary. Here is what He says of other god's.
These are just a couple of the myriad examples which could be offered:

“You shall have no other gods before Me."
Exodus 20:3

"I am the Lord, and there is no other;
There is no God besides Me.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me,
That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
That there is none besides Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the Lord, do all these things."
Isaiah 45:5-7


So, the Pope's call to prayer is a call for people to pray to god's with no power to answer,
instead of calling them to the one true God who can.
He, of all people, should know better if we are to believe,
as his church holds, that he is God's representative on earth.

This may seem trivial to some, but it has the effect of not simply blurring lines,
but erasing the distinction that God stands alone, and there is none beside Him,
and none who can answer such prayers.
This is dangerous and a gross misrepresentation of what
someone speaking in God's name should propose.

Be careful, be Berean. Acts 17:11


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The Vexing Question of Church Discipline

Ever since the Supreme Court made its ruling on the redefining of marriage, churches have been trying to find their footing and coming up with an answer to the question of what to do going forward.
Listening to and reading the dialogue makes me wonder how many people or churches are
taking a biblical look at it, rather than a cultural or emotional look. 
It should go without saying that a church
should be open to people of all walks of life because we are all sinners.

" For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
Romans 3:23

Yet that hasn’t kept opponents of same sex marriage, especially those doing so from a scriptural perspective, from being called haters, homophobes, or whatever other label they can find.

This article is not an examination of Hillsong, its leadership, its doctrine or its theology.  
They are simply the church that is embroiled in a controversy regarding church discipline and openly homosexual individuals serving and participating in church.  
What I hope to do in this article is to ask questions and give a biblical response to the controversy.  

That being said, biblical marriage is easy to define.
Not to mention that the Bible defines all other unions as immoral.
So it's pretty simple to define and then defend the biblical view in a purely textual manner.
The trouble comes when having a biblical view is explained or enforced in a church setting.
Many pastors and church boards are waiting for the inevitable challenge that
will soon be brought somewhere against a church standing purely on biblical grounds
regarding marriage and marriage ceremonies, in particular.

That is a matter of a now and then event in a church and isn't a day-to-day matter.
However, in the operation and assembly of the church meeting together, what is to be done
with immorality happening in the midst of the assembly? Recently, a story broke about a very large church in New York who had an openly gay couple that was actively serving in their worship ministry.
Given the high profile nature of the church, the pastor and the couple became a topic of much
discussion in church circles. It prompted a response from the flagship church that satisfied many which seems to have people moving on with their lives.

But there is a problem with the response.  The answers given were not specific to everyday members not in leadership. And there isn’t a clear indication of where they are going from here. The church where this began (Hillsong NY) has known about this couple for some time and they were involved in openly serving in the church. Now, obviously, each church is free to have whoever it wants to serve, wherever, etc., but biblically there are clear guidelines for leaders.


Some churches take a literal, direct view on such matters, scripturally speaking, while others take a more liberal view. In this case, based on reports, this church and its pastor felt that they were on good ground in saying Jesus never spoke on homosexuality. The video where he stated this is becoming difficult to find as the accounts that had it are now closed, in what seems to be damage control. What have survived are numerous transcripts which do record what was said.  
The part which caused so much controversy is this:

"Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality,
just like it is today, was widely prevalent, and
I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus
addressed it on the record in front of people.
You won't find it because He never did."

Back to this in a moment, but given that the couple who was being defended have been
open about their relationship for some time, Hillsong can’t plead ignorance, thus the public statements of Lentz’s interview with CNN.  Now, such public matters and press appearances created a backlash that brought Hillsong’s flagship church and senior pastor into the fray.  
Cutting to the chase, Brian Houston had this to say in the middle of the dust-up:

"Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles.
Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this
we do not knowingly have actively gay people in
positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.
 
I recognize this one statement alone is upsetting to people on
both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of
the issue for churches all over the world.

I love and accept people on a personal level and if I lived next to
a gay couple I would treat them with the same embrace I would any other
neighbor because - surprise, surprise - not all my neighbors think like me.
Everyone has the right to pursue happiness.
I may totally disagree with you on what will bring people true happiness, and I will
always teach and preach according to my personal convictions and the teachings of scripture,
but I cannot make other people's choices for them - and quite frankly, I don't want to.
That's not my job. Even God created humanity with a free will."

 

So now to deal with the two statements, one at a time. Let's start with what

Lentz said regarding Jesus and the world in which He lived.


First, in the Israel of Jesus’ time, homosexuality was not “widely prevalent” as his audience was almost exclusively Jewish and homosexuality was not widely practiced as it was in the pagan world that Paul encountered. (Likely why Paul had far more to say on the subject than anyone else.)

 

As for the second part of Lentz’ statement, if Jesus didn’t single out homosexuality, does that mean that He was okay with homosexuality? He spoke about immorality, didn't he? Are we to assume a man who perfectly kept the Law was indifferent to a practice that the Law states is an abomination? To make the statement he made is exegetical malpractice by someone people refer to as "pastor."


Now, for what Brian Houston had to say.


We do not knowingly have actively gay people in
positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.
”  


That is a biblical stance to take, but there are some follow up questions that should be asked.  
First, they cannot serve in leadership, but if they are openly practicing homosexuals, what then?
Are they encouraged to repent and leave the lifestyle?
Now, if they've had that conversation behind closed doors, great!  
It just hasn't been disclosed from the reports and statements coming from Hillsong. 
With all eyes on Hillsong NY and Australia, what better time to take a
clearly biblical position using the scripture as their authority with no reference to
or influence from the culture.
What we have seen instead are a number of statements,
but the full meaning is left to the eye of the beholder.

Also, has he spoken to Lentz to be sure they are on the same page?
Lentz is, after all, quite the celebrity among the cool, young, hip wing of progressive Christianity.
This is what having a passive view of scripture leads to and also shows how many people
can be satisfied with incomplete answers and half answered platitudes.


One thing is clear, there isn’t church discipline in place at the NY location as scripture requires.
Paul addressed matters of church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5.  
In that situation, it was a matter of a young man involved sexually with his step mother.
The Greek for Paul’s description is porneia, from which we get the English word pornography.
This word simply means any illicit sexual act.
Those acts are described in all their disturbing terms throughout scripture.
To spare us all the sad details, the only sexuality which God gives as holy is between
a man and woman in a covenant marriage relationship, before God.

What needs to be said here is what Paul tells the Corinthian church to do in writing to them.
Now, if there is repentance, restore the person(s) (Likely the young man of 1 Corinthians 5)

as Paul tells them in 2 Corinthians 2:6-10:

 

This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such

a man,so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort

him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.

Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I

also wrote, that I might put you to the test,whether you are obedient

in all things.10 Now, whom you forgive anything, I also forgive.

For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven

that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,"

 

Also in Galatians 6:1

 

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who 
are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness,
considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
"

 

Can there be any other course for sin in their midst?  Is Paul heartless and cruel?  Hardly!  
The Galatians and 2 Corinthians passages are clear as to his compassion.
His concern was for the wellbeing of the church when told them not to
tolerate sin among their members.

 

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you,
and such sexual immorality as is not even named among
the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!
And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that
he who has done this deed might be
taken away from among you.
For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit,
have already judged (as though I were present) him
who has so done this deed.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are
gathered together, along with my spirit, with
the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Your glorying is not good.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump,
since you truly are unleavened.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven,
nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company
with sexually immoral people.
10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people
of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners,
or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company
with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral,
or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard,
or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside?
Do you not judge those who are inside?
13 But those who are outside God judges.
Therefore
“put away from yourselves the evil person.”
1 Corinthians 5:1-12

 

I understand and appreciate that what is written here is difficult for some to take

in or even accept. It is the easier option to look the other way and tell

ourselves that what happens in another church does not matter

to ours or to us personally. That approach would be a mistake, as this will

be the narrative going forward and will be accepted as mainstream.

So, pastors need to decide if what was said speaks for them

and for their churches. If not, we should be able speak for ourselves, and use

God's Word as the only authority.     

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Pessimism or Realism?

Depending on how we view and then comment on the world around us, we may have people
hang one of a few labels on us after they consider what we have to say.
It is particularly interesting when we view world events and trends through the prism of Scripture.
Viewing events from a biblical worldview will give us a better ability to understand the way those events or opinions are
relayed to people by secular news sources or its opinion makers.
It will also assist us on answering the views expressed by those secular sources.
The SCOTUS opinion on same sex marriage is a prime example.


Pessimism [pes-uh-miz-uh m] 
noun 
The tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.

 

It is natural for us to seek out stories of optimism and hopefulness because who doesn’t like hopefulness?  
Social media is full of such messages and they come from people who are glad to share their life experiences where good things  seem to be happening all around them. I love to read such stories because they are heart-warming.
Our churches are likewise often filled with uplifting storytelling and are then followed by scriptures to support the premise.
These are seemingly good intentioned people and they only want to tell us of good and hopeful things.
Optimism is where some live their lives, even if it means turning a blind eye to all that is happening in our world.
The Christian should consider and rejoice in all that is good.
 
Philippians 4:8
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, 
whatever things are just, whatever things arepure, 
whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, 
if there is any virtue and if there is anything 
praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

At the same time, we should be aware of trends and life, on a global scale, and then ask if all is well.
In fact, look at the titles on the best seller’s list under “Religious” or “Faith Based” and you will be treated to titles thinking you are living in some utopian world.  Though well intentioned, perhaps they are not looking at the whole picture.
In many cases, this can only be deliberate because it is a means to an end and sells books.
Now I sound like a pessimist, raining on everyone’s parade, don’t I? 


But here is the inevitable question:
Is it pessimism to ask where in the world, aside from the anecdotal stories, things can be viewed as really good?
I mean in an across the board and rife with reasons to expect a bright and hopeful future, where are they taking place?
Where in this world is the trajectory climbing upward?
Is it pessimistic to point out that true biblical Christianity is on the decline worldwide?  
To state otherwise is to argue against facts and that kind of mentality is rooted in bad theology.
I will say that the underground church in places where it could get you killed is thriving,
but it’s hard to put a number on it given the nature of the threat.

This has led people to point to “Christian” involvement all over the world. 
But involvement and visiting and “helping” the world’s poor is not necessarily making genuine disciples of Jesus who know Him.  
Is all this “mission” work actually teaching, in depth, what Jesus and the early church taught?  
Do we avoid doctrinal matters while doing missions work because they may offend cultural sensibilities?  
The early church didn’t worry so much about such matters.  In fact, Paul was careful to expose the errors of culture and he insisted culture be excluded from influencing the church.  Jesus did likewise as he surveyed the 7 churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
No wonder the church was so alive in the beginning.  
It was alive, in the midst of a hostile world because it had lofty standards and would not compromise them.
For those who did compromise, correction was insisted upon and was not considered optional.
It only took a half a century for trouble to reach the churches as Paul cautioned in his epistles and Jesus spoke in Revelation.

You may have noticed that (secularly speaking) I have not begun to talk about
economic, demographic, cultural, sociological, political or ecological matters.
There isn’t any good news on those fronts if we are honest with the news, as this week’s events in D.C. clearly illustrate.
Those secular trends and matters are heavily influencing most of the church and will increasingly do so
as we move forward in time.

We should be able to look at matters pertaining to the church while simultaneously examining things
pertaining to the unbelieving world and determine the trajectory of things. No doubt, good people are doing good things everywhere, but compare today’s world to the one of 5 years ago, or 10,  or even 20 for that matter.
Are things going in the right direction? As I stated earlier, I do believe He is doing wondrous and marvelous things in the world. Unfortunately for those people in those places, it comes at an enormous cost to them, including their lives.
To use the old idiom, the cream rises to the top and when all can be lost, in an earthly sense,
what remains spiritually is pure and genuine.

Of the stories we read of genuine faith in the persecuted church, apathy has no place there. 
That luxury isn’t available, nor desired. As for the western world, apathy seems to be the coin of the realm.
For the careful observer, we can see that true, biblical Christianity is being met with hatred and opposition even here in the west.  
In some “westernized” countries, taking a biblical view on matters regarding sexuality and traditional marriage can
get one sued or prosecuted, depending on the level of the “offense.”
Traditional values are marginalized and legislative measures are being proposed, daily, as a counterbalance to
what little true faith remains. Don’t look now, but it’s already happening here in America, though not yet to the degree
of Europe and Canada, but just wait. Such are the times, and so we should expect them, given the volumes of passages God’s Word predicted would come to light before His return.

Summary: Given this analysis, people can easily see what I wrote above as pessimism.
Of course, I would counter and say it isn’t pessimism.  
It is being realistic with the world as we know it, inside and outside the church walls. 
It's what I see as realism.


Realism
[ree-uh-liz-uh m]
noun
The tendency to view or represent things as they really are.

If you remember at the beginning of this blog post I mentioned the “prism of scripture.”  
Meaning, when we look at the world, we need to ask the questions, "does scripture tell us things will remain as they are indefinitely?"  The simple answer is no. There will be a generation that sees the world, as we know it,
come to an end, as Scripture tells us.  Sounds like an odd thing to say for some people’s minds,
but God’s Word is full of information about it in both the Old and New Testaments.  Very few seem to want to discuss this, and therein lies the problem. For too many “Christians,” we seem deeply invested in the things
of this world and its distractions, but are not discussing God’s view of this world and His future plans for it.   


There is a school of theology that believes the future is bright and the church will usher in the Kingdom of God.
It teaches that God is all about love and if we just reach all the world with “the gospel” all will be rosy.
Trouble is that that “gospel” is usually lacking vital information and detail.
It lacks the message of repentance, sin and a coming judgment on the unbelieving world.   

John 16:7-11
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. 
It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, 
the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 
And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 
of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, 
because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, 
because the ruler of this world is judged."

So, it really isn’t the “gospel” but it a consumer grade Christianity or Christianism.

From every conceivable measure, this belief is a failure and a spectacular one at that.
This view comes from poor scholarship and no amount of proof to the contrary (in rapidly increasing amounts)
seems to deter them from pursuing a course God never asked us to follow in His Word.
To be blunt, this theology is faulty and fraudulent in its misrepresentation of the faith.
It leads to a false sense of security and it ensures a worldview that ignores
the real life difficulties humanity finds itself struggling to understand.


So is this realism, or pessimism?  How about Realistic Optimism or does that sound Pessimistic?
It is realistic in the sense that it looks at things and is honest with reality and optimistic because it seems
abundantly clear that our blessed hope is closer with each passing day.


Titus 2:13
"looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing
of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ"

I am pessimistic as it pertains to things getting better and I will gladly eat crow should things turn around.
What would it take for that to happen?  People, not just here in this country, but worldwide would need to repent and come to a saving knowledge of God, based on the clear teaching of Scripture.  
One who doesn’t require His people to kill others in His name.  
A God who doesn’t wink and nod at those who flagrantly reject His counsel.  
A God who offers to all who come to Him mercy on His terms and not theirs.  
For people who claim the name of Jesus to be honest and truthful with
His Word, in its entirety, and not just the pats that keep people showing up week in and week out.

Now that is an optimistic and hopeful thought, but is it realistic? Well, just call me pessimistic on that one.   

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I'm "For" It.

I hear people say, from time to time, that those who take the narrow view of sticking to God’s Word
and who reject the modern church culture are “against” everything and not “for” anything.
So, as a public service to those critics, allow me to look at a passage which stood out to me recently.

We concluded our study in Zephaniah at our Sunday evening service where we study through the Old Testament. 
We are working our way through the Minor Prophets and in the final chapter of Zephaniah, it opens like this.

Zephaniah 3:1-5

1Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted to the oppressing city!
She has not obeyed His voice, she has not received correction;

She has not trusted in the Lord,  she has not drawn near to her God.

Her princes in her midst are roaring lions;
Her judges are evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning.
Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people;

Her priests have polluted the sanctuary; they have done violence to the law.
The
Lordis righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame.


"Woe to her who is rebellious and polluted to the oppressing city!"
This begins a woe and is a pitiful sign of what’s to come. The “oppressing city” is, of course, Jerusalem.  Zephaniah was a prophet to Judah. The oppression was tied to its rebellion and pollution. These are, of course, assessments of a spiritual nature and their offense was against God Himself. He then goes on to point out four distinct reasons that lead to those conditions.


Verse 2 identifies four glaring problems that should be seen in their historical context to be sure. This was, after all, intended to speak directly to Judah's leaders, as well as to Jerusalem’s.  However, if we do not make application of what we read and we think we shouldn’t give ear, we deceive ourselves. Verse 2 could have been written by Paul, or any other NT writer.
The problems are listed in this order:


"She has not obeyed His voice"  
So He had spoken through the prophets, the Law and through their history.  Yet theirs was a course of disobedience.
Though they should have known where all this would lead, they persisted in their opposition to God.


"She has not received correction"
His “voice” was one calling them to repentance and giving them corrective counsel that would have caused the pending judgment to pass. All they needed to do was listen and do as He requested in order to restore fellowship, but they refused.


"She has not trusted in theLord"
Trust implies that you believe the one making the offer, or giving the direction, is worthy of trust. 

In this case, as inexplicable as it may sound, they did not trust, for whatever reason, what God had said.
Notice how one problem led to the next? Why listen to and follow the counsel of God just to refuse trust? 

"She has not drawn near to her God"
 The first three naturally progress to the fourth and final indictment.
They had willfully become distant from God and were pursuing other things. It was a repeating narrative through their history.
The same can be said of Christianity too, lest we think ourselves better than they. 


So, you are likely wondering whenI will get to the "I'm for that" stuff.
Trust me, I’ll get there, but God still has some things to say to those in Jerusalem who had the greatest responsibility for the collective nightmare that was Judah in the 7th century B.C.

 
To the governing authorities, He described her princes as “roaring lions” and her  judges as “evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning.” This was a way of illustrating their propensity to devour their countrymen and gain an advantage.  
The prophets were consistent, as God’s spokesmen, to point out the injustice of the ruling class.

He saves His greatest rebuke, however, for the spiritual heads of Judah.  Here is the gravest of indictments and
this spiritual disease is what gave rise to all the rest of Judah’s ills. The “Men of God” were deeply corrupt
and, thankfully, God spells out the offense so we can make application and avoid the same. Here is His assessment.

"Her prophets are insolent, treacherous people"

So the Prophets, who were to speak as the oracles of God and were to be His spokesmen,
were “insolent” (reckless and immature) in what they said and how they represented God to His people.
They could not be trusted to say anything of spiritual value.  But how many people in Judah knew their speech was so poisonous?
I think this is a massive problem today in our churches because we see people who blindly trust and do not go
to God’s Word to investigate and prove what is spoken from the pulpits.

"Her priests have polluted the sanctuary"

They had defiled and putrefied the House of God. The place intended to be a house of total consecration had become soiled and corrupt.  I am, again, reminded of things done in God’s name in churches all over the country.
The celebration of worldliness and ungodly “worship” and “cultural relevance” is nauseating and an offense to a Holy God.


"They have done violence to the law"
And here is why the problems existed. They knew God’s will because He wrote it for them!
As Paul tried to convince the Galatians,

“What purpose then does the law serve?
It was added because of transgressions”

                                                            3:19

In other words, the Law was given to demonstrate God’s standard and so that a written code would stand as
a testimony against the offender. In this case, nobody could plead ignorance.  As it is in our day, Scripture is given so we
may know how it is that we should walk before Him.  We cannot plead ignorance, nor can we blame the ignorant “Men of God” who do violence to God’s Word, all throughout the church.  
Look at the trends in the church that are big today.
Emotionalism, sensual and visual aesthetics that are supposed to enhance the “experience.”  We have re-wrapped, new age,
meditative practices being given to the masses with “Christian” labels 
and idioms slapped on them.
Neo-Gnosticism, new revelations and never before seen manifestations.


“Apostles” and “prophets” saying some of the most unusual, ridiculous things and nobody is checking them out to test them against Scripture.  “Progressives” who question any verse that sounds remotely absolute and then sacrifice them on the altar of “Epistemology” (that is, how do we know truth?) and “Deconstructionism” (saying that we weren’t there when things were written, so we can’t take things literally.)  We are told that there is no absolute truth so we can subjectively make it up as we go.

There is great violence being done to God’s Word everywhere we look. God does not need our help in figuring out His intentions. He has made them abundantly clear by weaving them throughout the entirety of His Word, so they are unmistakable.
Now, you may still be wondering when I'm going to tell you what I'm "for," because so far I've only told you what I’m “against.”
 I am “for” Verse 5:


"TheLordis righteous in her midst,
He will do no unrighteousness.
Every morning He brings His justice to light;
He never fails,
But the unjust knows no shame."


He is everything we are not. Since we are not like Him, by nature, we had better learn to be like He is.
We had better leave the culture to rot and not invite it into our fellowships.
We had better demand that our leaders prove themselves by holding to His Word.
Is that not what Jesus commended Philadelphia for doing in Revelation 3:8?
He later told them to “hold fast” (or take captive) what they had in verse 11.
I am “for” acknowledging that God never fails because He is just.
He stands in total contrast to those who are unjust and unashamed
of their misrepresentation of who He is and what He has said. 


Yeah, I’m “for” that.  
 

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The Shape of Things: A Biblical Perspective

As I write these thoughts, the world is in a place of turmoil as deep and troubling as any I've seen in my lifetime.  
For a host of reasons in our country (economic debt,  scandal, political control of our lives, social tension, political dishonesty and mismanagement) we are in a place of national disillusionment.  
No solutions seem to be in sight and the political climate and “leadership” in D.C. is pathetic.  
Nothing they seem to do makes a bit of sense and it’s as though they are trying to destroy our nation as it has been.  
The America I grew up in has changed immensely and not for the better.  
It is as though common sense and a concern for future generations has taken a permanent vacation.


Couple that with things we see happening globally and the picture becomes darker.
Fundamentalist Islam is taking ground exponentially, and their recruitment is swelling their numbers by the day.  
It’s enough to cause a person to become despondent, if not for some biblical perspective.  
More on that in a bit and I hope to put events in context as I see them.

The last two weeks have been bazaar, to say the least, from a policy level.  
First, our President, and seemingly every cabinet level department, cannot seem to bring themselves to admit the obvious.
There is a neo-Islamization taking place in the middle-east (and elsewhere) but the administration would rather play semantics than to identify the people and the religious ideology that drives them.
In fact, we were told of the things the crusaders did in the name of Jesus, seemingly,
in an attempt to deflect attention to what is plainly obvious to any thinking person.  
I don’t know anyone who would excuse much of what they did, but we can at least agree it was an answer to
repel a threat of a caliphate taking shape in the known world at that time.  
Not much has changed as that still is the stated objective of the new proponents of this 21st
century jihad.

This mentality and worldview leads to silly and inexplicable conclusions like “jobs” and “lack of opportunity”
as what largely contributes to violence, terrorism and radicalization (Hat tip to Ms. Harf.)  
It would be funny if not for the fact that it reflects our policy and helps our enemies gather numbers relatively unchallenged.  I can’t help but think how the Islamists in ISIS must chuckle when they see the hand wringing
at the State Department and White House over how to classify them.  
It seems the only people who can actually identify them as Muslims, are fellow Muslims.  Story after story shows that upwardly mobile people are flocking to these fundamentalist groups from 9/11 onward.

Then there is Iran and our seeming obsession to get a deal, any deal, with regards to their nuclear program.  
We aren’t the first to try this, and Iran has always used such “negotiations” to strengthen their position and ramp up their war machine while dragging out their negotiations and demands, as they did with Europe during the last administration.  
For the record, this is the same Iran who has been conducting war games in the gulf.  
This apocalyptic regime constructed and then bombed a life size replica of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.  
Meanwhile, back home, they are burning US and Israeli flags and effigies of POTUS while yelling “death to America.”  
Charming!  And we have our politicians negotiating with people who would have us dead, if they had the means.

In an ironic twist, POTUS, his advisers, cabinet secretaries and defenders are apoplectic that
PM Netanyahu would dare to speak about the evil that is Iran.  
It seems as though we have fallen down a rabbit hole, or slipped into an alternate dimension.  
Our foreign policy looks like a skit on SNL, but is actually real life and it's deadly.  
So, as I considered how things had become so upside down,
I felt the Lord reveal to me what should be obvious. I was looking at this all wrong.

The current state of things is not political.  It is not economic or based on societal matters.  
It is not about one political party or particular ideologies.  
For that matter, it is not religious, though all of the above are elements that contribute to our collective mess.

The problem, as it may appear, is really not a problem, but a matter of timing.  
The answer to all of this can be found in a biblical understanding of eschatology.  
The study of end times and end things.  
To some, that may sound oversimplified but here is why I believe this and this is very general.  
The church, for the most part, ignores such things and doesn’t look at scripture as being
predictive about world events here and now.

As I see it, when we consider the battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 and its participants, the only thing that the nations who come against Israel have in common is they are partially, if not totally, dominated by Islam.  
The world being in a state of trouble and dismay is exactly what Jesus describes in Luke 21 and Matthew 24
(Luke 21:25, in particular, calls it “distress of the nations with perplexity”)
which I see all around us.  The condition of the church and its having lost its dependence and promotion of
the Word of God is right in line with the warnings of the Apostles in passages too numerous to count.

In most of the world, solutions to all the crisis are never discussed.  
But why? Simply put, because nobody dares point out the looming chaos that could happen at any time.  
The bible doesn’t say things will continue forever here on earth.  In fact, the opposite is true!  
God said that He would put an end to it all and judge unrepentant man in the process.
Then He promised He would begin again with a new heaven and new earth.  

1Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth,
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.

Also there was no more sea. 
Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying,
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them,
and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.
There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  
Then He who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, 
“Write, for these words are true and faithful.”  
And He said to me,
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 
He who overcomes shall inherit all things, 
and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral,
sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake
which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Revelation 21:1-8

So it's simple (at least to my mind.) Things here will progress until they cannot continue any longer.
At a time known only to God, He will return and start the process of changing everything in ways the human mind can only imagine. Changes that scripture said are matters of when, not if.
Meanwhile, we are to grow in His grace and knowledge and proclaim the good news of Jesus.
As we wait for His return as Paul tells us in I Thessalonians:

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead,
even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
  

Maranatha!    

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Sober-Minded

I was having a discussion with a friend recently and the phrase “they love the Lord” came up when describing a person with a watered down understanding of scripture. That was the response I received when it was pointed out that they should know better, that they need to read the Word and they would see the error. It was used to dismiss a lack of maturity for a person who wasn’t a new believer, just an infant in knowledge instead of years.

We hear that term applied to people all the time and it has become generic and lacks any real specifics. As I considered the phrase, I started thinking of other ways such a description of a person should or could have been be worded. The first one that came to mind was sober or, more specifically, sober-minded. We see those words used in Scripture but they may be very different from the generic phrase “they love the Lord” that is often applied to people.

Said another way, I have met plenty of people who do indeed love the Lord, but are far from sober-minded.
So what exactly does the bible mean when this word or phrase is used?

The two common Greek words (νήφω nēphō and σώφρων sōphrōn) we translate as sober or sober-minded.
Depending on usage, they can be an action (verb)
I Thessalonians 5:6
"Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober."

Romans 12:3 
"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you,
not to think 
of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly,
as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith."


Or something describing the action (adverb)
Titus 2:12
"Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,
we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age."


It can also be used as a description or attribute (Adjective) as we see in
I Timothy 3:2
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate,
sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach."

Okay, enough for the English lesson and on to "what does it mean to us?"  Before that question is answered, I would like to point out that these Greek words in their various usages (22 times) are used by Paul to Titus or Timothy on 10 occasions out of the 22. So, in the entire New Testament, almost half are written from an elder pastor to younger pastors regarding qualifications of leaders and exhorting younger men in the faith to mature in their sobriety of mind. Interestingly enough, the Apostle Peter accounts for 5 of the remaining uses, and yes, he does so to call people to godly conduct.

When sōphrōn is used in the Gospels, it is recording the same incident and it is
a brilliant way of illustrating what sober-minded means.
Mark 5:15
"Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion,
sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid."

Luke 8:35
"Then they went out to see what had happened, and came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons
had departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid."

In these verses, the Gospels translate it as “right mind” and it describes the condition of mind of the Gaderan man who was formerly demon possessed. Now, after Jesus cast out the demons who once controlled him, this same man was found to be in his “right mind” which gives a great illustration as to what seems lacking in modern Christianity.

Consider his situation carefully. This man was controlled by the devil. He was hopeless and helpless and required intervention by the Great I Am who personally set him free. A raw display of power removed those who tormented this poor soul and gave him rightness of mind. What an earthshaking event to try to wrap our minds around and grasp. 
Notice there was no lack of right mindedness afterward.  He was locked in on evangelizing throughout the entire region.
He was changed in the most elementary ways imaginable and His former life was unrecognizable.
Can that be said of the modern believer?

The gospel records in Mark 5:18 how, once freed from his torment, he wanted to leave everything and be with Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t allow him to travel with He and the apostles.  Why was that?
That was done because Jesus wanted him to be a witness and testimony and to not go back to his everyday life.
He would be more effective in that capacity, in an area where people knew who and what he was.
Mark 5 tells us he traveled throughout the Decapolis (10 great eastern Roman cities) and they marveled.
What a testimony to the power of Jesus to command the impossible!

As was said in the opening of this article, people may “love the Lord” but suffer greatly from “sobriety of mind.”
Look at some of the largest churches we know and look carefully at what is done there. Look at the modern church in light of the demon possessed man before and after conversion. Is there any real comparison?

Compare 21st century Christianity to the early church. Look at Paul’s instruction to the churches in his epistles.
I suppose Corinth was likely the most seeker sensitive church of the ones we know. There was a circus-like atmosphere there, from what we can tell from his writing, and he was not complimentary of them, to say the least.
In fact, he was heartbroken and, as was the case in 1 Corinthians 5:1, he addressed their
allowance of immorality as being something not even tolerated among the gentiles.

Permissiveness and not calling error where it's due will guarantee a lack of sober mindedness and a permissive church body. Look at youtube or other video outlets to see some of the biggest churches in America and ask how much sobriety is taught and promoted, as opposed to the carnal illiteracy being promoted in the name of God. Sure, they will tell you they love the Lord, but will they ever ask questions on what they are being taught and if it is biblical?
Do they even know or sense there might be a problem?

Enough with the micro, lets address the macro. We are being told to seek unity and common ground, even among people and faiths who believe a clearly different spiritual truth. The lack of sober-minded leaders and congregations alike make this an easy poison to sell to the masses. We are asked to look the other way on differences and only promote agreement. 
I wonder if Paul was asked to find common ground with the gnostics or judaizers. We certainly know what his answer would be. I am sure agreement could have been had, if he were willing to look.  But he refused and he warned instead.

It is now more important than ever to soberly examine every doctrine, teacher, leader and then thoroughly examine ourselves to see that we too are in our right minds. We do that by examining and knowing His Word. Not what a pastor says, but what God has said. It is not for the weak or timid, it is for the believer, filled with God’s Holy Spirit.
It is for the courageous and fearless. It takes a love for His Word and His truth. It may divide friend and family
(but that’s nothing new) as it did in the first century believers and from the ages since then.

If I read the scripture correctly, we cannot be one who “loves the Lord” without being also “sober of mind.” 
We cannot see clearly who we love until all the fog of worldliness has been removed. If a church is not faithful to teach the whole Word of God, it is not worthy of calling itself a church. If a pastor is not faithful to teach the whole counsel 
Acts 20:27
"For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God."

he is not a pastor but a hireling.
John 10:12-13
"But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep,
sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.
 
13 The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep."

Without His Word we cannot know Him accurately and fully. That truth is why He gave us His Word. Without His Word, we are not a fully instructed, informed and mature church, but a social club using slogans to entertain the masses.
Without a solid knowledge of His Word we may be saved but are permanently stuck in our infancy relying upon milk and not meat. Without His Word, we have no way to determine truth.
Because of His Word, we should demand more of our churches, our pastors, our leaders and ourselves. 

 

                                                                   "Faith comes by Hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
                                                                                                              Romans 10:17

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