Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tickled Ears

Many today are worried about the Zika virus. But I'm just as concerned about certain destructive doctrines that are spreading like an epidemic.
During a recent trip to Uganda, friends there told me of a growing church in the capital city of Kampala that has been infected by the most serious form of American-style "hypergrace" teaching. This church attracts hundreds of young people who like the idea that they can fornicate whenever they want and still be right with God.
False doctrines are nothing new. In the first century, Paul sternly warned Timothy about certain preachers who know how to slice and dice God's Word to make it fit what people want. He wrote in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: "For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but they will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, having itching ears, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to myths."
The King James Version says the crowds who crave this reconfigured gospel "have itching ears." The Greek word here, knēthō, can mean "to tickle" or "to itch." It means that people will gravitate toward teachers who tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need. And while the Bible sharply rebukes the teachers of these dangerous doctrines, Paul also blames the people who ravenously consume this distorted message.
The warning is clear: Be careful what you listen to!
There are many false doctrines circulating today, but there are four that have spread widely in the modern Pentecostal/charismatic movement. You may not be able to stop the person who is preaching these heresies, but you should never, ever submit to this teaching or support it financially. Don't ever believe these four lies:
Lie No. 1: You don't need to repent of your sin or focus on sin. This is the crux of the "hypergrace" movement. While it is true that many legalistic Christians don't understand God's love and forgiveness, we can't swing the pendulum to the other extreme and portray God as being lax about sin. God is still holy, and true grace gives us the power to live a holy life. If a preacher minimizes repentance, or says you should never worry about sin in your life, you should run out the door.
Lie No. 2: You can live however you want to live sexually. Jesus Himself warned us in Revelation 2:20 about the influence of "Jezebel" in the church. He said she was leading Christians to "commit acts of immorality." You can see tolerance of sexual sin in many segments of the church today. Catholic bishops allowed their own priests to commit child sexual abuse for years; mainline churches have embraced same-sex marriage. But their error is no worse than that of certain charismatic preachers who minimize or ignore the sin of adultery and cohabitation among straight people. We should never evaluate a minister just by what he or she preaches; we should also take note of what he or she refuses to confront from the pulpit.
Lie No. 3: You can buy God's blessings. I do not believe in a poverty gospel, but the prosperity gospel that emerged in this country in the 1980s almost ruined our witness. The greedy televangelist who manipulated audiences to give in the offering so he could buy airplanes or mansions will give an account for every soul he turned away from Christ. Especially egregious are the preachers who promised people healings, spiritual gifts or the salvation of loved ones in exchange for a $500 "seed" offering. God's blessings are free. Shame on those who merchandised His anointing.
Lie No. 4: God never calls us to suffer. Whenever the church enters times of prosperity and ease, our message gets soft. This happened during the 1980s, when preachers in silk ties told us we could name and claim whatever we wanted in Jesus name. And while the verses they quoted about faith certainly apply to prayer, they mixed the message with the idea that life with God is like a bowl of cherries and that any hardship that comes our way is from the devil. These preachers avoided 1 Peter 4:1, which says: "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose."
I don't know about you, but I don't trust an arrogant preacher who says he never has struggles or problems. I don't follow a man because he has a Lexus or a four-car garage; I look for a broken minister who walks with a limp. The preacher who says Christians don't suffer has never felt the fire of God's testing, and he is likely an illegitimate son since he has never known the Father's discipline.
God is cleaning up His church today, and He is refining the message we preach. Don't prop up or support the false doctrines of the past. Purge their influence from your life and embrace the true gospel—the message calls each of us to take up our cross, die to our own desires and be mature disciples.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Audacity in Prayer

This Passing Glory
In Exodus 33:12-23 Moses approached God with two of the most audacious demands that any man has ever made: "Please show me now your ways" (Ex. 33:13) and "Please show me your glory" (v. 18).
In order to lead people effectively, Moses needed to know the mind of God. He didn't want God simply to send down orders; he wanted to know the purpose behind God's plans. To that end, Moses wanted to remain in constant communication with his Maker. This was essential to his leadership as a man of God.
Intimate Knowledge of God
Any man who seeks God's calling should pray the way Moses prayed. We should ask God to give us intimate knowledge of him. The things we do will be successful only if God is in them. Whenever we do something that God has called us to do—whether it is serving in our singleness, learning how to be married, working at a job, or getting involved in ministry—we need to pray that God will show us his way to go about things.
Moses also wanted something more: he wanted to see God's glory. This request was not as imperious as most translations make it sound. In the original Hebrew it comes across more like an entreaty; Moses was saying "Please . . . " Still, it was an audacious request. The prophet was asking to see the splendor and radiance of God.
Mercifully, God did not show Moses the full brightness of his divine glory, because this would have been fatal (see v. 20). But God did consent to show Moses his goodness. In order to protect his prophet from deadly exposure to his radiant glory, God made special arrangements. He put Moses in a cleft in the rock and covered him with his hand until his glory had passed by. Then Moses saw the contrails of God's glory—the luminous clouds that streamed from his divine being. Although the prophet was not allowed to look God in the face, he was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the hindquarters of his glory.
Glorious Joy
Someday we will get to see what Moses wanted to see: the glory of God. We will look Jesus right in the face and will not be destroyed but will be filled with glorious joy. In the heart of every man there is a yearning—yet unsatisfied—to see this promise fulfilled. We know that there is more for us to see, and so we long to gaze upon the beautiful face of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Miyagi School of Theology

A scene from a little known movie, "The Reformed Karate Kid"


The Lies of Anxiety

Feeling anxious? Check out - 8 Arguments For Why You Should Be Anxious Today and How the Bible Responds by Justin Taylor
An important lesson of the Christian life is that the heart of the battle is a fight not between abstract commands (do this! don’t do that!) but rather arguments. Unbelief does not just offer dictates; it offers reasons why we don’t need to trust the Lord. And to counter that, gospel-flavored belief argues with our unbelief. In other words, it provides reasons for why trusting the Lord is always the good and wise things to do.
Here are some notes on how this might work with the temptation to fret and worry and be anxious and unsettled, rather than acting in joyful, confident, restful faith. I’ve included the argument of unbelief, a Scripture passage, and some observations on how the argument works.
1. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE GOD IS TOO FAR AWAY TO HEAR MY NEEDS.
Philippians 4:5-6: ”The Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
  • The truth: “The Lord is at hand”
  • What is prohibited as a result: “do not be anxious about anything”
  • The alternative that is prescribed as a result: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [i.e., the Lord who is near to hear and to help].”
2. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE GOD DOES NOT CARE FOR ME AND I NEED TO GET MYSELF OUT OF THIS HUMILIATING STAGE OF LIFE.
1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
  • The truth: God cares for me.
  • The command: I am to humble myself.
  • How? By casting all of my anxieties on him.
  • A corollary: Carrying rather than casting my anxieties is an expression of pride.
3. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE IF MY PROBLEMS AREN’T SOLVED I COULD DIE.
Matthew 6:25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
  • You still have eternal life even if you have no food
  • You will still have a resurrection body even if you are physically deprived.
  • Even if your struggle ends in death you will not have lost the most important things; therefore, don’t spend your time being anxious about lesser things.
4. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE I HAVE NO PRACTICAL EVIDENCE IN THE WORLD THAT GOD VALUES ME OR WILL TAKE CARE OF ME. 
Matthew 6:26, 28-30: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
  • God values the birds and the grass, which he richly provides for and adorns.
  • God values me much more than the birds and the grass.
  • Therefore, as an argument from the lesser to the greater, obviously he will be even more invested in providing for all of my needs.
5. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE OF HOW MUCH IT HELPS MY LIFE.
Matthew 6:27: ”Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]
  • The truth: Anxiety can’t add a single hour to my life.
  • Presupposition: I shouldn’t spend my time on pointless activities that have no benefits.
  • Result: I shouldn’t be anxious.
6. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO LOOK OUT FOR MY NEEDS.
Matthew 6:31, 33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
  • The truth: God knows I have needs for food, drink, clothing
  • The implication: When God knows a need and he loves the needy he is glad to be the supplier of the need.
  • The result: My focus can be on God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, knowing that my needs will be taken care of.
7. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT; AFTER ALL, EVERYONE DOES IT AND IT SEEMS TO WORK FOR THEM.
Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”
  • The truth: Unbelievers are anxious about how their needs are going to be met.
  • Presupposition: Christians are not to act like unbelievers.
  • Result: We should not be anxious like the world is anxious.
8. ANXIETY IS WORTH IT BECAUSE SO MANY TROUBLES ARE COMING TO ME IN THE FUTURE IF I DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM NOW.
Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
  • Tomorrow is going to do just fine without your help, but thanks anyway.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

God's Will Revealed

Do you wish you could accurately and completely know the will of the Lord for your life? Check ou God Has Already revealed His Plan For Your Life: It Doesn't Have to Be AS Complicated As You Think by Greg Darly via Relevant
When trying to discern God’s will for our lives, it is tempting to spend all our our time in prayer. God, what do you want me to do with my life? Should I take this job? Should I move to that city? Should I enroll at the school? Should I marry him? Should I break up with her?
The list of prayers could run on till eternity. But what if the key to discerning God’s will for your life was to stop praying so much about it?
I went through a season a few years ago when God was eerily quiet. When I prayed for direction or insight, there was nothing but silence. The conversations typically went like this. Maybe you can relate.
Me: God? What do you think I should do?
God: (silence)
Me: God, I really want to do your will. Can you tell me what that is?
God: (the sound of crickets)
Me: God, will you give me clarity on what I should be doing?
God: (more silence)
Me: God? Are you even listening? I can’t hear you. Will you answer me?
Day after day, the conversations continued in the same fashion. I would ask God for an answer on a decision, and in return, I would hear nothing. I was at a crossroads, and honestly didn’t know what God wanted me to do. I prayed. I sought counsel. I prayed more. God was incredibly silent.
I realized that my issue was not not hearing from God; my issue was relying on God to make me obedient to what He had clearly spoken.
Early one Saturday morning, I snuck away before anyone in my house was awake and went to a favorite spot in downtown Greenville. The Reedy River cuts through downtown and cascades down multiple waterfalls. At the top of the falls are numerous benches and tables. I love to watch the sun rise above the falls and enjoy the quiet of the morning while reading and drinking a latte from a local coffee shop.
As I was reading the Bible that Saturday, I was again struck with the frustration of not knowing what God wanted me to do. I prayed, God, I really want to do your will. And I will do it, but first I need to know what it is. I mean, how could God expect me to do His will if He wasn’t telling me what it was, right?
As I was praying and reading, I was struck by a simple word from the Lord. It was great on the one hand, because it was the first time in months I’d felt anything fresh from God. But it was frustrating on the other hand, because it was nowhere near the level of detail I desired.
God reminded me on the bench overlooking the waterfall that He had already given me many insights into His will.
In fact, I was currently reading part of His will for my life. In front of me, my Bible was open to the book of Philippians. I continued reading, but this time, the words on the page jumped out at me. I heard God say, “You want to know what I want you to do? Start by being obedient to what I’ve already commanded you. I’ve given you a lot to do. I want you to have my attitude and mindset. I want your life to look like mine.”
I looked down and read Philippians 2:14—“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” It was like an explosion of dynamite. In an instant, God’s Word burst through the fog of silence. God had spoken clearly about what He desired from my life.
I kept reading and wrote down all the actions and commands I could implement immediately in my life, along with the corresponding Scriptures.
After a few minutes of reading and writing, I had pages of decisions and actions I knew would take a long time to implement. I was overcome with joy that God had spoken!...
Read the rest at the link.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Vindication

Blessed are those who prefer to be wronged rather than to wrong others and accept serenely and silently injustices. In this way, they reveal in practice that they believe in “one God, the Father Almighty” and expect to be vindicated by Him and not by human beings who repay in this life with vanity.

        - Elder Paisios of Mount Athos (HT: Holy Fathers )


Spiritual Gifts - 7 Principles

I've long had a problem with most so-called spiritual gifts test, believing that they mostly measure personality traits more than spiritual gifts. Therefore, I appreciated this piece - Seven Principles For the Understanding and Exercise of Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms (via Peter Cockrell)
While much can and should be said about spiritual gifts, here are a few relevant observations or principles that I believe should guide our understanding and exercise of the charismata.
(1) Every single spiritual gift, whether it be mercy, serving, giving, speaking in tongues, or prophecy, is a “manifestation of the Spirit” given “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Therefore, every gift is by definition supernatural, since every gift is the enabling presence of the Spirit operating through us. As Paul says, although there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities, it is the “same Spirit” who “empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). So, teaching is as supernatural as tongues; service is as supernatural as word of knowledge, and so on.
(2) In light of the first point, we must acknowledge that a “gift” or “charism” of the Spirit is an impartation to enable and equip us to serve others. Nowhere in Scripture are gifts portrayed as personality traits or characteristics. A person who is gregarious and extroverted can receive the gift of mercy. A person who is quiet and introverted can receive the gift of teaching. A person who lacks self-confidence and is by nature somewhat hesitant to speak can receive the gift of evangelism. A person who has little faith and never expects to hear from God can be the recipient of a word of knowledge. This isn’t to say there is never any overlap between a person’s unique personality and the gift God bestows to them, but we must never identify any particular gift with any particular personality trait.
(3) Building on the previous point, let’s take the gift of prophecy as an example. Paul says that anyone is a candidate to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1, 5, 24, 29-32). A prophet, therefore, is someone who consistently receives spontaneous revelatory words from God that are shared with others for their “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). But nowhere does the NT say that “prophet” is a particular set of personality traits. Given that any and all have the potential to prophesy, how could it be?
In other words, a prophet is never portrayed in Scripture as someone who always displays a certain demeanor or interacts with others in a particular way or responds to arguments with a unique emotional energy. A prophet is someone who consistently receives spontaneous revelatory words (pictures, dreams, impressions) from the Lord and speaks them to the edification and encouragement of others.
My guess is that quite often a person with certain personality and relational characteristics is identified as a “prophet” or a person with the gift of “mercy” when in point of fact the Spirit has never imparted that particular gift to them. They are who and what they are, in terms of their personality and character and relational development because they are being progressively transformed by the Spirit to be more like Jesus, but not because they happen to have a particular spiritual gift that someone perceives to be linked with that sort of behavior or relational style.
(4) Spiritual gifts are concrete manifestations of the Spirit through us. They are not who we are, therefore, but rather what we do in the power of the Spirit for the good of others. We should be careful always to differentiate between our particular gift(s), on the one hand, and who we are as God’s children in Christ Jesus, on the other.
In other words, there is an important difference between, on the one hand, our character and personality and how we are being sanctified daily to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ, and what gift the Spirit imparts to us for building up fellow believers, on the other. Simply because a person is extroverted or introverted, self-confident or timid, loves crowds or prefers solitude, is organized or disorganized, does not necessarily mean he/she will have any particular spiritual gift that always corresponds to that particular feature of their personality or relational style. Will the two sometimes overlap? Sure. But we must never insist on a one-to-one correspondence such that because “Sally” or “Steve” display certain personality traits that they are therefore to be classified as a “mercy” or as a “prophet” or as a “teacher”.
(5) The danger in drawing too close a relationship with what our spiritual gift is and who we are as individual believers is that when our gift wanes or grows dormant or isn’t received well by others we would suffer shame and experience self-doubt and have fears regarding our worth as the children of the most high God. Our identity as sons and daughters of God, our identity as believers “in Christ,” must never be tied to a particular “charism” or gift that the Spirit has chosen to impart to us and through us for the good of others.
(6) Again, building on the previous point, we must keep in mind that some spiritual gifts, because of their more overt manifestation of the supernatural presence of the Spirit, are occasional or circumstantial in nature. For instance, the spiritual gifts of prophecy, faith, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, healings, faith, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and perhaps interpretation of tongues, are not so much residential, in the sense that they reside permanently within us and can be used at our will, whenever we please, but are sovereignly given at a particular point in time, on a particular occasion, to address a particular circumstance. Once exercised on that occasion and for that purpose, the gift may no longer be operative (depending, of course, on God’s will for each of us).
Gifts such teaching, tongues, evangelism, mercy, service, and administration, on the other hand, are more permanent and residential: they are always with us and we who have such gifts can exercise them at any time, according to our own will.
(7) No one Christian will ever have every spiritual gift. No one Christian will ever have all the gifts of Romans 12, or the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, or those of Ephesians 4. This is clear from Paul’s rhetorical questions in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31, each of which calls for an answer of No. Neither is it the case that one should think he/she will have at least one gift from the list in Romans 12 or at least one gift from the list in 1 Corinthians 12 or at least one gift from the list in Ephesians 4.
That does not mean we shouldn’t “desire” or “seek” or “pray” for more spiritual gifts than we currently have. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 14:1 that we should always desire and seek for spiritual gifts, even as the one who speaks in tongues “should pray that he may interpret” (1 Cor. 14:13).

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Next Billy Graham

"The next Billy Graham probably will speak only Spanish or Arabic or Persian or Mandarin.  The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking ‘foreigner’ who is probably not all that impressed by chants of ‘Make America great again.’” 

                     - Russell Moore

Plow and Trowel

Interesting piece on Bible Study - Plow and Trowel Bible Studies:


What is a Plow Bible Study?
“Plow work moves through large portions of Scripture more quickly, looking for specific themes. You could think of it as building a Biblical theology about a certain topic. It is not just a verse picked out here and there; plow study helps you get a fuller understanding of what God says about a specific topic. The key is to prayerfully look for something or Someone as you read. Plow work, though less intense than trowel work, still takes a lot of time. If you aren’t a seasoned studier, this may be the type of study you want to start on first. It is simple and straight-forward.
I used to really have a low view of “plow study” because of the many people who would say they were reading through the Bible in a year but weren’t getting anything out of it. How many of you have read chapters of the Bible and you can’t remember what you read when you were finished? We can all relate to that! Even if you are reading through the Bible, which is a great practice by the way, look for something specific and have pen and paper in hand. It will keep your mind engaged. There are lots of different kinds of Bible reading plans, such as reading through the Bible chronologically. If you decide to do this, I would encourage you to read the introduction to the book you are getting ready to read through before digging in – you can find this in a good study Bible. Find a main theme to look for as you read. That is where the idea for pride and humility in Jeremiah came from.”

What is a Trowel Bible Study?
“Trowel work means taking a passage or verse of Scripture and settling in to dig for a long time.
The Inductive Study Method is an example of this kind of Bible study. Trowel work, though more intensive than plow work, is not complicated. But neither is it easy. The believer who seeks to dig out the treasure in God’s Word must understand that solid Bible study takes a lot of effort.”

What type of study should I do?
“Both types of Bible study are needed for a “balanced diet” in our Christian life. Even when we settle down to accurately interpret smaller portions of God’s Word, it is helpful for us to have the “big picture” view provided by plow work. In other words, the plow and the trowel work well together. As with any type of Bible study, trowel or plow work, the goal is to understand God’s Word. And whenever God opens our eyes to understand His Word, the result is long-term change – we become more like Christ.
In my own life, I like to have both types of study going on simultaneously. I’ll take several days a week to do my trowel study and several days a week to do the plow study. It helps me not get bogged down in one passage, it provides variety and keeps me from getting stale.
If you pursue this course of study, some days it will seem like just an exercise in grammar. You have to recognize the value in embracing the whole process. There will be times you just don’t get it. The answer to your question isn’t easily found, you don’t understand the passage. There will be times of frustration. We don’t face that very often in our culture- answers for just about everything are readily available. When I want to look up something I don’t know, I simply google it or look for a video on You Tube. We don’t like to “dwell in the ‘I don’t know’,” we don’t like feeling lost and confused. This kind of Bible study is totally counter-cultural. You Tube will not help you know God better. Google can’t help with this process. Sometimes you will have to fight for understanding. But that is not a bad thing. It is part of the learning process and it actually help to “make the moment of discovery stick.” As you agonize over a passage of Scripture and pray for God to give you understanding, all of it will come together. The “aha” moment will come. And I have to confess it is rather addictive. You will never forget the truth you have labored hard to understand! You will love the truth and you will feel it deeply, and you will want more of it! You will glow with the glory God has shown you.
So there will be days where your God and I time doesn’t leave you on an emotional high, where it feels like work and no glory, where you don’t feel like you have a sweet spiritual truth to carry with you…but embrace the process. Emotions can’t drive this train. They follow our faith-filled obedience.
All the work of deep digging in the Word is worth it when God illumines you to spiritual truth!”