Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Bible? Naw, there's a video for that...

My husband and I attended a Marriage seminar a few weekends ago, and the first speaker of the day was Alistair Begg. This was the first time I had ever heard him speak, and I was so enthralled by his message and his speaking style that I decided I had to seek out more by him. That is when I came across the Truth for Life Bible teaching ministry. You can check this out online, and they also have both an Android App and a iPhone App, making it really easy to find and engage with this incredible ministry.

A few days ago I wrote a post called What is a Christian and How Can I Recognize One Out In The Wild? If you read that post you would know what my take is on the definition of a Christian. As indicated in the above post, I believe we have to get serious about God's truth and God's word if we are going to confess to being a Christian. It is one thing to SAY you are a Christian, it is another thing entirely to actually BE a Christian. Being a Christian is not a passive activity, and that post explains why.

Back to Alistair.... I was checking out his Truth for Life ministry when I stumbled upon a sermon that blew me away. I found it to be so compelling and CONVICTING that I actually listened to it twice in two days and then listened to it again as I wrote this post. It is called The Apostles' Teachings and when you have about 40 minutes you really should listen to it. It gets really good at about the 18 minute mark and forward (the first two times I listened it was in the Android app and I didn't realize I was listening to part 2 which is the last 20-25 minutes or so of the audio linked above and is really the best part of the whole thing).

Essentially, this sermon teaches about how important Biblical doctrine is to the Christian heart. Without a solid and continually deepening knowledge of Scripture we are in big trouble trying to live a Christ-centered life. Getting this right and spending time in The Word is the precursor to getting everything else in life right.... because how we live our lives in ALL aspects of our lives comes from God in Scripture. We have to get serious about God's word if we are to be truly Christian.

This is not something I understood at all until very recently, but it makes total sense if you think about it. There is so much sin and temptation in the world. In our culture what is classified as sinful behavior in the Bible is actually glorified and looked at as a normal part of life (sex before marriage, abortions, living a gay lifestyle, selfishness and pride). Besides all that, there are so many BAD preachers out there; people who teach false doctrine, who turn scripture around to fit a non-Christian narrative, who share only a part of God's word out of context and then skew it some more. It's no wonder we can become easily confused and tripped up.

An example of this are those who try to say that all lifestyles should be welcomed and embraced because Jesus was inclusive and embraced everyone (cue examples like the 'woman at the well' which you can find in John 4). There are even entire churches and church leading pastors who are preaching "inclusiveness" and saying that Jesus only stood for loving everyone and nothing more. Without a solid knowledge of Biblical doctrine you would be at risk of believing these things because this teaching is EVERYWHERE, including in some of our churches. If you simply trusted man to tell you what God says, then you would be at the mercy of lady luck that you get the right man teaching the right stuff. Spending your own time in the Bible and learning what God actually says is your only defense against calling yourself a Christian but not actually being one because you are following the wrong christ.

My point is this: I lived 40 years of my life apart from Jesus. I went to Catholic school from K-12 and yet somehow knew nothing whatsoever about God's word and lived like I didn't. I "knew" how I should behave from years of going to church and Catholic school- but that never translated into changed behavior on my part. I was very susceptible to others' opinions on what God says we should do and made a lot of mistakes as a result. Now, as a saved child of God and a truly born again Christian, I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to understanding God's word- and this catching up involves a lot of reading and studying the Bible. Without doing that myself I would still be susceptible to false teaching.

The examples I have given above are not meant to call you to judge others who are living contrary to God's word. They are merely meant to be real life examples of how we can get confused. I'm sure you have good friends and close family who cause you to question or doubt what is true. I know I do. I have friends and family who fall on the sword over the "love" debate. The problem is, God's word is not that shallow or narrow. Yes, Jesus did love everyone, including sinners. I do not believe this is up for debate by anyone. His hope, though, is that all sinners will open their hearts to Him and repent, turn away from sin, and be saved. He loves them, but there are still standards to meet and laws to obey.

The path we are called to take is not necessarily the popular path and definitely not the common path. But.... God does not call us to take the popular or common path. He calls us to take His path, and we can only know what that path truly is by reading about it in the Bible. We must fact check what others tell us by going to the only place we can trust to be the true and authoritative source on the matter. Scripture.

As Christians we can live our lives as examples of what being filled with the Holy Spirit really looks like. Through the truth of Scripture, and a love for others rooted in Biblical honesty, we can help more sinners get into the Kingdom with us. We can do this ONLY through intentional study of the Word so we are leading others down the right path to salvation.

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many that enter through it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13-14

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What is a Christian and how can I recognize one out in the wild?

My main inspiration to tackle the definition of Christian was this blog post by Matt Walsh.  My favorite quote from his post: "it’s the only real difference between Christians and “progressive Christians.” Both groups are sinful, both groups are weak, both groups need Christ desperately, but one wants — though they may so often fail — to go Christ’s way, and the other wants Christ to go theirs."

He is right- there seems to be different types of Christians running around promoting different agendas. Some promote God's agenda as detailed in the Bible, and others seem to be promoting different versions and interpretations of God's Word; some so far away from what is in the Bible that it is incredible anyone is even listening to them.
2 Timothy 4:3 "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,"
Why is this important?  I think it is extremely important because there are a lot of "false Christians" out there promoting a non-Godly agenda but clothing it in Christianity. For someone new to Christianity, or who is considering Christianity, this can be DEADLY.  You could easily go down the wrong path and miss out on salvation if you do not discern the source of the information and understand if it is from a true Christian and thus from God or not. ETERNITY rides on this- that's why it is important.

First of all, how do you become a Christian?  You can't EARN your way into Heaven.  You can't just try to live a good life and do some good deeds and think that at the end God will say, " great job, come on in!". Why not?  Because no matter how hard we try, and some of us try REALLY hard, we are all sinners and will always be sinners as long as we are on this earth.  Many many Bible passages state this, but for the sake of brevity, and because there is a lot more to say in this post, I will quote Romans 3:23 "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard."

God hates sin, and because we can't help but sin, he sent his son Jesus Christ to take all our sin and make a way for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  John 14:6 "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." So, to become a Christian we have to accept that we are sinners and turn to Jesus as our Savior and our one and only key to Heaven.

If you understand that you are a sinner, and you sincerely desire to repent from your sins and obey ALL the commands given by God in order to sin no more; If you truly believe that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for all your sins by dying on the cross; And, as stated in John 14:6, if you truly believe that Jesus Christ was, is and forever will be fully God and the only way through which you can enter Heaven, then, and only then are you saved.  That is how you become a Christian.

So, how do you know if someone truly is a Christian? I mean, it is one thing to know YOU are a Christian because you know your heart and know if you have accepted all of the above.  What about everyone else? How can you tell?

In Philippians 3:3 Paul says: "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh".

So, Paul gives us 3 characteristics of a Christian that might be visible to others:
  1. Worships the Spirit of God
  2. Glories in Christ
  3. Puts no confidence in the flesh (does not go to man alone for all the answers or validation)
Paul isn't the only person who gives us guidance on this topic.  Let's look at Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you who practice lawlessness!"

Essentially, this passage is saying, anyone can talk a great game.  Jesus is saying that He is more concerned about our WALK, something others should also be able to see. What matters here MORE than the words we say, is that we have a personal saving relationship with Christ.  There are many people out there who claim to be Christian and proclaim what the Bible tells us to do and how to live, but not all of them truly have accepted Jesus as their Savior nor have they committed their will and obedience to Him. Just claiming something is from God does not make it so.  If someone is full of words, but you can't see it through their actions, you should question it.  A note on the last sentence. Some translations say this sentence as: "continue to practice engaging in teaching spiritual deception as though it is truth but isn't!" Enough said. When you read something claiming to be based on God's authority, fact check it for yourself and go to your Bible.

Yet another Apostle weighs in on this topic... James 1:22 says "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves".  In fact, over and over again in Scripture Christians are called to be doers, which again are things that we can all see:
  • to love one another (John 13:34)
  • to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • that our faith should be accompanied by action (James 2:17, 26) 
  • to declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9)
  • to do the Father's will (Romans 8:9)
  • to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8)
What about not being able to earn your way into Heaven as stated earlier in this post?  A lot of the above seems to speak of what a Christian DOES. Please don't misunderstand me, the 6th paragraph is what gets you salvation and assures your place in Heaven, the rest is a RESULT of your being saved.  Once saved, you should be able to recognize a true Christian because of what happens in him through the Holy Spirit because of the saving relationship with Jesus, and then becomes visible to everyone else.  If you cannot see these things in someone claiming to be Christian and sharing the word of God under that guise, be very very wary.
1 Corinthians 11:1-2 "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An American Babylon?

What would our lives be like if we ceased to care what humans thought of us and instead sought to glorify God in all we do and say? What if we stood up against people and governments that create rules and laws that blatantly go against God's word?  What if we stopped being afraid of what others might say or do to us and stood up for TRUTH and MORALITY and JESUS CHRIST instead?

I've been thinking a lot about the story of Babylon lately. I can't help but wonder if we are living in a modern day Babylon right now. Do you know the story? The city of Babylon was the capital of the ancient land of Babylonia in southern Mesopotamia. It was situated on the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of modern Baghdad, just north of what is now the modern Iraqi town of al-Hillah. It was thought to be Biblical myth until its foundations were unearthed and its riches substantiated during the 19th century.

The Bible reveals that all false systems of religion began in the land of Babylon. The influence of Babylon on Israel and world history is profound. King Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon's king, was a very prideful man, and after having his pride hurt, conquered Judah and thousands of Jewish people were taken from their homes and forced to live in Babylon. There, the Jews were indoctrinated into Babylonian culture in order to transform them into loyal servants of their new king.

Most Jewish exiles fell in line with this indoctrination.  Why?  Well, King Nebuchadnezzar was one of the most powerful tyrants that had ever lived.  No one had ever been equal in authority, and there were no restraints whatsoever on anything he wanted to do.  He was an expert on torture, and everyone knew what he was capable of.  He also promised great things and made it seem like a benefit to follow his ways.  How do you stand up against that?  They had every reason in the world to fall in line and not stand up for their faith, and that's what almost all of them did.  "When in Rome, do as the Romans do", right?

But- there was one TEENAGER and three of his friends who were able to stand strong against all the temptation that was in Babylon: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.  Daniel was a faithful servant of God.  He never waivered in his faith or commitment to the Lord.  He stayed faithful, even in the midst of a culture that despised such faith.  He stayed faithful without having to quit his job or hide out to do it.  He and his friends felt the pressure; you know they did.  But because of their faithfulness God honored them and gave them the grace to stand strong despite the pressure.  The story of this pressure goes on throughout the book, it wasn't over quickly or early.  For 70 years Daniel served in one of the highest roles in the Babylonian government, and he did so without EVER compromising his relationship with and commitment to God.  When he was expected to eat the food and drink provided by the king, food and drink that was against God's law,  he devised a way to have other food brought to him and did not submit.  When he was forced to worship the statue of the king- he did not.  When he was commanded not to pray for 30 days, he got down on his knees each day and prayed in full view of his window.  I'm sure his three friends did the same.  I'm sure they weren't popular with the other Babylonians. I'm sure they were probably excluded from many of the the social groups and even ridiculed. It could not have always been easy.  For these things and others they faced the fiery furnace, the lions den, and who knows what else over the course of that 70 years, but they never waiver in their commitment to the Lord and the Lord never failed them, saving them from death each time it was ordered upon them.  

How is any of this this different from today- at least fundamentally?

How we are to live our lives as Believers is very clear.  God's word in the Bible is there for all to read.  He has given us a manual for living, all you have to do is study and follow it.  Sound easy?  Not so fast.  Our culture and non-believers will try to trip you up at every turn.

There are those out there that will try to use the Bible against you.  They will quote Romans 13:1 "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities..." and claim that even the Bible tells us to obey the government.

Don't be fooled- there is important CONTEXT needed here.  Acts 5:29 goes on to say: "We must obey God rather than men."  Contradiction?  No way- God is telling us that we are to follow the law of the land UNLESS or UNTIL it violates scripture.

Can't quite get there?  Then let's talk about something that may make this a little clearer.  In Exodus we are given the 10 commandments.  Commandment #5 says "honor your father and mother.  Commandment #6 says "thou shall not murder".  So, if you are following commandment #5 by honoring your father and mother and they tell you to commit murder, should you follow their command?  The answer, of course, is NO! Why?  Because obedience to your parents is only appropriate unless doing so would go against scripture. Man is fallen which means that man is subject to weakness and sin.  We are never to follow man, but to follow God.  Therefore, following governmental systems is only appropriate when it is consistent with scripture.

How about a real life present example?  Consider Kim Davis- the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.  For those who say that she should either do her job or quit I ask you- when did we stray from providing religious accommodation to Christians?  We provide accommodation to others following their religious beliefs, why not here?  How about students who cannot even say the words "Merry Christmas" in public schools anymore?  Or Seniors being prohibited from praying before meals in a Senior Center?  Or college students being docked on a grade because the paper was religious in nature?  When did Christianity cease to be eligible for religious accommodation?

What does Babylon have to do with any of this? Well, Babylon is mentioned 260 times in Scripture, and is a city second in importance only to Jerusalem.  I believe that God speaks about it so often as a warning and example to us of what is going to happen to selfish, greedy, unbelieving countries when He returns.  Reading about and understanding Babylon's story will help us open our eyes to what is around us and avoid falling into the trap, which is a very real risk for Christians living in such a culture.

What about our culture is in line with Babylonian culture?  Well, to name a few examples:
  • Glorifying sex outside of wedlock (the sexual revolution) in movies, music, and through the prevalence of birth control available to everyone INCLUDING to teenagers without their parents' consent (thus eliminating sexual responsibility and the need for abstinence)
  • Abortion glorification (it is touted as a VICTORY for women)- example: even in the face of evidence that Planned Parenthood has tricked many into them AND is selling aborted fetuses for profit, even sometimes being harvested from live babies, people are still standing by them and taxpayers' money is funding them. Christians are often vilified for being against this.
  • The definition of marriage as created by God has been rewritten to include marriage by same sex couples which is against God's law- and Christians are called intolerant or worse for speaking out against this
  • There is no longer only the two genders created by God: man and woman.... there are now "other" genders, and God's perfect creation in Adam and Eve has been perverted by man.
  • We glorify physical beauty above all else- who can trust ANY of the pictures we see on TV or in magazines or in front of clothing stores in the mall these days? They have been photo-shopped beyond recognition to enhance only the physical beauty that has somehow been deemed desirable
Are you at risk of falling victim to our culture- pulling you further and further from God?  The answer is YES. We are all at RISK of falling into the ways of our culture.  It is a part of our human nature; we are fallen and cannot follow God fully without His help.  If serving God and following Him completely is not your strongest desire, you are at risk.  Heck, I love God with all my heart and I AM AT RISK. One of my greatest weaknesses is coveting what others have. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I spend time reading about and/or am I even a little bit infatuated with the wealth and power of movie stars, sports celebrities, political figures or other powerful people (be honest, do you grab that People magazine or the Enquirer or US or any of the dozens of other magazines as you stand in the checkout line just to check out the story on the cover or read the latest gossip)?  
  2. Do I ever covet or crave wealth, power, prestige or connections that would enhance my comfort, popularity or influence (even just a little)?
  3. Do I take steps to protect myself from exposure to the things of this world that would tempt me away from the life God wants me to live?  Do these steps involve avoiding any or all of the above?  Do these steps involve praying to God for his help?
Friends- now more than ever we need Jesus Christ to help us stay strong in the face of very difficult and dangerous attacks on our faith. Our culture is hunting us down one by one and trying to destroy Christianity. That sounds so alarmist I know, but it needs to be!  The alarm is sounding, Christians.  It is blaring at full volume.  There are landmines everywhere you look that compromise your ability to stay faithful to our Lord and His word.

You must not try to do this on your own though, and you must not rely solely on your fellow Christian to help you through, either (even the most Godly person in the world is still a flawed human in need of the Holy Spirit).

Stand up for God and His word.  Even now that there is real risk to doing so don't back down, but call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help you stand strong.  God will never forsake you. He will always forgive you. He sent His son Jesus to die for you so that the doors of Heaven will be open to you no matter how many times you fall down.  All you have to do is repent and accept this gift of salvation, and God will do the rest in you!  With a God like this on your side you don't need to worry what the crowd is doing. Our God is able to carry you through and to work the situation out no matter how impossible it looks.

God is ruler over all. The outcome of this war against Satan (which is really what this is all about) is already known. God is in charge, and you are either on His side or on Satan's side.  There is no neutral ground here, and the Babylonian culture, the American culture of today, is NOT on the right side.  Where do you stand?

"Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are his. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and secret things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him." (Daniel 2:20-22)