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Who Is The Christian’s Greatest Enemy?

December 31, 2012
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The Bible only tells us of 3 enemies. One gets blamed for everything. One is portrayed as a victim. The other is abstractly referred to as a problem, but not an enemy. The church treats one of our biblical enemies as a true enemy; the other two are removed from the list. In fact, there are times when another “enemy” is added to the list. Biblically speaking the devil, the world, and our flesh are enemies. The fourth add-on is the heart. (And yes the heart is seen and described as something totally different from the flesh by those who add it.)

The devil wants to keep sinners from becoming new creations. The world is something that never takes a break enticing people to love it and live for it. The flesh embodies who you are before salvation. And I’ll mention that Christians are given new hearts once they become new creations.  The devil isn’t worried about Christians as much as folks think. Sure he will entice you with the goods of the world and all it has to offer, but he’s more so concerned with keeping others from following Jesus. The world is a system that entices and challenges the minds of everybody every single day. However, the flesh follows you even you seclude yourself from the world.

Without question do I believe the flesh is our greatest enemy. The devil is not omnipresent, therefore, he and his helpers aren’t everywhere at the same time. And like I said, he’s more so concerned with keeping people from being saved than worried about the saved. Now I know some may interject here with a passage from 2 Corinthians 10: “for though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.” And I concede that our battle is a spiritual one. We spiritually deal with the old body and the new body as discussed in the second half of Ephesians 4.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

We have defeated Satan through the dying and rising of Jesus and our being in Him. Our struggle is, as Paul commands us here in this passage, is to leave the old way of life and follow the new way. Why? Because we’re new creatures in Christ with new hearts and abilities to obey all that God has commanded, and we’re to be perfect and holy through obedience. Now if we don’t remember this truth about us as secured by Jesus, then our putting off/putting on will lower our defense shields to where Satan’s wiles and the world’s enticements will cause us to sin. If we lose ‘the flesh’ battle, then the other 2 enemies will eat our lunch!

Be mindful of the hardest battle in the Christian life, the mind. Seeing ourselves rightly affects our actions. As many theologians have stated before, right believing dictates right behavior!

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Newtown & Satan’s Work: The Meaning of Christmas

December 25, 2012
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I understand that most in our world would never mix a horrific tragedy with Satan behind it all pointing towards the meaning of something so commercialized and celebrated as a time of joy and peace. But to that I say, Christmas really isn’t about a time of joy and peace. That comes once the ‘object’ of Christmas returns. However, Christmas is about declaring war against rulers and principalities and saving people from the plight of the world.

A lot of people think Satan is this antagonist character who’s only out to get Jesus and the Christians. But that view is extremely flawed. He started out attacking Adam and Eve. He worked behind the king of Egypt, Pharoah, to cast out evil amongst many nations. He used other nations to promulgate cultic worship and mesmerizing offering techniques, such as offering children. He used psychics and fortune tellers against the wicked and the godly. He used king Herod to destroy all babies in an attempt to kill Jesus. He killed off Job’s family to test Job. He seeks to kill and destroy those who hear the gospel by stealing their joy or simply killing them. He made wicked centurion children demonized and old women unclean. He even caused animals to be beyond national geographic wild and dangerous. And he will do his very best to deceive all those who hear the gospel or keep them from hearing. This is the work of Satan.

Rewind back to the home and elementary school in Newtown, CT. A son kills his mother by shooting her in the face, ridding her of an open casket ceremony. Then he marches down to an elementary school seeking to kill and destroy. No one target in mind. And as teachers and children are affected, body count rises, and the fear of the shooter still looming, the media circuits spread this story quicker than a Las Vegas bet.

Then the question of where was God in all of this begin to arise. Seems like a fair question. When tragedy strikes, even the most godless people want a protector around. And in a sarcastic way, society looks to this ‘God’ that America says they believe in and pray to after every highly publicized tragedy and during the presidential inauguration. But I say this is the true meaning of Christmas.

A baby being born was good news for the world and bad news for the spiritual powers. God, through the birth of Jesus, declared war. Adam, Noah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, pre-exile and post-exile prophets, and John the Baptist were not the true meaning. They were not the answer through which God would use as our society begins to raise questions. Only Jesus is that answer. So where was God in all of this? – having sent His Son to be born to die for all the people He would save while also defeating Satan with the death of His Son and His rising 3 days later, God the Father was in heaven orchestrating all of this as God the Son came to die and God the Spirit made people new creatures who were born again to spend eternity with Jesus.

This plight is nothing new to our world. Take into consideration the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the bombing in Oklahoma City, the 9-11 scandal, and all the world wars, the plight of our world has been visible on every continent as well as in your backyard. Where’s God? He already came to die to save people from their plight. This world will crumble in the end and will remain wicked till it crumbles, but the plight has been lifted.

Jesus came to die so that believers can die to live forever. This is the meaning of Christmas.


A New Definition of Disenfranchised?

December 22, 2012
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If you look and listen, you’ll find most churches have a program for the poor. You may hear this program labeled as ministry of mercy or social justice or simply a way of tending to the disenfranchised. And all of that is great. Not knocking it one bit. However, I tend to wonder if there’s a new definition of disenfranchised and who truly fits in that category. Throughout the Bible, these 3 groups make up the fabric of the disenfranchised: the women, poor, and sinners. Are you noticing a new definition or a specialized emphasis?

Why is this a big deal?

It is a big deal because local churches have hijacked the biblical understanding of disenfranchised and dwindled it down to only serving the poor. Again, don’t misunderstand my objection to mean I have a problem with serving the poor, OK? I think it’s a great idea; just hasn’t extended far enough. If we as God’s people say that God cares about the poor who were, and still are to some degree, getting the shaft on most accounts, then it’s imperative that we too care about them in a holistic manner. I say kudos and amen. But I also say what about the women and the sinners – where do they fall in the ministry of mercy/social justice church program? Why have we dropped the ball on the other groups and highly exalted the poor?

I honestly don’t have an answer to these questions I propose. But this I do know: when a church pushes their people to hone in on one disenfranchised group in our society, I get the itchy feeling that we’re acting like the Pharisees. And frankly it scares me. Imagine a pastor calling his people to corral around the poor and love on them with your time, talents, and tokens (aka money – please excuse the alliteration). Meanwhile as the obedient members flock to the poor, tons of medium-class and rich sinners pass by. And no I don’t think I’m being petty or simplistic. Don’t forget that local church members can act just like sheep at times, which is a nice way to say that they can be robotic in their thinking, thereby quenching the Spirit and overlooking sinners.

I’m far too positive that church members would walk past rich sinners and those who ‘look’ well off in order to ‘go after’ the poor to minister to them because they truly think the disenfranchised starts and stops with them. And this is the thinking I desire to eradicate. I remember while living in another city talking to a few guys about ministry and me going to an area where the wealthy live and share the gospel, one guy sincerely and in a strong bewildered tone asked me why. I reminded him of what Jesus said about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. I then went on to remind him that the rich and wealthy are sinners like the poor and lowly. He flashed a ‘I guess’ expression and we carried on with our conversation. That exchange has left an indelible mark on my mind forever I presume.

Understanding this isn’t a popular subject, nor is it popular to disagree with guys like Tim Keller and the like who have written books and delivered sermons on the importance of ministering to the poor and the how. But I have zero concern for a popularity contest, and I’m not suggesting that what’s been written and preached is wrong. I simply want to expand the focus of how we understand the term disenfranchised to include what the Bible defines. I’d like for church leaders to urge their members to go after hurting women, poor people, and common/uncommon looking sinners in need of a bloody living Savior.

 


What Missions Has To Do With Being Missional

December 17, 2012
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I’m a proud Southern Baptist. Every year around Christmas time, Southern Baptist churches began to push missions and may even have a missionary come in to speak to the congregation or have a banquet. Southern Baptist churches also push hard for giving to missions in the name of Lottie Moon. Other denominational churches have taken steps towards missions in their own right. Churches have began to offer Perspectives to their members in efforts to propel stationary missionaries to go and financially fortunate members to send them. Then we have the Acts 29 churches who have began to call churches to become missional. Missional is a loaded word but the gist of it is to live your life with every intention of making disciples and adding them to the local church.

All of these things are good in and out itself, but do all of these things coincide with the biblical text and spring from it. That’s the question we must ask ourselves. In order to do that, we must ask how the biblical text defines and prescribes missions. To do that we must start in Genesis where the first missionary call is given to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and then track that same language throughout until we reach Revelation 22.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Here in Genesis 1:28 we see the first missionary call, and this language of ‘being fruitful and multiply’ is repeated over and over and over throughout Genesis. This missionary call is seen in Genesis 8:17, 9:1, 9:7, 17:20, 26:22, 28:3, 35:11, and 48:4. This repetition shows us how serious God is about his mission – filling the earth with men and women who worship Him alone.

The mission of God is also seen in Jeremiah 23:3 as He promises to gather his remnant out of exile and multiply them so as to continue the plan that began in the Garden of Eden. God has never just been looking for decisions and converts. He wants disciples. Disciples implies discipleship.

Next missionary call we see is found in Matthew 28:18-20. This is the go-to passage that most churches read from to exhort their members to think and be about missions.  “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This passage creates a problem for churches. Why? First, churches often turn evangelism into a program when this passage gives the church not a program, but a command. Second, evangelism as defined by the Bible is never defined as inviting people to church. Third, evangelism as defined by the Bible is never separated from discipleship. Fourth, evangelism is predicated upon one “having gone.” Churches look to this passage to encourage the folks in the pews towards obedience and rightly so.

Acts 1:8 is the other go-to passage churches use to instruct about missions. To understand that Jesus ascends to heaven with ever intention of empowering his people to be obedient sharers of the gospel is no small feat. It’s monumental. And it’s the biggest reason we as believers should be set on obeying the mission of God. God saves us and sends us. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This missionary call is no different from what we read in Matthew. Receive Holy Spirit power, go be witnesses of God to make disciples, see that they’re baptized, and then disciple them.

Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I find it imperative that discipleship tags along with evangelism just as we find it imperative that baptism tags along with salvation in order to partake in the Lord’s Supper. It is here that I find the perspectives class training, Lottie Moon missions giving, and missional living fall short. If we are disciples following after Jesus called to make more disciples who follow after Jesus, that process doesn’t just stop after a person gets saved and joins a church. That’s only one-third of the Great Commission may I remind you. Baptism and discipleship are just as essential! We can look at it this way – disciples get baptized and discipled; then they go and replicate that. We don’t just give our money and set our sights on the global world if we haven’t set our sights within our homes and our neighbors across the street.

It’s very important to not look down upon those using the missional term or those pushing some missions teaching courses. But it’s more important that we not lose sight of the biblical text and all it has to say. So yes, go about being witnesses sharing the gospel to see lives transformed as disciples are made. But don’t stop there….you still have baptism and discipleship left. And discipleship can truly be a lifelong process.


How Much Time Do We Really Have To Repent & Believe?

December 16, 2012
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It’s been stated by many that man has free will. That’s no small thing. Free will means the ability to go out and make things happen. It also means that unless man acts, certain things won’t happen. Now to a small degree, I can agree with these propositions depending on the context in which they are used. Where I began to disagree and debate against is when this idea of free will spills over into the topic of salvation. Salvation as described in the Bible is done so in these two terms: divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Some theologians feel it okay to interchange responsibility with free will.

However, that’s extremely incorrect and illogical. First of all, man is never depicted in the Bible as having free will to do whatsoever he likes. Man is creature and subject to his Creator. Secondly, if one of these theologians gave their children a task to complete having deemed them responsible enough to handle it, these parents would not so easily interchange responsibility to obey parents with free will. Why? Because God commands children to obey their parents. Again, we see the Creator-creature distinction.

Theologically, the issue of free will falls into categories to help us: libertarianism and compatabilism. (Feel free to look up those terms.) And these categories all surround one major issue – how much time do we really have to repent and believe? This is an important question. It impacts the believer’s thinking about God’s grace, Jesus’ death, Spirit’s work, and man’s obedience to share the gospel. Unfortunately, too many focus on man and what man can do for himself. Did you catch that? It starts with what man can do for himself, since he has free will in salvation, and then the focus zooms out to evangelism. And that is why this is a grave mistake on the part of those who hold to this doctrine.

Let’s look at a passage in Matthew 23 where Jesus helps answer this very question we have in front of us. But before we read it, let’s take a second to follow the thought-process of those holding to this doctrine. They will say that man was created with free will – Jesus died to give everybody a real chance to be saved (repent and believe) – that real chance is available to them until the point of death. Now let’s look at what Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees who were nowhere near their death beds.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Mt 23:14-15

Does that sound like Jesus is ascribing free will to either of the 3 groups? I’m afraid not. Scribes, Pharisees, and the people who follow them are all lumped into one painstaking truth. Neither of them are entering the kingdom of heaven! But wait some may say, what about God being the God of second chances and the man’s ability to exercise his libertarian free will in light of Jesus giving even them a real chance to be saved? It never existed. Not only are they not entering the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus goes on to say they make their followers “twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” As we can see, Jesus pulls no punches and offers no second chances.

So how much time do we have? Who’s to say. Only God knows. We as humans are incapable of saying how long, but God knows. But we must not forget the biblical teaching while we answer this question. We must let biblical truth echo in our answers to people while speaking the truth in love. Everybody isn’t going to heaven. Everybody doesn’t have a real chance. Everybody doesn’t get to wait until the few moments before death to repent and believe. And we must not start with what man can do, but with what Jesus has done and secured by his death and resurrection.


When’s The Last Time You Thought You Were God?

December 16, 2012
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This may very well sound like an odd, indicting question. Scripture is the source of this piercing, gut-wrenching question, not me. Read these verses:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way – Isa 53:6

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death – Prov 14:12

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside;  together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” – Rom 3:10-18

Now I’ve never met anyone who has openly said they are guilty of this or even made this statement after a self-examination, but consider this: every time we as believers think, decide that and act like we know what’s best for us at any given moment during the day, we think we’re God.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself when’s the last time you sinned because you wanted to glory more than letting someone else get the praise or letting God get it.

The fact that we’re not righteous on our own, we on our own come up with ways that seem right to us (think, decide, act), and not to mention that we do turn our own way, it’s at that very moment that we think we’re God. We think we run our lives. We think we know better than our Creator. We believe that running with this thought and carrying it out brings more joy and pleasure than whatever God may have to say. And if I can’t get really personal, when we’re afraid to or just don’t want to pray about something, it’s because we want to be God over our situations and circumstances. It’s easy to go talk to every friend and confidant you may have till you’ve repeated the same story so much that you now have created the slickest way to present it while making yourself out to be the victim. And we all know how hard it is to do that with an all-seeing God.

So if we can dare to be honest every day of our lives, especially this Sunday, the first day of the week, ask yourself when’s the last time you thought you were God. Once you think up several answers from this previous week, and even today, rebuke yourself and repent. Get comfy in the grace and glorious position we have in God provided through the blood of Jesus. Sit Indian-style or wrestle up a pillow and “rest” in Him, your God.


Should We Focus On The Family?

December 16, 2012
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There’s been a lot going on in our world over throughout this year. It seems after most tragedies I hear a good number of people retort of the importance of the family. Men go love your wives and kids. Women go trust your husbands and kiss your kids. Children take heed to the advice of your parents. Overall, it seems like (only after public tragedies) people want to shift our attention to the family. So I ask you, should we focus on the family?

Well it depends on exactly what a person means by that question.

Even though I advocate a family integrated model of worship in our churches, I do not believe we should focus on the family. Here’s why: that doesn’t save anybody! Now let me unpack that pithy statement.

Death is unavoidable. God is sovereign. Satan is real. Evil is everywhere. Safety is important. Life is hard. Accidents do happen. Oh, and death is unavoidable. Understanding all of these to be true truth, we should approach this question much differently than those who don’t concede to these truths. No matter the issue that prompts people to focus on the family, turning one’s attention to their kids isn’t the answer. There was a shooting at a movie theater in Denver, shooting on the bus in DC, stabbing in China, and a whole host of other tragic events just like that. How should we respond? By telling our loved ones that we love them? Good idea, but not the answer. By hugging and kissing our loved ones? Good gesture, but not the answer.

So how then? Well if you’re a Christian parent, the only answer you have is the gospel. If you’re not a Christian parent, the only answer you have is the gospel, although you don’t believe that to be true. Some other things parents can do are teach their kids about safety in all facets and self-defense in all forms. But death is undefeated last time I checked, so let’s not act like we can ward off death. Death is unavoidable and imminent.

After we focus on the gospel of God about Jesus Christ, we’ll be led to the family of God (the Church) and our own family.


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