Attack Of The Enemy

dcc7f9ab4aa58476d23fb78514b3fc80Are the bad things that Christian’s experience – health issues, ministry setbacks, financial difficulties, and divisiveness – all attacks by Satan to confuse and defeat believers? And do those attacks increase as Christians walk more closely with the Lord because Satan becomes more worried when believers become stronger?  That’s a belief that has been circulating around the church. I find it very troubling, because it is not what I read in the Word.

Scripture warns us about the Enemy saying, “Your enemy the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  The phrase “may devour”, suggests that Satan is looking for those who are vulnerable. I propose that the ones Satan “may devour” are likely the weak and defenseless rather than those who seek the shelter of the Most High.

Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, Satan’s got nothing if God is on your side. That seems clear enough, but could it be that Satan can still trouble and deceive believers in spite of the fact that God wins in the end?

Paul seems to have covered that in 1 Corinthians 10:13 when he wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man…” In other words, we all are subject to the same whisperings of the Enemy. However, Paul elaborates, “God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” In other words, a follower of the Lord has been given the means to overcome. If you fail, it is neither God’s fault nor the result of Satan’s power over you.

Perhaps the problem is that Christians are rarely if ever taught the primary source of evil. The first man and woman lived in ease and fellowship with God, but their own sin changed everything. Genesis 3:17-19 explains the curse God placed on the creation saying, “Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread till you return to the ground.” From that point on, hardship became the new normal. Although the Enemy may have instigated that first sin, mankind would continue to experience hardship even if Satan was taken out of the way.

So why do we want to blame the Enemy for our troubles? Perhaps some don’t know any better, not understanding about original sin. Perhaps blaming Satan is easier than taking personal responsibility for our wrong decisions. There may even be occasions when God allows the Enemy to make trouble like we read about in Job. But here is what I believe with all of my heart. Worrying about Satan is no way to live and prosper. I put my confidence in the Lord and in the promises He has given to sustain those who believe Him and follow His commandments.

Journalism, Science, and Climate Change

5academicsAlthough promotion of ideology is not the journalist’s true mission, few objective observers would question the liberal bias of most of today’s news media. The role of journalism, and why freedom of the press is enshrined in our Constitution, is to be skeptical. Journalists protect the public by holding politicians’ feet to the fire by questioning actions and reporting consequences. Journalists were the watchdogs of the public interest back in the day when journalism viewed itself as a safeguard rather than cheerleader. Where did journalism go wrong? Maybe it began with science.

I found an intriguing article on my Twitter feed from Creation Evolution Headlines (CEH). CEH writes, “When science journalism was advanced in the 1920s, it had a choice, says Michael Schulson in the Pacific Standard. Reporters were filled with the spirit of progress that was in the air. Scientists were viewed as pioneers moving into a new world.” The choice that journalism had was to be a watchdog or a cheerleader for science. They chose cheerleader. It wasn’t an obviously wrong or unethical choice. Science was becoming increasingly technical and specialized, and journalists could offer a valuable service by interpreting the scientific language and making it more accessible to the general public. It was a small step from explaining science theories to advocating them, sometimes beyond what they deserved.

Here is an example. I was watching the Science Channel as their journalists tried to explain the origin of water on earth. Since many scientists believe the earth started as a molten ball of rock, there was no way for liquid water to exist on the planet. Since establishment science refuses to acknowledge the possibility of creation or intelligent design, they discount the idea that the planet could have been designed to be inhabited with ample water. Therefore, the program’s writers spent twenty minutes explaining how all the water on earth came from comets dislodged from the Kuiper Belt. Finally, someone admitted that it would take millions of stray comets to deliver all the water in our oceans, but they stopped short of saying it was a ridiculous idea. They stopped short because the ridiculous idea was a fairly mainstream scientific one, and scientists are never to be questioned… and certainly not to be thought of as ridiculous.

When journalists report uncritically about the speculative ideas put out by scientists, they leave the public vulnerable to manipulation because many scientific ideas are loaded with philosophical baggage. Climate change is one such idea that is promoted largely by leftist ideology. Their philosophy is that government must control human activity, and their leverage is that the world will end through climate change unless we all give up our freedoms to central control. Instead of applying reasonable skepticism to the claims of climate change advocates, science journalists have become such proponents that they ruthlessly suppress the many climate scientists who present evidence refuting man-made climate influences. And so, the general public goes along with the global program of wealth redistribution and technological regulation because a fair hearing isn’t given to dissenting views.

The advocacy role of journalism had its earliest beginnings in the creation/evolution controversy decades ago when a few news reporters exploited the the conflict between evolution and creation and framed it as science versus religion. The journalism establishment then began promoting scientific speculation indiscriminately in every area of science without questioning the underlying assumptions of each new assertion. As a result, journalists have become advocates in every area of reporting, forcing individuals to pick and choose their favored bias for reporting. If you’re a conservative, watch Fox News. If you’re a progressive, watch MSNBC. The result is polarization rather than rational discussion and resolution, the direct result of journalism that editorializes rather than reporting events in an analytical way to encourages the public to evaluate and make informed decisions.

So the next time you watch the Science Channel, be your own skeptic asking yourself the questions that the journalists won’t ask. When you hear someone present a well-reasoned objection to climate change dogma, don’t just dismiss the person as a “denier” or as paid off by the petroleum industry. Dig deeper yourself, because journalists seldom do.

Bloom Where You’re Planted?

willrogers163083Imagine this. Jesus finds two fishermen casting their nets and says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” and they drop their nets and follow Him. Then Jesus runs into another fisherman, John. But instead of following Jesus, John says,”I believe in your ministry, Jesus, but I operate a profitable fishing business and have a life and responsibilities. I’ll stay here, but I’ll serve you by telling all my clients the good news.” Is this John a follower of Jesus? The obvious answer is “of course not.” Staying behind is pretty much the opposite of following no matter how you spin it.

We had a conversation at church recently during a discussion of David Platte’s book, “Follow Me”. The essential message of “Follow Me” is that a salvation prayer is not enough for you to be a follower of Christ. Instead, we should all–every single Christian—set aside our lives in order to know and proclaim Christ, for this is what it means to follow him. However, losing your life does not align well with the demands of our complex, materialistic culture. We believe we must work full-time to make ends meet, so we are drawn to rationalize what Jesus asks us to give.

Our pastor led the discussion with some good questions. Would you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ? Would you say that you view Jesus as Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not? What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Nobody jumped up to volunteer answers. These were not shallow questions that you could answer in superficial ways. I could sense a tension building in peoples’ minds, certainly in mine. Of course I’m a follower of Jesus, but I also had a career and family to care for at times in my life.

That tension between thoughts of staying and following led someone to ask, “Can’t we just bloom where we’re planted?” It was said in such a sincere, pleading way that our pastor was lured into the compassionate answer, “You can be a teacher or a construction workers or a janitor, as long as you love the Lord and grow in righteousness.” It was a kind answer meant to deflect the tension among the people, but was tipped excessively toward accommodation rather than truth. Churchgoers seem to believe that they can live a self-absorbed life as long as they adhere to moral standards or feel emotionally connected to Jesus. We call ourselves followers, but we don’t actually move. Plants don’t make good followers.

I can only tell you from my life experience the difference between being merely a believer and being a follower of Christ. When I was a young man and a new believer, I was driven by my responsibility as a husband, father, and provider. I was absorbed with my career as the means to provide for my family, but I was also a believer. I knew that there was more to being a follower of Christ, but I only had time to be a part-time disciple. As my understanding grew, I branched out to teaching in church and other limited ministries. I liken that stage as being an appprentice learning to do things like my master, Jesus. But still I was dissatisfied until the season came when I gave up my career and preoccupation with survival and launched the Orion Center. To my way of thinking, that’s when I became a true follower of Jesus, having taken action to increase His kingdom rather than my own.

The key in my story is that I always had a heart-felt desire to follow Jesus. In contrast, the American church’s emphasis on salvation instead of Jesus’ lordship, gives many people in the church a different understanding. They are saved and striving to live moral lives and enjoying church life, but they have never been taught that there is something more, that Jesus expects them to follow all His commands and not just the moral ones. That attitude has facilitated the rise of casual Christianity, a religious system that bears little fruit and offers little satisfaction even to casual Christians. Some even wonder whether an unfruitful believer is even truly a believer, since Sripture tells us that faith without works is dead.

Fortunately, nobody has to live this way nor live in doubt. Every believer can position their lives to eventually break away from the world system and set a new course under the Lord’s leading. Are you a follower of Jesus? If your answer is no, the solution is something like repentance. Change your course and purpose yourself to a new direction whose primary goal is serving Jesus.

One Of Us Is Crazy

The recent Presidential election has been anything but presidential, illustrating the most extreme emotions between the loyalists of both parties. The losers in American elections don’t usually riot after even the most divisive campaign, but something has changed. We may not like to think about it in these terms, but we are essentially experiencing a religious civil war in America.

Our best hope is that the more mature side of the culture conflict will step up to be the peacemakers. Here’s a one-minute video on the subject we produced at Orion Center.

 

Good Or God Part 2

This is the second installment in my series about “Good, Or God.” It is perhaps the most important because it deals with the very nature of becoming a Christian. It also causes me the most apprehension, because this installment strikes to the heart of who we are in Christ. I would summarize this message by saying that contrary to much of what is taught in churches, Christians are born, not made.

wp-1456399955873This vital concept was driven home to me through a message delivered at a Christian conference in Branson. The speaker related how churches tend to teach that we are sinners saved by grace. And then she added, “But we’re not sinners saved by grace; that’s who we used to be. When we accepted Jesus as Lord, we were supernaturally re-born and became a new creation.”

As I considered how to flesh out this concept, the Lord spoke to me through Romans 6 during my daily reading. Here is what Paul wrote to the new believers in Rome:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Our old self was crucified with Him…that we should no longer be slaves to sin. Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God through Christ Jesus.”

The picture Paul gives us of the Christian life is that we are given immediate power to live a sinless life. We’ve been born anew as soon as we accept Christ as Lord.

Every church and every pastor knows this essential truth, but the very nature of church organization unintentionally distorts the simplicity of the Gospel. Many churches inadvertently change the born-again experience into a slow and gradual process of becoming Christianized. Pastors present weekly messages with the good heart to convey deeper revelation to their congregations. They make alter calls in case anyone in the crowd hasn’t yet accepted Christ. They try to exhort those who may be struggling with sin. They attempt to draw people into a deeper relationship. Similarly, worship leaders try to define how the congregation should worship. Sunday School teachers explain Biblical truths which the congregation might not otherwise understand. Men’s and women’s ministries embark on programs to improve the Christian walk of church members.

These are all good things, but are not God. Church programs can turn the Biblical born-again reality into a life-long self-improvement project. In spite of the best of intentions by leadership, church members tend to accept the idea that they are sinners without recognizing the powerful reality of transformation. As sinners, they feel unworthy, unskilled, unprepared for ministry, and condemned to a long road of spiritual renovation. They are a work in progress rather than overcomers through Jesus’ blood.

The self-improvement view of the Christian walk is attractive to many people, particularly men because men tend to be goal-oriented and egocentric. Men are used to being trained in their jobs, instructed in their sports, decisive in their beliefs, and accepting of their own personal faults. As action-oriented beings, men are easily drawn to seeing the Christian walk as a long process of self-improvement, kind of like body- building or hard work or endurance training. We may not thrive in the works mentality, but it is intuitive to us. We can even embrace the idea that our manly impulse is good, but we should also understand it is not fully God.

Rather than dwell on the negative, let me offer a few more Scriptures that describe the Biblical view of being a Christian. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!”

The only Biblical place I see for a slow process of Christian growth is when Paul speaks in Romans 12:2 about the renewing of the mind by replacing your former way of thinking with God’s truth through the study of God’s Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A solid church that believes in the work of the Spirit, preaching the Word, reading the Word, and singing the Word is invaluable in helping us renew our minds.

However, renewing the mind doesn’t save the individual, but only expands his or her knowledge and insight into the ways of the Lord. Scripture describes the Christian’s transformation as an immediate result of accepting the lordship of Jesus. Reflection about the past, recognition of faults, and yearning for self-improvement are all good things but not God’s way, which is a supernatural gift that is not driven by the individual’s works or effort. Our churches will become alive when it’s members stop seeing themselves as sinners slowly improving themselves, but embrace their true status as children of God, instantly empowered to resist sin and going into the world in the power of our Lord.

Good Or God – Part I

good-idea-god-ideaA church friend recently posted a video on Facebook. It is by John Bevere and is titled: What Will Deceive the Elect. You can click the link to watch the video, part of a series Bevere teaches called “Good or God.”

In this clip, Bevere describes a revelation he received from the Lord that not all things that appear good are necessarily Godly. It’s a powerful thought, but Bevere doesn’t flesh it out with examples of what he means, and I suspect even those who Facebook-like the post may not understand what it truly means. So here is an example of what the Lord is telling me.

I received this revelation when I visited the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Israel. Jewish people lived in Germany for centuries before the holocaust and actually rose to positions of prominence in every aspect of German culture. But something changed. In the years before World War II, a political movement began to discourage Jewish participation in the arts, media, intellectual circles, and even social organizations. German Jews responded to the mainstream culture’s rejection by establishing their own Jewish-only associations. They had their own schools. They had their own artistic and craft guilds. They had their own social organizations. They had business groups. They didn’t just accept rejection by German society; they were proud of their Jewish-only alternatives and even thrived in their own way. At first.

The lesson of Yad Vashem reminded me of the plight of Americans of African descent prior to the civil rights activism of the 1960’s. It’s not that Black Americans lacked everything during segregation. They had their segregated neighborhoods, their black churches, their black entertainment venues; even a Negro Baseball League. A term used to describe segregated America was “separate but equal”, and many Americans thought that was good enough. But African Americans understood that “separate but equal” was not equal at all.

Now back to Germany. What affected the German Jews was not just the inherent inequality of separate but equal. Their situation led to cultural isolation. Their fellow Germans no longer were personal friends who understood Jewish culture and ideals and enjoyed common community. The Jews became ripe for exploitation by the Nazis once there was no-one outside of the Jewish community to stand up for them. They had become foreigners in their own country. The separateness that seemed good to the Jews turned out not being a blessing from God. God had called the Jews to be a witness to the world, but the Jews retreated inward. Millions died.

Is this so different from the situation of American followers of Christ? Have we not also created our own separate but equal subculture in America? We have our own churches. We have our Christian movie industry. We have several genres of Christian music. We have separate schools, Christian radio stations, and even politicians courting the Christian vote. Don’t misunderstand me. These Christian things are all good because they minister to believers, but they don’t minister to anyone beyond the church. They are good, but are they God?

God wanted the Jewish nation to be a witness of God’s power, authority, and ideals to the rest of the world. However, too often the Jewish nation settled instead to be a proudly separated subculture in every country where they settled. Regarding the church, Christ commanded that Believers disciple the nations “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We can conclude the heart of both the Father and the Son is to spread the gospel rather than preserve it in our separate but equal enclaves.

In recent months, pastors have been asking good questions. Why isn’t the church taking ground from the enemy? Why does the church seem to be ineffective in restoring righteousness in our nation’s culture? Some have suggested there may be “sin in the camp”, an ungodly presence in our congregations that prevents God from honoring our efforts. Some have suggested that we must perfect the church before the church can assume the spiritual authority to correct the nation. Some have suggested that we have quenched the Spirit and are acting in our own power instead of God’s holy power. All of these thoughts are good, but not necessarily God. The part that is not God is that these pastors and others may be looking for a spiritual key to unlock the power of the church, when the answer is more practical and mechanical, albeit with profound spiritual import.

Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one that loves me.” In the same Gospel, Jesus then commands his disciples to go into all the nations and make more disciples. Do you see the connection? He wants the church to express love by replicating through interaction with people outside of the church. He wants the simple action of obeying His command to disciple and teach lost people.

This doesn’t mean you have to be a street corner evangelist or that you have to abandon your Christian principles. I disciple the nations by producing Biblical worldview radio clips and playing them on secular radio. Thom and Sandy Gumm make secular music at Main Street Music Hall but infuse their performances with God-honoring content. Chick-Fil-A closes every Sunday as a public testimony to honor God’s commands. Bruce and Marsha BonFleur live on the edge of one of the poorest towns in America in order to minister to the Lakota Souix. An important common denominator is you have to be in the world in order to improve the world.

So I’m speaking against Christian separation from the world which seems good, but isn’t God. For our own sake and that of our children, we must not allow the church to become so isolated from the world that we become an easy target for oppression. But more importantly, we have to honor the Lord as being truly the Lord whose commands we obey regardless of difficulty. Any thought that we should reject activity in the world truly is a deception meant to keep the church from taking its rightful place as servants of the most high King.

Unconflicted Christianity

god20so20loved“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s John 3:16, one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. I am quoting it here not because of the promise of salvation, but because of what the opening phrase reveals about God’s heart. He loves the world.

We’re watching a series at Heartland Worship Center called “Good or God”. It’s central theme is important, the difference between simply advocating good and serving the lordship of God. Nevertheless, the presenter fell a little short in session 3 when he tried to make a point about the Lord being jealous of our love for the world.  The presenter said we can’t love both God and the world, a familiar warning from the pulpit. But then he warned us to avoid legalism, and gave many examples about how legalism is built around practical-seeming rules to avoid worldliness. Our pastor rightly discerned the conflict in the teaching…how to avoid the the world without being legalistic in avoiding worldliness.

Much of the church seems conflicted about their place in the world. They sometimes equate being active in the world with “operating in your own strength”. As an alternative, they say to seek closer relationship with the Lord. Nevertheless, He wants us to be salt and light in the world. He wants us to disciple the nations. We seem to vacillate between two calls, the inward call to be set apart from the world and the outward call to set right the decline of the nation.  We know that the culture has declined because we’ve been negligent, but we’re uncommitted to getting involved.

But here is another reality. God loves the world and we Christians love the world. We experience pleasure and enjoyment through all that God provides for us. God is not against our enjoying nature or loving our families or seeking success in our occupations or any of the many blessings He’s given us through His creation. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ last instruction was to go out into the world and make disciples of the nations. He wants us to be salt and light for the world. He wants us to help Him transform the world.

Here then is the correct point. Although God loves the world, what God doesn’t love and we don’t love either is the system of the world, the spiritual meaning behind the Greek word “cosmos”that is translated “world” in those verses that warn us about the world. The world system is characterized by materialism,  selfishness,  the love of power, and the oppression of the weak. He doesn’t want us to be seduced by that  system. If we turned from His way to the world’s way or tried to accommodate both at once, that would make Him jealous.

One of my favorite verses about Jesus is Luke 2:52, ” Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” It shows that Christ maintained the right balance of favor with God and favor with the world’s people. First, He had to grow in wisdom and favor with God, He had to nurture relationship with the Father. But Jesus was not just a holy man who sought God and God alone. He loved people and drew people to Him. Because of His relationship with the Father, the Lord knew that the will of the Father was that all men be saved, and that meant establishing relationship in the world. There should be nothing confusing in this.  Our call as Christ-followers is to be His agents in renewing His creation and the people He wishes to save. For God so loved the world.