Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Best We Can Do Is Sin

Young Lady 01Perhaps the biggest difficulty in evangelism is getting people past the belief that they are basically good. Most people will, of course, acknowledge that they’ve done a few things that they probably shouldn’t have done, but they quickly take refuge in the thought that their good outweighs their bad. So when we tell them that Jesus died for their sin, they give us quizzical looks as they shrug off the Gospel.

Evangelism that minimizes human sinfulness and presents Jesus as a Cosmic Personal Assistant exacerbate the problem by marketing a false salvation. Such evangelism ignores the holiness of God as well as Christ’s demand for repentance. As a result, the real issue gets obscured, and Christianity becomes just another way of satisfying selfish desires.

The Gospel, to be proclaimed accurately, depends on the understanding that we are absolute wretches who desperately need God’s grace. Without recognizing that nothing good dwells within us (Romans 7:18). we have no way to appreciate the wonder of Jesus taking God’s wrath on Himself in our place. Grace, therefore, loses its significance, and we  really don’t comprehend the Lord’s stunning holiness.

Teachings on human sinfulness never feels warm and fuzzy, admittedly. I struggle daily to see how depraved I am apart from Christ, and I suspect most Christians fight similar battles. If those of us who genuinely know the Lord have trouble accepting the truth regarding our sinful condition, imagine how hard it must be for non-Christians to face their sin!

But both Christians and non-Christians must come to terms with the gruesome reality that we are children of wrath unless we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:3). Unless we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, our perceived good works become filthy in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Left to our own devices, we have no choice but to sin. It’s literally the best we can do.

Thankfully, once someone sees the inescapable prison of his or her sinful condition, Christ’s mercy and grace becomes precious and beautiful. At that point, the Gospel indeed proves to be very Good News, and we find ourselves unable to stop adoring the Lord for taking the punishment that properly belongs to us. What a wonderful Savior!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Folly And Shame Of Weighing In Too Quickly

ae2c7-pearlonvictoriandesignLast January, well-known Christian apologist James White and Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi conducted a two part dialogue to help their respective communities understand some of the actual beliefs of Christianity and Islam. On the first evening, they appeared in a church, where White permitted Qadhi to present Muslim beliefs without challenge. On the following evening, they met in Qadhi’s own Mosque, where White straightforwardly declared the Gospel.

In June, Christian radio host Brannon Howse unearthed the YouTube video of the discussion in the church, and has since launched a vicious attack on White. He believes White has violated 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, particularly in failing to refute Qadhi or proclaim the Gospel during the meeting in the church. The controversy escalated, even to the point of branding White as a heretic.

I’ve followed the bruhaha fairly closely, reading arguments on both sides and watching the video of the discussion in the Mosque (which, it should be noted, Howse and his supporters carefully avoid mentioning). Although I wrote a couple posts early in June which indirectly alluded to the controversy, for the most part I didn’t really believe I had enough information to state an opinion. And frankly, I struggled to the point of doubting my own discernment abilities, therefore putting off blogging about it until I could reach a solid conclusion.

I took my guidance from Proverbs:

13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
    it is his folly and shame.
14 A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?
15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
    and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
16 A man’s gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.
17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
18 The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
    he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. ~~Proverbs 18:13-20 (ESV)

I kept studying the various arguments, knowing I shouldn’t speak further until I felt assurance that I adequately understood whether or not James White did anything wrong. Only in the last week have I settled in my mind that, though he probably could have found wiser ways of staging the dialogue, he made no substantive compromises. Additionally, Brannon Howse erred by totally ignoring what happened at the Mosque, therefore misrepresenting the facts in order to smear White’s reputation.

Now that I feel ready to weigh in, however, everyone else has finally moved on to other matters. As well they should! The ugliness displayed on both sides dishonored Christ.

Part of me regrets waiting so long to voice my opinion. Blogging gains traction, in part, by addressing controversies  as they unfold. If a Christian blogger handles a controversial topic with humility and fairness, bringing out Biblical principles that direct readers to the Lord, I see no reason not to write about it.

I can’t stop remembering childhood experiences of crawling across  the lawn to join the neighborhood kids in play, only to watch them move to another yard just before I reached them. Once again, I’ve arrived too late.

But another part of me appreciates the Lord for teaching me to remain silent until I could properly research the situation. In this particular case, my investigations confirmed my original position on the controversy, but what if I had stated my opinion immediately and then discovered that I was wrong? Retractions rarely receive the same attention as original articles do.

In the end, writing a blog post in the heat of the controversy would have probably boosted my readership, at least temporarily, but I would have sinned by expressing an opinion before I really knew all the facts. Such recklessness has no place on a Christian blog. Praise the Holy Spirit for convicting me to wait, study and understand all aspects of the controversy before I put forth my thoughts.

That’s actually the greater lesson in all of this, when you think about it. Ironically, White’s primary purpose in having the dialogue with Qadhi was to help Christians understand what Islam actually teaches. Understanding other viewpoints enables us to present the Gospel with greater clarity because we know their way of thinking. When Christians listen before speaking, we can make a more effective case for the Gospel.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The Trouble With Emphasizing Our Woundedness

Michele SmithThere’s something comforting in hearing someone confess their flaws and vulnerabilities, isn’t there? If she’s as imperfect and broken as we are, she makes us feel better about ourselves. Therefore, we gravitate to her blogs, books and/or conferences, knowing that she’ll make us feel good. She’ll assure us that God thinks we’re awesome, that He wants to date us and that He validates all our feelings. As He met her in her woundedness, so He will meet us in ours.

Lately, I’ve confessed, not cute little flaws in my character, but outright sin. Maybe you feel that I’m more approachable because of my transparency. That’s flattering to me, I’ll admit, but it’s also a little troubling.

If I use self-disclosure as a means of attracting followers, the focus goes to me. That’s not going to benefit either me or my readers. It may make me feel important and influential, but it probably does little to build the kingdom of God. And the possibility that I’m building my personal empire rather than investing the abilities He gives me in advancing His kingdom terrifies me.

The apostle Paul gives a glimpse into how the Lord will judge believers. Please read the following passage with the understanding that it refers to God judging how to reward Christians, not about salvation. Jesus Christ has already determined salvation by His death on the cross. The judgment in this passage focuses on whether believers have used our natural and spiritual gifts for Christ’s honor and glory.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ~~1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

(No, that’s not about Purgatory.)

When a Christian uses ministry to draw attention to herself, she’s failing to build on the foundation of the Lord Christ Jesus. Her fan base may believe she’s a personal friend to each one of them because she’s been so authentic about her brokenness. They wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with her while she empathized with their brokenness.

I have no problem with a Christian blogger, writer and/or speaker extending empathy to hurting women. Please don’t misunderstand me on that point. God’s Word specifically commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But at some point, the empathy must lead to Christ. Sin must be confronted and the Gospel must be presented in its entirety. Above all, Jesus must be exalted.

So much so-called ministry these days revolves around making people feel good about themselves, prompting bloggers, writers and  speakers to parade their flaws and vulnerabilities without discretion. But many times their veneer of authenticity covers us a thirst for applause instead of a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And they forfeit eternal rewards.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The False Prophet’s Misplaced Compassion

False ProphecyWhen he showed up at our Tuesday night Bible Study that spring evening in 1993, I thought it was a little unusual. But I dismissed that thought fairly quickly, reminding myself that our Bible Study group was known in our church for having in-depth discussions as well as for our riotous humor. Several others from the church had migrated to our group, so why shouldn’t he?

He sat quietly through the study, not really offering any insights and only half-heartedly laughing at the jokes we made. I again had fleeting thoughts that he didn’t quite fit in, and wondered if the group downtown might suit him better. He appeared as uncomfortable in our group as I had felt the night I’d visited the downtown Bible Study.

After the teaching portion of the meeting, the leader started to open the floor to prayer requests. At that point the visitor interrupted. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I came tonight,” he began.

From there, he proceeded to explain that God had sent him to give me a message. According to him, God wanted me to know that He was ready to heal me physically. The healing would happen gradually, perhaps over the course of years. Furthermore, God would begin with my hands and slowly work His way through the rest of my body.

The man who led the Study knew me well, and was extremely aware that I had been moving away from Charismatic theology for about three years by that point. I could detect his amusement as he turned to me asking, “What’s your response to that, Deb?”

I answered without hesitation, “It’s hogwash.” Then I elaborated that the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the close of the Apostolic age. I added that Christ is certainly capable of healing people in this present age, but that all miraculous healings in Scripture happened instantaneously. Therefore I seriously doubted that God had spoken to this man.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that incident lately. I regret not telling that man that he’s a false prophet. Yeah, it would have been a harsh pronouncement, no matter how lovingly I might have worded it. And definitely, I believe that his prophecy, vision or whatever you want to call it, came out of that man’s compassion for me. Be that as it may, it was still a false prophecy.

And Scripture shows us, in more places than I can cite this afternoon, that the Lord has zero tolerance for false prophecy. In fact, when Moses prepared Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, he spent a fair amount of time warning them about the dangers of false prophets. To emphasize the Lord’s seriousness about this matter, he instructed them to treat false prophecy as a capital offense.

 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. ~~Deuteronomy 18:20 (ESV)

Please  be assured that I’m not suggesting that the man who gave the false prophecy at the Bible Study all those years ago be executed under Old Testament Law. I do, however, find it disturbing that he was permitted to continue giving prophecies in Sunday morning services long after that incident. (Of course, I shouldn’t have remained in that church after the Lord convinced me that Charismatic theology was in error.)

If a church insists on practicing the Charismatic gifts, they should also be consistent with Scriptural parameters in exercising those gifts. People who prophesy implicitly claim to speak for God Himself. Therefore, although I would argue that prophecy is no longer operational because the Canon  of Scripture is closed, those who presume to prophesy must be held accountable by their church leadership. Even one failed prophecy should disqualify them from ever prophesying in a service again.

As the years have passed, I’ve been both saddened and troubled that this man wasn’t lovingly corrected for his false prophecy. People in that church highly respected him, and may have acted on prophecies he gave with the belief that God had really spoken though him. Worse, the poor guy lives with the deception that God speaks to him apart from Scripture. Just as he showed compassion towards me by wanting to believe God would heal me physically, so I pray God will show him compassion by leading him into sound doctrine.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I Make A Decidedly Putrid Message (And So Do You)

Putrid worksIn recent years, the notion that we can “be the message” has resurrected the old cliche, “Preach the Gospel–if necessary, use words.”  The social gospel movement, in particular, capitalizes on this cliche for the purpose of using works of charity almost in place of preaching the Gospel. They rationalize that, because of their acts of service, people will ask what motivates them to serve, thus opening the door for evangelism.

In an effort to discern the validity of this popular idea, we need to examine it in light of what the Word of God teaches. I’ll refer to several Scriptures, so please click the links; quoting so many of them directly in one blog post might put me in danger of violating the ESV copyright permission.

I agree that a person’s behavior, in general,  demonstrates his true beliefs.  James 2:14-26 indeed maintains that  “faith without works is dead.” Jesus Himself warned that He will reject those who call Him Lord while actively disobeying His commandments (Matthew 7:21-27). The proponents of the social gospel must be commended, therefore, for their desire to address the obvious disconnect between what evangelicals profess to believe and how we actually live. The non-Christian world sees our hypocrisy, and uses it as an excuse to reject Christ.

That said, our good behavior, in and of itself, can only (at best) lead people to ask us about the Lord (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, we should remember the broader context of this verse. 1 Peter 3:8-22 offers guidelines to Christians in the midst of suffering for their commitment to  Christ. The First Century believers to whom Peter originally wrote amazed their critics by clinging to Jesus when simply renouncing Him would have liberated them from persecution. They did far more than live good lives. They proclaimed Christ in an empire that made such proclamations punishable by death.

Their potential martyrdom went far beyond “right living.” Good behavior certainly reflects God’s standards for personal holiness, but without accompanying words about the grace of God that transforms a sinner, such good behavior degenerates into self-righteous morality that the Lord considers putrid (see Isaiah 64:6).

As a matter of fact, dear readers, not one of us leads a life that replaces the need to articulate the Gospel. We are declared righteous by virtue of the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection rather than by our deeds, meaning that our lives continue to be tainted by our proclivity to sin (see Romans 7:7-24). We should, of course, walk in obedience to the Lord, but we dare not entertain the notion that social justice is enough to win anyone to Christ.

The Gospel requires that you and I actually talk about sin, hell, repentance and the fact that only Jesus provides salvation from God’s wrath. We can dig wells, help children with disabilities and run food pantries all we want, but unless we accompany those activities with a clear proclamation of the Gospel, people will see no difference between us and members of the Elks club. And they’ll be looking at us, not at the Lord Jesus Christ.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Saturday Sampler: June 25 – July 1

Polygon Flowers SamplerAlas! After 500 years, the Roman Catholic Church still resists the Protestant Reformation. Tom of excatholic4christ gives chilling evidence of this fact by writing Coming soon to a Protestant church near you: the “Ecumenical Rite of Mass”. In this piece, he explains some of the reasons why Protestants mustn’t participate in such activities.

Social media certainly has a grip on teenagers and young adults. If you have teenaged kids, perhaps you worry about their infatuation with Facebook, Snap Chat and text messages. Although your concerns definitely have great validity, Kristen Hatton, in a post for The Gospel Coalition Blog, suggests that Social Media Isn’t Your Teens’ Biggest Problem.

In What does a true revival look like? Part 1, The End Time‘s Elizabeth Prata takes us back to the Great Awakening to show how God worked to bring people to repentance.

Yes! Mary Liebert of The Verity Fellowship reminds us that Exposition Is For Women, Too. This message simply can’t be overstated, especially when so many women’s Bible Study groups focus on emotions and girl talk. Ladies, God makes His Word as available to us as He makes it to men.

In his article for The Gospel Coalition Blog, Jay Harrison exposes The Hypocrisy of Phariseephobia. I have noticed the same phenomenon, but Jay’s personal struggles with homosexuality give him greater credibility in calling out this sin. His thoughts should inspire all of us to repentance.

Eric Davis, in a truly exceptional post for The Cripplegate, absolutely nails a major problem with psychology. Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves brings out a number of ways that the myth of self-forgiveness clashes with Biblical Christianity. The Lord used almost all of Davis’ points to convict me of my arrogance in this area.

I hope you won’t miss Comparing Modern Day Evangelism to What the Bible Teaches by Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life. Her observations are challenging, and most of us certainly need those challenges. I definitely do!

For an interesting angle on judging, take a look at Peter Stayton’s essay, Why I Need My Friends to Judge Me, on his blog One Degree to Another. I won’t spoil it by hinting at how he approaches the subject other than to say I’ve never seen it quite this way before.

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life? asks R.C. Sproul on the Ligonier blog. As a former Charismatic, I greatly appreciate this little glimpse into Sproul’s life, as well as the resulting wisdom.

Allen Cagle, blogging at Parking Space 23, probably writes Receiving Criticism primarily to his fellow pastors, but all Christians can benefit from the Scriptural principles he presents. As the Internet sets us up for hostile attacks from those who disagree with us,  these principles can help us handle criticism in godly ways.

 
Follow my blog with Bloglovin