Legalism vs. Liberalism ~ 12/30/18

Not too many years ago preachers preached about sin and judgement, fire and brimstone, and portrayed God as angry and demanding.  Conversely, these days we have preachers who have swung the pendulum too far the other direction into love, love, love and grace, grace, grace.   One end of the spectrum is legalism and the other end is liberalism.  Neither are biblical.  The truth is in the middle of these two extremes and we better get ahold of it quickly! Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, during his days on earth, for their pious attitudes and their need to control people with legalism.  He also warned us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  Abolishing the law swings us into a form of liberalism, and abuse of grace, that Paul emphatically warns against in Romans 6:1-2.   

God is both a God of judgement and a God of love, mercy and grace.  To view Him as one or the other is egregious and dangerous.  In the old testament we often see God angry with the humans He created as they chose, repeatedly, to live outside of the laws He set for them.  Like many people today, I’m sure the Israelites saw the laws as limiting, stifling and there as a form of control…a way to keep them from living the way THEY wanted and preventing them from having “fun”.   This is a wrong view of God…and His laws.  Any good and loving parent sets rules and boundaries for their kids.  Not to ruin their fun, but to keep them safe and protected from various harm.  Sure, kids, especially teenagers, naturally buck against the rules and boundaries because they don’t understand that they are in place for THEIR benefit.  It’s no different with God.  His anger burned against people groups and nations who polluted the faith of the Israelites.  God was angry with people for messing with His kids!  Polluting their minds, pulling them away from safe boundaries into lawlessness, convincing them to chase after things that would harm their souls and leading them to worship worthless idols.  In turn, He became angry with His children, who kept choosing lawless and harmful ways opposed to His ways.  We get angry with our kids, too, when they make poor choices.  But we also love them enough to forgive them, correct them, and give them the freedom to make better choices in the future.  Jesus does the same for us.  Because of His shed blood, we reap the benefit of God’s forgiveness…though we don’t’ deserve it and didn’t/can’t do anything to earn it.  The Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us into truth as the perfect teacher.  Separating our triune God into only one aspect of His being, limits Him and misrepresents who He truly is, and can lead us to perpetuate false ideas of His character.

In our current love and grace saturated gospel, the fear of the Lord has all but vanished.  We have come to embrace a warm, touchy-feely, lovey-dovey Jesus…forgetting that the lamb is also a lion.  The New Testament makes it clear that there is still judgement to come, and that it begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17-18).  There is a high calling in our faith, and the cost is dying to self.  We are to be walking out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus warns us that few will find the path to Heaven!  That should be a sobering thought for all of us and should keep us consistently checking ourselves to make sure we are abiding in Him and not living for self, feeding our sinful nature, but putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13). There is far more to the Christian faith than just “accepting Jesus into our hearts” and believing He is Lord. Even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:!9)!   

I implore you to read the Word, to know the many facets of our God and to get into alignment with Him. The days are short, and evil is ramping up.  Do not be deceived in this hour!  Fearing the Lord does not mean to be scared of Him, but to respect His authority and to recognize Him as King over all.  Jesus IS a lamb, that was led to slaughter, as payment for our sins.  But He is also the Lion of Judah and a mighty warrior!  We MUST return to a healthy fear of the Lord, grateful for His love and grace, but remembering that He is still a God of justice and judgement is yet to come.

Spiritual Malnutrition ~ 12/2/18

There is an alarming trend occurring, according to a 2017 Barna poll, indicating a decline in not only Bible reading, but also in believing it to be either the literal or inspired word of God.  At the time of the poll, only 20% of people polled believed the Bible to be the literal or inspired word of God and read, used, listened to the Bible 4 times a week or more.  The percentage of pollsters who believe the same, but engaged with the Bible less than 4 times a week was a mere 38%.  If we were looking at a cross-section of the general American public, this may not seem so bad…may even look promising.  However, Barna Group’s demographic is Christians and Christian churches.  So, why are so few Christians reading their Bibles?  And what exactly are the implications of this, individually, corporately and culturally?

In our consumer-driven, social-media-addicted society, we have become extremely accustomed to quick, small bits of information being spoon-fed to us in rapid succession.  There is no time to chew on and swallow a bite before the next one comes.  Also in 2017, digital marketing analysts estimated that most Americans are being exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day!  It’s a fair assumption…given that the goal of advertising is to entice you to purchase things you likely don’t need…that the vast majority of these messages are for worldly things that have little to no spiritual, or lasting value.  But this isn’t limited to just advertising.  We also get snippets of news, 140 word tweets, Facebook memes, Instagram photos, snapchats, etc.

In response to his first temptation from satan (Matt. 4:3-4) Jesus said that we cannot live on bread (physical food) alone, but also on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  In other words, we should be feasting on the Word!  The way Jesus repeatedly defeated satan in the wilderness was by quoting scripture.  With every rebuke, He said “it is written”.  How in the world are we going to effectively overcome this same adversary if we don’t know what the Word says?  How will we know what to watch for in these last days?  How will we know how to live lives pleasing to Him?  How will we learn to spot the lies of the enemy, and renew our minds, if we aren’t aware of the truths contained in the pages of the Bible? How will we combat the overwhelming messages of this world?  We desperately need daily consumption of His word and not just quick snippets up on a church screen once or twice a week!  Matthew 24:24 says that in the last days MANY will be led astray, if possible, even the elect!  We are in a very critical time of needing to know what is written as it always relevant (Luke 16:16-17) and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  The word is our offensive weapon that we take up after we have put on the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17).

Hebrews 4:12 (NASB) – For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We have a very real enemy who is seeking to devour anyone he can.  We must be able to defend ourselves with the truth of God’s word!  Read the word, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, hide it in your heart so you will have it when you need it.  Let the voice of God be louder than the messages of the world. Luke 6:45 says “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.  What are we going to choose to fill our hearts with?  Will we choose to fill up on all the junk food the world offers us, or will we choose to eat the Bread of Life?

Gates & Walls of Our Hearts ~ 11/15/18

We are instructed in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts with all diligence because ALL the issues of life flow from it.  This has always been a bit of tricky passage for me to understand how exactly we execute that.  Until today.

I was discussing with someone very close to me, all the ways that we individually, and corporately as the body of Christ, have compromised in seemingly small, innocuous ways.  The church has become far, far too entrenched in the culture of the world.  The church was supposed to CHANGE the culture, not blend in with it.  When the Jews were captive in Babylon, many adapted to the culture.  When they were FREE to go, many, many chose to stay because they became enamored with the culture….the very one that captured them to begin with!  They came into alignment with the very darkness they were instructed, by God, to avoid!  In the same way, Christ came to set us free and yet we choose to stay in the place(s) of our captivity.  This should not be so.

Song of Solomon 2:15 (a love story, by the way) tells us that it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine.   Let’s unpack that, at the most basic level, for a minute.  Vines are found in vineyards.  Vineyards produce wine.  Grapes are the fruit of the vine.  John 15:8 tells us that we show ourselves to be (His) disciples, and bring the Father glory, when we bear much fruit.  We can bear much fruit and be doing all the good, “Christian duties” that make us feel clean and accepted in God’s eyes, but if we are consistently allowing the “little foxes” to steal the fruit and kill the vines, then really what we produce is useless and will be thrown into the fire (See Matt. 7:19).  We have gained absolutely nothing and have become utterly useless to the Master of the vineyard.  USELESS.  Let that sink in….

A wise winemaker, who wishes to have the best wine, produced from the best fruit of his vines, will do what it takes to protect the fruit.  But here is the thing, there are a lot of predators who desire to eat/destroy the fruit.  Some can climb fences, some are birds and they can just fly in and eat.  Some are small enough to breech even the smallest of spaces…insects, mold and fungus.  So, needless to say, protecting the fruit is an ongoing challenge and one that has be addressed on all sides, from above and from below.  This requires fencing, netting, pesticides and above all….vigilance!

The same is true of our hearts.  They MUST be guarded on all sides because we have a very real and crafty enemy who will take advantage of any little opening to get in.  Of course we know that his mission is to steal, kill and destroy, so we must always be vigilant!  How do we do that?  Well, the same way the vine master does.  We remain cognizant of the dangers and keep from letting our guard down.  In addition to protective measures we take to guard our fruit by, we must also mind the gates.  There would be no point in building fencing, putting up netting and spraying pesticides if we get careless with the gates for going in and going out.  Our hearts are the vineyard and our bodies have gates.

We have ear gates, eye gates and a mouth gate.  If we are to guard our hearts with all diligence, then we have to watch what we allow to come into our ear and eye gates and also what comes out of our mouth gate.  The little compromises we make with what we watch/look at, listen to and say, may seem small and insignificant, but over time they can, and will, cause much damage if left unchecked.  Everything going in and out of the gates is processed by our minds, often without us being consciously aware of the processing.   Satan counts on this “automatic/autopilot” processing so that we keep our guard down and give him easier access.  This is precisely why we are instructed to renew our minds, and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.  We need to be good gatekeepers and not lax about what goes in and out.

Take a good, hard look around the vineyard of your heart and ask the Lord to show you its current condition.  It’s okay if it’s a mess right now.  You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.  Once you identify the breeches, shore them up (stop the bleeding in other words).  Build the fences and put your gates in order.  Recognize the “pests” who have invaded and kick them out so they cannot cause any more damage!  Then tend to the damage that has already been done.  Heal what needs to be healed.  Fertilize the soil to replenish the nutrients.  Cut off all the dead branches that are incapable of bearing fruit.  Allow the Vine Master to work.  He will help you with this process, every step of the way.  Remember that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).