That’s Heresy!!!

What is Heresy and why does it matter?

We live in a pluralistic society that is tending toward influencing Christianity to be diluted in various ways. We are seeing a watered down doctrine that seems eager to please and not eager to offend. Within Christianity we see diverging views on issues of doctrine and morality. Issues like this have been around since the beginning of the Church, but there seems to be a surge in accommodation to the world and the Church needs to examine itself lest it continue to fall deeper and deeper (into a burning ring of fire – joke!) into heresy until it no longer can claim itself to be Christian! It’s not that we are supposed to be offensive as Christians, but the gospel itself can be offensive to those who do not like it.

The Apostle Paul talks in his letter to the Galatians about those who are teaching a different gospel. Then he clarifies that a different gospel is actually no gospel at all but rather a distortion of the gospel (see Galatians 1:6-10). Within Christianity we can and do disagree on a lot of things (Eschatology, Ecclesiology, current use of sign gifts, doctrine of heaven and hell, what election means, etc.). Heresy, however, is really concerned with the core doctrine of salvation (redemption) through Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ. There is no room for plurality or in-house debate on this topic. To disagree with this is to move outside the pale of Christianity. This is the heart of the orthodoxy vs. heresy contrast.

For someone to be Christian, they must have an understanding of God, Christ, and humanity that affirms the principle of redemption through Christ! The early church affirms this by declaring there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved (Acts 4)! Now, here is the interesting part. Disbelieving in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not heresy. That is simply unbelief. Heresy is believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior but then perverting into something less or different that is inconsistent and/or inadequate. If you take away any of the tenants of the gospel to accommodate some kind of tolerance or universalism, you rob the gospel of essential ingredients. For example, Christ had to be human to be a mediator and sacrifice for us yet he could not have been merely human to qualify for the perfect sacrifice. There is no one else that will fit the bill! Only Christ! Any line of argument that allows for multiple pathways to God fails to understand the necessity of salvation in Christ and Christ alone. Without going into too much detail, it is very important (vital) for us to understand that our belief in Christ as God and man, and our need as sinners to have a redeemer (Christ and Christ alone) is fundamental to our faith and cannot be compromised.

All that to conclude with this. I intentionally refrained from using a lot of scripture for this blog post. I want you to see the logic of my point. The point is not whether or not Christianity is true. The point is that one cannot profess the truth of Christianity and then at the same time go along with or allow for any other kind of gospel. If there is any other way to heaven except through Christ then we no longer have the gospel. You cannot declare something to be the only way and then at the same time affirm other ways! You cannot change the gospel just because so many people want to walk a different path. Remember, Christ informed us that there would be many who take a different path and only a few who take the path of Christ. To allow for any type of pluralism is not helping the many at all – it is sending them on their merry way down the broad path…that leads to destruction. Let us love others enough to stand firm in our message of the gospel that they might hear it and receive it. Can I get an Amen?

Pointing To the Existence of God

Christians (followers of Christ) obviously believe in God. In Christian theology, Christ is God! In modern American history, there seems to have been a shift from defending Christianity to defending the very existence of God! Apologetics (defense of a religious doctrine), more so than ever, has to back up from a common ground of belief in God to a defense of a creator. For example, it is hard to argue for a biblical view of abortion when debaters do not believe the Bible was inspired by God or that God even exists! Our Christian worldview regarding the value of all life from conception falls on deaf ears of those who do not even share the foundational beliefs from which our assertions build upon.

So, while I believe no one will ever be argued into a belief in Christ (it is a supernatural calling), it is important to defend a Christian worldview if for no other reason than to promote ideology that is good for society (now, and for future generations – my kids and their kids and so on!). Christians believe that living life according to Christian values promotes a better world to live in (God knows what He is doing, right?)

In line with that, I now turn to some very important pointers toward the existence of God penned by Thomas Aquinas. These are not proofs in the scientific sense, nor do they need to be. However, they do meet logical observation criteria that falls within the realm of scientific study. We observe something and make assertions. When assertions seem to indicate one thing over the other, then it is logical to tend toward those indications (i.e. belief in God). Aquinas gave five pointers that I will shorten into a few major observations.

The first cause argument – As we look around us, we see things in motion and changing. We all know from observable deduction that things do not move unless something gives a push. So, why aren’t things static? Why is there movement in the world at all? Logically, something had to be the first pusher. While some try to argue an infinite number of causes, honesty would admit infinite pushers as preposterous. The origin of all causality is God! Aquinas used a couple of other arguments that I believe can be lumped under this same category. All of the effects we see in the world had to have a cause (God) and the existence of contingent beings (humans, for example) need an explanation (God).

Human Values – Aquinas noted that human values such as honesty, loyalty, and goodness must come from an actuality of those traits. In recent times, many critics have argued that these traits have come about due to the process of evolution and their practicality in preserving life. I say nice try. From a purely logical perspective, it is obvious that the human value system transcends any natural explanation. We tend to think being honest is a good thing because it is (Godly standard), not because it works best over time.

Design – Aquinas asserted that a design must have a designer. If something looks like it was designed then something (God) had to design it. We can easily understand this as we look at something intricately made such as a watch or a cellphone or a building (really, almost anything we can think of made by human hands is obviously made and not naturally formed through any process of coincidence). We can apply this same principle to all the many intricate things we see in the world not made by human hands – the earth, an eye, the solar system, etc. Some non-believers contend in various ways that over a long period of time these things can (and did) form naturally. It seems to me one would have to really want that to be the case to assert it because it is not the most logical conclusion by a long shot!

Actually, all the points Aquinas made can really be boiled down to one thing – existence (the world) and everything in it (design, values, motion) had to have a cause! This is really a rock solid argument for the existence of God that is rejected only because acceptance would be acceptance of God. Ok – now to scripture because all this was set forth in God’s word way before Aquinas said it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:18-21)
So, it would seem that those who do not believe, choose not to believe. Not because of a lack of evidence but because of a lack of Godliness. Rather than cater to an unbelieving world by compromising our biblical beliefs, we must pray for the world and uphold truth – for the glory of God!

 

When does All Mean All?

I was conversing with a great friend and the topic of discussion sort of progressed (or digressed) into theological thoughts on Israel as a special people, and what that means for them today and during end times. Some hold that Israel has a special place and some hold that it is now the Church that has a special place, etc. (Yes, believe it or not, some people may disagree with your stance!). We began to go through an exchange on our viewpoints where it became clear that we agreed on some things and not on others, so, like any good Christian, we moved into the realm of theological debate! He would throw a punch and I would throw a punch all in the name of “iron sharpening iron!”

In order to keep this short, I won’t go into all the details, but we got around to the passage where Paul is talking about all of Israel being saved in Romans 11:26. As we discussed this, I made it clear that I was not dogmatic about a lot of the end times stuff because it was not an easy issue. At that point, he indicated that it might be because I try to make simple things complicated and that I should just take what God’s word says at face value and that I might be scared of the truth so I run from it – well! (he was referring to Calvinism, which, by the way, I don’t even think Calvin was a Calvinist!)

All of this was because we were debating what “all’ meant. He contended verse 26 is indicating that every single Israelite will be saved because it says “all” (I refrained from asking him if he meant all of Israel that will be alive at that time or all of Israel of all time – I decided to leave that for another day). I responded that ‘all’ didn’t necessarily mean every single person but rather that the nation as a whole will become a believing nation. He shoots back with ‘all’ means ‘all’ – period.

At that point I realized he was accusing me of making scripture say what I want it to say so I decided to give him a dose of his own medicine. I brought up some previous discussions we had regarding the topic of Calvinism and predestination. We had, on several occasions, debated what “all” means in the passage where Paul said that our Savior wants all people to be saved…(1 Tim 2:4). (This would also include passages such as John 3:16 where Christ himself said that because God so loved the world, He sent His Son to die for them. People often debate whether or not “world” means everyone or just the elect).

After bringing up those passages, I pointed out that in one instance he wanted to take the simple face value that ‘all’ means ‘all’ but in the other instance he did not want to take the simple face value that ‘all’ means ‘all’ – I was perplexed! He said it couldn’t mean ‘all’ in that context and then went on to explain how his theology of election would not allow for it primarily because that would make God a failure.

Now, what I took away from all that was that ‘all’ only means ‘all’ when it fits with a preconceived theology and all does not mean all when it doesn’t. I know many of you out there reading this are chomping at the bit to give your side of the debate on why I am wrong and my friend is right or vice versa on the issues of predestination or Israel, but the point is not about which theological framework is right. The point of this whole blog post is to point out how important it is to not let preconceived ideas determine what scripture means. This is very important! Does ‘all’ mean every person? it depends! It depends on context, the point the author is trying to make, how it fits with other passages, whether or not the translators used the right word, and other factors. We can’t just go by what we grew up with or what we have been taught (even in seminary if applicable), and, whether we like it or not, there needs to be a certain amount of humility when it concerns passages that seem hard to understand (I have heard some people teach that the Holy Spirit will guide into the truth of those hard passages if you allow Him to – well, if that were the case then we would have solved the meanings of all the hard passages a long time ago because many sound men of God have diligently tried to discern the truth of difficult passages with the help of the Holy Spirit over that past 2,000 years and many still disagree!)

When does ‘all’ mean ‘all’? When we want it to! Same for any other word or doctrine, etc. So, let this give all of us pause in our study and teaching of the word. As we study and teach, let us all make sure to give due diligence and be willing to question our own pre-conceived notions. If you do, then you will come to a realization that I am right about Israel and the elect – just kidding! (maybe)

A Verb Producing Verb – Love

“I love you.” Just think of how many lives have been turned around over those three words. Those three words are a big deal! Remember being on pins and needles when you said it to your spouse for the first time, hoping to hear it said back to you? “I love you” is certainly the primary way to express verbal love to someone we care about – a mother to her children, a husband to a wife, or friend to friend (however, when it is two guy friends the correct terminology is “love ya, man!”). But…true love is not expressed verbally…at least not only verbally. There is an emptiness to those three words if they are never followed up with supporting actions. The other side of those three words never followed up with action can be a devastating black hole of despair. We can feel cheated, betrayed, and hopeless. (I have seen this in pastoral counseling with couples, especially wives, who heard “I love you” but then experienced “I hate you and I use you.”)

Love defined – “1) Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties 2) Attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers 3) Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

The above definitions hit on relationships that tend to spark love (family, lovers, friends, mentors, etc.) and the feelings associated with it, but not the verbs that actually demonstrate it is anything more than words – care, help, loyalty, faithfulness, sacrifice, etc. We say that a picture is worth a thousand words. The Apostle Paul said he would show his faith by his actions. “The proof is in the pudding.” In other words the test of whether or not the pudding is any good is only known when the pudding is eaten! Same with love – love is shown over time when it is demonstrated through acts of love and an attitude of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Jesus said to his followers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) It would be preposterous to suggest that Jesus meant that everyone would know we are His disciples if we verbalize our love for each other – no, everyone will know as they see our actions that prove our love for each other.

Paul said, “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” He said that right after he said that the commandments against adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, and any other similar commandments can all be summed up as, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8-10)

So, next time you say “I love you”, make sure you are bearing that statement out in your actions.

  • Don’t tell your wife you love her and then cheat on her or never spend any time with her.
  • Don’t tell your kids you love them and then never give them any attention.
  • Don’t say you love people and then never help someone in need.
  • Don’t say you love the Lord and then not obey His commandments.

True love has words and feelings associated with it, but if love only has words and feelings then it’s not true love at all (or maybe just true love of self). True love for others compels us into actions that demonstrate our love. Love is a verb that produces verbs that show we mean it.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Let us love each other as he has loved us.

Old vs. New Music in Church

Had a conversation recently with someone over the topic of worship music in church. Some Christians believe that any modern day types of worship styles are not acceptable and are part of the church becoming more and more worldly. The people who have this view usually associate anything contemporary with such things as heresy, moving away from God’s word, taking on the world’s ways, having the wrong focus, etc. etc. While I am sure those accusations are true for some people in some circles, it certainly doesn’t ring true across the board. Rather than try to go into detail about this myself, I have decided to post an article I came across that hit on the major points very well. Tom Kraeuter is giving a rebuttal to the points made in Dan Lucarini’s book, “Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement.” While you may be on one side or the other concerning this issue, the article has some good points for both sides. Feel free to reply with your thoughts on this one – I am curious.

The following is “Reprinted by permission of Training Resources, Inc., 65 Shepherd’s Way, Hillsboro, MO 63050, http://www.training-resources.org”

Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement — a rebuttal

by Tom Kraeuter

Former worship leader Dan Lucarini has written a book, Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, that has become quite popular. Because several people have asked for my thoughts on the book, I decided I should read it.

I’ll have to admit I was not nearly as put off by this book as I thought I might be. Having sat face to face with numerous opponents of contemporary music all over North America, I thought this would be just one more snarling adversary. I was wrong. I appreciated Mr. Lucarini’s heart attitude throughout most of the book. He rarely seemed vindictive and certainly not mean-spirited. He is, however, misguided.

Honestly, much of the book is not about music or musical styles. It is more about guilt by association. Because many churches who utilize contemporary music also do certain other things (as varied as a lack of emphasis on sanctification to gyrations and immodest attire of musicians) that are inappropriate, then the music style is wrong. Although I would agree with some of his assessments about other issues, how those things can be directly linked to music styles escapes me. I’ve encountered sexual improprieties taking place in churches where only pipe organs are used and Southern Gospel musicians dressed in ways that would make most senior citizens blush. However, these are separate issues and should be discussed separately.

Abuses will always occur in nearly any area. They should not shock us. We should, as the Apostle Paul did, patiently teach and instruct in the ways of God. This does not mean we ignore wrongdoing or sin. We should not, however, throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We also must not associate the inappropriate behavior with the area of ministry. Because a pastor acts like a jerk does not mean we discard the pastoral ministry. Because a worship musician acts like a jerk does not mean we stop using music or even a certain style of music.

Although Lucarini tries to make a connection between these peripheral issues and music styles, it reminds me of the evolutionist’s missing link. There is a piece of the puzzle that seems to be lacking. You can’t find it because it’s not there.

The author’s main argument against contemporary musical styles is that those styles are somehow associated with sin. Although he clearly had some situations in his life that would lead him to that conclusion on a personal level, he takes it further and superimposes his difficulties with contemporary music onto everyone else. He says, “I had to admit that I too was deceived by my own lusts and selfishness.” [pg. 46] Further, he refers to himself as “a person who was full of pride in the area of music ministry.” [pg 47] His shortcomings are then transferred to anyone and everyone else involved in contemporary music. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common but erroneous occurrence today in Christianity: someone realizes their own error and then assumes that everyone else must be guilty of the same.

His use of Scripture to “prove” how wrong it is to use contemporary music is sad. A person could use nearly any of the same passages to vilify practically anything new or different.

Near the middle of the book, Lucarini is apologizing to those who hold to a more traditional view of church music. He says, “We… portrayed our new music as evidence of greater spiritual awareness on our part, and made you appear, and perhaps feel, out of touch and out of date.” If he did that, he should apologize. However, that does not make it a universal, all-encompassing fact for everyone involved in contemporary music. Those who act like that need to repent. However, again, this is far more a heart issue than a music issue.

Lucarini frequently uses words and phrases that play well to his intended audience. “It is important to note that David chose Levites… Leading worship in the Old Testament was not something allowed for just any musician, nor would they use just any music.” [pg. 94] The part about the musicians is biblical; you can prove that from a scriptural perspective. However, the statement about music seems to be missing from my Bible. Of course it is only inserted to imply that proponents of contemporary music would use “just any music.” This is a blatant misrepresentation. Of course there may be some people who would use just any music. But that is heart and character issue and it has nothing to do with musical style.

At one point, the author is endeavoring to destroy the notion that music is amoral. He says, “No one actually plays or sings generic or neutral music in a service.” [pg. 90] I would agree with him. Every performance of any song will be affected by the performer. However, just because a performer can taint a particular song does not mean they can taint a style of music. To even suggest such a possibility is a gigantic leap in logic that cannot be substantiated.

At one point Lucarini is discussing a possible connection between the sinful beginnings of classical music (a style that he says is perfectly acceptable), a connection that proponents of contemporary music styles apparently like to point out. He says this, “…classical music today is so far removed from any of the supposed immorality of the original composers or performers, that no one can honestly claim it is generally and closely associated with evil.” [pg. 97] If you follow the logic in that statement, then as long as enough time has gone by, the sinfulness is no longer an issue. That’s a wrong assumption, a shaky foundation on which to build a case. According to the Word of God, the only thing that eradicates sin is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Neither time nor distance makes any difference. So if the style of music was sinful at its inception, then it is still sinful now. No amount of time will change that. The truth is, though, that there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that a certain style of music is inherently sinful.

One of his main arguments throughout the book is that we must choose a style of music that will not be offensive to people [see pages 84, 87 and 97 among others] based on Romans 14:21. However, for someone to declare how far each church carries that non-offense clause is going beyond Scripture. What if someone is offended by the color of our carpet? What if they don’t like the fact that we use wine for communion? What if they are offended by the message of repentance? There are some issues from Scripture that inherently will give offense. Additionally, every person has the potential of being offended by something we do. Not offending is clearly not the simple issue that Lucarini would like it to be.

He says that because contemporary music “has a sensual beat, is closely associated with worldly lifestyles, or splits churches” [pg 108], then it will cause people to stumble. Let’s look at these three arguments individually.

Sensual beat. J.S. Bach was once nearly removed from his position in his church because people thought his rhythms and harmonies were too sensual. Bach! What societies consider to be “sensual” changes dramatically and quickly and can vary greatly from one individual to another.

Worldly lifestyles. Every music that was ever current was associated with worldly lifestyles. We live in a fallen world and anything, music or otherwise, that is considered “in vogue” has the potential of being associated with a worldly lifestyle. If we as the Church must use music that is clearly outdated, then why should we not force our people to speak in old English? Or wear outdated clothing or hair styles? Exactly where should we draw the line? Scripture does not give us the exact place so we cannot draw that line for one another either. If the author wants to refuse to use a certain style of music, that’s fine. For him to tell everyone else not to use it, though, goes beyond Scripture.

Splits churches. I’ve encountered churches where the choice of Sunday School curriculum (or the lack of a Sunday School program at all) has split churches. Do we cease having Sunday School? Many churches have been split because of the pastor’s preaching style. Do we cut sermons from our services? Clearly, none of these three arguments have any honest validity.

Late in the book, Lucarini talks about what a typical service should look like [pg. 127] if it is done correctly (from his perspective). Among the things you would see and hear:

  • A grand piano and an organ
  • An orchestra with strings, brass and woodwinds
  • An enthusiastic, well-rehearsed choir
  • Soloists who sing with live accompanists

First, let me dare to declare that there is no scriptural basis for the use of a piano or an organ. This does not mean that using them is wrong. It does mean that for Lucarini to declare that they are essential is wrong. Second, the average church in America is attended by fewer than 100 people. A church of that size simply cannot support Lucarini’s ideal. They have neither the financial resources nor the personnel to make this list a reality.

In the same section, he also suggests that lyrics without “real music” should never be projected onto a screen. Why not? Scored music—especially music available to average people—is a relatively new phenomenon. If having scored music available for attenders is mandatory, then for thousands of years God’s people did it wrong. For centuries of Christendom and for centuries before in Jewish history, songs were learned by ear. Why is that suddenly a bad idea? At least we offer the words in plain view. That’s one less thing they need to work at memorizing.

Near the end of the book Lucarini offers a chart [pg. 120] contrasting the way Traditionals do things with the way that Contemporaries do them. Of course the idea is to show how much superior the Traditional way is compared with the Contemporary. One point made me laugh out loud. The question is asked, “What is the primary motive in selecting music?” The answer he gives for Contemporaries is, “Do the people like it?” The answer for the Traditionals is, “Does God like it?” Wow! This was a real revelation to me. Someone has enough of a hotline to God to know which is His preferred style of music. That’s amazing!

In the same chart was a comparison that shows a basic misunderstanding of why the people of God worship. The question is asked, “What is the primary purpose of the worship service?” The answer for Traditionals: “To prepare hearts for the preaching.” The Contemporary answer (according to Lucarini) is, “To usher people into the presence of God.” There is no way to go into the details here because of lack of space, but both answers miss a biblical understanding. Look at worship in the book of Revelation. It is not to prepare for the preaching. Worship is to honor and glorify God. Yes, it can prepare hearts for the preaching and it can usher people into the presence of God, but if either of those is your main emphasis you’ve fallen way short of God’s best. True biblical worship is to honor and glorify God because He alone is worthy.

Though I fear that this rebuttal has only skimmed the surface of this book, I hope you’ve gotten the point by now. Throughout the book Lucarini offers some worthwhile warnings to those involved in contemporary music in the Church: be careful with performance issues, heart attitudes and keeping the focus in the right place. Anyone using any style of music in church would do well to heed his advice on these issues. However, although his heart seems right throughout most of the book, his thoughts on music and musical styles have been very tainted by his own experiences. This is a book that would have better served the Church by not being published.

Lifter of My Head

Do you ever feel like the enemy is winning? Maybe you feel defeated at work or at home. As we go through life, sometimes it may seem the enemy has the victory. I think many Christians today in America are feeling a sense of trepidation in that it seems as though Christianity is being attacked! There is no doubt in my mind that it definitely is! However, we can take advice from a very important king from the past. There were many times in his life where he felt the pressures of the enemy – from outside the camp and inside the camp. But, ultimately he had a secret weapon that sustained him. He wrote about it in a Psalm:

King David said, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!” (Psalm 3 ESV)

The secret weapon? Trust in God’s promises of salvation! David had plenty of enemies, including his own people! He was seen by others at that time as someone who had lost God’s favor. But David reminded himself that God was faithful and would sustain him. He knew that God had made him king and would follow through. It is the same for us as believers. We have the promises of God – salvation, victory, power, peace, and all that belongs to a child of God.

He is our shield – a protection against the weapons of the enemy. Though they attack, they will miss their mark. We are protected.

He is our glory – We need no glory from the world around us because we have it all in Him. Pleasing Him is enough. Receiving His favor is all that matters.

He is the lifter of our heads  – we are not defeated. We will not bow to our enemies. In him, we have the status of a proud victor receiving the spoils of war! No shame. No defeat.

Helen Keller said, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” The Bible tells us that through God we are overcomers! “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4 ESV) “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 ESV)

Be encouraged if you are feeling defeated. It’s ok to feel that way sometimes, but don’t let it take control. Many times, the psalmist laments the difficult situation but then takes comfort in God’s protection. Paul said, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” (2 Cor. 4:8 ESV)

Our heavenly Father understands our disappointment, suffering, pain, fear, and doubt. He is always there to encourage our hearts and help us understand that He’s sufficient for all of our needs. When I accepted this as an absolute truth in my life, I found that my worrying stopped.” (Charles Stanley)

We win…Glory, Hallelujah…we win.

How to Avoid Fighting and Murder

Would you be surprised to find in scripture where a man of God is rebuking the church for wrong motives, fighting, and even murder? Well, be surprised! It really is an interesting journey to read through the New Testament Epistles focusing on all the sinfulness that is rebuked within the Church! But, it is a clear reminder to all of us that we must continually walk in the Spirit and never let our guard down when it comes to living the Christian life. Fortunately, when God’s word rebukes us He also gives us the solution. There is a way for the Christian to avoid fighting and murder – humility!

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels” (Saint Augustine)

The opposite of humility is pride and we see this working havoc all the way back in the beginning when a host of angels led by their leader, Satan, defied God almighty and decided that life should be about themselves. That is the attitude that sends us spiraling down, down, down into the depths of very bad behavior. We want what we want! We want what others have! We want more! We want it to be about us!

The Apostle James deals with this topic in James 4:1-10. He goes on to inform us that the intended recipients were envious over what they did not have. And…when they asked God for things it was out of self-serving, pleasure seeking motives! “Lord, Give me, Give me, and Give Me”! (Check your prayer life by observing how much of your prayer time is spent on requests for you!)

While our selfishness may not lead to murder (it does for some), it can lead to some nasty behavior and we all struggle with it to a certain extent in our daily lives. It affects our family relationships, our work relationships, our outlook on life, even our ministry! Any time we focus on getting our way to the neglect of putting others above ourselves, we are in the arena of pride, and humility is out of town on vacation. When we must win the argument or are determined to have it our way or just determined to have it, we are treading on thin ice that will eventually give way to the chill of darker waters.

But there is hope! Chapter 4:7 – Submit to God and resist the devil, 4:8 – Draw near to God and repent, 4:9 Realize the seriousness of the problem, and 4:10 Humble yourself! This is an ongoing challenge for Christians and we need to walk in the Spirit of God’s Strength to have victory.

Humility tends to be seen in our culture today as a weakness. But, the Bible praises it as a strength! “When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom…before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Prov. 11:2, 18:12).

C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Humility is not thinking you are inferior to others or that you are less deserving. It is deciding to make a sacrifice! It is deciding to care more about the needs of those around you than about your own needs. This reminds me of someone…who could it be? Oh yea, our Lord and Savior!

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…He humbled himself be becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8).

A simple change of heart and mind can change everything! Who am I doing this for? Who will this benefit? Rule of thumb – please God first, others second, and then yourself. Having this kind of humility doesn’t mean we can never have anything for ourselves (Phil. 2:4 says not to look out merely for your own personal interest, but also the interest of others. Whew! At least I do get to have something for me also!). But, it does mean we will less often want it to be about us.

Treasures on Earth

As we start a new year, I thought it would be good to remind us all the biblical caution against materialism and all that comes with the love of money. This topic is very relevant to our lives today as I observe families struggle in life due to financial hardships. Sometimes life throws us a curveball and we experience financial hardships due to something we had no control over. But, most often, financial stress comes from our own poor choices with money and lifestyle.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21 NASB).

The real issue here is your focus. What are you focused on? I think many Christians tend to think of this passage and other teachings on money as a reference to the difference between the rich and the poor. Not so. Money itself is not evil and plenty of rich people do great things with their money. Actually, the people I see struggle the most are the people who are not rich but want to live as if they are.

In some ways, we all struggle with this as we engage in American affluent culture. Media, movies, the internet, and many other sources constantly bombard us with temptations to have things we can’t afford. On top of that, marketing strategies tend to convince us that we can have whatever we want on credit! So, many American families fall into the trap of living life beyond their means. As a result, there is constant tension between income and expenses. Life is difficult and stressful simply because we spend way too much money!

Paul said, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil 4:12 NASB).

I think Paul shows us the secret here – his focus was not on earthly treasures but on heavenly treasures! He spent his thoughts and actions working on more important things than shopping, upgrading, accumulating, trending, or keeping up with the Joneses. Those kinds of things will wear you out and there is no pay off – it is a chasing after the wind as Solomon said (Ecclesiastes).

So, to the extent we can shift our focus to more heavenly things, we will be less tempted to get caught up in pursuing earthly things. [On a side note, have you noticed how everyone starts all their sentences with “so” now? It’s almost as bad as how everyone responds with “absolutely” to almost everything]. Shifting our focus will be life changing! There are so many good things to focus on – relationships, exercise, helping others, making a difference, rest and relaxation, learning, and the list goes on of all the wonderful things we can engage in individually and as a family that will not put us to our limits financially.

It’s not about how much money you make or have – rather, it is about what you do with it. I see plenty of people making lots of money up to their eyeballs in debt because they drive expensive cars and live in big houses and buy lots of stuff! Imagine how much better it would be to have a smaller house, less expensive cars, and no debt! Freedom! I see families on a small budget with no financial worries because they live within their means and do not have materialism as a priority – awesome! And many times, those people are the most giving!

There is nothing wrong with trying to better yourself, or saving for retirement, or working hard for a promotion. The Bible even tells us to work and plan ahead, and rebukes those who want a free ride. But, after Jesus cautions against storing up treasures on earth, He goes on to encourage us not to worry about our lives and our needs. He tells us we should put our focus on His kingdom and His righteousness. Those were words of encouragement to people who had nothing – who struggled day to day with food, clothing, and shelter. How much more should we who have plenty be full of joy and rejoicing, content, and helping others in need! Let’s not rob ourselves of living triumphantly due to our own misguided strivings for material things. It’s not worth it.

“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” (Edmund Burke)

Local Church Debt – Biblical?

If you have studied any resources on personal finance, then you should know that getting out of debt is one of the major goals for getting to a healthy place financially. While most experts will allow for a home mortgage within safe budgetary limits, generally it is taught that debt is a dangerous path that results from living beyond our means. But…what about the local church? Do the same principles apply?

While there is not necessarily a simple blanket answer to that question for all local churches in all situations, there are some principles to apply that paint a very clear picture for using great caution when it comes to local church debt. Frankly, the push from leadership for going into debt has a tendency to spring from worldly rather than spiritual motivations. The following is not a detailed discourse but simply some points to prompt your thinking.

First, some biblical principles to apply:

  1. Biblical teaching against debt – Actually, contrary to what many Christians believe, the bible does not condemn all debt. There are several passages that teach us to pay what we owe and for lenders not to take advantage, both of which assume debt. However, the idea behind the debt seems to apply to those who are in need of debt in order to get by. Debt, in this sense, would not be for getting ahead or for anything other than basic life needs.
  2. Biblical teaching against presumption – the bigger issue is presuming upon our future, which God clearly instructs us not to do. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1). James tells us in 4:13ff not to say this or that will happen because we don’t know the future. To do so, is boasting and arrogant.
  3. Local church purpose – What is the local church? Basically, it is simply the gathering together of a local body of believers! So then, what is the purpose for a local body of believers to gather together? Without going into great detail, we could certainly list these purposes: encouraging one another, loving one another, corporate worship and prayer, discipleship and teaching. All of these purposes are concerning those who already believe and follow Christ. The modern day American church movement seems to focus on being a draw for everyone – believers and non-believers. To facilitate this, churches will allocate a lot of funding to creating a great environment, experiences, and fun (all of this is usually the catalyst for a church deciding to go into debt). This high expense way of doing church leads to the next point.
  4. Only God saves – Somewhere along the way, it seems that church leaders have decided to help God save people. Rather than depend on the word of God and His convicting power, we have decided to help out by making church fun, tapping into emotions, delivering “motivational speaker” type sermons, and other methods to elicit a response (on a side note, this leads to gathering together a local church full of people who are not really in it for the right reasons which also tends to be the same people who don’t like to give, which then makes the need for funds even more critical and precarious because the church is supporting a large amount of people through the giving of a small amount of people!).
  5. The Great Commission – As we study the Bible, especially the New Testament it becomes clear that local churches all have a mission to reach the lost. It seems that in the modern era, churches have put the focus on reaching the lost inside the church walls. This is especially apparent when we see that so much of the preaching and teaching time, in evangelical churches especially, is geared toward evangelism and reaching the lost. So, believers spend an inordinate amount of their learning time hearing about how to become a believer when all the lost people are outside the walls of the church! However, many times, most of the funding brought into the church through giving is needed for “inside the walls” expenses and not much is left for the Great Commission locally or abroad.

Now, I know that many church leaders might argue against one or more of the above points, but taken together they at least paint a picture of caution when it comes to deciding on going into debt as a local church. [The self-serving motivations (status and resume building) that pastors must deal with when it comes to leading a congregation down a path that is supposedly “following God’s will” will be saved for a future blog]

The most painful part of going into debt as a local church is the constant pressure to meet financial obligations! It carries with it all the same negative consequences of personal debt including the stresses and strains of always being worried about finances. Actually, most of the congregation probably doesn’t even worry. They just enjoy what the money was spent on while a select few pull their hair out trying to keep the church going. All of this robs church leadership of being able to focus on the right things. Everything becomes about giving! I have seen it over and over again. The pastor has to focus on encouraging the church to give almost constantly and the church tends to grow weary of always hearing about it (which can lead to giving even less). All of this because the church wanted money it did not have to do things it did not need to do or even should not do!

While I touched on several theological considerations for the modern local church to chew on, the main emphasis is to encourage the local church not to get caught into the trap of prevalent thinking (debt) that will put you in a difficult situation. Many churches have closed doors over the issue of debt and I would also argue that many churches who have grown in numbers may not have grown spiritually (I would say many churches even decline spiritually as the focus is shifted in the wrong direction). We must remind ourselves that the local church is an awesome way for a local body of believers to support each other in living the Christian life. It is not a business nor an entity in and of itself. It is Christians loving each other, teaching and guiding one another, caring for one another, and raising up the next generation of Christ followers. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The early church set the example for us. No debt required.

In vs. Of – Resisting the World

I failed biology in 10th grade. Our teacher determined our grade for the year on two criteria. 50% of the grade was for the exams throughout the year and 50% of the grade was for the workbook. I scored in the 90s on all my exams. I thought I could get away with not doing the workbook – I was wrong. So, after having a year of fun dissecting frogs and such, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience summer school.

Attending summer school threw me into a whole different world. It was a twilight zone kind of thing. I found myself with people I didn’t know and most of them (not all) had a lifestyle much different than anything I had experienced. Drinking, drugs, cheating, fighting, cussing, sex and other vulgarities were the norm. I was not like them. You could say I was in summer school but I was not of summer school. I was a fish out of water for sure.

That is how the Bible describes what we as Christians should be like when it comes to living in the world. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2 NASB)

In this context, “The world” is not a geographical place but rather a system or way of life. It is in opposition to a Godly way of life. The biblical warning against conforming to the world assumes that we might be tempted in that way. This is part of the human struggle of living in a sinful world in a sinful body.

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

Notice the contrast in that passage: you can’t love the world and God at the same time. If you love the world, you don’t love the Father. If you love the Father, then you don’t love the world. Why? We must recognize that the stuff of the world is adversarial to God and His kingdom. We see here a very clear distinction: love of the world vs. love of the Father and the temporal nature of sin vs. the permanent nature of righteousness. According to the Bible, the “world” is a system designed to draw people away from God and is controlled by Satan himself. John mentions three things in the above passage that categorizes worldly ways:

  1. (Doing) The lust of the flesh – All of the activity that appeals to the sinful hearts of people.
  2. (Having) The lust of the eyes – All that we might want to have apart from the will of God, especially those things we want that are not ours to take.
  3. (Being) The boastful pride of life – Putting ourselves at the center of everything instead of God.

These categories encompass body, mind and spirit. They are the desires we tend to follow if we succumb to being worldly. It is very interesting to see that these are the areas that Satan attacked when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Turning stones into bread (lust of the flesh), ruling over all the kingdoms (lust of the eyes), and throwing himself off of the temple (pride of life) were all designed to tempt Christ into being worldly! Christ (being God and without a sin nature) handled the confrontation quite nicely and gave us a great example. Not so easy for us – we need His strength and we need to keep being reminded. It is not so hard to go down the wrong path even as a committed Christian.

I wish I could say I was unaffected by the world while I was in summer school that year. Unfortunately, I was affected. Thankfully, I did not get caught up in the drugs, drinking, sex, or cussing kind of stuff! But, I did fall prey to some worldly ways – cheating. Well, actually, I didn’t cheat but I let others cheat. You see, I knew all the answers to all the test questions no problem! I was an immediate hit with all the students around me who skated through the class off of my answers. The pride of life hit me hard and I enjoyed being everyone’s savior for a moment (ironically, after that summer, even though I went back to my world and they stayed in theirs, they would all say hi to me when we passed in the halls. I liked that also! I wonder if my friends ever wondered why I was being treated kindly by those others…the ones you don’t want to meet in a dark alley alone).

Today, it seems as though the church might need a reminder about not loving the world. Collectively, there seems to be a worldliness to the church. Giving in to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life seems to be more the norm than the exception these days. In some ways, we have become so far removed from Godliness that we have forgotten what it looks like. We are taking on the ways of the world. This is what the Bible is warning us against! Underneath the collective trend are individual Christians making up the whole. So, it must be individuals who turn things around.

We can’t stay out of the world, but we can stay out of “summer school” and we can decide to walk the ways of God and not the ways of the world. God says “do not love the world”. It is for a good reason. The world does not love you – its goal is to bring you down. Don’t let it. Rather than conform, overcome. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4 NASB).