Are You a Church Attender or Christ Follower?

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

John 8:31-32

I read a wonderful book a few years ago entitled “Not a Fan” by Kyle Idleman (Zondervan, 2011) where he talked about the many Christians that attend churches who are more like fans of Jesus than followers of Jesus. He shared a story of a man who came up to him after a speaking engagement and made a comment about his prodigal daughter that left the church when she graduated from college. The man said, “We raised her in church, but we didn’t raise her in Christ.” I had to ask myself the same question. Did we raise our children in the church or in Christ? It is a question every Christian parent should be asking themselves. But it’s also a question every church should be asking of itself.  The reality is that not everyone who attends a church is seeking to follow Jesus.

There has been a steady movement in our culture towards a secular society and away from Christianity and church attendance over the past 50 years. So, it is obvious to me that as a nation we have raised more church attenders than Christ followers.  We now live in a secular society and when surveys show that 75% of Americans say they are Christian, it only confirms that this is true. When I grew up in the 1960’s it seemed everyone (who was not Jewish) went to a church. It was part of the fabric of our culture. But that is not true anymore. Both Gallup polls and Barna Research confirm that Church attendance has declined dramatically in America since then. Their reports show that there are more people today who attend church only once or twice a year, identify as atheists, or have no religion at all.

So, how did this happen? Why are so many people leaving the church, and why has the culture become more secular? It would seem to me that it is because we raised a generation of church attenders who were going to church but not really following Jesus or living according to Biblical teaching.  It was in many ways self-inflicted. The culture is not responsible for teaching others to follow Christ. That is the Church’s job. And apparently it did not do as well as we thought it did even though churches were full on Sundays. Today it is clear that the secular culture has more influence over our nation than the Church does. Whether that’s due to poor discipleship, deviation from Scriptural authority, or other factors, it is the reality today in America.

But I also believe that the Church is much stronger today because the true followers of Christ are the ones who have stuck around and strive to be the church and do the ministry Christ has called them to. The followers of Christ are the ones who hold to the truths of the Bible, obey Jesus’ teaching and seek God’s will in what they do. Following Jesus is not easy and there is a cost to doing so.  Jesus said in Luke 14:27 that, “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” and also in Luke 14:33 that, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  These are very difficult teachings for many people to accept. The Bible also says in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Those who follow the culture (world) can therefore not be followers of Christ. Consequently, those who have left the church were merely attenders and not really Christ followers. When given a choice to follow Jesus or follow the culture, they made their choice to follow the culture.  The challenge for the Church today is how to get them back in order to disciple them!

Pastors and church leaders, therefore, need to put greater focus on helping people coming to church to engage in its ministry. They need to put their efforts into discipleship and ministry participation. It will not be easy, but it is necessary if the Church is to be the Church and not merely a building where people gather once a week for an inspirational message and some singing.

So, which are you? Are you a church attender or Christ follower? Are you merely attending church because it is what you have done on Sunday morning your whole life? Or are you ‘being the church’ because you desire to follow Jesus, seek His will, serve God and serve others? This is the ultimate question we as Christians must all ask ourselves.

The Holy Spirit asked me that question when I was on my first mission trip in Kazakhstan in April of 1996, and it absolutely changed my life. My answer then is the same today. I desire to follow Jesus with my life each and every day. I am not perfect, I am a sinner, and I often fail to do what He wants me to do. But I put my life in His hands and look to Him for guidance, direction, provision and truth. And I have certainly been blessed by doing so. I don’t believe anyone can ever know the riches and blessings of God unless they submit to His leadership in their life and experience first-hand what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

I have experienced that fullness by following Jesus. You can too. But you won’t unless you stop attending church and instead become the Church!

Lord, help us to encourage other Christians to become followers of Christ and NOT just church attenders! Amen!

There’s a Fork in the Road Ahead

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

Proverbs 14:12

In life we all have many choices to make. We choose where to go to college, where to work, what career to pursue, where to live, who to marry, etc. Some choices we make can have a big impact on our lives, such as those mentioned above, while some are minor and only affect our day to day living, like what to eat for lunch or what to wear today. But underlying every decision we make is the most important choice we must make every moment of our lives. That choice will determine our earthly future as well as our eternal future as well.

You see, ultimately there are really only two paths in life we can choose. We can choose either to follow God or we can follow Satan. That’s it. There is no third option (following ourselves or following the world is really following Satan because his aim is to convince us not to follow God). Following God means to follow His Son Jesus, obey what He taught, and to serve others as He served us. Following Satan means to deny God and Jesus, obey our own intellect, and to serve ourselves. Many people try to follow both paths, but that doesn’t really work. It’s like trying to mix ice cream (holiness) with manure (evil). No matter how you do it, the ice cream will be impure and not worth eating!

Following God is to follow the path of holiness, goodness and righteousness. God is good and all His ways are good (Psalm 119:68). Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that “we cannot serve both God and money.” Money often represents the world or our own desires. When we try to please the world or ourselves we are not serving God. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13 that we are “not to use our freedom to indulge in the sinful nature, but rather to serve one another in love.” The pathway of God is submission to His ways and His commands (James 4:7). Any other path does not lead to God and only leads us to death as Proverbs 14:12 above states. And any path that does not lead to God is from Satan.

God’s Word also teaches us that Satan’s path is wide and God’s path is narrow (Matthew 7:13). In other words, it’s often easier to follow Satan’s path because there’s plenty of room for us to maneuver around life’s obstacles to obtain our self-indulging goals. But we are left on our own to figure that out. However, God’s path is narrow and more difficult to navigate and so we must submit to His leadership and trust in His will for our lives. He keeps us on the path to holiness and righteousness and leads us around and through life’s obstacles. And as Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, God’s path leads to life but Satan’s path leads to destruction!

So, which path are you on? Are you on God’s path or Satan’s path? Is the path you’re on leading to life or destruction?

The good news is that there’s a fork in the road ahead! The path to God is just a step away and is always there for us. We don’t have to continue down the wrong path. We don’t even have to walk backward along the path we’re on to get on God’s path. No matter what choices we have made up to now, we can still choose today to follow the path to God and experience the life we were meant to have and all the fullness of life He has to offer! Though the world does not recognize it, God’s path offers hope, freedom from sin, and a life more rich and abundant than we can imagine!

So don’t let Satan deceive you with his offering of all the treasures and trappings of this world. It’s an illusion. It’s a bait and switch deal. He seduces you to follow his path with promises of riches and fame. You may get them, but they won’t last, they won’t fulfill you, and there is a cost! If you listen to him and follow his path, in the end you will end up in hell (separation from God). Is that really the result you want? If it is, you are free to make that choice and God will not stop you or force you to follow Him. The truth is that God does not send people to hell. Instead, people choose hell by refusing to follow God. But I doubt that anyone would really choose Satan’s path if they knew that hell was where they were headed. They end up there because they chose not to follow God.

God makes His path available to anyone, anywhere and at any time. He wants us to choose His path. That means we must choose Jesus, the only path to God (John 14:6)! God promises us a life filled with His goodness if we simply put our faith and trust in Jesus. We don’t have to do anything but let Him lead and guide us. If we do, He will show us a truly abundant life filled with hope, joy, peace, blessings, and the assurance of heaven!

Six Lessons Christians Must Learn From Church History

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

George Santayana (1863-1952)

Church history reveals some lessons that Christians today would be wise to consider and reflect upon. The Christian Church has existed for 2,000 years, but it has changed and evolved significantly over that time. It is therefore important to look back and learn the lessons from the history of the Church that can help us chart a way forward today.

A few years ago I read a wonderful book on the history of the Church written by Dr. Bruce Shelley entitled, “Church History in Plain Language” (Thomas Nelson, 2008). He does a great job of documenting and summarizing the key events in the history of the Church. Based on his book, I would like to present 6 lessons that we as Christians should learn from Church history that will enable us to more effectively go forward in building God’s kingdom on earth.

Lesson #1: The Church is, and always will be, Holy Spirit driven.

As the Bible documents in the four gospels, the early Christian Church began in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The disciples were witnesses to these facts. But Jesus told them to wait for the Holy Spirit. Luke writes in the book of Acts of how the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. As a result, they disciples were led by the Holy Spirit and the Church grew rapidly as they spread the good news and lived lives very different from the prevailing Roman and Jewish cultures. Throughout history the Church has grown significantly when there was either persecution or a spiritual revival, as in England in the early 1800’s and the USA in the early 1900’s. Man can never build the Church on earth on his own apart from the Holy Spirit. The Church began under the power of the Holy Spirit, grew under the power of the Holy Spirit, and continues today only under the power of the Holy Spirit! (“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.”Zechariah 4:6)

Lesson #2: The Christian faith must be defended against false teaching.

In the first few centuries of the Christian faith the biggest challenge was defending this new belief against false gospels from gnostics and others who tried to add human logic to what God had done through Jesus.  They early Church needed to solidify the basic doctrine of Christianity centered on the work of Jesus and His teachings for this new faith. The doctrine of the Trinity, and who Jesus really was, was affirmed through the council at Nicaea in 325. The basic theology of Christianity has been challenged continually over the years as man tries to add human reason to God’s Word and His saving work through Jesus. False teaching must be challenged in order to preserve the true faith. (“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.”2 Peter 2:1)

Lesson #3: The joining of Church & State is a bad idea.

When Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD, overnight Christians went from persecuted rebels to favored status in the Roman Empire. In 380 AD, his successor, Emperor Theodius, made Christianity a requirement for all Roman citizens. Thus the Christian Church was joined to the power of the state and assumed a moral responsibility for the whole society. In 768, Charles the Great, also known as Charlemagne, ascended to the throne and successfully fought off the Muslim invaders and was the first Roman emperor to be ‘coronated’ by the pope. This ensured protection of the Church against Islamic incursions. The crusades were the Empire’s response to the Islamic invasion and capture of Jerusalem and they had the approval of the pope. In the end the crusades were a dismal failure as they did not dislodge Islam from Jerusalem and led to further division with the Christian Church. During the Middle Ages conflicts continually arose over the power being wielded by both the Church and the State. Jesus never required faith in Him to be forced on anyone. He came to save us from our sin and today still invites people to let Him change their hearts one by one. (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16)

Lesson #4: The Church  must be built on a Biblical foundation.

Because of this conflict between and within the Church and State in the Middle Ages, many voices began to speak out against the power and corruption of the Church. Chief among them was a German monk named Martin Luther. He published his 95 theses (or statements for debate) on the door of the Catholic Church at Wittenberg, Germany in 1517 that challenged papal authority. He was ex-communicated from the Catholic Church for his refusal to recant his statements. This led to the Reformation and the formation of several new church bodies that separated from the Catholic Church in protest. They were the Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist and Anglican Churches, and hence known as “Protestant”. At issue was whether or not authority came from the Bible or from the Pope. As Martin Luther stated at his trial at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” The Christian faith must always be based upon the Bible and its teachings. (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Lesson #5: Christianity and Science are NOT mutually exclusive.

The world entered a new era after the Middle Ages that challenged the people’s view of the world and how it worked. New discoveries in science and math could now explain the world as never before and this ushered in the age of reason, also called the age of “enlightenment.” Since man could now know and better explain how the world worked, intellectualism replaced faith in God and His Word. But are Christianity and science mutually exclusive? Science has never been able to repudiate one fact of the Bible. On the contrary, science continues to affirm the facts of the Bible, especially in the field of archeology. Darwin’s theory of evolution as to the origin and evolution of species has never been proven and is still a theory, despite its widespread acceptance. To me, science is simply discovering what God already created. Science has not refuted the Bible, it has confirmed it! (“For by Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.”Colossians 1:16)

Lesson #6: Man will always try to replace God with himself.

As the world progressed in its knowledge of science and technology, liberalism invaded universities (which were Bible based at the time) and the Church. Many Christians began to try and reconcile modern thought with Biblical teaching and refused to accept the authority of God’s Word alone on many issues. They believed that truth must pass the test of human reason. Consequently, universities abandoned the Bible and liberal theology in the Christian Church began to grow. Today it manifests itself in prosperity theology, acceptance of homosexuality, and other false teachings that go beyond or outside of Scripture. These are all an attempt to make God subject to our intellect rather than adhere to His teaching as found in His Holy Word. (“Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”James 4:7)

 

As we look back on the history of the Christian Church, we see that many of the issues the Church faces today are not new, but have existed for ages (church vs. state, reason versus faith, man versus God, etc.). The above lessons remind us that the Christian faith, unlike every other religion, is not based upon a set of rules requiring strict adherence. But rather it is based on the fact that God appeared as a man in Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on a cross to redeem mankind and pay the price for all sin, and who made a way for the human race to live with their Creator forever. It’s about faith in the work of one person, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and belief in the Bible as God’s true Word.

When man tries to supplant God’s Word and God’s work with human reason and man-made practices, we end up with denominationalism, conflict, tyranny and disunity. It’s the eternal battle of man versus God for control of our lives. And until Christians learn to submit to God in obedience and rely solely on God’s Word as ultimate truth, we will continue to see man attempt to make God what he wants Him to be, and the Church will suffer as a consequence.

God Nailed It!

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Colossians 2:13-14

As we approach Passion week and the Easter story, it is essential that we take time to consider and reflect on the cross of Jesus and what that truly means. Often in our excitement and joy in the resurrection we quickly move past Good Friday and the suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf.  It’s most likely because we do not wish to dwell on the negative. But Jesus’ crucifixion carries a much bigger message than just being the prerequisite to the resurrection. And it would be a mistake to take it lightly or not take the time to contemplate and meditate on its meaning in our lives.

First of all, the crucifixion of Jesus was all God’s idea. He had planned it, orchestrated it, and commanded it as necessary for the salvation of His created beings, including you and I. Paul writes in Acts 2:23 that, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” The choice of crucifixion as the means of death was not outside of God’s control and so it was chosen by Him. It was perhaps the most brutal and horrible form of execution that has ever existed. But He chose it because our brutal and horrible sinfulness required such a payment. God cannot tolerate sin. It is against His nature. It must be punished and accounted for.

Today, we read or learn about current events from broadcast news, the internet, or through other forms of media. But before the advent of television and the internet it was often customary for announcements and important news to be posted in public. In the 16th century Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses that started the Reformation on the door of the Church at Wittenberg, Germany. And when the Catholic Church issued the papal bull ex-communicating him from the church, it was nailed to a tree outside the church at Wittenberg. So when God had Jesus crucified, he was making a public announcement for the entire world to see. He did it by nailing Jesus to a tree! This was no insignificant act but the judgment of God being proclaimed to the world! The Sin of the World was being punished! God publicly nailed it!

But as we now know, that was not the end of the story. God also raised Jesus from the dead three days later and declared that the price for our sin had been paid in full! We were no longer slaves to sin (John 8:34-36). We have been completely forgiven through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God, who took upon himself the punishment of all of our sins so that we might be free from sin and inherit eternal life (John 3:16). It was God’s perfect and planned solution to our sin problem. There was no other way for us to be reconciled with a Holy and Righteous God unless the price for sin had been paid.

On Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God’s plan was perfectly executed! In today’s language, God completely nailed it!!

So as we prepare for Passion Week, let us not skip over the significance of Jesus being nailed to a cross for our sins. Let us contemplate not only how God did it, but why God did it! We should remember the cross every day of our lives, because it represents the eternal payment for our sin. It was God who first loved us (1 John 4:19) and God who acted on our behalf (Romans 3:8). We must never forget the cross and we must never minimize or trivialize it. Instead, let us confess our sins, repent of them, and receive the full forgiveness and pardon that Jesus earned for us on the cross!

Is there a Need for Church Management Training in America?

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  ”

1 Peter 5:2-3

In America today, many churches are struggling to effectively disciple and grow their churches. In fact, church attendance has been declining dramatically since the 1960’s (Tobin Grant, Religion News Service, January, 2014). One of the main reasons seems to be our changing culture in America. It used to be that virtually everyone went to church.  It was part of our American culture. People went to church in many cases because it was what most Americans did on Sunday mornings. Pastors did not have to work that hard in getting people to come or remain in church. But that is not true anymore. Population shifts, immigration, and secularization in America have resulted in a different culture today.

But is it just about the changing American population and culture?  Is that why people are no longer attending or leaving the church? In some cases yes, but we believe that in many cases it’s because the way the gospel is communicated or the way the church is being run either angers people or causes them to find no value in attending the church. This does not speak to the issue of the message of salvation but rather to the need for good leadership and management.

So we contend that an even more important reason for declining church attendance is that pastors have not been trained in Biblical leadership and management principles. They therefore lack the knowledge to effectively lead and manage their churches in today’s more secularized American culture. Most seminaries and Bible Schools prepare pastors for preaching, teaching, and evangelizing, but their curriculums often do not include any significant training on basic leadership or management skills. What they do include is perhaps one class on church administration. But that is not nearly enough. Consequently, many pastors are not equipped to keep church members from leaving or making their church more attractive to potential members. It does not matter how great the gospel message is if pastoral leaders are ineffective in their communication of what that means or if how they are running the church drives people away.

Because churches are organizations with people and other resources, they must be led and managed effectively to be successful. As a matter of fact, most pastors will spend the vast majority of their time leading people and managing the resources of the church, not preaching or teaching. An effective sermon can easily be undone by poor leadership and management of church activities, people, resources and processes. So it is important that they have some level of knowledge about Biblical leadership and management so that they don’t create an atmosphere in the church where the gospel is not received or becomes secondary to how the church is run.

In the secular world, businesses and other organizations know that leadership is the essential ingredient to being an effective organization. That’s why they spend time and money training their employees and developing leaders from within their organizations to prepare them for positions of leadership in the future. They know that without properly trained leaders their organization will struggle to grow and be effective in what they do. Large organizations typically have some form of in-house training, but most organizations send their employees to outside training firms to get trained in what they need to be effective leaders. They desire to see their employees grow in their skill sets so that they become more valuable as employees and can help the organization grow and succeed. Churches must recognize that they need to train and develop its leaders as well if they are to survive and thrive in today’s world.

Our ministry has been training pastors and church leaders outside the USA since 2001 on basic leadership and management skills. We have seen the benefits that this type of training can bring to pastors and churches, and how it helps them to be more effective in their ministry.  We also see the need here in America, but we are not the only ones to recognize this need. Perhaps the most established pastoral leadership training taking place in America today is called the Leadership Summit organized by Pastor Bill Hybels of Willowcreek Church in Barrington, IL. There are also major pastoral leadership training initiatives by John Maxwell and his EQUIP ministry.

It is essential to the survival and growth of the Church in America that pastors are given a basic understanding of key leadership and management principles from a Biblical perspective. This will enable them to be more effective in leading and managing the church they have been called or appointed by God to lead.   When Biblical leadership and management principles are applied with guidance from, and reliance upon, the Holy Spirit, we believe it will produce “fruit for the Kingdom.” (Colossians 1:10)

The need for church leadership and management training in America has never been greater. If every pastor will endeavor to grow in their leadership and management abilities, we believe the Church can stop the decline in church attendance and reverse it so that the Kingdom of God can grow once again in our nation.

Peace on Earth?

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.

I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Matthew 10:34

Every year at this time people talk about wanting peace on earth. It’s common in Christmas carols and Christmas cards. It’s often a wish for the New Year. And after a very contentious election this year many Americans are asking “why can’t we all just get along?” But is peace on earth a realistic or even achievable goal?

Peace can be defined as the absence of conflict. However, we live in a world of conflict. Any cursory study of world history will show that at any point in time there is a conflict somewhere, a place where peace does not exist. In my lifetime I have not known a time when the world was at peace. In the 1950’s there was the Korean War. In the 1960’s there was the Vietnam War and the Cold War. In the 1970’s there was the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab oil embargo, and the Iranian hostage crisis. In the 1980’s there was the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  In the 1990’s there was the Gulf War and the beginnings of Al Qaeda. In the 2000’s there was 911 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And in this decade there is the civil war in Syria and ISIS. While not every conflict will touch our lives personally, there always appears to be conflict somewhere in the world at any given point in time.

Even at the time of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago the world was in conflict. The Roman Empire had emerged and the Jews were now under Roman rule after returning from exile under the Babylonians to Jerusalem. Even the Jews were in conflict with one another, evidenced by the many factions that arose during this time, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes. God chose this time of conflict to send His own Son into the world.

But did Jesus come to bring peace on earth? According to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 he said he did “not come to bring peace on earth but a sword!” Whoa, what’s Jesus saying here?

To understand what Jesus means, we need to go back to the beginning of creation and the Garden of Eden. The world began as a perfect place, without conflict (Genesis 1:31). But then Satan brought sin and evil into the world through Adam and Eve as a result of his conflict with God. So conflict between good and evil, holiness and sin, and God and Man entered our perfect world. Since then, a spiritual battle has ensued on the earth pitting man against God. And when we look at our world today, every conflict arises from man’s sinfulness and desire to have what he wants rather than what God wants. God gave man free will so that man can either choose the ways of God or the ways of the world (which has been corrupted by sin and Satan). That is the conflict that is at the center of all conflict. And peace cannot be achieved until we first end our conflict with God!

Jesus is telling us that He came to earth to offer people that same choice, but in a much clearer way. We can either choose Jesus, God’s Son sent to redeem ALL mankind and point the way to God, or we can reject Him and thus choose to continue to ignore God, choose man’s ways, and continue to live in conflict with God the Creator. The sword he talks about is the sword of Truth, God’s Truth, which continues to divide people, families, and nations to this day.

 Jesus’ disciples knew about this conflict all too well. They saw how the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were reacting to Jesus and how they wanted to kill him. They were afraid and fearful. But Jesus comforted them by telling them in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus is declaring that the only way to find true peace is in Him. Though the world may rage in conflict all around us, we can end our conflict with God and have peace in our hearts if we put our faith in Jesus! In other words, peace is not an external experience but an internal attitude of a heart that believes and trusts in Jesus. Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:15 to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.”  He further tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:16 “now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.”

Jesus came not to bring “peace on earth”, but to bring peace “to the earth.” We can have that peace “that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) only by giving Him our hearts and placing our faith and trust in Him and God our Father. Jesus pointed to that difference when he said in John 6:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

So if people really desire to have peace on earth, it begins when we turn our hearts to Jesus and receive the peace that only He can give us. Is peace on earth an achievable goal? Peace on earth will only come when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:10-11) Until that day, there will continue to be conflict in our world.

Lord, let Your peace reside in us, and help us lead others to your peace through Your son Jesus, so that one day there may be peace on earth! Amen.

The Wisdom of God

wisdom

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

We live in a world where everyone has their own source of truth. I believe that there are 6 main sources of truth that most people look to. First, some people believe that truth is what they have been taught, whether by their parents, schools, books, or people they look up to. Second, some people believe truth is what the media tells them based on what they see on television or read on the internet. Third, some believe that truth is found in one’s own personal experiences and how they have observed things as they happen in their own lives. Fourth, some believe that truth is relative to one’s circumstances. Fifth, some believe that truth is only what we can prove scientifically. And sixth, some believe that truth is found in the Bible.

So which is it? Is there only one source of truth or are there many sources of truth?

First of all, logic tells us that there can only be one truth. Something is either true or it is not true. It can’t be both true and false at the same time. Therefore, that means that there is an absolute truth.  The first 5 sources mentioned above are not really sources of truth, but rather are man’s ways of confirming a truth by what we see, read or experience in our world. They do not explain the source of that truth but only what we as humans discover about ourselves and our world.

For many years people thought the earth was flat until we learned that the earth was round.  The truth is that the earth was always round, we just did not know it or accept it until someone proved it to be true. The same can be said of other things that we now know about our world and people that are true, such as gravity or that people are capable of horrible evil.  However, there are still many other things in our world today that we may think are true, but we do not know yet if they are really true, such as stress causes cancer or that human activity affects climate change. This is because there may be errors in textbooks, inaccurate media reporting, insufficient data or experiences, and varying circumstances that make something being true difficult to determine.

So that leaves only the Bible as the source of truth, because it did not come from man but from God, the Creator of all things.

According to the Bible, it was God who created the world (Genesis 1:1) and us (Genesis 1:27). It says He is responsible for all creation (John 1:3) and that He has dominion over all things (Psalm 22:28). It also says that God speaks the truth and declares what is right (Isaiah 45:19). Consequently, he has established what is true by His own Hand. Just as a computer operates according to the way it was designed and built to work, so human beings and the world work according to God’s design and intention. Throughout history there has never been another more reliable or proven explanation of how we came to exist, how the world works, and why we act or function the way that we do.  Ignoring God and His Word does not change what He did or said.

To determine whether something is true or not we simply need to go to God and ask Him or search His Word for the answer. Looking for truth in other sources will never yield answers that are not already found in God or the Bible. I believe that the definition of science is discovering what God already knows. Though scientists may try to find truth through experimentation, observation and study, ultimately those methods only serve to confirm the truth of what God has already created or designed. As a result, scientists will never discover anything that contradicts God’s Word.

And here is where the wisdom of God comes in. In His wisdom God has already given us the Truth. He told us how everything was created, why everything was created, and how He has designed everything to function. It’s all there in the pages of His Holy Word, the Bible. It is not hidden from us nor is it difficult to find. He even sent His own Son Jesus Christ into the world to show us His Truth (John 14:6). Jesus also said if we follow His teaching (from the Bible) then we will know the truth (John 8:32).

So if we want to know the truth we simply need to follow Jesus, read the Bible, search it for the truth, and ask God to give us His wisdom as Solomon did in 1 Kings 3:9. And just as He gave Solomon wisdom, God says He will give us His wisdom as well if we just ask Him for it (James 1:5). And while we may not always understand or comprehend the truth from His Word, just like the early humans who thought the earth was flat, God will reveal His Truth to us in time and according to His purposes (Amos 4:13).

So it ultimately comes down to whether a person accepts God and the Bible as the source of all truth. If we ignore God and search for truth in the intellect of man, the media, or our own experiences or circumstances, we will never find it, and we will remain lost in darkness. But if we ask God and search His truth as written in the Bible, we will find the knowledge, wisdom and truth that we so desperately seek.

As I survey the landscape of America and the world with all of its problems, conflicts, and frustrations, the answers and truth we seek are right there in front of us because God has given it to us. It is ironic to me that the one thing that can solve the issues we face is the one thing many people reject or refuse to consider. Consequently, until we turn to God and His Word, we will remain in darkness and continue to struggle to find the truth that will bring us the answers and peace that we seek for ourselves or our world.

Lord, give us Your wisdom, and help us to lead others to You, Your Word, and the Truth through Your son Jesus! Amen.

Barry signature

No Doubt About It!

Doubt2

“Stop doubting and believe!”
John 20:27

I have heard some Christians say that they have doubts when it comes to their faith.  They say they don’t understand why God does what He does or doesn’t do, or that some things from His Word just don’t make any sense to them in our world anymore. Some will even argue that since we can never fully know God or fully understand His Word from the Bible that it is alright to have our doubts about them.

But is it OK for Christians to say they have doubts about God, Jesus, or the Bible’s truth?

I strongly believe that the answer to that question is NO! The Christian faith is predicated on the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that the Bible is God’s Word and Truth. When a person publicly or privately declares that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God and place their trust and faith in Him alone for salvation, they are stating that they believe these things to be true. That’s when belief becomes reality and they become a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ. So a person cannot call themselves a Christian if they are no longer sure who God is, what Jesus did on the cross, or that God’s Word is His truth.

We are told by Jesus to believe and have faith.  When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water to him. However, when he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to sink. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him and said to him, “you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)   Jesus also confronted doubt in the person of Thomas, one of his disciples. After Jesus had risen Thomas demanded proof. He said to Thomas when he doubted to “stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). He went even further by declaring that unlike Thomas and the disciples, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed!” (John 20:29)

So to say as Christians that we have doubts is the same as saying we don’t believe anymore. We either believe (and have faith) or we don’t.  If we look at a thesaurus we will find that doubt is the opposite of belief. We cannot both believe and doubt the same thing.

I think many Christians who say they have doubts really mean that they don’t understand God’s Word or His ways and struggle to reconcile that with their daily lives. That’s not doubt, that’s just our lack of understanding of His Word and His nature because He says “My ways are higher than your ways.” (Isaiah 55:9). We don’t know what God knows. That’s why the Bible says in Proverbs 2:6 that “the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”  Additionally, Proverbs 3:5 says we should “trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding.”  That means that must put our trust in God and His Word and not doubt Him or His truth.  To doubt Him is to deny Him. Furthermore, James 1:6-8 says that we as Christians must “believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”

The absolute essence of the Christian faith is to wholeheartedly believe and trust in God, His Son, and His Word. That’s where the Christian faith begins. We must be confident in these truths and not doubt them!

So let’s encourage one another in our faith because there’s no doubt about it!

My Holy Land Experience

IMG_1118

“We live by faith, not by sight.” – 1 Corinthians 5:7

I recently had the opportunity to make my first visit to Israel and the Holy Land.  It had long been a goal of mine to get to the Holy Land and to visit the sites where Jesus was born, where he ministered and taught, where he suffered and died on the cross, and where he was raised from the dead. I had envisioned a place where history would come alive right before my eyes and where I would be emotionally moved by what I was seeing. I was anticipating a spiritual experience beyond anything I had ever felt before!

However, as I toured Israel and visited such sites as Bethlehem, Capernaum and Jerusalem, I did not experience what I had anticipated I would. Rather, I was surprised at my lack of an emotional connection to the historical aspects of the Holy Land. I suspect it was because many of the sites did not look anything like what I thought they would. I think that there were several reasons for that.

First, much of what I thought I would see was based on portrayals of the areas in movies. Hollywood tries to recreate the geography and setting but often tends to create movie sets that are more like our preconceived ideas than what actually existed at the time. Second, the Scriptures don’t always provide a detailed description of the geography so we each envision or imagine what the area must have looked like in our own minds. That may or may not be accurate. Third, what existed 2,000 years ago is not what we see today.  Areas have been built over and the original locations look vastly different than they might have back when Jesus lived. Finally, tour guides usually tell you one of three things about a particular site – it is believed to be the actual site based on some evidence, it is probably the actual site given what is known about an event, or it may be the actual site but they really have no proof that it is. Very few of the sites I visited have enough solid evidence to prove that’s where a specific event took place. So for these reasons the sites that I visited did not meet my expectations of what I thought I would see and therefore it was difficult to make an emotional connection. It’s not like going to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and seeing the USS Arizona still under water where it sank in 1941!

Nevertheless, we do know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that city exists today where it was back then. Capernaum, where Jesus ministered and taught a great deal, is also where it was. And Jerusalem too is in the same location and we know that Jesus was judged there, suffered there, crucified there, and was buried there. And while the actual locations of these events in these cities may not be known with absolute certainty, they ARE where these things took place in history. And while I did not connect emotionally with the specific sites I visited as I had expected, I did reflect considerably on their meaning in history. As I visited these places I thought about Jesus, what He did, and what it must have been like back then (according to Scripture), and as a result I felt a deeper spiritual connection with Him!  It was not the sites themselves that impacted me, but rather the realization and consideration of what took place there that did! Visiting the Holy Land most assuredly affirmed my faith and belief in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection!

One of the things I did witness quite frequently were the large numbers of people who were visiting these spots and touching them as if the sites themselves could convey a special spiritual power because Jesus had been there. To me, I saw that as idolatry.  We worship a living God, not historical places or relics from the past. Our God lives and reigns in us and through us and we don’t need to visit the Holy Land to feel His presence or be filled with the power of His Holy Spirit. That comes from God, and faith in Jesus, and is available to anyone who calls on His name! Focusing on physical things only distracts us from spiritual things.

So, was visiting the Holy Land a disappointment? Was it unnecessary? Was it meaningless? Absolutely not!  As a matter of fact, I would still highly recommend it for every Christian. Being in the Holy Land allows us to consider very deeply what Jesus has done for us. Walking in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Capernaum enabled me to connect with the Bible and what it says and to reflect on what really matters in life. And that is Faith. Faith does not come from visiting the Holy Land. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”Romans 10:17 But visiting the Holy Land can serve to strengthen our belief in Jesus and what He did for us!

And so I thank God for the opportunity to visit His Holy Land, and for the chance to reflect more deeply on what Jesus did for me and for every human being that has ever lived. History is just history. But faith in Jesus is living and active, and visiting the Holy Land has affirmed and strengthened my faith in Him who alone is God!

Barry signature

American Perception of Christians

Looking Glass

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Matthew 6:24

In America today it seems that Christians and Christianity are under a relentless attack.  The ACLU has been fighting for years to have the Ten Commandments and any other Biblical or Christian symbols removed from public display. Christians are sued for not baking cakes for gay weddings. In Houston, the mayor tried to demand that local pastors turn over their sermons to her for review for potential hate speech. And many Americans feel that Christians have no right to express their religious beliefs politically.

Christians today are perceived as bigoted, out of touch, homophobic, intolerant and a danger to society.  A recent Barna Research report found that the majority of Americans see some Christian activities as extremism, such as handing out tracts or praying in public (Five Ways Christianity is Increasingly Viewed as Extremist, February 23, 2016 release, www.barna.org). These are very recent trends and it would have been hard to imagine this happening even 10 years ago.

But this is the America we now live in.  Our nation has not only turned its back on God (as I wrote in my book About Face),  but it is now looking to destroy or marginalize any aspect of Christian values or beliefs in our society. Today, Christians are the enemy!

How did this happen? Where did all of this anti-Christian sentiment come from? What did we do to deserve such a backlash from our own countrymen and women?

I believe that the answer to that question can be found in two reasons.

First, our society has become more socialist.  Many Americans have come to believe that capitalism does not work anymore.  President Obama declared this in Kansas back in 2011. The government has grown much larger in the past 10 years and many Americans are looking to the government for answers and help. As a result, we are seeing more people on government support programs and calling for free healthcare and free college educations.  One candidate for President, Congressmen Bernie Sanders, is a self acknowledged Socialist and is campaigning on all of these issues. And there are many Americans who are supporting him for President, especially young people! These Americans want the “state” or government to run and control our society and economy.

Why does this matter? Because Christianity is the enemy of the State! Christianity places God above man, and therefore our allegiance to God above allegiance to the state. The state cannot tolerate this because it must make everyone stay in line with the secular program. No exceptions are allowed.  History show us what happens when the state gets this kind of control – it produces the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and North Korea, just to name a few.  Anytime we give more power to the state we will lose more of our freedom. The two go hand in hand. So as more Americans call for more government action and put their faith in the State, it is inevitable that Christianity, and Christians, will be viewed as the enemy!

Second, our society has become more accepting of individual rights with virtually no limitations. That includes the right to have sex with whomever one chooses regardless of the dangers or consequences, the right to have free healthcare, the right to marry anyone or anything, and the right to kill innocent babies for their own convenience. All of these behaviors are against God’s Word. When Christians stand up and call some of these behaviors sinful, harmful, or evil, they are viciously attacked in the media, on social media, and in political activities.

Why does the culture respond this way? Because Christian values (and God) are a threat to them doing whatever pleases them regardless of the dangers to society or others. Again it is placing man’s desires above God’s desires. And these two desires will always be in conflict. The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another so that you do not do what you want.” In other words, they are mutually exclusive. You cannot have both! So one must be eliminated. So for Americans who only seek man’s ways, God’s way’s will always be a threat to them and they must not be allowed at all!

I don’t believe that the Christian Church has changed much at all in the past 10-20 years, at least not in their teaching or presentation of the gospel. What has changed is the attitude of many Americans towards Christians, the Church, and Christianity due to the 2 factors mentioned above. Many Americans have developed what God calls a hardened heart.

But we should not really be surprised about this. It just means that we now have to work that much harder to overcome this “hardness of heart” in our culture today by continuing to share our faith and the gospel despite the resistance. We must also recognize that it will be the Holy Spirit working in us and through us as we seek to influence America with the Word of God that will bring about any change.

I want to encourage you with the words of the Lord to Joshua in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged; for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

So let us not worry about how we are perceived by anyone other than God. Let us continue to “fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith” (1 Timothy 4:7) and leave the results up to Him!

Barry signature