slot machine from heaven

 

It is late at night. You are sitting on your couch flipping through channels because you can’t fall asleep.  Without realizing it you are locked onto an infomercial that promises some type of return if you buy this book.  It’s like a train wreck, you shouldn’t be watching it but you just tear yourself away from it.  So you watch as this infomercial promises to sell you a book that will provide the information necessary to unlock money from the government, or how to setup a profitable business on ebay, or how to make millions of dollars from the junk in your garage and attic.  For a while you are tempted but then you remember that you borrowed an infomercial book from someone who was foolish enough to buy it and, after reading it, you realized it was three hundred pages of nonsense that you could’ve wrote yourself.

Then that infomercial is over and a televangelist pops onto your screen. Because the infomercial numbed your mind it is unable to send messages through your nerves to your muscles to operate the remote control still in your hand.  You are unable to switched channels so end up watching the televangelist.  He is going on and on about how God does not want you to be poor.  He has made an abundance of promises in the bible that tells you that He has plans for you to prosper.  All you need is to send to the televangelist is a one-time offering of $56.34 and he will send you a book that give you the secret to blessings from God.

Ah, now you are promised the secret to the slot machine from heaven. The book will reveal the secret prayers that stop God’s slot machine on whatever combination you desire.  If you want a car then it will stop on the car you want.  The profit prophet will sell give to you the secrets he has uncovered in the bible, the combinations of prayers and declarations and name it and claim it techniques that he used to acquire millions.  The profit (sorry) prophet will sell (sorry again) give to the secrets he discovered.  Now you are thinking, “I’m a Christian, I deserve the blessings from God’s slot machine of heavenly goodies!”

So as you are stewing because you now have a sense of entitlement, that you should demand something from God and that He should give it to you because of you go to church almost every Sunday. As you are searching for your phone a thought comes to your head.  And you start to think about what the profit said in his program.  As you are thinking you realize his secret is not found in the book he huckstering, the secret is the whole show itself.  The secret to his millions is the show and getting suckers to buy his book that won’t be good for anything except for collecting dust or balancing that wobbly table.  That is how he gets his money.

As you contemplate this insight you are reminded that God is not a God who can be manipulated into fulfilling your wishes. He is a God who can command worship from the very stones He created.  He is the God who created everything seen and unseen and we are to submit to His will, not connive to get Him to submit to ours.

 

small groups rethought

This will be a critique of small groups. Not exactly a critique but maybe more of an observation of how I have witnessed small groups working and how I think they could be working better.  I believe the concept of small groups as part of the church could be beneficial for the church.  The problem I see with the most small group models is that I am not sure the vetting process for leaders of small group leaders is as extensive as it should be.  And small group curriculum should not be limited to the questionnaire handout provided by the church.

We are considering becoming small group leaders in our church. I believe that the Lord wants us participate in this way because I believe that we can be used to edify the church and educate them in orthodox biblical beliefs.  I think to limit small group discussions to the past Sunday sermon topic is not use the time effectively.  The small group we currently go to is ok but I have more knowledge of the bible and a better understanding of biblical doctrine than the couple who lead the group.  I usually stay quiet because I don’t want to appear to dominate the discussion or appear to be showcasing what I know.  I make comments here and there but I generally stay on topic.  But I see that there is a greater need to share more knowledge beyond the Sunday sermon.

Small group tends to be a time of talking about problems they are having in their life and how they leaned on God to get them through the tough times. This is good and the church I grew up in needed more than this type of interaction.  My parents tended to not become too involved and I think it was a detriment in the overall picture.  Church shouldn’t be a time of sharing gossip on Sunday mornings and then move on to the rest of your week.  Members of the church should meet regularly outside of the church so they socialize and build better relationships, and small groups allow that to happen.  But they need to be more than telling stories of how we can trust in God.

Small groups need to morph into a time of sharing concerns and times of blessing. They also need to be a time of learning and where people can learn more about the God they depend on and the Lord and Savior they serve.  Solid study of scripture independent of the church curriculum should be encouraged and not discouraged.  Believers should not be stuck on being fed milk.  They should be moving on to meatier portions of bible doctrine and orthodoxy.  Serving is important and teaching that one’s emotional problems can be handled by God, but learning about God and increasing one’s knowledge of God has a much greater value.

I believe that topical sermons only deal with one part of God. We need to know all about our Heavenly Father, all His attributes and the importance of how they are necessary part of His essence, His holiness.  When we deepen our understanding we deepen our understanding of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf.  This is where studying the bible can increase that knowledge.  It is more than reading a passage and then pasting that passage over our problems.  As He becomes the center of our lives then our problems necessarily move further from the center.

Pastors should not discourage bible study groups. Pastors should not inadvertently imply that they should be the primary source of information regarding our Lord and Savior, and what the bible teaches.  That is the same thinking the Roman Catholic Church had for a thousand-plus years which led to the Reformation.  Churches should allow members to be free to study their bibles and should employ trained teachers who can correctly answer questions and keep people orthodox in their beliefs.

Small groups can have big benefits in the spiritual growth of a church, which should be the primary focus of all churches, not just number growth, and equipping the saints for service in fulfilling the great commission of making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

spared or not spared

A headline on Christian Post read that a “Christian Woman Survives After Screaming ‘Jesus’ as Muslim Terrorist Stabbed Her Repeatedly”. Apparently she was on one of the buses that Muslim terrorists have been boarding randomly and attacking those on the bus, either with a knife or a gun. She was attacked and while she was being stabbed by one of the terrorists she screamed out the name “Jesus”. She attributes her being alive to this one act. She is convinced that if she had not screamed out the name of Jesus that she would’ve died as a result of the attack.

The question I have is what if she did scream the name “Jesus” but died as a result of the attack. Would this article be posted on the website if that happened? Would the headline read, “Woman Dies During a Terrorist Attack Even Though She Screamed ‘Jesus’ as She was Being Stabbed”? If she had died, would it have been considered a failure on the part of God if He chose not to respond to her cry and save her? Are we now to yell “Jesus” when under random attacks? Would she be considered a martyr if she had died because she was a Christian who was attacked?

Perhaps she was spared just because it was the will of God. Her allotted days had not expired. What about the other people who were injured but not killed, why are they alive? Did her yelling “Jesus” protect them from death, too? If it did then why were they who died, not protected? The implication and what can be inferred from the headline is that anyone can be spared of death if the scream “Jesus” in a moment of certain death.

The disciples asked Jesus about a man who was blind. They wanted to know if the blindness was related to sin, either his or his parents. Jesus answered by asking if the men who died when the scaffolding collapsed at the tower of Siloam, were they worse sinners than others? His point was that people die daily. But just because some person dies in some type of freak accident and other people who were in the same freak accident did not die does not mean that those who did die were worse sinners. We cannot be confused as to why some people die and some don’t when an event occurs that causes an unnatural circumstance for death. We cannot assume that God loved that woman on the bus more than He loved the people who were killed.

The will of God is beyond our understanding. If that woman on the bus wants to believe she was spared because she screamed “Jesus” then that is her prerogative. The question of whether she would be a martyr if she had been killed is really not a question. She was not forced to deny Jesus Christ as her Lord. She was not threatened with death because she was a Christian. She just happened to be where she was as part of her normal routine. We must be careful not to attach meaning to something that does not deserve that type of meaning attached to it.

We are all given a certain number of days to live in this world. We are not given one day more or one day less. We are spared or not spared because that is how God had pre-determined it before we were born.

unromantic love

We have romanticized love in western civilization. We have changed the idea of love as only an emotion of the heart. Love can only be felt if it is from the heart. When the head becomes involved it is no longer love but something else. We are told to let our heart rule the relationship. We are told follow where the heart goes and don’t let the head get in the way. We are to ride the waves of the fickleness of the heart and the heart will lead us to a happy place with a soulmate. And that love will conquer the world, or at least the part of the world the lovers inhabit.

But the heart always fails. The heart will always deceive. The heart confuses love with lust. We physically lust after someone and believe we love them, and the act of sexual intercourse confirms that belief and we swept away on the high of emotions that are entangled around us. But soon our emotions wane and the heart grows cold and we search for a new lover to lust after. So becomes one who follows solely the lead of the heart.

And this is how we live out our love for God, or our idea of God. We chase after teachers who teach us new and fantastic ways that God loves us. New ways that have never been known before and now have been revealed to this prophet by Jesus Himself in a vision as they sat on their yacht. Jesus came down and sat on the deck chair next the prophet and detailed the message He wanted the profit prophet to share. We chase after it because we want to believe that if God really loves then He will shower us with money and the things that money can buy. Our God will give to us what our heart covets and lusts.

This is not the love Jesus displayed in the gospels. Jesus did have multiple mansions or a fleet of yachts or a caravan of camels and donkeys with which to carry His material wealth. “Foxes have hole but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus was a sojourner as we should be sojourners. His physical needs were met as He trusted in His God the Father to meet those needs. He did not worry about where He would sleep or what He would eat. He concerned Himself with demystifying the message of God and deconstructing the traditions of men that have been built around the Law of God.

Am I saying that we must eschew the physical world and become ascetics? Not at all. We must be what we are called to be, ambassadors for the gospel. We are to live as we believe the will of God has determined us to live but to not desire the wealth of this world. We are to believe that all is temporary and all to be used for the sake of the gospel. All is surrendered to Christ, not just the body. Christ must be loved “with all our mind, all our soul, all our heart and with all our strength, and to love our neighbors more than we love ourselves”.

Romantic love is a self-serving love. It does not care about one’s neighbor nor does it care about anything else but the two people involved in the relationship. As a Christian we should avoid that kind of love. We are to love our wives with all our minds, souls, hearts and strength, just as we love our Lord and Savior, and just as He loves us. If our love only involves one or two components then that is not love.

Jesus is not some sweet lover who whispers sweet nothings in our ears and giggles when we disobey Him and fall into sin. He expects our love to bring about obedience as He instructs His disciples in the Gospel of John, and obedience is not something that comes just from the heart, it involves the mind and soul and strength.

We must not fall into the trap of romanticizing our love, for our wives or for our Lord and Savior. When we do we will become like Israel, chasing and whoring after everything but the One we should be dedicated to, the One who brought us out of the bondage of sin and is leading us into the Promised Land to come. Into His eternal rest.

passionate defenders

Passion. We all are passionate about someone or something. We are so moved about a topic or book or style of music or a person’s teaching that are willing to defend it. Sometimes that passion is blinding in that the person is unwilling to recognize any other point of view. Other times the constructive criticism and logical arguments against a stated position is sometimes viewed as a person spewing anger filled rhetoric and relegated to a personal attack instead of what it really was: a critique of potential in a stated position on any given topic.

People who hold a conservative view of the bible and what the bible teaches about man and where he stands in relation to His Creator are very passionate about defending their Lord and Savior. They hold a very high view of scripture and will not interpret any verse without first considering the context in which that verse is found. For example, they will not Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28 as verses that support God’s desire for His people to experience material wealth. The ultimate good for all those who follow Christ, as John MacArthur points out, is to spend eternity in Heaven with the God they love. Those who agree with this view, are passionate about defending this view, and are rightly critical of those who teach a different interpretation is usually brushed off as too serious or that they just don’t like the person whose teaching they are criticizing.

The ultimate good for those who love Christ is not to necessarily live in a mansion on the nicest street in town and have no money worries. What I mean is that we are not guaranteed any kind of worldly comfort while we living here. The apostles lived on the equivalent to what we would call paycheck-to-paycheck. They were not rich and the initial spread of the gospel was entrusted to them by Jesus Christ Himself. To teach that material wealth and goods is what God has intended for His children is change the focus of the relationship from God and turn it onto self. Once that happens, the worship of man increases while the sovereignty of God decreases. We become what we are today, a self-centered society both within the church and outside the church.

The issue becomes what people are being taught. Teachers begin ripping verses from the bible and teach that God’s promises are for His children to prosper materially. Then the detractors come out against this teaching. They are against anything that teaches that we should ask God for material wealth because that is His wish. They are against any doctrine that is not God-centered and exalts man. They are against teachings that exalts man and either downplays man’s sin or ignores the depravity of man altogether. They are passionate about defending what the Reformers had remedied in the deficiency of the Roman Catholic doctrine. They are passionate about defending and contending for the faith and the teaching of the apostles.

Then the defenders of the new, man-centered way of interpreting the bible start to defend by attacking what they name critics. They call their critics “legalists” and “fundamentalists” and proclaim that the critics are jealous and envious of the new church leaders. They are the first to throw around derogatory comments and try to defame their critics. While the concerned critics provide a biblically backed critique of the new teaching, the defenders offer unbiblical commentary and derision.

Look at what the way they defend their position. They do not respond by going to the bible and citing scripture that backs their position, they instead try to discredit, disparage or outright say the critic has no idea what they are talking about. In fact, what the critic is usually against is a doctrine based on emotion and experience over sound bible-based teaching, how man feels and how experiences govern how a man feels rather than the bible teaching of the depravity of man, his complete uselessness and hopelessness without God. The defender scoffs at the critic stating the critic doesn’t understand because he hasn’t spent time and experienced a service with the teacher.

(One little side note about that. Paul or other writers of the NT did not personally know all those who had detracted from the apostle’s teaching, but they taught against it anyway. They warned against false teachers with their ear-tickling doctrine and told their readers to be ready for it. I am sure that the Apostle John did not personally know all the Gnostics he defended against in 1 John but he defended the gospel against because he did not need to listen to or discuss or sit in a sermon in order to understand that what they taught was not the gospel.)

Now what I am trying to say is those who defend the gospel with any degree of passion are always denounced as being angry. Their passionate defense is concluded to be an angry attack based on jealousy and envy. They equate notoriety and celebrity status as meaning a higher level of authority in the church, and with that status comes infallibility. Passion is not jealous anger or envy. Passion is an earnest plea from one who cares about His Lord and Savior for a church leader to stop leading the sheep astray into desert with false promises “faith-infused” green pastures.

We are to love our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, which equals passion for the Lord. You cannot be passionate about something unless all four components mentioned are involved. Passion is not anger, it is a deep-rooted concern about the state of the church, God’s people.