Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Morning Devotions

Ps. 145: 18- "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth."

This promise reveals just one glorious aspect of God’s character. It also provides a stark contrast to the pagan belief systems of David’s day. The pagan nations surrounding Israel believed the gods were so far removed from human kind that they had no personal interaction with those who worshipped them. The pagans believed that if their gods ever noticed them, it was because the gods were angry with them. The pagans were constantly seeking to appease the wrath of their gods. If a pagan found himself in distress, they didn’t bother to call upon their gods for aid and comfort. Their gods had no concern for the plight of individuals.

But David’s Lord, and our Lord, is radically different. He exists and the pagan gods do not. And He gives a measure of grace to all human beings: “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145: 8-9). But while His grace is present in the lives of all, to those who may believe in Him but do not know Him, God seems remote. But those who trust in Him know He is near and that He hears. They have experienced God hearing them and delivering them from all difficulty. But to call upon God is not enough. Many religious people call upon God. But to them their calling upon Him may only be a ritual. Their heart may be full of sin, yet they think they can manipulate God into responding to them favorably because they performed the ritual correctly. But God responds only to those who call out in faith to Him and who, in faith, obeys what He commands. Those who are in such a relationship with the heavenly Father know by repeated experience that God responds to their cries. They know God is not a remote being dwelling in some far off place. They know He is near. Those Israelites who obeyed God knew this. How much more shall they know this who have the Son of God living in them through the Holy Spirit!

Scripture Quotations From The NKJV.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Will American Pragmatism Poison The Global Church? (With Warnings From Oswald Chambers)

“Whenever success is made the motive of service infidelity to our Lord is the inevitable result.” Oswald Chambers, from Disciples Indeed (DI).

It has been nearly a century since Oswald Chambers left this earth. Yet his words need to be heeded by the practitioners of American pragmatism within the Church today. Pragmatism, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means, “a method or tendency…characterized by the rejection of theory and precedent, and by the use of practical means and expedients.” This secular practice has it’s adherents within the American Church. In the name of reaching more people for Jesus Christ, modern Christian pragmatists deemphasize orthodox doctrine so as not to scare the unsaved from becoming Christ’s disciples. They try to attract people through messages dealing with “felt needs.” They claim that this was the evangelistic method followed by Jesus Himself. He healed the sick and fed the crowds before he preached to them. Pragmatists cite James 2:15- 16 for scriptural support: “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” It is often true that people need their physical needs dealt with before they are ready to hear the Gospel. Yet this fact does not justify the de-emphasis of doctrine in the name of reaching people for Christ. Christ did meet felt needs. He also began his ministry by preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:17). When He sent His disciples out in twos, He gave them power to heal and to cast out demons. He also commanded them to preach the Kingdom of God (Mt. 10:1, 7). In giving the Great Commission, Jesus told the disciples to make disciples of all the nations, teaching all the things He commanded (Mt. 28: 18-20). In the early days of the Salvation Army, those who needed a meal received a meal, along with a sermon. Pragmatists would say that times have changed. They have. But the Gospel hasn’t. Neither has the need for sinners to hear the whole Gospel before they can be saved. Oswald Chambers warns us against the spirit of pragmatism: “Beware of the temptation to compromise with the world, to put their interests, their needs, first—‘They have kindly become interested in our Christian work, given so much time to it, now let us winsomely draw them in’—they will winsomely draw you away from God” (Chambers, DI).

The temptation to compromise doesn’t just affect Christians who witness in safe environments. Even those who labor in areas where it is dangerous to do so can give in to compromise. My home church focused much of its support on missionaries living in Muslim countries. One of the Mission agencies we had extended contacts with was Frontiers, which focuses exclusively on reaching Muslims overseas. I have met many missionaries who risked their lives and their families to witness to Muslims in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet even Frontiers has been infected with the virus of American pragmatism. Frontiers has participated in producing Bibles which sacrifice correct doctrine so as to avoid offending Muslim sensitivities. (See here, from Gene Veith’s blog.) Muslims reject the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. They believe Jesus was a prophet, but think that to call Jesus God’s Son is blasphemy. When we say Christians worship one God in three persons, Muslims interpret this to mean we worship three gods. To avoid offending Muslim sensitivities, Frontiers and associates have produced a translation of scripture which avoids Trinitarian language. Jesus’ title, “The Son of God,” has been changed to “representitive of God.” “God the Father” is translated “great protector.” U.S. director of Frontiers, Bob Blincoe, justifies this change in wording as necessary to win more Muslims to Christ: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun…One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible…These are paraphrases that help a Conservative Sunni audience know what the Bible really says.” Actually, these are paraphrases that distort the Biblical witness of who Jesus really is. And this is done in the name of evangelism. “Christian service is not our work; loyalty to Jesus is our work” (Chambers, DI).

I once asked two Muslims what assurance they had that they were going to Heaven. They said they had none. They said that even if a Muslim followed the Koran perfectly, if God wanted to send them to hell, that is God’s business. They ended their answer with “Praise be to Allah.” Muslims, like Christians, believe in one God. But see how different is the Triune God revealed in the Bible. Christians worship one God in three persons. There is the Father and the Son. The Son intercedes to the Father on our behalf when we sin (1Jn. 2:1, Heb. 7:25). The Holy Spirit abides with us (Jn. 14:16) and teaches us all things (Jn. 14: 26). It is through the Spirit that Christ lives in us and empowers us to live as the Father would have us live (Gal. 2: 20). Among the three persons of the Triune God, there is mutual submission and accountability. (See here.) And the Triune God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Because our God never changes, when He promises eternal life to those who follow Him (Jn. 3: 15-16), we can be assured He won’t change His mind. A mature understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is not necessary for salvation. I certainly did not have such an understanding when I was saved. (See here.) But to remove Trinitarian language from scripture is a failure to witness to who Jesus truly is. If Muslims who come to Christ do not come to a full understanding of the Triune nature of God, they will eventually fall back into their earlier view of God as an imperious monarch.

It appears that Christians in Muslim lands are rejecting these new Bible versions and severing their ties with those agencies which translated them. One Christian in Pakistan said, “I want to die for the Bible,” not for mistranslation of it. One Middle Eastern Bible translator commented: “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation. If Athenasius of old would have encountered such departure from Biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” This is not hyperbole. The so called modern scholarship which denies the divinity of Jesus has proven an obstacle in reaching Muslims for the Gospel. Muslim religious leaders quote such “scholarship” to debunk not only the Christology of the New Testament but its historicity as well. This new translation would play into their hands. A Christian working on another translation commented on the effect Frontiers’ translation has had on Christians in Islamic countries: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be teachers but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was…” Let us pray that Biblical orthodoxy among Christian converts in Islamic nations prevails over American pragmatism.

Scripture Quotations From The NKJV

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Morning Devotions

Heb. 4:12- "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (NKJV)

In this verse, the writer of Hebrews demonstrates the power of God’s word. He demonstrates its power to convict of sin and to transform lives. But in reading the verses preceding Heb. 4:12, we can discover the goal of this conviction and transformation. Verse one tells us of God’s promised rest for His people. We are warned to fear, lest any of us “come short of it,” to fail to enter that rest. To illustrate such a healthy fear, the writer brings to our remembrance the Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land. Almost all those Israelites whom Moses led out of slavery in Egypt failed to trust God. God had parted the Red Sea so they could escape Pharaoh’s army. God gave Israel victory over the Amalekites. Verse two tells us the Gospel was preached to them as well as us. They heard, but they did not mix what they heard with faith. And so they refused to enter the Promised Land. So God declared that those who failed to trust and obey would not enter the land He was giving them. The writer quotes Ps. 95:11 where God, speaking of the Israelites, said, “So I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall not enter my rest’.” The writer of Hebrews ties this rest to God’s rest after the sixth day of creation. It is this rest we Christians can look forward to, the rest we are warned against failing to enter. It is the rest in which we cease from all our works (Heb. 4:10). We are exhorted to be diligent lest we fail to enter that rest (v. 11). And then we come to verse twelve, “For the word of the Lord…”  The word of the Lord convicts and transforms so that His faithful ones enter that rest. Entrance into this rest is the ultimate purpose for this conviction and transformation produced by reading God’s word. And as God’s word guides us into this rest, Jesus, our High Priest, gives us the grace we need so that we may obey what we read. Note the importance of faith in listening to God’s commands. The Israelites heard God’s word. But they did not mix faith with what they heard (v. 2). If we fail to read God’s word with faith, the conviction and transformation which enables us to enter God’s rest will never take place. Many Christians realize the role of faith in salvation, but fail to exercise faith in the living of the Christian life. Don’t be one of them. Let faith be applied to what you know, and you will not fail to enter the rest promised to each child of God! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obama And The Principalities And Powers

By now we have heard of Obama’s attempt to coerce members of religious institutions to violate their own consciences. This is an attempt to force these institutions to provide contraception and abortion services for their employees. This issue is not old news. Obama’s apparent compromise mandating that the institution’s insurance companies foot the bill is a subterfuge. The cost to the insurance companies will be passed on to the religious institutions. Therefore, the institutions will still be footing the bill anyway by paying higher premiums. Much has been written why Obama’s attack on religious institutions must be opposed. Opposition has centered on the unconstitutionality of Obama’s policy as well as the frontal assault on religious liberty it represents. Many have pointed out the hostility of Obama’s administration towards religious institutions, particularly Christian institutions, that this policy reveals. But what are the roots of this hostility? Do these roots originate in the secular mindset Obama and his circle have embraced? No. We must dig deeper to understand where this hostility originates.

How does Obama articulate his position that the government has the power to force religious institutions to violate their core beliefs? Leondra Kruger is Obama’s Assistant Solicitor General; the Solicitor General’s Office argues in behalf of the President in cases before the Supreme Court. Kruger argued for the administration in the recent Hosanna Tabor case involving the firing of a teacher at a church-run school.  It was Obama's position that churches that provide social services to the community must surrender to the government their autonomy in employment matters. Kruger said this in her argument : “The government’s interest extends in this case beyond the fact that this is not a church operating internally to promulgate and express religious belief internally. It is a church that has decided to open its doors to the public to provide the service, of educating  children for a fee, in compliance with the state compulsory education laws…”  (From Gene Veith's blog.)This argument represents a very narrow view of not only religious liberty, but also a very narrow view of ministry. Only what happens within Church walls is protected against governmental intrusion. Any activity a church undertakes within the community is not ministry, but secular in nature and therefore can be regulated by government. Only the work done by professional ministers is beyond the power of government to regulate. Do you think I am reading something in Kruger’s remarks that isn’t there? Just listen to Obama himself speaking on the issue. Here is video from Christianity Today's Politics blog of  Obama stating that the activity of professional ministers is the only sphere of activity that may be labeled church ministry. He says in this clip that church endeavors such as Church schools are secular enterprises because in his mind their purposes are secular. He has no clue why churches undertake such activity. If a church runs a school or a drug rehab center, it may be engaging in services that secular organizations engage in, but it has a different motivation. A church school not only educates children, but it seeks to equip it’s students with a Christian world view in which to engage the world. A Christian drug rehab center not only seeks to get people off drugs, it also seeks to make people disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches operate in the public square not as secular entities but as ministries. Their goal is to form Christian character in people. It has been this way since the founding of the Church. After all, hospitals were introduced into the world by the Church seeking to minister to physical needs in an unsympathetic pagan world. As they ministered to patients' physical needs, these early hospitals provided spiritual guidance and comfort as well. Obama’s narrow view of religious liberty  was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court in the Hosanna Tabor case.

Lets not think that the threat to religious liberty is limited to a few liberals such as Obama. The threat is present throughout all the western world. Trevor Phillips, the head of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, said this about religious exemptions to anti discrimination laws: “The law stops at the door of the temple as far as I’m concerned…Institutions have to make a decision whether they want to [provide public services under public rules]…but you can’t say ‘because we decide we’re different then we need a different set of laws.’” (From Christianity Today's Liveblog) This is another way of saying that religion is a private affair that has no place or influence in the public square. Obama and Phillips are telling Christians to keep their religion behind closed doors. While this attitude permeates secular ideology, its roots go deeper.

The book of James defines religion for us: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit widows and orphans in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The visiting of those most vulnerable includes meeting their needs. James’ definition applies to the Church as an institution as well as individual Christians. Piety is to be practiced out in the open for all the world to see. “I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness in the assembly; indeed I do not restrain my lips. O Lord, You Yourself know,” David wrote. “I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your loving kindness and Your truth from the great assembly” (Ps. 40: 9-10). Jesus himself said, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5: 13-16). Who is it who wants the Church to retreat within it’s walls? Who is it Obama and his secular cohorts listen to? Paul tells us who our real enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6: 12).  It is Satan, the father of lies, who wants us to practice a private piety that the world never sees. Satan wants to keep individual Christians as well as the Church from ministering to a world that does not know Jesus Christ. And one of his lies is that the Church has no legitimate sphere of action within the public square, by telling us ministry only takes place within Church walls. Supreme Court victories gladden the heart, but they will not stop the spread of this lie. Obama is not the real enemy, but in this case, he is listening to the enemy of his soul, our true enemy.

(All scriptural quotations are from the NKKV.)