31 October 2009

Happy Reformation Day!

To be clear, I'm not a Lutheran as many define Lutherans today. I'm a Christian, plain and simple, and would prefer no additional labels created by men. We cannot deny, however, that the great Reformer Martin Luther changed the Christian world on this day in 1517 when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. I think, should we challenge the Catholic Church today with these same 95 truths, they would still be unable to adequately respond to them! Salvation is not a matter of wealth, prominence, popes, and candles. It is the blood of Jesus and our repentance from our gross sin as we place our faith and obedience in the shed blood of the perfect Lamb. So on this day as blind followers of the prince of the power of the air celebrate the powers of darkness, let us celebrate the power of the light of the Truth of God. And let us be inspired by the boldness of men such as Martin Luther. He challenged the most powerful religious force of his day; certainly we can take on a skeptical friend or two!

Martin Luther's 95 Theses

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of a public discussion at Wittenberg under the presidency of the reverend father, Martin Luther, Augustinian, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects in that place. He requests that whoever cannot be present personally to debate the matter orally will do so in absence in writing.
  1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.
  4. As long as hatred of self abides (i.e. true inward repentance) the penalty of sin abides, viz., until we enter the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties beyond those imposed either at his own discretion or by canon law.
  6. The pope himself cannot remit guilt, but only declare and confirm that it has been remitted by God; or, at most, he can remit it in cases reserved to his discretion. Except for these cases, the guilt remains untouched.
  7. God never remits guilt to anyone without, at the same time, making him humbly submissive to the priest, His representative.
  8. The penitential canons apply only to men who are still alive, and, according to the canons themselves, none applies to the dead.
  9. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, acting in the person of the pope, manifests grace to us, by the fact that the papal regulations always cease to apply at death, or in any hard case.
  10. It is a wrongful act, due to ignorance, when priests retain the canonical penalties on the dead in purgatory.
  11. When canonical penalties were changed and made to apply to purgatory, surely it would seem that tares were sown while the bishops were asleep.
  12. In former days, the canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution was pronounced; and were intended to be tests of true contrition.
  13. Death puts an end to all the claims of the Church; even the dying are already dead to the canon laws, and are no longer bound by them.
  14. Defective piety or love in a dying person is necessarily accompanied by great fear, which is greatest where the piety or love is least.
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, whatever else might be said, to constitute the pain of purgatory, since it approaches very closely to the horror of despair.
  16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as between despair, uncertainty, and assurance.
  17. Of a truth, the pains of souls in purgatory ought to be abated, and charity ought to be proportionately increased.
  18. Moreover, it does not seem proved, on any grounds of reason or Scripture, that these souls are outside the state of merit, or unable to grow in grace.
  19. Nor does it seem proved to be always the case that they are certain and assured of salvation, even if we are very certain ourselves.
  20. Therefore the pope, in speaking of the plenary remission of all penalties, does not mean "all" in the strict sense, but only those imposed by himself.
  21. Hence those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the pope's indulgences.
  22. Indeed, he cannot remit to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be suffered in the present life.
  23. If plenary remission could be granted to anyone at all, it would be only in the cases of the most perfect, i.e. to very few.
  24. It must therefore be the case that the major part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of relief from penalty.
  25. The same power as the pope exercises in general over purgatory is exercised in particular by every single bishop in his bishopric and priest in his parish.
  26. The pope does excellently when he grants remission to the souls in purgatory on account of intercessions made on their behalf, and not by the power of the keys (which he cannot exercise for them).
  27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.
  28. It is certainly possible that when the money clinks in the bottom of the chest avarice and greed increase; but when the church offers intercession, all depends in the will of God.
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed in view of what is said of St. Severinus and St. Pascal? (Note: Paschal I, pope 817-24. The legend is that he and Severinus were willing to endure the pains of purgatory for the benefit of the faithful).
  30. No one is sure of the reality of his own contrition, much less of receiving plenary forgiveness.
  31. One who bona fide buys indulgence is a rare as a bona fide penitent man, i.e. very rare indeed.
  32. All those who believe themselves certain of their own salvation by means of letters of indulgence, will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. We should be most carefully on our guard against those who say that the papal indulgences are an inestimable divine gift, and that a man is reconciled to God by them.
  34. For the grace conveyed by these indulgences relates simply to the penalties of the sacramental "satisfactions" decreed merely by man.
  35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.
  36. Any Christian whatsoever, who is truly repentant, enjoys plenary remission from penalty and guilt, and this is given him without letters of indulgence.
  37. Any true Christian whatsoever, living or dead, participates in all the benefits of Christ and the Church; and this participation is granted to him by God without letters of indulgence.
  38. Yet the pope's remission and dispensation are in no way to be despised, for, as already said, they proclaim the divine remission.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, to extol to the people the great bounty contained in the indulgences, while, at the same time, praising contrition as a virtue.
  40. A truly contrite sinner seeks out, and loves to pay, the penalties of his sins; whereas the very multitude of indulgences dulls men's consciences, and tends to make them hate the penalties.
  41. Papal indulgences should only be preached with caution, lest people gain a wrong understanding, and think that they are preferable to other good works: those of love.
  42. Christians should be taught that the pope does not at all intend that the purchase of indulgences should be understood as at all comparable with the works of mercy.
  43. Christians should be taught that one who gives to the poor, or lends to the needy, does a better action than if he purchases indulgences.
  44. Because, by works of love, love grows and a man becomes a better man; whereas, by indulgences, he does not become a better man, but only escapes certain penalties.
  45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a needy person, but passes him by although he gives money for indulgences, gains no benefit from the pope's pardon, but only incurs the wrath of God.
  46. Christians should be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they are bound to retain what is only necessary for the upkeep of their home, and should in no way squander it on indulgences.
  47. Christians should be taught that they purchase indulgences voluntarily, and are not under obligation to do so.
  48. Christians should be taught that, in granting indulgences, the pope has more need, and more desire, for devout prayer on his own behalf than for ready money.
  49. Christians should be taught that the pope's indulgences are useful only if one does not rely on them, but most harmful if one loses the fear of God through them.
  50. Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of the sheep.
  51. Christians should be taught that the pope would be willing, as he ought if necessity should arise, to sell the church of St. Peter, and give, too, his own money to many of those from whom the pardon-merchants conjure money.
  52. It is vain to rely on salvation by letters of indulgence, even if the commissary, or indeed the pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity.
  53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.
  55. The pope cannot help taking the view that if indulgences (very small matters) are celebrated by one bell, one pageant, or one ceremony, the gospel (a very great matter) should be preached to the accompaniment of a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The treasures of the church, out of which the pope dispenses indulgences, are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That these treasures are not temporal are clear from the fact that many of the merchants do not grant them freely, but only collect them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, because, even apart from the pope, these merits are always working grace in the inner man, and working the cross, death, and hell in the outer man.
  59. St. Laurence said that the poor were the treasures of the church, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.
  60. We do not speak rashly in saying that the treasures of the church are the keys of the church, and are bestowed by the merits of Christ.
  61. For it is clear that the power of the pope suffices, by itself, for the remission of penalties and reserved cases.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the Holy gospel of the glory and the grace of God.
  63. It is right to regard this treasure as most odious, for it makes the first to be the last.
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is most acceptable, for it makes the last to be the first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets which, in former times, they used to fish for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of the indulgences are the nets which to-day they use to fish for the wealth of men.
  67. The indulgences, which the merchants extol as the greatest of favours, are seen to be, in fact, a favourite means for money-getting.
  68. Nevertheless, they are not to be compared with the grace of God and the compassion shown in the Cross.
  69. Bishops and curates, in duty bound, must receive the commissaries of the papal indulgences with all reverence.
  70. But they are under a much greater obligation to watch closely and attend carefully lest these men preach their own fancies instead of what the pope commissioned.
  71. Let him be anathema and accursed who denies the apostolic character of the indulgences.
  72. On the other hand, let him be blessed who is on his guard against the wantonness and license of the pardon-merchant's words.
  73. In the same way, the pope rightly excommunicates those who make any plans to the detriment of the trade in indulgences.
  74. It is much more in keeping with his views to excommunicate those who use the pretext of indulgences to plot anything to the detriment of holy love and truth.
  75. It is foolish to think that papal indulgences have so much power that they can absolve a man even if he has done the impossible and violated the mother of God.
  76. We assert the contrary, and say that the pope's pardons are not able to remove the least venial of sins as far as their guilt is concerned.
  77. When it is said that not even St. Peter, if he were now pope, could grant a greater grace, it is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  78. We assert the contrary, and say that he, and any pope whatever, possesses greater graces, viz., the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as is declared in I Corinthians 12 [:28].
  79. It is blasphemy to say that the insignia of the cross with the papal arms are of equal value to the cross on which Christ died.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians, who permit assertions of that kind to be made to the people without let or hindrance, will have to answer for it.
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult for learned men to guard the respect due to the pope against false accusations, or at least from the keen criticisms of the laity.
  82. They ask, e.g.: Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter's church, a very minor purpose.
  83. Again: Why should funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continue to be said? And why does not the pope repay, or permit to be repaid, the benefactions instituted for these purposes, since it is wrong to pray for those souls who are now redeemed?
  84. Again: Surely this is a new sort of compassion, on the part of God and the pope, when an impious man, an enemy of God, is allowed to pay money to redeem a devout soul, a friend of God; while yet that devout and beloved soul is not allowed to be redeemed without payment, for love's sake, and just because of its need of redemption.
  85. Again: Why are the penitential canon laws, which in fact, if not in practice, have long been obsolete and dead in themselves,—why are they, to-day, still used in imposing fines in money, through the granting of indulgences, as if all the penitential canons were fully operative?
  86. Again: since the pope's income to-day is larger than that of the wealthiest of wealthy men, why does he not build this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of indigent believers?
  87. Again: What does the pope remit or dispense to people who, by their perfect repentance, have a right to plenary remission or dispensation?
  88. Again: Surely a greater good could be done to the church if the pope were to bestow these remissions and dispensations, not once, as now, but a hundred times a day, for the benefit of any believer whatever.
  89. What the pope seeks by indulgences is not money, but rather the salvation of souls; why then does he suspend the letters and indulgences formerly conceded, and still as efficacious as ever?
  90. These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.
  91. If therefore, indulgences were preached in accordance with the spirit and mind of the pope, all these difficulties would be easily overcome, and indeed, cease to exist.
  92. Away, then, with those prophets who say to Christ's people, "Peace, peace," where in there is no peace.
  93. Hail, hail to all those prophets who say to Christ's people, "The cross, the cross," where there is no cross.
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.
  95. And let them thus be more confident of entering heaven through many tribulations rather than through a false assurance of peace.

30 October 2009

Another Oxymoron: Christian Self-Help?

Christian Self-Help? Please tell me they're joking! Spirit Thinking? Where is that in the Bible? And the New Age Movement continues to permeate Christian thought...

From Christian Newswire:

Study Says Spirit Thinking Renews Hope for Effective Christian Self Help
Contact: Reece Manley, 214-206-1607, info@advocateusa.net
MEDIA ADVISORY, Oct. 30 /Christian Newswire/ -- Dr. Reece W. Manley, DD, M.Ed., MPM's Spirit Thinking: Your 30 Day Guide to an Enlightened Life has earned endorsement of effectiveness from a TRI consumer reaction study. TRI is an independent consumer research firm hired by the author to follow a group of readers' reactions.

After reading Spirit Thinking: Your 30 Day Guide to Enlightenment®, exams were given to the readers to judge levels of depression, anxiety and perception of self worth. Of the group, 96% showed improvement from the pre-study levels. "It's a boon for Christian self help, or, more specifically, for Spirit Thinking's approach to combining cognitive psychology with specific spiritual principles," says Craig Williams, PhD.

"I knew Spirit Thinking® would make an impact," says the author. "I have had 15 years in the counseling professions and only changed my approach to therapy styles when I had a near death experience. This experience forced me to think about spirituality and how integral it must become in self help and other mental health services. Spirit Thinking is the first work I'm offering with Spiritual Recovery: Seven Steps to Freedom coming soon."

A release from Advocate USA Publishing adds, "We are always looking for authors who make a true difference. It is fantastic to have Dr. Manley's Spirit Thinking receive this kind of recognition. We have submitted the work to the American Psychiatric Association and we look forward to their review."
Interested readers may find more information at www.SpiritThinking.net and interested parties may write to info@advocateusa.net or call 1-800-936-0812.

29 October 2009

You Have Been Chosen

Dear Christian, have you ever let the depth of this truth truly permeate your heart? You have been chosen! Chosen by God Almighty!

The doctrine of election is, I think, simultaneously the most wonderful and most confusing doctrine presented in the Bible. Wonderful because there is truth in the fact that we Christians have been chosen by God. Confusing because the Bible also teaches human volition, and the open invitation of Christ for all who will believe. So how do we reconcile this doctrine in our mind? We don't. It's actually that simple. The doctrine of election is in the Bible, so I believe it. Human volition is also in the Bible, so I believe that. Do I understand it? Nope. Do I understand how Jesus was fully God and fully man? Nope. Do I understand the Trinity? Nope. These are divine paradoxes that mere man simply has to accept on the basis that we are not God and our finite, flawed minds cannot comprehend all of His truths. The fact the Bible contains these paradoxes is, to me, a comfort. Had man written the Bible, he would have fixed them and made them perfectly clear. The fact that paradox exists proves even more that the Bible is God's own word! And so I don't intend to wax eloquent here on the doctrine of election. Perhaps, if we can bring ourselves to admit it, we could say that Christ's death, while sufficient for all was not ultimately efficacious for all. This is because not all men have or will respond to the call of God to Himself. Were all men to repent and accept Christ as their Savior, His atoning sacrifice would cover them all. But because the majority of men will reject the call of Christ, His death does not cover their sin. Instead, they will be judged at the Great White Throne and cast into an eternal lake of fire for their disobedience and unbelief. Oh look, I've begun to wax eloquent. Sorry.

Below are some verses that speak of God and Christ choosing us. If you ask me, they're some of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture!

For many are called, but few are chosen. Matthew 22:14

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I do not speak of all of you I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.'From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. John 13:18

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened [...] Romans 11:7

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:11-12

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light[...] 1 Peter 2:9

These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful. Revelation 17:14

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44

And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Matthew 24:31 (note the use of "His elect")

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:29-30

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6

My devotional yesterday put this doctrine of election in a beautiful light for me so I thought I'd share it here. From C.H. Spurgeon's Morning by Morning:

John 15:19
I have chosen you out of the world.
Here is distinguishing grace and discriminating regard; for some are made the special objects of divine affection. Do not be afraid to dwell upon this high doctrine of election. When your mind is most heavy and depressed, you will find it to be a bottle of richest cordial. Those who doubt the doctrines of grace, or who cast them into the shade, miss the richest clusters of Eshcol; they lose the wines on the lees well refined, the fat things full of marrow. There is no balm in Gilead comparable to it. If the honey in Jonathan's wood when but touched enlightened the eyes, this is honey which will enlighten your heart to love and learn the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Eat, and fear not a surfeit; live upon this choice dainty, and fear not that it will be too delicate a diet. Meat from the King's table will hurt none of His courtiers. Desire to have your mind enlarged, that you may comprehend more and more the eternal, everlasting, discriminating love of God. When you have mounted as high as election, tarry on its sister mount, the covenant of grace. Covenant engagements are the munitions of stupendous rock behind which we lie entrenched; covenant engagements with the surety, Christ Jesus, are the quiet resting-places of trembling spirits.
"His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the raging flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
This still is all my strength and stay."

If Jesus undertook to bring me to glory, and if the Father promised that He would give me to the Son to be a part of the infinite reward of the travail of His soul; then, my soul, till God Himself shall be unfaithful, till Jesus shall cease to be the truth, thou art safe. When David danced before the ark, he told Michal that election made him do so. Come, my soul, exult before the God of grace and leap for joy of heart.

Twisting The Message

I want you to read the two Bible passages below:

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11 (NASB)

These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn't it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? All you're doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.
Don't you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I'm talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you've been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:7-11 (The Message)

A prize goes to the person to come up with the most valid errors in the second "translation." What's the prize? The prize is the knowledge that you actually have the ability to discern truth from error!

Notice verses 9-10 in a proper translation, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." Now tell me, where are these truths in the paraphrase, The Message? "Unjust people who don't care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don't qualify as citizens in God's kingdom."

HUH? Where is the truth about homosexuals? The unrepentant lifestyle of a homosexual--or any unrepentant sinner--is clearly stated here as a disqualification for eternal life. And yet The Message softens it into "those who use and abuse sex." A "happy" homosexual will not consider his/her actions an abuse of sex and so they are being lied to in this verse. They are reading their way right into Hell.

"Those who [...] use and abuse the earth and everything in it [...]" Hm. Is it just me or does that sound like a nice little tool for the "Go Green" movement? Forgive me, but I just don't see this idea set forth in the NASB translation, which is an excellent word-for-word translation from the original Greek text.

Now, I don't want to go into any further passage critiques of The Message. Personally, a brief look at this one passage is more than enough to convince me that The Message, a paraphrase written by men, is teaching anything but the clear and truthful Word of God. It saddens me each time I see or hear a professing Christian reference this work. It would be my hope that most Bible studying Christians would see the apostasy written in black and white. Sadly, while so many Christians are busy nurturing the false man-made spiritual disciplines like journaling or worse, contemplative and/or listening prayer, they fail to exercise the spiritual muscle of discernment. If it's in a "Christian bookstore" then it must be safe. Or worse yet, when they hear their pastor endorse or quote from The Message, they naturally assume it must be a reliable resource. This is a perfect reason why all Christians need to be wise in discernment, not just church leaders and pastors! We need to be exercising discernment in all things, especially within our churches!

Remember that The Message is man's paraphrase, not an actual translation of the Word of God. It says what man wants it to say. It trades truth for non-offensive language and offers more warm-fuzzies than the best word-for-word translations like NASB, ESV, and KJV, which is why it's a favorite of seeker-sensitive and Emergent churches. So I beg you not to buy this book (I refuse to call this a Bible) for your child because you think he or she will be able to understand it better; at what point did you begin thinking your child was too dumb to read a real Bible? And please, please, please don't buy it for yourself unless you've chosen to walk the road of the apostates. Rick Warren and Bill Hybels both use The Message, so at least you'll have some big footprints to follow down that road. Why are we so afraid to read the Word of God as He intended? Believe me, it wasn't just written for scholars and theologians. It was written for you and for me. So pick it up (a real translation) and open it up and read it. I guarantee you that the Holy Spirit won't leave you lost in confusion!

25 October 2009

Sunday Morning Praise

It's interesting to me that the following song is categorized under Christmas or Advent songs in the hymnal, because I feel as if it's one we could sing daily! Just as people years ago cried for their Messiah to come, still today we cry to Him, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus!"

I couldn't find a video I liked that included words, so I've posted the words below. This Charles Wesley hymn is set to a tune that most of us are familiar with, so perhaps you can sing along this morning. Let us pray daily for the return of our glorious Lord!

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

24 October 2009

Not Everyone is Going to Heaven

Not everyone is going to Heaven. There, I said it. Have you? Have you said that Truth out loud to let it sink in? More importantly, have you spoken that truth to your unbelieving friends or family members? Have you told them that if they don't repent of their sin and accept Christ as Lord and Savior that they will spend Eternity in Hell? Have you told them that, if they were to die tonight, they would see Jesus, not as their Savior in warmth and glory, but as their Judge in condemnation? If you haven't, you better, because the return of Christ is very near. He is coming soon for us, Christians. It's almost as if I can hear His footsteps in the hall! Will He know your loved ones when He gets here? Will He know you?

23 October 2009

Theology on Tap: Follow-up

I've heard a lot of feedback, good and bad, from my article Theology on Tap, as well as comments on articles that offered a similar view. Some are appalled that I would dare challenge a supposed "Christian" ministry. The most common argument is that "Jesus meets people where they are" so we should do the same. I agree, Jesus does not require us to clean up our lives before we accept Him as Lord and Savior. However, we sure as sugar better be working on getting ourselves cleaned up after we've come to receive the free gift of salvation, and that is a lesson that I fear these "pastors" of "Pub Theology" are failing to teach. "Jesus came to save the sick and dying sinner, but He did not participate in their sin as a means to reach them and to preach Truth. Now, I do not believe that having a glass of wine or a beer in the evening is necessarily a sin. But for many people it is because they are plagued by addiction and have turned alcohol and its effects into their own personal idol. For these people, having one drink turns into two, turns into three, etc etc. Forgive me for stereotyping, but I'm going to theoretically wager that many of the congregants of "Pub Theology" are regulars at this particular bar and that they likely do not have healthy self-control over their worldly desire for alcohol. That being said, when they see a "pastor" spending his Sunday evening (part of the Lord's Day that should be revered) sitting in a bar and drinking, they are led to believe that this type of behavior is okay and that it can go hand-in-hand with the Christian life. This is where I bring in Matthew 18 and Mark 9 where Jesus says, "[...] whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." In the MacArthur Bible Commentary, Dr. John MacArthur explains this verse this way, "[...] fellow believers should not lead others into sin, directly or indirectly. One would be better off dead." I'm inclined to infer that the "Pub Theology" audience is comprised of unbelievers and, at best, very "young" Christians who are immature in their faith. Watching a pastor take part in these worldly behaviors would undoubtedly cause confusion for these "little ones." So are we to sit by as we watch these "pastors" cause these "little ones" to stumble and sin? In the words of Paul, "May it never be!"

Allow me to wander off the path just slightly here for a moment and speculate. Perhaps these problems with evangelism lie in the fact that many churches and pastors fail to teach that we must receive Christ not just as Savior, but as LORD. In fact, I would argue that it is necessary to receive Him as LORD first, and only then can you truly recognize the immensity of His role as Savior. But when we approach Jesus as only Savior we are missing a vital element. It's easy to feel warm and fuzzy because He's forgiven our sin, yet without the awe and reverence that comes from worshiping Him as LORD, we will be lacking in our recognition of our sin and depravity and lacking in our repentance of our sin, all of which leads to a terribly fruitless Christian life, if it leads to a true Christian faith at all. Now, back to my main discussion...

Indianapolis-area pastor Larry DeBruyn offers additional thoughts on the Herescope blog concerning this particular "ministry" that has deceived its way into his city. His words are perhaps a bit gentler and more refined than mine, and he states our shared concerns quite well:

Some thoughts on "Pub Theology."

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

As he begins to rip into "a screaming guitar solo," a band member sarcastically yells out at the audience, "Let's go to church boys!"[1] Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, Pub Theology is "a Sunday night show that's one part church and one part party." Among other posters on the barroom walls, one alludes and adds to the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, "Faith, Hope, Love and Beer." WARNING: The biblical text reads, "But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).[2]

Being "shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art," members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church's "worship team" on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock 'n' roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to visit the bar and buy beer during Sunday night "church." Initially skeptical about hosting Pub Theology on Sunday nights, the bar owner now admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.

Regarding this new outreach -- the mega-church's ministerial staff approve of doing Pub Theology -- one of the band's members says: "We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer. I think that is real," he continues, "and I don't think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that." Sure . . . in contrast to "drunkenness, carousing," one fruit of the Spirit is "self-control" (Galatians 5:21, 23).

Relates another band member: "I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus."

Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (That's an acronym for "preacher's kids."). Having been a former pastor, their father has now become the band's "roadie" (That's a term which refers to the managers and technicians traveling with the band.). The members account for the band's existence and approach to ministry for reason of their holier-than-thou Wesleyan upbringing -- you know, "I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't go to R-rated movies, I don't dance."

On this point, and as a rebellious child of the '60s who too was raised in the legalistic environment of Western Michigan, let me say that I understand and somewhat sympathize with the band members' rejection of legalism. But all rebels ought to be cautioned that "rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23). We ought to be reminded that God doesn't make Christians from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Though one's Christianity is defined by inner faith not outer works, Paul did write that Christians are God's "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

Works are the issue of faith. Thus, we must not assume the opposite attitude from legalism, that of antinomianism (i.e., that God's grace cancels out any need to obey His moral and spiritual law). For as Paul asked: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Contradicting antinomianism, the writer of Hebrews orders us to, "Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14-15, NKJV).

Nevertheless, the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for, as the reporter asks, "Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar -- a spiritual one-night stand?" All the band's claims of "doing ministry" notwithstanding -- they do field questions about Christianity from the audience and callers-in, give inebriated individuals rides home, and have even seen one rescued drunk baptized a few days later in their church -- Pub Theology shows every symptom of being a carnal "one-night-stand." (Note: I do not use the word spiritual.)

First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where's the reading of Scripture, the apostles' teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord's Table? (Acts 2:42) But on this point, we can be certain that the band will avoid any impression of being too "churchly or preachy." But beer steins are no substitute for communion cups. In fact, to the true church the Apostle Peter announced that "the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3).

Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band's opening song was Joan Osborne's one-hit wonder, "What if God was one of us?" The lyrics add, "Just a slob like one of us."[3] Imagine . . . God being a slob like the rest of the inebriated crowd at the bar. Given such a humanizing of God, what we're dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry. "[T]he glory of the incorruptible God" is being exchanged "for an image in the form of corruptible man" (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne's lyrical questions in any way resemble or affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament? (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these cited passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub theology band sing them? I'd think they'd estimate that the lyrics of these biblical hymns are far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the "boys" at the bar! If the song "What if God was one of us?" gives any indication, probably none of the other music the band plays includes "psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs."

Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. The Apostle Paul would not have employed carnal means to attain spiritual ends.[4] You can't fight fire with fire. He wrote: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels "drunkenness" a work of the flesh). The Apostle also ordered the Ephesians: "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:18-19). To the Roman believers he added that, "It is good not . . . to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (Romans 14:21).[5]

So we conclude: Given the atmosphere surrounding Pub Theology, the description of love as it exists on a poster at "Sunday-night-church-in-a-bar" might be parodied to read: Now abide these four, "faith, hope, love, and beer," but the greatest of these is beer!

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are taken from Robert King, "Faith, Hope, Love, Beer," The Indianapolis Star, September 27, 2009, A1, A14. Article may be viewed online. See Faith & Values, Robert King, "Pub Theology conveys Christian message in Broad Ripple," Indy Star.com, September 27, 2009, http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009909270384.
[2] Wisdom testifies: "Every word of God is tested . . . Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar" (Proverbs 30:5-6, NASB). Compare Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Revelation 22:18-19.
[3] Lyrics online at: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/ifgodwasoneofuslyrics.html.
[4] Those interested in pursuing the matter of the Christian and alcohol consumption are invited to read, "The Wrath of Grapes: The Christian and Alcohol Consumption." Online the article is available at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20071105160759.
[5] On this point, readers are invited to check out website article, "Was Paul a Pragmatist?" Online the article may be viewed at: http://www.frbaptist.org/bin/view/Ptp/PtpTopic20080513102433 or at Herescope http://herescope.blogspot.com/2008/05/was-paul-pragmatist.html

Pastor DeBruyn is the author of the newly-released book UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away from Seductive Spirituality, available from Discernment Ministries 903-567-6423.

18 October 2009

13 October 2009

God Sightings?

Read the article below from Christian Newswire and tell me if anyone else smells that familiar stench of apostasy. God Sightings? What is a God Sighting? And why do I need to "experience God in a refreshing and non-traditional way?" Is it because God just isn't fitting in with the feeble little picture I have of him? Is it because God isn't doing what I think He should be doing? Is it because that silly old "traditional" God is so archaic, outdated, and well, quite frankly, uncool? Is it because God doesn't always make me feel warm and fuzzy and at peace with the world, especially when He's *gasp* convicting me of my sin? Oh yes, we all need a good God Sighting to perk up our spiritual stupor.

God Sightings Helps Christians to See God as Present and Active in Their Everyday Lives

Contact: Audra Jennings, The B&B Media Group, 800-927-0517 ext 104, ajennings@tbbmedia.com

DALLAS, Oct. 13 /Christian Newswire/ -- People are suggesting that they want more of God and less of the stuff that gets between them and their relationship with God. A recent Barna study revealed that 75% of Christians polled say they sense that "God is motivating people to stay [spiritually] connected but in different ways and through different types of experiences than in the past."

Group Publishing and Tyndale House Publishers have heeded that call and joined together to provide a unique, interactive Bible reading experience called God SightingsTM where people can experience God in a refreshing and non-traditional way. For the first time ever, the complete tools needed to make the pages of Scripture come alive and see God manifested in everyday life and events are now available. By reading God Sightings: The One Year Bible and God Sightings: The One Year Companion Guide, whether in book form or online, users will become participants in something so profoundly simple and powerful that it changes their lives. Through the first-of-its-kind free website, www.MyGodSightings.com, users will encounter something that is already out there but is often missed: God's expressed love in the lives and circumstances of others. Materials for God Sightings are available for individuals to use alone, with groups, as a church-wide campaign or even in online communities.

By using the God Sightings website, groups or individuals can publicly or privately share their thoughts about Scripture and captured "God Sightings" with other people anywhere in the world at any time. The private online community also offers a unique opportunity for groups or families separated by distance or time to look for God together. It is ideal for military spouses separated by war, parents whose children are in college in another city or distant friends who want to stay in touch. It's a chance to witness and share God's presence even when separated by hundreds or thousands of miles.

The God Sightings products include The One Year Bible (New Living Translation or New International Version ), The One Year Companion Guide, The One Year Small Group Leader Guide, and The One Year Launch Kit for Pastors and Ministry Leaders.


I guess I'm just strange because I'm perfectly okay with the way that God has been revealing Himself for the past few thousand years. I know what you're thinking...when will I finally give in and seek out this hip, feel-good, postmodern god? Well, as soon as I get an urge to worship a false idol, I'll be right there to jump on the God Sighting bandwagon. In the meantime, I'll stick with the God of the Bible.

Do You Mourn Daily?

You should. Over your sin, over your disobedience to God. Each night we should be brought to our knees before our holy God in deep repentance over our sins of the day, be they big or small by the world's standards. Each morning we should pray the armor of God onto ourselves so that we may be strong and protected when temptation threatens to cause us to stumble. And each day, as we confess our grievousness before our Lord, we should be overcome with the truth and the promise that Jesus Christ has died so that we might never see judgment for our evil.

From Charles Spurgeon's daily devotional, Morning by Morning:

2 Corinthians 7:10

Godly sorrow worketh repentance.

Genuine, spiritual mourning for sin is the work of the Spirit of God. Repentance is too choice a flower to grow in nature's garden. Pearls grow naturally in oysters, but penitence never shows itself in sinners except divine grace works it in them. If thou hast one particle of real hatred for sin, God must have given it thee, for human nature's thorns never produced a single fig. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." True repentance has a distinct reference to the Saviour. When we repent of sin, we must have one eye upon sin and another upon the cross, or it will be better still if we fix both our eyes upon Christ and see our transgressions only, in the light of His love. True sorrow for sin is eminently practical. No man may say he hates sin, if he lives in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin, not merely as a theory, but experimentally-as a burnt child dreads fire. We shall be as much afraid of it, as a man who has lately been stopped and robbed is afraid of the thief upon the highway; and we shall shun it-shun it in everything-not in great things only, but in little things, as men shun little vipers as well as great snakes. True mourning for sin will make us very jealous over our tongue, lest it should say a wrong word; we shall be very watchful over our daily actions, lest in anything we offend, and each night we shall close the day with painful confessions of shortcoming, and each morning awaken with anxious prayers, that this day God would hold us up that we may not sin against Him. Sincere repentance is continual. Believers repent until their dying day. This dropping well is not intermittent. Every other sorrow yields to time, but this dear sorrow grows with our growth, and it is so sweet a bitter, that we thank God we are permitted to enjoy and to suffer it until we enter our eternal rest.

07 October 2009

Alpha Exposed: Part 2b

This is by no means the next full installment of the Alpha Exposed series. But since it will lead nicely into the next installment, which will discuss the people Nicky Gumbel has aligned himself with, I thought it would be appropriate to share.

Yesterday, Northland Church tweeted an advertisement to visit their website and see what Alpha is doing in their church. Conveniently, the "tweet" has now been removed, so I cannot reproduce it here. A little background: Northland Church, A Church Distributed (yes, that is their name) is a mega-church located in Florida and is where the next National Alpha Conference is scheduled to be held. The senior pastor of Northland is Joel Hunter. In February of 2009, Hunter "was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which will advise Mr. Obama on substantive policy issues." Well I must say, "Pastor" Hunter, you're certainly doing a stand-up job with the advice thus far! Not only is this president pushing for taxpayer-funded abortion, he also is strongly seeking to demolish the God-given definition of marriage! But I digress. The point I want to briefly make is that "Pastor" Hunter is another typical social justice "religious" leader with his priorities--and his theology--out of joint. And he is a big proponent of Alpha. Hm. Below is the content you will find on the Northland Church website regarding Alpha. With a few choice comments tossed in by yours truly in red. You'll notice that there is contact information provided within this advertisement. I have chosen not to remove it since it is already posted freely and openly on the Northland Church website for anyone to access.

From crusades to couples nights: How God is using the Alpha course at Northland.
So it’s official ... “Man vs. Wild” star Bear Grylls is going to prison. No, Grylls hasn’t been arrested. He’s bringing a message of hope to inmates when he comes to Northland for the 2009 National Alpha Conference, Oct. 20-21 in Longwood.

While Bear (is that his real name?) has braved some of the world’s toughest terrains, including his famed climb of Mount Everest in 1998, the Discovery Channel mainstay says his greatest adventure has been as a believer in Christ.

“I have learned over the years from numerous expeditions, close calls and hairy moments, that it takes a proud man to say that he never needs any help. And I have yet to meet an atheist in the Death Zone on Everest or in a lifeboat,” Bear says.

He adds, “Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether you are going to include a spiritual dimension (a spiritual dimension? That seems like an odd way to define your Christian faith. Funny, I don't remember Paul or Peter or John referring to belief in Christ as including a "spiritual dimension to your life." But I suppose we shouldn't get hung up on that silly old Bible now, should we?) to your life. But for what it is worth, life becomes a lot wilder and a lot more fun if you do.” (So being a Christian, I'm sorry, adding a "spiritual dimension" to your life makes it wilder and more fun? Hm. So much for all those trials and persecutions Christ and Peter and Paul spoke of. Jesus must have forgotten to mention that when he told us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.")

In the weeks leading up to his visit to the prison, episodes of “Man vs. Wild” are being played in the prison chapel on DVD to help introduce inmates to Grylls who, in turn, will introduce them to The Alpha Course.

What Is Alpha?

If you have a passion for winning people to Christ (oh, I didn't realize that we were the ones doing the winning! All this time I thought that was the Holy Spirit who was changing hearts for Christ. Is there a prize for "winning" the most people "to Christ"?), then you’ll want to check out Alpha. Started in London in 1979 as a brush-up course for rusty churchgoers, The Alpha Course has become a worldwide phenomenon.

More than 13 million people in 163 countries have attended an Alpha course, with more than 2 million people in the U.S. participating. (Numbers, numbers, it's all about numbers!) A recent study showed that in New England alone, 28 percent of all new converts were reached through Alpha.

The way it works is a lot like the early church. During a 10-week period, people are invited to relaxed dinners, which are followed by discussions about the Christian faith. No question is out of bounds, and participants are free to say as much or as little as they wish as they make up their own minds about the teachings of Jesus. (Emphasis mine. WHAT? We make up our own minds about Jesus? So...does it not matter what the Bible, God's Word, tells us about Jesus? Call me crazy, but I highly doubt that the early church operated in this manner. The stories I know consist of the apostles standing and preaching and teaching the Gospel of repentance and salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. And there is no "making up your own mind about the teachings." The teachings of Christ are not open to interpretation.) Spirited discussions often ensue on topics ranging from “Who is God?” and “Why am I here?” to “Why is there suffering?” and “Is God a delusion?”

What excites me most is how the course attracts people from so many different backgrounds: atheists, those revisiting their own faith, even people from different religions. It’s a great opportunity to invite people you may not otherwise even talk to! (Really? I would think the most exciting thing would be seeing God draw more people unto Himself and knowing that those people are no longer condemned to an eternity in Hell. But I guess if it's all about socializing and showing people how "cool" Christianity can be...)

More than half those who attend the course make decisions for Christ. (They make decisions for Christ? So now we're teaching decision-ism. Interesting. My Bible tells me that I am saved by no action of my own. It tells me that I am saved by the grace of God! For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph. 2:8-9) Bear says Alpha’s pressure-free approach is a key to its success: “I have seen so many people find a personal relationship with God and a quiet strength in their lives after doing the course—myself included.”

Take the Plunge

Alpha recently released a cool, three-minute commercial starring Grylls to help promote the course. (Well I'm glad the commercial is cool. I wouldn't want to watch it if it wasn't cool. Wait, but what do we do when Jesus isn't "cool"? Oh, I know! We find a way to make Him more popular by just talking about the good things He taught and conveniently ignoring the Truth of sin and eternal damnation.) In the action-packed ad, Grylls is stranded on a desert island and is desperately trying to catch the attention of a helicopter passing overhead. “When you get a chance to be saved, you gotta grab it,” declares Grylls before dashing off into the jungle.

Fighting his way through the brush, he dives headfirst off a cliff into the ocean, eventually landing on a beach where he struggles to start a fire with his survival knife and a piece of flint. Finally, in desperation, he begins spelling giant words in the sand to catch the attention of the copter whirring overhead ... resulting in a surprise ending. You can check out the commercial at www.northlandchurch.net/event/bear/. (I can barely contain my excitement)

Not only is this a great way to introduce your friends and family to Christ, it’s a great way to help grow our congregation. (Ah, there it is! Numbers, let's get those numbers up!) Many churches offering The Alpha Course report that their attendance has exploded as a result. (Who wants to tell Northland that there will be an awful lot of full churches after the Rapture?) Pastor Rick Warren, author of the worldwide bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life, calls The Alpha Course “one of the most effective evangelism tools for the 21st century.” (Oh, well if Rick Warren endorses it, sign me up! It must be a money-maker!)

Alpha’s Beginnings at Northland

Many in our congregation, including our own Pastor Gus Davies, have been involved with Alpha for years (great, now I feel better). At the National Conference, you can learn how to use The Alpha Course in a variety of settings—at church, at work, in prisons, on college campuses and many other places. Learn more by clicking on the “Events” tab on Northland’s website.

You can hear Bear both at the National Conference and during “Bear Grylls LIVE!”, a citywide crusade the evening of October 21. This will be a great, non-threatening ("Non-threatening?" In other words, "unoffensive" right? Well, then that must not be the same Gospel I know! The Jesus I've learned about offended people every place He went because He spoke the Truth!) way to share the Gospel with the people in your life who aren’t yet included in God’s family.

By the way ... if you want to see for yourself how the Alpha course works, Pastor Gus has scheduled an “Alpha Preview” night, Sunday, November 1, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Longwood, room 4213. Whether you just want to learn more about the course or are interested in hosting or facilitating a course, this preview course is for you. For more information, contact Laura Young (407-949-7165 or laura.young@northlandchurch.net).

Want a Date Night?

In addition to the conference and the crusade, Alpha also offers The Marriage Course, which is held at Northland throughout the year. This class gives married couples tools to build a strong and healthy marriage that lasts a lifetime. Each evening begins with a candlelit meal, brought by the couple attending the class, followed by a video and discussion. Topics covered in this class range from resolving conflict and healing past hurt, to knowing how to make each other feel loved and having fun together.

Did I mention that childcare is available for what amounts to be an intimate date night with your spouse? ("For what amounts to be an intimate date night?" Did they just demean the Gospel down to a date? Ugh. No comment.) Details, questions, and registration: Barb Olsen (407-949-7183 or barbara.olsen@northlandchurch.net)

Robert Andrescik is director of public relations for Northland. Contact him at 407-949-7147 or robert.andrescik@northlandchurch.net.

05 October 2009

Christians and Halloween

Below is a great article from John MacArthur's ministry Grace to You. It addresses the annual debate among Christians regarding Halloween. Should we participate in the festivities, or not? Personally, I'm inclined to say not. Were I a parent, I would not encourage my children to celebrate this "holiday." Of course I understand that's easier said than done. Still, I find that to be part of our calling to be in the world, but not of it--most days it's going to mean that we will be completely ostracized from our more worldly-minded neighbors. Better a few side-glances in this life for the promise of an eternity with Christ though, don't you think?

Christians and Halloween
Colossians 2:15, 1 Peter 5:8, Hebrews 10:27, Romans 2:14-16

Halloween October 31Halloween. It's a time of year when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Americans the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. Retailers also rejoice as they warm up their cash registers to receive an average of $41.77 per household in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards. Halloween will bring in approximately $3.3 billion this year.

It's a good bet retailers won't entertain high expectations of getting $41.77 per household from the Christian market. Many Christians refuse to participate in Halloween. Some are wary of its pagan origins; others of its dark, ghoulish imagery; still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick-or-treating, or a Halloween alternative at their church.

The question is, How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season--are they overreacting?

The Pagan Origin of Halloween
The name "Halloween" comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. "All Hallows Eve" was eventually contracted to "Hallow-e'en," which became "Halloween."

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith. To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in "Christianizing" a pagan ritual--the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That's what happened to All Saints Eve--it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds, slaughtering animals that wouldn't make it. Life slowed down as winter brought darkness (shortened days and longer nights), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the color black, remains prominent in today's Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced "sow" "en") celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days--October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living--ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead.Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought "divine" spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world's "blessings" on a couple's romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper sendoff with treats--possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably "treated" would "trick" those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Trick-bent spirits were believed to assume grotesque appearances. Some traditions developed, which believed wearing a costume to look like a spirit would fool the wandering spirits. Others believed the spirits could be warded off by carving a grotesque face into a gourd or root vegetable (the Scottish used turnips) and setting a candle inside it--the jack-o-lantern.

Into that dark, superstitious, pagan world, God mercifully shined the light of the gospel. Newly converted Christians armed themselves with the truth and no longer feared a haunting from departed spirits returning to earth. In fact, they denounced their former pagan spiritism in accord with Deuteronomy 18:

There shall not be found among you anyone...who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (vv. 10-13).

Nonetheless, Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century--he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to "Christianized" superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a "trick" being played on their property from drunken young people.

Halloween didn't become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late nineteenth century. While early immigrants may have believed the superstitious traditions, it was the mischievous aspects of the holiday that attracted American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood has added to the "fun" a wide assortment of fictional characters--demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. That certainly isn't improving the American mind, but it sure is making someone a lot of money.

The Christian Response to Halloween
Today Halloween is almost exclusively an American secular holiday, but many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That's not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

So, how should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God's Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). God has forever "disarmed principalities and powers" through the cross Christ and "made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]" (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists or pagan witches, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior--drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families.Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people should stay away from secular Halloween parties since those are breeding grounds for trouble. Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn't just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls "a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God's] adversaries" (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God's wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner--now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination--death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry--as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian's ally in the evangelistic enterprise. Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ for the repentant sinner.

There are several different ways Christians will engage in Halloween evangelism. Some will adopt a "No Participation" policy. As Christian parents, they don't want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities--listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don't want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.

That response naturally raises eyebrows and provides a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask. It's also important that parents explain their stand to their children and prepare them to face the teasing or ridicule of their peers and the disapproval or scorn of their teachers.

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called "Harvest Festivals" or "Reformation Festivals"--the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It's ironic when you consider Halloween's beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, "treating" needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Those are good alternatives; there are others that are not so good. Some churches are using "Hell House" evangelism to shock young people and scare them into becoming Christians. They walk people through rooms patterned after carnival-style haunted houses and put sin on display--women undergoing abortions, people sacrificed in a satanic ritual, consequences of premarital sex, dangers of rave parties, demon possession, and other tragedies.

Here's the problem with so-called Hell House evangelism: To shock an unshockable culture, you have to get pretty graphic. Graphic exhibits of sin and its consequences are unnecessary--unbelieving minds are already full of such images. What they need tosee is a life truly transformed by the power of God, and what they need tohear is the truth of God in an accurate presentation of the gospel. Cheap gimmickry is unfitting for Christ's ambassadors.Candy

There's another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There's nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children--provided you're not stingy--can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, Christian participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honor God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing mercy to those who are perishing. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish both of those things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's a message that is holy, set apart from the world; it's a message that is the very mercy of a forgiving God. What better time of the year is there to share such a message than Halloween?

© 2006 by Travis Allen
Internet Ministry Manager
Grace to You

Willow Creek and Focus on the Family Promote Contemplative Prayer Proponents

Willow Creek and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality will join forces to promote Contemplative Prayer

Contact: UndergroundNews.us, 608-469-7956

MADISON, Wisc., Sept. 22 /Christian Newswire/ -- Starting on September 15, Willow Creek will distribute the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Church-wide study, which includes a kit, the EHS book, the EHS Group workbook, the teaching DVD, and The Daily Office.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality was co-founded by Pete and Geri Scazzero. It is an organization that is supposed to "apply emotional health to biblical spirituality in order to transform leaders, relationships, churches and organizations" according to the EHS website.

Tenet 4 of the 12 Foundational Tenets on the website states, "the church today parallels that of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th century. Following the example of Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus, the desert fathers fled to the desert to seek God, we too must find our deserts in the midst of our activity for Christ. We can learn a great deal from the contemplative, monastic tradition as we seek to remain rooted as we engage the world with the gospel."

However, many believe the desert fathers received many of their meditative techniques from Eastern beliefs or they developed spontaneously to be like the meditative techniques used in false Eastern religions.

The father of Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton, is widely recognized as the person in the twenty-first century who promoted Contemplative Prayer. On page 17 of "Spiritual Classics" edited by Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin, it is said, "His (Merton's) interest in contemplation led him to investigate prayer forms in Eastern religion. Zen masters from Asia regarded him as the preeminent authority on their kind of prayer in the United States."

Also, on June 21, 2009, Focus on the Family put an article on their website called "Taking Off Our 'Happy Faces' at Church" by Lynne Thompson. The article freely promoted the Scazzero's and their book "The Emotionally Healthy Church" (Zondervan) despite the Scazzero's promotion of Contemplative Prayer.

Other endorsers of the Scazzero's include John Ortberg (Menlo Presbyterian Church) and Dr. Jack Hayford (President of the International Foursquare Churches).

UndergroundNews.us is a news and apologetics site. Steve McConkey is the President. He graduated with honors from Minnesota State University-Mankato (BS-Public Health) and Western Kentucky University (Masters of Public Health). From 1982 through 1992, he was a Director/Coach of elite post-collegiate Christian track and field teams.

So tell me, do you go to your Christian church to practice Eastern religious techniques? Remember, just because someone tosses the label "Christian" onto something or just because a "pastor" is promoting and/or teaching it doesn't necessarily mean that it aligns with the Word of God! Keep praying for discernment, and keep looking up!

04 October 2009

Sunday Morning Praise

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:7-13

03 October 2009

Satan's Still Playing the Same Old Games

I found this article today over at Extreme Theology. It's a few brief thoughts on the Emergent Church posted by Christian apologist Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio:


I found a quote today during my theological research that stopped me in my tracks. The quote was written during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church during the 1920's. But this quote literally could have been written today regarding the current battle among Confessional Christians of the Reformation and Post-Modern Liberals aka Emergents. Here's the quote:

"The Radicals [Modernist Liberals] are set on substituting 'evolution' for creation, 'the principle animating the cosmos' for the living God, consciousness of the individual for the authority of the Bible, reason for revelation, sight for faith, 'social service' for salvation, reform for regeneration, the priest for the prophet, ecclesiasticism for evangelism, the human Jesus for the divine Christ, a man-made 'ideal society' for the divinely promised kingdom of God, and humanitarian efforts in this poor world for an eternity of joy in God's bright home." -The Fundamentalist, Vol. II, No. 1

This battle is still raging today.

As much as the Emergents like to claim they are different than Modernists it is painfully clear that they champion many of the exact same heresies as their Modernist forebears.

Today's Post-Modern Liberals, Emergents:

1. Question and/or Deny the Inerrancy of the Scriptures.
2. Question and/or Deny the Virgin Birth and by extension call the deity of Jesus into question.
3. Openly mock and repudiate the Penal Substitutionary atonement.
4. Openly challenge salvation by grace alone through faith alone by Christ's work alone.
5. Question and/or Deny Christ's Physical Return in Chronos Time to Judge the Living and the Dead.
6. Question and/or Deny God's Eternal and Conscious Punishment of the Wicked (Hell).

It may be time to re-examine the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 20th Century and draw a clear line in the sand and call today's Post-Modern Liberals to repentance and the forgiveness of sins for their heresies. If they will not repent of their heresies then its high time to once again practice church discipline and the lost art of excommunication.

I think the quote that Rosebrough referenced above perfectly describes the goals of today's postmodern Emergent Church. If these teachings are being filtered into your church, RUN! You'll be most likely to find them first in the youth and young adult programs. Today's younger generations have been indoctrinated to question everything and so they are the easiest audience for the Emergents to capture. The six points that are listed above are a great summary of the most fundamental Christian doctrines that have been brought into question by today's postmodern liberals. Just remember, where there's smoke, there's fire. If you see even a hint, a glimpse, in your church of teachings that don't seem to sync with what God's Holy and Sacred Word says, then I guarantee that there is already a bigger fire burning within your church than you realize.