Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lessons For the Church From the Book of Acts

Today I took some much needed time to go through the book of Acts. There is so much confusion over what the church is and does today that I wanted to go back to its start and be reminded of how God designed it. While the culture around us may be changing, the role and work of the Church does not. That is simply because God Himself does not change nor does His Word. While we do need to be careful in taking a historical account that documents God's work in a specific time and place to not make it prescriptive (telling us what we need to do) instead of descriptive (informing us of what has been done), that doesn't mean that there still aren't things that remain the same with the Lord's design and work. I'll just share with you three specific things that jumped out at me in the book of Acts and the lessons from them for the church today.

God Is The One Who Ultimately Does the Work
The book of Acts is actually inaccurately titled. It shouldn't be called "The Acts of the Apostles" but really "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit" as it is His work and not any man's. In fact, Luke seems to go out of his way to emphasize that every major occurrence is a result of the action of God. He is the One indicated who pierces the hearts of the crowd listening to Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek word for "pierce" indicates that this is something that happens to the people from outside of them. It clearly was the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and not something that originated from them internally. Luke credits the growth of the Church with God and not the apostles or members of it (2:47; 5:14; 9:31; 11:21, 24; 16:5). "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). Jesus Himself met Saul also known as Paul on the road to Damascus dramatically turning his life around and changing his course (9:1-9). Paul didn't have a chance to refuse the Lord of glory when confronted with His presence! The Gentiles who believed were those whom God had already appointed to have eternal life (13:48). Lydia didn't open up her own heart to respond to the gospel message that Paul shared but the Lord did (16:14) and God made sure that Paul knew that there were many people in the city of Corinth whom He had sovereignly chosen to be His people (18:9-10).

Throughout the entire movement of the early church, God's Spirit directed, guided, and protected all that happened. The Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul/Paul (13:2) as well as guided the decision of the Jerusalem Council (15:28), determined Paul, Silas, and Timothy to go to Macedonia to minister as He shut the door to the other directions in which they were heading (16:6-10), and called the ones He desired to serve as elders in the church at Ephesus (20:28). God also worked to remove every stumbling block that Satan tried to mount against the Church. He took care of Ananias and Sapphira's tampering with the truth before the church (5:1-11), released Peter and others from prison (5:17-20); insured that Saul would be received by Ananias (9:10-16) and that Peter would witness to the Gentiles (10:13-16) in light of both of their apprehension, released Peter from prison again (12:6-17), struck down King Herod (12:18-23), and protected Paul in order to bring him to Rome where he could further spread the gospel message (27:1-28:10).

I am certain that there are many more that could be shared that I have missed but as you can see everything that took place all was a work of God. No man could take the credit for what transpired in the life of this church as it was growing and expanding. I think the same is still just as true today. Any work that ever is accomplished in any congregation can only be explained as it being a work of God's Holy Spirit. We could never bring about the same results that God can. So, does that mean that we can sit back and expect God to just take care of everything? Nope. Because we do also see in the book of Acts an important role that the Lord has called His redeemed church to play in His marvelous plan of salvation.

The Means God Uses To Accomplish This Work of Growing His Church is The Church's Prayer and Proclamation
God, in His infinite wisdom, has determined to do this great work of expanding and growing His church through the means of the church itself. Specifically through the church's praying and proclamation. We don't find these new believers lazy by any means. They are busy for the Lord!

First, they are a praying church. And I am not talking about each member simply saying grace before a meal or saying a few words to the Lord as they go to bed. They spent time praying together as a church. The discipline served as part of the regular routine of their gathering together (2:42). Just about everything that they did was preceded in prayer whether it was seeking the Lord's will for the replacement of Judas (1:23-26), commissioning leaders (6:3-6; 13:3; 14:23), and asking for the sending of the Spirit for new believers (8:14-17). God honored their prayers as well. After they prayed for boldness in 4:23-30, we are told that "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). Such boldness can be seen with the scattering of the apostles to spread that gospel message as well as with Stephen preaching the gospel unto his death. Also, their earnest prayer for Peter in prison (12:5) resulted with his release, much to the surprise of the church (vv. 12-17). Paul and Silas' praying and praise brought about an earthquake freeing them as well as leading to the conversion of the jailer himself (16:25-34).

This is quite a contrast to the activity of most American churches today. If the congregation has a prayer meeting, and that is a big IF, very few people come out for it or take it seriously. They claim to not have time to come before the Lord with their brothers and sisters, admit their utter dependency upon Him, and request Him to do the work that only He can do. No wonder we don't see God do as much in our congregations today. We aren't petitioning Him to do anything. I am convinced that we could see the same mighty works of God moving today as that church in Acts if we would just follow their lead and get on our knees together.

Second, this church was a proclaiming church. Their main work in addition to praying was proclaiming the gospel of God's grace to those who needed to hear it which is everyone. Luke records not only the church's actions in this (6:7; 8:4-6; 14:1; 16:13; 17:2-3, 13, 17; 18:4, 28) but also even some of their evangelistic encounters or sermons in detail (2:14-36; 3:11-26; 7:1-53; 8:26-40; 9:19-22; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:22-31). The narrative ends with Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:31). Without any question this was the church's main goal . . . and of course it should have been as their Lord and Master commanded them to do so (Matthew 28:19-20) and stated that this was His purpose for them (Acts 1:8). Above all else, they were committed to tell others about Jesus and the salvation that can only be found in Him.

If prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God serve as the two means that God uses to bring about His intended purpose in the church, then why would the contemporary church neglect them or attempt to do anything else? Could this be why many congregations today are not seeing much spiritual growth (which is different from just filling the pews with people whose hearts remain far from God)? They have abandoned the only two means that God has ordained for Himself to work through. In fact, in light of this we can refine the proper title of Acts, "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Prayer and Proclamation of the Apostles."

The Work That the Church Does Is Empowered By the Holy Spirit
One final thing I want to point out to you concerning what we can learn from the book of Acts. You will notice that as you read through this historical account that even this proclamation of the gospel that the church labored at to serve as the means of God's drawing men and women to Himself was not done in their own strength. They did it relying on the power that God provided for them in His Holy Spirit. Many times before someone shared the gospel or had God do a mighty work through them, we read that they were "filled with the Spirit" (4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9-11). Those who were mature in the faith are also deemed to be "filled with the Spirit" (6:3, 5; 11:24). I think the point communicated with this phrase is that these men operated by the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their appointed task.

Believers today are no more stronger than these weak ones we read about in this book. Remember that many of these apostles were the timid, confused, stubborn disciples who cowered in fear behind locked doors after Jesus' arrest. The only explanation for the courage we witness in Acts is that they were relying on the power of the Holy Spirit that the Lord had graciously given them to do the means which God worked through to bring about His plan to grow His church. How much more could those in the church accomplish today if they just would rely on the Holy Spirit that dwells within them? To step out in faith and in Him find the confidence to face the uncomfortable? David Platt hit the nail on the head when he said, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the spread of the Gospel today is the people of God trying to do the work of God apart from the power and presence of God.”

Putting all of this together we could say that a better name for the book of Acts would be "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of the Apostles Empowered By That Spirit." Of course, that would be a rather long title but more substantial in capturing the essence of the book. However, I think the bigger issue is whether what you see in your congregation could be described as "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of His People Empowered By His Spirit" or "The Acts of Man Through the Worldly Means of Themselves Relying on Themselves." May God mold us into the model of the church provided for us in the book of Acts instead of allowing us to be molded by the model of the world.

Love in Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Are you a Christian Atheist?



Yes you read right! And it was not a typo, I am asking a genuine question and I think it is a serious one. It is possible to claim you believe in God and yet in actual fact you really do not believe in him. I strongly believe how a person lives says everything about what they believe. What you believe to be true- corresponding to reality is going to affect what you do (lifestyle). Let’s say I told you there is a bomb in the room and the timer says it will explode in 30 seconds and you say you believe me, but you remain unmoved and continue with your business. Either you have a death wish or you do not actually believe what I said. Your mouth claimed one thing but your actions said something else. Our actions and not necessarily our words will ultimately show what we believe.

Every sin springs from unbelief. Our actions, feelings and attitude spring from our thoughts. Whatever we think is true about God, our lives and circumstances will lead to feelings, attitude and actions. For example, if I think God is not in control in my life I will soon become discontent when things don’t go my way and it will lead me to take control of things and do it my way. If I don’t think God sees all things and knows all things, I will think I can get away with my thoughts and actions done in secret. Now one may proclaim with their mouth that God is all knowing but yet proceed to live a hypocritical and pretentious life and in the process confirm what they actually believe.

And it brings me back to the question, are you a Christian Atheist? Do you really believe the God of the bible exists? Do you believe He is who he says He is? And that all His attributes are true? If that is so, is your life a testimony of what you believe? Or are the words of scripture true of you when it says:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21)

So what truths about God are you struggling with? Which of God’s attributes do you not believe at the moment? Are struggling with His sovereignty? Do you doubt His love, are you thinking He is not sufficient? Do you doubt His power and wisdom? Or maybe it is His grace and mercy? Do you struggle to believe that He is a just God? What do you believe about God?

“Are you frequently bored and empty, or restless and agitated? Does your labor seem to you like you are chasing after wind? Do you despise the routine and constraints of life? Is all your activity merely to dull the pain of an empty life? Are you frequently depressed and discouraged? Do you often feel alone, rejected and abandoned? Do you look for action because you have a hard time when left by yourself? Are you afraid to be by yourself because your thoughts when alone are too painful? God is poking you and reminding you that’s not how you ought to live. “(Berg, The secret to success. Lesson 3). Life in this world will only make sense and have meaning when we humbly turn to God and in faith submit our lives in worship and service.




Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Untamable God!

As I been following our Bible reading plan for the year, I cannot help but be struck by the God that I continue to encounter in His written revelation. A God who creates the entire universe in a mere six literal 24 hour day span by His very Word (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3). Who promises to bring about the Deliverer to ultimately defeat the deceiver (Genesis 3:15). Who wipes out all of His sinful creation but decides to show grace to one man and his family (Genesis 6:5-8). Who does the impossible (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37). Who takes evil intentions and uses them for the good of His people’s salvation (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Who is the great I Am Who is, was, and is to come (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; Revelation 1:8). Who displays His great power in freeing His chosen people from slavery and through hardening the Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 3-14). Who thunders and appears as smoke and fire upon the mountain and warns unholy people not to get too close to Him (Exodus 19:18-25). Who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6). Who strikes down Nadab and Abihu for failing to treat Him as holy (Leviticus 10:1-3), as well as Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6-7), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), yet chooses to show mercy to sinners David (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15) and Paul (Acts 9:1-19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Who is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). Who puts to death and gives life, wounds and heals, and from Whom no one can deliver (Deuteronomy 32:39). Who crushes His very own Son to death so that His chosen people may have life with Him for all eternity (Isaiah 53). Who does whatever He pleases, as He pleases, how He pleases, to whom He pleases (Exodus 33:19; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35; Jeremiah 18:5-10; Romans 9:15-18; Ephesians 1:11).

This is a God so holy that He cannot let even the smallest infraction of His perfect law go unpunished and so loving that He sent His only Son to serve as the perfect substitute for those who look to Him alone to be able to have a relationship with Him in spite of the sins that condemn them. This is a God to tremble at. A God who should bring us to our knees. A God fully deserving of all our worship and adoration. A God that you seriously don’t want to mess with. (You did read some of the examples shared in the last paragraph, didn’t you?)

I am reminded of a scene in C. S. Lewis’ children’s story, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when the beavers are first telling the kids about the King of Narnia, the noble lion, Aslan. (Lewis wrote His Chronicles of Narnia series with the intention of teaching children about the faith with Aslan representing the Lord Jesus Christ in his stories.) As soon as they discover that he is a lion, they ask if he is “safe." The response they receive is that he is not safe, but he is good. And if anyone can appear before him “without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly” (New York: Macmillian Publishing Company; 1950; 75). He is a fierce and loving lion. What an accurate picture of God! He is not safe or tame, but He is good. He is both fierce and loving.

However, I am concerned that we have lost such a picture of God today. There has been a great attempt among many to try to “tame” God. To overemphasize His love to the exclusion of His holiness. To focus on the loving aspects of His character (His mercy shown to David and Paul as well as to all repentant sinners), while choosing to ignore His fierceness (His appearance on Mt. Sinai or His dealings with Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, and Ananias and Sapphira as well as the eternal punishment He decrees for all unrepentant sinners). Those who do just that do not wind up “taming” God but actually “creating” a god of their own fashioning who cannot save and will leave one empty. As you continue to read through your Bibles this year, make sure to take note of the full picture of how God has revealed Himself. He is untamable and we must see Him for Who He is as He has shown Himself to us.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, January 30, 2015

Questions To Ask Of The Bible Passage You Are Studying

Have you ever been reading your Bible and been left scratching your head? Trying to figure out what the point of the passage is that you were studying? Or wanting to know what you should take away from it? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all have had times like this. Whether it would be trudging through those hard to pronounce seemingly endless genealogies in Genesis or Jesus’ puzzling parables in Matthew. Here are a few questions that very well might help you get more out of your Bible reading this upcoming year. Take the time to ask these questions about whatever passage you may be reading.

What Does This Passage Teach Us About God? The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. “Revelation” means “to make known.” It is through God’s Word that He makes Himself known to us. So, we learn the specifics about Who God is and what He does from the Bible. Ask yourself what characteristics about God do you see displayed in this passage. Does it say something about His love, His grace, His mercy, His wrath, His justice, or His holiness? Or do we see something that He does?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Sinful Humanity? The Bible presents to us God’s commentary on mankind. We learn that God made man in His image. That this image became marred on account of the Fall in Genesis 3 and as a result of that act of disobedience, all men are born slaves to sin in need of salvation. Ask yourself what this says about our condition. Is there a certain sin that plagues mankind that is illustrated? For instance, the constructing of the golden bull calf by the people of Israel in Exodus 32 not too long after God’s redemption of them from their slavery in Egypt serves as a reminder of how prone to idolatry we sinful humans are and how much we need to constantly guard against such idols (which of course are not limited to statues). Or how does the passage point to our need of salvation that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Jesus? We must realize when we come to Scripture that we are not the point. The main character of the Bible is God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His story, not ours. We are blessed that God has chosen to make us a part of the story in having Jesus save us in His death, burial, and resurrection and accepting us to become His people as He views us as righteous through our faith in Jesus alone. This means we need to be mindful of how the passage points us to Jesus. And this is just as true for the Old Testament as it is for the New. Those genealogies in Genesis begin to make sense when we realize that they are connecting us to Jesus. Moses is tracing the seed God promised who would come to defeat the sinister serpent, Satan (Genesis 3:15). He wants us to see that He will be the son of Adam, the son of Seth, the son of Enosh . . . the son of Noah, the son of Shem, the son of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the son of Jacob, and the son of Judah. Those difficult names actually serve a grand purpose in God’s ultimate plan of salvation! Also, much of what God has ordained to occur throughout Old Testament history somehow foreshadows the coming of Jesus. A good example can be found in Genesis 22 when the young boy Isaac, Abraham’s one and only son whom he loves, carries wood up the mountain for what originally appears to be for him to be offered up as a sacrifice. A couple thousand years later, God’s one and only son whom He loves, will carry a cross of wood up a mountain for Him to be offered up as a sacrifice. Where a ram served as the substitute for Isaac, Jesus served as the substitute for God’s people. Pay attention to what we can learn about Jesus from the text.

What Part Does The Passage Play in God’s Plan of Salvation?. We must keep in mind as we read through the Bible that it is all one story. There is the grand narrative of God’s salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son. Every passage serves as a puzzle piece that together forms the full picture. It is helpful for us to figure out how the passage we are reading contributes to God’s overall plan. Perhaps it might be helpful to divide this plan up into four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. “Creation” is found in Genesis 1-2 where God created everything good and perfect. The “Fall” is described in Genesis 3 when man disobeyed God in the garden. “Redemption” is the work of Christ to save fallen humanity and “Restoration” serves as the end of God’s plan when Jesus returns and restores everything back to the paradise it was when God originally created it. Where does the passage fit in this overarching plan?

What Does This Passage Direct Me to Do? Are there any commands in this passage that call us to some sort of action? Anything it explicitly states that I should be doing in my walk with the Lord which I am not? Anything specific I need to go to the Lord in prayer about, requesting Him to work in my life? Asking these questions will help you discover what to take away from your reading.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Importance of the Word of God

Did you ever realize that the longest love poem in the Bible is not directed to a wife from a husband but to God’s Word itself? Psalm 119 is the largest of the psalms and bigger than 30 entire books in the Bible. This poem is an acrostic, which means that it is organized according to the alphabet. Broken down into 22 stanzas consisting of 8 verses, each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first eight lines each start with the first letter of the alphabet (aleph), the second eight lines with the second letter (beth), and so forth.

And this poem is all about the Word of God. In fact, the author of the psalm finds himself so enamored with God’s Word that he basically refers to it in every single one of the lines of the poem. One word itself does not suffice for how he chooses to reference God’s Word. Instead, he needs to use nine different terms. He speaks of God’s “law,” “testimonies,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “judgments,” “word,” and “ordinances.” He cannot speak enough about the Word of God.

Several times the psalmist mentions how he delights in God’s Word (vv. 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 174). For him, Scripture is more desirable than any material treasure. “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14). “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver” (v. 72). “Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (v. 127). He certainly could sing that he “would rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” His love for God leads him to have a love for His Word that He has spoken to us. Such should be the desire for every Christian. Since God’s written Word points us to the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we love, we should have a similar attitude as that of the psalmist. Treasuring His Word far more than any earthly riches we may ever hold.

This delight in God’s Word greatly impacts how this man approaches the Word. He doesn’t just look at it once a week or a few minutes each day. It is constantly on his mind. He talks of meditating on the Word (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 148). “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). He ponders the Word as he goes about the chores and tasks of his day. He states that he has “stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (v. 11). In order for him to do this, he must have been striving to become very familiar with God’s Word; both what it says and what it means. There seems to be the idea of him working to have it memorized here. How else can one “store” something in their heart?

The author of this grand poem even is thankful that he suffered because it caused him to learn more about God’s Word. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (v. 71). He recognized that the trial or tribulation that he had to go through, which he never identifies anywhere in this psalm, had a silver lining as it produced a greater understanding of what God has said. Rather than complaining concerning his difficult experience, he rejoices. He recognizes that he would not have known God’s Word as much had he not gone through whatever the situation might have been. Do we ever think about how God may use hard situations to help us understand His Word better? To move us to trust Him more by taking Him at His Word? Or better yet, do we rejoice in our trials, knowing that in God’s purpose, we will come to know Him better in the revelation of Himself in His Word?

One thing this psalm certainly shows us is just how important the Word of God must be in a Christian’s life. So significant that we can’t just leave our Bibles sit on the shelf. Or substitute a daily Bible reading with a short quick devotion that tells a nice little story but only briefly mentions a verse of Scripture. I want to encourage you this upcoming year to make time to really read and study God’s Word. To set aside time each day to commune with God by reading a few chapters of Scripture. R. C. Sproul has stated that the real problem why so many of us are lax in our Bible study habits is not because we don’t understand the Bible or lack a desire to read it, but it stems from us being lazy. Reading and studying the Bible daily indeed is work and does take discipline. To help the congregation in which I serve in getting better at developing a necessary habit of Bible reading, I have invited them to join with me in following a Bible reading plan for the upcoming year that will take us through the entire Bible. I encourage those few who might happen to read this blog to find a good Bible plan and seek to read through the entire Bible this upcoming year as well. (If you would like some Bible plans to consider, or to join with the Mt. Joy congregation in the plan we will be following, please let me know.) Let’s pray that God would use our time in the Word each day to create in us the same passion and desire we witness in the 119th Psalm and further conform us into the image of His beloved Son.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
~Luke 14:26-27

Being a disciple or follower of Christ comes at a great cost. It certainly is not an easy calling. Jesus could not be any clearer concerning this. Throughout His ministry, He continued to remind the crowds surrounding Him the full weight of what being a follower of Him entailed and even going so far as to push away those who were not willing to pay the cost.

Jesus first tells the crowds that to come to Him to be His disciple entails having Him as their greatest love. This is what it means when He says that one cannot be His disciple unless he would hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life. This is not a call to literally hate our relatives but that the true disciple’s affection for Christ must be so much greater for Christ than all others that in comparison to Him, all other affections would seem as hatred. Jesus must be the disciple’s highest love. He or she should not place anything in their lives above Him, whether that would be another person or themselves. The psalmist had the right attitude when he wrote, Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth (Psalm 73:25). A cost of following Christ is to love Him the most. To have Him serve as your greatest treasure and nothing or no one else.

Another cost of following Christ is your very own life. Jesus goes on to state that whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. A cross represents death. It was the common form of torture for criminals among the Romans. It would be the equivalent today of the electric chair. For someone to carry his own cross would for them to put themselves to death. Basically, to deny themselves. As Paul proclaimed, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). This means to surrender yourself fully to Christ. To no longer be concerned about what you want, what you will, and what you think best but rather to yield to what Christ wants, what Christ wills, and what Christ knows best. It is not adding Jesus to an already busy life but having Him become our very life. The very One we are living for. The reason for everything that we do. There is no possibility of turning to Christ and yet holding fast all of the rights to your life. To continue to live for yourself, doing as you please. In fact, if such an attitude persists in your life, you may need to evaluate whether you truly are one of His disciples.

I look at myself and shamefully notice how much of my life I appear to hold on to. How little I sacrifice for Christ and His kingdom. I would suspect the same would be true for you if you are honest with yourself. Have we become more concerned with our comfort and material possessions that Christ has become secondary? What do the things which we spend our money on indicate about where our treasure really lies? (Matthew 6:19-24) What would it really look like for us to radically abandon our lives for the sake of Christ? To be more occupied with Him and His Kingdom than us and our kingdoms? Are we really truly following Jesus as He has called us to?

The real cost of discipleship is giving up everything. Our allegiances to anyone or anything other than Christ and the claims to our own lives. But Jesus Christ is well worth this cost! As Jim Elliot, a man whose commitment to Christ literally cost him his life as he was martyred seeking to share the gospel with a hostile foreign tribe, stated, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Yes, following Jesus will cost us everything but He is worth that cost. Is He worth that much to you?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"God's Not Dead" Regardless of How He Is Presented

I just came back from seeing the new movie, "God's Not Dead." I was blessed with free tickets for the show and was interested in seeing it based on the previews. I know that many will go out to see this movie and while it has many positive elements, it contains areas that believers need to be concerned about. So if you will, you can consider this my "review" of the film. (I guess I should place a warning that there may be some spoilers here but these are things that Christians need to be aware of.)

At the outset, I must confess that I resonate with the lead character, Josh. In some ways I was that student in a college philosophy class with a professor seeking to demolish my faith in Christ and trust in His Word. In fact, I had a philosophy professor much like Professor Radisson. He even said some of the same things concerning his goal in liberating his students. (I laughed to myself when my college professor said such a thing at the irony that he was doing the opposite in persuading them to think like him, which is not being "liberated" to think for themselves.) I remember my peers chastising me for invoking religion in a speech I gave for my speech class as they thought it was not necessary and I should be more mindful of my audience. And of course the saddest thing is that this all occurred for me in a so-called "Christian" college. (Well, okay, the chaplain pointed out to me that it did not claim to be a "Christian" college but a college with "Christian values." But I digress . . . This post is actually about the situation portrayed in the movie.)

There is a lot to commend about this movie. I really liked how all of the different characters and storylines were weaved together and conveyed a powerful message of the importance of not being ashamed of Christ. This really serves as encouraging for college students who may be faced with similar situations. It was so great hearing Jesus Christ's name mentioned other than being an obscenity and even Scripture quoted. I rejoice in all of this. However, my issue concerns HOW this young man went about to defend the faith and provide a strong witness.

First off, in beginning his defense of the faith, Josh actually argues for what is called "theistic evolution." This is the idea that God serves as the one behind the Big Bang Theory and Darwinian evolutionary processes. He even goes so far to claim that the "Big Bang" serves as evidence of God saying "let there be . . ." He speaks of how God "governs" the evolutionary process. The irony of it all is how he then wound up contradicting himself when he quoted Genesis 1. As I have argued in a previous post (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2013/01/creation-controversies.html), there is no way to reconcile Darwin's view of creature evolution from one common ancestor with the biblical account of creation. I will be frank here, you cannot believe the Bible's account of creation and also believe in evolution as Darwin has defined it since the two views are at odds with each other. It surprised me that the film had him go there. Or perhaps that might just go to show how so many are compromising Scripture these days.

Also, his argument for the existence of evil was very weak. The phrase "free will" does not suffice for a response. Time does not allow me to go in more detail pertaining to this at the moment but the way it was presented was far too simplistic and not persuasive. It winds up leaving one with more questions than providing any answers. You still have to deal with why God didn't end evil right away after the "free will" decision of Adam and Eve in the garden or why God even permitted Satan, the grand persuader of the Fall, to fall and rebel in the first place. A solid discussion of the existence of evil must go far deeper.

Perhaps the biggest issue in the entire film was the main character's position. He appealed to reason to present his case for God more than God's Word. Paul did not say that he was not ashamed of reason because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes but rather that he was not ashamed of the GOSPEL, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The problem with the professor was not that there was not enough evidence for him to believe in God but that he didn't want to believe in God. Romans 1:18-23 makes this explicitly clear about all men. Everyone suppresses the truth of the existence of God in unrighteousness because in our sinful nature we do not want to acknowledge Him. In fact, it wasn't until the climax in the film that the student finally confronted the professor biblically when he asked him, "Why do you hate God" and the professor finally admits that is the reason he CHOOSES not to believe in God. It wasn't because of the evidence but because he hated Him! Oh, how I wish that Josh would have confronted him like this earlier on instead of wasting his time trying to tie evolutionary claims with biblical truth.

We should keep this in mind when witnessing to an atheist that their issue is not a lack of evidence of God but their unwillingness to believe in Him and surrender to Him. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).

I could add to all of this the issue of a "watered down" gospel but I fear that is becoming so common place that it really didn't surprise me. I just will point out that when the apostles gave the gospel, they did not say phrases such as "accepting Jesus into your heart" but instead called all men to "repent and believe in Christ." I don't remember the word "repent" being in the movie at all; especially when one of the characters was giving the gospel.

Now I know that there will be some reading this who are complaining that I am being too nit picky about things. Why can't I just look over these things and enjoy the movie? Well, my friends, I am convinced that theology matters. That how you understand God and His Word affects everything in your life. That just as God does not overlook strange fire offered to Him (Leviticus 10:1-3) or by meaning well by touching His holy ark to keep it from falling (2 Samuel 6:6-7) that He does not overlook these things either. Whether they are portrayed in a movie or worse yet, practiced in real life. We must be discerning with what we listen to and what we watch. I had similar issues with the popular book (and I found out last night now movie) "Heaven Is For Real." (http://energeticexegete.blogspot.com/2011/07/heaven-is-for-real-but-not-because-of.html) Yes, this was an enjoyable movie with some wonderful points, but let's make sure that we don't fail to see the problem areas. All of us would do well to work at better understanding and articulating the gospel. This movie serves as a reminder of that. Every believer is instructed to always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15) but we want to make sure that we are articulating that hope properly. The great news is that God is not dead regardless of how He is presented and argued.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria

PS. Turns out that I am not the only one when these concerns. Here are some much better written reviews of the film addressing the same issues I have raised:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/02/25/review-gods-not-dead-movie
http://creation.com/gods-not-dead-review