Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How to Thrive as a Single Officer/Minister Guest Post by Captain Linda McCormick

The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them.

I have been an officer for almost 8 years now. It is a job I absolutely love! This life as a single officer comes with a plethora of challenges, but in those 8 years, I have found some things that help keep me sane, enthusiastic, and filled with joy. These practices help me to thrive when I am in the challenges every day ministry.

1. Your happiness and joy MUST come from a strong relationship with God! He MUST be in the middle of your singleness.

2. I think as a single officer you need strong connections outside the Army world. It is not healthy to only have all your friends in the Salvation Army. You need people you can trust outside this bubble that you can share your frustrations with and your joys with. You also need to find people INSIDE the Army you can trust to share your appointment frustrations and joys with that has no power to affect the status of your appointment.

3. You need to find a Bible study outside what you provide for your people in order for you to grow and be filled, especially when you are pouring out day in and day out.

4. Make time for yourself. Whether it is reading, watching a movie at the theatre or going for a walk. These things help break the constant barrage of information and people you are dealing with.

5. Get a pet (if you like animals). Animals are great because you can come home to them at night, and love them. We need the unconditionally love of animals sometimes, and it will make your heart lighter at the end of the day.

6. Try to keep your house clean, this alleviates a lot of stress is you can walk into a clean and organized home.

7. Finally and MOST importantly, remember why you do this very difficult job! Re-read your covenant often for it is God you serve, not man. 

When a single officer has to be at every 1 and 2 star event and sometimes regional events it is extremely stressful and you can get caught up in the weight of everyone always pulling at your time. Read the covenant, remember WHO called you and why. He is the one who fills you with joy and purpose.

There is more I could say, but I will close with this: You have been called by Him. He will provide a spouse if that is in HIS plans, but be content in your singleness, and do the best you can in your appointment and find joy in your singleness. Because if you don't, there is only trouble, frustration, and disappointment in the future. Rely on Him and He will be faithful.

Blessings from a fellow single officer who is thriving.

Captain Linda McCormick

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Tame Your Tongue: Repenting of Gossip Guest Post by Lieutenant Crystal Sherack

The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the Salvation Army, it's employees, or partners. The views on this blog are solely of those making them, based on the teachings of the Bible, in the Spirit.

The topic of gossip has been on my mind for quite some time. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time observing people and I’ve been observing a lot of gossip, especially masked as prayer requests.  People are quick to share information without knowing if it is even true. And in some cases, gossip and rumors ruin lives and relationships. I can’t think of a single example of a time that gossip or rumors have been helpful to anyone.  We’re constantly surrounded by it and we accept it.

    How gossip happens
Proverbs 10:18-19 He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

The more we talk, the greater probability we have of saying something that is not true or is incorrect. The desire for continuous conversation often leads to exaggeration, breaking confidences, and associated sins (MacDonald, 1995, p 815).

Proverbs 11:12-13 A man who lacks judgement derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

A man without wisdom belittles those around them and insults God. But a man of wisdom doesn’t say anything if he can’t praise or edify the other person. Some take malicious delight in spreading scandal, informing about others, and breaking confidences. They don’t hold anything back and they tell everything they now. A faithful friend knows how to keep confidences and refrains from talking (MacDonald, 1995, p 817). Gossip is one of those sneaky sins. We’re often apart of it without realizing it. In church or small groups we call it prayer requests. Don’t misunderstand, it is important to pray on behalf of others, but we don’t need to share all of the details with everyone that we know.  Both passages from Proverbs talk about what happens when we talk without having wisdom. When we lack wisdom, we might have the desire to talk continuously. And generally, when we talk non-stop it leaves room for exaggeration, betraying the trust of others, gossip, and slander. When we talk without wisdom, we also belittle those around us, which then insults God. Since we are all made in the image of God, if we cut down others, we are insulting God at the same time.
But the passages also let us know that those who have wisdom, choose not to say anything if they can’t praise or uplift people. It’s like that saying that they used to teach in elementary school, “if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.”
James 3:5-10 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

     What Gossip Does
The tongues is a relatively small part of our body but it is a powerful one. The tongue can set the heart aflame with fury, patriotism, courage, love, and hate; it can also inflict damage for generations (McCartney, 2009, p 184-185). In James 3, we see the tongue compared to a fire and can easily destroy a forest. The tongue, when not tamed, can destroy the entire body; it pollutes personal life and other activities as well. I think fire is an appropriate illustration to use to describe what the human tongue can do.
Fire starts small and grows but it also creates heat. Words said out of anger or malice can destroy a home, a Sunday School class, and a Church. Jesus Himself faced gossip. He was called a glutton and a drunk (Matthew 11:19). When he performed miracles, He was accused of being in league with Satan (Matthew 12:24).
Because of the Fall of Man, we have lost control over our tongue. Our human nature can’t control it and only God can bring it under control.
When gossip isn’t stopped right away, it acts like a forest fire. Fire defiles. Fire burns. Fire hurts. Just like our words. Gossip, just like fire, spreads when we add more fuel to it (Wiersbe, 2008, p 359). Like fire, gossip damages and destroys. It destroys trust, relationships, and in some horrific cases, it can destroy businesses and churches.
The tongue is difficult to control by ourselves. We need the power of God that lives in us through the Holy Spirit to tame it. When we claim to be followers of Jesus, we should be transformed by the Spirit and that transformation should manifest wholeness and purity of heart. If we bless the Lord with our tongue in one moment but tear someone down in the next, we are need in of spiritual renewal.
     Remedy to Stop Gossip
There are two parts to the remedy of gossip. 1) the gossipers and 2) the listener of gossip.
1   The Gossipers
a.     Pray daily that the Lord would keep you from gossip.
b.     If you have an issue with someone, go to them directly. Don’t talk about them to another person, that doesn’t solve the problem.
-        Matthew 18:15 If your sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
-        Luke 17:3 So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, but if he repents, forgive him.
c.     Try to see Christ in others instead of magnifying their flaws.
d.     Ask yourself is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
e.     Most importantly, ask God to forgive you for gossiping.

Pray this passage daily if you find that you struggle with gossiping:
Psalm 141:3-4 – Set a guard over my mouth, o Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.

    The Receivers of Gossip
     If someone comes to you and says “I need to talk to you.” Ask them, “about someone or something.” If they want to talk about someone, politely ask them if they spoke to them yet. If they haven’t, they need to do so. Politely end the conversation with that.
b. Like a fire, we need to stop gossip before it gets out of control. 
- If you find yourself in a conversation that suddenly turns into gossip, you need to ask them if what they are saying is even true.
- Show them what the Bible says about gossip and its destructive power.
- Encourage them to go to the other person in humility to apologize for sharing information about them.
c. Pray that the Lord would keep them from gossip and that He’d guard their mouths when they are faced with the temptation to do so. 

Ephesians 5:1-4,8-11 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But immorality or any impurty or greed must not even be named among you, as in proper among the saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving thanks…for you were formerly darkness, but you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of the darkness, but instead even, expose them.

It should bother us that gossip is so readily accepted in the world around us. This is not an easy topic to talk about in the church. However, it is one that we need to talk about. If we want a healthy church, we need to address issues that keep us unhealthy. Gossip is in the world around us. It’s in our friend groups. It’s on nearly every magazine cover in the checkout lines at the grocery store. Gossiping, just like any other sin, separates us from God. It’s difficult to proclaim the gospel and share God’s love with someone when you spent several minutes tearing down another person. God is not honored when we tear each other down.
We might participate in gossip because we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. But we aren’t helping them. We’re only encouraging their continued separation from God. If you want to help your friend, encourage them to go that person and discuss what’s wrong or even to apologize to them for sharing information about them. It isn’t easy to discipline people we are close to or correct them. But it’s what we are called to do as followers of Christ.
Maybe you are really good at avoiding gossip and if that is the case, don’t be afraid to share that wisdom with others. Gossip is a little different than other sins, it’s sneaky. And we have to be on guard. Pray to God and read His world daily.

Citations and References

All Scripture references are from the New International Version.
MacDonald, W. (1996). Believer’s bible commentary. Thomas Neslon: Nashville.
McCartney, D. G. (2009). James. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids.
Wiersbe, W.W. (1989). The bible exposition commentary: new testament volume 2. David C Cook: Colorado Springs.  

Bio: Crystal Sherack has been an Officer in The Salvation Army since 2014. She currently serves in the Western Division in Rapid City, SD.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

God Commands You: Fear Not! Be Courageous!

Isaiah 41:10 ESV Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

1 John 4:18 ESV There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Psalm 34:4 ESV I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Joshua 1:9 ESV Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Philippians 4:6 ESV Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Psalm 27:1 ESV The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Romans 8:38-39 ESV For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 56:3 ESV When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

John 14:27 ESV Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

80 times in the Bible we are told: You will not be afraid. This is not a suggestion. This is not God saying “Please don’t be afraid.” This is God commanding you, insisting you, and demanding: You will not fear them.

Fear not is a command, not a feeling. Obey it. Do not be afraid. Be courageous. Be bold. Be brave.

What do you fear in life? Are you afraid of the bully at school? Are you afraid of the future? What about your life at home? Are you afraid to come home at night? What do you fear?

God says: Fear not.

But how can we do this? Fear seems so powerful. It’s natural to be afraid. It’s natural to feel anxious, fearful, afraid, even terrified. What do we do with these feelings?

I’ll teach you key equation of fear. There is only one legitimate fear. And if you have that one fear placed properly, all other fears will disappear. One fear is acceptable, reasonable, and wise.

It is to Fear God. Fear God. Tremble before God. Regard God as mighty, powerful, holy, and beyond us. Tremble and revere Him. And what’s amazing is, when we fear God, He who loves us, when we fear Him, all other fears disappear. That is the secret equation to be free from a thousand fears. Replace the 1 thousand with one: The fear of God.

Proverbs 19:23 ESV The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.

Psalm 111:10 ESV The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Matthew 10:28 ESV And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Luke 1:50 ESV And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

Revelation 15:4 ESV Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Monday, May 6, 2019

Why I Post about Jesus on Social Media & Why You Should Too

I'd like to make the case as to why you should utilize your social media accounts for the glory of God. I'd like to share my experience with this journey of social media use, some of the people I've been able to influence, as well as some of the mistakes I've made, and instructions for how you can begin to utilize social media to influence people for Jesus.  

I've seen people make two mistakes when it comes to social media use.  One is that people over-utilize social media, they post their problems on social media, they use it for gaining attention, and spend far too much time on it.  This extreme should be avoided. 

The other mistake I've seen people make is that they demonize social media, and treat it like it's some sort of disease on society.  They lament social media, and shun it.  There is no reason to go to this extreme either.  

Most of us use social media for rather simple purposes, we share pictures of our family and friends.  We give people occasional updates on our lives.  We post cute cat videos and inspiring videos of people helping others.  Sometimes we post news articles, and recent events in our area.  It's a way to stay in touch with friends and family, and even connect with old friends.

Before I even became a Christian I made use of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. I created websites for fun, and posted my writing online.  But once I became a Christian, I quickly realized that everyone in the world needs Jesus Christ.  

As I went through my life, over days, weeks, and months I found myself with only a sad few opportunities to share Jesus or scripture or the existence of God with people in my life.  I had never been a particularly dynamic conversationalist.  I had always had a bit of a nervous disposition. Yet I had this yearning in my soul, this aching in my soul to share Jesus with people I knew.  

One day it dawned on me, I was connected to most of these people, my family, extended family, some of my coworkers, my friends, and acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter, and other media platforms.  I could passively influence them toward Jesus and the gospel day by day, by occasionally posting to my social accounts.  

So I started doing that.  I started posting scriptures from Biblegateway.com's daily scriptures that come to my email.  I started posting little blurbs inviting people to come to my church on Sundays.  I "liked" a bunch of Christian pages, and joined Christian groups on Facebook, and started "resharing" pictures with Christian content on them.  

Over time I was sharing videos from Christian apologetics ministries, articles from Christian websites and blogs, and I was sharing just all sorts of Christian content via my social accounts.  I began to look for ways to connect with new people on Facebook and other platforms, with the hope that I could passively influence them through those accounts.  

Obviously this was a somewhat unorthodox way of using social media.  Occasionally people would become upset with a post, and begin arguing with me on the post.  Sometimes I would try to debate them, sometimes I would simply not engage.  Other times people would block me, or private msg me and ask me what my deal was.  I tried not to let it bother me.  Sometimes you have to stir things up a bit if you want people to know Jesus.  

Sometimes we're a little too careful not to offend anyone in this world.  Sometimes we need to take some risks, even risk offending others, for the sake of winning their eternal souls to Christ.  Or maybe we're just afraid.  But I was tired of being afraid.  It was time to take action.

Though some people got upset by my openness at sharing my faith, I found that most people didn't really know what to think of it.  But they watched and listened.  I tended to gather a group of about 20-50 people who would like the posts, and occasionally interact with the content.  

At first I didn't notice much of an impact.  But increasingly, I started to notice people begin to reshare the content I was sharing.  Occasionally I would hear a story of someone who had started attending a church somewhere.  Some of the people even began attending the same church I attended.  

Eventually I decided I needed to make a record of my faith journey, so I could help point others toward Jesus.  So I made a blog website and began posting links to my blog posts on social media as well. I became increasingly connected at my local church, along with the pastor of my local church, who I think felt a bit uncertain about my social media posts.  But I think he was generally pleased that I was trying to support the church and invite others.  

Now during these first few years of social media interaction I made some mistakes.  At times I would share personal rants about things.  This is always a no-no. Another stupid thing to do is to make passive aggressive posts toward someone without naming them directly.  This is easy to get away with usually, but it's just a nasty thing to do.  Quite a while ago I decided to end my sometimes passive aggressive approach to life. It doesn't help anything, it's best to simply be assertive and approach people directly.  

Another mistake I made, particularly in 2015-2016 was getting increasingly involved in politics, and I started sharing those viewpoints widely on my social media accounts.  The result was that I lost many, many friends.  Not just a few dozen, actually.  Hundreds of people "deleted me" on Facebook and other social media platforms.  I found that as I attended to conferences and other events in my organization I would find people who hated me, or disliked me, because of things I'd shared on social media.  For the record, I think it's a good thing to share your beliefs, but I realized I had to consider what my chief goal in life was.  And I quickly realized it was getting people to know Jesus Christ.  So I largely discontinued sharing my political opinions.  

Be thoroughly warned on this one friends: Share your political beliefs at your own risk. Nothing makes people madder than political debates.  And the country is severely polarized right now.  So be cautious, and consider people's feelings.

Anyway, the point is clear: Sharing Jesus Christ on social media is a great way to influence people.  Over months and years, I was amazed to see people beginning to attend churches in my area, people I had influenced on social media!  I saw people drawing closer to Jesus Christ.  I saw people getting excited about Jesus and the gospel.  

But it didn't happen in weeks or months, it took years sometimes of faithfully continuing to click share.  It's very important to be dedicated and persistent.  And honestly how easy is this!?  We can influence hundreds of people from the comfort of our own homes.  Since starting blogging, I've received over 600,000 views.  It's not that hard.  There are people everywhere, all over the world who have computers and internet and are looking for the truth.  

Don't be afraid to put Jesus out there.  Share his word.  It won't return void.  Imagine how many people we could reach if we all clicked share a few times on our social media accounts!  It could spread and spread to more people, and go viral, and pretty soon we'd reach the whole world for Jesus!  

We often assume that social media isn't really real, it's not real life, it's just computer stuff.  But behind every profile is a real person who is active in the real world.  Use social media to guide them toward faith in Christ.  This is a great opportunity to be evangelists for Christ, blasting the truth out there on social media!  So get to work!  Start clicking share, and through so doing, change the world.  All glory to God alone, I don't do anything.  We don't really do anything.  It's the Spirit of God working through the word of God, and the truth of God.  Amen. 

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Prayer Requests - Please Pray Now!

(Note: Please feel free to print out this form and use it for your prayers, and please share with others!)

Please pray!  Pray hard. Prayer changes everything.  Prayer is powerful.  God answers prayers.  He has answered them in the past, and he answers them today.  

I have seen prayers change the whole world, if we will just believe. Prayer is mighty. Prayer moves God to act on our behalf.  Believe in Jesus Christ.  There is power in the name of Jesus!

1. Pray that the message of Jesus Christ would reach the lost in unreached people groups in our society.  Pray specifically for the lost in the United States.

-Pray for drug addicts
-Pray for Meth heads
-Pray for Rockers
-Pray for the LGBTQ community
-Pray for Democrats 
-Pray for Republicans
-Pray for libertarians
-Pray for atheists/agnostics
-Pray for Muslims
-Pray for Jews
-Pray for alcoholics
-Pray for sex trafficking victims
-Pray for those afflicted with cancer
-Pray for people with diabetes
-Pray for those with heart disease
-Pray for Sports fanatics
-Pray for university professors
-Pray for the poor
-Pray for the rich
-Pray for Celebrities
-Pray for unknown lonely lost people

2. Pray for the unreached people groups in the 10-40 window (parts of the world where Christians are severely persecuted) China, India, North Africa, and the Middle East.

3. Pray for God to raise up principled, uncompromising Christian patriots to lead in our local, state, and Federal legislatures.

4. Pray God will orchestrate events to put a godly man or woman in the Supreme Court and Congress.

5. Pray for the truth to shine through the lies of the mainstream media.

6. Pray for grassroots organizations to grow in strength to take on the corrupt Washington D.C. system.

7. Pray for luke-warm Christians to be set on fire for God.

8. Pray for sound doctrine within the churches.

9. Pray for Christians who will stand up for their faith.

10. Pray for religious liberty to remain in the face of attacks from partisan activist groups.

11. Pray for the Salvation Army and the leadership to be holy, to be on fire for Christ, and to stand firm in the truth.

12. Pray for atheists, that they would know Jesus Christ as their savior.

13. Pray for young people who are exposed to so much depravity and sin in this world, that they would be able to stand and resist every temptation and that they would know God.

14. Pray for public schools, and for the secular lies taught in public schools, and for the truth to be taught instead.

15. Pray for God's power to end the scourge of human abortion forever in this world.

16. Pray for the Christian message to reach out into all sectors of media and popular culture, including television, radio, the news media, movies, documentaries, history, and the sciences.

17.  Pray the Lord's kingdom come in the area in which you live.

18.  Pray for a great awakening in the United States.

19. Pray for Godly men to be raised up, who refuse to be shamed by the current culture, who live as men ought to live, and stand firmly as leaders and warriors of truth.

20. Pray for women, who have been so deceived by our culture, to stand for morality, for truth, and for justice.  Help women to stand as beacons of wisdom, truth, grace, and humility.

21. Pray for young adults to seek after Jesus Christ as he truly is, and not as we would have him be.

22. Pray for Christians to get involved in politics in meaningful ways, given Romans 13's requirement for us to obey the authorities, which means participating in our democracy style government.

23. Pray for persecuted Christians in the middle east who are being beheaded for their faith.

24. Pray for persecuted Christians in Iran, including Pastor Saeed.

25. Pray for persecuted Christians in China and North Korea.

26. Pray for wise Christian leadership who refuse to be caught up in sex scandals or immoral controversies.  We have a great vacuum of good leadership in evangelicalism. 

27. Pray Non-Profit leaders to meet the needs of people who suffer in poverty.

28. Pray for many of the televangelists who do not endure good doctrine and who pervert the word of truth. And pray that if they do not repent, that the Lord would remove them from the airways.

29. Pray for a new media to replace old media.

30. Pray for the leaders of Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and other massive banking institutions.  Pray for their leaders to be wise, godly, and to turn from corruption.

31. Pray for the owners of fortune 500 companies like Starbucks, Wal Mart, Costco, and others.  Pray they would know Christ and be charitable and generous with their wealth.

32. Pray for the end of corporate cronyism and corporate welfare.

33. Pray for ISIS to be brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and also pray that they would be defeated, to prevent the murder of innocent people in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.

34. Pray for the victims of mass shootings and for the healing of their families.

35. Pray for those who are suffering from cancer, pray they would be healed and restored to health.

36. Pray for the LGBTQ community, pray they would receive the gospel and turn from their past ways and live in rightness with God.

37. Pray the church of God would spend more time in the word of God.

38. Pray that churches, organizations, and groups would promote healthy eating and help stem the tide of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in our nation.

39. Pray that the body of Christ would spend more time in prayer.

40. Pray that young people within the body of Christ would take the Bible's teachings on sexuality seriously including the issues of masturbation, pornography, and pre-marital sex.

41. Pray for the church to help end the horror of child sex slavery.

42. Pray that believers would be better stewards of their money, and would learn better ways to manage their finances.

43. Pray that Christians in the world would have a closer walk with Jesus Christ.

44. Pray for cutting edge media, movies, and music to help transform the culture.

45. Pray for those addicted to drugs, pray they would seek recovery and know Christ.

46. Pray for alcoholics and for recovery and faith in Christ.

47. Pray for those addicted to cigarettes, that they would have the power to quit and stay quit. 

48. Pray for children who are led astray by the sexualized culture. 

49. Pray for sex addicts and relationship addicts to experience recovery and hope.

50.  Pray for prostitutes to be freed from their captivity, pray for Christians to help them be set free.

Praise the Lord for how good he is to have set us free in Jesus Christ!  In Jesus name, Amen.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How Theology Can Harm Scriptural Understanding

Matthew 24:10-13 (ESV) "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Do you have a strong allegiance to a particular set of doctrines or theology? Are you a staunch Arminian or a dedicated five point Calvinist? Are you a severe Molinist or a Wesleyan? In my theological studies as a Christian in ministry I've learned a great deal about both Calvinist theology, mainly from Liberty University, and also a great deal on Arminian theology, mainly through Olivet and the Salvation Army.  

I've been very dedicated to my theological systems in the past. But today I no longer hold as closely to a particular theological system. Why? Because as time passed, I realized that as I studied the scriptures, I was beginning to cancel out scripture passages that didn't fit with my theology. 

I'll give you a very basic example. This is a common scripture, directly from the mouth of Jesus: "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -Matthew 6:14-15 NIV.

Now, this plainly says a clear truth, if we as followers of Jesus do not forgive others when they sin against us, if we hold resentments and unforgiveness in our hearts, then our sins will not be forgiven. 

But both core theological camps would throw up their arms at this simple scripture.  Calvinists would say hey, that can't be true because our tulip says that you can't lose your salvation. So they cross out that scripture.  Arminians would say hey, we believe in grace through faith alone, the only way you can lose your salvation is through falling away, rejecting Christ!  So it gets crossed out twice.  

I found myself doing this regularly.  As we were studied salvation at Liberty university I found myself quite befuddled by the fact that John 15 said something very simply, that you must "remain in me" and if you don't, you'll shrivel up, and be tossed in the fire and burned.  But I found myself the only person in the class really asking the question, doesn't this impact our salvation?  

Let's look at another example.  A classic scripture, very well known and often discussed, Matthew 25:31-46:

"31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”"

This scripture is clearly telling me that if I don't feed the hungry, cloth the naked, invite in the stranger, and the visit the sick and in prison, and instead I live selfishly and don't do those things, I'm going to eternal punishment.

Now, both camps would scream at the top of their lungs, "Your preaching a works gospel!"  I'm not preaching a works gospel.  All I did was read what Jesus said in an important teaching, and give the obvious answer to it.  But both camps cross out this scripture too, because of rabid dedication to theological systems, instead of dedication to the scriptures.  I mean, look at it, it's in the Bible.  It's right there in black and white.  It doesn't fit into our theological systems.  Yet there it is, plain and simple.  Now many will try to bend themselves into theological pretzels to try to explain about scriptures like Matthew 25, and John 15, and many others.  But I'm not willing to be dishonest about it, I'm taking a plain reading, in it's context, and in the greater theological context, and it's still right there.  It's the word.  And I won't paper it over with man made theological systems.

That's the point today.  Hold loosely to your theological system.  Let scripture upset your neat theology.  Don't paper over scriptures that contradict, even cores of the theological system. Because it's just dishonest to do that.  God is real.  His scriptures are true.  What fate awaits us if we paper over God's word for the sake of our theology and doctrine?  

And this is where the dastardly charge of legalism comes in.  You know it's quite interesting that so many reformed preachers and pastors think of this issue of legalism as such a dangerous key concern for our day and age.  Maybe back in the 50s and 60s I might've agreed.  I mean, have you taken a look around lately? Do you see a lot of legalism in the church?  I don't.  I see a great deal of antinomianism though. Antinomianism is the idea of just getting saved and then never changing how you live at all. But this is not about legalism.  It's just about reading the scriptures and taking their plain meaning. 

This really is to me the chief heresy of our day and age.  It's the heresy of papering over the scriptures for the sake of assurance of salvation.  We cancel out all the requirements of Christian living because they make us uncomfortable.  We cancel out the various concerns like forgiveness and being forgiving, serving the lost, carrying the gospel, and willful sin because we don't want to offend anyone. We don't want anyone to worry that they might not be saved.  We don't want anyone to suffer under fear and concern for how their living needs to change.  

But that's exactly the problem in our modern faith.  We don't really live it out. And our churches are dying as a result.  We want everyone to feel comfortable so we heap grace up to the sealing and we don't preach holiness, and what is the result? We have believers who don't evangelize. We have believers who care nothing about sexual sin. We have believers who come to church to get something instead of to give. And can we really blame them? We've taught them that no matter what they're saved, and they should be good because, well, just because. But the scriptures recognize the motivation of concern for our salvation. We have a holy concern for how we live it out.  And though we hate this idea today in our modern ideology, we need the fear of God (1st Peter 2:17).  We need to tremble before a holy God.  But nobody wants to hear that today.  They just want the ear candy, and love love love.  

Of course God loves us.  He loves us so very much.  But he insists we live differently.  And yes, it does affect our salvation.  So we have to be very careful how we live, in holiness, not in sin, or we will lose all we've gained, and go to a place away from God, in outer darkness. That is just a fact.  I'm not trying to be mean, or hurt anybody. I'm just writing what the Bible says.  If it doesn't feel good, well, I don't care.  Sometimes the truth is painful.  So be it. 

Now I can cite as many scriptures as I want.  But any number of scriptures won't convince those who are dedicated to a theological system of doctrines and not the truth.  Trust the scriptures my friends.  Be cautious of the theologians.  We need our spiritual leaders today.  We need to honor them. But if they're feeding us all candy, we need to get some meat and potatoes on our own.

Now recognize this basic truth: No action, no good work can wash away a single sin.  Not even one.  Only the blood of Jesus Christ can wash away sin. So never, ever, ever, ever put good works in the place of Christ.  

But do recognize that our lack of repentance and holy living can certainly harm our salvation and cut us off from Christ.  

I really see now that the modern church paints salvation as a broad highway, but that is simply not accurate. Salvation in Christ Jesus is a narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). 

We really are in the last days and we need to seek God ourselves.  We need to study the scriptures ourselves and learn the truth ourselves.  We can't necessarily trust authors, writers, bloggers, and theologians to give us the unvarnished truth.  Don't trust me either.  Examine the scriptures for yourself. Trust Jesus.  Trust God.  Trust the scriptures and what they say.  God be with you. Amen. 

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