Monday, January 29, 2024

How to Walk in the Presence of God: The Heart Prayer of Simplicity

"God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing." -Martin Luther.

There is a key that’s very important in this journey, it’s the key of believing something is true.

This concept has been used incorrectly in the past to justify all sorts of silly things. “If you just believe hard enough for a sports car, it will appear in your drive way. If you just believe hard enough that you can fly, you’ll jump off the ground and start flying." We know those things aren't true.

But, let’s take a more concrete example. I recall when I first came up to the idea of learning how to read, I was quite nervous. I thought this is just beyond me, there’s no way I can figure this out. I was sitting there in first grade thinking to myself, I don’t believe I can do this. But, slowly but surely as the teacher taught and retaught the concepts, I began to learn. And I began to believe that I could learn to read. Then I did learn to read.

If you don’t believe you can find a good job, what happens? You don’t find a good job. But if you really believe you can find a good job, you have something, a faith, that propels you forward, and you search and you apply, and you keep believing that you’ll find a decent job. And sure enough, one day you do. You have a faith and confidence that is operative there.

It’s something we know is true in our society: You can find a job. Or you can learn to read. We’d be foolish if we thought it wasn’t possible.

It’s the same with God’s kingdom, there are things that we need to believe, in order to access kingdom systems. It’s not our belief that makes them appear. No. It’s the fact that God has set it up. It’s there. And we can access it by faith.

There is one key fact I want you to begin to believe as we go through this topic.

It’s this: I can walk in the presence of God.

Some of you believe that, some of you don’t. Some of you don’t believe that and don’t care to have that. Others here do believe that, but haven’t experienced it yet. And some here do believe that and currently experience it.

Is that concept biblical that we can walk in the presence of God? In fact it is, it’s mentioned many times throughout the Bible, but the most famous is probably Genesis 5:24, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

That’s our goal as well. That we would walk with God in our lives, and then one day, God will take us home.

It’s also said of Noah, that he walked with God. From Genesis 6:9, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” NIV renders it "faithfully walked" other translations simply say "walked with God." 

Noah walked with God. Enoch walked with God. Indeed many of the greats have walked with God. But just as many average everyday believers have found this blessed life of walking in the presence of God. You don’t have to be a legend of the Bible to walk in God’s presence.

Madam Guyon states in her book, I know that most Christians don’t feel that they of all people have “been called to a deep inward relationship to their Lord” (p.1). She continues, “But we have all been called to the depths of Christ just as surely as we have been called to salvation.”

What is salvation? It’s being reconciled to God. Our sins are forgiven. We become born again. We enter into the total approval and peace of God. We are brought back into contact with the God who made the human race. But that isn't the end of it!

The moment we receive the new birth is not the end of the journey, it’s the beginning. The rest of our days we spend learning what it means to “walk in the presence of God.”

I know in many circles there is a very transactional way of viewing salvation, Christ died for our sins, we received forgiveness by His blood, we were born again, and we received the Holy Spirit within. That's great stuff, don't get me wrong, all 100% true! But all of that is the process by which we’re brought into right communion with God. It's the starting point, not the end in itself!

Now that we have the prize of communion with God we should run with it, and grow in it, for all the many years ahead of us. As the scriptures say, come into maturity, find a stability in our walks with God, where we go deeper, and we really learn to go to the depths of Jesus Christ.

So we’ve launched out on our adventure. Our spaceship cuts through the atmosphere and we burst forth into space.

But as we head out into deep space, the depths of God that is, we have to understand some terms. We’ve got to learn the controls of the space ship. We’ve go to learn the rules of space travel. We’ve got to know the ins and outs and hows and whys of this adventure.

So let’s dive into what this all really means. What does Madam Guyon mean when she writes to us about a “deep, inward relationship to Jesus Christ?” She gives us this definition, she says, “Actually it is very simple. It is only the turning and yielding of your heart to the Lord. It is the expression of love within your heart for Him” (p.1).

Let’s define some terms. What does the Bible mean when it talks about our heart?

When the Bible talks about our heart, it isn’t referring to the muscle in our chests that is pumping blood throughout our body. It’s talking about really our entire soul, our being. The heart is where we make our decisions from. It’s where we feel our emotions. It’s where we believe in God. It’s where we think as well. The heart is really a combination of our mind, our will, and our emotions.

So to embrace God, as we’re told, we must repent away from our past attitudes and ideas. We’ve got to let go of how we used to think, how we used to feel, and how we used to choose, and let the Bible begin to change those things.

We can’t do that ourselves. I can’t force my heart to change toward God. Instead we’re told to give our heart to God. We put it in His hands. We ask God in prayer to change our hearts. And then our heart indeed does change.

We begin to think differently. We begin to act differently. We study the Bible and begin to live by what the Bible says. We feel differently than we used to. We have different hungers and desires than we used to. It’s amazing what God does in our hearts when we put them in His hands.
  1. First step, turn your heart away from evil things.
  2. Second step, yield, surrender your heart to God.
  3. Thirdly, watch a miracle happen: Your heart will begin to express love for God. And you’ll receive the love God has for you.
That is how salvation happens. We repent of our sins in our hearts. We receive Christ as savior, by giving our hearts to God, and then God changes our hearts, from stone to soft flesh, and we find healing and union with God.

But this is also how we go deeper in our relationship with God. Continuously in our lives, as we face different situations, different problems, we turn our hearts toward God in the situation, we yield to God in the situation, our heart to Him, and God helps us to love Him and receive His love freely. Then we find victory through the difficulties of life.  

It’s an ongoing process of surrendering things over to God, by surrendering our hearts over to God again and again.

All of this is done in prayer, and reading the Bible. As you do those two things over and over you come to know the Lord in a deeper and deeper way. Now understand, God doesn’t love you because you’re seeking Him. He already loves you because you received Jesus Christ as savior. He doesn’t necessarily love you more because you’re seeking Him, but I’m sure he loves that you’re doing so. None of this is to earn God’s love. You already have God’s love in Christ. This is all to go deeper, and on into maturity in Christ.

Madam Guyon indicates, “How then will you come to the Lord to know Him in such a deep way? Prayer is the key. But I have in mind a certain kind of prayer. It is a kind of prayer that is very simple and yet holds the key to perfection and goodness- things found only in God Himself. The type of prayer that I have in mind will deliver you from enslavement to every sin. It is a prayer that will release you every Godly virtue. You see the only way to be perfect is to walk in the presence of God” (p. 3).

She goes on to say that this type of prayer “…leads you into the presence of God and keeps you there at all times; a prayer that can be experienced under any conditions, any place, and any time.” (p.3).

She refers to this type of prayer as “the prayer of simplicity.” I think she’s speaking of something similar to what Brother Lawrence taught about his famous book “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

I’m going to call it “the heart prayer” because it’s a prayer that flows right from the seat of your very being. It’s not something that happens in the mind alone. The mind can’t pray this type of prayer correctly. It’s something that happens in the heart, in the seat of our emotions.

When we pray with our mouths, with our minds, often the prayers come out kind of blandly. But I think it’s when we combine those prayers of the mouth with the yearning of the heart, and faith in God, it becomes very powerful.

I’ll give you an example. You pray for your sister (or other family member) to find salvation in Christ. In your mind you say the words, you speak them out of your mouth, but in your heart two things happen…

One, you long in your emotions for your sister to know Christ. You long for her to be transformed. You long, you almost weep within, cry out within for a change that will change her life drastically. You feel it.

Two, you believe that God is there, God is really listening to the prayer, and huge, you really believe that God is going to change her life. You have that powerful faith in your heart that God is already rising up and changing her story.

It begins in the mouth and the mind, but it grows into the longings of the emotions, but then the miracle comes when in faith, we believe God can and will and is indeed already answering.

I think that’s the key to the prayer of simplicity. We believe God is here in our heart. We toss aside doubts. We just believe that it’s true. A simple, child-like faith that God is here. And as we cultivate that attitude of heart, we throughout the day, are now walking in the presence of God.

The process is simple... a practice of the prayer of simplicity: 

1. You long in your emotions to experience God

2. You believe in your heart that God is really here and listening and wants you to experience His presence

3. We wait on God in faith, then God responds, His presence moves in and we delight in Him

In other words... 

We believe God is with us. Over time that turns into... 

We know God is with us. 

In time we learn to focus our attention on Him...

Then, we focus our hearts on God’s presence.

That happens in spirts, but over time we learn to keep it nearly constant, then, always...

And as a result, we find one day, on the journey we can say...

"I walk in the presence of God."

It becomes our new reality. It becomes a state of mind, a state of heart that we constantly walk in.

Do you believe that this is possible? That you could really walk in the presence of God? Then you’re already on your way.

Winning your Spiritual Battles: The Armor of God as a Guide

"John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?" Paton knew no men were present--but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station."
-Today in the Word, MBI, October, 1991, p. 18.

John Paton’s wife knew that the real struggle was spiritual, not physical. So she got to work praying and praying that fateful night. God answered those prayers, and he sent his angels to protect them.

We too must remember that our struggle is not physical, but spiritual. We must fight our battle in the spiritual realm, which is just as real as the physical world.

To that end we’re going to be delving into a scripture today that will give us specific instructions for how to fight and win our spiritual battles.

Spiritual warfare is something we Christians understand to be events in our lives that are sent from Satan and his demons to try to disrupt our lives, harm us, confuse us, discourage us, or lead us off course in our walk with Christ.

God allows these attacks for the purpose of testing and refining our faith. Satan and his demons can’t do anything without God’s permission. God gives permission, in certain circumstances, and at certain times, to test our faith.

Many things in life are not spiritual warfare. They are just simple life problems. Your car breaks down, life problem. You get into a fight with your spouse, life problem. You forget to pay a bill, life problem.

But there are also events that are more than that. They are spiritual in nature. We will usually be able to sense that this is an attack from the enemy. I have a discernment, where I can tell that it’s from the enemy. You will probably be able to tell pretty quickly as well, this was from the enemy.

But I don’t want you to be afraid. Because God has given you everything you need to win the spiritual battles you face.

And we find that formula in the classic structure of the armor of God. Let’s delve into that structure now.

It says in verse 10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

Verse 10 is the end goal, this is where we will arrive. If we obey all the instructions in verses 11-20, we will have the solution, which his to "be strong in the Lord."

A big part of that solution is going to be verse 11, which says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

What’s the purpose of the armor? To stand against the devil’s attacks. The enemy is trying from time to time, to get me to want to quit the ministry. He wants you to leave the church. He’ll sometimes use an incident to try to make you mad so you want to quit. He will try to cause drama in your friendships. He’ll try to hurt you financially. In all this, we want to put on the armor of God and stand.

It continues, (verse 12) “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

And again in verse 13, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Four key commands here: 

1. Be Strong! 
2. Understand our struggle is spiritual
3. Put on God’s Armor 
4. Stand your ground (continuously)

If we understand that our struggle is spiritual, against Satan and the demons, we will want to put on the armor of God daily. If we don’t, and we’re too focused on the physical world, we will end up not even bothering with it. That’s why it’s so important we understand the spiritual world is real.

My biggest worry is that we’ll all see this and think "hey that’s cool" and never actually use this formula. This is real stuff. We need to fear God and obey it completely, or we will lose our spiritual battles, and end up on the run in life, naked and fleeing for our lives. The devil isn’t playing around. He wants to drive you out of the church, get you away from the word, isolate you, and destroy you with addictions and sins. That’s his goal. But if we put on this armor, we can stand against the enemy’s schemes.

Here's how it’s put together. First, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” –Ephesians 6:14a

The first thing we want to do, is to know God’s word very well. Then we’ll be armed with truth. But it’s more than that. We want a gift of God known as discernment. Discernment is being able to look at things in the world and know what’s really going on there.

It’s hearing a pastor preach and saying, something is off with that message. It’s hearing another pastor preach and saying, this is a spirit-filled message. It’s listening to a song and knowing, this song has demonic influence in it. It’s listening to another song and saying, this song is of God. We see different things, in entertainment, in academia, in politics, in history, in the church, and we’re able to, with God’s help, discern the truth about it.

Pray for discernment. We all need it!

Prayer: God, we put on the belt of truth, in Jesus name, amen.

Next, still verse 14, “with the breastplate of righteousness in place…”

The breastplate of righteousness is two things, first it’s wearing the righteousness of Jesus Christ, second, it’s mimicking that righteousness in our own actions. One is justification, the other is sanctification. You are holy in Christ (justification), therefore be holy for He is holy (sanctification) (1st Peter 1:15-16).

If you want to stand against the enemy’s schemes, believe Jesus is your righteousness, and then live that out in your own actions.

Prayer: Lord, we put on the breastplate of righteousness. Amen.

Verse 15 says, “...and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

I remember in playing basketball for many years, I attended camps and classes, and they’d always teach us that our footwork was very important, on defense and offense.

Spiritually, we want to understand that at all times we want to be ready, ready to spread the gospel of peace. God gives us peace, and that peace helps us to be ready.

It’s just always having a mindset that this could be a moment where I get to minister to someone. Are you watchful like that? Are you looking for opportunities? Or are you so focused on yourself that you don’t share the gospel? That’s the challenge friends, be about your Father’s business, not just your own.

Prayer: Lord we put on the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace.

Next in verse 16, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Stay in a position of faith in your life. We will feel tempted from time to time to complain, doubt God, and begin to despair or give up. Stay in faith. Keep that shield of faith raised up.

Choose faith. I know it’s hard sometimes. But keep trusting God. As those arrows fly in, keep that shield up, and faith in God will extinguish the darts of the enemy.

It’s a choice in the end. You can always respond to any problem or situation in two ways, doubt or faith.

Right now we’re trying to hire a new caseworker at The Salvation Army. My mind battles, how should I respond? Doubt says, great timing this is a mess we won’t find the right one, how could God let this happen, blah blah blah. Faith says, God is going to provide the right person at the right time. This is building our faith. Everything will be ok. Stand firm.

Choose faith. It’s the better way to respond.

There’s an amazing film that delves into this topic of how to respond. It’s called “Greater” the true story of Brandon Burlsworth. And it catalogues the wrestling of his brother, after Brandon died at a young age. Would he choose resentment and anger at God for letting it happen? Or would he choose faith and trust, that God was still good, and Brandon was home in paradise?

The struggle is played out with Brandon's brother sitting on a bench by the football stadium. An old man represents Satan and comes and sits next to him, and tempts him to despair and become bitter. The old man carves a wooden figurine of him, looking angry and bitter. But Brandon's brother resists the enemy, rejects his lies, and comes to see a wider angle on the problem of pain and suffering. 

Choose faith today. Lift up that shield. Don’t let the enemy’s lies lead you to be angry at God.

Prayer: Lord, we put on the shield of faith. In Jesus name, amen!

Verse 17 says, “Take the helmet of salvation...”

We have a great hope, it’s called the hope of salvation. One day, God willing, we will pass into the next life, and receive our full inheritance, our salvation in the new Jerusalem. I look forward to that day.

Keep your salvation in sight. Look upward to your eternal future in heaven. Think about heaven. Read books about heaven. Learn about the New Jerusalem. Consider all the wonderful joys the next life has waiting for you. Keep your mind focused on salvation, the glorious future you have this hope of. Hope does not put us to shame. “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.” – Romans 5.

Prayer: Lord, we put on the helmet of salvation, in Jesus name, amen.

Next, still in verse 17, “...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Your greatest weapon is to speak the word of God. Speak life. Speak truth. Speak the scriptures. The voice is powerful. To speak is powerful. Remember God spoke, and he said, let there be light, and there was light. Now, we are not gods. But, when we speak, it’s powerful too, because we’re made in God’s image.

When Jesus returns he will destroy the beast “with the sword that comes out of His mouth” Revelation 19:15.

A sword comes out of your mouth as well, it’s the word of God, spoken in the Spirit. When we speak the word, we should speak it in the Spirit. Spiritless word isn’t near as powerful as words spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We must be led by God for that to happen. And he will guide the words we speak.

Prayer: Lord, we put on the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, in Jesus name, amen.

Lord, help us to speak the word from the Spirit, help us to learn that and walk in step with the Spirit in that, in Jesus name, amen.

But we aren’t done yet, next it says, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (v. 18).

Pray for God’s people, with all sorts of different requests. We do that in life group, we do that in recovery group, we do that at the women’s group, we do that at dinner church, we pray all sorts of different requests and prayers, you should do the same on your own time, write down some prayers, and pray them at night before you go to bed, or in the morning before you start the day.

Paul continues in verses 19-20 and says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

Secondly, we want to constantly be praying for God’s people, praying for his apostles, his pastors, his teachers, his prophets, and his evangelists. Please pray for me. Pray for other pastors and missionaries and leaders everywhere. Pray specifically that we would have the right words to speak, that we would be fearless! That we would be ambassadors for Christ. And again, to not be cowardly, but bold and fearless. Leaders need that.

Many pastors and Christian leaders feel very pressured to not offend anyone. They feel pressured and stressed to go along with the culture. They don't want to make waves. They don't want to end up constant controversies. They stay quiet when they should speak. I get it, it's tough! Pray for Christian leaders to speak the truth boldly and fearlessly.

Now, if we do these things, if we discern truth, we if live righteously, if we have peaceful readiness, if we choose faith, focus on the hope of salvation, and speak the word in Spirit, and we pray for God’s people and God’s leaders, then, we will as a natural consequence have, “In His Mighty Power” from God, we will in fact be “Strong in the Lord.” Strong in ourselves? No, Strong in the Lord, in the Lord’s Mighty Power. We will be shielded in God’s strong, and the enemy’s schemes will be a failure. We will overcome and gain the victory over the ancient serpent, and be immovable, standing our ground, in the evil day.

The evil day will come from time to time for all of us. But if we put on the armor, and pray, we’ll be strong in the Lord, and all will be well. God bless you today.


1. Understand our Struggle is Spiritual in nature

2. Belt of Truth – Discern Truth

3. Breastplate of Righteousness – live righteously

4. Shoes of the Readiness – peaceful readiness

5. Shield of Faith – choose faith

6. Helmet of Salvation – hope of salvation

7. Sword of the Spirit – Speak the word in Spirit

8. Pray for God’s people - make all kinds of requests

9. Pray for God’s leaders - pray for boldness for leaders

10. Then, we will be Strong in the Lord – able to stand firm

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ: Launching out toward the Heart of God

Today we’re going to set out on an adventure. We’re going to launch out into the depths of God and seek to discover a beautiful mystery, called “the depths of Jesus Christ.” We all long I think for a deeper more meaningful relationship with God. Yet I think for a lot of us it may seem out of reach. Too hard. Too far away. Well, no longer. 

We’re going to set out on our space ship, of a sort, into the depths. But not necessarily the depths of outer space, though God made those depths, instead we’re aiming our space ship toward the heart of God. We’re going on a journey, to seek God, and find God, in the depths of His heart. 

Our tool for this journey is of course the word of God, prayer as well, but also, a classic Christian book, penned in 1685, by a woman who lived in France long ago, named Jeanne Guyon. The title of the book is “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.

In this new series we’ll use Madam Guyon’s book as a guide to lead us toward deeper relationship with God. And I’m going to treat this like an odyssey, an adventure, a journey, because as great as the journey is to launch off into outer space, the adventure is much greater, to launch off into the heart of God. 

So here we find ourselves at the launch pad. The ship is fueled and ready for our journey into deep space. But you may be wondering, who am I to embark on such a journey? Am I really worthy of it? Could it really be true that I can know God deeply? 

The word of God is clear, that as long as you’re willing to approach God like a little child, with confidence and trust, God is willing to receive you. As long as you’re willing to set aside your sins and find Him, you will find Him. 

As Jeanne Guyon wrote, addressing the concerns of her readers, “Did the Lord not say, You shall seek me and shall not find me?” John 7:34. Ah, but your Lord, who cannot contradict Himself, also said to all, “Seek, and you shall find.” (Matthew 7:7). 

Yes, it is true, if you seek the Lord, and yet are unwilling to stop your sinning, you shall not find Him. Why? Because you are seeking Him in a place where He is not. There, it is said, “You shall die in your sins.” 

But if you will take the trouble to seek God in your own heart, and if you sincerely forsake your sins so that you may draw near to Him, you shall infallibly find Him.” -Jeanne Guyon (1685)

You see the simple requirements of the journey. You are willing to seek God. And you are willing to leave your sins behind. If you are there, you are ready to climb aboard the space ship. 

Yet you may still be concerned. It can seem scary to chase after God with such boldness. 

Madam Guyon wrote, “I realize that the prospect of living a life of piety is frightening to most Christians. And prayer is viewed as a very difficult attainment. Consequently, most believers are too discouraged at the very outset even to take the first step in this direction. It is true that if you consider the difficulty of some new undertaking, it can cause you to despair and make you reluctant to begin. On the other hand, the desirability of such an adventure – and the idea that it may easily be accomplished- can cause you to launch out with vigor.”

I recently began my next masters class at Olivet Nazarene University. Looking at everything in the class, all the books, the syllabus, I found myself overwhelmed and wishing I hadn’t decided to take another class right now. But, once I logged in, and began working on the first two assignments for week one, I found myself able to handle those assignments and get them done. Don’t try to do everything at once. Just be ready to take the next step forward when the time comes. 

Jesus told the crowds once, when I think he could sense many were concerned and afraid, and nervous about God’s holiness and perfection. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

God is not looking for ways to keep you out. His goal is to give you the kingdom. He just asks that you be willing to get to know Him, and turn away from your past sins. 

Jeanne Guyon in her introduction makes it clear several biblical truths that I find to be thoroughly correct:

1.We can be convinced of God’s goodness toward us His children.

2. God does in fact desire to reveal himself to us deeply. 

3. We only need a little courage and perseverance to begin.

God is a giver of good gifts. He has abundant gifts for his people. As it says in the scriptures, “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not, with Him, also freely give us all things?” -Romans 8:32

God gave us his own son, his own son’s precious blood, poured out to cover our sins. Does he not also, after giving us his son, also want to give us to know Him deeply? Certainly he does. 

Can God really be found so easily? Yes. It's not hard. It is different, because it means coming to God with a child-like heart of confidence and humble trust. That is different. But not hard. 

If you entirely give yourself to God, whole heart, then the answer is yes, God can be found. Absolutely. 

As Guyon states, it takes “Humble confidence toward God.” A child confidently moving toward their parent knowing they will be safe in their loving arms. 

It’s like a door. If I turn the knob, the door will open. It has to. It will. It’s the same with seeking God. If we seek him with all our heart, the door will open. It must. It has to. It will. Period. It’s guaranteed. That’s the lever system God has set up. 

So all aboard the space ship, and we launch off into deep space. The adventure begins. We are seeking the heart of God. We are seeking to know God deeply. We are seeking real, authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ. 

We talk so much about theology, biblical texts, parables of Jesus, scientific evidence, the historical Jesus, and so on, these are all good things, but for this journey, we want to consider three things: one, your own heart. Two, God’s heart. And three, the union of your heart with God’s heart. 

We’ll talk briefly about these three things, then we’ll pray and that’ll be our start to this new series. 

First, your own heart, has of course been through much in this world. In ways our hearts are soft and attentive to God. Our hearts give and receive love. For some of you though, your hearts are hurt. You’ve become bitter. Some of your hearts have become hard. 

So the first step today, is to ask God for help. Now, if you haven’t become a born again Christian yet, this prayer will not have any effect. God cannot heal a heart that doesn’t belong to Him. A heart without Christ is hard as rock and must be given to God to be changed into flesh. 

But, if your heart does belong to Christ, pray this prayer, and ask Him to heal it, “Lord, we’ve given our hearts to you, but life still happens. Hurts happen. Pain happens. And we confess we’ve allowed bitterness. We’ve allowed some hardness to set in. So God, we pray that you would send your angels, send your healing power, to heal our hearts. We give them to you afresh, please make our hearts new and fresh and soft again, only then Father, can be experience you in all your goodness, in Jesus name, amen.”

Secondly, we consider the heart of God. God’s heart is pure love, so much so that the scriptures say “God is love.” Our hearts are limited, though we do receive and give love freely. But God’s heart is infinite, more massive and expansive than the universe itself... A heart of hearts, a heart beyond anything we could imagine. 

Yet we can know God, and the heart of God, as we reach out for Him. As he seek Him, we find Him. God’s heart is our target in all this. And it’s not beyond our reach. There is a spot just for us, in His heart, made just for us. And we fit just right there. 

Know this truth in your mind, but I pray and hope you can feel it in your heart: He honestly really does love you deeply, more than you could possibly imagine. God really does love you. He longs to be with you. He beckons you to come. 

Prayer: "Lord, as we consider your heart, help us to come boldly toward your heart. Help us to perceive your love for us, even those here who doubt your love, may they sense your love and be amazed, in Jesus name, amen."

Third is the dream, the hope, the proper end of this great controversy: The union of your heart with God’s heart. Divine union. Divine reconciliation. You can experience this union with God in this life, all thanks to Jesus Christ, and what Jesus did on the cross. He paid the way forward. He opened the door. But you must walk through it. 

The divine union of your heart with God’s heart is this: God expresses his love for you, and you express your love for Him. And in that you find a taste of the union of your heart with God’s heart.

Let’s reach out today, make a beginning toward that union. Prayer: "Heavenly Father, we love you. We receive your love for us. We draw near to you, knowing you accept us in Christ. We simply love you, rejoice in you, celebrate our union with you, and draw nearer to you today. We love you. We receive your love. In Jesus name, amen."

Your heart. God’s heart. Union of hearts. It all starts there. What does it mean? How do we understand it? There are examples everywhere in our lives: a friendship, a father-son relationship, a romance even, it begins with something as simple as two hearts loving one another, but of course that’s just the beginning of the adventure. It’s long talks at night, it’s sharing stories, it’s going on trips, it’s carrying your son on your shoulders, it’s playing football together, it’s having a tea party with dad, it’s a journey in any relationship. All of those relationships give us pictures of God's love for us. 

So we begin that journey to learn more about the ultimate love relationship, between God and you. 

Off we go, into the depths of space, seeking out the heart of God, and if we seek with all our hearts, we will truly find all this and more. What I can assure you of is this: As much as we’re launching out to find God’s heart, he’s already with us in Christ on the ship as we launch out. Isn’t that amazing? I think so. 

I’ll conclude with a portion of a prayer from Madam Guyon’s book:

“Oh Holy Jesus, it is You alone who love the simple and innocent. It is Your “delight to dwell with the children of men,” (Proverbs 8:3) with those who are willing to become “little children.” (Matthew 18:3) Beloved Lord, write it on the hearts of those who read it and lead them to seek You within themselves. It is there You rest, as in the manger, waiting to receive proofs of their love and to give them testimonies of Yours in return.” Amen. 

Put Off the Old, Put on the New: Tips for Christian Living in Ephesians 4

What does it mean to be worldly? 

“The Bible defines worldliness by centering morality where we intuitively know it should be. Worldliness is the lust of the flesh (a passion for sensual satisfaction), the lust of the eyes (an inordinate desire for the finer things of life), and the pride of life (self-satisfaction in who we are, what we have, and what we have done).  Worldliness, then, is a preoccupation with ease and affluence. It elevates creature comfort to the point of idolatry; large salaries and comfortable life-styles become necessities of life. 

Worldliness is reading magazines about people who live hedonistic lives and spend too much money on themselves and wanting to be like them. But more importantly, worldliness is simply pride and selfishness in disguises. It's being resentful when someone snubs us or patronizes us or shows off. It means smarting under every slight, challenging every word spoken against us, cringing when another is preferred before us. Worldliness is harboring grudges, nursing grievance, and wallowing in self-pity. These are the ways in which we are most like the world.” -Dave Roper, The Strength of a Man, quoted in Family Survival in the American Jungle, Steve Farrar, 1991, Multnomah Press, p. 68.

As followers of Jesus we must guard against living worldly lives, chasing after money and stuff and influence and popularity. That is the challenge we face as Christians. Though we want to follow Jesus, the influence of the world can get in the way. And we can end up living a compromised life.

But that’s not what I want for you or me. I want to live a true, real Christian life. I hope you do too. So we’re going to search out in the scriptures some of the most practical teachings we can find.

We’re going to look at the dos and the don'ts and hopefully we’ll find a better understanding of what faith looks like in the grit and grime of everyday life. 

Today we’re going to delving into a new series called “Shapes of Faith.” And all of this is going to revolve around Christian living. How do I live a successful Christian lifestyle? How do I practice what I believe in my heart? We’re going to be focusing in on a lot of the letters of the New Testament, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, Colossians, and so on. 

The goal is to put the teachings of Paul into structures, shapes, so we can see them in a deeper way, and begin to process and apply what we’re learning. Right now let's focus in on Ephesians chapter 4. 

The more we read the word, the more we’ll be in tune with God’s agenda. The more we watch tv, well, we’ll be in tune with another agenda. 

“Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch.

So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world. “ -Donald Grey Barnhouse.

It says in our scripture today, in Ephesians 4:17-19: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

The scripture here is beginning to contrast between the old ways that we used to live in, and the new way we’ve learned in Christ.

We’ve gone from impure before we knew Christ, to now through Christ, we’ve become pure. 

But now we Christians on Earth live in a tension. We still live in the flesh, that wants to drag us back to the old way. Part of us wants to get lazy, and drift back toward that darkened way of the world. 

But the Apostle Paul reminds us here, verses 20-21, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.”

We’re being told yes, that old way is a temptation to us. But you know the right path, it’s the truth we've found in Jesus. 

It continues, 22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Alright, so we’re going to start building our structure for today. This one works from top to bottom, and at the top we see, we’ve been taught in the truth, that is the truth of Jesus, and in that truth, we’ve learned this: We must put off the old self, and put on the new self. 

And the rest of our scripture today is going to be Paul giving us examples of what it looks like to put off the old self, and then put on the new self. He gives us very concrete examples, which is super helpful. 

But it all starts with being taught the truth and living in the truth. And as that happens again and again, it filters down the structure influencing everything else we do. 

That’s why it’s so important to read your Bible, pray and talk to God, and attend small groups and church services. In all of that you’re strengthening the flow of the truth into you. As it flows into you, it filters down into all your actions. 

If I have no truth coming in, am I going to put on the new self? No. The old self is going to grow stronger and stronger. But if I’m feeding myself the truth, I’m strengthened to live a faithful life. 

So now we’re going to learn some practical ways to live in the new self. 

It says in verse 25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

First example, don’t lie. Sometimes we lie and we don’t even know why we just lied. We’re just so used to lying. 

Every time we lie, we put on the old nature. We make something up, to make ourselves sound better. We don’t know what to say to someone so we just lie, well that’s never good. 

But when we target that problem in faith, pray, and ask God’s help, and then we start speaking truthfully, then we are putting on the new self in that. And that’s beautiful. 

The old self is a liar, in sin right? The new self longs to speak truth and live truth. 

Next, we see a great scripture, classic. It says this, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (26-27). 

Notice something, it’s not a sin to be angry. The new self is consistent with being angry. Anger happens. But when you’re angry, don’t let yourself commit sin. 

We all do this, when we’re angry, we’re angry, but we limit what we do. Some of us are better at that then others. But when you’re angry, remind yourself, I need to limit my response, to what the Bible says, "Be angry, but don’t sin." 

We also get instructions on limiting the time table of anger. Don’t let the anger go on too long. As the day gets old and the sky goes dark, find a way to resolve your anger. Because if we go to bed angry, we often will be angry again the next day. And it can begin to consume us. 

In your anger, don’t give the devil a foothold. The enemy is looking for opportunity to enter your life and affairs. Don’t give him one. Keep your anger under control, and then resolve it. 

My fiancé and I have had disagreements, and we've learned to resolve them in the same night. We've had times where we waited until the next day, and it only made things worse. The anger festered and became more powerful. 

Next, verse 28, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”

Next, stealing. These are such excellent examples. Some of us before we were Christians, we justified stealing to ourselves. Well, they don’t need it. The store has enough money. My friend has a lot of money. But now, we’re told, we must steal no longer. Stealing is part of the old self. Instead we’re told to find something useful to do with our hands, good work, service, and then we’re told, we’ll have something to share with those in need. We go from stealing, taking what’s not ours, to working to earn a living, and then giving things to others. 

Isn’t that awesome? God will take someone who is a thief, and turn them into a giver. I love what God does. 

Now, before you say, but I don’t steal. Well, let’s double check that quick. Have you cheated on your taxes? That’s called defrauding the government. In other words, stealing. Doesn’t matter if you think the government deserves the money or not. It’s the law. And Christian’s obey the law unless it disturbs our ability to follow Jesus.

Have you downloaded music or movies off the internet illegally? There’s a word for that. It’s called stealing. 

As Christians, we don’t steal. We give. We care for. We provide for. We meet needs. We don’t steal from anyone. 

Next in verse 29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

This is one that I need to work on, actually. Sometimes when I’m joking around with friends or with my fiancé, I joke around in a way that’s probably not particularly helpful or good. 

Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth. That’s the old self again, trying to come back. But instead, speak life. Use your words to build others up. And your words will be a benefit. The new man in Christ speaks life. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to tell jokes, it’s OK to make someone laugh, but we need to make sure we’re not speaking filth, but speaking truth and life. 

We as Christians have received the forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ. God has become our Father in Heaven. He has adopted us. Jesus is our friend. Not only that, the Holy Spirit now lives within us, and our bodies are the temple of God, housing God’s presence within us. 

So here we find a key centerpiece to our structure today, in verse 30 it says, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 

The new self has been sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. Therefore, don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful balance. You have the Holy Spirit. But don’t grieve the Spirit through willful sin. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit within us. You've been sealed with the Holy Spirit. 

A seal is something that holds an envelope closed, wax often melted and then stamped with an emblem. Some use this verse to claim "once saved always saved" but a seal can be broken. In fact that's what happens when you open the envelope, the seal is broken. You have the Spirit, it's sealed, but don't grieve the Holy Spirit, because a seal can always be broken. 

Let me draw you back to the opening, we’ve been made new, but the old self is still here. The monkey may be off our back, but the circus is still in town. Keep your guard up. Stay focused on Jesus. 

The flesh will drag us back if we let it. Instead, we must live by the Spirit, and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. We will overcome, and gain the victory. 

It continues, verse 31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

Are you bitter? Have you been through a lot in your life? Don’t let that bitterness lead into rage, and anger, and brawling and slander. Instead, ask God to heal your bitterness. Speak to a good Christian counselor about bitterness.  Meet privately with your Pastor.  Ask your small group to pray for you. You can find healing from the hurts of the past. God will help you! 

Again, bitterness, slander, rage, all these things are the old self again. And we’ve put that off. 

Lastly, in verse 32, we see the opposite of bitterness and rage and slander.  It says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Be kind and compassionate, show empathy, listen, and give encouragement, forgive those who have hurt you, just as God forgave you. 

Alright notice in all of this, we have two main actions to take, first, we put away sinful things that we used to do. We take off the old self.

Second, we put on the new self. We replace that bad thing, with it’s opposite, a good thing. 

Did we steal? We start giving instead.

Did we tell dirty jokes? We start speaking encouraging words.

Were we bitter? We find healing and forgive others who hurt us. 

It’s always removing something bad, and letting God replace it with something good. 

God is taking sinners like us, and he puts us in the hospital of the church, and he changes us by removing the problem, and then by adding a new attitude and approach to life. 

Now, let’s put it all together, as we review today. Our structure for today shows us how the truth leads to progressive changes of mind and heart, and these changes then lead to different actions, and these different actions out of new attitudes are the process by which we put on the new self and put off the old self. 


1. Learn the Truth – attend church, study your Bible

2. Put Off the Old Self – put off the old ways

3. Put on the New Nature – embrace the new ways

4. Put off Lies / Speak the truth 

5. Be Angry / Don’t sin in your anger

6. Don’t Steal / Use your hands for good

7. Avoid unwholesome talk / Speak words of life

8. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit / Sealed for Redemption

9. Get Rid of Malice – end bitterness and slander

10. Be Kind and Compassionate – forgive quickly

Saturday, January 20, 2024

How Do I Live as a Christian in This World: 10 Areas We Might Not Normally Think About

The desire of my heart is to live as a true Christian, in a world that is broken.  How do I do that?  How do I live it out during my daily life? Let's look briefly at ten areas of our lives that we might not have thought about before.  

Group Dynamics / Social Climbing - In our friend group, in the group that surrounds us at work, we may be tempted to try to climb, to try to jockey for position. That's the way of the world. Show how important you are. Quietly wage a war against someone who is a threat to you. Talk about her behind her back, gather people against her. Use carefully worded remarks, offhand, to slowly pick at your rival in the group.  These are the ways of the world. They are not the way of Christians. So you should do the opposite of these things you see others doing.  

If someone targets you for a campaign of quiet warfare, refuse to engage, simply keep being your best. Pray for them. If someone gets a promotion before you, don't get angry, just keep being a man or woman of integrity. If you see a weak spot and know you could use it against that person to drive them down and yourself up in the group, refuse to use it. See it, and refuse to use that. That is revolutionary. You will feel better about yourself, and in the long term, maybe not the short, but in the long term others will respect you more for your lifestyle. 

I used to downright hate the social climbing and alpha male stuff in groups, and by disengaging with it, and simply being myself and my best in Christ, God would often work it out in a unique way. 

Extra Tip: Stubbornly treat those who consider you an enemy with kindness and respect, it will confuse them. 

The Slippery Slope of Flirtation - This isn't just for married couples, but also for singles. Singles, hear me on this, you will have many flirtations that are a danger to your future. Before the right godly woman or man comes along, you may run into 15-20 of the wrong ones. Don't let your emotions control you in romance. Even if they're very beautiful/handsome, keep your guard up. Look deeper, to their character, and their faith walk. God will give you flags to watch for. 

Married couples, avoid at all costs the slippery slope of flirtation. I think we often act as if, well, I don't even realize what I'm doing. But if we're really being honest, we do. We may slip into it naturally. But we are humans made in God's image, so we are capable in Christ, of catching ourselves and refraining from the flirtations we might otherwise indulge in. It's life and death we toy with, with flirting. A few words, a few choice remarks, and destruction is near. 

We all know the story. A married woman has a man who begins flirting with her at work. She resists it at first. But slowly she begins to play into it. And as she begins to flirt back, the ball is now rolling downhill. We all know, it can roll very fast and pick up speed very quickly. This is why many will be in a happy marriage, but they like how the flirtation makes them feel. So they allow it. Just a bit. And slowly that door cracks open wider and wider. 

And pretty soon they are in divorce court, and wondering, how could I have let this happen?

Be very staunch. Shut down the flirtation immediately. Or just walk away. And don't allow it. 

I had a friend whose wife had a coworker, another woman mind you, who kept flirting with her. My friend didn't like it, but she kept telling him they were best friends. Big mistake. That should not be a friendship you're in. At the same time my friend and his wife were having some problems in their marriage. 

This friend of his wife kept whispering in her ear, "I'd never treat you that way. I understand you." And pretty soon she wore her down, and she left her husband for this woman. 

If you can keep the door closed on any flirtation, you can protect your marriage. If you allow the door to crack open, it can open very wide, very fast, and end in disaster. Head it off immediately, don't toy with it, even though the attention feels good in the moment, be wise, shut and lock that deadly door. 

Extra Tip: Avoid intense eye contact, it's a form of flirtation that's powerful but hard to pin down (easy to make excuses about).

Financial Stability - Something that I faced when I became a Christian was financial chaos. I had taken out too many loans. I had many bills in collections. I owed people money that I had never payed back. I had stolen money from people I needed to make amends to. So I got to work. I used free services like Credit Karma to find out about the bills in collections. I began making monthly payments on them, small amounts, $25 here and $100 when I could. I made a plan. I paid people back, with interest. I made amends to those I'd harmed financially. 

I had a credit card with $10,000 in debt on it. And I asked God for help. He sent an older church member to me and he sat me down and taught me about tithing. He said if you don't put God first in your finances you're never going to have enough. He challenged me to start tithing 10% of my income, and then slowly give more as I'm able. 

It seemed so counter-intuitive, I'm in debt! And you want me to give more? Yet I could sense the Holy Spirit speaking to me in the situation. So I said, alright, I'm going to try it. I'm going to start tithing.  

In two years the entire $10,000 was paid off. Not much had changed in my income or lifestyle, but God was at the head, and he guided me to pay it all off. Put God first in this area, and watch what he does.

The sense of satisfaction in financial integrity is amazing. Shoot for that, make it a goal, and get to work. 

Extra Tip: Budgeting can be extremely helpful as well. There are free services out there that can help with this, connect with them. I met with Thrivent finance early on, they were helpful to me!

Read Great Books - One of the greatest things about the protestant reformation and the birth of America was that Christians used knowledge from different disciplines to develop their personal lives, their families, their government and their economy. 

Be one of those Christians who reads lots of books. But be cautious that the great knowledge out there doesn't puff you up. It can lead to pride. So stay humble as you read. As the Apostle Paul said, knowledge puffs up. 

Read the great Christian classics, the Pilgrim's Progress, The Practice of the Presence of God, The Cross of Jesus Christ, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, Humility, The Pursuit of God, Mere Christianity, My Utmost for His Highest, Orthodoxy, Live Not By Lies, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and on and on the list goes. 

I know that after twelve grueling years of public education, learning from many teachers who hated to teach and hated their subject, I had learned to hate learning. I despised it. I had to fight through a lot of hurt and brokenness and anger to rediscover the love of learning. But when I found it again, I took off running. I hope you can find it too, if you were one left in the ruins like me. 

Process your Christian faith into how you see the World - This has been one of the greatest adventures I've been on since becoming a Christian. After becoming a Christian I realized I had been brainwashed in the modern world system into thinking many things about the world that aren't true.  

I had believed the universe was just a howling dark void that came from nothing and was going nowhere. I had believed the human race was here for no apparent reason. I had believed human beings had little value. I had believed after death came nothing. 

The adventure has been trying to slowly break out of the modernist mindset and into a truly Christian view of the world, which is simply seeing reality as it truly is. 

When I see a human being, I don't see some guy anymore, I see someone made in the image of God, who has great value. When I see a beautiful tree, I don't see a plant, I see something God invented and intended. When I see DNA I see the programming language God used to design living beings. When I see galaxies and nebula on the James Webb space telescope I don't see random phenomenon but inventions of the brilliance of God's mind. When I look at a city, I don't see just a random gathering of people, but a structure of hundreds of disciplines, from plumbing to electricity, to woodwork and architecture all inspired by God and intended by God for man to develop and live in.

Begin to try to do this, when you live your life, stop yourself, and think to yourself, I know what I used to think this was, but what does God and the Bible say about it? What does it really mean? Then slowly, you'll break free from the brainwashing of the modernity. And as you do, you'll see the world more clearly as it truly is, and you'll be able to more effectively live out your Christian faith.

All the greats, C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, D.L. Moody understood that they had to break out of the old mindset of the flesh and begin to see the world through the lenses of the Spirit. 

Several pastors met with D.L. Moody once and asked him what was the secret to his success in ministry. He took pointed to the people around them near the town square and said what do you see? And the men each gave their various insights about the people they saw. And D.L. Moody said, I see dozens of people made in God's image who face an eternity in hell without the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. I'm paraphrasing the story, but you see the point. D.L. Moody was effective because he had trained himself to see beyond this world, to the eternal implications of everything around him. 

I don't agree with Mark Driscoll on everything, but this is something he's good at. He went to a football game once and said, "Dang, I've joined a cult!" He could see the worship of the event. He could see it was triggering something of an idolatry in some of the people present. He didn't just see a football game, he looked differently, and saw a spiritual implication. We can train ourselves to do something similar. We ask questions, reinterpret reality, and begin to see Earth, the USA, our cities, our friends, our families, and our lives through biblical lenses. 

Extra Tip: Read C.S. Lewis for help with this, he seemed to effortlessly see things others missed in regard to what reality really is. 

Value Ceremony and Tradition - I remember in my teens and twenties I looked with general disdain at events like anniversaries, weddings, family reunions, even Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, all of that stuff I thought generally had little point for me as a person. 

Why does the wedding matter? What really matters is the marriage after the wedding.  Why does Christmas matter? We just eat and open presents, the actual story behind it doesn't matter. Why should the family reunion happen? It's just old people dancing the polka. 

Even after becoming a Christian I don't know that I fully understand why it matters. But, I eventually realized that it really does matter. I was reading The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan, and he mentioned how he had thought his wedding didn't really matter. That it was just an old tradition. But later he realized he was completely wrong, the wedding expresses the thing, it solidifies the thing, and it makes the thing real. 

The cynical kid in me couldn't see the value in remembering. But that's the purpose in all these events, is to remember. Because we as humans so easily forget. We drift into our daily patterns. We rest on our past accomplishments. 

The holidays, the family get togethers, the special events, the weddings, the anniversaries are all infusing meaning into our lives. They are reminding us what really matters. They are reminding us that marriage should be celebrated. They are reminding us thankfulness matters. They are reminding us the birth of Jesus changed everything. They are reminding us that the resurrection of Jesus brings us eternal life.  Traditions are vital. They are important. And the Bible is full of stones of remembrance, yearly festivals, events, meetings and calls to remember what God had done in the past. It's vital. 

Extra Tip: We lose something huge when we miss church, or view online only, we need the human gathering, it does something that can't be replicated on the internet by watching a sermon on YouTube.

The Eye Gate - cursing sprees? sexualized content? Imagery that provokes you toward lust or pride or greed? Be cautious what you put in front of your eyes. I used to be obsessed with zombie movies. Today I don't watch zombie movies at all. I love sci fi but a lot of sci fi movies end up being plain demonic. Check the rating on the movie. If something in your spirit disturbs you about what you're watching, turn it off. Switch to something else. Let God guide what you put in front of your eyes, when in doubt, pray it out. Ask God. He will help you. 

Extra Tip: Avoid making excuses on this one, we want to watch something, so we make excuses and rationalize it. Simply make the hard call to shut it off. Split the disc. Move on. 

Develop Spirit-centered Witnessing Radar - Something God has developed within me is a sense of radar in witnessing. Learn to listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will nudge you to speak to someone, or call someone, or pray for someone. 

We can develop a pattern of listening for God and following the leading of the Spirit. We won't always get it right, but we can slowly develop a pattern of simply knowing when God is calling us to speak to someone or pray or act on someone's behalf. 

Extra Tip: Don't lean too much on emotions in witnessing. God can use emotion, but if allow our emotions to be the sole guide, we'll get burned. Be prayerful, contemplative, and listen quietly. Don't get obsessive. 

Drink Deeply of the Evidence for God's Existence - As a guy I tend to be skeptical. I tend to think someone is probably trying to scam me or take my money, because in American capitalism, that's usually the case. If they invite me over, it's just as likely they want to be friends as they want to inculcate me into their pyramid scheme get rich quick scam, essential oil sale service, or Tupperware party (it's happened to me before). 

I'm skeptical. I need to see the evidence. If someone tells me a product is good, I go look it up. I read the reviews. I don't just accept what I'm being told. 

That's why I think it's so important to be well read on Christian apologetics. I want to see the evidence for God's existence in science, history, archaeology, and I want to know about the Bible's ancient manuscripts. 

It helps me in two ways. First, it helps me internally, if I start to get led astray by the world system telling me there is no god, I simply remind myself, "Where did the universe come from?" God made it, obviously. Look at all the complexity in nature, immutable laws, DNA in our cells, and I quickly remember, yeah, it's obvious that God made all this. If I don't have that information in my head, I could start to be led astray and think that there is no god. The enemy is always trying to lead us away from the Lord. Apologetics has kept me strapped in tight with all the facts surrounding the life of Jesus, science, history, and the impact of the church on the world. 

The second reason it's helpful is so I can witness to someone who has questions. If someone tells me that the Bible isn't reliable and has been rewritten, I can explain to them why that's not true. I can point to the dead sea scrolls. I can talk about the manuscripts that date back to within 50 years of the life of Christ. I can talk about the persecutions the early church endured before the canon was established. I can witness better with apologetics in my back pocket.

Extra Tip: You can read great books like The Reason for God by Keller or The Language of God by Collins, but if you struggle reading, just subscribe to some of the YouTube channels of people like Frank Turek, Os Guinness, Ken Ham, Greg Koukl, William Lane Craig, and listen to their videos/podcasts. You'll absorb the information as you listen to it repeatedly. 

Little Things In Life - there are a million little things we do throughout the day, laundry, dishes, paperwork, yard work, running errands around town, ordering stuff online, and we should try to remember to do it for the glory of God. Even just speak that out loud. Nothing is secular, all is spiritual. Do it for God, do it to God's glory. 

Extra Tip: Even the most basic tasks in life can be done to God's glory. Sharpening your pencil? Do it to the Glory of God! 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

What is the most Pervasive False Doctrine in the Body of Christ Today?

What is the most pervasive false doctrine in the body of Christ today?

In particular, we're looking at Western evangelical Christianity, and in particular Christianity within the United States. So in Christianity, in the United States, we've seen two trends that have shaped the theological field of discussion and debate.

The two trends are this, one, the rise of Calvinist mega churches across the country. We've seen numerous Calvinist mega churches grow and multiple. From Tim Keller, who recently passed away to Andy Stanley, to John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Bill Hybels, and so on. You think of people like Francis Chan. He's sort of an outlier. He's not really firmly ideologically Calvinist, but more instinctually. 
So first of all, the rise of Calvinist mega churches affected our theology. 

Secondly, and just as much was the rise of non denominational churches. Most of these non denominational churches are functionally Baptist in theology. I think the reason they've taken off so much and sort of supplanted other denominations is because they have remained biblically conservative in their theology, when many other denominations have strayed liberal in their theology. 

When churches stray from the Bible, they shut down. Plain and simple, that's what we've seen with the decline of mainline protestant churches. The rapid decline of mainline protestant denominations was succinctly matched by their total embrace of gay marriage, gender ideology, and critical race theory based social justice. 

Now, there is a lot to like with both Calvinist and Baptist churches and theology. They've remained close to conservative biblical theology. They've emphasized personal salvation. They've emphasized the need to share the gospel with others (missional). They've clarified a gospel message around penal substitutionary atonement that makes it starkly clear that salvation is based on the finished work of Christ on the cross. There is a lot of good in all of it. 

If we were looking at church theology in general in the west, and what is the biggest red flag, the answer would almost certainly be gay marriage, and the massive swing of the church toward promoting homosexuality. The swing has been truly seismic and devastatingly destructive. It's the most astonishing shift for the church in two thousand years. 

So you could say the most pervasive false doctrine in all of Christianity right now is gay marriage, the promotion of total inclusion.  Hundreds of churches have simply decided, 'we will deny what the Bible says about marriage.' 

But what about evangelical Christianity, the vein of Christianity that holds most firmly to the word of God?  What is the most pervasive false doctrine in evangelicalism?

I believe the most pervasive false doctrine within biblical Christianity is the doctrine of "once saved, always saved." 

This doctrine comes from the fifth point of the Calvinist TULIP acronym which is titled the "perseverance of the saints." And it asserts the idea that is it impossible for a born again Christian to fall away and lose their salvation.

The doctrine also finds a home in Baptist churches, which teach as a point of theology, salvation cannot be lost. Many Baptist (non-denominational) churches would reject the first four points of Calvinism, but they would still agree on the last point and teach that a believer cannot lose their salvation. 

It's a very surprising thing when you think about it. I'm sure many reading of us were taught this doctrine in their churches. But the doctrine is fairly rare outside of Calvinism and Baptist churches. It's a view that rejects free will and asserts a believer can never do things mentioned in scripture like renouncing Christ or denying Christ, or practicing willful active sin. 

If we go back to the early church, we see that the early church fathers agree that a believer can backslide. It was a basic teaching of the early church, to hold fast to Christ, to remain with Christ, and to reject sin, and to die for Christ if necessary, before ever denying Him. 

As Irenaeus wrote, "But to the righteous and holy, and those who have kept his commandments and have remained in his love…he will by his grace give life incorrupt, and will clothe them with eternal glory" -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 10:1. 

But it was a difficult issue to deal with. How does a believer know they are safe in Christ's arms? For the Catholic church, they dealt with this issue by instituting confession. The believer would confess their sins to the Priest. The Priest would then give forgiveness along with penance. This would be practiced monthly, even weekly, or daily if necessary.

So for Catholics, it became a question of salvation security, what kind of sin is deadly to my salvation? So sins were divided up into two categories, mortal sins and venal sins. 

Still the question persisted, what happens for a Christian who is living in active sin? So pretty soon purgatory was invented by the Catholics. If a Christian is active in sin, or has unconfessed or unrepented of sins, they will be taken to a sort of temporary hell, where they will be tormented to make up for their sins until they are cleansed and taken to heaven. 

That lead to the sale of indulgences. Christians fearing their loved ones were in purgatory, would purchase indulgences to free their loved ones from purgatory early.  

As Johann Tetzel the famous seller of indulgences said it: "When a coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs."

But it all went back to the salvation security issue, how do I know if I'm secure in my salvation? What about sins I've committed after becoming a Christian? 

You could say this issue may have single-handedly spawned the great protestant reformation. Martin Luther went over and over and over to the priest to confess his sins when he was a monk. He was tormented by the fear of hell. It drove him to study and learn and grow. And Martin Luther found one day in the book of Romans, that salvation was in Christ alone. And we're all grateful for that today. 

But what was Martin Luther's view on once saved always saved? Did you know Martin Luther believed a Christian could lose their salvation? It's true. 

Here is what he wrote in his commentary on the book of Galatians:
"Verse 4, "Ye are fallen from grace." That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. ... The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation." -Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 5:4.

So Martin Luther had to find a careful balance between salvation in Christ, and the reality of the believer's free will and ability to fall from grace. 

We in the body of Christ must make that same effort. We can't fall into the trap of teaching people that they can never lose their salvation. This is dangerous, unbiblical, and invites complacency and a lack of zeal in service to God. A believer must know that when they sin, or depart the church, or even renounce Christ, they are putting their salvation at stake. 

Yet we must also avoid the trap of teaching believers that their salvation is lost very easily. This would invite believers to be tormented as Martin Luther was before the reformation, constantly running to the priest, or to God, fifty times a day crying out, "Am I still saved?"

Instead we must a find a balance, the same balance the scripture actually teaches. This balance is that a believer may hold a sense of security in Christ that their salvation is secure in Him. But, that they should balance this security with a sense of vigilance. As the scripture says, "If you believe are standing firm make sure you don't fall!" 1 Corinthians 10:12. A believer must be challenged to guard against sin, repent quickly if necessary, and to understand that renouncing Christ under pressure/persecution is in fact tantamount to lost salvation. This balance of security and vigilance will help Christians to both be amazed by the love of God in the security of salvation and also encourage Christians to tremble at a Holy God who shows no favoritism and will judge sin as sinful. 

This balance is absolutely vital. Because if a believer is taught that they can never lose their salvation every command of the New Testament suddenly becomes optional, a suggestion, a good idea. But the believer finds there is little affect if they transgress them all. 

Many pastors teach that violation of commands, willful sin, or even outright renouncing Christ as savior, simply causes problems in the relationship between the believer and God, but has no affect on salvation status. 

Yet it says clearly in the book of Romans, chapters 11:19-22, "You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."

And again it says in John chapter 15, in the teaching on the vine and the branches, that the believer is the branch, the vine is Jesus, the gardener is God the Father. If a believer (branch) abides in Jesus (the vine) then the believer produces much fruit. But if the believer drifts off and doesn't remain in Christ, they shrivel up. And if a branch shrivels up, it is removed from the vine and is burned (John 15:6).  

This was one of the last teachings that Jesus gave to His disciples in John's gospel. He had already explained to them that by obeying His teaching they were clean, but lastly he explained how to abide in His love, by remaining Him, and obeying His commands, believers would abide in the vine. But if they did not abide, they would shrivel, and lose their salvation, and in the end be burned.

Why is this so challenging for us as evangelical Christians in the west to understand? Why do we teach believers they can never lose their salvation? 

I think it comes right down to one simple fact. I recall watching the Calvinist documentary called American Gospel. And early on a chart was shown on a line indicating a believer's salvation, and they showed it going up and down, and then showed their view which was that it was better to view it as never straying below the line of saved vs. unsaved, because it more psychologically stable. And I realized at that moment, that is why we embrace once saved always saved, despite the fact that so many scriptures make it plain that it's not true. 

It's this: It's just too scary to think we could lose our salvation. 

It's simple psychology. It's mental health. 

We want to hear what we want to hear. Our ears are itching for a comfortable answer.  And what could be more comfortable? Sin as much as you want as a Christian, you can never lose your salvation. And suddenly, my duties as a Christian are nil. Zero.

I have no responsibility to share the gospel. I can keep drinking, partying and sleeping around. I can run my own life, God doesn't have to really be in charge. In fact, I don't even need to attend church.

It's mental health in the end. We want to believe it. In fact honestly, I would prefer, if I were choosing based on what I like, and what feels good, I would jump on board for 'once saved always saved.' It feels great. But it's just not true. And the Holy Spirit kept saying that to me over the years. For my first few years as a Christian leader, I taught OSAS. I taught past, present, future sins are already forgiven. But the Holy Spirit just kept whispering to me, and I had no peace about it. The Spirit kept saying: Something isn't right here. 

Scripture after scripture jumped out at me... John 15, Hebrews 6:6, Hebrews 3:12, Revelation 2-3, Romans 11, Hebrews 10:26-27, 1 Cor 9:27, 1 Tim 4:1, and on and on it went.

Yet at the same time I saw scriptures which spoke of a believer's security in Christ, John 10:28, Hebrews 10:14, 1 John 5:13, Romans 8:38-39, 1 Peter 1:23, and on and on it went. 

Revereing God, I knew I couldn't teach once saved always saved. If it wasn't true I didn't want to teach it. And I knew the scripture which said, "Not many of you should become teachers because you know we teachers will be judged more harshly" (James 3:1). 

We as biblical evangelical Christians must find a way to teach salvation security and vigilance against falling away/apostasy at the same time. If we teacher OSAS we allow people to become complacent and sinful in their Christian practice. We may even lead people to hell. Then again if we teach falling away too severely, believers will fear constantly they are not truly saved, and may even stray into works salvation apart from Christ to try to make up the difference. So a sacred balance is needed here. 

If we can address this as evangelical Christians and find a better balance, we may find a new level of maturity among believers, who both love and fear God, who are both joyous in their security and vigilant in their battles against sin, Satan, and false teachings. But it shouldn't come down to a risk benefit analysis. We should most highly of all want to teach what is in alignment with God's word. And we can do that. We will do that. The ship must be righted, and we can only do it together.