Category Archives: Gospel

Only an Arminian Can Minister to a Person’s Greater Need

I recently heard a great message on Mark chapter 2 where Jesus heals a paralytic that four friends bring to Him. The main point of the message was that Jesus has authority to forgive sin and heal. Mark is establishing Christ’s deity. The pastor posed the question that many might ask, “Why didn’t Jesus heal the man right off?” The pastor’s response was twofold: Jesus was establishing His authority as springing from His deity and two, Jesus ministered to the man’s greater need first, that being his need of spiritual healing. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mar 2:5) The man’s greater need was spiritual healing as opposed to physical. That led me to wonder, can we as believers and Christ’s ministers of the gospel tell people that their sins are forgiven? In John’s gospel, chapter 20, verse 23 Jesus grants authority for His disciples to forgive sin. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

 

Jesus has ordained His disciples to carry out His ministry of reconciliation. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2Co 5:18-19) Also in Colossians 1:20-23 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” The question then is, is this ministry to all mankind or simply to the elect? And if it is only for the elect, how do we know who to minister to? To whom can we say, “Your sins are forgiven.”?

 

The differences between Calvin and Arminius have divided theologians since the early part of the 17th century. I say that the controversy has divided theologians because many Christians are either unaware or unconcerned about it. In my experience, few Christians understand the differences. This controversy has divided great men of faith such as Wesley and Whitfield. Some church movements like the EFCA have decided that the question is debatable and therefore take no formal position. I’ve heard sermons and read different commentaries or systematic theology texts that convince me one way and then the other. Grudem favors Calvin. Williams supports Arminius. The differences are important and worthy of study, but should not cause us to question another’s salvation. We agree on the deity of Christ, the Trinity, Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and return.

 

There are five main tenets of Calvin’s doctrine that are remembered by the acronym TULIP (it’s a Dutch thing), where each letter refers to the following:

  • Total depravity; man is born into sin and is incapable of regeneration on his own
  • Unconditional election; God chooses whom He will save based upon His own will and not upon any work or inherent merit of those He chooses. (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5,11, Galatians 1:15)
  • Limited atonement: Christ’s sacrifice for sin only applies to the elect, asserting that God’s grace cannot be ineffectual and as such does not apply to those that He chooses to condemn.
  • Irresistible grace; If you are one of the elect, you cannot resist the calling.
  • Perseverance of the saints; God will keep until the end those that He has called.

The overarching theme of Calvin’s doctrine is the total sufficiency of God’s grace. All glory is given to God. (Romans 3:24, 11:6) Arminius argued against unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. I might say that the main theme of Arminian theology is justification by faith.

 

The primary scriptural text for unconditional election is Romans 8:29-30. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” This verse does teach us that God does predestine or choose certain persons for salvation, but a condition is implied when it says,”For those whom He foreknew…” We know that God is not bound by time. He knows what we will do before we do it. We also know that God does not choose us because of any inherent goodness in us or any good work on our part. Before God regenerates us, we are totally depraved. The verse points to a process involved in our being regenerated. We are first called, then justified and finally glorified. Remember, becoming a part of God’s family and His kingdom involves a process. There are numerous verses that explain how a person gets “saved”, but we know that the process involves a faith response from the person who is called. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22) Then there is Luther’s favorite verse which led to the reformation and the confirmation of the doctrine of justification by faith,”Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) Even faith is a gift from God and not a work of our own. But, our response to God’s gift is part of the process. Ephesians 2:8 explains how grace works through faith, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,…” Could it be that God knows who will receive the gift and elects them? Our response involves an exercise of the will. Do we have free will, or does God force the elect to choose Him? That leads to the question of irresistible grace.

 

Consider again the account in Mark 2 of the healing of the paralytic. Note that the paralytic did not pray to receive Christ. He did not confess any sin or confess that Jesus is the Savior. The paralytic expressed no faith of his own. Jesus was responding to the faith of his friends. Christ freely offered forgiveness without any conditions. To the Calvinist, that would be proof that the man was one of the elect, for they believe that Christ’s atonement for sin only applies to the elect. I believe that this tenet of Calvin’s doctrine conflicts with God’s Word. 1Jn 2:2 says,”And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”  And John 1:29 says “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” Also see Hebrews 2:9, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

 

If we accept that Christ died for the sins of the world does that mean that God forgives all sin for all mankind? Here is where the Calvinist accuses the Arminian of being a universalist, I believe without merit. Clearly, the Bible teaches that not all are saved and that many will suffer hell. Does being a member of God’s elect, a member of His family and a part of His kingdom involves more than forgiveness of sin? Does God forgive sinners and still reject them? Do people suffer hell because of their sin or because they reject a relationship with Christ? Christ warned that He would tell the unsaved, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” Is it possible to forgive someone and still not be in a relationship? Could Jesus forgive the paralytic who never knew Him?

 

Later in Mark’s gospel we learn that there is only one unforgivable sin and Jesus seemed to be implying that all other sins would be forgiven for all. Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”- (Mar 3:28-29) In this passage, the scribes were accusing Jesus of doing miracles by the power of the devil. They were rejecting Christ for who He is. I believe that the only unforgivable sin is to reject Christ. Further on in this passage Jesus goes on to explain who is a member of His family when His mother and brothers come to “rescue” Him. Jesus says,”For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35) Being a member of His family, being “saved” requires submission to His Lordship and obedience to His will. There is no hint that the paralytic had advanced to this stage and yet Jesus said he was forgiven. The Calvinist might say that Jesus forgave the man because He knew that the man was one of the chosen. But, how do we know who is chosen? And, how can we be ministers of reconciliation without offering forgiveness?

 

We must recognize that true salvation goes beyond forgiveness. There is another step in the process. “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.(1Jn 4:14-15)See also Ro 10:9. Do not equate forgiveness with salvation. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Ro 5:10

 

Calvinist: “Have you been called by Christ into His kingdom?”

Sinner: “How would I know?”

Calvinist: “If you believe in and trust in Christ for your salvation, then you must be chosen.”

 

Arminian: “Christ forgives you for your sins and wants a relationship with you. Will you receive Him?”

Sinner: “How do I receive Him?”

Arminian: “By faith, which He will grant you.”

The Charismatic Gifts

Miracle

Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be The Comforter, the Helper, the Equipper of the saints and that He would draw people to Christ. The Charismatic gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon believers in Jesus are mentioned frequently in the New Testament and are enumerated in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1Co 12:3-11) These manifestations are other than natural or normally occurring phenomenon. They are intended to be signs which glorify God and draw people to Him. That is why they are referred to as the sign gifts.

 

Sadly, these gifts continue to stimulate controversy and division in the body of Christ.

Some contend that the functioning of these gifts has ceased after the Apostolic age and that the purpose of signs and wonders was to validate the message of the Apostles. Those who teach this are referred to as cessationists. There is not a strong scriptural basis for this position. The common reference they use is in 1Corinthians chapter 13, verses 8-10, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1Co 13:8-10). For the cessationist, “the perfect” is the canon of scripture and the closing of the canon would make the gifts unnecessary. This is a weak argument because “the perfect” is correctly the second coming of Christ, for as we continue reading we see that “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Co 13:12) Seeing “face to face” and knowing fully can only happen when Christ returns. Knowledge most certainly has not passed away with the close of the New Testament.

 

The most frequently cited proponent of cessation theology was professor Warfield of Princeton University who wrote Counterfeit Miracles. His argument is built primarily on the idea that there is a lack of evidence for true miracles after the first century (he considers any reports after the first century to be fake) and on his logic that such miracles are unnecessary to the building of God’s Kingdom. In Renewal Theology professor Wiliams of Regent University successfully refutes Warfield’s logic and lack of evidence, pointing to the writings of church historians Justin Martyr and Ireneaus recording numerous miracles after the first century.[i] Professor Wayne Grudem, Trinity University, also provides a detailed apologetic for the continuation of signs, wonders and miracles in his Systematic Theology. [ii]

Division in the body occurs when cessationists accuse those who experience the gifts or report miracles of being fake, insincere, unsaved or demonically inspired. Such accusations inflict deep wounds. Remember, that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. To be sure, there is abuse that occurs with those who seek to exercise the gifts and there is an abundance of fakery, especially with television evangelists. This abuse and false testimony must be addressed and dealt with. I will discuss this at length later.

 

First, let’s deal with the concept of cessation from a biblical standpoint. The writings of the New Testament were in regular use from the first century on and most, if not all, were recognized as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. They all had a consistent message of salvation through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. They consistently spoke of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. They were generally accepted and preached throughout the church. So, when a church council in met in the fourth century to establish the “Canon” of scripture (The Old Testament had been recognized by Hebrew scholars for centuries) it was more so a matter of recognizing what they knew to be true. One of the guiding principles for recognizing divinely inspired scripture is that such writing had to necessarily be of timeless and universal value. It could not be for a specific time or a certain people exclusively. (Some “modern” teachers reject the authority of certain scriptures that offend them based upon this false idea that it was only for a certain time and place. This is a deadly error.) They followed Paul’s inspired guidance in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:16-17) ALL scripture had to be profitable, not just parts of scripture.

 

1 Corinthians chapters 12 -14 address the use of charismatic gifts in the church. Though it may have addressed a specific problem in Corinth in the first century, the message is timeless and universal. Rest assured that other local churches throughout history have dealt with the same issues as the Corinthians. So, Mr. Warfield and Mr. MacArthur, if the charismatic gifts had ceased to function after the first century, why did the church fathers decide to include a letter that would only have value to the Corinthians of the first century? They would not. If the entire letter was not profitable, then why include it? There are other letters addressing most of the other issues that 1 Corinthians covers. The message of the entire Bible is valuable today! 1 Corinthians 12-14 is for today!

 

There are a variety of scriptures attesting to the practice of the gifts by the body in general and not just the Apostles. “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:4) The release of Peter from prison in answer to the prayers of the saints certainly qualifies as a miracle. Grudem defines a biblical miracle as, “a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.”[iii] Paul recognized miraculous works among the Galatians in his absence, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—“ (Gal 3:5) He also references “workers of miracles” in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:28). Jesus gave authority to His 70 disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. Stephen and Phillip worked miracles (Acts 6:8, 8:6-7). Scripture is clear that the charismatic gifts are for the entire body.

 

Interestingly, the most confusion, dissension and abuse has centered around the gift of tongues. I surrendered to Christ through the ministry of a Pentecostal denomination. Eventually, I rejected Pentecostal orthopraxy and doctrine. I served as a pastor of a charismatic church. The Pentecostal position asserts that speaking in tongues is always the first sign that a person has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit”and that the Acts 2 experience at Pentecost should be normative (thus the term Pentecostal). They hold to a “second blessing” doctrine taught by Jonathan Wesley. Such teaching leads people to seek after a certain gift and having once attained it to thinking that other believers who have not are less blessed. This is extremely harmful and contrary to the message of the gospel.

 

The scripture is clear that all who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit when they first believe, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” (Eph 1:13) Furthermore, there are examples of believers in Acts exercising other charismatic gifts without first speaking in tongues and in my own experience I have encountered others exercising gifts of healing, words of wisdom or knowledge, and prophecy who never spoke in tongues. My wife has never spoken in tongues. She once was praying for a woman who could not conceive. He doctor had told her that her tubes were blocked permanently. She wanted children. As my wife was praying she was suddenly filled with supernatural faith and believed that the Lord Jesus was speaking to her that the woman would conceive. My wife told the woman what she believed the Lord was speaking. Within a year the woman had a child and eventually had five. I believe this was an example of a gift of healing, faith and a word of knowledge all combined. This is the way the Holy Spirit works. I’ve had people “read my mail” who have never spoke in tongues. Charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit still bestows signs and wonders today and that any believer can be used by God to work miracles. We do not believe that one must speak in tongues to be used in this way.

 

Pentecostals and Charismatics have been mocked and accused by cessationists over the gift of tongues. Detractors are correct in pointing out that the tongues of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 were most likely known foreign languages of the people in attendance at the feast from 70 countries. Since that is true, if the Pentecost experience is supposed to be normative, it would seem that the “baptism” would be manifested by known foreign languages. In practice it rarely is. Which might cause one to be suspicious about the authenticity of the experience. On the other hand, cessationists make the mistake of assuming that there is only one type of tongues. But there is a tongue that is not a known language. There is a tongue that speaks only to God and there are tongues of angels. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Co 13:1) What language do angels speak? 1 Corinthians 14 is the Bible instruction for the use of tongues in the church. It begins, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” (1Co 14:2) Does God only speak in the known languages of man? I think not.

 

If you read through chapter 14 believing that there is only one type of tongues (known languages) you are going to be confused and might think that the Bible contradicts itself. It does not. Verse 4 says that tongues is for self edification or speaking to God. Verses 5 and 13 mention interpretation. That would have to be a message from God (prophecy) or of a known language (sign to an unbeliever). Verse 10 speaks of “languages in the world”, ie. known languages. Verse 14 says that I can pray in the Spirit “without understanding”. I must be speaking to God. Verse 17 says I can give thanks to God without others understanding. Verse 22 says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. They would have to understand. It would have to be a known language. But it also says that prophecy, a message from God, is for believers. Verse 23 says that if the church is all speaking in tongues the unbeliever will think we are crazy.  But, tongues are a sign to unbelievers! That must be a different type of tongues. Verse 25 speaks of the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart being revealed. That would be a word of knowledge. The conclusion, the timeless, universal conclusion of 1 Corinthians 14 is, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1Co 14:39-40) A word of caution here: God’s definition of decency and order does not equal modern Baptist decorum. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of God doing things that modern man might think strange.

 

 

I learned about the functioning of the charismatic gifts from John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement and from Jack Deere, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He had to leave his post there because he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit where he spoke in tongues and prophesied. He wrote Surprised by The Spirit. I was taught and I believe that the charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are not given permanently to individual believers. They are not residential with the person. They are situational and bestowed for a certain time and place as the Holy Spirit wills. A person doesn’t “have” the gift of healing. I was once asked by a young cessationist youth pastor from DTS why John Wimber didn’t go to the local hospital and heal everyone. Obviously, that was not the Holy Spirit’s plan. I have seen bona fide signs and wonders. I was at a healing conference in Anaheim where we went to learn about praying for the sick and hearing from God. The Vineyard had a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers and equipping all of the saints for the works of ministry. We didn’t have healing lines where some “anointed” evangelist lined people up and prayed for everyone. At this conference, someone shared what they believed was a word of knowledge that God was going to heal people who were blind in one eye. A call was made to have those who qualified to come forward. Hundreds came forth! Wimber reminded them that this was for people who were blind in ONE eye. Hundreds turned around and about a dozen or so stayed (there were about 4,000 at the conference). Then they instructed us, all of us, to lay hands on them and pray for healing. The next day it was reported that 4 had experienced healing. They were referred to an eyes doctor for confirmation. It was a miracle! A true sign of God’s love and power. A true sign of how God wants to use us to advance His kingdom. When the signs were seen, some trusted Christ for the first time.

 

Sometimes these prayer times, with everyone seeking to minister, would get messy. Sometimes people would react in unusual ways. In 1992, ABC News with Peter Jennings did a special report called “In the Name of God.” I don’t think their intentions were to glorify God. In one episode, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I9YCue3Fkk&t=313s) they came to the Vineyard in Anaheim. It was a powerful service where people were praying for each other. Some people fell on the floor, some were weeping along with other unusual manifestations. Afterward, Peter Jennings interviewed John Wimber. He asked John if he thought that all of the “manifestations” were a sign from God. He was surprised when John said, “Oh no, most of them aren’t.” His response was that they were ministering to many sick people and he didn’t believe that it was his job to be the Holy Spirit’s policeman. He always felt that God is perfectly capable of doing that. Wimber was criticized for his lack of discipline in his ministry. Perhaps some of the criticism was warranted. But, his detractors also forget that he gave the left foot of fellowship to the Kansas City Fellowship and the Toronto Blessing church because they refused his guidance about identifying weird manifestations (barking, roaring) with the Holy Spirit. Wimber related an account where an old parishioner came to him complaining about all of the messy manifestations and asking what he intended to do. He held up his Bible and said, “I won’t let it go any further than this book.” He said, “She took comfort from that! She must not have read it!”

 

My exhortation to my brothers and sisters is this: Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Do everything in order, God’s order, not man’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Williams, Renewal Theology, Zondervan, 1996.

[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1994.

[iii] Ibid., p. 355

 

Response to The Gospel Coalition and Kendra Dahl Regarding Preaching to Hurt Women

Woman caught in adultery

I recently got involved in a somewhat intense discussion on Facebook in response to a post by The Gospel Coalition. The writer of the referenced story was Kendra Dahl. Her column was titled, “Pastor, Preach Like Hurt Women Are Listening’ dated Feb. 14 2019. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pastor-preach-hurt-women/

My first thought was, “Of course!” Much of what she says goes without saying. It’s only common sense that people in pastoral and preaching ministries need to be compassionate and carrying toward hurting people in their churches. That’s what Jesus is doing and if they properly represent Him they should do likewise. I think the vast majority of preachers are doing a good job at this. It is surprising to me that women are singled out, as if to imply that their pain is greater than men. I’m not sure that Jesus makes that distinction. But, apparently Kendra Dahl, and by extension The Gospel Coalition, think that preachers need to be more careful to not hurt women who have been hurt by abortion. She identifies post abortive women as “victims” because they are hurt by the words that people say about this sin. She emphasizes women who have been victims of sexual abuse and lumps them in with all women who are wounded by what they have done and what people say about this grisly practice. I’ve heard statistics that abortions resulting from rape may only account for 3% of all abortions. Even if we are to be generous and estimate that 10% are true victims of abuse, that still leaves 90% of abortions being done for simple convenience. Some people attribute abortion to ignorance, but, forgive me, I think that’s a cop out. It’s hard to believe in this sophisticated age that women don’t understand that they are eliminating what will be a child. That’s why they are going to the abortionist. If they thought they had a tumor, they would go to a surgeon. So we might estimate that 90% of post abortive women are not really victims, except that they are victims by choice. When a woman decides to kill her child, I don’t think Jesus sees her as an innocent victim. The child that she decides to kill is the innocent victim.

Dahl cites an abhorrent statistic that 25% of all women will have had an abortion by age 45. Millions of children are being killed for convenience. I have seen estimates from Barna research that the rate of abortion, and other sins, is relatively the same in and out of the church. So, it’s safe to say that one in four women sitting in the pew have had an abortion or properly speaking have committed infanticide and 3.6 of them have done for convenience. Dahl and the Gospel Coalition want to remind preachers not to hurt their feelings. She writes, “Consider the shame that post-abortive women can feel as abortion is lamented from the pulpit.”

Dahl is correct in stating that, “Everyone in the congregation needs to hear a call to repentance and receive the assurance of forgiveness in Christ.” Yes, we all need to hear the call, but she neglects to remind us that we must answer the call in order to be healed. True healing and forgiveness only comes when we confess our sin to God and turn away from doing it again. In my experience in pastoral ministry I find that when people refuse to admit and confess their sin, they never get healed from it. Unfortunately, I have encountered too many post abortive women who make excuses for their sin instead of confessing it. Thinking of one’s self as an innocent victim is not conducive to confession. Consider what she writes, “We limp into the pew having been assaulted by headlines and social-media commentary—words and pictures that trigger memories, shame, fear, and disgust. Despite the healing power of the gospel, the effects of our traumatic experiences linger. Our consciences accuse us day and night, and we are spiritually weary. We doubt our belovedness; we wonder if we really belong to Jesus; we wonder if the gospel is sufficient to heal our bleeding wounds.”

There is quite a tone of doubt in her comment. Doubt in the power of the gospel, doubting God’s love, doubting her salvation, etc. The first step to complete healing is to believe the gospel and trust Christ completely! The power to heal and forgive is not in the message alone. It is in Jesus Himself. Never doubt Him.

Note that she feels assaulted by headlines and social media comments, not preachers. Why isn’t the story aimed at journalists and media commentators? I don’t know of any preachers assaulting wounded women, but TGC thinks that preachers need to hear this. Could this be subtle pressure to avoid the topic altogether? In fact, that is exactly what the vast majority of America’s preachers are doing for fear of offending 25% of the women in the congregation. I admit that some social media commentators are mean spirited and I would never encourage that. But, the reason that the outcry against this holocaust is coming from social media is because it is not coming from the pulpits. Some of us feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak up. As it was with the Nazi Holocaust and American slavery, the pulpits are virtually silent. They’re too busy building mega churches. When we do speak up we are accused of lacking compassion. Some anti abortion ministries show graphic images and are attacked by rabid baby killers and Christians alike. There is a group known as Created Equal that travels college campuses with a jumbotron showing graphic images. They cite tremendous progress in changing minds and hearts. William Wilberforce is credited with ending slavery in Britain by showing graphic images. Abortion is a grizzly evil. It may never be eliminated unless people are awakened to the horror.

The church is failing to be a biblical witness to this evil. I have held a baby who was born because I did reach out with the compassion of Jesus to convince the mother to keep her child. I support our local crisis center that offers post-abortion counseling. My concern here has to do with the influence of TGC on America’s pulpits. Preachers lacking compassion is a miniscule problem from what I have observed. On the other hand, 99% of preachers in this land never address the subject. That is a glaring problem that TGC should address.

To never discuss this great national sin fails to provide truth or compassion. I’ve walked with Jesus for 37 years. My sin was heinous and I am grateful for God’s mercy and compassion. I’ve been in pastoral ministry. I’ve visited many Bible believing churches. I am a faithful member of a strong Bible preaching evangelical church. But, in all these years, I rarely hear a message about this holocaust. I don’t believe that mean preaching is a serious problem. It’s a straw man. Ignoring the problem is a serious problem. I think I know why it happens.

 

 

A Response to the Revoice Conference and the LGBT Agenda in God’s Church

gay

 

God calls His church to be the witness of the gospel of His Kingdom. Jesus commands us to have compassion on all people, including the lost and all sinners. He calls us to be ministers of His grace to all who are in bondage to sin. We must recognize the dignity of all people, including those trapped in sin. As such, the church must be welcoming to all, regardless of their present state. We must love the sinner and hate the sin.

The church must be cautious of abandoning the truth of God’s inerrant Word in a quest to be culturally relevant. We must hold to the whole counsel of God that His law is an integral part of His grace that leads us to repentance and salvation in Christ. In our present post-Christian culture there is an organized effort to normalize certain perverted sexual behaviors not only in society in general, but now in the church. According to God’s Word, all sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is a perversion of God’s law and His plan for humankind. The recent Revoice conference is only the most recent example of this effort to corrupt God’s church. These deceivers are attempting to popularize a teaching that same sex attraction is not a sin by itself and that the celibate homosexual can be a functioning minister in the body. This teaching clearly contradicts God’s Word. We know that God looks upon the heart and that all sinful proclivities are sin regardless of whether the person acts upon those sinful desires. Romans 1:26-27 make it abundantly clear that same sex attraction is a sinful desire which results from idolatry.

Those who are promoting this doctrine, in the name of “love and acceptance” are rejecting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers. There are now “ministers” representing themselves as homosexuals and lesbians. They proudly proclaim this as their identity. Such people speak for organizations like The Gospel Coalition and others are ordained as ministers in so-called Christian churches. The Bible is clear about God’s desire for us: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (1Th 4:3-5) These people are denying the power of God to change people.2 Timothy admonishes us to avoid such: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2Ti 3:1-5)

Should the church allow ministers to harbor covetousness as long as they don’t steal? Do we tolerate our brothers and sisters to harbor hatred and unforgiveness as long as they don’t murder? I was an alcoholic before I came to Christ. Popular secular philosophy would proclaim that I will always be an alcoholic, but that is not the gospel. I was delivered miraculously by God’s grace. I am no longer an alcoholic.I am redeemed! I am free! I am sanctified! This is God’s plan for all of His saints. There will be no drunkards, murderers, coveters, or sexual perverts or any other sort of sinner in the Kingdom of God. If we were to permit the sectarian division of the church by our sins it would be a shame. Are we going to allow alcoholics to remain in their sin and to proudly proclaim their sinful desire as long as they don’t drink?

We must welcome those who are in bondage to perverted desires, but we must not allow them to proudly proclaim the sin that is in their heart and continue to harbor that sin as if it is normal. They must seek counseling and deliverance privately as directed by the Holy Spirit and their shepherds. The love of Christ does not leave people in their sin.

The First Communion

Last Supper2

 

We had communion in church on Sunday. It is always such a blessed event. It gives us a chance to reflect on our spiritual condition. I’ll always remember my first communion experience after being born again. After receiving the elements, I sat there in the pew reflecting on my sinfulness and rebellion and on Christ’s amazing sacrifice for my sin. I was weeping and my hands were shaking. As I opened my eyes and looked at the little cup in my hand, I saw that the juice had spilled out and was all over my hand. At that moment, the Lord reminded me that His blood was on my hands. I had received the cup as a child growing up in the Methodist church, but back then it was just a ritual without meaning to me. After this first born again communion, I knew I would never be the same. Whenever I take communion now, I reminded of that first real time for me.

This past Sunday, the preacher read from 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 25 as is customary, reminding us that Christ’s body was broken for us and His blood was shed for the remission of our sins. As we were taking communion, I was thinking about what that first communion meal must have been like for Christ’s disciples. As post-canon Christians, we have the advantage of having the Word of God including the New Testament that explains Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in the context of the gospel. We understand what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished for our salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom.  The first disciples had none of that. All that they had were Hebrew traditions and the Old Testament which were a shadow of the good things to come. They had the teachings of their master, but the gospels are replete with accounts of how the disciples did not understand completely the things that Jesus taught them. We know from the gospel accounts that none of them understood that Jesus would rise from the dead. None of them understood why His death was necessary. None of them understood that the earthly Kingdom that Jesus spoke of was not for their time. They were all expecting Jesus to evict the Romans and re-establish an independent Israel. Their earthly nation was the only “Kingdom of God” that they knew. They believed that Jesus was God in the flesh, but they really did not understand His mission until after the resurrection. So, this first communion initiated by Jesus must have sparked many questions in their mind.

To begin to understand how the disciples may have thought about this event, we have to realize that this took place during a traditional Passover meal. The Passover observed in the first century was different than the modern Jewish holiday. It was more like the Passover celebrated by Moses and the Hebrews before the exodus. In the first century, they still had a temple, a priesthood and observed sacrifices, unlike modern Jews. During Jesus’ three years of ministry, He most likely observed the Passover with His disciples at least twice. But this time, it was different. Jesus broke tradition at His Last Supper. The unleavened bread that Jesus broke had always been a reminder to the Hebrews of the manna that God provided in the wilderness. During the Passover meal it was intended to remind them of God’s miraculous provision and care for them in providing for their physical needs. He kept them alive! Life literally came from heaven. When Jesus said, “This is my body that is broken for you. Take and eat,” it must have stirred a memory for the disciples from an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry. It was not necessarily a good memory. The event is recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. It occurs the day after Jesus had fed 5,000 men plus women and children. This huge crowd followed Him to the other side of the sea at Capernaum. His ministry was growing exponentially. It was flourishing. He was known throughout Judea and the Decapolis region. And then, He tells the people that He is the bread that came down from heaven. People began to complain. Jesus responds, “I am the Living Bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever. And truly the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood! John records, interestingly in verse 6:66, that most of the crowd left. It was bad marketing, Jesus. The Jews, who wouldn’t even touch a dead body, probably thought to themselves, “This man is a pagan. He wants us to be cannibals. The Pharisees are right about this man.” He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave. Peter responded, “where else would we go? You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter and the disciples most likely did not understand what Jesus was saying, but they believed He was God in the flesh and they accepted Him by faith, even though they did not understand. What great faith! Oh, that we could have that sort of faith. So, Jesus was repeating at this Last Supper what He had earlier taught in Capernaum where He was soundly rejected. It certainly must have caused the disciples to think about Jesus being their source of life like the manna from heaven in the wilderness.

 

There were four ceremonial cups of wine served during the Passover meal intended to remind the participants of four promises that the Lord had made to the Israelites prior to the exodus from Egypt. The first cup was called the cup of sanctification and was to remind them of God’s promise to set them apart from the Egyptians and the second was the cup of thanksgiving to remind them that the Lord rescued them from bondage. “Therefore say to the sons of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rescue you out of their bondage. And I will redeem you with a stretched-out arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God. And you shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”(Exo 6:6-7) The third cup was the cup of redemption intended to remind them of God’s promise to redeem them. This is the cup that Jesus spoke of as representing His blood that purchases our redemption. The fourth cup was known as the cup of completion and was not served until the end of the meal. Jesus identified His sacrificial blood with our redemption, but not with the cup of completion. His ministry is not yet finished. This reminds us that He is coming again. His Kingdom is here and not yet. There is work that remains before the Kingdom comes in its fullness. In the interim, let us serve Him with faith like His first disciples. There are things that we may not understand when we see evil and suffering, but let us believe in Christ’s divinity and goodness. In this age, we don’t have all of the answers, but we can trust in the Lord like His first disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipwrecked

Bimini

 

I recently was blessed to hear from an old friend who attended a home fellowship group that I led more than twenty years ago. It was great to catch up on what had happened in the time that we had not been in touch as we had moved to another city to plant a new church. It was a blessing to learn that he was still walking with Jesus. It was sad to learn about others that we knew whose faith was shipwrecked. We did not get into a discussion about eternal security. We agreed that there are strong arguments on both sides of that issue. Whether the ones we spoke of were never really “saved” or whether they forfeited their salvation could not be known for sure on this side of eternity. But, it was sad to hear about people that we knew and who had some kind of testimony about a relationship with Jesus Christ and are now no longer walking with Him. We both expressed thanks that God had kept us in His care.

 

After we hung up I began to think about what was it that enabled me and my brother to persevere. I was reminded of the analogy of the three-legged stool. A stool with three solid legs will stand, but if you cut just one leg it will topple. It occurred to me that there are three aspects to the Christian faith that must be present in order to persevere.

 

First and foremost, the believer must keep their eyes, their mind, their life focused on Christ. He must always be the main focus and purpose of life. The letter to the Hebrews affirms this saying, “Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2) Unfortunately, as in the parable of the seed, some people hear about Jesus and accept Him with enthusiasm, but when the care of life occur they take their eyes off of Christ. Perhaps they are drawn by promises of what Christ can do for them or by some outpouring of common grace such as a healing. But when difficult times come, and Jesus promised that they would, they are allured by Satan’s lie that Jesus is not the only way to God and they fall away. Jesus promised that we would have tribulation in this life. It is the Refiner’s fire. The Christian life does not get easier, in fact, as one matures it is often more difficult. It is like climbing a mountain. The higher one goes the harder it gets, but the view, real revelation and understanding, is priceless.

 

The second critical leg for the believer is fellowship. Again, Hebrews warns us not to forsake fellowship, relationship, with other believers, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) Many people leave churches because they are offended in some way. Such people are focusing on others rather than Jesus. People are broken and will always disappoint, but leaving fellowship is not the solution. Maybe the Lord would have you in a different church, we’ve changed churches a few times, but staying away from church forever is dangerous. Sooner or later, that missing leg will cause your stool to tumble. You must understand that we are in a spiritual battle. The devil seeks to destroy every Christian. I was an Air Force pilot. When pilots go into combat, they fly in formation for mutual protection. Solo pilots get picked off. Every believer needs to be in a place where they can be discipled, hear the Word, worship with other believers and be encouraged and accountable.

 

The third leg is being in the Word. Regular scripture devotion is necessary for the believer to stay in fellowship with Christ. The importance of regularly hearing God’s Word is repeated in the scriptures. “But He (Jesus) said, No; rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luk 11:28) Ephesians outlines the spiritual armor that God provides us in our battle with the devil. It is the shield of faith that quenches the fiery darts (lies) of the enemy. And faith comes by hearing God’s Word. “Then faith is of hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy warning him about those whose faith had become shipwrecked. “This charge I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before about you, in order that you might war a good warfare by them, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have put away and made shipwreck as to faith. Among these are Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1Ti 1:18-20) Apparently, Hymeneus and Alexander had become blasphemers which is to say that they had spoken falsely of Christ. They had turned away from the clear doctrine of the faith established in God’s Word. One of the tragedies of some modern so-called Christians is that they have abandoned a belief in the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. They make themselves the judge and create a false Christ of their own making, which is blasphemy. Paul continued to instruct Timothy, “Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (2Ti 2:15) God’s Word is the only source of all truth. Regular meditation on God’s Word is necessary for remaining in the faith. “But whoever keeps His Word, truly in this one the love of God is perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1Jn 2:5)

 

 

Loving Confrontation

Confront.jpgIt is an act of love to confront in love. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall rebuke your neighbor, and not bear with sin because of him.” Lev. 19:17

Confronting a brother or sister about what causes a breakdown in relationship is an act of love. The Lord knows that we will sin and break relationship, so He commands us to rebuke our brother or sister in Christ. It is sin that destroys relationships. Our alienation from each other is an extension of our alienation from God. Sin doesn’t take place in a void. It is done unto someone else. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts”. Love is the opposite of sin. It restores relationships. Avoiding confrontation out of fear is not love. We must confront in order to restore relationship when it is broken. Confrontation prevents us from carrying a grudge which is sin.

The purpose of biblical confrontation is not to purify the church or root out all sin. That is Jesus’ job. He said He would separate the wheat from the chaff. We shouldn’t attempt to play God or think that it is our job to “clean up” the church. Who do we confront? A fellow believer when relationship is broken due to sin or perceived sin against us. We must have established relationship before we can confront.

How do we confront? Matthew chapter 18 contains Jesus’ instructions on how to confront a brother or sister. Jesus thought this to be important enough to give detailed directions. Consider the context of Christ’s instructions. The chapter begins with the disciples arguing about being greatest. Obviously there was a breakdown of relationship because of pride. Jesus exhorts them to have the humility of a small child. In verse 7 He says, “offenses must come, but woe to him by whom…” He then warns about temptation and exhorts them to deal ruthlessly with causes of sin, not to compromise. The context is offenses. He warns about looking down on others and then teaches about how to confront a believer who sins against you.

He ends His instruction about confrontation by emphasizing the importance of reconciliation, and the blessings and power of unity. (verse 19-20) There is spiritual authority bestowed upon us to maintain unity when we follow God’s principles of confrontation.

These famous verses are often quoted to prove our authority in spiritual warfare with spiritual forces of evil, but they are referring to binding and loosing people from relationship. Jesus concludes by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant, who imprisoned his debtors after the King had forgiven him. Confrontation hinges upon our willingness to forgive.

We must go with the right motives; go in love. Our motivation must be to keep the person as a covenant friend. We must not be motivated by a desire for revenge. We must die to our own self interest. It is preferable to be unjustly wronged than to have no reconciliation. Reconciliation is more important than personal rights.

A critical attitude that inflicts petty and nasty criticism for the purpose of inflicting hurt is the counterfeit of loving confrontation. Go with the understanding that you too have offended people and needed mercy. You will be judged in the manner that you judge others. (Mt 7:1) Remember that God has forgiven you a greater debt. As in the parable of the unmerciful servant, your unforgiveness towards others puts them in bondage. Be patient; give the Holy Spirit time to work. Don’t expect someone to apologize or confess wrong immediately.

Who is responsible for initiating confrontation? The burden is on both parties, regardless of who is at fault or who is offended. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you; Leave your gift at the altar, go and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Mt 5:23

There is a principle demonstrated here: Halt other spiritual activity and seek reconciliation first.

Go privately first. This contains the problem. If you talk with others first, it only magnifies the problem. Different viewpoints make reconciliation more difficult. It biases the people you talk to, and may cause them to sin.

Why do people talk about grievances with friends first? Because of insecurity, lack of faith in God to defend them, fear of rejection and self centered pride that insists on being right.

Be honest with the one you confront, don’t beat around the bush. But remember, there is no time limit mentioned for the different stages. It may require more than one meeting. If there is dialog and progress occurring, don’t go to next level.

The next level occurs if the person won’t listen. Then we are to take two or three witnesses. That doesn’t mean to bring others who agree with you, but have no knowledge of the alleged sin. It means to bring someone who actually heard or saw what happened! If there is no such person, then drop it. Forgive and forget!

At this level, where others are involved, it is important to avoid the impression of putting the other on trial. You must affirm your love and desire for covenant friendship. At this point, someone uncommitted to covenant relationship may avoid such a meeting. Inability to resolve at this level indicates a more severe problem with relationship than with the specific sinful behavior.

If the person still refuses to listen, tell it to the church. That does not mean to stand up in church on Sunday morning and shout out your case. It means, tell it to the leaders. If reconciliation can’t be achieved it is the job of leaders to inform the congregation. By this time, the offender has demonstrated a covenant breaking attitude that threatens the fabric of the congregation’s relationships. By excommunicating an individual, the leaders are merely noting a fact of what has already occurred so that no one is operating under false pretenses. The offender has brought the definition of pagan upon themselves. We must keep in mind that discipline has the goal of reconciliation. Reach out to the person as an outsider.

The Foundation of Worship & Intercession

Fire From heaven

 

 

“And when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stood before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer. And many incenses were given to him, so that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints on the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God from the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth. And voices and thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake occurred.” (Rev 8:1-5)

 

There is silence in heaven, in dreadful anticipation, trembling suspense in view of judgment about to be poured out. The prayers of the saints are offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The altar pictured here is the altar of sacrifice situated before entry to the inner sanctuary. In response, the angel casts fire from heaven.

The context in revelation 8 is fires of judgment. The earth will undergo a baptism of fire. “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” [2Peter 3:7] The fires of judgment fall on those who reject God’s offer of mercy and refuse to repent. God’s merciful wrath is meant to drive men to their knees before it is too late. Fire has a purifying effect. It burns up anything impure. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” (Malachi 3:2 MKJV)

There is also fire of purification and empowerment that comes upon those who do believe and repent. It is like the coal put to Isaiah’s lips. (Isa. 6:6) It is fire from the same altar. And this word, ‘Yet once more,’ signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, so that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for also, ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ (Hebrews 12:27-29 MKJV) “each one’s work shall be revealed. For the Day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try each one’s work as to what kind it is.” (1 Corinthians 3:13 MKJV) This reminds us of the tongues of fire that fell on the disciples at Pentecost when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and power. Pentecost symbolizes more power, more grace. The empowering fire of His Spirit doesn’t come without the purifying fire. It’s the same fire! It has different results on different people. For people of faith who repent, the fire of God purifies and empowers. It brings life rather than death. For unbelievers who are stiff necked and refuse to repent, the fire of God consumes their destructible flesh. In the resurrection (yes, they get resurrected bodies too, see Rev. 20:5, 15), they burn forever because they are unable to be purified, having refused to conform their hearts and will to God’s love.

 

The fire is a response to the prayers of the saints. We pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Do we really want to see revival? Do we really want souls redeemed? Do we really want to see God glorified? Then, we must have fire from heaven! If we want fire to fall from heaven, then all saints must pray. Our incense must reach the altar. Why do we worship? Why do we intercede? It is necessary to accomplish the commission and vision God has given us. It results in God being made manifest or glorified.

 

“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire. And those who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty, just and true are Your ways, O King of saints. Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You only are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your righteousnesses were made known. And after these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony was opened in Heaven.” (Revelation 15:2-5 MKJV)

 

This is true worship. Worship opens the way into the holy of holies, the place where we meet God. Worship begins with praise, thanks and adoration. To be passionate for God, one must be able to express emotion. We should worship because it comes from the heart. It must be more than just an act of the will. Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Mt. 15:8) David was passionate. He danced before God. His wife, Michal mocked him and was judged for it; she remained barren as a sign of her spiritual barrenness. The symbolism is obvious; there will be no fruit without passion. The Holy Spirit is restoring intimacy to our worship; there is a God orchestrated shift to songs like the Psalms directed to God as opposed to songs about Him as though He were not in our midst. Real passion for God should create new songs. New expressions of love and adoration are fresh bread to our spirits. We glorify God by enjoying Him. We should seek Him hedonistically like a thirsty deer seeks a stream, for the joy of knowing Him. Selfish interest for this kind of pleasure is a gift from God.

 

 

 

The Marriage Covenant

Covenant

 

God created man because of His nature. God is creative. He is love, He loves and love always wants to expand community. Thus, His first and last command is to be fruitful and multiply, that is to be like Him. Man can’t do this alone. Genesis states that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Man was created for relationship, first with God and then with each other. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God uses the analogy of the marriage covenant to illustrate His relationship with His people.

Kingdom relationships are based upon covenant, a mutual agreement of commitment. Covenant is God’s way of protecting relationships. His commitment to faithfulness is total. He wants the same from us. God keeps His covenant in spite of our failure. Covenant is not the same as a contract. In a contract, if the conditions are not met, it nullifies the contract. We live in a world estranged from covenant keeping and commitment. In fact we might say that covenant breaking is the foundation of all sin and because of sin, Christ died. He offered His own body as a sacrifice to restore relationship or covenant.

People often want the benefits of a relationship without commitment. They want sex without consequences. The high divorce rate in our culture reflects an attitude that doesn’t value commitment and covenants. Satan is attacking marriages, especially Christian marriages like never before. Now, he is even influencing our society to re-define the institution of marriage.  Why? It is because Christian marriages are intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church. Satan seeks to destroy that testimony. In today’s secular culture, marriage is considered to be a contract sanctioned by the state. This is far from the truth. Marriage was ordained by God. We often hear distortions of the marriage institution such as people living together and claiming that they are married “in God’s eyes.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage in God’s eyes requires biblical covenant. Without that, such people are nothing more than fornicators. In fact, people with a marriage license from the state who have no relationship with God or His church are not married in God’s eyes. They are also fornicators. People, even Christians, believe that divorce occurs when one gets approval from the state. Wrong! Divorce occurs in God’s eyes when the covenant is broken. If there is no biblical covenant, there is no marriage or divorce. On the other hand, if there is a biblical marriage covenant, divorce occurs when the covenant is broken, not when the state says so. You can read more of my thoughts on divorce here.

We must overcome the works of darkness by the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to live in accord with God’s principles and redemptive order. In Genesis 15 there is an account of God making a covenant with Abraham. “After these things the Word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield and your exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what will You give me, since I am going childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, You have given no seed to me. And behold, one born in my house is my heir. And behold, the Word of Jehovah came to him saying, This one shall not be your heir. But he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir. And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in Jehovah. And He counted it to him for righteousness. And He said to him, I am Jehovah that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, by what shall I know that I shall inherit it? And He said to him, Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took all these to himself, and divided them in the middle, and laid each piece against one another; but he did not divide the birds. And when the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And it happened as the sun was setting, and a deep sleep fell upon Abram. And, behold, a horror of great darkness fell upon him! And He said to Abram, You must surely know that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and shall serve them. And they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also I will judge that nation whom they shall serve. And afterward they shall come out with great substance. And you shall go to your fathers in peace. You shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it happened, the sun went down, and it was dark and behold, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, I have given this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the giants, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:1-21) We can observe here that the covenant involved a promise, a public testimony, a sign, and a penalty for violation. The ritual of sacrificing an animal and walking between the pieces was a traditional middle eastern tradition. The one making the promise would swear an oath to become like the sacrificed animals should he violate the covenant.

A covenant requires a public testimony before witnesses and God. To have the blessing of God it must be blessed by God’s instrument on earth, His church. A biblical covenant is remembered by a sign, such as a ring, a handshake, the cross, or bread and wine. God established standards of behavior to protect covenant. Breaking a covenant necessitates forgiveness. The Word of God tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no justice or payment for sin. In biblical culture, a covenant was sealed by a blood sacrifice. The covenant was taken seriously and was considered to be permanent.

At Calvary God offered His own body to seal the covenant of redemption. God’s redemptive process holds out the possibility of restoration of the original partnership that God created between Himself and man as well as between all mankind, including marriage partners.

God teachers us that there a four requirements for a marriage to succeed. There must be severance, permanence, unity and intimacy. When questioned about marriage Jesus referred to Genesis and His Father’s original command, saying, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The loyalty and fealty to one’s birth family must be severed. This doesn’t mean a breaking of relationship, but rather the forming of a new loyalty. Marriage is intended to be a permanent covenant. The unity and intimacy of the marriage relationship is intended to reflect the unity and intimacy of the Trinity and the unity and intimacy of Christ and His bride, the church.

 

 

The Truth About Divorce

Divorce

 

As described in God’s word, marriage is intended to be a life long covenant. A true biblical covenant is witnessed and confirmed in submission to God ordained authority, that is, the church. A wedding is a public expression of commitment. Marriage is intended to be a reflection of God’s relationship with His people. It should be public and permanent. When Jesus spoke on marriage, He referred back to the creation account: “A man will leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) This creation account reveals an intended progression. Leaving comes first. It implies a public act of commitment first. Then there is uniting. This is more than just sex. It involves communion. Only then do the two become one. Marriage is God’s plan for commitment. It is not just a piece of paper as some so glibly state in seeking to dodge commitment.

The hypocritical Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce in order to entrap Him. Their hearts were cold and selfish. They were really not interested in the truth. It is interesting that the word “divorce” is only found in seven verses of scripture; in Jeremiah 3:8, God says He divorced Israel. Did God sin?

In the sermon on the mount (Mt. 5:31) Jesus addressed the issue of men divorcing their wives. He makes reference to the civil law given for the now defunct theocracy (Deut. 24). This law was established by God to protect women. In their culture only men could divorce their wives, not the reverse. Women were treated like property. By Jesus’ day, Jewish men had so abused the letter of the law that men were divorcing their wives for burning dinner. So, Jesus addressed this issue to men in order to prevent these easy divorces, which were perverting God’s original intent. He is saying that men should only divorce their wives if they have been sexually unfaithful, thus alluding to the practical reality that women do not usually do the kinds of things that constitute separation without becoming intimate with another man. For example, Jesus didn’t address the issue of physical abuse. Does God want spouses to stay in a relationship where they get beat? I don’t think so. But the reality is, most women don’t beat their husbands.

Matthew 19 recounts the incident where the hypocritical Pharisees (a very religious, legalistic sect who made all of the appearance of being “holy”, but who Paul correctly pointed out were like white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones) tried to entrap Jesus with a question about divorce: “And the Pharisees came to Him, tempting Him and saying to Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3 MKJV). Legally, the letter of the law (Deut. 24) did allow them to divorce a woman for any reason. But they missed the Spirit and intent of the law! Jesus answers the question by referring them back to God’s original plan for marriage recounted in Genesis 2, which was that the two should become one forever. He adds, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6 MKJV) Notice that Jesus does not use the word “divorce.” That was a legal shadow that the Pharisees were hiding behind, but, as usual, Jesus goes to the heart of the issue. The issue is not a legal document made by man, but who is causing the separation of the two that God intended to be one. The legalistic hypocrites always point to the only reason that God permits divorce for, but they don’t know God or His heart. If a man is beating his wife regularly, they would say, “That’s not a cause for divorce.” But the truth is that the two are already separated as far as god is concerned! Going to court doesn’t make the reality, it only confirms it! Preachers are commonly heard to say, “God hates divorce!” I hate to disillusion you, but that is not specifically in scripture. Divorce is not listed in Proverbs 6 as one of the seven things that God hates. The truth is that God hates all sin and all covenant breaking. He has a solution, which is yielding to the lordship of Jesus Christ and relying upon His sacrifice for you sins. Forgiveness and restoration can only be found by faith in Christ.

If you want to know what God’s will is for husbands, read Ephesians 5:25 and following verses. He expects you to love your wife as Christ loves the church. He expects you, not her, to die to your own selfish desires. Do you know how God wants you to handle the property issue? God wants you to give it all to her, because you love her and are willing to die for her.