For 3:  Contemporary False “Christian” Teachings

  
1) Prosperity Theology

I grew up around this one.  Its sheen is appealing, right?  Come on, who doesn’t want to have money?  Who doesn’t want to be healthy?  Who doesn’t want to avoid rigorous Bible study and prayer and instead simply think positive thoughts and smile a lot?

Prosperity theology is prevalent in the inner city, which is where I currently worship and serve.  The promises of physical healing and financial reward (in return for faith and donations) are very attractive to people in chaotic or desperate situations.  Single moms, people who haven’t seen their grown children in years, people who hear voices or can’t stop shooting heroin.  A man or woman on TV offering health and wealth will usually be well-received in those settings.  But the New Testament does not tell us God is building a financially prosperous people who can cast out cancer like Jesus cast out Legion or create wealth with positive speech and thoughts.  The New Testament tells us we have inherited eternal life, and all things in the Heavens, and will be raised to live with and enjoy Him forever, but that we will also have trouble in this life.  It tells us some of us will be persecuted, and then encourages us to hold fast.  It tells us that though some of us are outwardly poor, we are in inwardly rich.  It tells us that Stephen and James and Antipas were murdered for faith in Christ, but were faithful through that pain and unto death.  

God does sometimes bless us financially and physically.  And God does sometimes allow us to undergo intense financial and physical pain.  But He also tells us why He does both, and everything else He ever does anywhere else in Creation:  To work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, conforming each of them to the image of His Son.  

To tell people God definitely wants them to be wealthy or well is to speak with a certainty the Bible doesn’t authorize.  You don’t know God wants them to wealthy or well.  And neither do I.  I know He wants them saved and confirmed to the image of His Son, though, and I’ll shout that from the rooftops.  

And to seduce them to crave wealth or wellness is lure them into a trap that has snared souls for centuries.  

Beware this theology.  

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 

1 Timothy 6:9

2) The Sin-Free Gospel

It seems to me that it shocks people in some circles to say that we are not owed love or salvation from God; that the only thing we are owed is judgment.  

That’s an incredibly sad thing when it’s a Christian circle, because the fact that we, in our own rights, deserve God’s wrath, not His grace, is basic Gospel doctrine.  It’s also common sense, considering the Bible wouldn’t call it “grace” if we deserved it.  

But I see the presupposition, both implicit and explicit in certain Christian materials and conversations:  We are not moral rebels against God but merely neutral or perhaps even flawed but basically good people.  

It’s false, it’s spiritually deadly, and it tries to rob the Cross of Christ of its power.  Other than that, no big deal.  

The Bible is clear that each and every human being not named Jesus of Nazareth is a spiritually dead sinner who, until he or she is justified by grace, is under the wrath of God.  To leave out that truth is to leave out the Gospel.  To let people think they’re not sinners is to let people think they don’t need a Savior.  

If you encourage people to think that they’re flawed but good you are encouraging them to believe the lie that what they need is to trust themselves, not the tortured and risen Messiah who died and rose to ransom wretches.  

There is no salvation apart from the Gospel of Christ, and part of that Gospel message is that human beings are each sinners.  If you leave out sin, you leave out salvation.  

If you won’t diagnose the disease, you’ll end up showing the patient the door without ever ever offering the remedy.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5

3) Misidentifying the Kingdom You’re In

My primary identity is not American.  

My primary identity is not white.  

I am not first a Cincinnatian or Republican or Democrat or middle class.  Before any other such identity I am in Christ.  I am a member of His body, a citizen of His eternal and ever-advancing Kingdom.  

With some potential qualifications, I can say that in this particular conversation (thanks for pulling up a chair and talking, by the way), I don’t much care who you voted for.  But I witnessed a Christian or two in this past election excuse awful moral behavior from a candidate because the candidate was the representative of the Christian’s political party of choice.  I didn’t say I saw them vote for the candidate despite the behavior; whether or not I agree with that conclusion, I can sympathize with it.  I said I saw them excuse the behavior.  And what that tells me is that the kingdom most at rule in the person’s heart, at least in that moment and context, was not the Kingdom of God.  When you are willing to adjust what you call sinful based on the political persuasion of the perpetrator, politics is more important to you than the Author of right and wrong.  

We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom first, not Rachel Maddow’s, Sean Hannity’s, Jon Stewart’s, or Donald Trump’s.  If we have trusted in Jesus and are true Christians, then our actions and philosophies and spending habits and leisure time, all our beliefs and actions and priorities, should be run through the rubric of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The question shouldn’t first be “is this conservative” or “is this liberal” or “is this what _______ would say” but “is this pleasing to my King?”

We should not mortgage our faith or our faithfulness for any other kingdom’s victory.  If I get my candidate elected or my culture back at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’ve leveraged what should be most important to me for a smaller prize.  

A Christian is a stakeholder in the only eternal Kingdom.  He does both God and himself a disservice to think he’s anything else first

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. 

Galatians 3:27-29

Parting shot: The church is the buttress of truth, the fortress where what the world needs is guarded and administered and celebrated.  Here is where we guard the antidote to the world’s most deadly pandemic:  Sin. 

I hope all of us stay more mindful about what it is the world needs than what it wants.  

Truth in love.  

Good motto for 2017 : )

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Please Stop Gossiping, Christian

  
Gossip is verbal homicide.  

It slays people, relationships, and reputations.  

Its destructiveness, like a nuclear disaster, can’t really be measured for years. 

 It tears down individuals, marriages, churches, and families. 

The Apostle James tells believers in James 3, “Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire.”

We who have believed in Jesus are called to suffer with a smile, to be silent before our persecutors as our Savior was, and to pray for even the wicked as He did.  Not to maim and destroy with our words.  

I used to love gossip. I ate it up. It made me feel good and big and “in” and better. In other words, it was a deceitful little drug that impersonated the love of Christ.  Like all idols, gossip was a stand-in for what my soul really thirsted for:  fellowship with my Creator.  So I would only gossip to the degree that I was not treasuring and enjoying the love of my Christ.

And Christians, to gossip about an unbeliever is horrible, crushing, and mean. But to gossip about a Christian?   A blood-bought believer who is part of Jesus’spotless bride?   Satan applauds!   Because at that point we are doing his job for him. “Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies” (Romans 8:33).  Unless we’re talking about church discipline or counseling or some other rare instance, it is helping Satan’s cause to say negative things about someone to anyone other than that person.

In all my past gossiping, I was absolutely sinful.  And so I exhort anyone who is doing this now, in the Name (and for the cause) of Jesus Christ, to stop.

All of us who have been saved by the blood of Christ must preach and speak the grace and patience Jesus Christ showed us, and let Satan, quite literally, be damned.

Text Messages on Uncomfortable Things

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Last week, a friend of mine was challenged by an unbelieving buddy about killing that God allows or commands in the Bible, most particularly in some verses in Isaiah 13.

“And like a hunted gazelle, or like sheep with none to gather them, each will turn to his own people, and each will flee to his own land. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished. Behold, I am stirring up the Medes against them, who have no regard for silver and do not delight in gold. Their bows will slaughter the young men; they will have no mercy on the fruit of the womb; their eyes will not pity children.”

My friend and I texted back and forth about the guy’s misgivings about, or objections to, the passage as a reliable revelation of the Creator. I’ve left out my friend’s part of the interchange, but thought it might prove helpful to share some of my part. This is probably a relatively commonplace conversation when a believer talks with a skeptic in present-day America, so I offer it in the hopes that it might be of some help.

The following is (an edited version of) my part of our text-conversation:

“The first response would be to lovingly tell him that while it’s hard, God does say that. It’s right there.

“Then I’d remind him that the worst thing ever done wasn’t that. It was the murder of God the Son. Jesus was way more innocent than any baby or woman ever could be, and God predestined the Cross and His death, and look what His eternal purposes in it were. Look at what He brought out of it.

The same Isaiah said this about that: ‘Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.’

“And then the New Testament says this about God’s ordained murder of the perfect and innocent Son of God:

“‘For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.’ (Acts 4:27-28.)

“God predestined the Cross, and brought impossibly beautiful things from His own purposes out of it. Can He not do it with the destruction of violent and rebellious peoples?

“And then, I would remind him that it is Biblical to believe that infants go to Heaven when they die, and so while we should mourn and be shocked at and hate death, there is a measure of hope when God took out cities in destruction, because He presumably cut short the lives of sinful infants who would have grown up to be sinful, God-rejecting adults and took them to Heaven (by the Cross, which I and many Christians believe, based on Romans 1 and other Scriptures, covers infants).

“But He is just, and to take sin seriously is to know He can wipe out sinners, and that every moment He doesn’t is mercy. We in 2015 America have an inflated view of man and a deflated view of the holiness of God, and so the Bible will often shock is in correcting us. It’s a good shock, though. Like going to the Grand Canyon and being reminded that you really aren’t a giant and you could really fall into it and die if you’re careless.

“You could hate that if you want, but you can’t change it. And if you’re heart is right, you’ll actually start to find it beautiful.”

After realizing the young man who had challenged my friend was not a believer:

“Okay, then yes if he is critically attacking the Bible (which I did not realize), he needs to be told to read the entire paragraph and not just one or two sentences. God is not commanding rape, He is prophesying it. God never sins, and He does not command sin, but He will allow sin and use it, He will even harden or stir up sinners, in order to bring about His judgement, the salvation of His elect, or any other good purpose He deems appropriate.

“From James 1: ‘Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.’”

I hope you are able to offer God’s grace and communicate His holiness if challenged by an unbeliever on the wrath or decreed judgment of God. Trust Him, and trust His Book. I know it’s difficult, and I know what sweaty palms and an accelerated heartbeat feel like, so believe me when I say I sympathize with the desire to play down the uncomfortable. But they need His truth, not our 21st century Euro-American sensibilities. Try to sound more like Isaiah, Elijah, and Paul (humble, bold, worshipful, and ready to speak the Word) and less like an emcee of 2015 pop culture (vague, shallowly humorous, and, above all, inoffensive).

Let me close by saying God’s mercy is offered to hideous sinners in the Gospel. And if you have believed and been rescued from wrath you have a responsibility to offer it to others, just as I do. He sent Isaiah to proclaim the wrath, but the same Isaiah was commissioned to proclaim the Messiah. He preached judgment to preach the Gospel.

Acts tells us the same type of story:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.'”

Believe in Christ be saved. The Gospel is good because His wrath is real, coming, and fair.

When the One Who is Offended is Wrong

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The words “offended” and “offensive” carry a lot of weight, a lot of cultural currency, in our day and place. For most 21st century Americans, if someone tells you what you just said was “offensive,” the conversation stops, your heart speeds up, your palms get a little sweaty. You just did something terrible, and you’re about to be the office/family/neighborhood pariah. If you don’t apologize or walk it back quickly and rightly, you will be culturally radioactive. Contaminated. An untouchable numbskull. A brute, a dolt.

We’re told in John 3 about Jesus’ coming in to the world that “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

People often hate good things. We are often offended by the light because we don’t want our sinful deeds and loves exposed.

So the fact that something is offensive does not mean it is wrong. The problem, the malfunction, can lie within the one being offended.

How can you know if this is the case?

1) When what is offending him or her is good, beautiful, and true.

If it offends me that Jesus Christ is the rightful King of the Universe, and that I am morally obligated to bend my knees before Him and be joyful about it, then the problem is with me. If it offends me that there is only one God and that He deserves and is worthy of all the worship in the universe, the problem is with me. If it offends me that the new Heaven and new Earth will be filled with forgiven, faithful saints of all races and all languages, there is something wrong in me.

There are times where I am offended by forgiveness. The fact that I am told by Christ to repeatedly forgive those who wrong me, and that if I refuse I might be displaying that I never knew Him or that at the very least I am not resting in His forgiveness, is at times an offense to my bitterness. The problem isn’t with forgiveness, or with God for commanding it.

Antibiotics are offensive to bacteria; good and healthy things are often offensive to bad, damaged, or mutated ones. Mercy is offensive to my grudge-holding, forgiveness offensive to my desire to gossip, worship offensive to my desire to idolize people or things because I still have sin lurking in my heart.

God has told us that many things are good which, at one time or another, in one place or another, have offended people:
-That the Gospel is for Gentiles, too.
-That divorce (apart from extreme circumstances) is sinful and against the will of God.
-That He will resurrect the all the bodies of believers in Jesus who have died.
-That wives should submit to their husbands and not teach or have authority over men in churches.
-That men should sacrifice for and lead their wives in love and holiness.
-That it is sinful and harmful for men to pursue sex and romance with other men, and for women to do so with other women.
-That it is good and beautiful for a man to pursue sex and romance with one woman in faithfulness and marriage.
-That Christ-followers have a responsibility to live like Christ-followers, and to not commit sexual sins, be drunkards, be given to much anger, etc.

Each of the things in this tiny, impossibly limited list are offensive to some people. But spoken and lived the way God commands and teaches them in His Son and His Word, they are wonderful, life-giving, God-honoring truths. If a good thing is offensive, the problem is, in some form or fashion, with the one being offended. Christians can and should address such people and situations with mercy, but also should understand that altering the Word is not an option. God’s Word is wonderfully true. It is beautiful, accurate, and the most reliable source of knowledge and goodness there is.

2) When the person has a long or regular history of being offended.

This one is different from the above one in that it is not universally true. Number 1 is always true: if a good thing offends someone, something is definitely wrong in his or her heart, soul, or body. But this second marker is not necessarily true, not always the case. Someone could be regularly offended in a legitimate way by something truly wicked, nasty, or evil. That said, in a workplace or a family there are often people who feel slighted, wronged, or become outraged at virtually anything. Being told by such a person that what you have said is offensive is still a bit scary, but it usually becomes more and more difficult to take the person seriously. If they really are unreasonably thin-skinned, then I think that’s actually okay.

Again, address such a person mercifully, and remember that those of us who know Christ are commanded not repay evil for evil (Romans 12:17) and are to turn the other cheek when slapped (Matthew 5:38, and being told you have just said something offensive in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a slap). But if he is unable to give family or co-workers or friends the benefit of the doubt, if he is unable to forgive words he perceives as wrong or careless (whether they truly are or not), then there is a wrinkle in his own heart that needs to be ironed out.

3) If the person is only ever offended by things that (relatively speaking) impact him or her.

Have you ever met someone who was greatly offended by the idea that the Bible says men should honor their wives as the weaker vessel? I have. And the person I’m thinking of was a man. Admittedly there’s some overlap with number one, here, but allow me a bit of space to explain the nature of this sort of offense.

It wasn’t that wives should submit to their husbands that bothered this man, it was that I told him (lovingly, I think) that he shouldn’t say mean-spirited things about his ex-wife. That the way a man treated women, the way a man spoke about the mother of his children and the wife of his youth, mattered to God. That same man was offended when I told him at a different point that the Gospel was for all races, and that one of the first Gentiles who believed and was baptized in the book of Acts was an Ethiopian.

He was offended because what I was telling him would hinder his bitterness toward his ex-wife and his anger towards African Americans.

This man, a man whom I befriended and care about and tried to share Christ with on numerous occasions, was offended, but not by violence, poverty, oppression, or wickedness that harmed other people. It was almost exclusively hurtful things done or spoken against him that he was offended by.

This third barometer can work even with actual sins committed against us, not just the Word of God being pressed against our twisted hearts. If I am only ever offended by slander when it’s done against me, then even though slander is a sin against God I am revealing that there is something wrong within me. If I am only ever bothered by deceit when I’m the one being lied to, I am not healthily hoping for righteousness and a good world.

If my heart is in line with the God of Scripture, the God of Jesus Christ, I should be offended by:
-The murder of infants in their mothers’ wombs
-Famine and poverty all over the world
-Abuse of the weak, fatherless, widow, or foreigner
-Idolatry in my own heart
-Rampant sin among people claiming to know Jesus Christ

Again, that’s a very limited list, there, but it demonstrates concerns that should be on the hearts of those who love what God loves and hate what God hates.

What we are offended by reveals a great deal about ourselves. It is an open, indisputable display of what we value. What thing, person, relationship, or idea we treasure, prize, and find our identity in. Do I prize my reputation? I’ll be offended when it is tarnished. Do I treasure my political views and political identity? I’ll be frustrated when they are assaulted. Do I value my children? I’ll feel an irritation when something comes against them. Whether it’s a good thing or sin, a beautiful thing we should love (though we perhaps might love too much) or an evil thing we shouldn’t love at all, our hearts’ treasures are very often revealed by what offends us.

I’ll close with an anecdote. I was sitting with a genuinely Jesus-loving, Jesus-following young man a few weeks ago. He was talking about a manger scene here in the Cincinnati area that had received quite a bit of notoriety this past Christmas. The owner of a home in one of our eastern city suburbs, I would imagine for shock value or (less likely) out of a misguided sense of harmless fun decided to put up a mock manger scene in which the “characters” were horrific zombies. The young man was telling me about this, and I was just listening to him, not particularly moved in one direction or the other. Towards the end of his description I was probably getting my aresenal of opinions ready, backed up by the first applicable Scripture I could think of, ready to pounce with a position and defend it with rhetoric. But then he did something that was, quite honestly, beautifully refreshing to a flawed and often false man like me.

As he finished telling about the crib in this mocking manger scene, the place where normally a little statue or a doll representing the baby Jesus Christ would be, but had in this man’s creation been replaced by a gory zombie replica, his face stiffened. His eyes flickered that serious combination of sadness and anger you get when you’re genuinely mad at some nasty violation of goodness in the world. When something awful and wrong has been done, and you want it to stop. Then he said, plainly and with no pretense, “That’s my God.

He wasn’t debating whether such a thing should be legal or restricted. He wasn’t arguing the moral decay of a country that might be the cause of such behavior. Such debates and dialogues have places, but they weren’t the sort of thing that was spilling from his heart and prompting the authentic, visceral anguish in him as he sat across the table from me. They weren’t what I find so refreshing in this memory.

He simply treasured the King, Jesus Christ, and so it offended him to see Him mocked.

I love that imperfect, still-being-sanctified young man’s heart. I love it. I want to emulate it.

His offense revealed what He loved. And in this case the problem was not with him, because he loved, he adored, the thing most worthy of that affection in the entire universe.

His offense was noble because his treasure was true.

21 Quick Hit Statements on the Old Testament

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1) It’s the most misunderstood piece of literature in America.

2) It is a part of one story, not just a connected companion of the New Testament.

3) It was Jesus’ favorite thing to quote, and He taught that it all pointed to Him.

4) God preached the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith to Abraham in its first book, Genesis.

5) It was written by God using men (their minds, hearts, and hands) to put the words down.

6) There are laws God gave in it that were only for the Jewish people living in Israel for about 1,000 years, but also laws God gave that reveal His desire for human behavior for all time. God always condemns idolatry, but if you read Acts or the letters in the New Testament, you’ll see He does not always condemn shellfish.

7) It contains poetry, history, preaching, future-telling, pieces of wisdom, and other kinds of writing, and all of them (in their own way) point to Jesus.

8) The oldest book in it was probably written about 1400 BC, and the newest book in it was probably written about 500 BC.

9) A lot of its books are technically anonymous, not having author statements (like Paul’s letters do).

10) Moses wrote 5 (and maybe 6) of the books in it, Solomon probably wrote 3, and Jeremiah probably wrote 2.

11) We can trust that it’s God’s Word because Jesus trusted it’s God’s Word.

12) Copies of many of its books about 1,000 years older than any previously known copies were found in some caves by the Dead Sea in the 1940s. The fact that they were almost identical to the copies from 1,000 years later backs up the claim that the Bible is the most accurately copied piece of writing in human history by a long shot.

13) God has the same character and heart in it as He does in the New Testament. Compare Ezekiel (OT) and Revelation (NT), Nehemiah (OT) and 1 Peter (NT), Proverbs (OT) and James (NT), or Exodus (OT) and Acts (NT).

14) God commanded care for the poor, oppressed, foreigner, and widow in it.

15) God killed sinners who wouldn’t repent (turn from their sins and to Him) in it.

16) God saved a prostitute named Rahab, a cursed non-Jew named Ruth, and a philandering husband and murderer named David in it. And then He put all three of them them in the bloodline of His Son Jesus.

17) It helped to shape the English language through the King James Bible and the German language through Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible.

18) It contains the most Godly love poem ever written: Song of Songs.

19) It contains descriptions of God’s coming victory over sin and death and His re-creation of the world.

20) It contains clear pictures of Jesus (check out Isaiah chapter 53).

21) Its main points are the same as the New Testament’s: God is perfectly good, we sinned against Him, He wins, and we can be a part of it (and part of His family) by His grace through our faith.