Bad Things Happen to Good People

WhyWe’ve all seen it. Someone who is sweet, kind and just an all-around good person is in the fight of their life in one way or another. Maybe it’s cancer, or the loss of a child or spouse. Perhaps they lost their job, have a financial crisis, or live in constant pain. The lists are long with the names of good people who have any number of really bad things happen to them. What gives?

Either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you’re inclined to look at it, from Genesis to Revelation we see evidence that this phenomenon has been around since creation and will continue right up till the time the Lord returns. Like it or not, we were never promised an easy life here on earth–not even if we are good. Of course, the bible in fact tells us that while most everyone thinks they are good (Proverbs 20:6) there are none who are truly righteous (Romans 3:10). So if I thought that somehow only good things should happen to me because I was good…I’d be wrong.

SittingFortunately God doesn’t only show love, mercy, and kindness to those who deserve it though (Romans 5:8). He loves us like a Father loves a child. And let’s not go down that path so prevalent in some Christian circles that basically says if something bad happens to someone then it must be a result of their sin—or else some sort of generational curse. This is biblical misinterpretation at its worst. Bad things certainly can (and often do) happen as a result of personal sin, but the mere evidence of a problem is not in itself proof of it being a result of some particular sin that person (or let alone their parent) has committed. Witness Job, Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-7) and Jesus himself as exhibits A, B, and C.

There are plenty of liars, cheaters, thieves, druggies, swindlers, abusers, etc. who have multiple children, good jobs, plenty of money, zero health issues, and so on and so forth. When bad things happen to those types of people we understand. It’s when a lot of good stuff happens to them while these really nice Christian people have all sorts of trouble that we begin to scratch our heads and wonder why.

David addresses this in Psalm 31 when he tells us not to worry or fret when the wicked prosper. It will be short-lived. Even if the wicked prosper their entire lives here on earth, it’s only a blimp on the radar screen of eternity. He also encourages us that our rescue and time of redemption will come—in fact, it is close at hand even now.

PrayingNo matter how bad it gets, you are a foreigner in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11), traveling a sometimes treacherous path that leads here and there but never truly reaches the promise land till our journey here is done and life in this earthly tent ends (2 Corinthians 5:1). Till then our Pilgrim’s Progress will certainly have its ups and downs. But if you find yourself more down than up, it doesn’t mean God loves you any less. Some of the greatest saints in the history of the world had it harder than anyone, including those who Paul chronicles towards the end of the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11. It’s that last part that most teachings and preachings stop short of though because it’s not nearly as exciting and “positive” on the surface as the first part of that chapter…but you have to keep reading (Hebrews 11:35-40).

If you are currently living in want and in need, you can learn to live fully and be at peace even in those circumstances. Believe it or not it’s what prompted Paul to say that he could do all things through Christ which strengthened him (Philippians 4:11-13)! If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, God promises that He will comfort you (Matthew 5:4)! If you are sick or physically challenged, God has promised to bring you healing (Isaiah 53:4-5) but it may in fact be the perfect healing that only comes in the life eternal! Even in death we are more than victors for to die is certainly to gain for the Christian (Philippians 1:21) which should prompt us to say “O death where is your victory, O death where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). If you are broken-hearted there is a healing on the horizon (Psalm 147:3)! If you are weak then praise God because that is precisely where and when God will show Himself strong on your behalf (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)! If you are so distraught that you long for death itself, you will soon find yourself comforted by the great Comforter (2 Corinthians 1:3-10)!

EncourageYes, bad things do happen to good people. But even then He works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). The biggest challenge at times is to stop defining “good” and “bad” by worldly standards (2 Corinthians 4:7-18) and realize the very best day on earth still finds itself lacking in the light of eternity. And our light and momentary troubles are just that, light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17) for in the twinkling of an eye we will be lifted up to meet our Father in Heaven where there will be no more sickness, no more sorrow, and no more tears (Revelation 21:4). Take courage my friend.

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Audience of One

Im AwesomeWhy do we care so much about what others think? It’s one thing to take a defiant, rebellious attitude and say “I don’t care what people think” when you know you are doing something wrong and others are pointing it out to you. In those situations we would do well to heed their wise instruction for when we defy what is right, other people may well be on mission from God to help bring us back to what is true and what is good and what is right. Godly people should hold us accountable. We also must do our best to maintain a good reputation among believers and non-believers alike so that we bring honor to God rather than dishonor. To that extent we should care about what others think. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

John 12:43 says, “For they loved the approval and the praise and the glory that come from men [instead of and] more than the glory that comes from God. [They valued their credit with men more than their credit with God.] (AMP) This is referring to people who saw Jesus and who heard Him teach. It says they believed in Him but they did not admit it and did not follow Him because they were afraid they would lose the approval of the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders. This might have caused them to be looked down upon, to be cast out of their fellowship, etc. and they just weren’t willing to take that chance. They cared more about the approval of men than the approval of God.

People PleasingIn what ways do you care too much about what other people think? Who do you think of as your “audience”? I know in my own life there has been an all-too-consistent pattern where I’ve done and said things primarily for the approval of other people. I’ve allowed myself to worry and fret and stress over what others think about me. I’ve longed for and sought after the praise and approval of others. When I’m being praised and it’s obvious that people like me and think well of me, I lift my head a little higher and start to feel pretty good about myself. On the other hand, when I’m not receiving recognition, approval, respect, praise, etc, I can quickly begin to feel sad and even depressed. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s dangerous. And it’s not pleasing to God.

We must be aware that in the end we will only give an account to One. We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. This requires that in everything we do and say, we seek first and foremost the approval of God. In fact, very often it will be impossible to please both God and man. The good news is this is a much more peaceful way to live anyway. Obey God, keep His commandments and follow Him. Make godly decisions and act in a godly way. Then, whatever people think will be of little consequence because you will know that you have done your best, and you have done it solely for your Audience of One.

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Premillennial, Postmillennial, Amillennial, and 9-Year-Olds

EschatologyEschatology can loosely be defined as the study of the end of history—or final events. My nine-year-old daughter Lizzi recently started asking me a lot of questions about what happens at the end of time when the Lord returns and after awhile I realized that although I’ve had many conversations about it in the past, I was way out of my league in trying to explain it to her. That’s because there are a great number of differing opinions, theories and beliefs surrounding this subject with each one’s supporters claiming biblical authority to justify their position. I’ve laid out the gist of each one below, and at the end you will find the analogy God gave me as a means to talk to her about it.

Five end-time events included in Eschatology

  1. The Tribulation – A period of 7 difficult years when a world ruler called Antichrist arises.
  2. The Millennium – A period of 1,000 years when Christ will rule and bring universal peace.
  3. The Rapture – A time when Christians are suddenly taken up to meet Jesus in the sky.
  4. Armageddon – A terrible end-time war caused by the Antichrist.
  5. Final Judgment – When God will judge everyone who has ever lived.

RaptureFive different beliefs regarding the Rapture

  1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture (Pre-trib) – The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation. Believers do not have to endure any of the terrible events.
  2. Post-Tribulation Rapture (Post-trib) – The Rapture happens after the Tribulation. Believers have to endure all of it.
  3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture (Mid-trib) – The Rapture happens halfway through the Tribulation, before the worst of it begins.
  4. Pre-Wrath Rapture – The Rapture happens towards the end of the Tribulation, right before the final blow occurs.
  5. Partial Rapture – The Rapture for current Christians happens just before the Tribulation. There’s a second Rapture at the end of the Tribulation for those who convert during it.

Five different beliefs about the order in which end time events occur

  1. Premillennialism – The Antichrist appears followed by the Tribulation. After the Tribulation the Millennial reign begins where believers live with Christ in the New Jerusalem. Final Judgment occurs after the 1,000 years is up. Beliefs about when the Rapture occurs vary based upon which view the Premillennialist holds.
  2. Postmillennialism – The entire world, including the Jews, will eventually all be converted to Christianity at which time a Millennium of peace occurs. After this Christ returns and the Final Judgment occurs.
  3. Amillennialism – The Millennial is not an actual physical realm on earth and it’s not a literal 1,000 years. It began on the day of Pentecost and will continue till the Lord returns. During this time good and evil will co-exist and things will gradually worsen. A type of Rapture will occur when the Lord returns and all believers will meet Jesus in the sky. This is followed by the Final Judgment. There’s no final 7-year Tribulation period or only one single, solitary Antichrist at the end but rather many types of tribulations and antichrists will occur and appear throughout history.
  4. PreterismPreterism – The Tribulation, Armageddon and Rapture already occurred in the first century surrounding the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Lord will return soon, and then the Final Judgment.
  5. No Millennialism – The events prophesied in the book of Daniel and Revelation were not meant to be taken literally and have little meaning for Christians today. Their main purpose was to strengthen the resolve of early Christians who were going to be persecuted by the Romans.

So what did I end up telling Lizzi when she asked me about what’s going to happen and what it’s going to be like at the end when the Lord returns? Same thing I would tell anyone actually: We don’t really know every exact detail for sure. However, we do know for a certainty the main and most important thing. Here’s the analogy….

I’ve told Lizzi and her sister Jessi that we are going to take a vacation next summer and we are going to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina to a place called the Sea Mist. They are both very excited about it, are looking forward to it with great expectation, and have no doubt that it’s going to happen because their daddy told them it would. But do they know the exact date we are leaving to go there? No. And they know this place has a beach, lots of swimming pools, an amusement park, a water park and a bunch of other cool stuff too. But do they know how long we will spend at each part of the complex or which one we will go to first, second, etc.? Do they know which hotel room we will be in, what floor it will be on, how nice the view will be out the windows, or what all will be in the room? They know we will eat but do they know what exactly they will eat and when they will eat it? And there will be lots of people there but do they know who or how many or what exactly the people will do and look like? The answer to all of these questions about the specifics of the vacation is of course a resounding “NO.”

Trust GodFriends, we have a Father in heaven and He has promised that He will return for us and that we will live with Him for all of eternity and that it will be wonderful. There are certain things He’s told us to be on the lookout for as that time draws ever nearer; and He’s shed some light on some of the events that we can expect to take place as part of the end times. But there are many details about these end time events that we simply cannot know for sure despite our best efforts to analyze and scrutinize every jot and tittle of scripture that even remotely hints at them. That’s okay. We already know everything that we really need to. And Lizzi and Jessi are looking forward to it.

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When Will My Life Not Suck?

Not Suck BookThe point is not what you think about the title, but how often you’ve asked yourself or God this very question. I recently began reading a book with this title that is written by pastor, counselor and author Ramon Presson. His inspiration for the title (which he insisted on using to the chagrin of several publishers) came from a lady who was attending a women’s bible study in Brentwood, TN.

Now Brentwood is in Williamson County, the 9th wealthiest county in the United States, and so on the surface these women have it pretty good and they had gathered for a weekly bible study on Exodus. It must have been somewhat of a surprise then when at one point a member of the group said that she thought the bible study was nice and all but, “What I really want to know is, when will my life not suck?” After some awkward silence, one of the other ladies finally spoke up and said, “Yeah, that’s what I want to know too.” From there God began to have His way in that group, the walls came down, they cried, they laughed, and they really came clean with one another about what was going on in their lives.

Bible Study GroupWhat about you? Have you ever wondered this? If so, how many times have you sat in your circle of bible studies and church services, put on your best happy face, and acted like everything was hunky dory when it wasn’t? I know I have and I am really, really getting tired of it. How refreshing it is when folks get real with one another for a change. But this can’t happen unless we are willing to lay down that ever-present, artificial front we so often put on. We’ve got to let go of the desire to keep up appearances and make everyone think we have it all together when we don’t. We have to lay down the pride. No more phony baloney. It’s time to get real!

Maybe your life is all peaches and cream, good. That’s super. I truly hope it continues. For the rest of us there is hope but it comes at a price. The price is your image and your pride and your agenda. A number of years ago I remember a member of a men’s group talking about how it was going to take a long time before he was going to be willing to open up about personal things—that he has to really know people and grow to trust them before he’s willing to share. That all sounds fine, but he had been a part of that same group for a whole year!

I think many of us are taught by our parents, then by our teachers, then by our peers, that no matter what:

  • Put your best foot forward!
  • Never, ever let ‘em see you sweat!
  • Real men don’t cry!
  • Women can cry, but not too much!
  • Make a good impression!
  • Keep up appearances!

Positive BookThese ideas (and many others like them) can either be expressed in words or merely implied. And if you do or say anything negative (aka “authentic”) and happen to be Charismatic, Pentecostal, or New Age—yeah I know New Age ain’t Christian but many of their beliefs find their way into professing Christian churches—then you will additionally have to carry the burden of thinking your calamity is your fault because you didn’t do or say the right things and therefore brought it all on yourself.

Here’s a rather blunt question: Do you really want to know me, or just some character being played on a stage? If you led a bible study, would you be upset if it actually led to real dialog about each others’ lives instead of staying on the track that your leader guide said you needed it to be on? Would the realization that the people in your “group”  (team, fellowship, club, business, etc.) weren’t perfect and didn’t have perfect lives in some way be a poor reflection on you or negatively impact what you’re trying to accomplish? If so, what is it that you’re trying to accomplish?

Tight LippedPerhaps I digress. All this attention on those who may not want to lead, organize, or be a part of a group of people who are transparent and honest with each other, who put the realness of their lives above whatever program or agenda might be in front of them, perhaps that’s not even the real issue. Maybe the real, primary, central issue is that Me, Myself, and I don’t want to do it either and can’t even imagine asking such questions or saying such things out loud in front of family, friends, or God.

Ah but if the question fits, it has to be asked doesn’t it? How can we really begin to heal with an elephant as big as that in the room that’s being ignored? Don’t worry; God can handle it. He knew before you were born that you would ask it, or at least want to ask it. So go ahead!

You have to go to God first with a question like this. Then as the opportunity presents itself, maybe you should be willing to come out with it in the presence of others if you feel so led. And how will you know if you’re being “led”? Well, it will probably start with a nagging feeling that whatever it is you’re pretending to do or say isn’t really 100% authentic. That might lead to an urge way down deep in your gut to just come out with it. You don’t have to say it so abruptly or just like you feel it, but you will be able to tell it’s definitely trying hard to come out. Let it come… ”When will my life not suck?”

Who knows, you may just give someone else in the room the courage to say, “Yeah, that’s what I want to know too.” Then the healing can begin.

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The Call of God Is….

What is My CallingWhat is the “call of God” all about? We hear that term thrown around in Christendom and often it refers to a particular task, a particular job or a particular position in ministry. This could be the case and I certainly won’t presume to know all the answers regarding this matter. Feeling “called” and trying to identify exactly what that means has been one of the most difficult parts of my Christian experience in recent years. But I do know it has become increasingly clear in my own life that the call of God has more to do with who I am and Who I know than it does with anything else—at least that is where it all begins.

It’s the whole cart and the horse thing, really. Too often I find that my initial focus in the Christian life is on what I say and what I profess with my mouth to believe. I try to say the right things to the right people. I try to talk the talk. It’s as if I think that if I can just mentally ascend to the right things, and verbalize them in the right way, then all will be as it should. Then, once I am finally saying the right things (more or less), I start to focus on what I do. It becomes a matter of doing the right things, not doing the wrong things, etc. And invariably this culminates with the idea that if I can just find my calling, that one thing that I am uniquely equipped by God to do, then everything really will be as it should be.

Skill SetNow when it comes to finding the task or special work that I must be called to, how do we typically identify it? By those things I appear to be skilled at of course! What is my unique skill set, what is my gift? Find this and you have found your call, right? Maybe. But the problem is that many people are skilled to do many things that do very little to help build the Kingdom. And there is this nagging realization that throughout the bible God routinely uses those who have absolutely no apparent, natural gifting to do what it is they end up doing for God. In our strengths, God shows Himself strong is how He puts it right? Oh no, wait, it is quite the opposite. In our weaknesses, God shows Himself strong. What a paradox.

Somewhere along the line you may find that you are finally saying all the right things and as far as you can tell you are doing all the right things too…but something still doesn’t feel quite right. And you aren’t where you think you should be either. You still haven’t found any peace in your “calling.” You cry out to God for answers and He starts to show you things that surprise you. He peels back the veil and shows you what and who you really are. All of a sudden you are identifying way too much with the Pharisees.

Know GodYou read the end of the Sermon on the Mount and you begin to comprehend that there will be lots of people at the end of time who will have said all the right things and who will have done all the right things as far as anyone around them can tell. I mean they do really big and important stuff. They are skilled to the point of being able to prophesy and cast out demons and perform miracles. But Jesus will cast them aside because He never knew them. And then you see it: you are called to know God and be in relationship with Him, yet somehow in the midst of all the profession and confession, all the going and doing, you have failed to really know Him.

God created man and woman for one reason: to be in relationship with Him. God sent His Son to die on a cross for only one reason: so that by believing on Christ we might have a means to be made right again in relationship with Him, so that we may live in eternity with Him, to be in relationship with Him. How could we have missed this truth? Why did it take me so long to figure this out? Finally it sinks in. Who I know and who I am is more important than what I do; and what I do is more important than what I say. That is the proper order of things. And my calling is to know God and be in a right relationship with Him. All else flows out of this.


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God Won’t Fit in Your Doctrinal Boxes

Birds of a FeatherDivision has occurred exponentially over time within the Body of Christ for a variety of reasons. Some of it has to do with people wanting to follow one type of minister or leader over another. Other times it has to do with the “flavor” of a particular group of Christians and how well you seem to fit in (birds of a feather flock together). Unfortunately, a lot of division has also occurred due to our general lack of ability to get along with one another (e.g. so and so person or group did this to me and that was just not right so I’m going to go across the street and start my own church). But perhaps no greater cause of division has ever existed than the impossible efforts of man to put God in a doctrinal box.

Think of whatever controversial doctrine you will, and almost without exception the division that has been created is due in large part to people looking at the same truth from two different sides with each person insisting that their view is right and the other person’s is wrong. Now I am not talking about cultic ideas and beliefs which place a wide chasm between Christians and all others—disagreements on those issues are not only inevitable, they are necessary. No, what we are examining here are all those doctrines which, although they are seemingly opposite from each other, are each one found within the walls of evangelical Christianity consisting of true brothers and sisters in Christ who simply cannot agree on various points of disputable doctrine.

Doctrinal ChangesPerhaps you are thinking of a few of these doctrines now and wondering how I would respond if asked which viewpoint is right. That is our human tendency in a nutshell. We are always on the hunt for a black and white, right or wrong answer. “Is it this or is it that? Which is right? Surely both cannot be right!” And so we always think our finite minds can come to a right understanding of an infinite God if we just study more, think hard enough, meet the right teacher, etc. This would explain why anyone who has ever ventured to fellowship and/or learn from more than one part of the Body of Christ will soon realize that what they used to believe on a point of doctrine might not have been exactly right once they start to fellowship with those who take the alternative view.

So is it predestination or free will? Yes. Is it law or grace? Yes. Is it faith or works? Yes. Can I be saved without being baptized or do I need to be baptized too? Yes. Do I receive the Holy Spirit at time of conversion or do I receive Him later? Yes. Is Saturday the Sabbath or should I worship on Sunday? Yes. Is it best to meet in a church building or in a home? Yes. Can a person be saved in an instant or is it a life-long process? Yes. Does God accept us just as we are or does He expect us to strive for perfection? Yes. Is it once saved always saved or can someone fall away from the faith? Yes. Should I look to the bible as my guide or to the Holy Spirit? Yes. Is it okay to drink alcohol or is it better not to? Yes. Should a church fellowship be led by a pastor or elders or deacons or by all the members? Yes. Is it better to be a witness to others by what I say to them or by how I live my life? Yes. Are all the spiritual gifts for today too or have they somehow started to cease? Yes. Does God show judgment and wrath or love and mercy? Yes. Am I a sinner or a saint? Yes.

Bible StudyI know some of you are cringing right now. But here is my point that you cannot deny: The bible contains verses that support both views on all of the above mentioned doctrinal topics and there are no doubt many more we could mention. So the question is, if there are bible verses that support both sides of a doctrinal truth, then why not believe ALL the bible teaches even if with our limited mind we feel that it somehow contradicts itself? And please be careful of using those worn-thin arguments you heard from someone else about how we would know the right side of these disputable doctrines if we would only use proper hermeneutics and exegesis. Far too often that just means we think we should hold fast to the verses that support the view we’ve been taught to believe while completely ignoring all of those other verses that don’t quite fit in our particular doctrinal box.

At some point we have to let go of our preconceived ideas and what we have been taught in the past and simply come to the Word of God and accept ALL of it for what it says. Yes, you have to read it from Genesis to Revelation and understand it is an unfolding story with different covenants. But once you rightly find yourself in the New Testament under the covenant in which we live today as Christians and you see very plainly that the bible says things in support of both sides of the doctrines which are forever dividing us (often these are apparent in two verses that are side-by-side), you simply cannot pick and choose—holding on to one while you all but throw out the other. Is it not possible that we are guilty of looking at only one side of what is the whole truth? There are no doctrinal boxes big enough in which you can neatly place God.

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The Church Is Not a Building

Church WordsIt’s funny how words take on different meanings over time. “Bad” used to mean bad but there for awhile at least it somehow meant good. “Cougar” used to mean a large cat. “Gay” used to mean a happy person. “Tight” used to mean snug. We say things like “I love those hamburgers!” and then we tell our spouse and kids that we “love” them too (and I’m guessing they do hope we prefer them over a hamburger). Some of these changes in word meanings have little consequence in the daily lives of most people while other changes are much more serious in nature. One of those more serious changes, in my opinion, is what the word “church” has come to mean.

The word “church” in the bible always refers to people, not buildings. It comes from the Greek word “Ekklesia”. Here is what Fausset’s Bible Dictionary has to say about it:

“Ekklesia in the New Testament never means the building or house of assembly, because church buildings were built long AFTER the apostolic age. It means an organized body, whose unity does not depend on its being met together in one place; not an assemblage of atoms, but members in their several places united to the One Head, Christ, and forming one organic living whole (1 Corinthians 12). The bride of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 5:25-32), the body of which He is the Head.”

House FamilyOf course, you don’t have to take a bible dictionary’s word for it. A simple reading of the text makes it clear. Whether it was Jesus or Paul or anyone else using the term, the word “church” always referred to the people who made up the Body of Christ. Consider this illustration. We’re riding in a car together and I drive into a neighborhood, pull up in front of a house and say, “There’s my family. I had it painted last year. I’ve always liked Tudor style families so that’s one thing I really like about it. The roof needs to be replaced before long but other than that it’s in pretty good shape. It’s a split level family and has lots of storage space. So, what do you think about my family?” If I did THAT, the real question is what would you think about me??!

You know that a family is not a house, a family is made up of people—and they are a family whether they are inside a house, outside a house, at the mall, on the street, at a restaurant, etc. The same goes for the church. If you are a Christian and if I am a Christian then we are the church. It makes no difference whether you and I are sitting in a building together or if we are at different places within the same city or if we are a thousand miles apart. We are still the church as is every other Christian worldwide wherever they may be. If you refer to “the church at Nashville” in the biblical sense, you are referring to all the Christians in Nashville wherever and however they may happen to congregate. If we do not look at it this way, if we continue to think of the church as a building, then we may be setting ourselves up for some pretty dire consequences.

Holy PlaceIf the church is a building then that is the “holy” place and it suddenly becomes more sacred and special than any other place. Therefore, if I really want to get close to God, I have to be there because when I am away I must be further from God. All of a sudden my private devotions and prayer at home are not good enough and somehow a little too far out of reach for God. Not only that, but I forget that as a Christian I am the church and a disconnect occurs between what happens in the church building and what happens everywhere else in my life. When I’m in the building I’m a Christian and I’m spiritual and I’m holy, but when I leave I’m back to being regular, worldly person again—until I go back to the building. If the church is a building then the hustle and bustle of activity in the building must be what the Christian life is all about.

What it all comes down to is this: If I see the church as a building or as a series of activities that occur in a building, then church degenerates into being something I go to occasionally instead of it being who I am. Friends, that is a huge difference and it really does matter. How would you rate the state of Christianity in America today? How would you rate it in your own life? If you see it as lacking, the meaning we pour into the word “church” may very well have a lot to do with it. Remember, a family is not a house and the church is not a building. If you and I are Christians, we are the church.

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Why Do You Believe?

End of World VanWhile I was out on lunch break a few years ago I saw five transport vans going down the street one behind the other and they each were identical with bold, colorful designs and writing on them stating that Judgment Day and the end of the world was going to take place on May 21, 2011. The claim further stated that the bible guarantees it. This “ministry” outreach made headlines around the world and, of course, their prediction failed to come true. The bible clearly states that no one knows the exact time of the Lord’s return and yet the claim of this group was that “The Bible Guarantees It” and it made me think a little….

What would cause a person to leave family and friends, as many in that group did, to go around the world telling people something that they claimed was spelled out clearly in the bible—when all the while most thoughtful bible exposition would show that it was in error and contrary to scripture’s teaching. The end of the world could have been May 21, 2011…but it could just as easily be tomorrow, or a 100 years from now. We simply don’t know the exact time of the Lord’s return. So how do people, especially as sincere as these folks appeared to be, claim to base their beliefs on the bible and still arrive at such doctrines?

How Christians See Each OtherThe answer I believe is the same reason we have so many people in so many denominations and non-denominations all saying they believe what they believe because, “The bible says so.” Well, let’s examine that for a moment. If we were all purely going off of the bible then logic would dictate that we would all come up with the same doctrine, right? But we don’t. Why? One reason is because while there is perfect truth (the bible) we all suffer from imperfect understanding. And yet that doesn’t really explain these extreme differences of opinion and is not even always the true cause of differing beliefs. So what is?

When someone says they believe what they believe because the bible says so, a follow-up question may shed light on what’s really going on. “So how did you come to understand what the bible says?” If the answer is anything other than a lot of personal bible study and prayer, you may have just found the issue.

Man TeachingI know in my own life, and in the life of so many others, we have started with the teachings of men and have used that to filter through the bible instead of the other way around—starting with personal bible reading and prayer first, then filtering through the teachings of men using the bible as the plumb-line. Take the average person in the average church environment. Whether it is a denomination or non-denomination makes no difference—there is still a sign out front of the building that stands for something. Inside is where you sit for years surrounded by teachers, preachers and fellow believers who all believe, teach and act a certain way. It’s what you know. And so for years you are conditioned to start with the teaching of men and then let that trickle down to the bible and your understanding of it. Then we say we believe what we believe because the bible says so and yet often the truth is we believe what we believe because of the teaching we have received from men about what the bible says. Preaching and teaching are good, but as believers we’ve often put the cart before the horse.

And so my hope for the body of Christ worldwide, and my own personal goal, is that we somehow break free from being so dependent on someone else telling us what the bible says, and telling us about God, and become more focused on studying the bible and knowing God for ourselves. Holy Spirit be our guide.

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Childlike Faith: It’s a Requirement to Entering Heaven

Childlike FaithIt is recorded in the gospels that when the disciples tried to prevent little children from coming to Jesus, He rebuked them and told them to let the little children come. In doing this He said, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17 NIV) On another occasion Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In response He called over a young child who was standing near and said, Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4 NIV) So what is it that is so very unique and special about a child’s faith?

Perhaps there are several things about little children that we could say our Lord wants us to emulate. However, since He said unless we become like children and receive the kingdom of God like a little child we will never enter it, it is of the utmost importance that we understand what is meant about how a child would receive God. Think about how little children receive us as parents (e.g. who we say we are, what we say about life, what they see us do, etc.) Do they ever question that we are who we say we are? Do they routinely question what we tell them? Do they always question what we do? As long as they are “little” children the answer is usually no. They pretty much accept who we are, what we say and what we do. Unfortunately, when they get older they often do start to question what we say and what we do and what we tell them to do. In fact, there comes a point when a lot of teenagers and young adults think their parents hardly know anything. It is at this stage where they start to think they know everything and know better than mom and dad—after all, they are old-fashioned and out of touch with how things really are.

Got FaithNow which type of person do you think God most desires? The one who simply accepts Him—who He is, what He says, what He does, etc.—or the one who questions and doubts and thinks he has to figure it all out on his own? Obviously the former is preferable. This is what I believe is at the heart of why we must become like little children. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul speaks of how the Jews wanted signs and the Greeks wanted wisdom (in a worldly sense) which is why the message of the cross was foolishness to both types of people.  In chapter 2 Paul goes on to say that when he came to them he did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom, but with a demonstration of power from the Holy Spirit. Then he further clarifies that what he preached and the knowledge he shared was not the kind of knowledge you can get from learned men, but rather knowledge that came directly from the Spirit of God. This kind of receiving and believing comes straight to us from the mouth of God just as what a parent says to a little child goes straight to them.

Suppose if you will that a young lady, instead of simply accepting what her parents tell her, goes out and tries to find books, tapes, CDs, websites, magazines, radio and TV shows, classes and a Whatevervariety of other people who themselves seem to be very learned—and she seeks from them the real truth as opposed to what her parents tell her. No doubt she will get even more confused because all these resources offer a never-ending supply of contradicting opinions and theories. But over time she begins to settle on a few that her mind can best grasp and that appeal the most to her sense of how things ought to be. At last, she has her basis of belief, sort of, and she even goes to an institution of higher learning that teaches what she likes the most and then she is herself a degreed and learned person of the highest order. One day she sees another person listening to her parents and believing them and doing what they say, and she shakes her head in disgust at it. “That poor, immature little simpleton” she thinks as she basks in the gratifying self-love and pride which reminds her that she knew better than to take her parents at face-value.

And thus it can be for all of us if we are not careful. Rather than take God at His word, we think that there must be some other meaning. “Did God even say that?” we may ask and in so doing repeat the primary question of the first great temptation that the devil used to dupe Eve. Like many, she wanted knowledge and she wanted more than God had seen fit to give her. So she took the fruit from the tree of knowledge rather than from the tree of life. We have such a yearning for learning and the feeling of pride that goes with it. To be much studied is a badge of honor and esteem. The bible does tell us to study to show ourselves approved and so I am not saying we should avoid it altogether. But I do think as we approach the Word of God and as we tune in to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we should keep in mind the words of a friend of mine who, when talking about peoples’ understanding of the bible said, “You know Danny, sometimes I think it just means what it says.” How true. We need to come humbly to God, believing Who He is and what He says, and receive Him with a childlike faith.

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Ancient Paths – Definitely the Path Less Traveled

Ancient PathsI often wonder how radically different our views about what the Christian life should look like would be if we looked through the lens of historic Christianity instead of modern-day Christianity–especially in America. Jeremiah 6:16 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the ways, and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is and walk in it, and you shall find rest for your souls'” (NASB). I believe this is what all of us need to do today, both individually and corporately.

The bible makes it clear that over time there will be a continual degeneration of things physical and spiritual right up until the Second Coming. This is to be expected. However, what we must be on guard against as Christians who live in the midst of it is being conformed to this world and its way of doing things…even if it is in the professing church.

Who is influencing who? Are we influencing the world or is the world influencing us? Times and cultures change, but God and His Word never do. If the modern church considers things to be normal that would have appalled the early church, why is that? If we say and do and wear and spend and focus and flaunt in ways historic Christians didn’t, why is that?

As soon as we dare to start asking these types of questions the world and often the church starts crying out “legalist” or they accuse you of wanting to live in the backwoods without electricity or running water. But these things really have nothing to do with it. The ancient paths are all about the heart of the matter. It’s about doing things God’s way instead of man’s way.

The look and feel of money changes, but the godly principles of how to use it don’t. The style of clothes change, but the godly principles about modesty don’t. The types of houses families live in change, but the godly principles on marriage and parenting don’t. The things people do for fun change, but the godly principles for conduct don’t. The methods of communicating change with the latest technology, but the godly principles that govern our speech don’t.

Blind Leading the BlindTo find the ancient paths, you must first drop the lens of what you see and hear all around you and be willing to consider that you may be on the wrong road. Most of us are inundated with a sensory overload of just what we are currently surrounded with. If the majority of our friends, family, pastors, teachers, authors, etc. all pretty much do and say the same thing, you start to assume that their way is the way it should be. But where did they get their understanding of the way things should be? Often from the same people, places, cultures and things you did! We could all be on the right path, or it could just as easily be a bad case of the blind leading the blind.

I cannot definitively tell you whether you are on the ancient paths or not, but here is a recipe for finding out: Do your own research and learn the history of the Christian church. Read the writings of the early church fathers and the classic books throughout our history as opposed to just the modern-day ones. Come to the bible without any preconceived, denominational, or modern-day notions and take it for what it says. Read through it, all of it, and pray that God will help you understand and apply it. May the Holy Spirit be your Guide.

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