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Scripture or The Shack?

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NKJV) "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
 
A novel called The Shack written by Willaim P. Young (Wind Blown Media, 2007) has been a New York Times best seller. Christians from everywhere are reading the book. The Shack is a Christian fiction that tries to answer the questions about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, salvation, if Jesus is the only way to heaven, the question of God and evil, and what happens after we die. Obviously the book has touched a core hunger for answers in hurting people, especially in regard to the tragic loss of a loved one--what the book calls "The Great Sadness". Not only are millions reading the book, but many Christians are insisting that others read it. A common testimonial from those who read this book say it has forever changed their view of God. I am concerned. May I remind us all that this book is classified as Christian fiction. According to Young, the book was formed around his own personal conversations with God, family, and friends (p. 258-259). Young's quest in the book seems to be aimed at dismantling the historic and the Scriptural views of God in order to reconstruct another view of God that makes sense to him and that he hopes makes sense to others. Based on the number who have read the book, he has succeeded--at least for the moment. Although this book has brought comfort to many who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one, we must not settle for an illusion of hope that the truth of Scripture alone can bring: "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4 NKJV) The concern I have with the book is that Young does not turn people to the Scriptures for hope or to Christian brothers and sisters for comfort, but encourages them to run to an isolated shack where they are introduced to subjective experiences (fictional experiences by the way) as the basis for discovering a new view of God. What makes this even more dangerous is that the characters used to communicate Young's often unorthodox ideas are God the Father who is presented as "a large beaming African-American woman", Jesus who appears to be "Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves," and the Holy Spirit, who is named Sarayu, "a small, distinct Asian woman" who together are called the Trinity. If you are a Christian who has read the book, may I challenge you to read a critical review of this book called "The Shack: Helpful or Heresy?" by a highly respected apologist (defender of the faith), Norman Geisler. I understand that questioning the legitimacy of The Shack will not be popular. I am also aware that Christians today are growing more intolerant of doctrine and those who challenge error and defend the faith. At the same time, if there has ever been a time when the church needed faithful watchmen on the walls who know the Scripture, who recognise and understand the danger of error, and who defend the Christian faith, it is now. Error is like a cancer that seeks to destroy the faith and scatter the flock. The danger of error is real and the cost for silence is too high. Before you run to The Shack for answers, take time to run to the Scriptures. 

Light and Darkness

Genesis 1:3–5 (NKJV) "Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day."
 
Darkness, disorder, and emptiness existed prior to the first day of creation (Gen 1:2). Since God created the "lights in the firmament" (sun, moon, stars) on the fourth day, what kind of "light" did God create on the first day? By definition, light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye (Webster's). Light makes vision possible. Vision makes discernment between light and darkness possible. The Scripture says that God is light (1 Jn 1:5) and is the Source of light (Rev 21:23). However, unless there is the vision, a person can live in darkness while being surrounded by light. Those who are spiritually blind live in spiritual darkness while being surrounded by the glory of God (Is 6:3). Those who are blind and live in darkness stumble over things hidden in the darkness (1 Jn 2:11). But when light comes, it manifests what is hidden in darkness so that there is no more cause for stumbling (1 Jn 2:10). In fact, Paul defines "light" as whatever makes "manifest", i.e. the ability to be seen: "But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light." (Eph 5:13). The apostle John declares that "he who loves his brother abides in the light" (1 Jn 2:10). Therefore, the "light" that God spoke into existence on the first day of creation is a limited revelation or "manifestation" of Himself through the beauty and order of creation (Rom 1:20). Unfortunately, sin brought blindness leading men to grope in spiritual darkness, worshiping God's creation rather than God the Creator (Rom 1:21-23). God brought more light into man's darkness by revealing Himself through the Scriptures (Ps 119:105; Pr 6:23), and ultimately in the Person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1-5). Christ offers to give the light of God to all who will hear His voice, awake from their spiritual slumber, and arise from their deadness toward God (Eph 5:14). Don't be proud and deny your blindness (Jn 9:41). Worse still, don't seek to be a blind leader of the blind! (Matt 15:14). Humble yourself like blind Bartimaeus who cried out for Jesus to give him sight. Jesus said to him, "Go your way, your faith has made you well." (Mk 10:52). Come to Jesus. He still opens blind eyes and gives people light!

A New Awakening?

 Psalm 57:8 (NKJV) "Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn."
 
This January our church cooperated in a time of prayer and fasting called "21 Days for a New Awakening." And to be honest, I have sensed new life taking place in me and in our church. Yes, I might even call it an "awakening". An awakening involves bringing to consciousness something that has been lifeless for a season. For instance, a person who is asleep may seem dead but they are not. All they need is an awakening. A tree in the dormancy of winter may look dead, but it is still very much alive. When the season changes, it experiences an awakening. A bear in its hibernation may seem to have died. However, once spring comes, it too experiences an awakening. In the same way, a Christian or a church may look "dead", but don't be too quick to judge! Many look at the condition of the church and have concluded that it has died. They say, "There is no fruit! There are no leaves! The branches are bare! Surely it is dead!" Yet God is Lord over the seasons. He is the Giver of life. When winter gives way to spring, the sap begins to rise, leaves begin to appear, and fruit begins to form. What seemed dead is very much alive. Don't mistake dormancy for death. Don't count a Christian out just because they look dead. Don't count a church out just because it seems dead. God is the Lord of the seasons. God knows how to get the sap moving again. When He does, suddenly everything is different! I don't know about you, but I sense the sap beginning to rise. Don't be surprised if the church begins to experience a season of awakening!

Don't be a flake!

I've been around and seen many fads come and go in the body of Christ. The problem is that when people are not grounded in the objective truths of the Word of God, they are blown this way and that way by every wind of doctrine and experience. A few years ago I read and saved this description of "Flake-ism" by Lora Allison. I think it is just as valid today. Let's all make a decision not to be a flake. Enjoy!
 
FLAKE-ISM:  Think of paint
1. A flake is characterized by “non-stick-to-it-iveness.”
2. A flake refuses to surrender individual recognition in order to blend into the rest of the covering as one unit.
3. In the beginning, a flake begins to detach and then air separates (“airhead”).  This separation is a vicious cycle.  Separateness often looks beguiling.
4. When finally detached a flake flits and floats blown by every slight breeze.
5. Because they are blown this way and that, a flake has no choice or control of its destination.
6. Generally a flake ends up lying in some trashy corner forgotten and useless.
7. A flake always has a better idea.
8. A flake is very opinionated.
9. A flake is immature.
10. A flake is not grounded in Truth.
11. A flake is always listening to voices, especially when they say what they want to hear.
12. Flake-ism sometimes grows out of immaturity and a lack of wisdom.
13. Flake-ism is encouraged by a lack of structure.  Proper structure encourages proper growth.  Charismatics sometimes throw out the baby with the bath water and do away with all structure.  A river without banks becomes a marsh.

The LORD is our Judge

People often struggle with offenses and injustice. When we are wronged our heart cries out for justice. Without a proper Biblical perspective, we often take justice into our own hands by speaking and doing evil against those who have hurt us. Jesus, however, taught us differently:
 
Matthew 5:43–48 (NKJV) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
 
Living out what Jesus said is easier said than done. How do we keep our hearts from being filled with anger and resentment? Does God expect us to just take injustice and act like it never happened? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but what about justice and righteousness? How should we respond?
 
Jesus is our example. He was treated more unjustly than any other person in history. Listen to how Jesus responded to personal injustice committed against Him:
 
1 Peter 2:19–25 (NKJV) "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
 
Rather than act as Judge and Lawyer in His own case, He turned His case over to God. Although Jesus was condemned by a human court, He presented Himself and His case before the Supreme Court of His Father and was declared innocent through the resurrection. When we are wronged, it is our duty to seek reconciliation with our brother (Matthew 18:15-17). If attempts at reconciliation are refused or the conditions ignored, then we are still responsible to love and bless them in spite of their actions as we take our case to the Lord and His heavenly court and ask Him to judge between us and them. The Lord Jesus, who is our Advocate (Lawyer), will plead our case. As we release the case to Him we must trust that God will do what is right (Genesis 18:25). We must avoid the desire to avenge ourselves or to try to plead our case in the court of public opinion. Do we want to be approved before men or before God?
 
Romans 12:19–21 (NKJV) "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 20 Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
 
While our case is in the Lord's docket, we must keep our heart right by walking in love, doing good to those who do evil, and praying for reconciliation. If a heart change occurs, we must be willing to approach the Judge's Bench to settle out of court. By taking our case to the Lord, we let go of the judgment in our own heart. We rest in the fact that the Lord Jesus, our Advocate, will plead our case before the Father. Once judgment is made, we must pray that God will bring ultimate reconciliation through extending mercy and forgiveness to those who are found guilty and repent. In this way justice and judgment can lead to ultimate mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is made possible through the Cross of Christ.

Are you "bewitched"?

When growing up I remember watching the television show, "Bewitched" starring Elizabeth Montgomery. I didn't know much about demons and evil powers at that time and it all seemed so innocent and comical. But many watched the show being fascinated by the ability to cast a spell on someone. Those who were the object of the spell were said to be "bewitched". Those who are bewitched are victims. Unfortunately sincere and hungry believers can be bewitched into departing from the truth. Consider what Paul said in Galatians 3:1–3 (NKJV) "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" These believers had once had a very clear understanding of the message of the Cross and salvation through faith rather than by works. Now they were acting like completely different people. Paul asked if someone had cast a spell or "bewitched" them into disobeying the truth. Are you holding firm to the faith by which you were once saved and the principles you once lived by or has someone bewitched you into disobeying the truth of God's Word? If you are no longer obeying the truth that you once believed, it might be time to wake up and ask God to break the spell.

I Hope Somebody and Everybody Reads This!

I read something the other day that EVERBODY needs to read. I hope SOMEBODY reads it. It would be bad if NOBODY does. Enjoy!
 
Fred Somebody, Thomas Everybody, and Joe Nobody were neighbors, but they were not like you and me. There were odd people and most difficult to understand. The way they lived was a shame. All four belonged to the same church, but you would not have enjoyed worshiping with them. EVERYBODY went fishing on Sunday or stayed home to visit with friends. ANYBODY wanted to worship but was afraid SOMEBODY wouldn't speak to him. So guess who went to church--uh, huh--NOBODY. Really, NOBODY was the only one of the four. NOBODY did the visitation. NOBODY worked on the church building. Once they needed a Sunday School teacher. EVERYBODY thought ANYBODY could do it, and ANYBODY thought SOMEBODY would do it. And you know who did it? That's exactly right...NOBODY! It happened that a fifth neighbor (an unbeliever) moved into the area. EVERYBODY thought SOMEBODY should try to win him for Christ. ANYBODY could have made an effort. You probably know who finally won him: NOBODY!

To Know Him, Love Him, & Worship HIm

In the beginning there was nothing--or might I say "no one"--but God. God exists in the form of the Godhead: One God in three Persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Godhead exists in complete love, unity, and oneness. So, why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did He create you and me? He did so out of a desire to reveal Himself to those who would in response choose to know Him, love Him, and worship Him. God is spirit. We cannot know Him apart from God revealing Himself to us. First God reveals Himself to us by what He has created (Romans 1:20). Creation is God's classroom of object lessons intended to reveal His existence and divine nature. God has revealed Himself to us in His Word (John 17:17). Because sin caused man to distort God's revelation of Himself in nature, God revealed Himself through His Word to address sin's distortions. God uses His Word to reveal His true nature and character. God also revealed Himself to us through His Son--the Word of God made flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus Christ came to reveal the existence and nature of the true God--the God of the Bible. God also reveals Himself to us through the Person of His Holy Spirit who enlightens our spiritual understanding to God's truth (1 Corinthians 2:10). God desires that we know Him. In essence, eternal life comes through knowing Him: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3 NKJV) God reveals Himself to us so that we might know Him and in knowing Him to love Him. God wants us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). It's true--the God of the universe wants a relationship with you and me! Think of that--God loves you and He wants you to know and love Him. God not only wants us know and love Him, but He also wants us to worship Him as the only true God and Savior. Worship is our response to what we know and love. Jesus said that the Father is seeking worshipers--true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). God is revealing Himself to you and me today. He is revealing Himself to us through creation, through His Word, His Son, and His Holy Spirit. He wants you to know Him and, in knowing Him, to love Him. In knowing and loving Him, He wants you to worship Him. Yes, God is actively seeking a relationship with you today. He is actively trying to reveal Himself to you today. Will you take time to look, read, listen, and respond? 

Experience or the Word of God?

Recently I heard a preacher say that people don't need doctrine. They need an experience. The reasoning is that, "A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument." People are told to lay aside their doctrine and to seek an experience. The question is posed, "Are you hungry for an experience with God? Then come to the altar and have an experience with God tonight!" Granted, any true believer who has faith will also have experiences with God. No one can claim to be saved who has not had encounter with the Savior. But the growing emphasis on experience highlights a common misperception about how we can have a true relationship with God. The truth is that we are not saved by an experience. We are saved by faith. And it is not faith in an experience that saves us. It is faith in God's Word--the Gospel--that saves us.  Seeking an experience apart from doctrine is dangerous. Why? How do you know that the experience you seek is of God? Experience cannot validate itself. Experience only validates that we have had an experience. Experience cannot be the criteria for determining truth or else truth is at the mercy of experience. Unfortunately this gets real confusing because people are having many contradictory experiences and, of course, they all argue that their experience is real. Why? They experienced it. People are claiming religious experiences today on every hand and yet Christians are departing from the faith in record numbers here in America. Christians swoon at the altar of experience and live like devils the rest of the week. Preachers are falling left and right. Churches are full of people who live no differently  than the world. What is the problem? People are basing their spirituality on faith in subjective experiences and opinions rather than on faith in God's Word. People are living their lives based upon what they feel. Their life is built on experience rather than on the solid rock of God's Word. They cannot stand in the time of difficulty and storm. They are blown this way and that way because their spirituality is not built on the Word of God but on the changing winds of experience. They move from one experience to another. If they can't get an experience in one place, they move to another place. Because they build their lives around experiences, it is easy to justify the experiences of the flesh. They are like the man who leaves his marriage when the romance fades. His idea of marriage is based on experience rather than a covenant. He doesn't need another experience. He needs to commit to the relationship. When he does, he will experience the benefits and blessing of the relationship for which he seeks. In the same way, it is that the Word of God rather than spiritual experience that is the basis of our relationship with God. An experience cannot not validate itself. The Word of God is the only reliable criteria by which to judge and evaluate our experience. When Christians pursue experience at the expense of God's Word, they forfeit their only means of discernment and fall into the deception of embracing every kind of questionable experience simply because they or someone else experienced it. Can you see the end of this kind of experience based spirituality? The Scripture pattern for bringing people into a true knowledge and relationship with God is for God's ministers to preach the Word of God. Why? Because the day will come when people will not endure sound doctrine but will heap up to themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, the time will come when people will depart from the faith as they hunger for teachings and experiences found outside of God's Word.  As the faithful minister preaches the Word of God, people are sure be encountered by the God of the Word--the God of Truth. That encounter will be either positive or negative depending on their response. Preachers must preach the Word in such a way that people are brought into an encounter with the God of the Word. Because of their subjective nature, it is misguided to seek after experiences. We are to seek after God. As we seek the God of the Bible, experiences often--but not always--follow. Those who seek after God in Biblical ways will be granted all of the godly experiences they need. These genuine experiences will become a testimony to the truth of God's Word rather than a testimony to the experience itself. God's Word validates experience and not the other way around. Therefore the truth is, "A man with the Word of God is never at the mercy of a man with an experience."

Memorial Stones

Yesterday Grace Fellowship celebrated our 25th Church Anniversary! I want to thank everyone who attended and especially those who worked hard to prepare for our celebration. During the preparations for the service, the Lord impressed upon me Joshua chapter 4 regarding the memorial stones that would remind future generations of what God had done. As I reviewed the past twenty-five years, I was impressed with thirty-two things that needed to be highlighted for future generations. I wrote each of these things on a different stone and placed them on a table as a memorial for future generations in our church. I am calling this the "Memorial Table" that will showcase these "Memorial Stones". It will grace our church sanctuary as a continual reminder of what the Lord has done. When we forget the good things God has done we either become unthankful or become lifted up in pride. We need to be reminded of where we came from in order to better understand where we are going. I hope you will take time today to reflect upon the important events in your past that God used to bring you to where you are today.
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