Tag Archives: sin

It’s Not About Me… John 3:22-30

Several of the churches in my area send postcards by mail advertising the latest sermon series or newly launched program. I’m always curious when the pastor’s picture is featured prominently on the card, sometimes to the point of dominating the message. What is church all about, really, and who takes center stage?

(John the Baptist’s words): “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30 ESV

After Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Scripture tells us that He and His disciples went into the countryside. People came to Him, and He baptized them. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples asked John about this, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:26) It’s a perfectly understandable concern, really. John the Baptist had drawn crowds for quite some time, baptizing many for repentance from sin as he announced the presence of Jesus the Messiah. Now Jesus’ time had come; His public ministry was well underway. And, with that, John the Baptist had fulfilled his purpose. It was time to step aside.

How easy it would have been for John to let ego cloud his judgment. Had he shown bitterness, resentment, or envy at the fact that people were flocking to Jesus instead of to John, I suspect that many would have understood those feelings. Instead, John took his rightful place.

Egoism is a prevalent trait in our sinful world. As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, egoism is a condition in which a person’s motives are driven by their own self-interest, sometimes with an overt display of self-importance. We see this all the time, don’t we? Be careful here. While we may be tempted to think that politicians, athletes, entertainers, or successful business executives have cornered the market on egoism, the reality is this: Even “regular” people like you and me can be overcome by an air of egoism manifested in feelings of entitlement, self-centeredness, or perhaps through overtly seeking attention for ourselves. We have many avenues through which we feed our egos – ever hear of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter…? Yes, I am as guilty as anybody when it comes to putting myself out there in social media and taking pleasure as the “follows”, “likes”, and “retweets” come. Don’t misunderstand me; I think social media is great. I get news and information via social media. I stay connected with friends through social media. I also take hiatus from social media from time to time when I start to feel like it is dominating how I spend my time.

What is really important? What is it that should supersede everything else? John the Baptist knew that it was Christ.

So, back to the postcards. Since egoism is such an easy trap to fall into, I suspect that many preachers and teachers are sorely tempted, and even give in to the temptation once in awhile. While some postcards prominently featuring the smiling face of the church’s pastor raise the question, I know not to judge a book by its cover. But I wonder what those preachers talk about in their sermons. Do they present the Gospel? Is their message focused on Christ and the fact that He suffered and died to save us from the eternal damnation we all deserve because of our sin? Or do they feed egos by telling their flocks that God wants them to be happy; He wants them to be rich. Is the message they deliver each week about Him? Or is it about the people and their quest for happiness and self-esteem? Do they take the stage accompanied by pounding music and raucous applause or do they quietly, humbly, and contemplatively step to their position to deliver the Word?

What about the music and those who deliver it? Are they more concerned about their appearance and what the congregation thinks of their presentation? As they lead worship, do they move or dress to draw attention to themselves, or are they entirely focused on leading the congregation in worshipping the Lord? In my church, the congregation commonly applauds after the choir or soloist sings and after various ensembles offer their music. To be honest, as a musician I’m a bit uncomfortable with the applause, and I constantly remind myself, “this isn’t about me.”

God called John the Baptist to a very specific ministry. John was to announce to the world that the Messiah had come:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” finally they said, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:19-27 ESV

My role as a Christian is to announce Jesus to the world as He commanded in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). It is not to draw attention to myself in doing so. Yes, I want to sing well as a member of the choir and when I assist in leading worship. When I play bells, I want to hit the correct notes at the correct time at the proper volume. I want to do those things to give glory to my God and my Lord. I confess that I am sometimes tempted to relish in the applause when it comes; God forgive me. As a Christian, I must also lift my pastor and all who preach the Word in prayer, that they would honor God in presenting His Word and that they would present His Word faithfully, truthfully, and forthrightly.

John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming to the world, just as he was called to do. And, as Christians, we are called to do the same. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

Ponder This: What is my attitude towards God? What is my attitude in worship, especially when I play a leadership role in the service?

My Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You and You alone are worthy of glory, honor, praise and worship. Even so, I confess that I sometimes forget that, as I focus on myself and what others think about me. I confess that I sometimes give in to the temptation to bask in the positive feedback others give me to the point at which it overshadows You. Forgive me, renew me, and continue to lead me on the path of sanctification. Help me use the gifts and talents you have so graciously given me to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Sources:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Scripture text from BibleStudyTools.com

The Prosperity Gospel: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Modern day Christendom is under invasion by a false teaching. The teaching is very attractive to a society whose members want to call the shots, desiring to accumulate for themselves increasing wealth and material possessions; a society in which the primary focus is achieving happiness in this life.

“You have a Bible right when you plant a seed to expect the God of the universe to give you a harvest; to give you a debt-free home, debt-free cars, jobs; to give you financial interest, to make you a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” ~ Televangelist Todd Coontz as featured on bennyhinn.org.

Known commonly as the “Prosperity Gospel”, this teaching and those who promote it are deceiving Christians all over the world into believing that God exists to meet our physical and emotional needs and wants in this temporal life, most notably physical healing and the accumulation of wealth. They attempt to support their doctrine with Scripture, albeit via significantly errant interpretations of several key passages of Scripture.

Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary David W. Jones wrote a piece entitled 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel for The Gospel Coalition. Jones states that the prosperity gospel has its doctrinal roots in God’s covenant with Abraham discussed in the book of Genesis.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to Jones, Prosperity Gospel teachers misinterpret God’s covenant with Abraham to be about blessing him and his descendants with material wealth; that God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendants was simply that they would be rich! Both Orthodox Christianity and Prosperity Gospel proponents teach that all believers are children of God’s covenant with Abraham; thus, we all participate in the blessings that God promised in this covenant. Prosperity Gospel proponents err in their understanding of what construes a “blessing” in this context. This blessing is not about material wealth or personal happiness. The blessing is about our perfect rescue from the eternal consequence of sin; sin that each one of us commits daily. Sadly, teachers of the Prosperity Gospel have reduced God’s covenantal promise to nothing more than a large bank account. As a wise man once said, “you can’t take it with you.”

The Prosperity Gospel is a completely backwards understanding of God’s relationship with His creation. The “name it and claim it” ideal in Prosperity Gospel teaching says that one must have faith in order to receive the blessings of God – material wealth, physical health, and other temporal gifts. With enough faith, all one must do is “claim” or “expect” the blessings he desires and God will provide them. If the blessings don’t follow the claim, then the faith of the believer is said to be deficient – sort of like trying to buy a can of soda from a soda machine using a counterfeit coin. Since the coin is counterfeit, the machine won’t dispense the drink. Does that sound like the God of Scripture to you? God is not our cosmic granter of wishes. We exist to give praise, honor, and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Prosperity Gospel preachers tend to be very skilled in presenting their message. They speak with authority and charisma, often accompanied by colorful light displays, booming sound systems and emotional music. Todd Coontz, in preaching the message quoted earlier to a roomful of screaming admirers, was accompanied by organ music under full vibrato, as if that somehow validates his message. The package is quite attractive and the message is compelling on its surface; thus these teachers draw huge crowds. Jesus warned us about such teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15 ESV

Is calling Prosperity Gospel teachers “false prophets” and “ravenous wolves” a bit harsh? I don’t think so. In preparing this piece, I visited the websites of several known Prosperity Gospel teachers, including Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and others. Each website I visited offers a link to the teacher’s statement of faith. In a quick read, everything they say in their statement of faith appears copasetic with an orthodox teaching, but digging a bit deeper reveals the falsehood of their gospel. Benny Hinn’s statement of faith, for example, includes this statement,

“…all believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (bold text added for emphasis)

Sound good? Sure, it does! We Americans are some of the most “entitled” people in the world! No wonder people are flocking to this message in droves! Tie this statement of Hinn’s to his featuring Todd Coontz screaming “You have a Bible right…” on his home page and you have the Prosperity Gospel in a nutshell.

I have been burdened for the Christian Church in America for quite some time. As I read and learn more about the Prosperity Gospel, my burden is increased. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 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. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 ESV

Many good and decent people have been drawn into the falsehood of the Prosperity Gospel. My heart breaks for them, for the true promise of God – the promise that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross and that we believers will spend eternity in His presence – is not the focal teaching in Prosperity Gospel churches today.

What is your church teaching you? Is it teaching you that God wants you to be rich, and that your faith entitles you to wealth? Is it teaching you that lack of wealth and lack of good health are the result of a deficiency of your faith? As Coontz stated in the quote above, is your church teaching that you can be “…a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel?” Friend, if your church is teaching these things, please hear me loudly and clearly: That is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! If this is the teaching of your church, run through the nearest exit and never look back.

Here is the true Gospel: God created man in His image. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and has pervaded our existence ever since. Sin separates us from God, and because God is holy, righteous and just, He must punish all who are guilty of breaking His laws. But God is also loving, kind and merciful. Because He loves us so much, He sent His Son to die as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. Only through faith in Jesus are we washed clean from the guilt of our sins, and only through Him are we given the hope of eternal life in God’s holy presence.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

Jesus sacrificed Himself for you and for me, not so we can build wealth and gain earthly health, but so we can be saved for all eternity. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If this is the teaching of your church, you’re in the right place.

Ponder This: Which is truly the greater blessing: Health and wealth in this temporal life or life eternal in the presence our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your name is to be magnified through all the earth. Forgive our sins and grant us saving faith in the redemptive sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ. Open our eyes and our ears to Your Word. I pray for all who sit at the feet of those who preach a deceiving message. Give each of us discernment to recognize false teachings and lead those false teachers to true repentance. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Sources:

The Gospel Coalition

Got Questions.org

BibleStudyTools.com

A Truly Good Life ~ John 3:1-21

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

Registered trademark for Life Is Good, Inc. Photo Credit: businesswire.com

“Life is good.” In the mid-1990’s an apparel line was launched by Life is Good, Inc. According to their website, the company’s mission is to spread the power of optimism as they remind us that life is not perfect, life is not easy, but life is good. Featuring their eye-catching logo (pictured here), the apparel line quickly grew in popularity; I had a few of their t-shirts myself. This is a good, relevant, and healthy message. I like it. But in the grand scheme of things it is not complete.

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again.’” John 3:5-7 ESV

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus and Nicodemus. Photo credit: catholicireland.net

Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It is rich with meaning and insight. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a leader in the Jewish synagogue. The Pharisees as a group had been badgering Jesus with trick questions and false accusations since He began His ministry. Here, at night, Nicodemus approached Jesus in private, as if something in his heart was leading him to believe that Jesus was something more than a carpenter who taught with authority (verse 2). Nicodemus seems genuinely curious about the Lord, but to approach Him in a manner offering credibility and respect in public would likely have resulted in great personal trial for Nicodemus.

These days, we tend to toss the phrase “born again” about rather casually. But this is a big deal, really. In this passage, Jesus describes a changed person; one who evolves from having been born of the flesh to one who is now born of the Spirit. This is a new life; a life with a focus beyond the things of this world. It is a life rooted in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of the overriding principles of Scripture is that the person who truly loves the Lord knows, first and foremost, that his salvation is solely rooted in the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. There is nothing any of us can do to earn our salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16-17 ESV

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Photo credit: newjerusalemcoming.com

Through Christ, God’s work of salvation is perfectly completed. We believers are the humble recipients of His mercy (not receiving the condemnation we rightly deserve) and His grace (receiving salvation from Him, even as undeserving as we are). What does this have to do with being born again? Having received the gift of salvation through Christ, our lives ought to change in response. When we are born again, our priorities ought to reflect God’s priorities, not those of the flesh: the sinful world in which we live. Sadly, however, this is not the case. If each of us is truly honest, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that we still cling to the things of this world even as we live under God’s mercy and grace.

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the 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. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” ~ John 3:19-21 ESV

Friends, these words of Jesus ought to give each of us pause; they certainly do me. I have complete confidence in the redeeming work of my Savior, but I still catch myself living in the flesh every day. When I examine my life in the light, I realize there is still a lot of darkness that needs to be dealt with. And I want to deal with it. I want to change the things in my life that point to the flesh, and instead, point to my Lord – not because it is a requirement of salvation (it is not), but as a product of my love and gratitude for my Lord.

Such change is difficult, for we face significant headwind from our society, which appears to grow more in love with the darkness with each passing day. But even worse is the trend we are seeing in some Christian churches to embrace some sins of the flesh over God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. Don’t believe me? Consider, for example the casual approach to marriage and divorce in many churches or the trend towards legitimatizing LGBT relationships by practice and even by rite in some cases. The enemy wants us to reject a life under the Spirit and, instead, live by the flesh. Sadly, he has successfully influenced several major Christian denominations towards embracing such things. Indeed, living in the light under the Spirit is not easy, but it is what all Christians are called to do.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ~ Philippians 2:12-13

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

Travel Bible study. Taken 9.15.2013, Chicago, IL

As believers, we are not to stand quietly on the sidelines and wait for something to happen. We must arm ourselves, not with weapons, but with the knowledge that comes from reading and studying God’s Word. We must read our Bibles daily. We must be in prayer, asking God to reveal His eternal truth through His Word and arm us with the loving words of witness to people, even some within the Church, that so desperately need to hear the Truth. Living the Christian life is about humbly accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation, sharing the good news with others, and living a holy and God-pleasing lifestyle in response; even in the face of criticism and persecution from secular society and misguided brothers and sisters in the church.

Jesus revealed to Nicodemus the Pharisee the fact that He is God and Lord, that He came to save the world from the eternal consequences of it’s sin, and that a life reborn of His mercy and grace is a different life, indeed. All believers are called to live that life. It isn’t easy and living under the Spirit does not make us perfect. But if you think that life is good living under the flesh, try putting yourself under the love, grace, authority and power of Jesus Christ. It is then that you will discover how truly good life can be.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to save me from my sins. Help me to respond by sharing the Gospel, even in the midst of deepening darkness, and by helping me live my life according to Your good and perfect will as revealed in Scripture. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.

“I hate the Church” – An Open Letter

Dear Christian Friend,

My heart aches at your statement that you hate the Church and have left her fellowship. You say the Church is full of judgmental hypocrites. In a way, I can understand why you might say that. I believe you when you say you love the Lord, so as a fellow believer, I hope you’ll consider a few things.

I attend church for several reasons. First and foremost, it is a place to offer worship, honor, and praise to the One who sacrificed His perfect life on the cross to save me from the consequences of my sins. Can I praise God while listening to Christian music in my car? Yes. Can I praise Him as I admire the beauty of His creation? Of course. Are those offerings of praise pleasing to God? I believe they are. But it’s in church that I sit side-by-side with Christians from all walks of life, lifting our voices in unity together in praise to the Lord. That energizes me; it rejuvenates me. There is no replacing that. When I miss church, I miss church and I can’t wait to go back.

You say that churchgoers are judgmental. What you call judgmental is really Christian accountability at work. Once we connect with the Gospel and become saved, the desires of life begin to change; such is a sign of one who is truly saved. A healthy church will teach us what a Godly life looks like through Biblical preaching and teaching and encourage us on our Christian walk. I want my fellow Christians to help me along the path of sanctification. The Bible even encourages us to hold one another accountable (see Matthew 18 for example). We do so out of love for one another, not to win a “gotcha!” game. I get it – we don’t always get this right; there are jerks in church. There are jerks at work, on the roads, at the airport, and in the grocery store, too. Are you going to quit your job? Are you going to quit driving your car? Are you going to hole up in your house to avoid the jerks in life? Of course not.

You see, the church is full of sinners. Sinners just like me and just like you. Sinners who know the Lord, seek to live lives pleasing to Him, and make lots of mistakes in the process. Sinners who rally around the fallen and support him as he seeks to mend his ways. Sinners who lift one another in prayer in times of illness, unemployment, mourning, and other difficulties. Sinners who, though well intended, sometimes say the wrong things. Sinners who throw themselves on the mercy of the Cross, just as God intended. Your decision to leave says, in effect, that you think you are better than the rest of us. That, my friend, is the sin of pride rearing its ugly head. If you really stop to think about that, I know you will realize that you’re not. We’re all sinners. We’re all saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We all have room for improvement. We need each other. We need you and we want you to come back.

Friend, you have a lot to offer the church, just as she has a lot to offer you. The things that you say have driven you away from the church are the very things that should draw you inside. I hope you will reconsider. I hope you will come back. I’m praying for you.

Your Brother in Christ,

Jeff

Playing the Blame Game – Genesis 3:9-19

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” ~ Genesis 3:13

In reading this passage during my morning time of Scripture, I immediately empathized with Eve. I recall several occasions on which, as a young boy, my parents caught me doing something wrong, and to avoid the consequences I knew I deserved, I tried to shift the blame from myself onto somebody else. Even in adulthood, with the light of the truth shining in my face, the easiest means of escape often seems to be a shift of blame or a change of subject. We all do it; we all seek to protect ourselves when confronted with the reality of our own sin.

Here is where it all started. The serpent deceived Eve and Eve, knowing it was wrong, ate of the forbidden fruit. Eve in turn offered it to Adam and Adam, also knowing it was wrong, ate the fruit. God confronted Adam with his sin and Adam blamed Eve, and when confronted by God, Eve blamed the serpent. Each of them sinned, and each tried to pass the buck when confronted with their wrongdoing. At least we’re consistent!

Although the serpent initiated the sin, God punished all three – Adam, Eve, and the serpent – and the punishments still apply to their descendants today. The first ever Blame Game failed to deliver the outcome Adam and Eve desired. God saw through the charade and issued a just and severe punishment.

These days, we often respond to sin with a wink and a nod. “Boys will be boys” after all. But sin, all sin, is a big deal in God’s eyes, and in His righteousness He demands accountability. Remember, we always have a choice when faced with temptation. And when we succumb to the siren song of the serpent and commit that sin we know we shouldn’t commit, there are consequences. Sure, we try to shift the blame, and our rationale may sometimes contain a grain of truth. But that does not excuse us from the sin we committed.

As I considered this passage I was struck by the hopelessness of sin. Have you ever caught yourself doing something you know is wrong and wondered, “how the heck did I get here?” I have. It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. It’s disappointing. The Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, even felt this way at times:

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. ~ Romans 7:19-25

Where, then, is our hope? Our hope is in the One who gave His life as the complete and perfect punishment for all of our sins – past, present, and future. That Hope’s name is Jesus. Without Him, we are lost. With Him, we are forgiven and we look forward to eternal life in His holy presence! With that knowledge, we seek to live our lives in a manner pleasing to Him – not to save ourselves, for that is impossible – but as a loving response to the selfless action of a loving God.

Yes, we will stumble. We will succumb to the serpent’s siren song. We will sin. And when we do, God calls us to lay our sins at the foot of the cross, trusting in the everlasting mercy, love, and grace He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ, to all who believe. Through faith in Him and Him alone, we are justified and made righteous. Therein rests our hope.

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