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Yesterday’s Forbidden Bible Verses examined Luke 17:20-27, wherein Christ discusses the kingdom of God.
In Matthew 24, our Lord explained that the world would endure many travails before that time.
Today, many believers over the age of 50 wonder what happened to our secure Western world where, even when people didn’t attend church often, our societies respected biblical values.
John MacArthur’s monthly letter for September 2014 discusses the Church’s travails today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
Perhaps, like me, you grew up in America when there was widespread, cultural Christianity. There was a kind of Christian consensus. To some degree, people understood the church, the Bible, and the gospel. They accepted the Judeo-Christian ethic. While most people weren’t genuine Christians, there was still superficial acceptance—or, at least, tolerance—of a cultural Christianity in politics, business, education, and public life.
But where are we today? … There is no more cultural Christianity; there is no collective Christian consensus wielding any significant power in this country. In fact, the more biblically that true Christians speak and live, the more they are being labeled as extremists, homophobic, intolerant, and guilty of hate crimes. We are now aliens. And I think we can all foresee a day when being a faithful Christian will cost us or our children dearly, and in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a decade ago. I think we’re closer than ever to living in conditions like the people did in the book of Acts.
His letter says that the first Christians, a number of whose experiences feature in Acts, led difficult lives with some dying as martyrs for the faith.
Although many mainstream American clergy would say that Western churchgoers are far from being persecuted, the trend in Europe is towards a continuous denigration of Christianity which started in the last century and ramped up gradually after the Second World War. The same trend is coming to the United States, just at a slower rate of speed.
MacArthur also takes issue with churchgoers who think along extremist lines as well as those who adopt an everyone-is-saved outlook:
For years I’ve been concerned by the church’s pursuit of cultural change through political and social activities. Large swaths of Christians have placed enormous time, energy, money, and hope in the wrong places. Hand in glove with that thinking, superficial, cultural Christianity has blurred the clear lines between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world, and has softened the hard demands of the gospel, making professing Christ easy and without cost. As a result, churches have been filled with highly religious, superficially moral, self-righteous people who don’t understand the gospel and are self-deceived about their true spiritual state.
We’re in a lot of trouble, certainly.
That said, MacArthur sees a silver lining now that Christianity stands in such sharp relief against an increasingly secular world.
His solution is a simple yet powerful one:
Scripture teaches and church history confirms that the Body of Christ is most potent and most effective when it simply speaks and lives the gospel without equivocation or apology. With the mask of superficial Christianity gone, I believe the best days for the spread of the true gospel are ahead of us.
The gospel advances by personal testimony to Christ, one soul at a time. When the church acts like the church; when shepherds preach Scripture and confront error with clarity and boldness; when believers are sanctified, built up, and equipped in truth; people are saved. And that’s when the culture truly changes—nothing transforms the culture like genuine conversion.
As Christ said (Luke 17:21):
the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.
MacArthur echoes this:
Our confidence is in Christ and His perfect, powerful Word. Nothing brings us greater joy than seeing that confidence spread in and through God’s people, to His glory and honor.
I know a vicar who is determined that his congregation do something ‘big’ and bombastic (in the nicest sense of the word) for their local community. Thankfully, no one has contributed any suggestions as to what this might be. Still, he perseveres because he says that our God is a ‘great, mighty’ God. Therefore, they must do something works-based to show their faith.
So wrong on so many levels!
Isaiah 64:6 says:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
If this vicar and his congregation were to adopt MacArthur’s long-standing approach of preaching and teaching nothing but Christ through Holy Scripture, then they truly would be honouring a great and mighty God. This doesn’t mean giving sermonettes and handing out tracts on street corners, but it does require that believers competently answer questions on what they believe and why they believe it. This involves prayer and regular Bible reading. The latter, in particular, moves us away from error and easy-grace Christianity.
May the wisdom of the Holy Spirit prevail upon them and us to adopt John MacArthur’s decades long — and highly successful — one-soul-at-a-time conversion to biblical Christianity.
May God continue to bless those converts and those who have returned to the faith after a long absence.
The Revd Walter Bright has an excellent post on the short New Testament book of Philemon.
Philemon might not be well known to some Christians, but, as ‘Refreshing Times of Reconciliation’ explains, it is nonetheless an important letter which St Paul wrote to one of his converts Philemon concerning the man’s slave Onesimus, who also converted.
Philemon is loath to forgive Onesimus for stealing from him then fleeing to Rome. Paul counsels Philemon, encouraging him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ.
Bright’s post gives us a concise exegesis with concordance of the letter to Philemon in a seven-step route to reconciliation. Here is a brief sampler:
3. There is always a time of refreshing when we humble ourselves in the process of reconciliation… See verse 10 ( I appeal)
4. There is always a time of refreshing when we validate one another… when we recognize the worth of others… See verse 11
6. There is always a time of refreshing when we see each other clearly… See verse 16; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17 (no longer a slave but a brother)
Then comes this superb observation:
After reading the book of Philemon, we come across the names of God and Christ, but not once is the Holy Spirit mentioned. But, I can tell you, by the time you get through these [']7 refresh my heart challenge[s'] Paul gives to Philemon, you are in for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. The Spirit will release his presence in ways you’ve never experienced.
If you haven’t read Philemon before, now is the time. Then, read Bright’s post with its encouraging words.
Many unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.
They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.
Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.
To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.
John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.
The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):
Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”
An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.
Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.
John MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.
MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.
John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.
The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.
Also (italics in the original):
The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).
MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.
With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.
They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:
1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour
1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness
1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ
1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate
1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder
1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience
1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief
1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation
1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first
1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water
1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols
The closest I get to praying for those who have seriously wronged me in the past is to send a blanket prayer of asking God’s blessing on everyone in the world.
I mean it. It is sincere and I do hope God blesses them. That includes my enemies.
However, for those of us who are our own worst critics, finding out that someone else is piling on the dirt needlessly is, well, nearly unforgiveable. Yet, Scripture tells us we must forgive those who offend us. And those words are in the Lord’s Prayer.
In it, he says that the best way to reach them is not by lecturing them but by showing them a godly and Christian example.
What follows is an excerpt, so please be sure to read his entire post (emphases mine):
The hardest thing to do is to pray for people who don’t like you, could care less about you and are mean-spirited toward you. It’s even more difficult to preach or teach to these same people without being bitter toward them in your sermons. Our calling is to pray for the people of God and not punish them for their sins toward us. We easily fall into sin when we fail to do the first thing – commit to prayer. You will never fulfill the second part of this calling if you fail to obey the first. A lot of pastors use their preaching as pay back to mean-spirited church folk. I have done that before and it is wrong
º Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
º Be angry and sin not
º Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath
º Give no opportunity to the devil
º Let the peace of Christ rule your heart
º Cast all your anxieties and care upon Jesus – He cares
His post contains a very useful compilation of ways we can commit to praying for our enemies — and, possibly, encourage them to mend their differences with us.
If you, like me, find praying for a specific nemesis — past or present — difficult, this is a post well worth consulting.
Pastor Ashcraft of Mustard Seed Budget has a thought-provoking post on a few famous men of letters.
In it, he says (italics in the original):
It amazes me that people can read Hemingway and not turn to God. They embrace his hopelessness and rail against God. His message led him to commit suicide at 61. The Bible says: You will know the tree by its fruit. In other words: Before you buy into someone’s message, see if it worked for that person, at least.
Fellow Christians cannot help but agree. Some would say not to read the writings of such men, yet, Ashcraft enjoys Hemingway as a storyteller, not as someone whose outlook on life should be followed.
Please read his post to find out more of what about happened to Hemingway and other faithless men of letters such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.
The Revd Walter Bright’s site is well worth a visit for words of conviction and inspiration.
A few weeks ago I referred to his helpful post on various types of prayer.
His post ‘Joy is strength: How can I increase it?’ is another thought provoking entry.
Over the past 35 years, the notion of personal ‘happiness’ seems to have overridden our former and greater priorities.
I remember in the late 1970s when young people used to ask each other, ‘Are you happy?’ Hmm.
It’s difficult to be happy when you’re at university or just starting out in the world. So many things interrupt or delay that temporal — and fleeting — feeling. It seemed a silly question to ask at the time. It still is.
Mr Wright puts things in perspective for us with regard to happiness — and joy. We often confuse the two. Excerpts from his post follow; please visit his site to read it in full.
He uses Nehemiah 8:10 as his text:
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
He introduces the biblical context of the word:
Webster’s Dictionary defines joy as “a feelings of great happiness” but there is something much richer and deeper from God’s word about the word. This is because joy is more of an “elevated and spiritual kind.”
and elaborates further (emphases in the original):
Joy is God’s will
But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13. It is his will for us to serve with joy, have joy in difficult times and grow in joy.
Joy comes bursting out of salvation
Psalm 126:1-3: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth were filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.” Joy is a gift from God through salvation.
This part particularly resonated with me:
Joy is not happiness
2 Corinthians 7:14.
“I have confidence in you; I take great pride on your behalf. I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy in the midst of all our suffering.”
The word happy comes from the same word as happen. When things are going great, we are happy. Joy, however, no matter what’s happening – you still have it.
If the joy of The Lord is my strength, then the more joy I have the more strength I get.
If you want to find out how to increase your joy and become stronger spiritually, follow Wright’s inspiring — and surprising — advice.
The Revd Walter Bright has a concise post on seven types of prayer which is a marvellous apologetic for communicating with God.
As he says:
In short, prayer is not just asking and receiving from God it is life with God, intricate, deep, living, a thing not only to enjoyed – but also understood.
In an age where many of us are reluctant to pray because it’s ‘boring’ or ‘time consuming’, Mr Bright offers good reasons to pray. Here are two (emphases in the original):
1. The Prayer of Praise. Verse 13… “you should sing praises” Somebody once said, “praise is the plow that prepares the heart for the planting of the promises of God.” In Acts 16:18-30, Paul and Silas experienced its power when they decided to life up a praise in their midnight hour of chains and pain.
6. The Prayer of Labor. Verse 16… “The fervent prayer.” Thomas B. Brooks once said that “the best prayers often have more groans than words.” 2 Corinthians 11:27; Isaiah 66:7, 8.
I would suggest an eighth — The Prayer of Thanksgiving — especially for good (or bearable!) outcomes from stressful or life-changing events. Exams, surgical procedures, financial worries, moving house and new jobs spring to mind. Supporting verses include Psalm 95:2-3, Psalm 28:7 and Psalm 106:1.
So often we wonder, ‘Why doesn’t God help me?’ Two reasons might account for that. One, we don’t talk to Him through prayer nearly enough. Two, we might be ignoring Him when He is trying to get through to us.
The more we pray, the more we appreciate God’s grace, the Holy Spirit’s guidance and Jesus as our only Mediator and Advocate.
In it, he explains how he reads and studies the Bible (emphases mine below):
The more you know about Christ, the more likely you are to reflect Him.
And that really is the Christian life. As I look back at my life and all the years of study and tens of thousands of hours of going through the Scripture, whether I’m writing books or preparing sermons, or writing notes in a study Bible, or whatever, all of my efforts to understand the Scripture do not end with the understanding of the Scripture. My goal has never been to know the facts of the Bible. It isn’t that I want to know Bible history, or that I want to know what’s in books and verses. That’s not the end, that’s only the means to an end. I want to know Him. Paul said, “That I may know Him.” It is the joy of my life to find God in the living Christ on the pages of Scripture. The more I study the Bible, the more glorious Christ is to me. The more I understand the Scripture, the more majestic and magnificent and awesome Jesus Christ is and my worship and my service to Him is a direct reflection of that awe. A limited view of Jesus Christ produces a limited capacity to worship and limited motivation to serve. The great objective of Scripture is to know Christ so that you can love Him more, so that you can be swept away as the hymn writer put it, in wonder, love and praise. It’s not about knowing the Bible, it never should be. Knowledge puffs up. It’s about knowing Christ. Not some mystical knowledge, not some knowledge induced. Your lack of understanding about Christ cripples your worship and no amount of music and no amount of sort of spiritual mood-inducing is going to produce true worship which rises out of an overwhelming wonder concerning Christ.
So whenever we gather together, it is Christ who is the goal and the end of everything we learn. Everything I know about the sinfulness of man makes me love Christ more because He brought an end to all my sin. Everything I know about the glory of God makes me love Christ more because I see God fully revealed in human terms that I can comprehend in Christ … He’s the theme of all of Scripture.
This is why it is almost painful to read or listen to so many notional Christians who subscribe to erroneous beliefs: Arminianism, universalism, mysticism, Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), gnosticism, theonomy or liberation theology.
Nothing in the New Testament points to any of those.
Yet, the stubborn say, ‘I’ve read it already’ or ‘That verse doesn’t agree with my personal belief’. I read a long thread last week about the HRM on another blog; one HRM advocate said (paraphrased), ‘Well, as I don’t really know the details of the New Testament, I cannot say’.
Read Holy Scripture and discover the truth it reveals. If you’ve actually read it, reread it. It contains a wealth of knowledge which helps us understand Christ all the better. And in understanding Christ, He draws us closer to Him and we better reflect His example in our own lives.
As MacArthur says, isn’t that the purpose of the Christian life?
Excellent starting places in the New Testament are the Gospels of John and Mark as well as the Epistles Hebrews and Romans. And why not try the Grant Horner Bible Reading System? It’s easy to follow and takes but one half-hour a day.
Following on from yesterday’s post on politicians’ sexual peccadillos, a more general social outlook sees a plethora of unsettling news stories from the West.
A brief sampling includes sexual experimentation by preteens involving porn and rape, an abusive (soon to be ex-) husband who grabbed his beautiful wife by the throat in public, the ‘right’ some believe they have to deface public or private property, the hate born of extreme nationalism based on neopaganism, the expanding presence of powerful street gangs (the 21st century Mafia), urban bankruptcy, colour-blind juvenile delinquency (it involves many races), the denial of humanity to toddlers and abortion. There is much more.
Whilst we lament these destructive elements, the Revd Walter Bright reminds us that we, too, suffer from our own pernicious temptation and sin in this regard. I cited his post on New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner yesterday and it is too good not to reprise:
Even though some of our weaknesses may not lead to a public scandal, every one of us has a Weiner in us. For some it is pornography, prostitution, strip clubs, money, alcohol, the party life, groupies, gossip, boasting, exaggerating, sexting, anger, masturbation, hustling and dealing. It is that thing that we wrestle with, fight against but it keeps coming back to knock us down …
It has a grip on you. It is stubborn. It is not easily overcome. It is almost like a “dog going back to it’s vomit” and a lot of Christians have a little of Weiner in them. They fall down and get up, they are hot, than they are cold. No matter how hard you try to cut loose, you are caught in its web. It is that thing you get easily addicted to …
The Weiner in you is pleasurable. It is the thing that keeps you coming back for more. Sin has a lot of pleasure in it. I don’t think anyone will be doing it in the first place if it wasn’t fun. But the tricky thing is that pleasure is fleeting and temporary. It bites in the end, and always lead to death – spiritual death.
At the Anglican-Episcopalian site Stand Firm, the Revd David Ould wrote about Charles Saatchi grabbing his (for now) wife Nigella Lawson’s throat at a London restaurant:
… when we fail to honestly take responsibility for our behaviour and acknowledge the sin within us we deny ourselves any opportunity to be forgiven or to rebuild broken relationships. Which is bad enough with others, whether they are our spouse or not, but even worse (and yes, it is possible to be even worse than this) when it comes to the way we relate to God. And never forget that the mercy available from God is even more spectacular.
To save us from judgemental moralism, aren’t we all in danger of being Saatchi?
The Revd Timothy V Shockley Sr also addressed the breakdown of society with the following excerpt from the best selling book, Are Christians Destroying America?, by Pastor Tony Evans:
When you see a culture that’s deteriorating look closer and you will probably see a people of God who have withdrawn from the culture and turned it over to the unrighteous to rule. Consider: when Christians began abandoning inner-city and urban neighborhoods, taking their skills, resources, and moral influences with them those neighborhoods deteriorated.
When Christians left the public school system, moral values were systematically erased until they became almost illegal to teach. When Christians vacated the media, then a spiritual approach to defining everything we hold dear went with them. When Christians decided they ought to get out of politics then righteous political decisions left with them. These realities are magnified in minority communities one of the beauties of integration is that minorities won the right to live anywhere they want, but one downside has been that much of the expertise and moral consciousness of the minority community left the inner city leaving behind an absence of the models who are desperately needed to give a community vision and stability. God’s people have been called to penetrate society. Don’t get me wrong, evangelism is always first because without forgiveness of sins, anything else we give a person is temporary. We have been called first and foremost to win people to Christ. But having given a person Christ for eternity, we must also give him Christ in history. We must give him hope in time. The absence of righteousness in our culture has everything to do with the absence of God’s people penetrating the culture. When there is no yeast the bread stays flat, and when there is no Christian influence the culture stays flat.
(There is only one item I disagree with somewhat and that is the sentence relating to urban neighbourhoods. It’s a bit unfair to the many residents who are God-fearing and peaceable. On the other hand, some people moved out way too early, but having lived in such an area and with a now-deceased widowed grandmother who was the last elderly holdout there, the day comes when you just have to move. With Grandma, it was the random stones (from strangers) through the windows, some of which missed her by inches, and the teen burglars who broke in once during the middle of the night. Did they have a surprise when she burst out of bed at the age of 72 in her pyjamas dashing towards them and shouting. Unfortunately, by then, they had already taken a heavy chain to her television set and brick fireplace. She sat up the rest of the night near the front door, which couldn’t be relocked. She lived in her house for another ten years.)
This isn’t a call for theonomy by any means. However, Holy Scripture calls us to lead a life of goodness and truth. When we excuse certain behaviour to each other or our children because we harbour indifference and deny the family structure — or we offer as excuses ‘helplessness’, ‘identity’ and modernity — then we are enabling a corrupt, violent, valueless society.
Setting the best example we can is a good start towards a remedy as is explaining to each other and to the next generation why certain things are plain wrong.