11 things many in the church, yes even YOUR church, are in denial about.

  1. America is a Christian nation. There are still plenty of “die hards” out there still holding on to fantasy land.  Contrary to wishful thinking, the moral high ground, once held by a more singularly focused majority of Christian/Catholic believers in America, has been ceded over to secular society and a cultural “Christian club” atmosphere significantly lacking in immovable and unchangeable standards.  The unthinkable 50 years ago in terms of marital, moral and societal character has become tolerated if not boldly promoted in more and more denominations and churches across the breadth of this country.  The mantra of being “on the right side of history” is being heard with increasing volume as the church attempts to “fit in” and be found relevant in the eyes of a society which has embraced a philosophy of “all of the above” when it comes to work and play.  A humble attitude of servant hood, holiness and intercession is more imperative than ever in our role as “occupied” Christians.
  2. Divorce is not that big of a deal. This is a topic which, in most cases, requires one to change the entire focus and origin of marriage from being one of sacrifice, commitment and servant hood to a focus of selfishness and a “what makes me happy” attitude.  Marriage was intended to be a picture of the unfailing commitment of God (the groom) to his people (the bride).  So for the church to let this institution fall from its rightful position of highest importance and honor is deplorable.  In fact, if any were wondering why answered prayer seems to be harder to come by these days one need only read Malachi 2:13-16 where God plainly states that our petitions and sacrifices are no longer acceptable because of the high divorce rate among His people.  These verses should be an aha moment for the church but instead is perhaps our biggest area of denial.  High divorce rates, which God clearly hates, are literally denuding the church of its effectiveness by surrendering this most important standard to the enemy.
  3. Pornography is primarily a problem among the un-churched. Patently FALSE!  YOUR men sitting in YOUR pews in YOUR church are viewing pornography at alarming rates.  All surveys indicate that pornography viewing among Christian men is on par and in some instances higher than that of their secular counterparts.  Here are some statistics spanning 20 years.  In 1996 an informal poll was conducted at a Promise Keepers conference which indicated that 1 in 3 of the attendees admitted to struggling with pornography.  By 2009 a poll conducted by the Barna Group found 21% of Christian men saying they were fully addicted to porn and a staggering 64% saying that they viewed porn at least once a month.  By 2014, just a short 5 years later, a new Barna poll saw that number had ballooned to as high as 79% among adult Christian males. This epidemic is also probably one of the single biggest contributing factors to denial #2.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/pornography-use-among-self-identified-christians-largely-mirrors-national

Footnote:  At a recent men’s meeting at our church only about 10% of the over 200 men present raised their hands when asked “who here feels comfortable praying with their wives”.  Likely there is a direct and devastating relationship between that percentage and the percentage of those viewing porn since what guy is going to feel comfortable praying with someone they are being unfaithful too?

  1. Our Christian youth are remaining chaste. Again, patently FALSE!  And again I’m talking about your youth in your church.  Partly as a direct result of denials #2 & #3 with the added enticement of denial #5, our youth see little reason or import in purity and chastity and are in fact seduced in the opposite direction by media, movies and moral relevance.  They have watched increasing numbers of grown adults, pastors or lay church workers getting caught up in divorce, adultery, affairs, pre-marital sex and pornography with little accompanying stigma, shunning or earthly consequences.  As a result, they have grown to view participation in these areas as inevitable and the status-quo.  What was once normal and healthy curiosity held back by well articulated and time honored standards of character and chivalry has morphed into rampant sexual experimentation run amuck as any consequences of sexual sin has been clouded as they witnessed the preceding generation’s promiscuity given a progressive wink and a nod.  What has become accepted as normal in the church has little resemblance to biblical or traditional virtuous behavior.  A study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy  conducted in December 2009 indicated that 80% of evangelical youth had had sex compared to the only slightly higher 88% of secular youth of the same age.  Young Christians simply do not understand or care “what’s the big deal” as the church has failed miserably in articulating to them the abundant blessings and benefits of sexual holiness nor the dangers, statistics of sadness, divorce rates and diseases related to rejecting God’s plan.
  2. With the things people wear now days, modesty is not that big of a deal. Historically, everyone would have agreed that men are stimulated visually.  With what “passes” these days as modest one would think this well established fact had gone by the way side.  I’m here to let you know that nothing has changed in the water as myself and all the guys I know are still very affected visually by form fitting, almost revealing and “cute is the new sexy” attire popular in today’s society.  And, truth be told, this is a contributing factor in denials #3 and #4.  In no way am I suggesting Burkas as the norm for Christians.  But surely we can find some reasonable middle ground between the biblically described “bloomers” under full length robes, as instructed for those who minister before the Lord, and the almost nothing is too tight or revealing practice we see common today.  One need only do a Google image search of “sexy jeans” to understand that the very popular leggings and skinny jeans are understood by society to be “sexy”.  Is this what we want to be seeing, teaching (by practice or acceptance) and displaying as normal among Christians.  I am suggesting that it should not be so.  When almost nothing is left to the imagination, as if men needed help with their imaginations (again see denial #3), where else can you go.  I do not believe I should have to put a guard over my eyes at church.  I have to do this all day long out in “the world” and I think church, at a minimum, should be a safe place for me, my sons and the men around me (to a person, this is the opinion of almost every guy I have discussed this topic with).  Men are drawn away because of their own lust and they can’t blame anybody else. My understanding of the “preferring my brother” concept in scripture has me, for example, forgoing alcohol around a brother for whom this has been a struggle in the past and see this principal as applicable in being considerate towards all with modest dress, especially the weaker brother.  And with the porn viewing stats in denial #3 it’s clear the overwhelming majority of us are that weaker brother.
  3. Why all the fuss about homosexuality? Simply put because it is sin and it destroys lives.  It is included in a long list of sins in Romans 1 including gossip, murder, envy etc. for which there is a punishment of death.  Churches left and right are falling all over themselves to capitulate on this subject.  The Pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, recently said “we have a lot of men and women who are gay in our church and I pray we always do”.  This was his way of avoiding taking a firm position on the acceptance of homosexuality after a couple of men in their choir (one on staff) announced they were getting married.  Can you imagine substituting a different sin in that narrative such as “we have a lot of pedophiles in our church and I pray we always do”?  That would be absurd (at least as of this writing).  Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God (no more or less than other sins) and even many in the gay community are skeptical about the goings on.  The following article is a fascinating read. http://thefederalist.com/2016/05/16/loveless-narcissistic-sex-addicts-a-gay-man-critiques-his-community/
  4. The voice of the prophet is pretty much gone/ignored. That would depend on where you look and what kind of prophecy you are looking for.  The last 3-4 decades has seen a different kind of prophet come on the scene.  They tend to be more philosophical, political or personal in their target subject.  I have no doubt that the Lord can use almost anyone to deliver His Word to His people.  I fancy myself as having prophetic leanings but I am constantly reminded that a jackass did it once which hopefully keeps my errant ego in check.  My personal take on the most common role of prophets (at least biblically) is one where the prophet indentifies areas of concern, gives a warning of impending consequences and offers steps of correction or repentance in order to prevent some or all of the fallout.  Having witnessed numerous “personal prophecies” which have been delivered to others, and even myself, over the past half century, I have not always seen these types of prophecies producing enduring fruit or valuable direction.  It certainly has happened, but it seems to be more the exception. Very recently some “prophets” identified a certain political candidate (now president) as “God’s man of the hour” – maybe, but also maybe not.  The main thing I believe is lacking when it comes to prophecy and the prophet today is accountability.  There were pretty severe consequences for false prophets in times past and I think many would think twice before opening their mouth if punishments were re-instated.  I do believe there are countless prophets today calling for holiness, integrity and commitment – unfortunately fewer and fewer are listening.
  5. God’s message is one focusing only on mercy. This one is a “two sides of the same coin” issue or one of both/and. One of my main mentors when I was a young adult was Dr. Charles Farah of the theology dept. at ORU.  He defined heresy as emphasizing one truth at the exclusion of another.  This is exactly what is occurring with the plethora of “feel good” preachers pouring in over the horizon emphasizing all the blessings and none of the curses.  The oft extravagant lifestyles and mansions combined with 6 & 7 figure incomes fly insultingly in the face of the lifestyle and message of the humble servant Jesus whom they claim to emulate.  It is these same preachers who have been the quickest to capitulate on whatever is trending in society in order to maintain their popularity as their income and lifestyles depend on it.  When a spiritual leader omits consequences or judgment from the narrative they likely do an eternal disservice to the hearer.  This is unconscionable on the part of these self serving demagogues.  The cost of discipleship is terminal as it brings us to the foot of the cross.  It is at this beloved monument where true acceptance and riches are found as we follow Jesus, embrace holiness and find true joy in the knowledge that Jesus took our judgment on Himself.
  6. Love wins! This is actually not an area of denial as much as it is an area where wishful thinking is taking a front row seat. I’m referring to the very popular book of the same name (Love Wins) by Rob Bell.  This is different than the preachers in denial #8 as Rob takes a more Universalist view of religion (I can’t bring myself to call it Christianity) in which any eternal consequences are non-existent, hell is not real and everyone will ultimately be “saved”.  I can understand the immense popularity of this message especially for those with friends or relatives who have not accepted Jesus.  The thought of some eternal physical punishment is not a happy one and to cast some spin on scripture which insures an eventual address in paradise is universally appealing.  The knowledge that we serve a patient God who is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance affords me the peace to leave ultimate judgment to His discretion.  But lacking a Judeo/Christian basis for a Universalist/no hell scenario, I cannot be party to a message which, according to the scriptures we have, defrauds the hearer by giving some transitory peace of mind.
  7. The road to heaven is wide and easy to find. No we would never actually say this, but the growth of the “Club Christian” atmosphere in the world defies the fact that scripture actually says the opposite is true. And although somewhat related to denials #8 & 9, this is perhaps the most sobering point to ponder here.  I have a love/hate relationship with the parable in Matt. 20 where the kingdom of heaven is described as being like a land owner who hires various groups throughout the day and then pays them all the same as if they had all work the entire day.  I especially like to think of God that way as I might be one of the last hires and I want all He has for me.  But then the prideful part of me sometimes feels like the one hired first with an inability to appreciate the last person getting the same as me.  I am so very glad to leave in God’s hands justice, reward and judgment.  At the same time, He did leave in our hands an abundance of scripture indicating there is both judgment and mercy.  In fact, it gives me great pause to consider the full context of Matt. 7:13, 14 which plainly states that the road to destruction is broad and MOST will find it and the way is narrow and hard that leads to life and FEW will find it.  God, be merciful to me a sinner and please help me find that most narrow of pathways that leads to life eternal!
  8. I’m sure these are issues in some churches, but not in mine. That is why I call this the top things many in the church are in denial about.  Having been youth pastors for the better part of 15 years in churches that would be considered very conservative and evangelical I can tell you my biggest concern is for our youth.  I say it that way because most all of the denials above which directly impact adults have devastating consequences on our youth.  Parents and pastors easily notice or identify problems with other churches or other people’s kids but are often blind to that which is closest to them.  I personally know several circumstances where cultural Christian young people are having sex while their parents, youth pastors or churches are clueless.  And I use the term “cultural Christian” very intentionally as this is the best way to describe the children of God fearing parents for whom Christianity is seen as a social identity instead of a relationship with Christ with eternal ramifications.  If you are in denial that these are issues in YOUR church, then this blog is ESPECIALLY for you!

I am not suggesting this is a complete list.

PS Abortion:  Thankfully this is not a denial in most churches.  But I am not sure all Christians understand the absolutely demonic nature of what has become such a norm in our society.  It is only in modern day in which the murder of babies either in or outside the womb has become acceptable.  It was only backward and barbaric nations which practiced the sacrifice of babies.  It was only amongst the most heinous of civilizations in which to slice a baby out of its mother and cut into pieces in their dying presence was considered the ultimate insult.  Here are some facts to have at your disposal if you encounter someone considering abortion and they have no “moral” reason not to.

  1. 31% of women having abortions report suffering physical health complications (1)
  2. 10% of women having abortions suffer immediate, potentially life-threatening complications (2, 3, 4)
  3. Women have a 65% higher risk of clinical depression following abortion vs. childbirth (5)
  4. 65% of women suffer symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after abortion (1)
  5. Women’s death rates from various causes after abortion are 3.5 times higher than after giving birth  (6, 7)
  6. Many women describe their experience as ‘a nightmare’, which can hardly be equated with ‘choice’. 60% of women surveyed after abortion responded that:’Part of me died’ (1)
  7. Suicide rates among women who have abortions are six times higher than those who give birth (7, 8)
  8. Abortion increases a woman’s risk of future miscarriages by 60% (9)

References

  1. Source: Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16, 2004.
  2. Frank, et.al., “Induced Abortion Operations and Their Early Sequelae,” Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 35(73):175-180, April 1985.
  3. Grimes and Cates, “Abortion: Methods and Complications”, in Human Reproduction, 2nd ed., 796-813.
  4. M.A. Freedman, “Comparison of complication rates in first trimester abortions performed by physician assistants and physicians,” Am. J. Public Health76(5):550-554, 1986).
  5. JR Cougle et. al., “Depression Associated With Abortion and Childbirth: A Long-Term Analysis of the NLSY Cohort,” Medical Science Monitor 9(4):CR105-112, 2003.
  6. M Gissler et. al., “Pregnancy Associated Deaths in Finland 1987-1994 — definition problems and benefits of record linkage,” Acta Obsetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 76:651-657, 1997.
  7. M. Gissler, “Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000,” European J. Public Health 15(5):459-63, 2005.
  8. Gissler, Hemminki & Lonnqvist, “Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: register linkage study,” British Journal of Medicine 313:1431-4, 1996.
  9. N. Maconochie, P. Doyle, S. Prior, R. Simmons, “Risk factors for first trimester miscarriage—results from a UK-population-based case–control study,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Dec 2006.

Note: Studies 6, 7 and 8 looked at death rates for an average for up to one year after the end of the pregnancy. Another study found that looked at suicide rates for up to eight years found that, compared to women who gave birth, women who had abortions had a 62% higher risk of death from all causes and a 2.5 times higher suicide rate. Source: DC Reardon et. al., “Deaths Associated With Pregnancy Outcome: A Record Linkage Study of Low Income Women,” Southern Medical Journal 95(8):834-41, Aug. 2002.

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Restoring the fallen!?

I, more than most, understand and appreciate the forgiveness of the Lord and the tremendous grace that has been poured out in my direction.  I am a sinner saved by grace and a repeat offender who has experienced the unmerited gift of forgiveness in my life where I continue to falter on the road to sanctification.

I also understand that scripture gives us standards and expectations for spiritual roles in the church.  The roles of elder and deacon have similar high standards and it would follow that these requirements, if not even higher ones, would be true for any role of shepherd or pastor as well.

There have been seasons in my life when I would not have met the minimum requirements for elder/deacon as not all my children were following the Lord.  That did not affect my salvation, but I believe it did disqualify me for certain roles in the church.  I also believe that sins which occurred prior to a salvation experience, in some cases, should not count as disqualifiers.  For example if someone had committed adultery or been divorced prior to salvation they might still aspire to the role of elder or deacon.  But let’s be clear, I do not see someone’s current character as some magic formula that guarantees Godly character in the future based on their past “performance”, but there is a reason such high standards were given as a threshold for leadership in the church.

And it is for good reason those highest standards have been set.  You need look no further than the highest office in our land, the presidency, to see how a lack of moral character there affects and changes the moral landscape for millions in the upcoming generations.  How much more influential would the person in the role of elder, deacon or pastor be in modeling character, or the lack thereof, for you and your children.

So if I consider a few of the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:  vs12 “husband of one wife” (which I interpret to be only one ever and not one at a time), vs11 “trustworthy in every way”, vs13 “excellent reputation”.  I would not consider someone who has had an affair or committed adultery as fulfilling those requirements. And it was with that interpretation of scripture I read with quite some confusion recently an article entitled “The Elephant in the Church”.  It was an article about a conference attended by over 50 pastors, among them Ed Gungor, Ted Haggard, Ruth Graham and others who have similar stories of moral failings in their marriages while holding church leadership positions.  The main point of the article covered the complaining as to how strict or limited the pathway to restoration was for them.  And by restoration, they meant restoration to the same position of leadership they held before adultery and affairs.  Keep in mind, many of these 50 pastors rejected the discipline their church elders gave them and went off and did their own thing anyway which for most resulted in significant monetary windfalls – and they are the ones complaining???  It would be like a bunch of college students who chose to get some degree that doesn’t serve them well in the real world and then sitting around complaining about having to pay the price of their burdensome school debt.

I want to be crystal clear here.  I am an absolute believer in full forgiveness and restoration of all sinners.  But my understanding of that restoration is a spiritual position in Christ and not necessarily restoration to some physical position of leadership at the top levels in the church.  Where there is full forgiveness for sin, there are also consequences for sin. And for a pastor/elder/deacon to betray the trust put in them by a congregation by choosing some significant moral sin, I believe scripture is clear that one of those consequences is a disqualification to hold those positions in the church.  Is it so radical that I want the upcoming generations to walk in such an awareness of the Holiness of God that they would have the Holy Spirit whispering in their ear (and if need be yelling) “there are consequences for sin”.

I look at it like this.  Say you are a trusted public bus driver and you choose to get drunk and are involved in a serious accident. It doesn’t mean you are any less of a person, but you should NEVER again be allowed to hold that trusted position of public bus driver.  It sends a terribly wrong message to other drivers not to mention the potential danger it would mean for those in your care.  I see significant moral failing in the highest positions of leadership in the church the same way.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be a SS teacher, missionary or evangelist.  But you have forfeited that most honored role because of the huge mixed message it sends to everyone that holiness and excellent moral character is “only mostly” important.

Are we that lacking of people with stellar moral character to fill these crucial roles?  Do we really want to send the message to our young people that character in leadership in the church is viewed the same way as in the secular society i.e. “wink wink, nod nod”?  In reference to the article mentioned above, I basically agree with main premise of the entire article and the need for the church to learn how to be advocates for each other in the restoration process.  But that agreement stops short of the part where restoration includes regaining the pastoral/elder leadership role once held.  The article speaks about the fear they experienced surrounding the exposing of sin.  Doesn’t this put the focus all on them and the struggles they are having?  I suggest the removal of the adulterer from the pulpit places the focus on the fear of God, where it should and creates an atmosphere of sobriety for the next person who might aspire to one of the highest offices in the church of Jesus Christ.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/elephant-church

“Cherry picking” how do we (the Church) decide what is right and wrong in each generation?

This blog is about trends in the church.  It is not a judgment, but rather general observations of how the “rules” of the church have been a moving target over the centuries and especially in recent decades and years.  Not all apply to all churches or denominations, but there are trends that are telling and I believe it is important for us to consider the how and why of trends in Biblical obedience especially as it relates to us today.

Not to put 100 years ago as some “benchmark” of holiness, but rather as a point on a historical time line of trends for which there was relatively little change prior to and significant change since.

Here are some generalities which applied across a wide berth of Christianity 100 years ago.  Divorce was almost unheard of and had a very negative stigma attached to it.  Virginity before marriage had a high value and those who fornicated were considered unclean, spoiled or “easy”.  Preaching on the doctrine of sin was a dominate subject from the preacher often with pulpit pounding “hell fire and brimstone” sermons.  A pastor wasn’t and didn’t marry a divorcee.  There were no questions relating to the acceptability of homosexuality.  Same sex marriage was not even on the horizon.  Acceptance of gay preachers was not a possibility.  Modesty, especially among those on the platform, included longer, looser fitting dresses for women and suits or ones best “Sunday go to meeting” clothes for men.  Make-up, fancy hair styles and lots of jewelry were rare.  Getting a tattoo was not an option.  People didn’t work or shop on “the Lord’s day”.  Even in my lifetime, if there was a store open on Sunday, there were “blue” laws prohibiting the sale of most non-food items.  Elders or deacons and their wives were held to the highest of Biblical standards.  Young people were included in “big church” right alongside their parents.  “The rod” was not spared in both church and home discipline.  Drinking was very much frowned upon ultimately influencing prohibition.

Almost without exception, all of the above practices of 100 years ago had their roots in specific scriptures which prohibited or commanded certain activities.  For example:  Lev. 19:28 ..you must not tattoo your body.., Prov. 23:13 …do not withhold spanking from your child.., 1 Tim. 3:11 ..a deacons wife cannot be a gossip.., Eph. 5:8 ..don’t be drunk with wine (alcohol).., Mal. 2:16 .. I the Lord God hate divorce & Jesus in NT Matt. 19:8-9 ..you divorce because of evil hearts and if you remarry except for adultery you are also guilty of adultery.., Lev. 21:14 ..a priest must not marry a divorcee…, Ex. 28: Those who serve around the alter were to dress extremely modestly – least they die.  I could go on, but you get the point that common practices of 100 years ago (and largely the previous 1900 years for that matter) had their foundations in scripture.

What has influenced such significant change in the last 100 years?  And although I don’t want to write more than necessary, here are examples as to why I ask.  Again, I am not making judgments here but rather objective observations.  Divorce is largely a non-issue in churches today.  Young people do not highly value virginity and most have little resistance or hesitancy to fornicate (and most parents are oblivious to this fact).  Immodest dress, by comparison, is not only common in church in general but even on the platform among ministers (short, tight, leggings, etc).  You can be arrested for spanking your children.  Young people have their own “age appropriate” services.  Everything is open on Sunday and many are required to work on Sunday.  We have same sex marriage and full acceptance of homosexuality not to mention male and female gay pastors and priest.  I recently witnessed the installment of a deacon/elder whose wife does not meet the wifely requirements found in scripture.  Many pastors are divorced, married to divorcees or have been caught in adultery with little if any consequences to “their ministry”.  I think it would have been in the mid 80’s when I last witnessed a pulpit pounding sermon on sin accompanied by shouts of how God hates it interlaced with God’s love for us as the reason we shouldn’t sin (thank your Brother Bill).

Because of the variety of scriptures being from both the Old and New Testaments, we cannot simply say, “well that was the OT”.  I also feel it is too convenient to say “well that was for an older time” since it is primarily “modern” history in which the greatest change has occurred.  Did the industrial or computer age affect God and His standards?   And although I picked a point 100 years back, most of these changes I have personally witnessed in my lifetime.  Can we really, with a straight face, say that we know better today what Godly modesty looks like than they did 50, 100 or 4000 years ago?  Has divorced somehow become sanitized and thus acceptable.  Do we no longer need pastors, elders and deacons to be of the absolute highest moral character?  Have scientist revealed some revolutionary DNA discovery that supersedes God’s laws on gender and sexuality?

I would love to hear your thoughts as to why it is you think we have had such an editorial view of scripture of late.  I suggest that pop culture with the aid of the information age has led to these drastic changes in the church.  And we are not without scripture itself warning against this.   In 1 John 2, the author gives a list of people to whom he is writing.  Old, young, fathers, little children, basically everyone; and he gives the clear exhortation to not follow all the popular cultural things that are happening in the world because they are simply not from God.

Give me your thoughts and where you think the next scriptural editing might take place.

“Wise as serpents and gentle as doves”

MYOB!  I would love for someone to show me the chapter and verse where “mind your own business” is the way forward with the Gospel.  There has been outrage in the past couple of days because the pope identified characteristics that he doesn’t see as being Christ-like (Christian) in Trump.  Frankly there are countless other characteristics in Trump which I feel more strongly suggest a lack of being like Christ (affairs, divorces, denigration of women, etc) than the suggestion of  building walls but that is maybe for another blog.  I am not going to debate Trump’s standing before God, but the outrage has followed something like this “no one has the right to question someone’s faith or religion”.

Really?  Why do we have missionaries?  Why do we have discipleship? Why do we have CR?  Why do we have accountability groups? Why does scripture – IN MANY PLACES IN BOTH THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS – command us to confront bad behavior with the judgment that we will be found guilty of the same sins if we don’t?  Why does scripture say that “by their fruits you shall know them”?

There is a huge difference between discernment and judging – judging is God’s role which is the authority to carry out punishment.  But the current decline of morality in both in the secular community and the church is a direct result of MYOB.  The Biblical fact is that we ARE our brother’s keeper.  And continued failure to act as such will only perpetrate the church’s slide into oblivion and insignificance.  Many wave the “judge not that ye be not judged” verse while ignoring all the other verses about holding people accountable – how’s that been working for us?  I personally have little interest in being part of one more social club to join and party with.  That’s not what I signed up for, that’s not what drew me to the cross and that is most certainly not what Christ died for.

So whereas building walls can be seen as being wise, to also look for ways to build bridges (done wisely) must also be part of the way forward for peace and the spread of the Gospel.

I will never be able to understand why the church has such a great desire to blend into the fabric of the world when every indication in scripture warns us against doing just that.  Never was a scripture more prophetic for today than “How narrow is the gate and strict the way that leads to life, and FEW are those who find it” – Jesus!

Where are the answered prayers of the Church?

Have you ever asked yourself the above question?  I sure have.  “Greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father”.  Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, calmed the sea and dismissed demons by simple commands.  For the most part, the church is not seeing very much in the way of similarity with what Jesus did much less the “greater”.  So I, you, we find ourselves often asking why.

I cannot say definitively that I have the answer, but I must submit this for consideration.  It’s not easy, it’s not politically correct, it’s not even religiously correct to suggest what I am putting forth as the likely barrier to our sacrifices and prayers not being answered or acceptable to our Holy God, but I must submit it nonetheless.

I will start by asking what symbol best represents God’s covenant with His people?  There are probably several good answers to that question, but I suggest the answer at the apex of that question would be the marriage covenant.  Marriage was the first institution God introduced.  He uses it in prophetic ways throughout the Old Testament (Hosea, Ruth, Malachi) and culminates the New Testament with the wedding feast of the Lamb to His Church.

God made His covenant to Abraham and His descendants the Jewish people.  Even though they have not always been faithful, perhaps even most of the time, He has remained faithful even to this day.  The story in Hosea was specifically scripted to illustrate the absolute faithfulness by God to an unfaithful “wife” (Israel) and even a wife that was un-pure to start with.  So for me, this places the marriage covenant as the centerpiece symbol representing the faithfulness of our God and potentially the greatest witness to the lost.  I say potentially because it would seem the church has discarded this holy covenantal union in exchange for easy no stigma divorce.  Discarded is a strong a word, but I always try and write with a nod as to how the world views the church and with the divorce rate at similar percentages in the church as in secular society we have on some level lost the moral high ground when it come to marriage – any kind or gender.

What I am suggesting is pretty radical in its implication and as such I will need to present some tedious academic supporting evidence.  But basically I am suggesting that a high divorce rate amongst Christians is one, if not THE reason our prayers often go unanswered.

In Malachi 2, Judah is crying out to God asking why their sacrifices and prayers are not accepted and God’s answer, not my answer-not Malachi’s answer and not the world’s answer, but GOD’s answer is because of the high divorce rate (paraphrased) with God stating emphatically that He hates divorce.  I’ll place bets you never heard that sermon before.  And here is where I must get a bit academic.

In the 1984 NIV version of Malachi 2:16 it reads in part “I hate divorce says the Lord God ..” and yet in the NIV 2011 version the same section reads “the man who hates and divorces his wife..”  Because I happen to be able to read and speak Hebrew and my wife teaches Biblical Hebrew I can tell you with absolute accuracy the more recent translation is categorically wrong to change the subject to the man hating and divorcing his wife instead of God being the one who hates the act of divorce.

This is not the only example of decades and centuries old translations being changed/softened on the subject of divorce.  Take the comparison of Matt. 19:9 in the American Standard Bible between the 1901 version And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.  And now here is the 1995 AS version of the same verse – And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality (almost all new versions now say adultery), and marries another woman commits adultery – part B of this verse is omitted entirely even thou it show up in 6 of the 7 main manuscripts most commonly used for translation purposes.  The King James Version finally caved to this “trend” with the American King James published in 1999.

What must be understood is that there are two very specific and different words used in both Greek and English to describe fornication (sex amongst non married people) and adultery (sexually breaking the marriage vow).  The Greek word for fornication (porneia – from which we also get pornography) is the word used in this text.  Because of this, in centuries past, this verse was clearly understood to mean that if, after getting married, it was found out that the girl (I embrace this applying equally to both genders) had fornicated but had presented herself as a virgin, then the husband had the right to divorce her or have the marriage annulled because it was under false pretenses.  Such was the case with Joseph’s initial inclination to divorce Mary privately.  This is also why the Catholic Church allowed for annulment, although that is totally abused in modern times to be for almost any reason.  But the more recent translations suggest that sexual immorality or adultery after marriage can be cause for divorce.  These are two totally different scenarios.  One is from promiscuity before marriage and the other after the vows are taken.

There is a story from the life of Jesus which would seem to support the 1900 year old understanding of Matthew 19:9 instead of the more modern trending interpretation.  If adultery was what the author (Jesus) intended, there would have been no need to address it as the clear and practiced punishment for adultery at the time of Jesus was death.  Remember the woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus.  Jesus totally agreed with the crowd that death was the proper punishment and encouraged those standing there who had no sin to carry out the execution.  You see, as harsh as it sounds today, there would have been no need to address adultery in the context of divorce at the time of Christ since the death sentence would have been assumed.  This would have freed the non-offending party to re-marry with no divorce proceedings necessary.  However death was not the practiced punishment for fornication.  In fact the practice of temple prostitution was not uncommon.

The reason this is such a vitally important distinction is because of what covenant is supposed to look like.  God has never wavered in His faithfulness to fulfill His covenantal vow to often unfaithful Israel.  That is the depth of commitment and love He displays in His promise, and He established marriage to be a blessing, a testimony and a witness of that faithfulness to His people and to outsiders.

I believe covenant marriage is right under salvation as the most valuable gift God has given mankind.  But why would God withhold just because of high divorce rates?  I can only offer a humble illustration.  Say God decided to build you a mansion (which He actually is) and He personally carved a magnificently beautiful front door as the first thing everyone saw when they came to visit.  But you take that amazing front door and put it on the back door or on the shed out back effectively removing it from its place of honor.  God doesn’t kick you out of the house, but He would likely be very hesitant to make further upgrades and improvements on the house until you return that special door to its rightful place.

I know the implications of what I am suggesting are radical and far reaching but there is no denying the fact that high divorce rates among His people was the reason He wasn’t responding to the appeals of Judah in Malachi 2.  You may not like that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless.  It is important to keep in mind that various punishments including invasion or exile were doled out by God for Israel’s “adultery”.  But even with all of Israel’s unfaithfulness, God never broke covenant.

I will give another example of modern translations bending to what’s “tending” in regards to divorce.  In Timothy 3:12 NIV 1984 version – A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well: and the same verse from the 2011 version – A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.  This same “accommodation” occurs in an increasing number of other translations which, simply put, allows the significant change from a deacon only ever having one wife (to which he is faithful) to allowing a deacon to be a man who is faithful to one wife at a time. This is a complete misrepresentation of that verse and the intended testimony of covenant marriage to the local Christian congregation as well as to the un-churched.

This is not an easy thing to consider and I know what I’m talking about.  Barbie’s and my marriage has not always been easy.  We had a very tumultuous first 5 years.  Fighting, yelling, verbal abuse and a lot of unhappiness abounded.  We looked at each other and actually verbalized something to the effect of “I don’t love you and I don’t want to be with you!”  Fortunately for us, and our kids, we were both raised that divorce was not an option and we got counseling, lots of counseling, got serious about loving and serving each other and fought through to victory and boy is victory SWEET!  I was talking to Barbie last night and she agrees that we would put our marriage up against any marriage for friendship, love, serving each other’s goals and joy.

I am not suggesting someone stay in an abusive marriage.  Neither am I suggesting that adultery should in anyway be ignored or glossed over.  What I am saying is that I completely embrace the sacred position to which the holy covenant of marriage must be returned to.  I fully endorse scriptures’ admonition that we only marry people who are born again Christians and who are submitted to Christ and His church.  But we can’t stop there.  I am also in agreement with the exhortations in scripture for people to not only be in committed fellowship in a local church but to also walk in absolute accountability for the character of their lives.  If we make the above commitments we will be placing tremendous safeguards to protect marriages and give support, rebuke and exhortation when one or both spouses gets off track.

And for those wondering about those who were married before they became Christians, we see clearly that you should stay married unless the unbelieving spouse is unwilling to remain married. 1 Cor. 7:13-15

In no way is this some judgment on those who have experienced the devastation of divorce.  This is an exhortation, going forward, for the church to make a recommitment before God to honor the covenant of marriage.

So I suggest the Church has a monumental decision to make if we want to change the status-quo.  Do we want the Father to come in power, hear our prayers and accept our sacrifices or do we want easy, no-fault and no-stigma divorce.  I believe it really does come down to that simple of a question albeit with a very weighty answer.  I’ve been watching the church for over half a century try almost everything else to coax the heavens open and for God to come in power, healings, miracles and those “greater works than these” with little to no avail.  Maybe we should try covenant level commitment, holiness and an honoring of God in our marriages – yes even when the going gets tough and when unfaithfulness raises its ugly head because that is the kind of commitment the Father has towards us.  And maybe, just maybe, the heavens will again be opened and the lost of this world would actually see something to desire, pursue and be jealous of.  It’s a huge decision, but decide we must.

And because I believe so strongly that this is key to the future power and testimony of the Gospel, I would ask you to consider sharing this blog with others to include your pastor.

I have attached a link below to one of the more annotated and referenced studies on the subject of tracking changes in translations over the years.

http://www.danielrjennings.org/arebibletranslationsprogressivelysoftening.pdf

Life’s consequences & harm reduction!

Growing up my parents emphasized the principal of cause and effect.  In essence, this was all about reaping what you sowed.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Where I have sown hard work and integrity I have reaped the benefit of a great 34 year marriage, a home, transportation, respectful and loving kids/grandkids and the peace of mind that only can only come from a clear conscience and a deep relationship with Jesus.  When I have tried to make shortcuts in life I have found the gain to be less than beneficial and short lived.

Take my shed for example.  Maybe I have had a trade show or a project in which I took my display or several tools out and when the show or project was over I didn’t take the time to put everything up in its place.  Sure it may have saved me some time on the front end, but in the last couple of weeks I have spent probably 15 – 20 hours picking up, organizing, cleaning and working on my shed as it had gotten to the place where I couldn’t even get around or find stuff.  I just wish I would learn my lesson because this is probably the 3rd or 4th time I have had to repeat this scenario.  But in the big scheme of things I haven’t really caused any long term harm or eternal profit from either my shed laziness or cleanliness.  There are other things of a similar nature to the shed story like taking aspirin for a headache because someone forgot to drink their morning coffee or drank too many Margaritas the night before.

Then there are things which seem like a good idea at the time but which can leave significant problems or devastation in the end.  Take the free distribution of clean needles to drug addicts or condoms to prostitutes or high school students.  Lots of good arguments can be made for trying to mitigate the negative effects of these challenges.  But truth be told, this kind of help serves simply as a crutch to enable bad behavior and which can even be viewed as tacit approval of the harmful activity.  Probably the most glaring example of this kind of “harm reduction” is abortion.  Someone is pregnant, they were raped, they have no money or husband and having a baby right now is simply not convenient to their current stage in life.

These examples are just a sampling of hundreds of tough life challenges which if practiced or handled in short cut fashion yield long term devastating consequences.  That is life without hope.  That is life without REAL help. That is life without God.  And life like that really sucks and most often ends in despair, desperation or worse.

God’s laws of conduct were not written to keep us from having “fun”.  The Father knows how harmful certain activities are and He was gracious enough to warn us and direct us away from danger by providing us with an operating manual for humans – the Bible.  Maybe you are one of those who thinks you should be able to huff paint fumes and not loose brain cells or share drug needles and be immune from hepatitis.  What about being able to have free sex or gay sex and not get a sexually transmitted disease or eat only junk food and not get sick.  But then you would be one who thinks he know better than God as He is the one who designed those consequences in order to direct, scare and keep us away from activity which hurts us.  A fair amount of our medical research and practices are harm reduction based as they are geared in the direction of trying to eliminate naturally occurring problems resulting from not obeying Gods laws.

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For Christians, there is a double whammy for not honoring God’s directions for life.  To start with you damage yourself (and often those around you) and secondly you damage the reputation of Christ.  I am amazed at how many young people who go to church and profess Christ have chosen to rebel against their loving heavenly Father as if they know better.  One of the most common indications of their rebellion is fornicating with their girlfriend/boyfriend and more recently delving into the same sex arena.

On some level the church only has itself to blame for this.  In many cases our churches and society have effectively removed many visible consequences and barriers relating to sin.  Whether sexual sin, gossip, divorce, gluttony or greed, we rarely correct, confront, rebuke or remove the offending brother, sister or couple.  Instead we offer marginally effective and short sighted, harm reduction (read sin consequence) alternatives.  You can get surgery to counter act your over eating and under moving, bankruptcy for over spending or under working, divorce for under committing or for over lusting, escaping to our private homes or changing churches for over talking (gossip) and adoption or abortion for being overly intimate.

Side Note:  On the gossip subject I think many people will just arrogantly stand there and do it anyway.

Actually I am in the harm reduction business as I manufacture and sell high security locks to prevent trailer thefts.  The tag line for my Ft. Knox Locks business is “Setting the gold standard in protecting your assets”.  You have to wonder how protected the “assets” of all those Ashley Madison customers feel about now knowing their names have been made public as having an account on the “Life is Short, Have an Affair” website.  Here was a secular company trying to eliminate or reduce any consequences for having an affair.  How did that work for millions?

There are naturally occurring bad consequences for sin and those consequences were inherently designed to hurt us and thus turn us away from harmful activity.  But remove or lessen the cost and impact of sin and guess what?  Sin abounds – who knew?  God knew: which is why He made a way to escape eternity’s ultimate judgment and perhaps even some of the consequences while here on earth.  Why don’t we focus on the fact that there are abundant and wonderful benefits for honoring and obeying God’s laws?  But instead people have been trying for millennium to skirt the consequences of breaking God’s laws to no avail.  It may seem that some succeed or that they succeed for a season of time.  But sincere Christians must stop banging their heads against the laws of God.  You will lose in the end.  And you are just as likely to take others with you down that broad and socially accepted road that leads nowhere but self gratification – and then you die.  But for those who choose the narrow, unpopular and less traveled road labeled “servants of the most high God” those good consequences and promises of the Father await.

Christianity and Scuba diving, how clear is your water?

My wife and I have our advanced open water certification for Scuba diving.  We are only able to go every 3 or 4 years but when we go we plan on going somewhere the visibility is 50’ minimum.  The reason for this is because we got our initial open water training in Oklahoma lakes where 5’ – 10’ visibility is considered good and where some of our training dives had even less than that.  So I’m sure you can appreciate why we prefer clear ocean water.  When you go over the side of the boat and stick your head under the water and can see a good chunk of a 500’ ship 70’ below you which was sunk as an artificial reef, that is something to behold.

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So we don’t like diving in muddy or murky water; you simply can’t see what’s really going on.  I think this illistrates how many Christians view certain trending or popular causes today as if through self induced murky water.  Nobody wants to offend, we all want to be seen as compassionate or understanding and the authority of scripture becomes the casualty as it is just gets glazed over and ignored in the process.

An example of how we have witnessed this scenario played out in real life has even been with some of the people who have had significant influence in our Christian lives.  While teaching or exhorting devotion to God and adherence to scripture, they at the same time seem to be offering an overabundance of, what would appear to be, compassion to friends or family who are walking in significant moral sin (read homosexuality or fornication).  These are not situations where someone slipped up and “fell” into sin, but rather blatant moral violations of scripture for which they remain unrepentant.

In one situation like this we asked about the open acceptance of “brothers in the Lord” who are violating God’s law.  The reason given was a reasonable one along the line of “we are supposed to visit those in prison”.  I can fully appreciate that answer.  But later when Christian ministry by the sinning brother was encouraged or even facilitated, that goes well beyond the visiting in prison motive and is a lot more than I feel comfortable with.  I feel the same about so many who freely accept as normal those family members who profess Christ but are living together or are involved in some other sexual sin. Some go so far as to refer to the most recent live in partner as the husband or wife.  There is no other way to describe this other than validating and putting a stamp of approval on the sin.  This muddies the water of scripture which causes even more things to become unclear.

These types of circumstances are extremely challenging.  Over the years, Barbie and I have had to make the very heartbreaking decisions to break off fellowship with some who, while professing Christ, were at the same time engaging in clear and specific violations of scripture (1 Cor. 5:11). We seem to be in the great minority in embracing this weighty yet effective biblical practice of shunning.   Many a tear has been shed as we made appeals to some for repentance and change.  But frankly, without it being a church wide effort, our little boycott had little impact, but we could not allow that to change our conviction to not violate scripture.

Don’t get me wrong, this is heartbreaking stuff, and if you think it was easy to call the police on one of our own kids and kick him out of the house because of drugs, you are so very mistaken and all this was during a time when he was still attending church and posing as a Christian. Thank God for answered prayers for our sons’ return, but he had to hit a pretty low bottom before he looked up.  But then that is a vital part of the conviction of sin process.  Those walking in sin actually suffer the consequences of rejecting God’s law which brings with it sadness, aloneness, depression and a sense of loss and desperation.  And it is in that state of mind where God’s heart of love and grace is waiting to rescue.

I want to be as clear as I possibly can be; to look the other way with tacit approval of unrepentant sin is to encourage it and to short circuit the cost and conviction of sin process leading to salvation.  Those who continue unrepentantly in sin are in danger of the most severe judgments from God.  So how can one defend a position of “compassion” while perhaps enabling the unrepentant sinner to go blithely on down the road to destruction?  Add to that the fact scripture requires you to warn them or you become guilty of the same judgment and your misplaced compassion may well be ushering more than just one into hell.  (Ezekiel 3 & 33)

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This brings me to the bottom line of this blog.  I must give warning to those who would muddy the water of the doctrine of sin to the point where you cannot even tell right from wrong.  I’ll return to my scuba diving experience to bring an illustration.  Those coral formations and fish seen at the Japanese Zero or the sunken ship are actually very bland and grey to look at.  Why, because at that depth, most of the light spectrum is filtered out and you have to add artificial light from a flashlight or camera flash to bring out the colors.  And even though those formations are beautiful once artificial light is brought, one must never forget that the Japanese plane on which they formed went down in flames as a result of enemy fire from us (US) and the 510’ Spiegel Grove went down at the hands of friends who intentionally sunk her by cutting holes throughout her hull.  Especially the Spiegel Grove offers wonderful and majestic views which is the very thing that makes it all the more difficult to keep in mind it’s a scuttled ship dead and buried in the ocean.  And neither that plane nor that ship will ever again be or do what they were intended except by some great miracle.

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Sunken ships & planes are one thing, people on the other hand are of far greater interest to our miraculous God who stands at the ready to pierce the fog, murky water or whatever might stand in the way of redemption.  If we truly love that errant brother or sister, we must choose to partner with God instead of being a barrier to His work of grace.

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So many Christians have joined the trending mantra of “being on the right side of history” when it comes to acceptance, equality or the latest pop culture hobby.  It’s as if there are 2 roads, one wide and the other narrow.  Christians, in droves, can be seen cutting across the median from that narrow road to the wide road, shouting ahead to the un-churched masses “wait for us, we’ll catch up”.  Short sighted and blinded by the muddy water, they are doing this to feel accepted on that right side of history road.  And whereas that road will be very broad and well populated, it will nonetheless come to an abrupt and horrible end.  By the way, that other rougher, unpaved and narrow road is labeled eternity.  (Matt. 7:13, 14)