Where To Draw the Line

Last time, I wrote about how to defend yourself against deception. This time, I want to think about where we draw the line when it comes to Bible teachers we disagree with.

What I mean is, no single teacher has everything 100% correct. And if you are looking for a theologically perfect teacher, then you will be searching for a very long time. All of us are on a journey, including those with a gift to teach, and so there may be elements of their teaching which is not quite correct.

Myt question, therefore, is where do we draw the line?

Clearly if someone is teaching blatant heracy, we should avoid them like the plague. You probably don’t need me to tell you that! If they teach that Christ is not the only way to God, or that we can earn our way into heaven (as examples) then have nothing to do with them.

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 (WEB)

Usually however, false teaching is rarely so obvious.

I was listening to a sermon the other day and was learning from what was being said. At one point however, the speaker made a comment about God’s Sovereignty. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and so I was perhaps more attentive to such a statement than I might otherwise have been.

What they actually said is not relevant here, but it suggested they had a more liberal view of what God’s Sovereignty actually meant. It was a passing remark, and not a full statement of their beliefs. What if though, they had a mistaken or false view of God’s Sovereignty? Should I abandon the teaching altogether and forget all that they said?

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, like some others, is a critical doctrine and so likely affects all other aspects of our faith. If we have a wrong belief about such a foundational truth, then that will likely have a knock effect on what else we believe.

There are some issues in the Bible which I think are fundamental. I mentioned some of these above, but would also include the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. There are other matters however, which are perhaps less clear cut and there is space for believers to disagree (agreeably).

So how can we decide if we should listen to and accept one Bible teacher’s lessons over another?

There is no easy answer I’m afraid. I cannot give you a single formula where you can plug in certain factors and get out a Yes or No answer.

We must start with what I discussed last time. We must attempt to gain a systematic and complete view of Scripture. The better we understand the Bible as a complete message, the easier it will be to detect false teaching when we encounter it. And by “false teaching” it could be mistaken teaching rather than deliberately deceptive.

As I said last time, we must interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. We must not take individual verses and make a new doctrine out of them. Context helps us understand what the message is meant to be.

Secondly, i think we should take each case in its own right. There may be a difference between us listening to a single message from someone, and us choosing to regularly sit under their teaching. A single message may be fine, but when we sit under someone’s teaching for a length of time, we will inevitably be learning more about their perspective and theology.

While of course we need to be on guard, I also don’t think we should be closed minded. Within reason, I try to listen to a variety of teachers in order to try to gain a wider perspective. That’s not to say I swallow any and every teaching that comes along, but if you only listen to one teacher, you only get that one perspective.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must take everything back to God in prayer and His Word. If you encounter a teaching which you are not sure about, then take the time to see what the Bible says about it. Instead of just listening to a teacher, discuss it with the Teacher. Be a Berean!

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17:11 (WEB)


But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

John 14:26 (WEB)

Understanding the Bible is not an easy or simple task. It is a complex book, but it is meant for believers. If you know the Lord and are seeking to follow Him with your life, then the Bible is there for you. Speak to God about it and He will teach you from it. It may take a lifetime to learn, but it is worth every effort you put in.

I hope this has been helpful.

Do Not Be Deceived

But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.

2 Peter 2:1 (WEB)


Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (WEB)


Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Ephesians 5:6 (WEB)

 

I’ve been thinking about deception lately. The Bible carries many warnings to the believer to not be deceived. But how do we do that?

The problem with deception is that when you are suffering from it, you don’t know. To be deceived means to be completely ignorant of a false belief. If we don’t know that our beliefs are false, then how we can we ever escape from deception’s grasp?

One of the most amazing benefits, and also biggest risks, of our modern world is our free access to information. Even within the church world, you can turn on a Christian TV channel or radio station 24 hours a day and access “bible teaching”. Likewise, you can dive into social media and follow all manner of Christian teachers.

I myself write a blog and have written and published a book. Anyone can. There is no body or organisation to check that the materials one can put out are correct and true.

With all of this access to information, and more specifically Bible-related teaching, how can you ever be sure that you are hearing the truth? One denomination teaches God sovereignly controls everything, and another that He does not. One teaches that the Gifts of the Spirit were for the early church only, and yet another that they are for the here and now. Some teach prosperity, while others poverty. Who is right?

Deception is like a mask we don’t know we are wearing. So how do we take it off?

A Firm Grasp of the Bible

The only way to avoid deception is to have a firm grasp of the Bible and its teachings. You will never be able to guard yourself against false teaching if you do not know what the Bible says. And you must know it for yourself – not merely based on what someone else has told you.

We are all sometimes guilty of not taking our faith seriously enough. Like anything, to become an expert, we must invest time and effort into it. We cannot hope to build a deep and strong knowledge of the Bible based on a short sermon once a week on a Sunday. Imagine a Cello player who only played for 25 minutes on a Sunday morning, and didn’t touch their instrument for the rest of the week. They would never be a master musician.

We must not only read the Bible, but study it on a regular basis.

The way we study is also very important. You may consider this blog, or a Christian book, or a sermon, as ways in which you can gain a better understanding of the Bible. That is true. And can certainly be a good thing, if the teaching is sound.

The issue comes when we look at passages of Scripture in isolation. The only way to properly interpret the Bible is in the light of other Scripture.

Too many of us, myself included at times, take a verse or passage, and don’t properly apply its context. What I mean is this – take Jesus’ encounter with the rich young rules. Jesus meets a man who claims to have followed all the commandments since his youth. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. What lesson can we learn from this encounter?

Is Jesus teaching that all believers should sell all they have and give it to the poor? Is He saying that it is a sin to be rich and that we all ought to have nothing? If this was the only verse in the Bible which talked on the subject, then we might draw that conclusion. However, there are many verses in the Bible about material possessions and the dangers of wealth, but also many describing poverty as a curse.

We cannot take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it.

Continuing with the example of wealth and material possessions, you can likely turn on your TV today and find someone on a Christian TV channel preaching on prosperity and how it is God’s desire for His people. Is that right? They might quote Philippians 4:19 which says:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (WEB)

This is a wonderful promise, but is it a promise to you? You won’t know unless you understand who wrote it and to whom and any prerequisites such a promise might have. Here, it is written by Paul to a set of believers who were partnering with him in proclaiming the Gospel.

My point is that we must take a wide-angle view when studying the Bible. Further than that, we must take a systematic view. We cannot just snatch small chunks of the Word, take it out of context and then proclaim it as the full truth.

To avoid deception, we must have a thorough and systematic understanding of what the Bible teaches – as a whole. When we have that, we are far less at risk of falling for a false teaching.

Not everyone can go to Theological or Bible college, but we can all be “theologians” in our own right. I think it was Graeme Goldsworthy who said, “Every Christian should be a theologian.”

Don’t be put off by the term, it just means that each of us must be responsible for understanding the Bible. There are many tools available to help us do that.

Remember no one individual or denomination has 100% perfect theology. We are all growing and learning, and I can certainly say for myself that as I learn more about the Bible, I adapt my views. This is growth.

Remember also that not all false teaching is deliberately designed to steer you away from the truth, and it may simply be a gap in the teacher’s knowledge. Irrespective of this though, deception is dangerous and can lead us away from God.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit

Alongside having a thorough and systematic view of Scripture, we must also seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance through prayer. God can and does give us wisdom, and the Holy Spirit wants to lead us into all truth.

It would be dangerous to do this without a strong knowledge of the Bible, because you would not know if you were hearing from God through the Spirit, or another source such as our own mind or the enemy. As long as we have the framework of the Bible, then we can and should seek God’s guidance. We know that God will never contradict His Word.

Removing the mask of deception

To be rid of deception, we must be open and honest with ourselves. As we study the Bible, we will no doubt encounter truths that don’t align to our beliefs. When that happens, we must be honest and ask ourselves what we really believe.

It can be hard to face the truth. You may have read my blog posts last year about the Sovereignty of God. I had been taught that God does not control every single aspect of life, and that humanity is free to do what it wants. As I studied the Scriptures, it became clear to me that what I had believed was not really in line with what the Bible said. I had to adapt my views, and accept, no matter how uncomfortable it was, that I was wrong.

I see this as a good thing. I would rather go through the pain of changing my beliefs to more closely align to the Bible, than to stay under the mask of deception.

I pray for myself and all of you, that God will reveal all areas of our lives where we are deceived. And that through proper study of the Bible, we will all be able to guard ourselves against false teaching and deception in all its forms.

Conquering Fear (Audio)

Here is the audio from a sermon I gave a few weeks ago at a local women’s retreat. It is about Conquering Fear and comes from the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm.

I’m sorry about the quality of the audio, and hope it doesn’t distract too much. My microphone seemed to pick up the traffic noise more than me for some reason! I also have my youngest daughter around to “help” me at times!

 

Feed My Sheep (Audio)

Here is a short talk Andy gave at the Morning Praise service in the Parish Church in St Osyth. It was on John 21:1-19 – text below.

 

After these things, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.”

They told him, “We are also coming with you.” They immediately went out, and entered into the boat. That night, they caught nothing. 4 But when day had already come, Jesus stood on the beach, yet the disciples didn’t know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus therefore said to them, “Children, have you anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”

They cast it therefore, and now they weren’t able to draw it in for the multitude of fish. 7 That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around him (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits[a] away), dragging the net full of fish. 9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fish, one hundred fifty-three; and even though there were so many, the net wasn’t torn.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”

None of the disciples dared inquire of him, “Who are you?” knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Then Jesus came and took the bread, gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples, after he had risen from the dead. 15 So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Most certainly I tell you, when you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked where you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.”

19 Now he said this, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. When he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:1-19 (WEB)

How To Be A Welcoming Church

I happened to catch an episode of “Veggie Tales” the other morning while my children were watching it. If you are not familiar, it is a kids show starring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. In this particular episode, Bob had taken on a job of Chief Greeter at a local shop. He started off enthusiastically and later grew more and more weary, growing hoarse from saying “Hi!” so often and his cheek muscles no longer able to hold his smile.

It got me thinking about the subject of this week’s post on how to be a welcoming church.

It is essential that every church be good at welcoming people. It is especially crucial for those visiting for the first time. I once heard it said that people have decided whether they are coming back long before they hear the sermon or the worship music, but based on the kind of welcome they receive.

What follows is not an exhaustive “how to” guide, but rather a few thoughts on how to improve the welcome people receive when coming to your church.

Churches are never as welcoming as they think they are.

I once went to a church where, without anyone saying a word, I knew I had taken somebody’s seat. I just felt that I had done something wrong, and that I had somehow happened upon a seat which had been sat in by the same person for a very long time. As I recall, no one came to sit beside me or to welcome me.

Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as it should be. If you are outside of the church, then you probably wonder what is so wrong with sitting in someone’s seat – and you’d be quite right! If you’ve been in church for any length of time, then you know how such habitual seating patterns can occur!

If I asked representatives of your church if they thought it was welcoming, there is a good chance they will say yes. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who said that their church is not welcoming. Yet, so many come away feeling unwelcome or even unwanted.

This should not be!

Irrespective of how good your church is at welcoming people, there is always room for improvement.

It’s not all up to the welcome team

At a church where I was once an elder, we discussed at length whether we should recruit people into a “welcoming team”. We wanted to ensure that when someone came to our church, that they felt at home, knew what to do, knew where to take their children if they wished and other such things.

Welcoming can often suffer from the bystander effect. This sometimes happens when there has been an accident or emergency, so many people are standing watching, that no one does anything to help. If we stood alone, we would know it was up to us, but it’s very easy in a group to assume someone else will do it.

On the one hand, we thought a welcome team would be a good idea as it would ensure that there was always someone there, ready to welcome and who knew it was down to them.

The problem was that those who were not on the team no longer felt it was their responsibility. “I’ll leave that up to the welcome team…” they would think. Not so!

It is everyone’s responsibility to welcome people into the church. Whether you are the pastor/minister, or on the leadership team, or a church member – it is down to you!

Discernment

The most important thing when welcoming someone is discernment.

When we approach someone to welcome them to the church, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and to discern what the person may need or want.

There are times when people come to church and want someone to sit beside them, hold their hand, or guide them through an unfamiliar service. They may want to be invited for coffee afterwards, or have someone to chat to before the service begins.

On the other hand, they may be a more timid person, or someone who has come because of loss or grief. In such cases, the person may simply want to slip in, sit on the back row, encounter God and then slip away before they are “cornered” by an over-friendly Christian!

While these are perhaps extremes, the point is that everyone who comes to church is different. They may want company, or they may want to be left alone to observe. Either way, when you welcome them, try to discern what is best. If you are not sure, you can simply ask! “Would you like any help?” “Would you like to sit with me?” “Can I show you where to get a service sheet or cup of coffee?”

The answers to such questions should give you a good idea of what the person is wanting. You just need to pay attention.

Everyone wants a friendly welcome, but beyond that we need to be a little sensitive at times.

It is not rocket science

Welcoming people really isn’t rocket science! If you see someone you don’t recognise, just go over and introduce yourself. Make them feel at ease like you would any guest to your home. You don’t have to pounce on them the second they come through the door, but don’t wait until they are putting on their coat to leave either.

We often overthink these things because we know that welcoming people is important, and we don’t want to make a mistake and “scare them off!” If you are a naturally shy person, then you might find it more difficult to go over and speak to a stranger. If you are – let’s say – socially overdeveloped, then you might find it harder to not talk their ears off!

I cannot say that a bad welcome is better than no welcome at all, as I’ve heard some pretty horrendous things about the kind of welcome people receive at times. However, if you are sincere, all you need do is be friendly.

Welcome Pack & Domestics

It is sometimes a good idea to have a welcome pack handy too offer to visitors. It might include information about service times, children’s activities, home groups, details of the pastor or leadership team etc. Some churches offer a small gift, such as a book, to those who visit. It can be a very helpful thing to someone who is not familiar with your church or how it does things.

Similarly, in our effort to welcome people, we can forget the obvious things. For example, offering a service sheet so people know when to respond to prompts (if your church has a particular liturgy) or directing someone to the toilets, creche or refreshments.

For some, it is a big step to walk into a church and it can be embarrassing to not know what to do or where to go. For many people, the children’s work is critical. Introducing parents to the children’s workers is important so that they have some confidence in leaving their children in a Sunday School or junior church setting.

Some even say that the quality of the coffee is important! If a visitor is used to Starbucks, then handing them a volcano-hot, watery cup of mud may not fit the bill! Is it important? Not compared to the church’s theology say, but for someone who’s never set foot in church before, I can assure you they are not really considering the kind of theology you practice. A bad cup of coffee won’t put someone off i’m sure, but why not aim for excellence in everything we do?

At what point do people stop being visitors?

Most of what I have said so far is probably more applicable to brand new visitors. But at what point does the visitor become another member of the congregation? After three visits, are they then “absorbed” and so no longer need to be welcomed?

I recall overhearing a conversation once where someone welcomed a visitor to the church. “How long have you been coming?” They asked, “I’ve not seen you here before?” The answer was unfortunate. “I’ve been coming for 18 months…”

While many churches are good at welcoming brand new people, they are rarely good at bringing people into the congregation. My wife visited a church once and on her first morning was asked to join the AV rota! On the other extreme, I know people who attended a church for several months and knew only a handful of names and faces. At what point does such a person give up and walk away feeling like they just couldn’t crack the shell?

It is not advisable to put someone into any position of authority or responsibility until you get to know them. But sadly too many people feel like they go to church and are just never integrated – for want of a better term! Our welcome should not be limited to those “new” to the church, but to everyone.

 

As I said up front, there is no church that cannot improve their welcome. Every single one of us has a responsibility in this area, and it is not up to the pastor, leadership team or welcome team. It is up to us!

Some refuse to welcome because they feel they are not good at it. However we will never get any better if we don’t practise!

As I have written this post, I appreciate it is a lot of practical things and sharing of experience rather than my usual biblical based teaching. I hope it has still been useful to you. Have a think and a pray about you and your own church this week. What can you do to improve the welcome your church offers? Perhaps you cannot get up and greet people, but maybe you can put together a pack or welcome leaflet to give to new faces.

The church is not a building, it is a group of believers. We are all part of it, and each of us can do something to help make the church a great place to be!

Come As You Are

I saw a pamphlet recently which gave me pause for thought. It was all about welcoming people into the church, and was specifically aimed at a particular group of people. The leaflet pointed out that God loves everyone, and so everyone is welcome into the church – irrespective of their lifestyle or background. It went on to quote Jesus, and told the reader that He welcomed one and all.

I take no issue at all with efforts by the church to be more welcoming. Churches are rarely as welcoming as they think they are, nor are there any that cannot be improved. The word “welcome” has a specific meaning though, and sometimes we think to be “welcoming” we must change everything that we believe and do, so that we do not offend. Wrong!

We think to be welcoming means to accept everyone who comes through the door, no matter what their lifestyle and never point out biblical truth to them. Take a practicing serial killer who refuses to give up their lifestyle of murder – how might we welcome them? Does welcoming them mean we also welcome their life of crime?

Next week, let’s look at what it means to be a welcoming church. For now though, I want to think more about what some seem to think welcoming means.

Quoting Scripture

One issue I had with the pamphlet is that it did not actually quote Jesus properly. In fact, it misquoted Him. I am all for quoting Scripture, but not for taking it out of its context and even editing it to make it say what we want it to.

In this case, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Come to me all of you and I will give you rest.” A nice message indeed, but not strictly what He said.

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 (WEB)

We see that actually Jesus did not say, “Come to me, all…” but “Come to me, all who labour and are heavily burdened…”

I know that some will think i’m splitting hairs here, but the danger is that we can take any Bible verse we like, tweak it slightly, apply it wrongly, and then make it say whatever we like.

Too many of us – and this can often apply to us “bloggers” – quote single verses here and there without giving sufficient thought to its wider context. We “google” a Bible verse which seems to support our point, and then paste it in. Sometimes that’s ok, but sometimes we take such verses out of their proper setting and imply a meaning that is not there.

Scripture must be interpreted by other Scripture. We must understand who is speaking and to whom, what the context of the chapter is, what the context of the book is, and finally how it fits into the whole of the Bible.

As I’ve written more lately, working on books, blogging, writing and recording sermons, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility. I do not want anyone to be misled who reads what I am teaching. No one has perfect understanding, and so we will all make mistakes along the way, but I hope and pray with fear, that God helps me to share only His truth.

Welcoming is not the same as approval

We believe in welcoming people to church, and preach the message “Come as you are!” Quite right too. No one needs to clean themselves up before they come to church! The church is full of people who know they need a Saviour! None of us is perfect, and if we were, we wouldn’t need Christ!

The problem is that many churches aren’t just saying “Come as you are,” they are adding on, “Stay as you are.”

“Come as you are” is welcoming, but “stay as you are” is not biblical.

Jesus welcomed everyone, but He taught them the right way to live. His message was not “Come as you are and stay as you are,” it was “Come as you are and repent!”

Let’s look at the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the middle, 4 they told him, “Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say about her?” 6 They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.

But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

9 They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. 10 Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.”

John 8:3-11 (WEB)

The first thing we notice is that the scribes only brought the woman to Jesus. Last time I checked, it took two to commit adultery. Where was the man?

The scribes here are clearly not trying to exercise moral law, but rather thinking they can catch Jesus out. If He condemns her, then it ruins His reputation as a Man of the people, and yet if He lets her go free without punishment, He breaks the Jewish law.

Jesus is cornered – right?

He drops down and begins to write on the ground with His finger. Many are frustrated that they do not know what He was writing. This is a mark of authenticity for the Bible, because if this story was fictional, then the writer would not have put such an untidy detail in. It suggests that the eye witness simply could not see.

Many have speculated about what Jesus could have been writing. I personally favour the idea that He was writing out the Ten Commandments. The ground where he stooped was not sandy or muddy, like we might imagine, but stony. And so the finger of God wrote on stone… remind you of anything?

He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.

Exodus 31:18 (WEB)

Assuming I am correct, then as the scribes began to read the Ten Commandments on the ground, they became acutely aware of their own sinfulness. And notice that the older ones left first. Perhaps the older we get, the more aware we are of our failings.

Jesus, fulfilling the Law, says essentially that she should be stoned for her sin – but let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. The only One who could do that was Jesus Himself, and He chose not to.

Acknowledging that no one had condemned her, Jesus tells her to be on her way. But He adds something very important. “Go and sin no more!”

Jesus welcomed this woman, despite her sinful behaviour. Praise God for this! However, He did not lower His standards in order to do so. Jesus was very clear that He did not want her to carry on living as she had.

When we welcome someone into church, we should absolutely meet them where they are. I am not at all suggesting we had them a list of rules as they come in, and expect them to abide by them from then on. However, at some point, we must share what we believe. If they want to go on and become a member of the church, then they must start living their lives in line with Christ’s teaching. Refusing to do so is a refusal to submit to Christ as Lord.

Where does the welcome end, and the teaching begin? That is not an easy question. As per my silly example at the start of this post, even if we could bring ourselves to welcome a practicing serial killer, they cannot continue this way and claim to be a follower of Christ.

Likewise, whatever sin we replace serial killing with, we too must give it up to follow Christ.

Being welcoming does not give any of us the excuse to accept sinfulness and not challenge it with God’s Word.

We will think about what it means to be a welcoming church next time. For now though, consider your own life. Are there sins you continue to hold on to, despite knowing what God thinks about them? Ask for His help to change, for you cannot do it in your own strength.

What is a Christian?

This may seem like an obvious question, but what exactly is a Christian?

Let me say up front that simply going to church does not make you a Christian. I think it was Joyce Meyer who said that sitting in church won’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will make you a car!

I’m deeply concerned about those who attend church each week, and yet are not really Christians. I do not want them to mistake church attendance for salvation and relationship with God. I do not want them to stand before God one day and find out – too late – that being a Christian is not about going to a particular building on a Sunday morning.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’

Matthew 7:21-22 (WEB)

Before I answer the question, I am not saying that church attendance is somehow bad. Far from it! In fact, it is necessary for all Christians to engage in regular fellowship with other believers. I am simply pointing out that our salvation is not based on our attendance record.

Being a Christian has nothing to do with where you were born either. Years ago, if you were born in the UK, then you might consider yourself a Christian because you lived in a “Christian country.” Sadly I do not think you can describe the UK this way any longer. Despite that, simply being born in a particular place also does not make you a  Christian.

You are not a Christian because your parents were, or because your grandmother was. Neither are you a Christian because you were “christened” or baptised as a baby. Again, I am not saying that baptism is unimportant, but just that baptism does not equal salvation.

So what is a Christian then?

A Christian is a follower of Christ – someone who not just believes that Jesus existed, but someone who has given their life to Jesus as both Lord and Saviour.

A Christian puts God first in their life. A Christian takes the Bible seriously. A Christian obeys the teachings of God, and a Christian is known by their fruit. This last part means that you do not identify Christians by their clothing, a fish on their car or a cross around their neck; rather, you identify a Christian by the contents of their life.

I can call myself a Christian, but if I act like the devil, then my actions speak louder than my words. That’s not to say that a Christian is 100% perfect the whole time, as we are imperfect and make many mistakes. However, we cannot claim to be Christians without some evidence that the truth of Christianity has impacted our lives.

James, in his letter, said this:

You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder.

James 2:19 (WEB)

Putting this in my own words; “You believe in God? Good for you – so does the devil! And he trembles!”

James makes the stark point that believing in God is not enough – not nearly enough. Even the devil and all the demons of hell “believe” in God. They even “shudder” at the thought of God. It is sad that this is more than many people do today.

I am stunned at the hubris of those who not only deny God, but blatantly mock Him. It is one thing to reject God, but quite another to poke fun at Him. This extreme irreverence is deeply worrying.

Many claim to believe in God, but few actually do something about it.

I’m paraphrasing CS Lewis who said that God is either the most important thing, or not important at all. The one thing He cannot be is moderately important.

If you believe that God exists, and yet do nothing to serve Him or find out what He wants you to do with your life, then surely you are acting foolishly. At least one who hates God is clear where they stand, but how does one respond to someone who says they believe in an Almighty God, and yet makes not one single ounce of effort to know Him. Strange indeed!

So let me ask you – do you believe in God? Great – so then what are you going to do about it?

Are you a Christian? Could we recognise that from the contents of your life? Are you “producing fruit in keeping with repentance?” (Matthew 3:8)

By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit.

Matthew 7:16-18 (WEB)

A Christian believes that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came and lived on this Earth. He died and was buried, and then on the third day He rose again to life. He suffered a terrible death on a cross to make payment for the sin that separated us from God.

We become Christians when we ask Jesus to come into our lives as Lord and Saviour. He is our Saviour because HE is the one who has rescued us from the punishment of sin and death.

He is our Lord also. That means we put Him in charge of our lives. We no longer rule in our lives, but He does. We defer to His judgement, His will and His way of doing things.

Do not let anyone tell you that the Christian life is an easy one. It will mean putting yourself to one side, and keeping God at the centre. That takes faith and courage, but is absolutely worth it.

None of us know how many chances we will get to make a decision for Christ. All I know is that life is short, and that Jesus promised to return one day soon. We must make a choice for Him before that time.

It only takes a moment to ask God to forgive you, to ask Jesus to come into your life and to receive the Holy Spirit as your Helper and Friend. Don’t put it off – I urge you! What else is more important? If God really is God, then ask Him in right now!

If you do, feel free to contact me as I would love to hear from you.

Get into the Word (PoW#23)

Pearl of Wisdom #23

If you get into the Word of God, then the Word of God will get into you!

You will never be a strong or successful Christian unless you get into the Word of God in the Bible. Consider the Bible as your spiritual food!

As you begin to study the Word of God and absorb it’s truths, those truths will begin to shape your life. As you get into the Word, it will begin to get into you as well.

This means that when you need it, the Holy Spirit can bring the Word to your memory. He can bring that Word to life in any situation. The Bible describes the Word of God as a “sword of the Spirit,” and the Spirit can put that “sword” in your hand when you need it.

As you read and study the Bible, the truths you learn will change your mind – how you think. It will shine light on areas you need God’s help with, and it will encourage and strengthen you.

Get into the Word this week, and let that Word shape your life!

The Christian Life

What should the Christian life look like?

There are many ways to answer that question, and I cannot tackle them all here. But I have been pondering some of the extremes of Christianity in recent days. This follows on from my thoughts on Christian Worship in last weeks post – Christ is… Enough?

To illustrate, here are two verses.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Ephesians 1:3 (ESV)


I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (ESV)

If you were to flick through the typical Christian TV channels, then there’s a chance you will find someone extolling the blessings of God, promising healing, financial prosperity and success in every area. Alternatively, you might look to more traditional settings and learn that life is difficult, even with Christ, and you should just hang on tightly until you get to the other side.

Both can’t be true.

In a small way, the verses above demonstrate  how such extreme views can happen. The verse from Ephesians tells us we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing! And it’s my belief that “spiritual” is because it is a gift given by the Spirit, not that it is spiritual in nature. Christmas gifts are given at Christmas, not because the gifts themselves have anything in particular to do with the season.

Then, Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel tells us that we will certainly have trouble in the world.

My point is this; one extreme says we are blessed and should never have a problem in life. The other suggests that Christianity makes little difference to life on Earth aside from a free ticket to heaven one day.

So, which is true?

The reality is rather more complex, and the truth can be found between these two extremes.

I am adamant that God has indeed blessed His people beyond anything they can imagine, and stand firm on the promise offered by Ephesians 1:3. But I would be a fool indeed if I took that to mean I will never have another problem.

Similarly, I am very mistaken if I believe that my Christian faith is meant only for life after death. In fact, I cannot see how anyone who really knows God the Father would be able to live like everyone else in the world.

Deception can be found in the extremes.

Such an example can be seen when talking about finances and what is often called the “Prosperity Gospel.” Some Christians believe we ought not to be rich, while others follow the “Name it, claim it!” regime where they believe they can use their faith to obtain virtually any material blessing.

I have read the Bible many times, and really cannot see an instruction for believers to be “poor.” There are plenty of warnings against the dangers of being rich of course, but this does not equate to meaning all believers should have nothing.

Equally, while the Bible does talk about God meeting our needs and receiving blessings, I also do not see anywhere where it says we can use our faith to get whatever we want and wallow in luxury all of our days.

Again, deception lies in the extremes.

Poverty is not a good thing, but neither is it a sin. Very few of us living in the West can really claim poverty. To us, poverty might mean owning only one car or not being able to take foreign holidays. This is not what most of the world would describe as poverty.

Wealth has clear dangers. God must and should be the primary things in our lives, but wealth can become a “god” to us. Instead of relying on and trusting in Jesus, we can place our trust in our bank balance instead.

So, returning to our original question: what should the Christian life look like?

Being a follower of Christ must make a difference, both in this life and the one to come. If it does not, then we must ask if we really know the Lord. We cannot claim to follow Christ without actually following what He has told us to do.

Christians should have different priorities than those in the world. Our ultimate aim in life is not to make money and retire early, but to serve God in our communities. How that is done will differ for all of us.

Christians, I believe, ought to be more focused on eternal things than the things of the Earth. Now don’t get into the extremes, as I am not saying we should not engage with the world or have possessions or anything like that.

We must be led by the Holy Spirit. What He has planned for me is no doubt different to what He has in mind for you. A certain possession might draw me away from God, and so He does not allow me to have it. For you, such a possession might not affect your relationship with God at all, and so He can allow it in your life.

There is a great deal more to say about what a Christian life should look like – and I’m referring to general principles of course. What’s right for me, may be wrong for you and vice versa.

My thoughts turn to the narrow path that Jesus spoke of.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

Matthew 7:13 (ESV)

Jesus wasn’t exactly addressing the same issue as I am today, but the picture is a helpful one.

When on a narrow path, you can stray off to one side or the other. Say there was a ditch running down either side, it would matter whether you went right or left of the road, you would end up falling.

Having Jesus is our lives is not just critical for the life after this one, but also for the every day here and now. Knowing Him and His surpassing greatness, cannot help but leave us changed forever.

It is helpful to think about what we believe from time to time and ask if we have wandered off of the narrow path.

Seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and He will lead you into all truth. Study God’s Word in the Bible and it will act as a mirror showing you what might be wrong. Renew your mind in the Scriptures and stop thinking as the world does.

What does your Christian life look like?


 

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Christ is… Enough?

I’ve been thinking about worship songs recently. In particular, their content and origin.

This began several months ago when singing the song “Christ is Enough for me…” It got me thinking… is Christ really enough? Of course He is, but what I mean is – is enough an adequate term to describe the One Who redeemed us?

Perhaps it’s just semantics, and maybe some feel it doesn’t matter all that much. I understand that, and certainly don’t want to come across as overly picky here. But for me at least, Christ isn’t just enough, He is everything – He is so far above enough that it can’t easily be put into words.

Maybe that’s the point – some of these truths can’t easily be put into words and so writing a worship song isn’t as easy as we might think.

I listened to a discussion the other day about this very subject. This particular group were rather critical of certain well known churches and ministries where many famous worship songs originate. They were especially scathing of Hillsong, Jesus Culture and Bethel.

Similar to my point above, they were disecting the song “Wreckless Love.” A quick examination of the definition of “wreckless” will show you that it really doesn’t apply to God. Again, perhaps it’s just semantics and there is no adequate way to describe God in words, and so, we must make do with the limitations of our language.

Likewise, we often sing about being “desperate for you,” when referring to God. The word desperate comes from the same word as “despair,” and again is not a suitable term for our relation to God.

So, what am I getting at?

Firstly, I think we should be very careful about the words we use, and sing. Words are extremely powerful and important, and I believe have a great impact on us. Many do not respect the power of our words, and yet the Bible teaches very clearly that words have power.

God made the world with His words, and so words can be creative. They can also be destructive too. I’m sure we can all remember a time when someone else’s words cut us deeply, and we still feel those wounds today.

James, in his letter, said this:

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.

James 3:4-9 (ESV)

Some very strong words about the power of the tongue.

The point I am making is that the words we sing do matter. And therefore we should choose them carefully.

So what ought we to consider when choosing appropriate worship songs?

Theology

For some it will seem obvious, and for others it may not be something you’ve thought about very much.

The theology of songs matter. Put simply, what we are singing must be biblical and accurate.

The most important thing about a worship song is not a catchy tune, but instead a good sound theology.

For example, a song that pleads with God to forgive us over and over is not good theology. Of course we must seek forgiveness, but once received from God through Christ, we no longer need to plead over and over again.

Think of some of your favourite worship songs, and ask yourself if they are biblical. It may be that you’ve never thought about it before, but we live in a time now where just because someone is singing about God, does not mean it is biblically sound.

Sadly, there are those writing worship songs who do not have a strong grasp of the Bible.

Similarly, there are churches and ministries who have questionable theology and the music coming from them mirror that theology. As mentioned above, there are those who criticise Hillsong and Jesus Culture, and it’s not my intention to comment on that here. But let’s say you did not agree with their stance on certain doctrines. It may be that some of their music reflects those doctrines.

Just be sure of what you believe the Bible says, and try to ensure your music reflects those biblical beliefs.

Romance

Worship is an expression of love – no doubt. It is right for us to love our God and Father. But worship is not romance.

Some songs you hear are more akin to love songs than worship songs. Is that wrong?

We need to be a little careful in this space I believe. While the Bible does use romantic imagery between God and His people, such as the church being the “Bride of Christ,” we need to be clear what we mean by “love.”

We love God, and He loves us. No arguments here. However, it is not accurate to describe this as a romantic kind of love. I grow concerned when I hear certain songs which seem to portray our relationship with God as a romantic one.

Repetition

I once heard someone describe modern worship songs as “7-11” songs – meaning the same seven words repeated eleven times. This was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but has a ring of truth about it.

Are you familiar with the song “Set a Fire” by Jesus Culture? I was humming it the other day and wondering not just about its theology, but also the constant repetition.

The song asks for “more of God,” over and over again. This can be taken two ways. Firstly, I cannot see how God can give us any more than He already has. He gave His Only Son to us that whoever believes in Him will not perish (John 3:16). He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3). He has given us His Spirit to dwell in us, His forgiveness, His justification, His redemption, He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, and on and on and on.

Given all of that, can we really ask for “more of God?”

I appreciate that if you accept what I’ve said, then perhaps the song is really asking for God to help us receive more fully the things God has already done. In that sense, I have no issue.

The constant repetition concerns me though. I know I’ve mentioned “Set a Fire,” but don’t want to single that out. There are other similar songs too.

Most songs have a repetition in them, such as a chorus or repeated verse – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to those songs which repeat short phrases over and over again, in a melodic way.

There is a danger here – either willingly or unwittingly – to wander into Eastern practices.

Hinduism and Buddhism use mantras to “concentrate the mind for meditation.” A mantra is a phrase which is repeated over and over. Rather than increase concentration, it actually dulls the mind.

Singing the same phrase over and over, even if a good one, can have the same effect. Add to that the loud music and flashing lights that often accompanies large worship gatherings now, and we can open ourselves up to risk.

Jesus told us to avoid repetition in prayer:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Matthew 6:7 (KJV)

Entertainment or worship?

Worship is not entertainment.

As mentioned above, some worship services are more like concerts now. I have no problem with worship being modernised, or the use of instruments, lights and AV, as long as it enhances worship.

Worship can be fun, and at times it absolutely should be! But worship can also be hard. It also can require sacrifice on our part. King David said that he would not give to God that which cost him nothing. Worship can sometimes be costly to us also.

Worship is not about making us feel better, nor about us having a great time. It is not about us at all.

I’m not trying to spoil your fun, nor do I want you to stand motionless in worship singing to a church organ. I just want to highlight the dangers of forgetting what we are there to do.

Give it some thought

There are many songs from many ministries, and we don’t always know where they come from. You could read the above and start crossing out lots of songs, even your favourites perhaps.

The point of this post was not to ruin your favourite worship songs. I just want you to give it some thought.

What we sing does indeed matter. How we worship does matter too. If you are being handed earplugs on the way in, then you have to wonder if worship is the primary focus.

We were made to worship God. Let’s do so appropriately!

From an Apostle to the Saints

Ephesians

My recent wanderings through the sovereignty of God led me to study the book of Ephesians in my quiet time. I am not certain if this will turn into a series, but it is such a rich letter with so much to explore that I’ll no doubt write a few posts about it.

In fact, in my study time, I’m still in chapter 1, which has more than enough to keep me occupied!

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (ESV)

Like any letter, Paul begins by introducing himself. We often skip over these opening verses to get to the “meat” of the letter, but by doing so, miss out on important things.

Paul not only gives his name, but his role as well. “Paul, an apostle…”

An apostle is simply “one whom is sent,” but in the church context it is one of the founders of the church – often a church planter or one who has seen the Risen Lord.  The role of apostle was mentioned as one of the five-fold ministry gift or positions, which we will later encounter in Ephesians.

While “role” is one word, another is calling. Paul is not just some self-appointed saint, but is an “apostle by the will of God.” I’ve thought a lot lately about the will of God, and we will see in this first chapter of Ephesians that it comes up time and again. We cannot escape or resist God’s will.

We are sometimes a bit obsessed with our calling. We ask people, “What is your ministry?” or “What is God calling you to do?” While these questions have their place, I think sometimes we spend our lives searching for some grand call on our lives instead of getting on with the business of life.

Am I saying that calling is not important? Certainly not. I believe all Christians have a calling and should live it out as best we can. For many, if not all of us, we can summarise our calling as follows: we should glorify God in our life right where we are.

Certainly we should be listening to God for His direction, and this also should come from our relationship with Him. God is not a stone idol we pray to with nothing in return. Our prayer life should be two-way, and too many of us are talking when we should be listening.

It can be hard to achieve of course (regular and constant communication with God), but I believe life is to be lived with Him. Set times of extended prayer are definitely important, but so are moments of prayer throughout the day. Living like this, we can serve God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

So we see this letter is from Paul, but to whom is it written?

The saints at Ephesus

It may be that this letter was in reality a circular which was shared among several churches. Some manuscripts omit the words “at Ephesus” and the lack of personal greetings suggest this. The letter was likely written around AD 60 while Paul was imprisoned in Rome. Some scholars dispute the date, believing it to have been between AD 80-100, and also that Paul was the author at all.

It is interesting to me that the New Testament epistles are always written to “saints,” “holy people,” or “consecrated ones.” We never see a letter written to the “sinners in Ephesus,” or the “heathen in Rome…”

This is an important point because I often feel we misunderstand our identity.

We sin, no argument from me, and we did so both before and after we gave our lives to Christ. Sin is a critical issue for the world at large, and is indeed the whole point of Christ’s coming.

Some churches focus too much on sin, and too little on the completed work of Christ. Other churches focus too little on sin, and fail to instruct their people on the dangers of committing “sins” and the overall effect of “sin” on the world.

Christ is the cure for sin. If we continue to think of ourselves as “sinners” after the work of the cross, then we are in danger of making that work of little effect. What do sinners do? They sin. And what ought we not to do in our lives? Same answer.

Rather, our identity (in Christ) is not as an old sinner saved by grace, but rather as an imperfect saint. When we give our lives to Jesus, God puts a new heart inside of us. That is the born again experience. That new birth is something which happens inside of us (in our spirits, not our internal organs). From that time on, we are re-training our mind, will and emotions (sometimes called “the flesh” or “sinful nature”) to come into line with what God has done in our spirits.

If you are still just a “sinner” then what has the cross achieved for you?

I appreciate this is partly down to semantics, and may not seem a point worth labouring, but I think it helps in our reading of the rest of this chapter. Paul emphasises what is ours in Christ, and that must begin by us accepting we are transformed in Him.

As we work through chapter one, I will point out some of the things that belong to us in Christ. Not things we have earned, but rather things which were bestowed upon us because of God’s great grace.

Grace is where Paul begins his letter, and it’s where I’m going to draw this post to a close. He wishes the saints both grace and peace from God. A deeply meaningful greeting and opening to his epistle.

Likewise, I pray God’s grace and peace on you this week.