If I Could Turn Back Time

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

1989. A song was heard across radios and climbed to #1 on the charts. If I Could Turn Back Time performed by Cher became one of the most iconic songs of all time. The song reveals a longing to go back time and fix the mistakes between two lovers. The singer would go to the greatest lengths, including reaching for the stars, t0 turn back time in order to restore a “golden age.”

1979. Bob Segar and The Silver Bullet Band released a song that became a staple in the Rock and Roll genre: Old Time Rock and Roll. The lyrics sing:

Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill
Today’s music ain’t got the same soul
I like that old time rock n’ roll

Still like that old time rock n’ roll
That kind of music just soothes the soul
I reminisce about the days of old
With that old time rock n’ roll

Both songs reveal a desire to turn back time and return to a “golden age” of the singer. Many of the most iconic songs heard on the radio and on our playlists have a theme of going back in time to bask in the sunshine of yesteryear.

We think about the same. We hear exclamations of wanting to return to the “golden age” of our country, our church history, and even our personal selves. We hear the desire to reject the ways of today because it does not have the same “soul” as those nostalgic times.

As Christians, many of us have heard in churches about turning back the clocks. We desire to go back to another time either to a different national leader, or a time in church practice. I have not been to a church where this topic has not been brought up from the pulpit. Or, I have heard people desiring to go back to their life before Christ or at least have a small bit of it. But, is it biblical thinking to desire to turn back time?

Well, Back In…

When we look back at our lives, we often see the hardships we endure spiritually and physically. We think about how easy it must have been for us before salvation. We did not have to wrestle and struggle between serving God and the desires of the flesh. Sin was first nature. We could have gone on living like that. We could be our director. We could write the endings we wanted. Yet, we had to give everything up to follow this Jesus into a life of spiritual battles, loss of relationships, changes in our plans, and a constant responsibility to live a certain way. Like Cher, we sometimes want to turn back time and undo our decisions. We want to go back to those days that seem so peaceful and possibly had potential.

Exodus 16:1-3. The Israelites have been miraculously delivered by God out of slavery in Egypt. They were in the wilderness following God through Moses to the Promised Land. Excitement after the drowning of the Egyptian army soon turned to complaining. “Well, back in Egypt…” became their motto. Over and over again, a struggle comes up and the Israelites cry out, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”

Does this sound familiar? We say the same. We look at where God is leading us, and we say, “It was better before I gave my life to Christ.” Our lives before Christ seem better and less “chaotic” than our lives with Christ. We would gladly join hands with the Israelites and return.

The Israelites wanted to turn back time and find a way. And, they did. Moses convinced them to stay, but they decided to make Egypt in their midst through a golden calf (Exodus 32). Holding on to just a little bit of Egypt was better than letting it all go for the unknown God was doing. Would we be doing the same? Would we throw our gold in to have some comfort of our old lives before being delivered from slavery? Do we hold on to something that stokes our inner thoughts and lusts of those nostalgic sinful days?

See, the Israelites forgot one thing: slavery. They could think all about the “good” they had. But, they were slaves! They had no freedom. It is the same with us. We were condemned to Hell. No escape. Why go back to the things that lead us back to the slavery of sin? We lusted, we went after it. No shame in our actions; not caring who got hurt in the process of our desires. Yet, in salvation, Christ bled so we could follow Him to a right relationship with our Creator that ends in the New Earth with no more tears or pain.

Do we really want to turn back time to where we were before Christ? Where would you be if Christ did not die and rise from the dead for you?

Remembering the Old Ways

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16).

How many of us have heard this verse? How many of us have heard the tales of the glory days of Christianity in America? Many churches will decry from their pulpits the practices of today and urge people to return to the old practices of yesteryear.

But, that is not what Jeremiah 6 is talking about. God wants His people to return to Him. He does not want them to return to some way of living of using one instrument over another or something along those lines. He wants a return to a relationship with Him first.

We decry the cultural sin of today and we hear, “Back in our day we did not see this evil in our country or in our churches. We need to get back to a simpler time.” We then sit and reminisce about those days of old. We think how much we want to be there, and so we make our churches feel that way.

Remembering and imitating the days of old does not get rid of the sin of today, nor of the sin of yesterday. Sin will find its way. We live in a fallen world. We cannot escape it inside our churches.

It is not the former days that will save us and defeat sin, it is the days to come when Christ reigns as King on the New Earth and wipes away ever tear.

God tells us it is not wise to go back to the former days and dream about them (Ecclesiastes 7:10). God wants us to look forward as He pushes all history, all time periods, all “golden ages” to the restoration of the Creator with His creation (Revelation 21-22). We were not made to look to the past. We were made the look to the future that is bright with the radiance of our Savior as He restores creation and puts all things under his feet (I Corinthians 15:20-28).

The Time That is Given to Us

The world is falling apart. Sometimes our lives are falling apart. Bad things happen. We don’t get the job. Promises from people fall through. Our lives are not the way we think they should be. Our baby is diagnosed with a disability. The Christian leader we respected leaves the faith and turns his back on God. Every day we hear sin becoming more and more normalized. And, deep inside we ache and hurt. We cry out, “God, stop it!” When we do not get an answer we tend to want to turn back time.

A young woman is kidnapped from her home that was burnt to the ground. She is forced to present her beauty before the ruler of that nation. She is then chosen to be his wife. She is forced to marry a king who was known for his parties that involved drunkenness and orgies. After her marriage, she hears of a conspiracy by an advisor to annihilate what is left of the people from her home. When the world and her life were about to crash down, her cousin said, “Perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

We, like Esther, may wish none of what we are going through would ever happen to us. We want to turn back time to reverse decisions. Yet, it is not for us to decide. The One who made us is the One who gave us our life. He saved us. He redeemed us for a purpose. We are placed purposefully in the times we live in. Do you not think we have been placed here for such a time as this? All you have to decide is what to do with the time God has given you.

Why are we holding on to the past? What good is it going to do unless it is in remembrance of what God has done? He brought us this far for such a time as this, and He will bring us to the end for a such a time as will be.

Look to the Throne for the sake of His name;
Think of the throng who will share in His reign.
Some for whose souls we pray
Will share our joy that day,
Joining our song for the sake of His name!

In Jesus’ power, preach Christ to the lost;
For Jesus’ glory, count all else but loss.
Gather from every place
Trophies of sovereign grace.
Lest life be wasted, exalt Jesus’ cross.

For the Sake of His Name by Chris Anderson

The Crisis of Faith

“Faith does not eliminate questions, but faith knows where to take them.”
– Elisabeth Elliot

We have all been there. We are standing on, what feels like, an edge of a cliff. A crisis has happened. An event, an idea, a conversation fogs our minds and we do not know where to go. The faith we thought we had a grasp on seems to slip through our fingers like sand. To those around us, they pray we do not jump off the cliff and shipwreck our faith. Yet, we find ourselves on the cliff wanting to get to the other side.

All of us know of someone who left the faith. They claimed not to be a Christian anymore. We lift up condolences to families, and say prayers. Yet, we bury a lingering thought: could this happen to me? What if I leave the faith? What will happen to me?

We think these things because we all have a question, a doubt that we are fearful of sharing. We hide these under the floor boards of our soul hoping no one will ask about it and we will deal with it in time. Yet, the sounds of thumping come at night and when things are still. The thumping, thumping, thumping, until it breaks free and pushes us to that cliff.

What are we to do? How are we to handle our personal crisis of faith?

Fear is a Liar

We fear the questions, doubts, and thoughts. We fear what the church might think. We fear what our Christian friends, parents, and pastors will say and how they will treat us.

However, there is one person we do not have to fear: God. He never condemns someone for asking questions and seeking the truth. Psalm 23 demonstrates that our God is a Shepherd. He provides what we need. He even sets a table before us when we are surrounded by enemies (physical and spiritual). When a sheep goes missing, the shepherd does not say, “Oh well, I can always get more.” No, he comes to seek and save those who are lost.

In the Bible, many people questioned God. They asked the questions of why and how. God always answered. It may not be in their timing or with the answer they wanted. But, the answer always satisfied. Think of the stories of Job, Habakkuk, Mary, Thomas, Moses, Gideon. Did God condemn any of these for asking question or clearing doubts? The text shouts an encouraging, “No.”

Fear is a liar. People who condemn questioning in the church are not “God”and are promoting a church of fear not a church centered on God’s Word. God loves you and loves to give Truth. Why do you think we have His Word? He wants you to ask.

It Will Take Hard Work

Solutions to any issue take a lot of work. Einstein, Edison, Ford, and the Wright Brothers all share the common struggle hard work takes to find a solution.

The crisis of faith is no different. It will take work. It will take time. Start with searching out the Bible for answers. God promised in II Peter 1:3 that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. But, you will need to take time to search it out. Answers do not come quickly. Anyone who has done research will tell you that you need to let all the pieces come together. The answer is in the Bible, we need to look at all the pieces; not just the ones we prefer to look at.

Also, this sounds cliché, a crisis of faith needs the help of the Spirit through prayer. The spirit is known as the Spirit of Wisdom. He guides people in Truth. Jesus calls the Spirit the Spirit of Truth. When we pray asking for help, we will receive it. Prayer is not a drawn out elaborate ceremony. We pray because we need God to do something in our lives. We are dependent on Him and prayer shows our dependence.

A crisis of faith makes us feel like we cannot or do not want to pray. Yet, when we pray we know we will be answered by God who cares for us, who has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and gives us the Spirit of Truth.

Habakkuk struggled with God over the problem of evil. It was a lot of work wrestling and praying. Yet, God answered. Struggle with your question. Search out the answer. Whatever is causing your doubt, take it to God in prayer. Look through all of Scripture to see what the Bible says. Look at the all the pieces.

Struggling Together

A crisis of faith is not meant to be done alone. Yes, it is difficult to open up and our fear of man tries to clam our mouths shut. If you are in a church that promotes an attitude where you cannot open up and share and find help, leave. God’s church is a community of believers striving together. The church is to be Word-Centric. 1 Corinthians 12 states that we are a body with many members and are to help each other. James 5:16 encourages us to share our struggles and to pray for each other. A prayer of a righteous man (one who has been justified by Christ) will accomplish much.

The church is a place to open up and search the Scriptures. The church points each other to Christ and pushing each other towards the end goal. We do not do the Christian life alone. We are saved by Christ and for Christ. He has called the church. The church is not one person. The church is Christ’s body striving to bring salvation to the end of the earth by glorifying the name of our Savior with our lives.

Remembering

When we come to our faith crisis, some will say in an almost Mufasa sounding voice, “Remember who you are.” Is this correct thinking? No.

The many stories of Israel turning away from God all have one common theme: they forgot God and His works. Psalm 106 tells of Israel’s refusal to remember. They did not have to remember who they were, they had to remember who their God was. They had to remember what He did for them.

Asaph, in Psalm 77, was in crisis. Yet, with all his tossing and turning, he remembered God and His works.

When was the last time we remembered, not who we are, but who God is and what He has done for us? Remembering points us back to the path. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “You will never realize the greatness of God’s power until you realize the greatness of the obstacles which that power has overcome.” What obstacles has God overcome for you? Can you list them specifically?

A Step of Faith

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy faces three challenges in order to get to the Holy Grail. Through each challenge he must us his journal to navigate and stay alive. The third challenge is to get from one side of a canyon to another. Yet, his journal says there is a way across. He cannot see it, yet he trusts his journal. Watch the scene here.

The chasm between where we are at the edge of the cliff and the other side is massive. No one can jump it. It is impossible. We might not fully understand everything, but there is something inside of us from the Spirit that tells us to step out in faith. We have searched God’s Word and we know the truth. No one can push us out. We must take that step ourselves. It is our faith; not our parents’, not our pastors’, not our friends’. It is our choice. We must walk in faith.

A crisis of faith will not just come once. There will be big and small crises throughout our lives. But, it will be up to us where we take those. Do we take them to Google, Facebook, or Snapchat? Or do we take them to God’s Word and remember who God is? Faith does not say we will perfectly follow and have no doubts or questions. Faith, instead, points us to where we take those questions and doubts. And, it leads us to one question: Who is God to you? That answer will determine your step of faith.

Our Forgotten Advocate

“Fear, lest, by forgetting what you are by nature, you also forget the need that you have of continual pardon, support, and supplies from the Spirit of grace, and so grow proud of your own abilities, or of what you have received from God.” – John Bunyan

When a semester of college comes to a close, students will meet with their professors with great urgency. The issue at hand is of grave importance: their grade.

When the student is questioned for why the professor should change the grade, the student is allowed to defend themselves. They become their own advocate. The student will produce reasons for late assignments, reasons for changing a grade on a project, or produce late assignments. Achieving either the top grade or that “A” or “B” is the goal.

After my first year of teaching at the college level, I found these conversations common. It is interesting to note how far some of the students will go to persuade to get the higher grade or some sort of grace.

We have all been in a similar conversation where we needed to be our own advocate. We stood up for ourselves and defended with evidence our position.

Yet, do we as Christians do the same before God? We do believe that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). But what about our sanctification?

By Works You Have Been Sanctified?

When we look at our sanctification, the process of becoming more like Christ, there tends to be something that goes with it: the list. It usually has do’s and do not’s on it. For some it is longer than others. We go back to passages such as Galatians 2:20 (I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.) and Philippians 1:27 (As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or am absent, I will hear about you that you are standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel.). We try to do what we can in order to show we are living a new life that has been bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We stick to simple rules such as:
– Read your Bible daily
– Pray daily
– Go to church
– Give to the church
– Don’t do worldly things (drink, drugs, immorality, etc.)
– Be a good Christian

These are some basic things that tend to appear on everyone’s list. We use these items to measure our spiritual temperature. Are we on fire for Christ or are we lukewarm and in danger of being spat out? We do not readily admit it, but we tend to see our sanctification in these terms. Our process of becoming more like Christ becomes how good we can get an “A” in sanctification.

Dangers of List Sanctification

But is it wrong to view sanctification as a list? Yes. There are three dangers that can destroy ourselves and our churches when we see sanctification as by works or following a list.

CATEGORIZING SIN
A list of do’s and do not’s begin to show some sins are worse than others. We start setting some sins as “don’t even go there,” and some as “that’s all?”

Think about it. Would you mind having a pastor who has in his past lied? Would you mind having a pastor who has stolen? Would you mind having a pastor who was a homosexual before salvation? Or a church leader that struggled in his past with pornography? The line has been crossed, hasn’t it? There is something in us that says homosexuality and pornography are worse than lying. We might even see someone who comes to our church “with a past” and keep our children from them (Even if that person has a testimony of being saved). Why do we do this?

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.” We tend to be the firsts to say, “Yeah, homosexuals are going to Hell!” Yet, what about greedy? or those who are verbally abusive? Doesn’t God say that liars are in Hell too?

We have nothing to stand on. All sins are condemned before God. It is only because of Jesus Christ that you are saved. It is not because of what sin you haven’t done. Your salvation and sanctification rests on what Christ did for you and the change in desires His Spirit is developing in you. Your list of do’s and do not’s creates an attitude of categorizing sins. Are you not grateful for 1 Corinthians 6:11? “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

List Sanctification leads to justifying our own sins by saying it is not as bad as those sins.

IS HE A GOOD CHRISTIAN?
When we have a works based sanctification, we tend to ask the question stated. When a person brings their fiance to church to meet people, the girl is often asked, “Is he a good Christian?”

We have all heard this question before. Sometimes, we have answered it. But, how have we answered that question? “Yes, he goes to church,” or “Yes, he is in Bible college.” Wait, what are we really saying when asking or answering that question.

“Is he a good of a Christians as I am?”

When we view our sanctification as something we are in control of, we tend to categorize people by being good or bad Christians all on the criteria and satisfaction of a list. Have you ever thought of answering “Is he a good Christian?” with “Yes, he has been saved by Christ and is justified and sanctified by the death and resurrection of Jesus.” That is the only way someone is a good Christian.

EMOTIONAL BEAT UP
The last danger of a works based sanctification is our tendency to beat ourselves up emotionally. If we had a bad day where our actions were in the flesh and we sinned, we tend to rake ourselves over the coals and repent multiple times until we feel forgiven. We beat ourselves up. We begin to compare ourselves with those “good Christians” we see around us.

Did you know that Paul calls the people at the church in Corinth saints? Yes, the church that had divisions, a man sleeping with his mother, and a whole lot of other issues. Paul calls them saints. He did not remind them of how they failed a list; instead, he goes back to Christ. We are saints because of Jesus, and because we have been sanctified in Him. We are not sanctified in comparison to each other.

Defending Ourselves

At the foundation of viewing our sanctification as a list or works, is our desire to advocate for ourselves. We want to stand in the midst of our fellow Christians and before God to demonstrate how good of a Christian we have been. We want crowns. We want honor. We want the Heavenly Christian Character Award.

But, there is no Heavenly Christian Character Award. Anything we get for our works on earth that are done for God we do not keep. Instead, we give them to the one who changed us. We give them to the one who bought us. We give them to the one we are grateful for saving us from our sins and changing our sinful nature to be more like Himself.

We cannot defend ourselves. We cannot present our evidence of our good Christian behavior. We can only present His evidence of His work in us.

Our Forgotten Advocate

Aren’t we tired of trying to advocate for ourselves? When we follow lists and make our sanctification all about our works and what we have done, we always fall flat. When we sin, we see a failed list. We have been deceived because we have forgotten our Advocate.

1 John 1:9-2:2 states, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

We have an Advocate who has justified and sanctified us and will one day glorify us. Our sanctification is based on the changed desires and affections that the Holy Spirit through Christ is doing in us. Once we are saved, it is not up to us to work to keep our salvation or to show how good we are. Christ is doing that work in us. When He changes our desires, then our actions will change. There becomes the desire to know God through His Word. There is a desire to fellowship and contribute to the church. There is a desire to live in a way that does not put to shame the work of Christ. It is not because we get something out of it. It is because we are being changed because of Christ’s work in us.

When we look at passages like Romans 12:1-2, it is interesting to note that Paul says based on God’s mercies to us that we are to live in a certain way. We do not get God’s mercies because of how we live. We live for Christ because of all the mercies of God.

But, that doesn’t happen. We forget our advocate, Jesus Christ. We rely on ourselves. But, God wants us to rely on our Advocate. Our righteousness comes from Christ, so our defense and our evidence of being a Christian comes from Christ as well.

Living With An Advocate

When you have someone who has your back and has gone to bat for you, you change. You act differently. You live as a free person who is grateful. It is the same with our Advocate. We see our lives as belonging to Him, because He died our death and gave us His life. When we have been set free from sin, we see life and we see our desires change. Our affections begin to love God and His Word and what He asks us to do in our lives. It no longer is a list. It becomes a change in our affections that affect our actions.

What do we do when we fail the list? Throw it out. Focus on your Advocate. Confess your sins. He will forgive. Our job is to continually listen to Him as He leads. That does mean we do need to read His Word, but not as a check off. We read it as our desires change, because of what He did for us.

Most students cannot change a teacher’s mind about a grade. We cannot change God’s mind towards us. Through Christ, He justified, cleansed, and sanctified us. Isn’t that enough motivation to live for Him?

Don’t you want to be able to live as Paul states in 2 Timothy 1:8-12?
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.

We have an Advocate before the Father. We have a reason to live.

We Don’t Talk About That…

“Faith consists, not in ignorance, but in knowledge, and that, not only of God, but also of the divine will.” – John Calvin

“He who shall not be named.”

In the world-wide popular series Harry Potter this phrase is quoted many times. The characters are referencing, Voldemort, the main villain of the book. His name, to some, should not be said out loud in fear of what would happen. Yet, it is interesting to note, the when the lines are drawn and sides are taken, those who were not afraid to speak his name were the ones who confidently took the side against him. Those who felt the fear of Voldemort’s name were either swayed to his side or questioned which side was right.

Many say, “art imitates life.” This means that our works such as paintings, sculptures, and even the narratives we craft reflect the realities around us. These cultural artifacts unveil our inner thoughts. They paint a picture of how we interact with the world around us.

This situation from Harry Potter reveals something that the church could take to heart and learn from.

These are Things That Shall Not be Named

“I was raped.”
“I got pregnant with my boyfriend.”
“I think I am attracted to other guys.”
“What about my body image?”
“What is so bad about anorexia, it is my body.”
“What does the Bible say about smoking weed?”
“What is…”
“What is so wrong about…”

“These are things that shall not be named!”

Isn’t that the response many of us face in the church? These statements and questions are things many ask in the church to their pastors or parents, and yet they are turned away. With a quick response and a Bible verse to meditate one, he or she is sent off.

Why is that? Ephesians 5 comes to mind where two verses stand out:
v. 3 – But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints.
v. 12 – For it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret. 
Sounds like it is a done deal. But is it?

When we take a look at the context of the whole passage, we see that in verse 3 a believer should not be participating in these sinful acts. The key in verse 3 is participation.

But, verse 12? Is it saying that we cannot talk about sin and call sin as it is? No. In verse 11, Paul says not to participate in sin, but to expose it. How can one expose sin if one does not know about it? In fact, Jesus says something about this. Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Jesus knows what the world is like. He is telling his disciples to be wise. To be wise means you have knowledge. Yet, he tells them to be innocent as doves. Innocence references to actions.

God is telling us in His Word that we need to know about the dangers and sins around us. We need to be wise about them. If we were never to mention things that were shameful, then why does the Bible have stories about witchcraft, homosexuality, murder, incest, mutilations, child sacrifices, and other such things? It is not a command to keep in silent these shameful acts. Instead, Paul’s statement is one that should be of our conscience. “He did something that made me want to throw up.” “I can’t even begin to say how disgusted I was.” Paul is using a phrase to indicate how vile sin is. He is not saying we should never talk about it, but we need to keep the proper attitude towards sin. Our talk is to expose sin, but we should never lose the shamefulness of sin.

Yet, we have a fear of handling and talking about these issues. Paul tells us to expose them. Jesus says to be wise as serpents. God wrote a whole book that involves some of the most shameful acts. Yet, we have this fear and we brush off these topics saying, “we don’t talk about that.” Does that match Scripture?

Searching in Other Places

We may think the story of an individual’s question is done when we say, “It is a sin and here is a verse.” But, how many of us will be honest and say that is not where it ends?

How many people have left the faith, not because of the lack of music or church preferences, but because of being unanswered?

How many young men and young women, today in youth groups, ask why homosexuality, sex before marriage, drugs, and other things are wrong? To answer, many pastors and teachers say the Bible says its sin and that’s it. Their question indicates they have some sense that it might be wrong. However, they want to know why.

Yet, without an answer people turn to other places. They turn to people who will answer their questions. More than likely, the answers will not come from the Bible. Instead, other answers will lead those searching away from God’s Word and substitute man’s words and experiences.

Think about the answers given. Think about where that leads. Be realistic. Where does searching for answers in other places really lead?

What is Wrong with this Picture?

What is the issue at hand? How can we fix this?

Many will say, “It is their fault for not taking God’s Word as true. They did not find it enough. I gave them the verse. They needed to believe it.”

Is that the problem? Does the problem rest in the one who questions in this situation? No. God never condemns one who questions in search of the truth. Did God ever condemn Habakkuk for questioning the evil in his world? Did God condemn Job for asking questions? Did anyone in the Bible who sought truth end up condemned? No.

The issue is not with the questions asked. We have seen that the Bible is full of sins and explanations for why something is wrong. The issue is with the one who answers. To answer with just a verse and to send them on their way is the issue. It reveals the ignorance of the leaders and teachers and parents in our churches.

II Peter 1:3-4 states, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” God promises us that he gave us everything that pertains to life and godliness. It is primarily found in his Word. Yet, we send people with only a verse to answer a question. Why are we not sitting down and showing the answer to the why? God says it is there. Are we not trusting his Word that answers are there?

It is ok to say, “I do not know, but let’s search out the answer.” This cultivates a II Timothy 2:15 attitude in the church. We become students of the Word. When we show our need to rely on the Word for answers, we develop in the ones who question a real-life example of searching and using the Scriptures. Real-life examples are better than lectures on how to study the Bible.

Sit Down on the Bench

When someone goes without a question answered, they feel lonely. They feel like they are left by themselves screaming, but no one can hear them. They are left alone on the bench looking at life. A bench is found on a path. It is used to rest and figure out the next move. They are sitting on that bench.

When we give them only a verse and a shame for asking a “topic that shall not be named” we leave them alone on that bench. The spot next to them is vacant. Anyone can sit down. Anyone can give advice.

Think of your children, the people in your church, those who look up to you. Think of the questions they have. Now think of them sitting on the bench of life. They are resting to figure out which way to go. The spot next to them is vacant. Who is going to fill that spot?

Let’s shake off our fear of topics, which is a fear of ignorance. Shake off the pride of not knowing the answer. Search the Scripture with them. Take time to understand God’s Word and his plan for life. Don’t worry about who you will offend, but think about who you will inspire when God’s Word is searched for the answers. Think about how God will use a believer who faithfully studies his Word.

Let’s change “We don’t talk about that” to “Let me search the answer with you.” This is discipleship.

A Place of Openness

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Witch!” Cried one of the young girls. “She has bewitched me. Her spirit visits me and invites me to sign the Devil’s book!”

1692, Salem, Massachusetts.

Chaos ruled the town. The cry of “witchcraft” plagued Salem as many young members of the town accused others of being witches. The town was in an uproar. Judges from around the state were brought in to oversee the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Nearly 150 people were accused and arrested for being witches. 20 people were executed; including one minister who at the gallows recited the Lord’s Prayer and yet the judges still executed him.

Samuel Sewall was one of the judges at these trials. He was a prominent member of Boston. He married into a well-off family. He was a faithful member of his church. He attended prayer meetings. He was known as one who would sing Psalms, and daily read his Bible. Yet, he condemned people who were innocent to their deaths. His hand had a part in one of the darkest moments in American and Church History.

Yet, five years later a change happened. In a church meeting, he handed a letter written to the congregation. Sewall stood as the minister began to read. Samuel Sewall took on all the blame and shame of the Salem Witch Trials. He repented of his actions when none of the other judges did. He asked for forgiveness. A well-off man, a prominent citizen stood in front of his church repenting.

The Church… A Community

The church is known as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). It is also seen as a community of believers helping and encouraging each other (Acts 4:32-35).

Many verses in the New Testament encourage believers in their relationships with one another:

And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25


Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

These two passages speak to one facet of the church: community. There is supposed to be interaction with each other in the church. However, it requires openness. In order for us to provoke each other to love and good works, to encourage each other and to admonish each other with God’s Word, there must be openness between believers in the church. This means we can reveal our dark places and sin. It is iron sharpening iron. Some call it accountability, and, from Scripture, it is a necessary part of the church.

A Closed Openness

However, is this openness happening in our churches?

In many churches, there is a culture of appearance. Some wear coats, ties, and dress. While other churches are more casual. Yet, there is a culture of appearance. We want to appear as having things all together. We want people to look at us. We wear the right thing. We say the right words. Why? We want to be perceived in the right way.

Yet, does this promote a community of openness? It promotes a closed openness. We only allow people to hear what we want them to hear. We may even open about sin in our lives, but we word it in a way so we are not perceived in a wrong light.

Jesus has something to say about that, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. (Matthew 23:27)”

We quickly say we are not like the Pharisees, because we do not reject Christ. But, why did Jesus say this? He was condemning their hypocrisy. They looked great on the outside and were respected. Yet, they were full of sin on the inside. Nothing more than a rotting grave.

We dress ourselves up for church and we say the right things. But, are we honest with each other (even if it’s only with a small group) about our sin? Or do we hide the sin we know to be true like skeletons in our closet?

This can be boiled down to one thing – Fear of Man

The Blessing of Openness

When we set aside the fear of man in order to be open about ourselves, we see a change in ourselves and in our churches.

When you read the life of Samuel Sewall, there is a change that happens. After his repentance, his theology begins to change. He begins to shift from a works based mentality before God to one of repentance. He doesn’t see God’s blessing rising and falling based on his works, but the blessings of God based on his Advocate before the father.

This happens to us, individually, when we open up. When we say what is really going on internally, we see the light of God clearer. Our personal theology begins to change. First, we are honest about our state before God. When the sinner opened up about his state before God, he walked away forgiven; unlike the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). Second, when we see our state before God as a sinner we see Christ as the Savior who frees us from sin. We become Galatians 2:20 Christians. Openness changes our perspective of ourselves and God.

In our church, openness shows to each other the working of God in our lives. We get to see the Word of God and the Spirit of God at work. We get to see that our church is built on redeemed sinners who depend on the daily grace and mercy of an all loving and self-sacrificing God; not built on culture or tradition. Accountability for a church to be Word centered and “Word-Living” becomes a result. A community of encouragement and admonishing with God’s Word emerges.

The passages use words like provoke, encourage, and admonishing. How can we do that as a church unless we are willing to open up to each other?

Not Flaunting Dirty Laundry

Hopefully all of us at one time or another have done laundry. It is appropriate that we do not flaunt our dirty laundry. Yet, we all know what people wear; even the more “embarrassing” items. Knowledge of something does not mean we flaunt it.

This is the same with openness in the church. We can be open about our sin and dark places God has brought us through. It is not a celebration of sin or wallowing in mud. We celebrate the Savior who conquers our sin. Knowledge of one’s sins leads to a boasting in Christ over flaunting the sin.

Paul and Openness

Does Paul promote openness in the church? There are passages about confessing your sins to one another and bearing each others burdens. However, there is one passage where openness was shown in the church of Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – “Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul could only say this if the believers in Corinth were open about their pasts. To say, “some of you used to be like this,” is to say he knew their past. They opened up before him and their fellow believers.

Romans 12:9-16 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”

Paul commands every believer to be like this. Yet, for this to be apart of our lives we must be willing to be open.

Being a Modern Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall was a prominent man in Boston and in his church. Yet, he repented of his actions in the Salem Witch Trials.

I couldn’t help but think, “How often does this happen in our churches today?” How often are we opening up so we, individually, and our fellow believers can be encouraged?

How as a church are we doing with this? Are we more concerned about how we are perceived or how we are being encouraged by each other to live for Christ? Do we hide behind our appearances and culture in order to hide sin? Sin when it remains hidden will kill us. John Owen said, “Kill sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Are we more like the Pharisees than we realize?

It will hurt our pride and our self-consciousness when we open up. Openness does show our true state as sinners, but it glorifies a Savior who is the only one who can change us. The church is a history of Christ changing people from condemned to redeemed. Why should we stop that history with our pride?

An open believer promotes an open church which promotes an openness to God’s Word and His Working. Lives can only be changed when we are open with ourselves and with each other in the church as we cling to God’s Word.

Samuel Sewall’s last words speak to the change that occurs when we are open: “If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father. Looking to Jesus, He is the only remedy.”

A Color Blind Church?

“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.” – Priscilla Shirer

My wife and I were on our flight home from a wonderful visit with her family and friends. We got comfy and waited for the rest of the passengers to board. I pulled out my book and began reading as the plane took off. However, my ears began to pick up a conversation in the row ahead of us from a group coming home from a missions trip.

“I learned a lot about how others really need the Gospel,” said one. The leader responded, “Yes, it is clearly seen with a group who has never heard the Gospel before. That group of people never had seen a white man before or knew about a church. I am grateful we were able to give them the Gospel and help them start a good church.”

This conversation pulled me from my book and grabbed my attention. Never seen a white man before? I knew what the phrase meant, but it hit me it an odd way like bad fish. The sentence of putting “white man” and “church” together needed some searching for me.

What does the Bible say about the church and race? And did it connect to having a “good church”?

Two Conflicting Passages

Galatians 3:28 – There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.

The New Testament discuss the beginning and the doctrine of the church. However, in my search of race and the church, I came across Galatians 3:28 (and others like it). “Well, that clears it up. There is to be no distinction of races in the church. All are equal and one.” I thought my research was done. Yet, I remembered passages in Revelation (like 7:9) where it is mentioned that there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. These passages were recognizing racial and cultural diversity.

Is it a contradiction? Does God really see diversity in the church or does he want everyone the same that these divisions do not matter?

Being Color Blind

According to Meriam-Webster dictionary, to be “Colorblind” means to “not be influenced by differences of race; especially: free from racial prejudice.”

Seeing and treating everyone as the same, despite their racial background, is highly valued in our world today. We are not to judge people because of their race or treat them differently because of their race. We would all agree this is a good thing.

There have been so many battles and debates won in order to make sure we stop people being treated differently because of their race.

But, should the church be colorblind?

Seeing Color – Being One

When we look at the book of Revelation, it mentions there are people from every tribe, language, and nation. In Revelation 21 it mentions the nations brining in their glory into the New Jerusalem. There is no “color blindness” (I am using this phrase in a different way) in these passages.

Why? Does God not want the church to be colorblind?

Passages, like Galatians 3:28, are not referring to being color blind, but are referring to an equality of faith. Everyone is equal in the church. There should be no favoritism. There is no discrimination of race or gender or status in the church.

Yet, we see God mentioning people groups in Heaven and on the New Earth not as one, but as nations. God is recognizing diversity. He is the one that created all of us whether of one race or the other and whether male or female. He loves diversity. In Revelation, there is no mention of a “heavenly language” that we will all speak. It says people from every language. Yet, His people are all one in Heaven through Christ.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing the diversity of people in our churches. We are all one in Christ, but we all come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, and languages. These are God ordained. Diversity is beautiful. When we recognize diversity in the church, we see people as different, yet redeemed by Christ.

In doing so, we begin to see how each person can contribute to the church. We see the history of God working in a culture. We begin to see how we can go to a different country and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Unfortunate White-Washing

In American conservative churches (this is where I mainly observed this), there is a push for being colorblind. However, what has that done?

We see churches that have white-washed themselves. Everything that is done or celebrated is mainly “white.” I have seen a mural in a church that promoted itself as reaching to the nations and being culturally diverse. The mural portrayed various people in church history. However, all of them were white.

If God shows us a glimpse of Heaven and it has people of every tribe, language, and nation, then shouldn’t we be churches that begin to recognize how every nation has a part in church history? Every race may do church differently, yet we can learn from them? Every language can bring out a new way of understanding the Bible?

Without Color… Creativity is Lost

My favorite painting is Starry Night by Van Gogh. Yet, look at it without its color. It is still interesting to look at. Yet, something is missing. The colors work together as one to show the creativity and mind of Vincent Van Gogh.

The church is the same. Without seeing the diversity in the church, we lose the mindset of God of using diversity to the purpose of seeing His glory though the church as they reach individuals with the Gospel.

Each tribe, each language, and each nation has something to add to the church as it marches towards God’s purpose.

We are all one and equal in Christ. Yet, we recognize that our diversity can come together as one, like a beautiful painting, to show the glory of God through Jesus Christ as He works through His church.

Painting our Churches

But, now what? How can we do this in our churches today?

First, look around you. Look for the diversity in your church. Now, if the “diversity” goes against God’s Word, then it should not be recognized (for example, sin is not diversity). But, look for the diversity in the people in the church. Look how God has redeemed each one of you to be apart of His church. Find out the stories of grace that are in your church.

Second, take a trip to the bookstore or library. Have you ever read about the history of Christianity in China? Or in India? Have you ever read about the Spirituals written during the time of slavery in the US? Have you read biographies of women risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel? Do you know how God has worked in the drug cartels in Colombia? Have you taken time to see how God works through history and culture to show how He uses diversity to bring Himself glory?

Third, in our churches, are we celebrating our diversity? Have you taught your congregation a song in another language? It does not have to be on Missions Week. Are you teaching about God working in all cultures and celebrating the contributions all groups of people have given to the church throughout history?

Our culture tells us to be colorblind. In that sense of the word, yes. Never judge someone because of their race and background.

In the church we see each other as equals because of Christ. Yet, we see the “color” of diversity God is using in the church to accomplish His purpose.

“Never Seen a White Man Before”

As I think back to the conversation I heard on the plane, I can’t help but think that this group is missing out on how they should be viewing God’s church. I wanted to ask, “What if someone from Ghana or China brought them the Gospel before you?”

Let us, as a church, appreciate the diversity in the church and see how that brings color to God’s world and how that diversity can be used to march forward in oneness towards God’s purpose of the church.

Lord we stand in the midst of a multitude
Of those from every tribe and tongue
We are Your people redeemed by Your blood
Rescued from death by Your love
There are no words
Good enough to thank You
There are no words to express my praise
But I will lift up my voice
And sing from my heart
With all of my strength

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Lord we stand by grace in Your presence
Cleansed by the blood of the Lamb
We are Your children called by Your name
Humbly we bow and we pray

Release Your power
to work in us and through us
Till we are changed
To be more like You
Then all the nations will see
Your glory revealed
And worship You

Hallelujah hallelujah hallelujah
To the Lamb
Hallelujah hallelujah
By the blood of Christ we stand
Every tongue every tribe
Every people every land
Giving glory giving honor
Giving praise unto the Lamb of God

Behind Pleasant Faces: Standing

“My conscience is captive to the Word offGod.” – Martin Luther

He stood there, on trial, facing his accusers. His works and writings spread across a table. “Will you recant?” Silence fell and all eyes looked to Martin Luther.

One might have wondered what was going through his mind. Did he think back to all that happened leading to the Diet of Worms? Did his mind recall the pounding of the hammer as he nailed the 95 Theses in Wittenberg? Or was it an event or an action before that? Did Martin Luther think back to the hours he spent studying God’s Word and finding the book of Romans? Did he think back to the times he found himself wrestling over the Catholic church’s teachings and the doctrine of God’s Word? Did he then think about how this time studying gave him a voice to declare and stand on what God’s Word said?

He opened his mouth, “Since your most serene majesty and your high mightinesses require of me a simple, clear and direct answer, I will give one, and it is this: I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error and even into glaring inconsistency with themselves. If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this was brought into subjection to God’s word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”

Where the Reformation Began Then and Now

Many people see 1517 as the beginnings of the Reformation. Many see the action of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses as the spark for the Reformation. But, was it?

How do you think Martin Luther arrived at these conclusions that were contrary and condemnable at his time? He started by personally studying Scripture. Luther did not just vent complaints. Instead, he found the teachings of Scripture and the teachings of the Catholic church to be in conflict. He then spoke.

In these last three posts, I have written about the King James Only Movement. I have laid out reasons why we left the churches found in this movement. Many have done the same. Why? Was it because we do not like the King James Version?

No. It is from taking the teachings of this movement and comparing them with Scripture. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
II Timothy 2:15 is the attitude that sparked the Reformation. It was when an individual took time to study the Bible that God gave them a voice. It was studying the Bible that lead us to separate from the King James Only Movement.

It is not about preference. It is about what God says.

Raising Your Voice Like Paul and Martin Luther

When we read the New Testament epistles, we find an attitude of Paul towards various issues in the churches. When it came to issue of false teaching in the church, Paul was direct. He did not beat around the bush. He was blunt. He calls for false teaching to be exposed, separated from, and then a return to Biblical teaching.

Martin Luther followed suit. He was direct. He did not beat around the bush. He called out false teaching, called for separation, and then he did one of the most beautiful things in church history: Martin Luther began translating the Bible in the German language. He wanted the people to know God’s Word and know what God teaches. The only way for one to know the Bible is to study it in their own language. The Reformation followed Paul’s example by leading people to Scripture.

Both never called for a destruction of an individual or group of people because they were teaching unbiblical thing. Instead, call it out > separate > return to Scripture.

Now We Turn to the King James Only Movement

What are we to do with the King James Only Movement and the churches and people who follow this teaching?

Our first question should always be: Is it biblical?

They claim that holding on to the King James Version as the only version is a key component of the faith. Is that biblical? It is not. https://bracedbytruth.home.blog/2019/06/26/behind-pleasant-faces-house-rules-as-doctrine/
Please see the link for the Scripture. It is not biblical to say this because it ultimately makes the Christian faith a “Jesus and…” faith.

Their ideologies are similar to that of the Gnostics. They promote one can only know God through the secret knowledge only found in the KJV.
https://bracedbytruth.home.blog/2019/07/03/behind-pleasant-faces-dissecting-and-exhuming-ideology/

It is clear, based on their teachings, the King James Only Movement is not biblical. When we hold their claims up to Scripture, it is not a match.

Behind Pleasant Faces

There are many saved individuals in King James Only churches. There are many good Christians sitting in those pews. There are many good pastors who are preaching there. However, what they hold to is unbiblical teaching. They are being deceived. Behind their smiles and warm acceptance is the deception that goes back to the New Testament of adding to salvation and sanctification.

It may not be their fault. But, we still need to call it what it is: unbiblical. Pleasant faces can hide unbiblical deception.

Standing

The truth has been stated. We follow suit with Paul and Luther. It is hard to do. But, it comes down to a question: if something unbiblical is happening in the church, what should we do? What do we ultimately call the KJVO movement? Romans 16:17-18 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

But, it is not enough to just separate. All that does is leave behind a deceived people. We must stand on the truth. We must stand on God’s Word. They can have all their Greek and Hebrew manuscript debates. But, it must come down to what is ultimately being taught. Does it match Scripture? We must always stand with Scripture over everything else. We must always promote the truth of Scripture. We should not be seated and just see these movements as a matter of preference. Standing with and for the Truth is what we are called to.

Concluding

As Martin Luther gave those words, he sealed his fate. Yet, he stood for the truth. It was not popular in his circles and he probably lost friends and relationships with neighbors. But, Luther could not go against Scripture. He had to promote the truth. He did not try to close down the Catholic Church or destroy the papacy. He spoke truth and pointed people to the truth.

As we look at the KJVO Movement and other movements and teachings in our churches today, do they match with Scripture? What are we going to do as individuals who know the truth when unbiblical teaching happens?

We should follow the example of Martin Luther and Paul. We call it out. We separate from it. But, we do not leave it there. We speak the truth. God’s Word and His Truth is much more powerful than our attempts to close a church. His Word changes hearts and that is how a church is changed. We have to be faithful in proclaiming that Truth… even if we stand alone.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.