IN A NUTSHELL, YES. I believe that following Jesus starts with taking seriously what Jesus taught; Christianity claims to do that but their actions tell a different story. I am far from perfect and do not do a great job following Jesus myself. However, Christian churches have proven to be more of a hindrance than a help in perfecting my journey. I do not believe that this should be done alone, we need community. That leads to the function that this blog can help with – following Jesus in community. If you have run across this blog somehow, and you are also looking for ways to follow Jesus in community – perhaps we should stay in touch! May God guide our thoughts, our meditations, our decisions and our relationships with each other and with God Himself.
I realize that I may lose a lot of the people who have a high need for encouragement when they read my hypothesis. Please be patient with me – this may end up being more encouraging then you can imagine right now! Sometimes what we NEED to hear is deeper truth than what we are used to, but it gives us strength and courage on a more effective level than what we are used to.
My hypothesis: “Caffeine is an unnatural part of our diet which negatively affects our physical lives, likewise an excessive dependency on positivity negatively affects our spiritual lives.”
Before I even get into my analogy I think it may be helpful to give a little background for my unrest which has brought about this argument. Understand “argument” as both a carefully thought out and reasoned discussion AND an emotional disagreement. Usually when I hear Christians talk about being “encouraging” and listen to the way that they practice that encouragement, I am uneasy with what is going on; when people give me “words of encouragement”, and expect me to return the favor, I normally have a craving for something more substantial, something more based on “reality”.
One of the responses they might give to my hypothesis could be to go to the “5 Love Languages.” They could explain that different people have different ways to receive and give love. People have a universal need to receive love and they receive that love in different ways. They would tell me that the people who emphasize encouragement come from their primarily speaking “Words of Affirmation” and that my need for substance based on reality in my conversations comes from my speaking primarily “Quality Time”. I don’t disagree with that response – but I take it to a different place than Gary Chapman may be comfortable with. I suggest that people’s needs for speaking these different dialects of love comes from unbalanced spiritual lives; that their spiritual nutrition and spiritual lifestyles leave them with unnatural needs. People who are spiritually strong, healthy and mature get their love tank filled primarily from God and their love for people flows out of that full tank. These people do not need others to speak particular love languages; they understand all of the dialects out of their intimacy with God.
BACK TO CAFFEINE. I try very hard to NOT use caffeine because it messes up a good nights sleep for me. What I tell people, if the subject goes very far, which it rarely does (they have too great a need for encouragement) is that I believe that the right way to wake up is to GET ENOUGH SLEEP!!
AND their response, would be – if we ever talked about it, “YA, RIGHT!!” and they would have a good point.
Getting enough sleep is a constant battle; in order to get enough sleep I pay attention to a number of different variables that affect my quality of sleep. I pay attention to minimizing caffeine, sugar, and drugs in my life; I pay attention to getting physical exercise, I pay attention to trying to create a steady, daily routine which gets me to bed and up at the same times. I protect my sleep environment. In my sleep environment I have learned that temperature, light and noise/quiet all influence the quality of my sleep.
Getting enough exercise is very important to sleeping well and is also COMPLICATED! Getting enough physical exercise was less of a problem in different eons and dispensations when people got enough of it in their financial vocation; people for most of history got more than enough physical exercise just staying alive. Today most of us need to work artificial exercise into our daily routines to stay healthy, which can be really tough with all of the other demands on our time. And to get enough exercise to stay healthy we need to start out healthy enough to get that exercise. Many of us are not healthy enough, with different types of unhealth like injury, disease, obesity, to get a healthy amount of physical exercise.
We also need to be getting a good diet to exercise at a healthy level. We need to pay attention to the right amounts of macro nutrients: carbs, proteins, and fats. We also need to pay attention to a good balance of micro-nutrients, things, traditionally thought of as vitamins and minerals but (in practice) now including other things like probiotics and antioxidants.
If we don’t take care of our bodies physical exercise can be dangerous – a healthy amount of physical exercise requires a healthy body, a good diet and good sleep. If we don’t take care of our bodies it can lead to injury or disease; not taking care of our physical bodies can also lead to emotional and intellectual problems.
NOW TO THE SPIRITUAL ANALOGY.
Physical sleep compares, in the Bible, to spiritual rest. [I like the NASB.] We can see spiritual rest specifically in particular Bible passages like Matthew 11:27-29, Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 and Psalm 95 (the word “rest” is in the last verse). This principle is found throughout the Bible.
In Matthew 11: 27-29 the problem is “weary and heavy-laden” and the solution is Jesus’ yoke. “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me”. A yoke means WORK! Taking Jesus’ yoke upon us means partnering with Jesus in doing the WORK that Jesus is doing. God has called each one of us to run a spiritual race (Heb. 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.) It is a different type of race depending on the types of gifts, abilities and circumstances we have. The Body of Christ should be like a spiritual track team or swim team, each of us has our own even – some spring, some do distance. In track some hurdle, some long jump, throw the discuss. In swimming there is sprinting, there is distance, there are 4 primary different types of strokes. And in both there are relays. Spiritually we are each engaged in our own unique events and as a team we encourage and empower each other TO WIN those unique spiritual events! In order to rest well spiritually (and thus emotionally) we need to be partnering with Jesus and working along side of Him.
But we have a problem with works salvation. No, we do not work our way into Heaven, and we do not even work out the second part of our salvation, our current work of sanctification, through our own works. Salvation is by FAITH. Salvation is by FAITH from first to last all the way through that process including the third part of salvation when we enter into eternity. This work is not about working out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-15) by our own efforts. Jesus’ yoke is EASY and his burden is light. In the analogy of the yoke, think of a pair of oxen (Luke 9:62 and 1 Corinthians 9:10). Frequently there was an older, stronger, more experienced ox with an immature, less experienced ox working alongside in the same yoke. The stronger ox did most of the work, but the younger ox slept at night because he also exerted himself. A big part of attaining spiritual rest is working alongside Jesus.
WORK & WORSHIP.
Times of worship are a place many of us go to find spiritual rest. The times of refreshing that we find in the presence of God as we worship Him are precious, precious, precious; they cannot be replaced! However, worship, in order to be authentic and sustainable has to come out of a life of sacrifice, sanctification and growth. We can achieve counterfeits to spiritual rest!
I went to the book of Romans to find out how to put the Gospel in a nutshell. What I found was that the Gospel is about how to have a right relationship with God. When I stopped asking myself “How does Romans explain how to stay out of Hell” and started asking “How does Romans explain a right relationship with God” then the book suddenly made sense. Previously the book had no flow, it seemed like Paul jumped around from topic to topic and even made an important promise (chapter 4) based on the WRONG promise to Abraham. Abraham was justified by faith – but what did he believe? The promise that God was going to give him descendants! Why did he not believe a promise that God was going to justify him by faith? What a weak argument! That is until we realize that it is not about staying out of hell! It is about having a right relationship with the almighty creator of the universe, KNOWING our loving Father God, intimacy with Him. When I looked to Romans to answer the question about how to have a right relationship with God, then it made sense and there is a logical flow to the book. To have that relationship with God we need to TRUST God. That is what Abraham was doing – he was trusting God; Abraham was not primarily trying to be justified or made righteous.
That flow of Romans continues in the very next chapter. First it summarizes what Abraham’s faith means to us (5:1-2); that we have peace with God through our faith and God’s grace. Then it moves on to glorying in our tribulations (5:2-5). What is THAT doing right here in this particular place in Romans??!! It’s about having a right relationship with God, and it is telling us what Romans is going to be talking about for the next 4 chapters!! That’s what it’s doing here!!
The problem that God is fixing, the reason that we need the Gospel at all, is described in Romans 1. Verse 21 summarizes the foundation of the problem – that we don’t honor God as God nor give God thanks. What we are supposed to be doing is honoring God and giving God thanks. The problem is NOT that we don’t say the right WORDS to God. The chapter is describing peoples ACTIONS. Doing things the RIGHT way, would also involve ACTIONS.
Chapter 2 flows out of that understanding. 2:6-10 gives us two scenarios. In each scenario God “will render to each person according to his deeds.” In the first scenario we “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality” and receive “eternal life.” Those who do good (2:10) receive “glory and honor and peace.”
In scenario two, we, by selfish ambition, “do not obey the truth” but instead “obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation” and as a consequence receive “tribulation and distress”.
What is right about the people in the first category is that they, by their actions, tell God “Thank you” and “honor Him as God.” The Bible tells us about people who have the right words but their hearts are far from Him; we need both the right heart attitude and actions to back that up. If our actions don’t tell God that we love Him, then we don’t really love Him.
GOD’S REST. In Romans chapters 5 through 8, God (by the apostle Paul) shows how the process of getting from scenario two to scenario one. As we go through tribulations (5:2-5 – tough times) and continue to give God thanks and honor Him as God – both in action and word – God develops His character in us. As we make sacrifices in our lives; as we rejoice in tough times, God sees it as us telling Him that we love Him! Out of this process God brings us into continuing intimacy with Him. It is by intimacy with Father God that we receive spiritual rest.
It also talks about God’s rest in the book of Hebrews, chapters 2-3. The author refers to events in the Exodus that are summarized in Psalm 95. That psalm tells us that the people of Israel hardened their hearts against God; they did this by both word and deed. Consequently they alienated themselves from God. (Psalm 95:10) “For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways.” In Hebrews 2 & 3 the author uses that aspect of the Exodus as a spiritual analogy. If we harden our hearts toward God it will isolate us from God. We do that by word and by deed – not primarily by what we say in song services.
Worship, in order to be authentic and sustainable has to come out of a life of sacrifice, sanctification and growth; spiritual rest is tied to spiritual work.
Their are people who convince themselves that they are worshiping God in song services when their hearts are far from Him. We can have artificial religious experiences in which we simulate (fake) the real thing. We can do this by using the principles by which emotions work and how they are activated by music and by sweet words telling us that we are loved by God even when our actions and lives to not back that up. An artificial religion, however, does not have the power to change our lives, and it is not sustainable in the long run – hopefully it will not last long. As long as the false hope lasts, people will not be motivated to enter into a right relationship with God and will not experience significantly changed lives or genuine intimacy with Him.
Worship, in order to be authentic and sustainable has to come out of a life of sacrifice, sanctification and growth. The parallel with the spiritual is that spiritual growth comes out of both spiritual exercise and solid spiritual food. We should be getting that spiritual exercise through our daily lives as we live out our faith, as people in generations past got their physical exercise through physical labor. We can get artificial exercise in the gym (physically) or (spiritually) by substituting authentic relationship through things like sacrificial giving of money and attending church every week, but it’s not going to bring us genuine intimacy with God. (The same actions can be false religion or true religion depending on our relationship with God – meditate on sacrifices in Psalm 51, especially in verses 15 through 19.)
Spiritual food can only be eaten by people who are strong enough to receive it (Heb. 5:11-14). People who by not exercising and by not maintaining good diets have become too weak to eat that spiritual food will not be able to move on to or continue eating solid food. I believe that being artificially optimistic at all times is an artificial spiritual drug. If it is basically low level and only very mildly affects our lives then it may be very hard to distinguish the true spiritual place we are in. Physically, are we awake and involved with what is going on around us because we have a healthy lifestyle going on? Or is it because we are ingesting enough caffeine to maintain expectations while actually gradually (or not so gradually) using up our life forces? Spiritually, are we depending on optimism rather on genuine spiritual lifestyles and genuine intimacy with God? Extreme forms of spiritual idolatry would be compared to more extreme physical drugs.
HEALTHY SPIRITUAL FOOD.
The Apostle Paul summarized his ministry (Acts 26:20) when testifying before Agrippa.
Paul told people everywhere that “they must repent and turn to God and demonstrate it with a changed life.” This is not just a pattern for our initial salvation experience but also for the ongoing salvation experience of sanctification:
- 1) Repent
- 2) Turn to God
- 3) Demonstrate it with a changed life.
- 4) Not spoken to Agrippa – those three steps lead us into knowing God.
We see these same subjects intertwined throughout the Bible and I believe that our conversation with ourselves and with each other should reflect these same topics. True encouragement comes out of knowing that “sweet spot” where are words can change the other person. If our words are not challenging enough then they do not change anything, if they are overly challenging then the other person is not capable of receiving effectively through it. Just a little bit more challenging than that and we may actually offend people. Healthy people do not offend easily, but if we don’t know them, then we really don’t know their resistance to offense. The “sweet spot” is that place at which our conversation mirrors the one that God is having with them; we want to know what the Holy Spirit is talking to them about. We know that each of us is involved in this process continually, and our conversations should often follow this pattern. One problem is that we are frequently trying to encourage people when we don’t know what is going on in their lives; we don’t know them well enough. I believe that God has designed us to live in community – that we are to be working together, studying the Bible together, praying together; we are supposed to be living together. I don’t think that God really prefers to make up for a lack of community through the spiritual gifts like words of knowledge; God is a gentleman and I believe that He would prefer not to air our dirty laundry like that. Out of genuine relationship should come the understanding of where the “sweet spot” is in each other’s lives. It is out of genuine relationship that we can genuinely speak into each other.
We can see this same pattern in Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 12 we are told to (1) repent, or “rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly.” (GNB) We are told to (2) turn to God, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” and (3) demonstrate it with a changed life, “run with determination the race that lies before us.” (4) The reward is intimacy with God – we will “reap the peaceful reward of a righteous life” (Heb. 12:11)
I see the pattern also in Romans 12. (1) Repent, “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world” (2) Turn to God, “This is the true worship that you should offer.” (3) Demonstrate it with a changed life. I believe that step (3) in this chapter is found in the rest of the chapter; Paul is explaining how we should live together in community – including that we should be exercising our spiritual gifts and abilities among each other. (4) To see the consequences of living this way we might go to Romans 8 and truths like, “Abba, Father!” and that NOTHING “will be able to separate us from the love of God, Which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
I see that same pattern in Psalm 91. In this psalm these steps are intertwined throughout the chapter; I will just show the steps in the first twist. (1) Repent; inferred – stop dwelling in the shelter of worldly wisdom, stop taking refuge in worldly patterns. (2) Turn to God; “I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (3) Demonstrate it with a changed life; we “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” (4) In this twist, step 4 is the same as the step 3. We “abide in the shadow of the Almighty” both as a continual offering to God – making ongoing decisions to do that as and as a gift from God – He pulls us under His wings (91:4) to “abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Verses 3 through 8 talk about benefits of living that ongoing process. Then the next intertwining of the strands shows up in verse 9. Step (1) repent; is inferred again. We stop taking refuge in our own efforts, in worldly actions. (2) turn to God; we make the LORD our refuge. (3) demonstrate it with a changed life; “you have made the LORD, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” Then (4) the benefits we reap start again at verse 9, in that God is our refuge and our dwelling place.
These themes should be a regular part of our conversation. We can again find these steps in Deuteronomy 6, but we can also see in this chapter that it is supposed to be a big part of our conversation. Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
We play the role of spiritual drug peddlers if we offer up artificial sweetener or spiritual caffeine by simply speaking to each other based on the world’s politically correct speech with positive word’s of affirmation without actually taking time to find out what is really going on in someone’s life. If we develop a set of canned answers that make people feel good regardless of whether that is what God has to say to them at the moment, if that is what we are doing we are disguising the needs in our lives; we are substituting spiritual caffeine for spiritual rest. Think about how Israel treated the prophets – they persecuted and killed them. Why? Because they were not following the politically correct speech of the day – to be positive! The false prophets did not have qualms about being unnaturally positive and were not persecuted.
I said earlier that, “getting enough sleep is a constant battle.” It is also a constant battle to get enough spiritual rest. Spiritual intimacy with God flows out of a life lived for God. I said that, “in order to get enough sleep I pay attention to a number of different variables that affect my quality of sleep.” Their are also different variables that we need t pay attention to to get that spiritual rest. We need to have a good balance of prayer, spiritual food – the Bible, etc.
“I pay attention to minimizing caffeine, sugar and drugs in my life.” I am more sensitive to caffeine then most people. If I have a cup of coffee in the morning I will get to sleep OK at first, but then I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Perhaps my extra sensitivity made it more obvious to me then it is to other people. But I believe that caffeine negatively affects most of our physical sleep – and likewise spiritual caffeine with it’s artificial sweeteners will affect our spiritual rest. There is a whole list of things that we need to look at to sleep well physically and the same is true for spiritual rest. We MAY me doing well enough with our list as a whole that the spiritual caffeine is not a problem; hopefully we are spiritually healthy enough that a little flattery is not a problem.
“I pay attention to getting physical exercise, I pay attention to trying to create a steady, daily routine which gets me to bed and up at the same times. I protect my sleep environment. In my sleep environment I have learned that temperature, light and noise/quiet all influence the quality of my sleep.” I may be able to keep going with the analogy here, or perhaps the analogy starts following apart.
But it may be helpful to take this to a more extreme scenario. If false encouragement is spiritual caffeine, then we can also see entertainment as a spiritual alcohol. Alcohol is actually a depressant and entertainment can likewise dull our spiritual senses, decrease our spiritual energy level. I believe that when God told us to love Him with ALL of our heart, mind, soul and strength that He refers to dedicating all of our resources to that end. Loving people is a subcategory of loving God; we can see that in different Bible passages like Proverbs that tell us what we do for the poor we do for God; or like Matthew 25 and the sheep and the goats. Jesus told us that as we minister to the needy we minister to Him.
We have limited resources – including limited time, money and emotional resources. If we are spending our time, money and emotional resources on entertainment than it comes out of what we give to God. Like emotional resources – we only have so much emotional energy to devote to spiritual warfare; we CAN use that up on entertainment! God could be calling us to use our time and money in a certain type of ministry; and if we have numbed ourselves and become overly relaxed through our abuse of spiritual alcohol (entertainment) then we may be deaf to God’s call in our life. For these numb overly relaxed people, then, truly life giving and empowering words would call them to repentance from the idolatry of entertainment. That would be a tough thing to do however. In their spiritual state they are going to be offended easily! It is going to be hard to find that sweet spot where they are challenged to grow but not offended. False words of encouragement on the other hand will be easy; but they will only build up false religion in their lives – not truly empower them to run the race that God has set before them. We will not be stimulating them or provoking them to love and to good works like it tells us to in Hebrews 10:23 – the reason that we are to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as it says in the next verse.
In summary – Superficial words of encouragement, spiritual caffeine or solid meat from the word of God? I prefer that people speak into my life and to speak into other people’s lives through knowledge of where we are at and who we are because we are in relationship; I would prefer that we know the “sweet spot” in each others lives where the Holy Spirit is working and that our conversations flow out of that ministry.
With the Holy Spirit as the wind in your sails, you may look tilted to contemporary culture.
Sunday’s readings: Genesis 7:1-7, 15-16 Psalm 22:23-31 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38
Today’s Gospel sounds very stark if we pay close attention. Imagine that someone you love told you that he or she was truly destined to be executed by the people in power in your country. That would be very hard to take. That is why Peter looked at Jesus and said, “No! Can’t be! We can’t let this happen!”
It sounds harsh when Jesus replies to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” Why did he reply to Peter that way? One commentator explained it well. Satan did not want Jesus to go to the cross, because Satan knew that the cross was his Waterloo. On the cross, looking like a defeated warrior, Christ would finally and permanently defeat Satan. In the worldview from God’s throne in eternity and infinity, Satan would be finished if Jesus went to the cross…
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You said that, “it might cost you your life,” and you phrased it well. if it did not bring up and entirely different subject, I would have preferred that you had said something along the lines of being a Christian has already cost you your life; you are dead and you have no more to fear about dying. [Jesus said] “unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
“I have good news for you, but it might cost you your life. Would you like me to continue?”
Imagine that you answered a knock at your front door, and these were the first words out of the mouth of the man standing on your front porch. What would you do?
A pastor in Vietnam, who must remain nameless because of danger to his life, starts telling people about Jesus with these words. He might be eating dinner with someone, or walking down a street, or sitting in a grassy park. He strikes up a conversation, and when he feels led by the Holy Spirit to share Jesus with a person, he says, “I have good news for you, but it might cost you your life. Would you like me to continue?” He says that most people ask him to continue, because they want to hear the good news. Many…
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Here is an e-mail I sent to a to a radio preacher in response to what he taught about the Bible and capital punishment. His name is unimportant, lots of preachers teach the same thing.
Dear ______. I have listened to your radio show at various times as a long haul truck driver and enjoyed the show; I have had a lot of respect for you. I managed to listen to it this morning, however, in my kitchen, and thus with opportunity to respond. You may have just lost my respect; time will tell.
I have had a lot of conversations with pastors and elders at churches I visited as a long haul truck driver. I almost never had a logical conversation about this subject, but rather the conversations fall into two basic categories.
The most common is that I quickly start impinging on the other persons idols, and they lose their objectivity. The vocal level and tones of voice always stay civil and polite, but logic is totally lost. They begin to respond to the conversation in really weird ways, and are obviously very bothered. The second type of conversation is the other person agrees with me, and I simply don’t learn anything. I would sincerely like to know why I am wrong. It would make it much easier for me to find a church home.
You did two things in this radio show that are disrespectful to your listeners.
Number one you set up a straw man argument on behalf of the believers who disagree with capital punishment, and then knocked that down. When we hear someone do that, we are likely to think, “this person is not a legitimate scholar”, and consequently everything else they say is suspect.
The second thing that you did in the radio show is to claim that the proper attitude toward Christians who disagree is respectfully disagree (I wish I had a transcript of the show so I could get the words exactly correct and respond line for line). Your attitude toward the Christians who disagree was not at all respectful. The listener to your show who has not investigated this issue for themselves will go away understanding that the other side to the issue is totally stupid. 1 Corinthians tells us to treat other people with respect.
I don’t have time to spell out the Biblical argument against capital punishment. You should have studied the issue before you preached a sermon on it, and you obviously did not do so. I will however outline the basic argument.
JOB DESCRIPTIONS FOR THE BELIEVERS. The job description for the believer has changed. The Old Testament job description for the believer in Israel in the time of the judges and the kings was different from the New Testament job description. The difference is that for the former, in the OT, they were to do two things. They were to seek both the Spiritual Kingdom of God and the Physical kingdom of Israel. The New Testament job description differs in that we are to seek only the Spiritual Kingdom of God. The New Testament believer is not seeking a physical kingdom, and does not have biblical instructions to go to physical war or to use capital punishment.
A basic outline for the New Testament job description.
I. Love God.
……A. Love God.
……B. Love People.
…………1. Love the brethren.
…………2. Love our neighbors.
…………3. Love our enemies.
II. Do not love the things of the world.
…………Our God is a jealous God and we can not serve two masters.
Yes, capital punishment is still the Biblical response to various crimes. The question is, “Should followers of Jesus Christ participate in capital punishment?” The quick answer is no, they should not. Let non-believers do that; God is perfectly capable of finding other people to do that job. The job of the believer is to follow the basic outline above. If we love God we love all people; we CANNOT love people AND kill them. To say that we can is totally illogical. You do not love someone and kill them and send them to hell; they may yet repent and become believers. The reason that we would kill them is to protect the things of the world which we love (remember, no greater love has any man than to lay down their life for their friends, if we lay down our lives for the things of the world we have committed the ultimate form of idolatry). We are not to love the things of the world. If we do not love the things of the world we have no reason to protect the the things of the world (like the USA and the American Dream).
The most important scriptures for this debate have to do with the commandments to love God and to love our neighbors. You know where they are. The water shed Bible passage is the beginning of Romans Chapter 13, where it talks about the authorities not carrying the sword in vain. The question to ask about this passage is, “does this passage describe or prescribe the actions of government officials on the one hand and the believers on the other.” The answer to this question separates the hawks and the doves. In the context of chapters 12 and 13 of Romans the passage is clearly prescribing the actions for believers and incidental to this discussion is a description of how government officials operate (it is merely descriptive of those in authority). This Bible passage does not at all attempt to tell government officials what to do; Romans is not written to them. Logic tells us that if the government officials were to become believers, then they may have to decide between following the New Testament job description and their job description as government officials.
This line of reasoning leads naturally to our understanding of how followers of the Lord Jesus Christ should respond to war. I have stopped calling myself a Christian and started calling myself a follower of The Lord Jesus Christ. If I look at what Christians have stood for historically I find that they have historically followed Jesus only until it interferes with their worldly idols. After that, President Bush was a great example of Christianity. You not only kill the enemy, but you torture them, take away their rights and do everything else it takes to protect the things of the world that you love. This is not how the Bible teaches the believer to live.
If you have a logical response to my arguments I would love to hear it. I really doubt that you will respond logically. When idols are impinged upon the reaction is very emotional. I expect that your reaction will probably be to attack my character; I am not interested in engaging in that type of conversation. I am also not interested in spending my time responding to people who have not carefully read what I have to say. Again, I would love to hear your respectful, well reasoned responses.
This is an e-mail that I sent (some time ago) to members of a particular church after deciding whether or not I could become a member. Please do not try to figure out which church or which denomination it was as that is not important, most churches and denominations in the USA fall into the same mold.
Dear [name of church] Church Friends,
As a lot of you know I had been working on making a decision about becoming a [member of your denomination]. I believe that I owe everyone an explanation concerning my decision.
One reason that this is an important decision for me is that there is a missionary / job opportunity teaching English in [name of denomination – NOD] in Korea and one job requirement is that one is an official [NOD]. That job, as it is basically a paid missionary position, sounds really, really exciting; there are simply not many jobs like this around.
I have come to a decision and all of you deserve an explanation as to what my decision is and what that means.
I have decided that I cannot in good conscience become [NOD]. Why? I do not have major problems with the official doctrine of the [NOD] church, but rather believe that as far as denominations go its doctrine is good. My problem is what the church culture teaches. The operative word is “culture”. A church’s culture does not necessarily teach the same things as the official doctrine. We have been designed by God to be social in nature. One thing this means is that the primary way we learn is through social modeling. Our values tend to be built primarily through peer example rather than through our intellects. We tend to learn more about being a Christian by watching other Christians than through studying the Bible, listening to preaching and teaching, praying and through song all put together. Peer pressure is a huge part of how every single one of us learns, no exceptions.
Jesus taught, as does the Bible as a whole, that the number one commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. One obvious result of doing this is that one has a passion for the things of God. “With all of our soul, heart, mind and strength” means a huge, powerful passion. A passion for the things of God results in a love for God’s word (the Bible), prayer (talking to God), and worshiping God (including worshiping through song). Some things that take place in social interaction between people with a healthy passion for God are Spontaneous prayer meetings, spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous ministry in applying the Bible to running the race God has put before us. Another thing that you will certainly see is that when people love God’s word, and live in a place like ours where it is perfectly legal and practical to have a Bible with us is that in anticipation to the Bible being a part of our conversations we have the Bible with us. This means anyplace where we gather together with other Christians. If passionate Christians gather together in a regular manner they have their Bibles with them because they do plan on talking about the Bible. People who have a passion for hiding God’s word in their hearts always want to know the Bible better, and they keep it close at hand. It is my observation that this is simply not true about [NOD] culture (or any denominational culture I have experienced). Here is what I do observe, and I have spent enough time with you to understand clearly the trends.
On a [church day] one starts out with 24 hours. From those hours subtract obligatory items to come up with discretionary time available on [church day]. Subtract ~8 hours for sleeping, ~1.5 hours for eating breakfast and dinner, ~1 hour for transportation time, and another 2 hours for various other demands on our time. That leaves about very roughly 11.5 hours of discretionary time. How do I observe that people use that time? The majority of [NOD] seem to put in a lackadaisical 2 hours at church (I say lackadaisical because most of you show up late or barely on time, don’t get much involved in singing, etc.) The rest of the day is spent with entertaining oneself (some time may be spent on a serving thing like feeding the hungry). That’s about a 1:5 ratio of God time to secular time. I reject the concept that all good things come from God and therefore everything I enjoy is a way to enjoy God. We are clearly told not to love the things of the world; there is a clear difference between passion for God and loving the same things non-Christians love and enjoy. What I observe in [NOD] culture is a major lack of passion for the things of God. The culture evidently does not allow one to break out into spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous prayer, or spontaneous worship (songs to God). If God is really the love of our life, if He is really our passion, then these things take place naturally and frequently.
Let’s compare passion for the things of God with other types of passion. Very few fishermen have ever claimed that they are totally sold out to fishing, that fishing is the center of their life, and yet you get two fishermen together and they will talk about fishing for hours. You can think of lots of similar activities that people will discuss passionately for hours at a time. How long will a typical [NOD] conversation last about the things of God? Not very long, anyhow that is my observation. I have to go by the data that I have, and that data tells me not much passion for God, which translates to “lukewarm”.
I really do not want to be judging individuals and am not at all trying to do so. I am talking about church culture. There is absolutely no particular person whose relationship with God I am willing to judge. I have seen bits and pieces of evidence about individuals that tells me that the church culture really does not represent their hearts. I am really talking about the church culture, and to a certain extent, maybe a large extent, the church culture does not reflect the individuals involved. It is, however, definitely where new church members will learn how to do relationship with God. For baby Christians that means that the church culture will inoculate them against a right relationship with God, and this is a huge problem. The Bible clearly teaches that we need to endure to the end, and a baby Christian inoculated against passion for God will not endure as a Christian.
Another problem however is that I do not know any of you very well. I do not know more than a few scant facts about the race that God has put before any of you and I do not know how to encourage you in that individual race that God has put before you. This is a major reason for church attendance; the passage most quoted about why attend church, “not forsaking our own assembling together” comes directly from the context of our encouraging each other in our individual races that God has given us. I do not know how to get to know you at this church. I simply do not know how. Every one of us needs to be wrestling with making the Bible become more our way of life, and we need to be wrestling with this as a team and as a family. We need to be working together at being conformed to the image of Christ and putting God first in our lives. Again, I do not know how to do this in [NOD] culture. My observations are that this is not what [NOD] culture is about. It is probably not permitted. (I do have a [relative] from a different [NOD] church with a prayer meeting that meets in his home. At their home, in this prayer meeting, is a different culture which is very good. There are undoubtedly many more exceptions to the rule, but I believe they are merely exceptions to the rule, that they are counter-cultural.) I have visited enough [NOD] churches to see a clear pattern. I have also seen it in other denominational churches. The difference with [NOD] is that they are better at community and thus the culture is easier to define.
Spontaneous Bible study, spontaneous prayer, spontaneous song to God, this is not part of [NOD] culture. [NOD] culture is not about loving God with all of ones heart, soul, strength and mind. [NOD] church is not only not THE remnant church, they are not even A remnant church. Here is what Jesus says to the lukewarm church. You know the passage. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” All of the data that I can come up with tells me that this passage is talking about [NOD] church culture. Jesus is saying to [NOD] culture that He is going to spew it out of His mouth. (The same thing also holds true to any other denominational culture that I have ever been a part of.)
My decision is that I can not be a part of a false church. The job teaching English, basically a paid missionary job is a very, very attractive situation. I cannot, however, become a part of a false church to take the job. (One problem is that as a representative of the [NOD] church I would be telling people by my example that [NOD] is a good way to do relationship with God.)
I wish that I could tell you an easy solution. I do not believe there is an easy solution. I am not [NOD]. I believe that just as it is wrong to marry someone planning to change them later it is wrong to join a denomination planning on changing it later. You are already married [are members of NOD]. I believe that the primary task put before each one of you is to pray and fast like your lives depend on it because your lives do depend on it. The word of God says that He is about to spew you out of His mouth.
I pray that God has not given up on you, that He can indeed make you into a people that loves Him the way He deserves to be loved. I do not know how I can be a part of your church. Every time I attend an [NOD] church function I give my consent to the [NOD] way of doing things. I do not know how to have personal relationships with you, and I do not know how to influence you very much to change. I simply do not know how to do it. I attended this church for about 6 months and more time would just have more of the same results. I do not know how to develop those relationships. Again, I pray that God has not given up on you, I pray that He will make you into a people with genuine passion for loving and obeying Him.
Fire Insurance Christianity
This refers to the practice of saying a sinner’s prayer, understanding that you will now spend eternity in Heaven instead of Hell, then going about one’s life pretty much the same as before.
The misunderstanding stems, I believe from a wrong understanding of why Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus died to reconcile us with Him, with God and bring us into a right relationship with Him. In contrast, the Fire Insurance Gospel (FIG) says that the primary reason Jesus died is to save us from Hell. Here is an analogy of what that means in the outcome.
Think about I-70 going across the state of Colorado. I-70 goes over the Rocky Mountains. At the top is the Eisenhower Tunnel. The motorist who is not real aware of what is happening thinks that as they exit the Eisenhower Tunnel and start down the hill they have been over the top of the Rock Mountains. In contrast is the trucker that has a 14 foot tall trailer or is carrying a hazardous materials load. This trucker is not allowed through the tunnel, but instead exits I-70 and continues going uphill, zigzagging up and up and up until they come to the summit of Loveland Pass. From here it really looks like you are at the top of something.
The FIG Christian who has said the sinners prayer is like the motorist that has passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel. They think that they have been to the cross, and go merrily on with their life believing that they are now on the road to Heaven.
The person that is truly engaged with the PROCESS of salvation continues in the PROCESS until they get to the top of Loveland Pass and truly find the Cross and leave their old life there (actually not a one time experience).
The important question at this point is WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY about all of this. I believe that as a whole the Bible calls FIG a false religion. In order to see that to be so, however, the FIG follower is going to have to go through a paradigm shift because they have gotten so use to twisting Bible verses to say something they do not actually say.
There are some very commonly used Bible passages that are twisted by FIG followers. Let me show how I see them. The key word will be PROCESS. (I am using the New American Standard Bible).
JOHN 1:12 & 13. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Look at the phrase “He GAVE THE RIGHT to become”. This phrase is almost always ignored. The PROCESS is ignored. The common understanding of this verse is that one receives Jesus and is immediately converted into a child of God. That is not what this verse says. Consider this word picture. John and Don are sitting in a cafe in Hood River, OR about 50 or 60 miles east of Portland, OR. They are talking about the zoo in San Diego. They would like to visit this zoo, so John gets on the phone and calls up an airline and pays for tickets to take them from the Portland airport to San Diego. He then asks the waitress how long their food will take. She says, “Unfortunately, we don’t have any chicken so the cook is next door buying one. It will probably be an hour before you get your dinner.” John says “Nifty! So we have time to go visit the San Diego zoo. Come on Don, we can walk over to to the zoo, see the reptile collection and be back before the food gets here.” Don says, “John, the airplane tickets only means that after we go from here to Portland we HAVE THE RIGHT to get on the plane to San Diego. We are not in San Diego, we are still in Hood River!!!” Equally, the person who has received Jesus still needs to go through the PROCESS of becoming a child of God. They HAVE THE RIGHT to become a child of God.
JOHN 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” NEW BIRTH is commonly said to be put into practice by having someone say the sinner’s prayer and then telling that person they are now born again and on their way to Heaven. They ignore the obvious problem that birth is the end result of a 9 month long PROCESS which began with conception. Equally, to be born again, to be born spiritually, one must engage in a PROCESS. Check out the parable of the sower in like Matthew 13, Mark 4 or Luke 8. The word of God being planted in one’s heart does not make them a Christian. The seed needs to reach maturity and produce fruit. There is a PROCESS which begins but is not completed when the Word is planted in the heart. That PROCESS can not be entered into and completed by simply saying a prayer. If it could, then all three of the final types of soil would represent saved Christians. I believe that this does not agree with the Bible as a whole.
John 3:16. “”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The key word here is BELIEVE. We do not change our belief system by simply saying a sinners prayer. Changing our belief system is the result of a PROCESS. It is the result of the word of God being planted in our hearts, and then growing and producing fruit. It is extremely presumptuous to say that because we have said a sinner’s prayer that we have now believed. To know that we have believed and been born again we have to compare our lives and our hearts with the word of God, the Bible. See my comment below on I John 5:13.
ROMANS 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The way this verse is typically explained is like this. The person explaining the gospel will hold something in their hand (like a dollar bill maybe) and tell them this is a free gift. ¿What do you need to do to receive it? All you need to do is simply reach out and take it. Equally, all you have do do to receive eternal life is simply say the sinner’s prayer (and mean is with all your heart of course) and you will be on your way to Heaven. Remember the word PROCESS? To find the process look at the preceding verse, Rom 6:22. One should never memorize Romans 6:23 without also memorizing Romans 6:22. “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Eternal life is a PROCESS which begins with being “freed from sin and enslaved to God”, then continues with the PROCESS of “sanctification” and has the “outcome” of “eternal life.” Again, to decide if the PROCESS has resulted in new birth look at my comments about I John 5:13. The PROCESS is not engaged in by saying the sinner’s prayer.
ROMANS 10:9-11 “ . . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.'” The word “confess”. It fits the teaching of the Bible as a whole much better to understand confession as an ongoing practice rather than as just saying something one time. The word “believe”, go back to comments about it under John 3:16. Salvation is the result of a PROCESS.
ROMANS 10:9a “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord . . .” The word LORD is often misunderstood. The word LORD does not mean the same thing as the word GOD. The words LORD and GOD are not at all synonyms. LORD is what a slave calls their master. I once picked up a hitch hiker who believed that because he had said the sinners prayer that he was on his way to Heaven and could live any way that he wanted to. I asked him, “¿What would your wife mean if she were to call you Lord?” He gave an absolutely beautiful description of what our relationship with God is supposed to look like. I told him that his beautiful description is what our relationship with God is supposed to be. It totally shocked him. As we engage in the PROCESS of confessing Jesus as LORD, this is what we are learning to confess. (I am NOT saying that wives should call their husbands Lord.)
I JOHN 5:13. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” This verse is typically brought out in the gospel presentation with all of the emphasis on “You can KNOW that you are saved.” So once you have said the sinners prayer you KNOW that you have been saved. This understanding ignores the first part of the verse, “THESE THINGS I have written to you”. What things? We need to look at the rest of I John and find out what he (John) had written concerning knowing whether we have eternal life. We need to explore I John for a check list to compare our life and our heart against to decide whether or not we have eternal life. Have we engaged in the PROCESS that will assure us that we have eternal life? We do not know the answer because we said a sinner’s prayer, no matter how sincere we were when we said it.
I believe that the FIG (Fire Insurance Gospel) is not just inexact; it is not a teeny little problem. I believe that it results in FALSE RELIGION. To come to that conclusion we need to look at the Bible as a whole. But one verse that says it succinctly is JAMES 1:27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Focus on “ . . . keep oneself UNSTAINED by the world.” We do not keep ourselves unstained by the world by simply saying a sinner’s prayer and going merrily on our way living however we feel like living. The Fire Insurance Gospel produces individual Christianity in which God is only loved and obeyed while it is convenient and feels good. They continue to love the things of the world, and Jesus is not truly their LORD no how many times they confess it to be so. To truly know that we have eternal life we need to engage in the PROCESS until completion.