“The Danger of Cultural Christianity” April 17

 

 

The Danger of Cultural Christianity - Yesterday was Easter. If you attended church, you probably sang about the blood of Christ that was shed for your sins, but the singing didn't stop there. You, probably, sang about the Resurrection, too. You rejoiced that the tomb is empty and Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, having overcome death, hell, and the grave.  But as church goers in America there is a certain danger in the familiarity of all that. We aren't faced with the choice of committing to Christ and facing persecution, even death, or remaining what our culture says we are, at least in name, whether Muslim or Hindu or some other religion. So instead, we run the risk of being cultural Christians, what our family or our tradition says we are ... Christians in name only.Yesterday was Easter. If you attended church, you probably sang about the blood of Christ that was shed for your sins, but the singing didn’t stop there. You, probably, sang about the Resurrection, too. You rejoiced that the tomb is empty and Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, having overcome death, hell, and the grave.

But as church goers in America there is a certain danger in the familiarity of all that. We aren’t faced with the choice of committing to Christ and facing persecution, even death, or remaining what our culture says we are, at least in name, whether Muslim or Hindu or some other religion. So instead, we run the risk of being cultural Christians, what our family or our tradition says we are … Christians in name only.

When an observer in Jesus’ time asked, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” He warned that the gate is narrow. And when the people of Joshua’s day claimed that they would serve the Lord, he told them not to take that commitment lightly. Are there many today who have failed to heed those warnings? Are there many who are basing their relationship with God on something besides the true Gospel?

That should be heart-breaking for those of us who truly understand the Gospel, because it is the most incredible GOOD NEWS ever! Today’s post includes a link to a video that could shake your understanding of what the good news of the Gospel really is!

 

Today’s Readings:
Joshua 23 & 24
Psalm 47.1-9
Proverbs 14.14
Luke 13.23-35

 

The Danger of Cultural Christianity

 

Joshua 23 & 24:

You Choose … Whether to Serve the Lord or Something Else

 

What a rich portion of Scripture! Joshua is coming to the end of his life and he wants to leave everything in order. He takes time to remind the people about all God has done for them and encourages them to remember how He has been faithful to His Word.

In 23.12-13 he warns them about intermarrying with unbelievers. This is still true today. If you are single and considering marriage or if you do in the future, remember, we are free to marry only in the Lord! (1 Cor. 7.39) – that is to another believer.

Then Joshua calls them to make a choice as to whom they will serve:

“…. choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (v. 24.15).

And when they are quick to say, “We also will serve the Lord,” he challenges them that this is no flippant profession, this is serious business and they should count the cost and mean what they say.

 

Is He Lord?

 

Today many talk about “cheap grace.” If you want to go to heaven, just ask Jesus to come into your heart and He’ll forgive you for your sins and you’ll have your ticket to heaven.

It is true that we can do nothing to deserve salvation and nothing to save ourselves. It is by grace alone through faith alone. But Jesus didn’t imply that it was “cheap.” First of all, it wasn’t cheap for Him. He paid the ultimate price.

Part of coming to Him in faith means we recognize our desperate need for Him and that we are sinners with no ability to fix ourselves. There is to be repentance (a change of heart and mind leading to change in the direction of our lives) and a willingness to acknowledge Him as Lord (Rom. 10.9-10; Acts 2.36). Lord … Master, God, the One who has the right to tell us what is right and wrong and how to live our lives!

Have you truly put your faith and trust in Him for your salvation?

Jesus gave an even stronger warning in today’s New Testament reading.

 

Luke 13.23-35:

The Narrow Gate

 

Jesus warned that the gate is narrow (v. 24) and that many who think they have entered, have not. Verses 23-27:

23 Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?”

And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ 26 then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ 27 But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’”

What a terrifying thing, to think you’re assured a place in heaven, yet hear those words, “I do not know you.”

The striving Jesus talked about is not our good works or self-efforts. In fact, we can’t get to heaven based on our own righteousness, because we don’t have any of our own (Rom. 3.10-12).

Today the gate is open (Heb. 3.15). God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2.4), but we must believe and receive the Gospel.

11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (1 Jn. 1.11-13).

 

In What Have You Placed Your Hope of Heaven?

 

Is it your church membership or the fact you were born into a Christian family? Is it your good works? Is it simply that you believe in God? Is it that you once prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or got baptized?

Those are all good things and may take place as part of our salvation experience. But none of them, in and of themselves, can save you! We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone (Eph. 2.8-9). His grace, received through our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Jesus said, ““The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk. 1.15).

 

So What is the Gospel?

 

If you have any doubts about whether or not you have believed the Gospel, I would encourage you to watch this video by Dr. Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary. It’s a little long, but you can’t listen to Dr. Horton’s explanation and not realize what incredibly GOOD NEWS the Gospel really is!  Continue reading

“Sheep & Goats” February 10

 

Sheep & Goats: Which one are you? - Sheep and goats: our churches are full of both. On the outside they often look the same, but one day, the “Heart-Knower” will separate the two. The sheep to everlasting glory. The goats to everlasting punishment. We will all live forever—somewhere! Do you know for certain where you will spend eternity?Sheep and goats: our churches are full of both. On the outside they often look the same, but one day, the “Heart-Knower” will separate the two. The sheep to everlasting glory. The goats to everlasting punishment.

We will all live forever—somewhere! Do you know for certain where you will spend eternity? And what about other people you know? Are there some who profess to be Christians, yet whose lives haven’t changed?

 

Today’s Readings:
Exodus 31 & 32
Psalm 21.1-7
Proverbs 7.24-27
Matthew 25.31-46

 

Sheep & Goats

 

Matthew 25.31-46

The “Heart-Knower” Will Separate the Two

 

32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

Sheep and goats: our churches are full of both. On the outside they often look the same, but Jesus said they’re not.

Last month when we read through the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5, 6 & 7), we talked about 7.21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Notice in verse 22, “Many will say …” Yet, these people were doing “Christian” things. They were sitting in our pews, part of our small groups, serving in ministry … but Jesus will say, “I never knew you …”

How is it possible that people can sit in churches week after week, attend Bible studies, even serve in ministry and not know God? How would we know if that’s us? And, if we want to truly love and serve others, are there red flags that we should look for in their lives?

Lest you think, I’m talking about becoming overly focused on what others are doing or doing it in a harsh or unloving way, please hear me out. But, too often, we’ve been taught that we are never to judge others based on Matthew 7.1. Certainly, we have to be careful. We can’t know anyone else’s heart. We barely know our own (Jer. 17.9).

But in Luke 6 Jesus also said:

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

You can’t read the gospels and Jesus’ interactions with the Scribes and Pharisees without realizing this “good fruit” isn’t so much outward or religious acts in themselves. The good fruit talked about here must come from a changed heart.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things (Matt. 12.35).

A person with a changed heart will sometimes fall short. As Christians we sin, sometimes in grievous ways. But, as genuine believers, we should be convicted when confronted with the truth about sin (1 Jn. 3.9-10).  As new creations in Christ, we should have a desire for God’s Word and to live in ways that are pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5.9). And there will be fruit, in varying degrees, but a changed heart produces changed desires and a changed life.

 

The Dilemma

 

So, we have a dilemma. First, is it even loving to look at the fruit in someone else’s life? Some would say, “no.” And, if we can’t know someone else’s heart, what would we judge when looking for “good fruit”?

Let me address the question of whether or not it’s loving.  Continue reading

“Do you think you are saved?” December 7

 

Do you think you're saved? - “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7.21-23, NLT). Strong words! What did Jesus mean? How can we know that we won't hear those terrible words, "I never knew you"?

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7.21-23, NLT).

Strong words! What did Jesus mean? How can we know that we won’t hear those terrible words, “I never knew you”?

 

Today’s Readings:
Hosea 5 & 6
Psalm 139.1-6
Proverbs 29.19
1 John 5.1-21

 

Do you think you are saved?

 

1 John 5.1-21:

Assurance of Salvation

 

praise worship

“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (v. 13).

God used the Apostle John to write the gospel of John so that, “… you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20.31). Then in 1 John He inspired him to write so that believers might have assurance of their salvation.

He wants us to be confident that we have eternal life! But eternal life is not just a reality when we die, we can have eternal life now, because eternal life is in a person—the person of Jesus Christ!

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (v. 11).

If you are “in Christ” and He is “in you,” you have eternal life.

 

Believe you are saved?

 

Do you believe you are saved? On what do you base that belief?

Have you placed all your faith and trust in Christ and Christ alone? Or do you believe that your salvation rests on something you do? Do you understand that you could do nothing to save yourself (not baptism, not sacraments, not being good enough)?

“…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.8).

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2.8-9).

We’re saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But in Matthew 7 Jesus warned us that there will be many people who think they’re saved, but aren’t:

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7.21-23, NLT).

Was Jesus contradicting other passages that say we’re saved by grace through faith? No, the “doing the will of my Father” is grace-powered and love-driven obedience. It’s the kind of obedience that flows from genuine heart change. It’s the fruit of our salvation.

But He was driving home the point that “good works,” even religious looking good works can’t save us. Only knowing Him personally, having an intimate relationship with Him by acknowledging that we’re sinners who can do nothing to save ourselves and by putting our faith and trust in what He did for us on the cross can save us.  Continue reading

“I never knew you!” September 28

 

I never knew you

I can’t imagine anything worse than believing you are alright with God and when you stand before Him, hear these words, “I never knew you.” Could it happen to you?

 

Today’s Readings:
Isaiah 47 & 48
Psalm 111.7-10
Proverbs 26.11-12
Galatians 6.1-18

 

I never knew you!

 

Isaiah 47 & 48:

Trusting in Self, False Gods or Sorceries

 

In chapter 47, the Babylonians thought they were strong and secure and untouchable. They trusted in themselves, their false gods, and their sorceries. They had set themselves against God and would soon be judged.

Like the Babylonians many today are busy enjoying their ease and success and power. Many of them have set themselves against God. They belittle His people as weak and God as merely a crutch. They want to make their own rules. Their first commandment is “Thou shalt not be intolerant of anything I want to do!” Even when they claim to believe in Him, they pervert the Word of God, twisting it to make it say the opposite of what it does.

They wrongly interpret God’s patience and tolerance.

“They have lied about the LORD and said, ‘He won’t bother us! No disasters will come upon us. There will be no war or famine’” (Jer. 5.12 NLT).

Instead of seeing God’s patience and mercy as an opportunity to repent, they decide there will never be a day of accounting.

 

Wheat, Tares, and Hypocrites

 

Then in chapter 48, God speaks to those who call themselves His people. Though He continues to assure them that He will not utterly destroy them because of His mercy and grace, he promises to judge those who hypocritically claim to believe one thing while practicing another.

In the New Testament Jesus told “the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.” He acknowledged there are many tares, unbelievers, growing alongside the wheat, believers. But he said:

“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matt. 13.30).

Many, even in our churches, are in danger of hearing the shocking truth when they stand before Him:

“‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7.23).

 

Test Yourselves

 

Paul said in our New Testament reading, “But let each one examine his own work …” (Gal. 6.4). And in his instructions for taking the Lord’s Supper:  Continue reading

“Will you experience the Rapture or the Tribulation?” September 16

 

tribulation

There will be a day when, “… the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout … we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air …” (1 Thess. 4.16-17). There will also be those who think they’re OK with God because of all the things they have done. They may be religious, but will realize too late that they were not truly saved and that they have been left behind. What about you? Will you experience the Rapture or the Tribulation?

 

Today’s Readings:
Isaiah 23 & 24
Psalm 107.10-22
Proverbs 25.17
2 Corinthians 8.1-24

 

Will you see the Rapture or the Tribulation?

 

Isaiah 23 & 24:

God will one day judge the world!

 

Chapter 24 changes the pattern in this book. Instead of talking about God’s judgment on specific nations, the prophet begins to speak to the inhabitants of the earth. This prophecy is more general in nature.

It certainly had near future meaning, possibly either the devastation brought about by Sennacherib and his Assyrian army or by Nebuchadnezzar and his armies from Babylon.

But it also has yet future application concerning the period of history called the Tribulation. The book of Revelation talks about the incredible destruction that will take place during those horrible, terrifying seven years: fires, earthquakes like the world has never seen, pestilence and wars, among other things.

The next few chapters of Isaiah will continue talking about God’s judgment on the world, but there is also comfort contained in many of the passages for God’s people. Even in the worst of times, God cares for His own! And as for the Great Tribulation to come, I don’t believe those of us who have made a decision for Christ now will be around to see that time. I believe that time will be proceeded by the Rapture of the church:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4.16-17).

But there will also be those who attend church, but who have never made a personal commitment to Christ and who will realize too late that they were not truly saved. Continue reading

“Are you ready?” May 2

 

Are you ready? -

Are you ready? God is a merciful God. He has offered us the free gift of salvation. It’s available to any and all who will come to Him in faith and repentance. But there’s coming a day when He will return for His people and time will be up.

It’s important that we understand the balance between truth and grace in our lives. While we do live in an age of grace where God has offered the free gift of forgiveness through faith in His Son, and where we can trust the truthfulness of verses like 1 John 1.9, we should not and cannot live as if there will not be a day when Jesus comes back as the Righteous Judge.

At Christ’s second return, there will be many who say:

“‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then [He] will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7.22-23). 

Are you ready?

 

Today’s Readings:
1 Samuel 6 & 7
Psalm 55.1-8
Proverbs 15.14
Luke 21.20-38

 

1 Samuel 6 & 7:

Golden tumors  

In yesterday’s reading God had allowed the Philistines to defeat the nation of Israel and to capture the ark of God. The Philistines mistakenly thought their god Dagon was responsible for the victory and that he had defeated the God of Israel, but they soon learned differently. When they placed the ark in Dagon’s temple, the statue of Dagon fell over twice and the second time its head and hands were broken off. And when they moved the ark, the people were plagued with tumors and death.

Ark of the Covenant - Are you ready?

They soon realized they needed to return it to Israel! So they made an elaborate plan to do so. Part of the plan was to include a sacrifice of five golden tumors and five golden rats as a representative of and payment for their sin.

Can you imagine having to announce your sin to everyone? It reminded me of the woman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel The Scarlet Letter. She had to wear a giant scarlet “A” sewn to her dress so everyone would know she was an adulteress.

1 John 1.9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Aren’t you glad God made a provision for us to humbly come to Him and confess our sins, instead of commanding us to display golden images of our “tumors”? Jesus allowed Himself to be publicly displayed and humiliated so we don’t have to be.

There are times when we do need to confess our sins to others and rare times when our sin has affected a larger group and we need to go “public” with our confession and repentance, but the only sacrifice required is a contrite heart (Ps. 51.17).

Merely saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, though. We must humbly ask God and those we have hurt to forgive us. Then we are to bear the fruit of repentance (Matt. 3.8; Lk. 3.8)—make the changes necessary to demonstrate a changed heart!

 

Luke 21.20-38:

He’s coming back … Are you ready?

Verses 25-33 talk about watching for Christ’s return.

Verse 34 says, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”

It’s important that we understand the balance between truth and grace in our lives. While we do live in an age of grace where God has offered the free gift of forgiveness through faith in His Son, and where we can trust the truthfulness of verses like 1 John 1.9, we should not and cannot live as if there will not be a day when Jesus comes back as the Righteous Judge.

At Christ’s second return, there will be many who say:

“‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then [He] will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt. 7.22-23).  Continue reading

December 7 “Believe you are saved?”

believe you are saved

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7.21-23, NLT).

Today’s Readings:
Hosea 5 & 6
Psalm 139.1-6
Proverbs 29.19
1 John 5.1-21

 

Hosea 5 & 6:

Mercy is more important than sacrifice

Chapter 6.6, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

Jesus repeated this statement in Matthew 9.13 and again in 12.7.

In Matthew 12, Jesus’ disciples had plucked grain and eaten it on the Sabbath Day. He quoted this verse in rebuking the Pharisees when they had condemned them for it. The Pharisees believed their legalistic adherence to the law was what made them right with God. The next scene in the gospel account is this one:

9 Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.
11 Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. 14 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.

Rather than trying to understand, they hardened their hearts still more.

Meditate on Hosea 6.6. Is there some area in your life where you are legalistically adhering to the law of God, but not out of a pure desire to love God and demonstrate His love to those around you? Continue reading

August 7 “Why work?”

work work, businessman work, housework

Why work? Whether in your home, on your job, or in your business, why do you work? Do you work merely because you don’t have a choice? Do you work to gain wealth? Or do you see a higher purpose in your work?

Today’s Readings:
Job 5 & 6
Psalm 92.1-7
Proverbs 22.16
Romans 8.22-39

Job 5 & 6:

Suffering and sin

In chapters 4 & 5 Eliphaz has implied there must be some sin in Job’s life to cause all this destruction to come on him. Job responded by defending himself and saying he had not asked anything from his friends (vv. 22-23) all he wanted was their kindness (v. 14), and while he defended himself, he did remain teachable, “Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong” (v. 24).

headache, tragedy

While we understand there are times when our circumstances are consequences for our own choices, there are other times when God is pruning or they are merely the result of living in a world devastated by the fall. We, like Job’s friends, need to be careful with our judgments. We must be careful not to assume that tragedy in a believer’s life is a direct result of his or her own sin.

John 9.1-3 says, “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (this was a common though incorrect assumption) Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” Sometimes we suffer because God has some higher purpose in it all. Continue reading