Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A. P. T. A. T. Living in Dependence

Do you struggle with keeping in step with the Spirit of God?  Do you find it challenging to keep God at the center of everything you do in this crazy busy world that we have created for ourselves?  There are many great resources on the internet and in books to help drive us to Godliness.

I have been particularly blessed of late by listening to conference talks and oral biographies on great Christian giants in church history at the ministry site of John Piper known as Desiring God.  It is a wonderful resource for all of us "Christian Hedonists" who want to learn deeper ways for our joy to be made complete in God's glory.

John Piper recently retired from about thirty years as senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.  He is a popular speaker at Christian conferences and author of many best-selling books including Desiring God.  This book was the inspiration, over 25 years ago, for the founding of the ministry by the same name.  He has many helpful tools for helping us to better understand and live with sustained joy in our daily walk with God.

We are not talking about superficial happiness, as is spoken of in relation to the prosperity gospel that suggests God wants you to be "happy" and experience "your best life now" as it were.  I am talking about joy unspeakable and full of glory(1 Peter 1:8).  A joy that under-girds your faith at all times even when your life seems to be falling apart and things are not going your way.

A. P. T. A. T
John Piper and the staff have used this acronym at Bethlehem for many years now.  It is useful for application any and every time you are beginning something and you feel it is beyond your ability. However, John Piper would say that this should be your approach to everything that you do.

1 Peter 4:11 states that we are to "serve in the strength that God supplies, that in everything God may get the glory."  We are incapable of doing that on our own.  In our sinfully selfish state, we will always corrupt everything that we try to do on some level.  As the prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it"(Jeremiah 17:9)  Even if no one else sees it, God knows what happens on the inside.  He knows the intent of our heart.  That is why we must engage Him in everything, that He may get the glory in our hearts, even when no one else is looking.

So here is what APTAT looks like:

Admit you can do nothing without Christ's help (John 15:4-8)

Pray for assistance and help in everything. (Psalm 50:15, Matthew 7:7)

Trust a particular promise of God to provide what is needed.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 40:28-31, Isaiah 41:10, Galatians 6:9, Philippians 4:4-7).

Act- Take action.  Do something. Always remembering that it is in the strength that He provides by which we are even able to have the grace to act.
(Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Corinthians 15:10, Colossians 1:29)

Thank-  Thank the Lord for the enabling power to obey. (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)

That's It
It's just that simple.  However, just as the message of the gospel is simple, it is not easy.  It requires work.  It requires action.  It requires prayer.  It requires faith.  It requires humility.  This is what
A. P. T. A. T. is all about.  We humble ourselves, rely on God, trust his word, lean into his grace with faith-filled action, and show abundant gratitude for His faithfulness.  Then we rest in the peace that He provides.  However, if we leave out any one of those steps, then we are prone to self-reliance, pride, doubt, and failure.

I encourage you to be a faithful disciple.  Memorize this acronym, the general thoughts behind it, and memorize the related scripture references.  The scripture references here are ones that John Piper uses primarily, with a couple of my own tossed in.  But if there are others that are more relevant to any given point of the acronym, then substitute them and memorize those.

If you utilize this you will be one step closer to Christian Hedonism because you will find joy in depending on God and using the means of grace to do so.  If you are doing so, you will also be bringing glory to God as you depend wholly on His resources and consequently, give him praise and glory for the results throughout the process.  It is a God-centered joy that we, His children, get to experience.

The statement that exemplifies this whole concept was coined by John Piper and goes like this:

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him".

My friends, if you look to God's glory for your satisfaction, you will experience great joy.  I pray you find this tool helpful.

In Jesus name,


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CHRISTIAN PARENTS: Protect Your Children From Morally Compromised Materials, Especially In School

This is an interruption of my discussion on Altar Calls for which I am sure anyone who reads this is thankful.  When I became aware of the information below I was compelled to write out of concern for parents and children alike.  I hope it is informative, convicting, and encouraging.  We all need to think this one through more often.

This blog post was inspired by reporting done on The Briefing by Al Mohler.  The Briefing is a podcast done by the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The transcript can be found here.  He is well known as a speaker, pastor, author, and theologian throughout much of conservative evangelicalism.  He does an 18-20 minute, daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.  It is useful to anyone who is interested in thinking about the major themes that are going on in the world through a biblical lens.

A Wave of Transgender Children's books
An article by Megan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Heather Has Two Genders", suggests that these books are intended to reach the hearts and minds of young children and adolescents with the goal of nudging the needle of the culture one heart at a time in the direction of the acceptance of gender identity issues. (To see article, google the title Heather Has Two Genders)

"Beyond Magenta, Transgender Teens Speak Out" by Susan Kuklin was published last February 2014
-It is a series of first person accounts of teens struggling with sexual dysphoria aka. a profound dissatisfaction with with gender of ones biological DNA.

"I Am Jazz" by Jessica Herthel--the story of a transgender child based on the real-life experiences of Jazz Jennings, who has become a spokesperson for transkids everywhere. In this book she states "I have a girl brain, but a boy body".-Already published Sept. 4, 2014

"Some Assembly Required" by Arin Andrews and "Rethinking Normal" by Katie Rain Hill are two memoirs for adolescents describing either side of an apparently much publicized romance between two transgender teens.  Coming out September 30, 2014 according to Amazon.com.

"Gracefully Grayson" by Amy Polansky-- about a 12 yr old boy undergoing sexual transition, set to come out in November-2014

"Alex As Well" by Elyssa Brugman- - a conflicted male/female character, set to come out in January 2015

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall -about a red crayon with a blue label.  a picture book that reads like a fable of gender identity. i.e. inside and outside not matching geared toward young children.  Set to come out January 2015

-If you begin looking up transgender children's books on Amazon you will discover quite a few more.

According to Megan Cox Gurdon, there has been a concerted effort over the last 25 years to get these kinds of books into libraries and public school libraries because the publishers understand that stories like this do so much to influence the thinking of young people.  She states that publisher are utilizing periodicals such as The Wall Street Journal to create awareness.

These statements are straight from The Briefing transcript and should be seriously considered.
The author of one of these new books, presenting a celebration of the transgender identity – that’s Jessica Herthel – her book is entitled I am Jazz. She writes,
 "The window of time in which children are truly open-minded is startlingly small."
 In stating the issue just this way, Jessica Herthel is actually stating something that Christian parents should already understand. There is a vulnerability to the hearts of children, there is an openness to the power of the story and the kinds of stories that get read to our children, and are read by our children, they do have an important out-sized influence on the development of their hearts and their minds – and especially of their moral intuitions.  
Just consider the fact that as Christian parents we often find ourselves considering a story that we understand is affecting us emotionally in a way that is not consistent with our own biblical worldview.  We see something on television, we observe something in the cinema, we read something in a book, or in any other format whereby a narrative comes to us, and we discover that our emotional response, our moral intuitions, are actually responding in a way that is implied by the story, but is inconsistent with our own worldview.  We understand at that point that our responsibility is to bring our moral intuitions into accountability to biblical truth. 
But that is something that is accessible only to adults, in terms of an ability, and to later adolescence.  The development of critical thinking, or abstract thinking, is not generally accessible to children – who find no way of distinguishing carefully between their own emotional response and their moral intuitions and the truths to which they understand themselves to be absolutely committed.  They understand that something is wrong because they had been told by a moral authority such as parents that it’s wrong, they may even understand that the Scripture very definitively declares it to be wrong and yet, they find themselves confronting a story in which the opposite claim is made.  And the opposite claim is made with the impact of a narrative that grabs them at the heart and creates a very confusing experience.
Let’s be brutally honest – that experience can be difficult enough for adults, much less for children and young teenagers. 
Al Mohler ends this section of The Briefing by making this important statement:  But the main importance of this article that appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is to remind every single American parent, they’re coming for your children – this time, they’re coming with books.

Don't Forget The Heterosexually Compromised Literature
Make no mistake.  There is, and has been, plenty of morally compromised heterosexual material out there.  It has been around for much longer and is far more dangerous in many ways.  I read a blog post by a well-known Christian blogger named Tim Challies in June that was reviewing "The Fault In Our Stars.

The review makes clear that this book has more than enough profanity, to include G-D, and sexual innuendo, to include the two main characters actually going to bed.  There are other aspects of it that are altogether antagonistic to biblical truth.

Though Challies states that, whether his children were allowed to read or watch it would depend upon their age and maturity, I don't think there is any point at which I would condone it for my kids as long as they are under my direct supervision.  I may have to make that decision one day because I have seen the cover of the book posted up on the wall of that magnet middle school that my ten year old attends. We each have to know our own children however, I think we as parents are often in danger of thinking we know our children far better than we actually do. Many an unsuspecting, naive parent has been surprised by unknown sinful tendencies in their children.

Don't you have images from video or from the way your imagination was stirred by words that you wish someone had warned you about.  I know I do.  It did not matter whether I could "handle it" or not.  I wish I had avoided many an image or figure of speech that is in my brain unnecessarily.  We fool ourselves about what is going to be problematic for us or our children down the line. We just have no way of knowing.  If I can do anything to save my children from unnecessary brain porn, etc. then I am going to try.

Through What Lens?
I had a discussion with a teenager about this book briefly this summer.  She was not altogether thrilled with my or Challies take on the book.  She is a strong Christian girl in many areas but was blinded to the many ways in which this story steals glory from God.  She probably has no idea in what ways she will look back with different convictions and wish someone had kept those images from her.  She, like so many others was struggling to view this piece of literature through the lens of eternity.  If we look honestly at the characters in the book, their thoughts and their actions, it is evident that those characters would have gone to hell.  And yet Christians read the book or watch the movie and think it is a beautiful story with a tear-filled ending. It may be sad however, I dare to say it is sad for all the wrong reasons.

How many Christians think through books or movies that way.  I admit I do not consistently, but I should.  That is what Al Mohler was speaking to in the section that I included from The Briefing above.  Too many times we want to shut down and see entertainment through rose-colored glasses. Stories make us prone to respond in ways that do not line up with our own biblical worldview.  It is at this point that we are responsible to bring our emotional responses to stories under the scrutiny of scripture i.e. Philippians 4:8 and Psalm 101:3.  If we struggle with this as adults, how much more should we anticipate the struggle of our children with such things.  Never assume your child is too old to be shepherded through difficult judgement calls.

This Is A Literature/Entertainment-Oriented Spiritual Battlefield
This is simply one topic that is spoken to in this article.  We must be aware that there are books both narrative and educational that are being designed to normalize homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And the sex education that is out there in many schools curriculum is borderline porn in written description and pictorial depiction.  We must protect our children.

We as Christian parents must not be so naive as to think that our children are beyond the influence of these books.  We must be involved in our children's lives, knowing what is out there and not allowing it to be read or watched if it serves no benefit or is inherently dangerous as these books are.  We must also have the guts to realize when our children have already been exposed to this material and to bring stern, biblically saturated warnings and teaching regarding it.  We cannot simply assume that we have talked to our children once and that they know what the bible says so it is all done. We ALL need reminding and accountability.

There is a battle raging for the hearts and minds of our children and we must be on the front lines fighting for them and equipping them to fight alongside us when they are ready.  Never cease putting into action Proverbs 22:6.  Teach your children to critique what they read, watch and listen to through Galatians 5:19-24 and ask whether it magnifies the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit.  Equip them with a solid understanding of how to utilize their spiritual armor(Ephesians 6:10-20).

  The goal is that by the time they leave the roost and head out into this dangerous spiritual battlefield on their own, they will have a solid understanding of what it means to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ(Philippians 1:27), not only externally but internally as well.

May it be so in Jesus name,


Monday, September 15, 2014

The Dangers of the Altar Call/Sinners Prayer

Dangerous?  What do you mean?
I am going to speak to a subject that may cause some to raise an eyebrow, cock their head to the side, or just be plain offended.  Let me be clear.  My goal is not to insult well meaning ministers, evangelists, or believers doing evangelism and using the altar call.  Most of them are just doing what our church culture has told us is the "formula" for attaining "professions of faith".  It has been the norm for a long time and the majority don't even question it.  However, there are many in ministry today who are calling these methods into question.  I for one agree with their concerns and desire to share these concerns with all whom I can reach within my sphere of influence.

I am aware that a major international evangelist has just come through town.  I began this post before he came and not simply because he was coming, though it was a consideration.  And I am not finishing it after his coming only because he came.  This issue has been around a long time. Some may perceive that this is an attack on the efforts of that ministry to win souls for Christ.  I want to be sure everyone understands that this is not my goal.  Mass evangelism has been around a long time and is not all together bad.  However, it is not without it's issues.

We place so much stock in altar calls and professions of faith via the "sinners prayer" that, often times, we don't even question whether a profession was legitimate or not.  There is an idea that you can pray a prayer, sign a card, raise a hand, stand up or walk to the front and you are good.  You have just gotten out of the line for hell and into the line for heaven and nothing else is required of you.  No matter what else you do or how you live your life, you don't have to worry about hell anymore.  Even if that is not the intended message, that is often what is conveyed and understood.

THIS IS A LIE!  It is not biblical and we must get away from it.

Again, let me clear, I am not against a passionate plea for people to place their trust in Jesus and serve Him as Lord.  What concerns me and many others is the formulaic way in which people are led to believe conversion happens and the lack of explanation as to why it is necessary and what life afterward should look like.  For example, we are condemned sinners in need of a Savior.  Not necessarily to make life better in the hear and now, but to save us from an eternal life of destruction.  And, that if profession is evidence of a true conversion, then that conversion will be evidenced by repentant obedience to God's word.

So hang with me as we explore a little history regarding the origin and dangers of the altar call.  We will also explore what actually constitutes a true conversion experience and how you can be assured of your salvation.  Here is a hint.  It's not because you prayed a prayer and I told you, "your going to heaven now".  Alright, here we go.

Where did it start?
Charles Finney(August 29, 1792 – August 16, 1875), has been considered by many to be the father of modern Revivalism.  Though his understandings of biblical doctrine are considered heresy by many, still his methods of holding altar calls at the end of his revivals are a mainstay in much of today's church services.  Without going into much detail here, his general philosophy of revival was one of numbers.  He numbered conversions based on public profession and based the immediate concept of success for these revivals on these numbers.  Future assessments of those supposed converts however, would show a significant lack of fruit, thus calling into question the validity of his methods.  Unfortunately, the method continues today.

A Typical Altar Call
All around the world, from small country churches to large grandiose crusades, altar calls are given and professions of faith are made.  These victims of easy believe-ism are told that once they pray a formulaic prayer and publicly profess an "acceptance" of Christ into their hearts perhaps by walking to the altar and maybe filling out a card, that they are going to heaven. Is it possible that some are saved by this method.  Certainly, however, statistics show that the number of professions do not correlate with the number of dedicated Christians that are serving in churches around the world today. That inconsistency suggests a problem with the method and sometimes, the message that is being utilized to gain professions today.  

Great Pastors/Evangelist that did it differently.  
George Whitfield was a great evangelist(December 27 [O.S. December 16] 1714 – September 30, 1770) of the 18th century.  No evangelist in the history of the church has a greater reputation for preaching with passion and he always called his hearers to belief and repentance.  However, he was not impressed by numbers.  When asked about his excitement regarding the numbers of converts at his meetings, his response was, "let's give it six months and see if there is any fruit of repentance in their life".  

Another great 18th century pastor/theologian named Jonathan Edwards had similar thoughts on the matter.  He is known for his sermon "Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God".  He was a well rounded preacher but he could certainly preach about a sinners hell and their need to be delivered. He did not do it for numbers.  He preached the truth and people responded.  Both Whitfield and Edwards were involved in the Great Awakenings of that era.  These were great revivals in which it was preached not that people some how played a role in their salvation but that they were utterly lost, dead in their sins and transgressions, and in need of a Savior to bring them to life.  

Charles Spurgeon,(June 19, 834 – January 31, 1892) a famous pastor of the 19th century in England known as the "Prince of Preachers", had similar convictions regarding the need to be clear on what constituted true conversion.  They all preached first the "law", in order to make the need for salvation apparent.  They then preached salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and that repentance was a necessary evidence of true conversion.

The Apostle Paul understood the need to utilize the law as a necessary means for salvation as well. His letter to the Romans Ch. 1-8, are continually balancing law and grace, making known the importance of the law to make us aware of our sin and our need for grace.  In Galatians 3:24(KJV) Paul calls the law a "schoolmaster" leading us to our need for Christ for justification. 

All of these men would agree that "false converts" can just as easily happen with proper teaching and a proper altar call as with the improper.  They are however, far less likely.  And, if they happen it is not because these converts were mislead by inaccurate understandings of why they need salvation and how they are to obtain it.  

So what's the issue?
So what's the difference?  What's the big deal?  Should we NOT be excited for professions of faith. Don't get me wrong.  I am not against being excited about professions of faith.  Nor, as I said, am I necessarily against an altar call.  I want to be careful not to paint with too broad a brush in any scenario.  I certainly believe that God brings some true conversions out of these examples of evangelism both small and big.  I also do realize that all big name crusaders and little church pastors do not do it the same way.  Even if they do it in the cliche' ways that I have mentioned, I do not doubt for a second, their desire to see converts to Christianity.  Nevertheless, there are a couple of considerations that must be made because these a fore mentioned methods are often so misleading, not only to those offering salvation, but also to those "accepting" salvation.  The considerations are these: One, What brings about salvation?  Two, What is the evidence?   How can we know that a profession of faith is legitimate?  How can I know that I am saved?  We will speak to that.  

What are the answers to these considerations?  In the interest of not loosing you on this topic via the post being too lengthy I will strive to do this in three parts, this being the first.  I will try to answer each question effectively in two separate post, covering these general but integral concerns regarding the call to Christ and the perceived response.

To be clear as I stated at the beginning, a major international evangelist has just come through town.  I began this post before he came and not simply because he was coming, though it was a consideration.  And I am not finishing it after his coming only because he came.  This issue has been around a long time.  Some may perceive that this is an attack on the efforts of that ministry to win souls for Christ.  I want to be sure everyone understands that this is not my goal.  Mass evangelism has been around a long time and is not all together bad.  What we must guard against is three-fold.  

1.)We must not allow it to become a numbers game, which it often does, or assume that everyone who makes a profession of faith at this event is legitimate.  We are called to share the gospel, not aim for conversion stats.  Unfortunately, these stats are what success is often based on verses being satisfied that the gospel was presented adequately and trusting God to do the work.  

Videos that have been shown in preparation for this recent evangelistic event and at the event itself, stated the large numbers of "decision cards" that were collected.  Upwards of 72 million supposed converts over 30 plus years of ministry in Africa.  I pray that it is true but as I said before; a signed card does not a conversion make nor does it suggest that a balanced message was presented.  

Statistics suggest that, even with the well-rounded message preached for years by the Rev. Billy Graham, the legitimacy of the number of conversions suggested by decision cards is in question. He has said it is more likely that somewhere in the vicinity of ten-percent of professed conversions were legitimate.  According to certain surveys and polls, the number of people that actually have a biblical understanding of what it means to be a Christian is very low.  More on that another time.

2.)We need not walk around questioning everyone's salvation.  So the question would be then, "Why am I stating all these warnings and creating all this doubt regarding the legitimacy of professing Christians?"  The reason is this, we must all be willing to lovingly challenge the faith of those who say they are Christians but are not bearing fruit. This is true no matter how they say they came to Christ.  

If we are mature Christians, we must be looking for new converts that came out of such evangelistic events or are fruit of us sharing the gospel with them directly  We must be passionate for disciple-making and that often involves ensuring a proper understanding of conversion and what is expected us by God after it occurs.  It also involves being willing to point out areas of disobedience and call them to repentance.  If they are unwilling to repent, then comes the time that we must challenge their profession of faith and their conversion utilizing the means of church-discipline that are evidenced in scripture.

3.)We must not look to mass-evangelism as our primary means of gaining new converts or creating disciples.  That is the responsibility of every single true-convert in the local church.  The majority of people will not be saved through evangelistic crusades.  They will be led to Jesus through the ministry and discipleship of individual believers who are sharing the gospel and modeling Christian discipleship to new converts.

I pray you will stick with me and at least consider these thoughts.  They are not new and they certainly do not originate with me.  However, I believe they are sound thought processes based on the bibles' teachings.  These thoughts may just affect how you understand the altar call, true and false conversions, and assurance of salvation.  These are huge to understand when you consider how churches do the altar call, what they suggest about a persons salvation, and how you encourage others regarding these topics.

See ya soon,