Can You Spot the Counterfeit?

2022-02-12 The Counterfeit Looks So RealMany years ago a friend took a job as a bank teller at a bank in Rhode Island and for the first week after her initial training in bank procedures, almost all the bank had her doing was counting money from other tellers’ tills.  She began to wonder how long this would go on, if she would ever have her own till.  I do not recall how many days she sat there counting, but one day she noticed a bill that simply ‘felt’ different, she said.  She showed it to her manager, and he commended her for catching a counterfeit.  She counted a couple more tills and each one had at least one counterfeit bill and some had more!

Her manager explained as he again commended her, that each of the tills she had counted after her first week had been ‘seeded’ with a counterfeit bill.  She had finally begun to ‘feel’ them and was given her own till.

Within the past year I have encountered lots of blogs with false teaching, some very subtle, some not so much, some that really do not matter, some that matter very much.  Note that many genuine Christ-followers may participate in one or more of these false teachings.  Not all incorrect doctrines come from wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Simply, not all believers see eye to eye on many important topics (i.e., KJV Only, Water Baptism, etc.), but that does NOT make them false teachers.  It certainly does not mean they are going to hell‼️  It is exclusively up to Father to determine the heart of anyone who calls on the Name of the LORD.

The following Top 20 list will give you an idea of what you may encounter “out there:”

  1. Baptism in water should have ended in the first century as it was a Jewish custom, and not for the Church.
  2. You are not saved unless you have been baptized in water.
  3. If you have enough faith, God is required to heal you and make you wealthy.
  4. God does not answer prayers as He did in Bible days; that closed with the completion of the New Testament.
  5. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer functioning as that ended with the completion of the New Testatment.
  6. The Church has been ‘raptured’ already spiritually, and continues with everyone who accepts Jesus; there will not be a literal “Return of Christ;” or Jesus has already returned.
  7. The Anti-christ has already come.
  8. God does not send anyone to hell for eternity, but only until the ‘lost’ learn their lesson or have paid for their sins; or more simply, God does not send anyone to hell.
  9. You must observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath since it is one of the 10 Commandments.
  10. The Sabbath does not need any kind of observation.
  11. Following Jesus means we do not need to obey the 10 Commandments.
  12. Since the New Testament church held everything in common, followers of Jesus should not own their own personal property anymore.
  13. The Bible ‘contains’ the Word of God, but one needs to identify it from the legends or errors.
  14. We need to identify and call out anyone who teaches false doctrines.
  15. God has forgiven all your sins: past, present and FUTURE.
  16. To get extra help with prayers, you should pray to angels or to saints who have gone before us.
  17. Mary was born sinless and is a co-Redeemer with Jesus.
  18. The ‘name’ you have for God is not significant as long as long as you believe in something that makes you a better person.
  19. Mother Nature or the Universe is the same thing you call God.
  20. Porn may be good for you, especially if you do not have a committed partner, as it can keep you from actual adultery or fornication.

2022-02-12 Wolves in Sheep's ClothingAnd this is just a sampling of the wolves among the sheep.  It is more than anyone can reasonably address in a single blog to refute each of these false teachings, but there are common threads that run through them.  Like my friend at the bank, the best practice is to regularly read and study the Bible the way she had to count bills for so much time.  Recognizing false teaching becomes easier if you have ‘handled’ the real thing enough, if you know Jesus as your savior and Lord, and if you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

False teachers can most easily be recognized by certain traits.
First, they are most often motivated by pride and seem to need ‘followers’ who agree with every detail of their false teaching.  There is little tolerance for disagreement.
Secondly, this follows that they are inclined to emphasize ‘special doctrine’ that sows controversy and disagreement.  They are argumentative and will not let you rest until they decide you are beyond hope or you change to agree with them.
Their ’special doctrine’ is, of course, not called that, but is un-Biblical and is contrary to a major teaching of the historic Christian church and its consistent self-examination against the teachings of Scripture.
Many can be recognized by an obvious desire for cash, prestige or special privilege indicated by special garments or magical/theatrical styles.

Like Job, we can approach God in all righteousness and genuine faith, but when we see Him face-to-face, we will each (yes, even I will) say:

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;  therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
  Job 42:2-6 (ESV)

Law vs. Grace – An Artificial Dichotomy? A Guest Blog by John Leonard

With minor edits this is an excellent balancing article about accurately assessing law versus grace.
by humble Theology | January 5, 2022

2022-02-05 Law vs GraceWhen reading the Bible most Christ-followers hear the word “law” and immediately have a negative connotation form in their mind as being conditioned on the premise that we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). The argument goes something like this: Christians, being under grace, no longer need to obey God’s law. This is a false conclusion for a few reasons, but to get started, we need a bit deeper understanding of what the law even is, and how many ways it can be taken to mean.

First is the law as the moral character of God. When we talk about God being a God of love, we are also saying that He is therefore necessarily a God of law (Matthew 5:48). Love and law are predicated upon one another in any covenant relationship (John 14:15). We see this as the summary of the law is to love God and neighbor, and in the marriage/bride illustrations within Scripture. A bride both loves the groom, and as such willingly submits to laws that typify the exclusivities of marriage. For example, a bride does not seek other lovers any more than someone who loves God goes after idols. This perfection of character is both of the nature of God, and perfectly displayed in the person and life of Christ.

As we are to be a reflection of God’s glory to the world, and take Christ as our example, we are no less expected to love than to follow the laws that God expresses (John 6:38). Some may say that the Christian law is to love, and yet we see what that law looks and acts like in the Ten Commandments (as well as some of other laws of Exodus and Leviticus) (1 John 2:3, 1 John 5:2). There are three uses of this moral law. Within many Presbyterian, Calvinist, and/or Reformed circles the moral law is found to have three main uses.

  1. The first is that the law shows us our sin, and thus the need for grace. Because the law is the perfect reflection of God’s righteousness, we see (as in a mirror) that we do not meet that standard.
  2. The second use is that of a civic standard for law and order. The law cannot change the heart, but its threats can have a restraining effect upon all who are subject to it.
  3. Third, the law is a guide for the Christian (as already mentioned) that shows us the perfect will of our Father. These laws, commands and such direct us as His kids, as to what pleases Him, and what we can do to glorify Him. We do not and cannot do so for any merit, but we submit to them in gratitude.

Second, the law is also seen as civil code. Throughout scripture there are laws by which civic order is established and wrongs can be righted. These are not salvific in nature, that is they do not earn salvation, but are meant to preserve the common peace of the community so far as sinners can submit to them. These are the rules of the land and can be as simple as the “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12). Christians, so far as they are a dual citizen of Heaven and their land, are to observe the national rules/laws, so far as they do not conflict with God’s laws (Acts 5:29).

Third, law in Scripture is understood as ceremonial practice. There were many ceremonial laws prescribed to Israel as a theocracy and under the rule of kings. These have passed with time, and yet the things they foreshadowed in practice are still shown with greater clarity in the New Testament practices (like Communion and Baptism). Although fewer in number, and salvation is by grace through faith, these practices extend and show salvation visually, as expressly confirmed by the Word. Ceremonies do not save, but they are the sign and seal of God upon His people to show that they have been called according to His Word and such ceremonies are the outward exhibits of faith (Colossians 2:11-12).

Law is not salvific, that is, effective for our salvation. The law does not and cannot save. Even under the covenant of works, the main premise was not law keeping, but for Adam to love God to such a degree that to obey would be a daily joyful act of gratitude, not a chore. Think of a marriage where the two do not reflect on their legal obligations to each other nor the prohibitions against seeking love in another. They simply love one another and seek each other’s happiness and welfare.

Scripture proposes that the law is opposed to grace when it is incorrectly taken from its moral sense and used or interpreted to suggest that following the law is effective for man’s salvation before a Holy God. In these instances, as in Romans 6:14, Paul can say, as should we, that we are not under the law as a system of salvation, but under the covenant of grace, as our rest for salvation. This does not free us to be disobedient children, as we still have our Father’s rules to follow, but we are not following them, as if some sense of merit accompanied them.

The law is always a good thing, when used lawfully (Romans 7:7-12). Paul, as well as Jesus, criticized many of the religious leaders of their time because they missed grace and had made the law into something it is not. So, we have to understand that condemnation of the wrongful use of the law, is not the same as condemning the Law as given by God. When Jesus says that He has come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), then it can hardly be said that there is anything wrong with it (as Jesus becomes its fulfillment). Yet if taken from that context and used as any type of merit system, even if combined with grace (penance), it is to be condemned as not a true and accurate use of the law.

Law was part of the Covenant of Works. Certainly, there are commands within the Covenant of Works, under which Adam was directly told to be fruitful and multiply, and was commanded not to eat of the tree in the center of the garden. The law was to be followed, not for the sake of earning something, but out of love, reverence, and awe of God, he was to keep the relationship going. Adam was already created good, and so enjoyed a harmonious relationship with God. Yet with the option to sin, Adam fell from this original estate by not only breaking the law, but also refuting his love for God. Those not “in Christ” by His grace, die and go to an eternal hell based upon the results of this covenant breach of Adam, imputed to all. It is this breach and all other actual sins of believers only, that are atoned for on the cross. Jesus took the penalty they must exact upon Himself.

2022-02-05 Law And GraceLaw remains in the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant). Since the fall, and now, man is only ever saved by grace, whereas our performance to keep the law is not a factor. But law keeping is a factor of our salvation (James 1:22). Jesus kept the law on our behalf in two senses. First in a passive sense, Jesus kept the law to prove He was the spotless lamb of God, able to bear the sins of sinners on the cross. Actively Jesus kept the law throughout His life so to have accomplished what Adam did not do, thus earning the righteousness which He gives freely to us. If Jesus just forgave sins, we would be back at square one like Adam, and we would have to maintain our relationship with God, by our love and works. But because Jesus imputes to us His righteousness, there are no other works that can be added to His own to earn any other higher standard of relationship with the Father.

So, the Law is not a merit system for getting into heaven; it cannot and does not function that way. Those that try to make it salvific (effective for salvation) are condemned in the Bible for their abuses of the law, and forsaking grace. Yet, the Christian (in grace) should always strive to keep the commands of God, in gratitude, as those actions we know please our Father and bring Him glory. 

Boring Christianity? – Wordless Wednesday

2021-09-15 WW - Is It Boring Being a Christian

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Do I Have to Forgive . . . AGAIN!?

ForgivenessForgiveness, again?  How many times should I write about forgiveness?  Well, an apostle asked a similar question to Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)  So how many times should I write about it?  Well, how many times do we (meaning “I) need to be reminded of it!?

Forgiveness is a lot easier to talk or write about when the offender is me.  I want to be forgiven.  It is another story when I am the offended party.  Then it seems a lot harder to address this topic.  Like C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive . . . And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”

You see, forgiveness is much easier in the abstract of asking God to forgive our sins, when in reality we do not think we have that much of which to be forgiven.  We have many excuses to show we were not really so bad, and that God is actually pretty lucky to have someone so nice on His team, so humble that we even ask for forgiveness when we do not really need it.

But that is not really the issue of forgiveness.  When we have an excuse, we only need understanding, not forgiveness.  To forgive is to first suffer an offense and then stop blaming the offender even though he really is at fault.  Let’s look at the dictionary definitions:
• to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
• to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
• to grant pardon to (a person).
• to cease to feel resentment against (e.g. to forgive one’s enemies).
• to cancel an indebtedness or liability of (e.g. to forgive the interest owed on a loan).

To understand the potential offenses God may forgive if we ask Him to do so we just need to look at the Big Ten.  Not the athletes, but the Laws.  (Here we use the Hebrew list; as Matthew Sleeth pointed out, “They owned the real estate first.”)
I. Do not worship any other gods but Yahweh.
II. Do not make carved images to which you bow down and worship.The Ten Commandments Hebrew.jpg
III. Do not misuse Yahweh’s name.
IV. Honor the Sabbath by keeping a special day each week for spiritual development.
V. Make your parents proud of you.
VI. Do not murder (not the same word as “kill,” but that’s for another blog).
VII. Do not commit adultery.
VIII. Do not take what does not belong to you.
IX. Do not lie.
X. Do not crave a thing or person that belongs to someone else.

A lawyer once told me all the laws in all the books in all the world are simply a reflection of our inability to keep these basics.  And we do not just kind of stumble into disobedience of these laws like slipping on a threshold going into a room.  There is no excuse for breaking any of these, but all the volumes of all the law books all over the world reveal simply our attempts to make excuses.  “I did not really lie; it just depends on what your definition of “is” is.”

MoneyA man gave another a loan of several hundred dollars to be repaid in small increments over several months.  The first month the lender received a check in the mail.  The second check came in the third month, and thereafter nothing.  Going to a wise counselor, it was suggested he write a letter telling the debtor he was forgiven in Jesus’ name.  He and the counselor thought maybe the debtor would feel so guilty he would repay the rest.

But as the lender thought about it, he realized he could not accept payment even if the man offered now.  He reported to us as his friends that after he wrote the forgiveness letter the Holy Spirit convicted him that he really had not yet forgiven the debt, and was lying in the letter if he accepted the payment!  When the offer of repayment came up, which the lender had expected, he humbly told the debtor he would not accept the payments.  The debt had been forgiven!  Look back at the definitions of ‘forgive,’ and see if this was not true.

However, what we need to understand is that forgiveness is not only for the benefit of the offender who seems to need it.  Our debtor no longer owed the debt, true enough.  But our lender was under great stress about ‘his’ money until he grasped that he really could forgive the debt.  Once he came to understand the full nature of his forgiveness of the debt, he was the one set free.  He was no longer concerned with getting ‘his’ money back, because it was not ‘his’ anymore.

So let’s not make excuses.  Let’s ask for forgiveness.  Better yet, offer it when it is needed because the offender has no excuse.  Jesus made it clear that our acceptance of His forgiveness was contingent on our understanding of the nature of forgiveness which is only demonstrated when we forgive.  He even made it a caveat in His model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, in the same way that we have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Please forgive me when we visit this topic again next week. 😉

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” C.S.Lewis

 

“What have you heard lately?”

Gary has been a friend for several years, but about two years ago he went waaaay up in my esteem.  We were sitting over coffee and had talked about his small remodel project he was considering.  Out of the blue, he asked me, “Well, c.a., what have you heard from the Lord lately?  What’s He saying to you these days?”

Now there’s a mind-bender when you’re not expecting one!  I had blogged about Prayer, Love, The God Who Is There, the Bible, Jesus, and many other Christ-centered themes, but I did not expect to hear from God that particular day.  Like most of us I had settled into my routines and was living for God.  But most of the stuff on my “living for God” list was back to ancient teachings from when I was a kid; basically, a list of things I did not do.

Let’s see:
1. No beating up anybody, although I got very angry at that other driver and would have shot his tires if that would not get me arrested.
2. No swearing, although several unkind words were on my mind about that same driver.
3. No lying.  Actually this one is easy for me because if I lie, I will have to remember what I told someone.  I always tell the truth even when it is to my disadvantage.
4. No porn, although I thought for an awful long time about that girl in the mall with the short shorts and tank top.
5. No cheating on my taxes (okay, so my wife does our annual tribute to the IRS).Ten Commandments 2
6. No smoking; I have never even had a drag on a cigarette, but don’t think one goes to hell for this anyway.

And actually there was a list of things I did DO, but many of them were also part of the routine.  I attended meetings of believers regularly per Hebrews 10:25.  We gave faithfully to the reach of Jesus in the world through various organizations and participated in active missions whenever we traveled, even if the cover for the trip was academic or social.  I prayed fairly regularly for friends and family.  And both of these lists could go on.

But the thing that struck me with Gary’s question was the expectation that if I was living with a living God, Gary expected us to be in conversation!  It was shortly after this that I blogged on Practicing the Presence ().  His question awoke in me an awareness that most of the time I was not listening for Someone else’s voice, ePharisees.pngven as I blogged on Christ-honoring themes.  What a Pharisee I was turning back into!

Not everything about the Pharisees was bad.  Paul even listed off some of the good things his life as a Pharisee meant.  But then he said, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)  Even the good stuff of being a religious leader, even the zeal for godliness that came through obedience to the Law of Moses.

So now Gary’s question keeps ringing in my ears, even after two years, and I listen for that Voice more often.  Whether serving my home owners’ association, going out to dinner with friends, shopping at Walmart or Lowes, planning a trip to Arizona to see my brother or Miami to see former students, or dealing with issues with my K.C. family, I try to listen for a Voice, and when I listen I discover He is not silent.  I am not an expert at this, but I am growing and listening more than ever before.

When you gather with other believers this weekend, if you attend a church or small group, consider asking questions that will open their hearts and serve them.
Start with what Gary asked me,
1. “What has God been saying to you lately?”
Then ask two other questions (stolen from Crossway 😉 ):
2. What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
3. What is the worst thing that happened to you this week?

Lisrening.jpgBe prepared to take some time for the answers.  Be genuine in your desire to build up and encourage holiness, obedience and unfettered love among the disciples.  And listen for a Voice that will tell you how to live according to His word in love, faith and hope.  Like Francis Shaeffer said in his excellent book by this title, “He is there and He is not silent.”

What have you heard lately?

 

 

Love Me. That’s an Order!

Love Me Thats An OrderLove me. That’s an Order!  Imagine the reaction most dates would have to this!  “YOU are ORDERing me to LOVE you!?”  Probably may want to wait a few days to ask for a second date? emo laugh

Yet that is exactly what our God says to us in Deuteronomy 6:4-5:Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Pretty sure of Himself, don’t you think?  Well, actually yes.  And it is that surety on which all our faith relies.

The only way a man (or woman) could tell another person, “You have to love me with all your heart,” is if he knew he was the very best that she could find.  But no man knows this for certain.  There could be someone out there living in Timbuktu who would be a better match, a better spouse, a better lover, friend, confidante, and soul mate than him.  Thus, it would be very foolhardy for any guy to give this kind of command to a woman (and vice versa).

So human love is usually based on mutual conditions.  An attraction is felt, usually to physical appearance, financial security, emotional support or some other benefit that the lover can receive, and the decision is made to love the one who is attractive in one way or another.  The whole concept of love to most Americans is a shallow attraction to benefits the lover can receive by loving his/her partner.

God’s love is far better than this.  He did not demand that we clean up our acts, get our lives in order, straighten out our finances, or even make our beds, before loving us unconditionally.  He loves when there is nothing we can do, add to or give in return.  We are totally and completely the beneficiaries of a love that is “greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.”  He loves us so much that if there was anyone or anything better for us than Himself, He would not hesitate to send us to that one for love.  He would command, “Yahweh is one; love that other One with all your heart and with all your soul . . .”

There’s the catch.  There is simply no one better for us than The God Who Is There and He knows this.  In fact there is nothing He does not know. (See June 17, 2018.)  So when He commands us to love Him, it is not a selfish demand such as a man saying this to a woman would be making.  Even His command to love Him is based on His desire for what is good for us, and He knows He is simply the best there is.

Love Me Thats An Order 2We do not need to be afraid of His love.  This may seem redundant, but really it is not.  Though perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), too many have heard promises of love only to be disappointed when the lover failed or cheated or deceived.  When someone hears that God loves her, her heart may go back to previous promises of love, and say, “Not again.  He said he loved me and look what happened.”  Broken promises cover our lives like peanut shells on the floor of a Logan’s Steakhouse.

When we hear that God loves us, our natural suspicion is that there must be a catch.  Yeah, He “loves us” but only if we do nice things; only if we don’t cuss or lust or get mad.  “You don’t know me like I do, and if you did, YOU would not love me, so why would a God who you say DOES know everything about me?  EVERYTHING?  He even knows what I THINK!?  How could He love ME!?”

God Loves You This MuchVery simply because that is what He does.  He loves.  So much so that John said, “God IS love!” (1 John 4:8)  It is part of His very character and nature to look for who and what He can shower with love, and when He runs out of angels to love, He creates humans so that His love can have another outlet.  That is why you were born, so that He could love you.  That is why you are reading this blog, so that you can discover more of His love.  If you will risk letting Him love you and love Him in return, you will find that everything that has happened in your life will bear the marks of His love.  Even the terrible things that made you wonder at the time if there even was a God.  He will redeem, that is “repurchase,” those events and show that He was loving you even then.

But if you will not risk letting Him love you like that, you take the greater risk of not being loved at all, and of not loving at all.  C.S.Lewis, in The Four Loves, summed it up like this:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Allow the Holy Spirit to open your heart to a love that is almost unbelievable.  In fact, it would be unbelievable if not for the evidence of Jesus.  He loves as no other and look what happened to Him!  But loving us was worth it, because YOU are worth it.  So love Him in return.  That’s an order.