Why We Fast

In the past I’ve written articles on how to better fast and how to end a fast, but I have never talked about why we fast. I know from personal experience that I can be fasting and not know why. I can be focusing on all the wrong things instead of what fasting is truly accomplishing.

I should start by saying: fasting earns us nothing.

We don’t fast to get more favor from the Lord or to be “more pleasing” to Him. We can’t do anything that would add to what Jesus did on the cross. Our righteousness, goodness, and deservedness starts and ends at the cross. God doesn’t listen to our prayers more just because we’re fasting. We don’t get any access to God while fasting that we wouldn’t of had without it. We need to shake free from asceticism, the belief that we can reach a higher spiritual level by our works, and rest in the finished work of the cross.

I should also say: fasting informs God of nothing.

Often over-zealous Christians believe that fasting shows God the urgency of a situation they’re praying for. They believe if they toil for hours in prayer and fasting God will hear their request and answer. But those people often forget that He’s God. He knows everything. No one can tell Him something that He doesn’t already know. Unlike us, He realizes the importance (or lack thereof) of every situation. He knew about every circumstance before time began, and He knew His response to each and every prayer before any circumstance came to pass or before any prayer was prayed.

So we then do we fast? We fast for us.

When I say that we fast “for us”, I do not mean to say that we are the end to which we are fasting. Rather, we fast because we are constantly trying to substitute ourselves for God as the true end. We fast because our flesh hates God and wants nothing to do with Him. We fast because our desires are not for Him. We fast to create hunger for God by intentional weakness. The weaker our flesh and its desires become, the greater our spirit (and His Spirit’s influence) starts ruling our lives.

In past fasts, I’ve looked for one thing that I could give up, whether media, food, etc. I’ve treated fasting like I was offering a great sacrifice to God. In hindsight, I was looking for the very least I could do. The point of fasting is about becoming as weak as you can be. Again, it’s intentional weakness. I tell people that if your flesh isn’t terribly uncomfortable, agonizingly so, you’re not fasting right. I’m not talking about food either. It’s amazing how I can go without food for a week but I can’t go without reading the news for a day; that to leave my iPhone off all day is such a struggle and that my flesh longs for it. My flesh agonizes without it.

We often substitute what we are fasting with something else. I may fast lunch but I replace that time I’m eating with surfing the internet instead. I should be using the time I would normally eat lunch with to spend time with God. That’s how fasting is supposed to work. We strip (aka “fast”) all the meaningless things we can, making our flesh intentionally weak, so that we can draw near to God. 

I remember one day when God said, “Crumbs.” I asked “What are crumbs? What do you mean?” He responded, “Crumbs are all the little things in your life you eat that fill you up so that you’re not hungry for Me. You snack all day on crumbs so you never come to the feast I’ve prepared for you.”

Our lives are full of trivial things. We spend so much time on our phones, checking our social networks, watching the news, surfing the internet, and goofing off. While these things aren’t evil, they are crumbs that tend to feed our flesh and strengthen it to the point that we don’t desire God. There’s a feast of glory that God has prepared for us. Yet we rather eat the crumbs of our flesh and maybe a little food that comes from the table when we hear a sermon, but we never take a seat at the table. We never feast on God when we’re alone.

There is a feast in the Bible. Let us fast so we may partake at the table.

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Why I Teach On Somber Biblical Topics

If you know me at all, you know that I have a tendency to teach and speak on more somber biblical topics, such as hell, depravity, persecution, trials, sovereignty, election, etc. It’s not that I focus solely on these things but rather I don’t shy away from them. The high school Sunday School class I teach (which I see as a huge honor) know quite well this fact. We have discussed many tough issues and biblical stances.

But why do I do this? Why don’t I just focus on the happier and “more positive” parts of scripture? As I was reading Acts, I found the perfect statement by Paul:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:26-32 ESV)

The reason I don’t shy away from teaching more somber biblical topics is because Paul tells us: wolves are coming. These wolves will deceive the sheep, not using the positive easy things that are often taught, but they will twist some doctrines and destroy the flock. How can they twist these doctrines? They twist them because they are not often laid out clearly and taught. That’s why Paul says “I declared to you the whole counsel of God.”

I mentioned in another post about the wedge how deception would come in five areas. I could call these issues the “gateway deceptions”. Few would be deceived by someone preaching against the Trinity since that is often taught. However they will and are being deceived about how the Lord sees homosexuality and universalism (to name a couple). It is for this reason that I desire to set myself like Paul and “admonish every one with tears”, “not ceasing day or night”. I often tell the students I teach that my goal isn’t to particulary help them with their life now (though I hope I do), but rather to prepare them for college (where most teenage Christians fall away) and for the next 30 years (where life could kill the heart’s desire for Jesus) where/when they will face possible diseases, hard financial times, death, and other difficult challenges. I want see them prepared to handle anything they face. I don’t want to see their faith shaken, simply because I candy-coated the Bible on what it says. This does not mean I need to be depressing (that doesn’t glorify Jesus and the Bible). It means that I approach these subjects with hope, compassion, and even joy (for every biblical topic helps us know Jesus more).

For Or Against

In the last few years, I have heard the above quote many times. There is a thinking being accepted by many people, believers and non-believers alike, that Christians ought not to speak about what they are against but rather what they are for.

Now to be fair, I do believe that we (Christians) have done a poor job in talking about sin without the hope of the gospel. We have focused so much on the consequences of the sin that we have forgotten Christ’s call for the sinner. We, especially in the Bible Belt, have frequently made derogatory remarks against the people whose sins we know are wrong. Jesus rarely even did that. I say rarely because He did call people names (“white-washed tombs”, “dogs”, “wicked and evil generation”, etc). In fact, in all the instances where He did make derogatory remarks against a person or a people group, there was almost always arrogance in play. Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery with honor and compassion, yet treated the prideful Pharisees (who were just as lost as the woman caught in adultery) with contempt. Yet, for the most part, Jesus responded with kindness to sinners He preached to; so much so that He was called a “friend of sinners.”

The problem arises when we think that the Bible or Jesus doesn’t speak against things. Let me be clear, although Jesus was a friend of sinners and the Bible gives sinners the great hope of the gospel, both it and He speak often about things that the Godhead are against. Here are a few examples:

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. (Jude 7)

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people-none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV)

People in the post-modern age don’t like hearing negative things (“against”). They rather hear what positive things (“for”). We hear our leaders and politicians turning phrases, trying to put a positive spin on something they are attacking (“I’m not for killing babies, I’m pro-choice”). But they forget the term “apophatic theology”, which is the method of describing God by what He is not. Sometimes we can better understand a position or theology by finding out what it is not. For example, while we know what the fruit of the Spirit are, we know them better because Paul contrasted them with the fruit of the flesh.

I say all of this to encourage us, not to forget the love and compassion of Jesus or the hope of the gospel for sinners, but also to “not shrink from declaring to [people] the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). It is not our job to make the gospel more palatable by stripping it of what God is against. It’s our duty and delight to preach the God who is full of fury and love, a furious love that destroys anything that would try to hinder it.

Help To Better Learn Theology

I find many people who want to learn more about what they believe and also how to think rightly of God. They just don’t know how. They think of seminary and shudder. They think of massive books that are completely boring and they lose all desire to pursue a greater knowledge of God. I wanted to share some simple pointers of how I’ve learned and have grown in doctrine.

Understand what theology is.

Remember, “theology” simply means the study of God. We’re not talking about timelines or pointless facts and arguments. We’re talking about knowing Him more. I used to find it easy to excuse myself from learning theology when I thought it was just useless trivia. Everything changed when I realized it was simply the process of knowing a person, Jesus, and who He is, what He is like, and what that means for me in response of Him. It also helped to know that it was His desire that I pursue knowing Him, and therefore growing in doctrine and theology. I knew He would help me understand all that I was studying.

Read the Bible without filters.

I find the greatest cause of wrong doctrine is reading the Bible with a filter, either our own or someone else’s. It is critically important that the start of our theological education (and the core of it) centers around the Bible. Just as important is to read the Bible without preconceived ideas/doctrines of our own or from others. For example, when reading Revelation, I never understood it till I (chose to) forget all that I had been taught about it (I was taught pre-tribulation rapture, so Revelation was quite confusing). Once I did, the Spirit opened the book to me and I saw it clearly.

It’s also important that we read the Bible with our heart continually ready to love the Lord as the scriptures reveal Him to be. I missed out on a lot of good and passionate theology growing up because I formed a theory of God with my own mind, a god that that was easily lovable. When a tough theological subject such as hell or election comes up, I often hear people say “I don’t know if I could love a God like that.” Abraham Joshua Heschel says:

To retain the holy, to perpetuate the presence of god, his image is fashioned. Yet a god who can be fashioned, a god who can be confined, is but a shadow of man.

Read the Bible to see God for who He truly is, and be ready to struggle against some of the things that make Him altogether different than us (like how He defines love). Choose to love Him regardless of how unpleasing you may find Romans 9 or other passages.

Read the Bible with commentary.

While we should read the Bible without filters, it is good after reading it ourselves, to read what others have thought about it. We call these collection of thoughts about the Bible “commentaries.” Instead of going and buying a bunch of new expensive commentaries that you might not know if they are good or not, let me encourage you to read commentaries from some of the old preachers and fathers of our faith. Many of them are free. You can read commentaries from Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and others. After you read a portion of scripture and pray about it, look up the portion in these commentaries. Just be careful not to read/listen to only one person. Reading commentaries from multiple authors keep us from erring easily.

Follow theologians on Twitter (or Facebook).

This is my favorite. Thanks to the age of the internet and social media that we live in, there are many theologians that are posting short theological truths and teaching on Twitter and Facebook. I follow several of such people and I’ve been amazed at my spiritual growth just by reading some of their thoughts. Many of them also have blogs where they write out some of their thoughts in a slightly longer form. This is a quick and easy way to learn theological truths randomly throughout the day.

Here are a few I personally follow on Twitter:

All of these people are serious (yet still fun) about theology. Whoever you follow, if you listen to their theological remarks, make sure they are serious about theology, that they appreciate it and are trying to see God rightly, truly, and in a way that’s consistent with Christian history. There are many who are part of an anti-intellectual/relativist movement. These people are constantly dogging general (and widely-accepted through time) doctrines. They are trying to re-invent Christianity into something more palatable, but in the end, unbiblical. They don’t believe in any set standard of truth. Beware of such people and their candy-tasting social media accounts. Find preachers and teachers who are in line with church history who are passionate about Jesus expressed through the Bible.

Read theological books.

Finally, start reading (light) theological books. I’m not talking about reading a Systematic Theology book or something like Kingdom Through Covenant, a crazy deep 828 page book on the biblical covenant of salvation. I’m talking about reading easier yet potent material that focuses on knowing God more, through scripture and doctrine.

Some examples are:

Fiction series like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy are also great to learn doctrine and theology from. I should mention that many fiction books don’t have accurate theology in them, particularly for those trying to, so be careful (I’m looking at you, The Shack). Sometimes it’s better to read someone who is choosing clarity rather than allegory.

Also, if you get a Kindle, you can find many theological books for free or cheap. They are often on sale on Amazon.

Jeremiah & Judgment

For the last 15 years, there has been growing talk about the judgment coming to America and what should be done to stop it. Last year, the CEO of Chick-fil-a (a restaurant I love) said this regarding gay marriage and God’s judgment on America:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, “We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” … I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

Obviously these remarks were taken quite offensively and led to protests and counter-protests and many chicken sandwiches.

During this time last year, I read through Jeremiah to see what the Bible says about this subject. In my opinion, there is no better book to read about God’s judgment than Jeremiah, since that is its sole focus. Many think Jeremiah is discouraging or depressing; but Jeremiah isn’t a depressing book because of the prophecies. It’s depressing because people outright ignored God’s warnings.

I wanted to post some of my thoughts about the book of Jeremiah and also my thoughts about our “God is sending national judgment” thinking.

Judgment is God-centered

One of the scariest and most solemn verses in Jeremiah is where God lays out his charge against Israel and why He’s sending judgment:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV)

God doesn’t judge nations because they do bad things. All nations are made up of sinful people who will make (and sometimes even serious) mistakes. God remembers this. God doesn’t judge a nation based on how many laws are good for Christianity and how many are bad for it. No, God judges nations for two main reasons: they forsake Him and replace Him.

This point is stated over and over again throughout Jeremiah. Even though God does talk about the evil things they are doing, He tells them they are doing these things because they are not seeking Him. The root of national judgment is God. He is (99% of the time) the only determining factor.

A revival of moralism doesn’t prevent judgment.

This point killed me. It came when I realized when God called Jeremiah.

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month. (Jeremiah 1:1-3 ESV)

Many times we skip over these introductions in Scripture, but this one is quite important. Why? Let’s read what King Josiah was doing before God called Jeremiah to prophecy judgment.

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 34:1-7 ESV)

Let’s stop and think about that.

King Josiah begins a moral revolution in the land. He starts tearing down every altar of idolatry in the land. It would be the equivalent if the President of the United States (with the support of the government) shut down the pornography industry, put prayer back in schools, outlawed gambling and prostitution, and created Christian laws to start enacting a theocracy. It was a huge win for morality. But a year into this revival of morality, God calls Jeremiah to prophecy judgment on the land.

The implication couldn’t be clearer: a revival of morality has little to do with stopping judgment. The reason is because, like I mentioned in the point above, morality (or the lack thereof) isn’t the main reason for judgment. People forsaking God is the real and main reason for judgment. The sad truth of the matter is that people can act righteous and be even more worthy of judgment.

In America, there is strong talk about the need for a revival of morality. Many think that if we outlaw gay marriage, put prayer back in schools, have a Christian president, or stop vile things from being on TV, that this would stop the coming judgment from God and make us a “Christian nation” again. This thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I believe it would be worse for us. It would sear our consciences and let us believe that we are good and righteous while hearts and minds are still forsaking God. When people stop forsaking God and start seeking Him, morality is fixed. To fix morality without turning the heart back to God is deadly. That’s why God tells Israel:

Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:10)

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. (Jeremiah 4:1)

All judgment is from God, regardless of the servant.

From the beginning, God promised he would raise up the Babylonians to destroy Judah. Daniel said around this same time to the king of Babylon:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings. (Daniel 2:27)

When a nation is overthrown or attacked, the Bible is clear: God’s will was involved. It isn’t a game of free-will Russian roulette. God controls the hearts of kings/leaders and moves them to accomplish His will. They are His servants.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)

“It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. (Jeremiah 27:5)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. (Jeremiah 43:10)

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

In America, we often think that we can control which leaders govern which nations. We live in endless fear of dictators and nations with nuclear ambitions, acting that if we don’t worry and don’t try to do something preventative that one of these dictators will attack our country. While I believe it’s in the heart of all men to do terrible evil, the Bible shows us that national attacks are stirred in the hearts of leaders by the Lord. Whether Pharaoh (multiple ones), Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, or other kings in the Bible, God predestined them to conquer. The prophecies and scriptures show this to be true.

Sometimes, God won’t change his mind.

There has been an uprising of mass gatherings of prayer, fasting, and repentance in the last twenty years. Groups like Promise Keepers and The Call have rallied people to join them and to pray for two things: to stop (or delay) judgment upon our nation and to turn the nation’s heart back to God. I have no problem with the faith of these two statements. I believe that only prayer and fasting can help do the impossible — turn hateful hearts to Jesus.

The problem comes when we think that if we cultivate enough prayer, that God will change His mind. This absolute is nowhere in scripture. That’s why the Bible says:

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:13-15)

Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:9)

“For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark; for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back.” (Jeremiah 4:28)

I have no problem praying in hope that God may change His mind, but it is never an absolute thing. He only answers prayers that line up to His will. If His will is to judge a nation, ten million hours of prayer won’t change a thing. Sometimes the most that will happen is that the judgment will be temporarily delayed.

Judgment cannot be delayed forever.

Even though judgment is delayed, it does not mean it’s deleted. There will come a time where it cannot be delayed any longer. This is the reason why God says in Jeremiah:

Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:9 & 29; 9:9)

You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—I am weary of relenting. (Jeremiah 15:6)

The things we do and evils we commit are done, ultimately, against Him. Therefore, He has every right to respond accordingly. Sometimes the reason judgment falls is that God is tired (figuratively speaking) of delaying it and postponing it, especially when nothing is truly changing in the hearts of the people. When judgment finally happens, it’s because it is the will of God. When the Lord finally decided to judge and destroy Israel, He told Jeremiah:

As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. (Jeremiah 7:16)

When God’s mind is made up, it’s a sure thing. No prayer or plan of man can change it. Yet, even in His decision to judge, there is mercy and patience. It would be another twenty years before God would move Babylon to destroy Jerusalem.

God will eventually judge everyone.

Even though God may use ungodly people and nations to accomplish His purposes in judgment, it does not mean that He winks at their sin and hatred of Him. Jeremiah complained to the Lord in Jeremiah 12. Jeremiah was mad that God would judge His own people for their evil while the heathen nations around them were living prosperous. The Lord then responds by talking about the judgment He’s bringing upon those nations:

But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 12:17)

Later, God would speak directly against Babylon, His servant, and judge them for what they did.

For this is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done. (Jeremiah 50:15)

Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai, and I will send to Babylon winnowers, and they shall winnow her, and they shall empty her land, when they come against her from every side on the day of trouble. (Jeremiah 51:1-2)

The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple. (Jeremiah 51:11)

This should show us that no nation, no matter how great and powerful they are, no matter if they are God’s chosen nation to judge the earth, all nations will be judged and many times the judgment they reap is the judgment that God helped them sow.

Our hearts deceive us and make us think we won’t be judged.

One of the most quoted verses in the Bible has to be Jeremiah 17:9, but let’s read it in context:

“The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars,while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.” (Jeremiah 17:1-4)

So this chapter’s context is about Judah’s sin and the certainty of God’s judgment and wrath against them.

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

God tells them that they turned their heart away from God and decided to trust in themselves instead. But whose fault is this? God answers the question.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind,to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

God is saying that their (and our) hearts were deceiving them into believing that God wouldn’t see and wouldn’t judge them for their evil deeds.

Prophecy may be treasonous.

When your nation/government rejects God and avidly seeks evil, any prophecy against them will eventually be seen as treasonous. Name calling was only the start. Speaking the truth and the word of God landed Jeremiah in jail. Jeremiah was beaten by the chief priest, Pashhur (in Jeremiah 20), for the things that he was prophesying. But when the word of the Lord is in you, you can’t be beaten into silence.

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FAQ

I’m posting my personal thoughts as questions and answers in summary of this post.

So, is judgment coming to America?

Yes.

Why is judgment coming to America?

I would say because of Jeremiah 2:11-13 and 22:8. In truth, God judges all nations who do not seek Him wholeheartily. So judgment is not just coming to America, but to most (if not all) nations. The final judgment will culminate in the Great Tribulation.

Can we delay it or cancel it?

There is no way to cancel the judgment coming to this land. God has planned the exact day it will happen. I’m not even sure we can delay it anymore, though we can still pray to that end.

Yet, what is the purpose of that end (that He would delay judgment)? My personal feelings on the matter of praying to delay judgment is this: it’s incredibly selfish. I feel like this has been happening for the last 40 years. I find it to be the equivalent of saying “God, don’t judge me. Judge my children.” It shirks responsibility and accountability. Is it not more honorable to accept the judgment for your (and previous) generations so that your children may be spared? It irks me that American Christians want spiritual authority but not spiritual responsibility.

Is there any hope then?

Of course. Judgment and mercy always flow together. A.W. Tozer states:

He has always dealt in mercy with mankind and will always deal in justice when His mercy is despised.

The doctrine of the divine unity means not only that there is but one God; it means also that God is simple, uncomplex, one with Himself. The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts. Between His attributes no contradiction can exist. He need not suspend one to exercise another, for in Him all His attributes are one. All of God does all that God does; He does not divide himself to perform a work, but works in the total unity of His being. (link)

This means that God does stop being merciful in order to judge. Rather, it is a natural response for God to judge evil and it is a natural response to give mercy to those who cry out for it, before, during, and after. This is why one event like 9/11 can occur and it can spiritually destroy someone’s life and save someone else’s.

How should the church respond in light of the coming judgment?

In repentance and in humility. Peter states:

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

While great judgment will come to this nation one day, it will come to the church first. In many ways we, Christians living in America, have the same issues that Israel did in Jeremiah. Although we have an ultimate sacrifice in Jesus and don’t have to worry about being judged without hope, the Lord does chastise His children, and sometimes the chastising can be a little tough, but it is always loving.

When we start seeing our sins, we will start responding humbly to our nation regarding their sins. We will start praying like Habakkuk:

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

What is the scriptural way to prepare for coming judgment?

Pray, fast, obey, worship, and memorize the Bible. There’s no need to start storing food or making underground bunkers. God speaks harshly many times throughout Jeremiah to those who would try to seek shelter and comfort by their own hands and strength. Don’t be anxious and trust God (Matthew 6).

How bad will the judgment be?

I don’t know, but it won’t be nearly as bad as when Jesus returns. Ponder that.

Help To Better Worship

As a worship ministry leader, I often have to think about the congregation we’re serving. While I find there to be many reasons why people struggle to worship, both at church and in their personal lives, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest reasons why people don’t worship is that they don’t know how. I admit that it can be a little discouraging looking at others who seem caught up in a worship time when you’re not feeling or experiencing anything. Hence, I wanted to write a few tips I’ve learned over the years that will help people worship better.

Pray for revelation

The first and greatest thing we must realize about worship is that it is not something that we create. There is no such thing as self-sustained worship. The origin of all worship is God. We give Him nothing that wasn’t first given to us by Him.

Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:35)

If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand? (Job 35:7)

When God gives us revelation of Himself, who He is and what He is like, our hearts naturally respond in worship. Our hearts can’t be still or quieted when we see God. It’s a natural overflow. Therefore the first thing we do when worshiping is to ask God to reveal Himself to us. God wants worshipers and is more than willing to make worshipers by revealing Himself to them.

Remember, be thankful, and praise accordingly

We are people with short memories. Israel was a perfect picture of this. Many times in the Old Testament, the author would write “but they did not remember the works of the Lord.” The Bible links Israel’s problem with worshiping God wholeheartedly with their memory problems. We should learn from them. During worship times, focus your mind on what the Lord has done for you. This will stir up thanksgiving in your heart, and thankfulness is the key to the door of praise and worship.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28)

Remember your salvation, how lost you were without Him; how He has forgiven your every sin, how He has protected you through every trial, pain and sickness. Remember His mercies and gifts He has given you — family, friends, a job, breath, and all things you need for life and godliness.

Think about what you’re singing

Many times the reason we’re not engaging in worship is because our brain is turned off. We may be singing, but we’re not comprehending what we’re singing. Take a moment and think about the words you’re hearing and singing. Think about how they apply in your life. If they don’t, pray that they would. Our worship many times takes form as a prayer to God. Certain statements like “there is none else that I desire but You” are biblical but are not true of our current life. Take those words and pray them while singing them.

If a song is describing what God is like, stop and think about it. Songs like Revelation Song are great to think about.

Follow the Bible’s physical instructions

Many times we look at someone dancing or shouting and wish that the Lord would “move us that way”. Yet, this isn’t how it works.

God created us and created worship. He knows what will unlock our heart and worship Him in spirit and truth, like He requires. The Bible doesn’t say “wait till you are experiencing the Lord in worship and then clap your hands.” No. Rather it says “clap your hands.”

There are physical things we can do, in obedience to the Word of God, that will unlock our hearts to love God more. When I lift my hands, it’s not usually because I’m overwhelmed. Rather, I lift up my hands in worship, like the Bible commands me to do, and then something unlocks in my heart and I experience God in a different way. The same with all the different physical acts of praise — dancing, clapping, bowing, shouting, etc — the more I humble myself and praise like the Bible commands me to, the more my heart opens to worship God.

Sing spontaneously

Even though we may do the physical acts of worship, there are times where our heart is cold and unengaged. I have found two remedies for this problem.

  1. Sing spontaneously
    To engage my heart, sometimes I need to stop singing the words everyone else is singing and sing my own song to God. I call this “letting your heart sing.” Many times it is just giving thanks to God in song, singing my testimony and singing about His recent faithfulness in my life. Sometimes I just sing to Him how much I love Him. Sometimes I open the Bible, particularly Psalms, and sing some lines I read there. 
  2. Sing in tongues
    While I do not believe that all people have the gift of tongues (per Paul), I do believe it is a gift and a often given one to people. I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.

Do it often

Although worship is not self-sustained, the act of engaging your heart is like muscle memory. The more you do it, the easier and more subconscious it becomes. Worship every chance you get — in the morning, in your car, during breaks at work, on your way to church, etc. The more you do it, the more you remind your heart where its focus should be continually on.

Rethink: Apologetics

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and things that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and things.

The issue

There is a group in the world called “The New Atheists.” They are made up of very scientific people who toil night and day to disprove the existence of God and the need of the church. Due to this, the call for apologetics has increased greatly. The movement to know the roots, history, and theology of the Bible is gaining speed. Many times this knowledge is used to debate these atheists or to argue God’s existence with someone on an intellectual plane. The main (if not only) verse I’ve heard quoted from the Bible to argue the need for apologetics is this one:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

This verse seems to imply that the gospel and the truth need an intellectual defense from people who would question the need and existence of God. The problem comes when we look at the context of this verse.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)

The context of this main apologetics-themed verse is in the context of suffering. Peter is saying don’t fear those who will inflict suffering on us, but rather be prepared to answer them when they ask us “why are you suffering for this?” or “is your God worth all this pain?”. In context, Peter is saying “be ready to glorify God when people ask why you’re so willing to suffer for Him.” He says to always be prepared for this and make sure that answer is gentle and respectful. No where in this verse does it say find atheists and debate them intellectually. In fact, Paul attempted this at Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17. I’ve heard it quoted as Paul’s greatest sermon, but we don’t remember the outcome/result of such an intellectual debate:

So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:33-34)

No massive revival. No church planted. A few souls saved. A city left unturned by the gospel. It’s no wonder that Paul would write later to the Corinthian church:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

He would say earlier:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Why does this matter?

I want to make it clear: I am not arguing whether apologetics should exist. I believe it is well needed. I’m arguing the reason that they should exist for. I take issue with the debating and arguing with unbelievers. The fruit is little if any. Many times, at best, it may help someone who was teetering between agnosticism and Christianity decide to investigate the Bible more. The Bible is clear: only the gospel, preached in weakness, can turn an atheist into a saint. In fact, the problem isn’t that people don’t know the truth. It’s that they deny and/or suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19).

So while I find little need for apologetics to oppose the new atheists, I do find a better purpose for it: to strengthen and equip the church. The great fruit I see coming out of apologetics is that Christians start diving into the Word of God and knowing Christ more. Gone are the days of “Everyday a Friday”. They have a hunger for truth and something more than an inch deep. I love it when apologetics and discipleship are working hand in hand, growing and teaching believers the truth and equipping them so that they can guard themselves from error.

In reality, the truth does not need to be defended from those who don’t believe it, but rather from those who try to twist it into something more (but in reality, less) believable. There is little (if any) language from the apostles telling us to defend an “attack of the Bible” from atheists. Rather, the apostles tell us time and time again to dive into truth and be watching out for people preaching a false gospel.

So in summary, my aim is not to attack people currently in the apologetic ministry. I am blessed to have several friends in apologetics who have built and strengthened my life by what they teach. Rather, my aim is to change our view on what apologetics is and what it is meant for. It is primarily used for the building up of the body in the knowledge of God, not to debate atheistic unbelievers.

In fact, Psalms says “a fool believes in their heart there is no god.” Why would we want to debate with fools? In fact, Proverbs 26:4 says:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

That verse should keep all of us careful who we decide to debate anything with. Let’s not worry too much about those who hate God and hate us. When they cause us to suffer, our love and devotion for God will say more than 1,000 worthless debates.