Fear

Fear is the thing I’ve fought my entire life. In fact, I still continue to fight it. As a child, it was about being afraid of “the shadow man” but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve struggled with all the worries and fears that can come with being an adult. I remember the day in my early twenties when I realized that there was a problem with that: FEAR IS SIN. By being afraid I am saying that I don’t trust Jesus and the plans He has for me. Over and over and over again Jesus commands us to not be afraid. Why then do I struggle with this? What are different ways to combat it? How does it affect others around me? These are a few things I’d like to hit in this post.

These past few years have been very difficult and very good. I’m learning more than I could have without these certain experiences. In a bible study that I attended in my early twenties, I had an amazing leader who helped me discover a way to combat fear. She encouraged me to look up all the scriptures on fear and see what God had to say about it. She spent a couple of Tuesdays going over the verses with me. In reality, fear is pride. We are saying that we can do something better than God. We think we can handle the issues better than God can. We are also saying that what Christ did on the cross is not enough. That His death and resurrection didn’t make us children of God and that we can not trust Him. I struggle with fear because it’s me saying that I want to be God. It goes back to the Garden of Eden when Eve was given a choice in Genesis. Does she listen to God or does she go after what she wants: to become like God. I can never say that I would have chosen the fruit over a relationship with Almighty God because I too want to be my own god.

What are the different ways to combat it?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

  1. Meditate on the Word of God.
  2. Prayer and Petition
  3. Thanksgiving

The result?  “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Also, Remember to dwell on the promises of God.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
(2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV)

My favorite passage and also why my firstborn’s name is Lily Elise (Lily for Matthew 6 and Elise for the covenant of God):

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

The other thing I do is surround myself with positive music. I also sometimes will talk with someone older who is immersed in the word of God. They have seen more and they are more experienced and I know they pray before they speak.

How does this affect others around me. I start seeing things from my point of view and miss out on opportunities to trust God and show His strength in my testimony because I’m too busy focusing on my own anxiety and not enough on who God is and what He is doing in my life. I’m so busy trying to fix my messes that I create more of a mess and end up with tons of shame. What am I showing my kids when I’m freaking out and not acting like a mom who is filled with the peace of God? I don’t want to raise them in a house full of fear. I want to be an example for my children so they will know that what I teach them about Jesus is true. I want them to see that I trust Jesus and I am willing to follow Him wherever. I want them to know that I’m willing to be still and know He is God instead of freaking out and causing problems for them and their daddy.

My husband is amazing. At the times I’m crazy, He reminds me to look at the cross and the empty tomb. It seems that whenever one of us are battling this, the other is given the grace to lift up and encourage the other. We have a saying in our house taught by our amazing children’s pastor when my husband was a child and it goes, “I trust Jesus, yes, I do. I trust Jesus how ’bout you?” And we will make the other repeat it until they shout it from the top of their voice and they say it with conviction.

Sometimes, I remember this and others it’s a far cry from what I should be doing. The last time I looked at this was January 21, 2014…lol…here I am almost a year and a half later and I completely forgot about this post. I need it more today then I needed it then. I’ll be finishing a depression blog post soon to go along with this. So stay tuned! Praise the Lord, He redeems our souls.

Rethink: The Power of Words

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

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

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.

Why I Don’t Look At The Menu

I’ve heard women say over and over again:

“Yes, I am married but I can look at the menu. I just can’t buy.”

I absolutely hate that saying. I feel like it breeds contempt and dis-contentedness. I think this is why so many marriages are having problems. We look at others, but those looks become thoughts, and sometimes those thoughts lead to action. Go back to the garden of Eden and find our star player. Her name was Eve and this is what scripture says:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7 ESV)

Did you note the part that said :

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

This all started in Eden. This discontentness is what we have been fighting since the beginning! Thank God that He has given us freedom in Christ Jesus. Paul says in Romans:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:5-7 ESV)

Yes, I realize that it mentions Adam and not Eve. I think that we, as women, forget that our husbands have a responsibility in how they lead us. They will answer to God for us one day and we will answer for our submission to our husbands. Adam didn’t have to take the fruit. Going back to Genesis 3, we see that it was Eve who looked, desired, took and gave. She wasn’t content with her husband, she wasn’t content with her life. Think about it. Read Genesis 1-4 yourself.  Eve had everything! A beautiful home, an awesome organic grocery store, a handsome husband, a loving father in God, and she was free. God only asked her to not eat one thing. That was it, just one tree! She had her pick of anything else she wanted. Literally anything.

I can’t drive this home enough! We have got to stop putting our men next to the latest Hollywood hunk or the sexy new musicians and start having eyes only for our husbands. We need to take the same amount of energy we spend pretending what our lives would be like with Mr. So-and-So and how amazing this imaginary man is and pour that into our husbands.

We are to be content in everything. Paul says in Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

I realize this is talking about provision. This is still relevant. We have to be satisfied with the life God has given us. The overall truth is that we are selfish. We want what we want, when we want it. My heart aches because so many of infidelities could be avoided. If (1) we would keep our eyes on the gifts God has given us, (2) stop looking at what someone else has, and (3) if we would wait in the presence of God and realize no man is going to fulfill all of our desires. Our hope is in Christ alone.

I want to state for the record that I am anything but perfect. God knows my own struggles and thoughts. On the days when it feels like I am the worst parent, worst wife, slacker, and everything else is going wrong, I am the first person to jump off the proverbial ledge. I wonder about what it would look like to have different things. But God reminds me to knock it off. I am right where He wants me. We can’t surprise God. We have free will and God knows what we will choose but we also have a choice to surround ourselves with the things of God. To come to His well and drink in His presence. By doing this we help keep the door shut on our enemy, Satan. He can get no ground in our lives.

Again, why do I not look at the menu? Simple, because I don’t want to give any ground to my enemy. I want to live a life that is pleasing to my Savior.

(Note: I realize some of you reading this may have less desirable situations with your husbands. I have watched several relationships over the past six years where there has been serious cases of faithfulness and fidelity. Yet, in three of these cases, I have watched God do a slow and restorative healing.)

Help To Better Read

My goal in this post is to help people read more. I am acutely aware that there are great books about this, but I also understand that many people I know don’t read books at all. Reading for them isn’t something they don’t do well, but rather something they don’t do at all. It is for these people I write this post. I want to give some helpful tips on how to cultivate a simple reading life.

Some may ask though, “Why is reading books important? Isn’t reading my Bible enough?” I will let John Piper answer this question brilliantly:

Some may also say that they don’t have enough money or time to read. I will focus on time in a moment, but let me address the money concern. I understand that money is tight in many families (although we typically find a way to buy things that we have prioritized as important) but let me offer you two options that may help you:

  1. A Kindle
    I bought my Kindle 2 years ago for $70 (it took me a few months to save up for it) and it pays for itself again and again every 3 months. Why? Because thanks to certain blogs and Twitter accounts that I follow, I find discounted deals for books. I have bought brand new theology books that would typically cost $20 for 99 cents, because the Kindle version was on-sale for a day. While I like paper books, the cost saving has made me a Kindle-only person.
  2. Your local library
    You would be impressed on what you can find at your local library. My city’s library has the newest & hottest worship cds. They also keep a great collection of books. I can even ask them to add a book into their inventory, and thanks to God, my requests have never been rejected. Typically, they also have a wide catalog of good audiobooks (on CD) available. I’ll talk more about these shortly.

Now that I’ve dealt with the reasons to read and how to read for cheap/free, let me offer a few helpful tips on how to cultivate a reading life.

Read small chucks consistently

Make a plan to read for 10 minutes right before bed. That’s it. Get yourself in a habit to read something every day. You would be surprised how quick you could read a book if you just read for 10 minutes a day. Take one of your work breaks and read a book. If you do that consistently, you should be able to read a book every 2-3 weeks (depending on page length).

Read something worth it

Don’t read things that you think are going to be a waste of your time. If you’re out of school, then you are probably out of the required reading stage. Find something to read that interests you. Check the Amazon reviews to see what people are saying about the book and if they enjoyed it.

Read something fun

Don’ just read systematic theology books. Read some great fiction books. Read books like The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc. Let your imagination loose and have fun. If you never read anything enjoyable and fun, I’ll wager that you will rarely read.

Highlight and make notes

This is important. When reading a non-fiction book, highlight all you can. Make notes throughout the book. This helps you to engage with the book more and remember more of the material you’re reading. It also helps to quickly read the important passages when you re-read the book years later.

Listen to audio books

This is one of my favorites. As I said, the library has audio books for free. I listen to a book every two weeks in my car just by listening to it on my way to work and church. Personally, I listen to fiction books while I’m in my car (I get less sleepy that way). This means that my ten minutes each night can be spent with something that will grow me in biblical knowledge or leadership skills (my two most often read subjects). If you want a great place to start, I encourage you to get the Chronicles of Narnia (unabridged) audio books from your local library.

Christians Persecuting Jesus

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1-5 ESV)

In the above passage, Jesus tells us that when people persecute believers, they are persecuting Him. We often use this scripture to comfort persecuted Christians in third-world countries. However, I recently read it and thought of something else we can use this scripture for.

“Christians: ditto.”

We naturally tend to apply this scripture to atheists, Muslims, and other religious persecutors, but we forget about another great persecutor of the church: us. I think of how many of Paul’s letters pleaded with the church to stop fighting with each other. Let me just list a few of the scriptures about it.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:13-16 ESV)

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 1:10-16 ESV)

Ouch. All of these scriptures were written because of real issues happening in the church. They aren’t answers for hypothetical situations. I find it sobering yet helpful that the early church was struggling with unity back then. It speaks on how hard it is to obtain true unity yet how much grace there is for us to have it (mostly because Christ desires it so much per John 17).

Paul, while talking about marriage, gives us a beautiful encouragement for Christian unity:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body….This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32 ESV)

By the ways we treat other Christians, we can either show our love for the body or our hate for it. Every time we mock or mistreat another believer, we are mistreating our own body. However, we are doing more than that, because we are the body of Christ! We are not just persecuting each other, we are persecuting Him. This is a helpful reminder for me to watch what I say and do to other believers, for one day Jesus will judge how we treated “His brothers” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus takes how we treat His family and His body very seriously.

If we are not careful, we (believers) can find ourselves persecuting Jesus just like the world does.

Rethink: Serving & Burnout

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

The issue.

I have been serving in my local church for roughly fifteen years straight, most of the time in the same two ministries that I originally started with (youth and worship). There have been many mountains and valleys in those fifteen years. There have been times where I’ve been full of vision and passion and there have been times where I’ve been full of bitterness and complaining. During these fifteen years, the subject of serving and burnout have consistently come up, both from me and from others that I have served with.

The argument that I’ve heard and have said typically goes like this: burnout happens to servants either because (1) the volunteers can’t say no to leaders who are asking for help and therefore are over-worked or (2) the church is abusive to its volunteer workers. In the last fifteen years, I have argued both sides. But it wasn’t till recently that I realized a consistent truth in all my years of serving (easy or hard). Here is that truth:

The only constant was me. I’ve had different leaders and served in different roles/functions, but I was stll getting burnt-out. I started looking back on my burnt-out times and realizing that I was always expecting something (that I didn’t get) from my leadership during those times.

Why does this matter?

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem, but the second step is to find out where the root of the problem is. If we think the root of the problem is the church (either by them asking for too much, or by them being abusive in the way they handle their volunteers), then all that grows is offense and bitterness. If someone stays at a church that they’re serving at with that attitude, they end up defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). Even if that person decides that the solution is to leave and go to another church, they will (eventually) have the same issue there as well. Why? Because the issue is with the heart, not with the leaders.

Another solution burnt-out servants may look at is serving less. If you think the root of the problem is that you serve too much (and can’t say “no” when leaders ask for help) then the practical solution would be to serve less. Sadly, I have watched this thinking lead people to stop serving altogether, and (in my personal experience) those who don’t serve the church in some fashion rarely keep their passion (particularly generosity) for the Lord. Jesus designed the Christian life to model His earthly life, where we serve more and more to our own death (of our sinful flesh and selfishness). This is what Paul allude to in Phillipians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8 ESV)

In the passage above, Paul combines service with humility and selflessness. In my own experience, the times I’ve been burnt-out are the same times that I feel I should be getting something I didn’t have, whether it be a position, more influence, a reply, a gift, a “thank you”, etc. This is the definition of “selfish ambition” that Paul talks about: what we deserve and our rights. People who decide to stop serving (or start serving way less) are many times looking “only to his own interests” and not “to the interests of others.” That’s not to say that there isn’t wisdom we should have regarding serving. Our families should come first before the ministry. If we’re serving the church and not seeing our wives and children, then something is off and we should serve less at church so that we can serve more at home. Yet overall, it’s not less service, it’s more. Serve at church. Serve at home. Serve at our job. Serve, serve, serve.

So what is our solution if the problem with burnout is us and not leaders or the church? Paul says it’s humility. Jesus gives us some really good words we ought to remember as we serve:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-11 ESV)

I think the #1 cause of burnout revolves around that we think more highly of ourselves then we ought (Romans 12:3). When we serve, many times we can think of ourselves as worthy servants. Yet Jesus is clear. There is no worthy servants except one, Jesus, and He came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). Most of our burnout issues come from our desire to be served. We need to remember who we are serving and who our model for serving is.

It’s Jesus, meek and lowly. In reality, He’s doing all the work, so why should we get any of the praise for it?

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.

—————————————————————————-

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.