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  • 02/25/15--10:14: Believe and You'll Be Saved
  • This blog is expounding upon a recent When We Understand the Text video, which you can view by clicking here. Some brief church news and tonight's fellowship meal menu are below.

    Paul and Silas went to Philippi to preach the gospel. Luke, the author of Acts (and also of the gospel of the same name), was among the missionary brethren that accompanied them. One of the first persons they converted was a woman named Lydia who was then baptized along with her whole household. Some scholars believe it was in Lydia's home that the Philippian church began. When Paul wrote Philippians, that letter would have been read aloud to the gathering of believers meeting in Lydia's house.

    As they continued preaching in Philippi, they were followed by a slave-girl who had an evil spirit that gave her the ability to tell fortunes. She followed them for many days, warning others that Paul and his team were attempting to convert people to Christ. Finally Paul got annoyed by this and rebuked her so that the evil spirit came out. When her masters realized they couldn't profit from her anymore, Paul and Silas were arrested and tried, then beaten and thrown in prison, their feet fastened into stocks.

    That night, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, and all the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison so that all the doors flew open and everyone's bonds came undone. When the jailer woke and saw all of the prison doors open, he drew his sword to kill himself. It was a shameful thing for a prisoner to ever escape under a Roman jailer's watch, punishable even by death, so the jailer was going to go ahead and take his own life to spare his family from being shamed.

    But before he could do himself in, Paul cried out, "Do not harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights and went rushing in. Trembling with fear, he fell before Paul and Silas. Then after bringing them out of their cells, he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

    Then they shared the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. The jailer washed their wounds, and then Paul and Silas baptized him and his whole household, just as it was in Lydia's home. John Chrysostom, 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, wrote, "He washed and was washed; he washed them from their stripes, and was himself washed from his sins." Then the jailer and his family rejoiced in their salvation, and Paul and Silas got to attend the party.

    The jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved?" and Paul and Silas replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." That verse is often repeated as if to suggest, "All you have to do is believe in Jesus, and you will be saved! That's it! It's that simple!" It is, huh? Just – believe?

    Believe what? That he was a real person? I know some atheists and agnostics that believe at least that much. That he was the Son of God? Even the demons believe that and shudder (James 2:19). Believe that Jesus died and came back from the dead? Pretty sure the devil is aware of that one, too, and he isn't saved. So what does it mean to believe?

    I could go into a long explanation of this, but for the sake of summarizing the argument, belief and faith are the same thing, the difference being that "faith" is the substance while "belief" is the action. Belief is an active response to the truth. It's not merely rolling over and on this side of the bed I believe while on that side of the bed I don't. To believe requires a repentant heart. If a person is not repentant, they do not believe they're sinners in the eyes of a holy God, and only the atonement for sins made by Christ's death on the cross can save them.

    Note that Paul and Silas didn't just tell the jailer to believe and leave it at that. What did they do next? They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and then to his household. Remember, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). And as we've mentioned in sermons several times before, faith is a gift given to us by God (Ephesians 2:8) as is repentance (Acts 11:18). The jailer wasn't merely told to "believe" and he simply did. He believed because the Spirit of God enabled him to.

    In Lydia's conversion story within the same chapter of Acts, it says, "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention what was said by Paul" (v.14). She came to faith in Christ not because she worked it out on her own, but because the Lord worked in her to receive it.

    And there's yet another story from Acts that will help us to understand this concept better. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas went into the synagogue in Antioch and shared the gospel with the Jews there. Word about their testimony spread and a week later, the whole city gathered to hear them share the gospel. The Jews became threatened by the large crowds and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, speaking abusively about him as well.

    Paul said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

    When the Gentiles heard Paul say this, "they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed" (v.48). Did you get that? They didn't first believe and were then appointed to eternal life because of their belief. They believed because they were appointed to eternal life!

    We should take the examples given by Paul, Barnabas, and Silas and preach the gospel, even if it means being ridiculed (as in Acts 13) or abused and detained (as in Acts 16). But we know that those who come to faith don't do so by our work or by their own will. They are saved by the work and will of God.

    Wednesday Night Meal
    As I type this out, the smells from downstairs are wafting into my office. This evening for our fellowship meal, we will be enjoying ham and beans, cornbread, and pineapple dump cake. The cost is $2 per child, $4 per adult, and $8 will feed the whole family. The meal starts at 5:00, with AWANA and adult Bible study to follow at 6:00.

    Deacons Meeting and Members Meeting
    This coming Tuesday is the deacons meeting for the month of March, and then the following Sunday, March 8, will be our first members meeting for the year. All those who are members of First Southern Baptist Church are encouraged to attend. We will be presenting a new candidate for the position of deacon, and also presenting our first two nominees for the position of elder.

    Phil Stacey on March 20
    Don't forget about our Christian concert with Phil Stacey, Friday evening, March 20 at 7:00! Tickets are free. They're located in the foyer. Only take one if you're planning on attending. Next week, we'll be opening up an invitation to the public for anyone to get a ticket. Seating is limited.

    Closing Thoughts
    This coming Sunday, we'll start a short series on Jesus's ministry leading up to Easter as we look at his death and resurrection. Tonight is "Stump the Pastor" night at AWANA. If anyone needs me, I'll be memorizing the entire Bible before 6:00 this evening. Consider yourselves blessed in all things, and I'm looking forward to worshiping with you again!

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    This is the first chapter of the book, 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They REALLY Mean!). Order a copy by clicking here!

    Genesis 1:1
    "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."

    Is there any question that Genesis 1:1 is the most popular verse in the Bible? Stop any man or woman on the street and ask them to quote you a Bible verse and this is likely the one you will hear. Not only is it the most famous chapter-and-verse reference, it's also a contender for the most controversial.

    Okay, sure, Genesis 1:1 may not be the first verse that comes to mind when you think of controversy in the Bible. You're probably not going to incite a riot if you went out on the street and shouted it through a bullhorn (though you might get a ticket for violating a noise ordinance). There are plenty of other topics that would cause way more offense than Genesis 1:1. For example:

    • A man laying with another man as one would lay with a woman is an abomination to the Lord (Leviticus 18:22).
    • Women are to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34).
    • The Apostle Paul wished that the false teachers in Galatia would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12).
    • Ezekiel gave a description of the Lord bathing his bride and then when she was unfaithful he repeatedly called her a whore (Ezekiel 16).
    • A very fat Eglon was stabbed in his belly and he defecated on himself (Judges 3:17-25).
    • If a woman were to enter an argument and grab a man by his testicles, she should have her hand cut off and be shown no pity (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).

    See? Pretty controversial stuff. Already you're reconsidering using this book at family devotions. You were fine with Genesis 1:1, but once I started in on the other stuff—yeah, not so much.

    But here's the thing—all of those "offensive" topics are conditional. They depend on the audience you share them with and whether or not that audience would find such a passage offensive. Certain things are more offensive in some cultures and not as much in others.

    However, at some point everyone is going to face the reality that they are not the God of the universe. That's against our self-centered nature as we are all inclined to believe everything revolves around "me." The reason why anyone would submit to naturalism theories as ridiculous as the Big Bang, abiogenesis, or Darwinian evolution is because they are by their nature opposed to submitting to the Lord of all creation.

    A person will not believe another word of the Bible if they don't believe its first ten words. What difference does the rest of it make if God did not create the heavens and the earth? Furthermore, he didn't simply make the universe like you'd make a sandcastle. He spoke all things into existence: "And God said," and it was, "And God said," and it was, "And God said," and it was. On and on it goes throughout the creation story. By the power of a command, all things came to be.

    If the operations of the universe, even their very existence, are controlled by the command of God, that means we are, too. And that's offensive: to be told we are not God and are subject to his word whether we like it or not. Genesis 1:1 is more than a statement. It's more than the beginning of the greatest book of all-time. It's an assault on every other religious and secular ideal apart from the knowledge of the God of the Bible.

    But there's an offense that's even greater than our being offended, and that's God being offended. We read in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created man in his own image. He gave a little bit of himself to the man, a living soul, when he breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 2:7). And yet we have taken that breath, given to use by God, and blasphemed him with it. We've taken the image we were made in and dragged it through filth. That's offensive. And God will judge our offenses.

    Fortunately, God didn't leave us clueless to our offense. He gave us his word. Yes, the very God of the universe who spoke all things into existence speaks to us as well. He speaks to us through the Bible. The Bible shows us the reality of our offenses against God, or what we should know as "sin." It is necessary for us to know our sin or else we don't realize that we are under God's judgment in need of a Savior.

    Better than just showing us our guilt, God has also given us deliverance—through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus died in our place for our offenses so that if we are in Christ, we have right-standing with God. More than that, we have fellowship with God! Yes, the God who is holding all things together (Colossians 1:17) wants to be with us. That relationship is possible through the Creator of all things, Jesus Christ (John 1:3).

    Why does he do all of this? Because he loves us. He loves us enough that though we have sinned, though we have greatly offended him, though we desecrated his image and blasphemed him with the breath he gave us, he died for us. We read about his love, his deliverance, his fellowship, his greatness when we read His Word.

    Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Let us fill ourselves with God's word so that we might believe and know that he is God—the God who loves us.

    Who said it? Likely Moses wrote Genesis.
    To whom? To the children of Israel.
    What was the setting? Genesis may have been written during the 40 years the Israelites were exiled to wander in the desert.
    When did this happen? Somewhere between 1,500 and 1,300 B.C.
    How did he say it? Through the writing of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
    Why did he say it? That Israel would know against prevailing pagan myths that God is the Creator of all things, and all things came into existence and are governed by his commands.

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  • 03/13/15--12:36: Beware the Social Gospel
  • The following is a chapter of the book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean!), which goes on sale March 31. You can find a link to purchase a copy on the website for When We Understand the Text.

    Matthew 25:40
    "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (NIV)

    A popular pastor of a large church stood before his congregation and said, "Imagine a world where people were critical of us because of what we believed, but envious of us because of how we treated one another and people outside our circles? That is why Christianity survived the first 300 years. That is what we've been called to do. And I believe it could happen again."

    Then the pastor sat down—still on his stage—to respond to his critics. The message he had been preaching over the past several weeks was all about how we needed to be more concerned with our horizontal relationships with one another than with our vertical relationship with God. "This kind of sounds like it's all about people, and you've kind of left God out of it," he whimsied in the voice of his critics. "After all, isn't this about the glory of God?"

    In his own voice the pastor responded, "That's a good question. And Jesus answered it." And he took his congregation to Matthew 25:31-40 in the NIV. "I hope this bothers you," he prodded.
    To give the back-story that the pastor didn't provide, Matthew chapters 24 and 25 record what is called the Olivet Discourse. From the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple mount, Jesus told his disciples what would be the signs of his coming and the end of the age.

    Starting in Matthew 25:31, he said, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.

    "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'"

    When he got to verse 37, the pastor really emphasized the "see you" part. "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

    Because, the pastor said, there are plenty of times when we think we see God: In church fellowshipping with the saints, worshiping in song and being fed by the Word. When we go to the Holy Land and we get to walk where Jesus walked. When we participate in a Bible study, intimate with one another in the scriptures. When we attend a camp and devote a week with no distractions to being with fellow Christians and studying God's word.

    All of those are important, the pastor said. But they're all for you. They're not for God. Then how is it that we see God? The pastor answered with verse 40 (the reference he showed on the screen was incorrect, but I digress): "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, what-ever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

    So according to this pastor, the only thing we can do for God—the only way we can even see God—is by doing acts of kindness for others. That's it. The rest is just commentary. And yes, he really did say that.

    His message was not so original. I've heard similar sermons just like it plenty of times before: a works-righteousness gospel both ignorant and critical of sound doctrine. Upon hearing his message, I wondered how that pastor would consider Matthew 7:21-23:

    "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
    Good works do not get us to God. There are plenty of people who are going to do "good works" in the name of God. There are many preachers who will even preach sermons and attribute them to being the words of God. But their hearts are not really with God. The Lord said in Isaiah 29:13, "This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men."

    No one—not one person—will inherit the kingdom of God because of an act of kindness they did for someone else. And note in Matthew 25:40 that Jesus said, "these brothers of mine." That's not any and every person in need. They are specifically those who are in Christ. Remember, he is referred to as the firstborn of many brothers (Romans 8:29). Jesus has such intimacy with his followers that whatever is done to them and for them is the same as if it was done to Christ himself (see also John 13:20 and Acts 9:4-5).

    It's not that we shouldn't care for those outside of his flock—how else are we going to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ? But our attention should especially be for those who are among the family of God. As we read in Galatians 6:10, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

    But again, the good things we do are not what get us into the kingdom. The good things we do are the evidence that our hearts have been transformed by Christ's proclamation of the kingdom!

    Remembering back to Romans 12:1-2, everything we do in service to the Lord is an act of worship. God transforms us to be like Christ, and that makes us worthy to worship him. As Paul said to the Thessalonians, "To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power" (2 Thessalonians 1:11). It is God who calls us, and it is God who makes us worthy of that calling.

    Dr. Voddie Baucham expounds on this idea: "It is not optional, you must worship Christ. 'Okay, well here's my worship!' It's unacceptable. How does it become acceptable? Christ loves you, frees you from your sins by his blood, and makes you a kingdom of priests who then and only then can offer acceptable worship before God. He makes us worthy to worship. He makes our worship acceptable in Spirit and in truth. He alone makes our worship acceptable, and makes us worthy to worship him."

    One of our elders, Chris Solano, reminded me that this was the case with the prophet Isaiah who had a vision of the Lord sitting on his glorious throne. "Woe is me! For I am lost," Isaiah cried; "a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Then an angel touched his lips with a burning coal from the altar of God. "Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for," the angel said (Isaiah 6:1-7). Then Isaiah could receive the word of God, answer his call, and worship him.

    Christ gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). We're zealous to do the work of God because of what he did, not because of what we can do. We're incapable of righteousness (Romans 3:10-20). By faith, Christ's righteousness has been imparted to us (Romans 3:21-26).

    Love is the evidence, not the cause, of our relationship with God. As the Apostle John wrote:
    "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:7-14)
    Now, you might be thinking, "I don't know, Gabe—aren't you just picking nits? It looks like you and that pastor are basically saying the same thing. We're supposed to love one another." We might make similar statements, but we're not saying the same thing. What troubles me, and should trouble you too, is where the pastor is placing the onus of our ability to love each other.

    According to him, the way Christians treated others inside and outside their circles was why Christianity survived its first persecution-heavy 300 years. No. Christianity survived by the will of God only—not because any person did anything for any other person. Without God's ordinance, the gospel would have died at its inception had it depended on the motivation or organization, intelligence or eloquence, ability or creativity of any preacher.

    All throughout his sermon and his entire series, the pastor elevated man's ability above God's sovereignty. He even admitted this in the statement he made about our horizontal relationships being more important than our vertical relationship. But the vertical relationship affects the horizontal relationships. We can't do the horizontal without the vertical first.

    Any person who does not know God is incapable of true love. Every act they do is always sin.

    "Whoa, but wait!" you might say. "I see people who aren't Christians doing acts of kindness all the time! Non-Christians can fall in love and get married, too! How can you say a person who doesn't know God is incapable of love?"

    Because it's not for God's glory. Anything that's not for God's glory is sin, no matter how great, according to worldly standards, their acts of kindness or displays of love might be. Again, "There is no one righteous; not even one… There is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10, 12).

    That pastor was preaching his congregation into condemnation, unregenerate men and women believing that they could earn the kingdom by their works. He also affirmed for those that do not even profess to know God that they are godly enough by the acts of kindness they do for others—not by repenting of sin, submitting to the authority of scripture, church attendance, prayer, or sound teaching, but by their works which have no ability to save them.

    People who think Christianity is just a moral system will believe a person can be good without God. When I asked my brother why he left the faith, that was the answer he gave me—he figured out that he could be a "good person" without God. But he can't. No one can.

    We do not follow Jesus for his moral example. We follow him because we need deliverance from death, and Jesus who conquered death is the only one who can do it! He's described in Colossians 1:18 as "the firstborn from the dead" meaning that there will be others, all who are reborn into his righteousness. If a person's good will is not a result and a reflection of the righteousness of Christ, then it's self-righteousness and nothing else. That's a one-way ticket to hell.

    By the way, that's the part of Matthew 25 these works-righteousness preachers tend to avoid—the "hell" part. They love to talk about what you can do to earn your way into the kingdom, but they often omit the part about what happens to those who do not display the evidence of a heart transformed by Christ:
    "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:41-46)
    Because they did not truly love God, they failed to obey his commands. The promise of the eternal kingdom and the fear of everlasting punishment did not regenerate the heart into one that was in submission to Christ and his word. Therefore, in the final judgment, they will be condemned to hell.

    I want to see if you can identify one other thing: I was hungry and you gave me food (John 6:21). I was thirsty and you gave me drink (John 7:37). I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Ephesians 2:12). Naked and you clothed me (Revelation 3:18). Sick (Isaiah 53:5) and in prison (Romans 8:2) and you visited me.

    What are we talking about here?

    Sharing the gospel! Jesus was not just talking about meeting every physical need but meeting every spiritual one with the gospel! We are to serve, "For the sake of the faith of God's elect," as Paul put it in Titus 1:1.

    To have the gospel and not share it? The message that has the power to save a person from death? How can we say we are in Christ if we keep it to ourselves? Any and every good deed that we do, any and every opportunity we are given to serve someone else, is an open door to share the gospel—not by action, but by word.

    Perhaps you've heard the St. Francis of Assisi saying, "Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words." There are a couple of problems with that quote. First of all, there's no record that St. Francis ever said it. Secondly, it isn't biblical—not the way we tend to use it anyway. We often interpret it to mean that we must preach the gospel primarily by our actions and only use words as a last resort.

    But that's not sharing the gospel. Remember the word gospel means "good news." It must be declared! We don't turn on a cable news channel and watch a bunch of people milling around in the Middle East and try to discern what's going on out there. No, someone at a news desk or on location tells us the news. So a more accurate way of using the quote would be, "Preach the gospel always; and since it is necessary, use words!"

    We read in Romans 10:14-15, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'"

    We must actually preach it. Those who will not share the gospel are not actually God's children.
    Jesus was not ever asked, "Isn't it all about the glory of God?" and responded by saying, "It's about serving people." He was, however, asked this question: "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29).

    Again from John, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:1-3)

    Who said it? The Lord Jesus Christ.
    To whom? His disciples.
    What was the setting? On the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple mount.
    When did this happen? Approximately 30 A.D.
    How did he say it? Face to face.
    Why did he say it? So that his disciples would know that the expression of their devotion to Christ was how they cared for his flock and preached his gospel.

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    So I watched the first episode of A.D. The Bible Continues, and I have to admit -- it wasn't terrible. At least, not yet. Yes, I expected it to be bad, and no, I'm not rooting for it to be bad. It will be bad. But before I offer my review, A.D. needs a little backstory. Not the material covered in the show. I mean the show itself and its creators.

    If you've seen an ad poster for A.D., you might notice that it says, "The Bible Continues," with "The Bible" italicized. That's because it's not a continuation of the stories in the Bible. The series is a sequel to the miniseries The Bible which aired two years ago on the History Channel. That series started on March 3 and finished on March 31, which was Easter Sunday in 2013. The show A.D. debuted on Easter Sunday. That's not a coincidence.

    In the History Channel miniseries, the episode entitled "Survival" chronicled a chapter of Israel's history when they were given over to Babylonian captivity. King Nebuchadnezzer erected a golden image 90 feet tall and ordered that whenever the music played everyone was to bow down and worship it. Whoever did not worship the golden image would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

    As most dramas go, the show amped up the tension among the story's main characters; Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The latter three decided to rebel against the king's edict and not bow to his statue, and according to the miniseries, Daniel warned them of how dangerous that was and tried to talk them out of not bowing.

    That was where I turned series on. I hadn't watched an episode before that. Azariah faced down Daniel and said, "My name is Azariah, he who is helped by God. I ask God to help me now." I thought to myself, "That can't possibly be Daniel trying to convince Azariah to bow to Nebuchadnezzer's statue." Yup, that's exactly who it was.

    Azariah was portrayed in the series not as the Bible depicts him: a man who loved God and was faithful to his commands, as were his other three friends, Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael. He was portrayed as a man standing in defiance of a tyrannical king and expecting God to show up and support his personal revolt.

    Daniel was portrayed  as someone who was faithful not necessarily to God but to promises of personal benefit. "Jeremiah prophesied that we would return to Jerusalem," he pleaded with Azariah. "Think about our people. As long as we are in the king's court, we can help them. If we're dead we cannot!"

    So according to the series version of Daniel, whose name means "God is my judge," we should be willing to bow down to idols as long as it keeps us in influential positions of power where we can help people, because that's what's really important.

    Again, this was my first impression of The Bible series, and it was a theme that continued for the rest of the show. The star was the will of man, not the will of God. Their depiction of Jesus was not the Jesus of the Bible. It was a different Jesus altogether (which I covered in my review of Son of God, which you can find by clicking here).

    I am thankful that A.D. did not attempt to bring back the original cast from The Bible. Diogo Morgado had one of the worst portrayals of Jesus I have ever seen. Still with an affinity for European soap opera models, Juan Pablo Di Pace was cast instead. The rest of the cast is much more diverse than most Bible dramas, but still with no attempt to depict actual Galileans or Jews from the first century. But I digress.

    The show began with Jesus' crucifixion, the first episode covering the events that transpired on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday morning resurrection. Nothing in this episode is all that problematic. One scene in particular I can say I appreciated. Pilate asked his captain, Claudius, if Jesus was really dead. "I not only saw to it, I was personally responsible," Claudius said. "And what would you say to a person who tried to say otherwise?" Pilate asked. To which Claudius replied, "I would say they were either lying or a madman."

    That one took a jab at those who buy into the swoon theory, claiming that Jesus wasn't actually dead when he was buried and the cool air of the tomb revived him. No, Jesus was quite dead when he was taken off the cross and placed in a tomb.

    We don't know that kind of exchange took place between Pilate and one of his officers. It's just speculative, but it's also not unbiblical. So far the show's worst crime is casting yet another model in the role of Jesus (Pilate at one point even refers to him as good-looking and charismatic). However, if the creators of The Bible miniseries are to be trusted, and they're not, the unbiblical stuff is coming. I don't mean extra-biblical. I mean unbiblical. As in straight-down heresy.

    Husband-and-wife producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are spiritual New Age believers. They keep getting talked up as if they're genuine Christians, particularly by Focus On the Family. (I have written Focus about this, as well as President Jim Daly's endorsement of the blasphemous Noah film. Someone from Daly's office wrote back and defended their support of Downey and Burnett, and claimed Daly's endorsement of Noah wasn't actually an endorsement.)

    Though Downey and Burnett are very spiritual, this should not be confused with being of the Spirit. Downey has appeared with psychic John Edward on his show Crossing Over. God's word strictly forbids necromancy (Deuteronomy 18:11-12). Edward later wrote a book called Practical Praying: Using the Rosary to Enhance your Life where he asserts that Christianity is no more true than any other religion. Roma Downey endorsed the book and recorded for Edward a meditation CD to be included with the book.

    Downey has a degree from the University of Santa Monica in Spiritual Psychology. One of the things their program helps students with is awakening you into "the awareness of yourself and others as Divine Beings." Hm. Sounds like gnosticism to me. So does the rest of it.

    "Oh, but that was years ago!" you might say. "We can't judge her by the kind of person she was or the interests she had in college."

    She graduated with her degree in 2010.

    "....Oh."

    Yeah. Less than three years later, The Bible miniseries debuted on the History Channel, promoted by over 100,000 churches in the country according to Outreach.com. But Burnett and Downey do not know the Jesus Christ of the Bible. They consider the events of scripture to be only historically, not eternally, significant.

    As Downey told The Hollywood Reporter, "With A.D. The Bible Continues, we have been able to use the death of Jesus as the starting point because really it's the journey of what happens next. It was a moment that changed the world -- it changed world history. It had a resounding impact."

    She went on to say, "It's a story of faith and of courage and I don't think that you have to be of Christian faith to enjoy this story." Knowing Downey and Burnett's spirituality, I read that statement as, "You don't have to be a Christian to enjoy this story because Christianity is only one of the ways, not the way to God."

    The book of Acts, from which most of A.D. will be taken, is not a story about human faith and courage. It's actually the story about how the gospel of Jesus Christ made it to the whole world. As I've stated elsewhere, we don't follow Jesus for his moral example. We follow him because we need deliverance from death which only he can provide. Already in A.D.'s first episode, there's been hints of moralism, and that will be amped up as the series goes on.

    I don't know how much more obvious I can be, but this much is true: A.D. The Story Continues will not proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. It won't be there. Instead, the series will make claims that are contrary to scripture and its theology will be heretical.

    The Bible miniseries was abysmal, and A.D. will be, too. Whatever you think the first episode was (my official non-endorsement is, "Not bad."), it will get much worse. For that reason, I cannot recommend it. I may write another review later in the series, but I'm not making it a priority. There are many other things I'd rather commit myself to.

    The only reason all this Bible stuff pops up on television and in movies around Easter and Christmas is to make money. That's it. And they blaspheme God while doing it. A.D. is no different.

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    Joshua Feuerstein achieved social media notoriety in 2014. He started out posting simple devotional videos, cheesy "God thinks you're a hundred bucks" kinds of sermonettes, which attracted viewers because of his fierce delivery. None of his devotionals are ground-breaking. In fact, some just butcher the Bible verses he uses. It's his charisma that has been his draw and Facebook his primary medium.

    His most recent video, posted two days ago, already has 2 million views. The videos are often hashtagged #shareifyoucare. He knows how to sell himself. A video critical of evolution has made atheists obsessed with him, and he's touched on various social issues. A couple months ago he made national news after recording himself calling a bakery to order a sheet cake that read, "We do not support gay marriage." (It was done in poor taste, and he's since taken the video down.)

    Feuerstein has gusto, and his videos may have literally saved lives. He shared a testimony in the video "Cancel Your Suicide" calling on those who might be contemplating suicide to think before they pull the trigger. Hundreds have responded saying the video indeed caused them to re-think their death. He's a former pastor, a featured speaker, has toured the country, and appeared on television and other social media networks.

    And there you go. That's Josh Feuerstein in a large nutshell. I understand why he's popular. But he never sat well with me from the first video I saw. Despite all the "good" one might say he's doing, his misuse of scripture is troubling. There's a self-centeredness to his madness, but let's forego that for now to examine just his beliefs.

    Many Fred Durst comments
    have already been made.
    If you've seen many of Feuerstein's videos, you might have noticed that his trademark red ballcap, which he wears backward, now has "ACTS238.COM" embroidered across it. When you go to that website, what you will see is a full-page promotion for an upcoming book called Pentecostal Theology: The Oneness of God.

    Oneness Pentecostalism denies the triune nature of God. According to this theology, God is not three distinct persons in one. He is not the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). God simply has different "modes," sometimes manifesting himself as a Son, sometimes as a Father (Isaiah 9:6 is the passage they use to justify this belief), and sometimes as the Spirit (most often referred to by Onenists as the Holy Ghost).

    This teaching, also called Modalism or Sabellianism, goes back to the false teacher, Sabellius, in third century Rome. Tertullian called it "Patripassianism" from the Latin words for "father" and "to suffer," because it implied that God the Father suffered on the cross. Sabellius taught that God the Father was the only true manifestation of the Godhead. Modern Modalists will say that God is only Jesus. T.D. Jakes is perhaps the most famous Modalist of today.

    A few years ago, Rob Bell tried to say that believing in the Holy Trinity didn't matter since it's too hard to understand and because the belief didn't come about until the Nicene Creed in the fourth century, about a hundred years after Sabellius. Like most things Bell says, that's wrong. The Nicene Creed sought to affirm that which was already written down in scripture. God is unquestionably Triune defined in both the Old and New Testaments. (A quick :90 video explanation on the subject can be found here.)

    The Holy Trinity is a divine mystery, this I won't deny. It is as complicated for us finite beings to grasp as it is to understand God's eternal and sovereign will. How do we fathom the complexities of God? How can God be one God and three persons at the same time?

    It is okay to ponder these things. The prophets did. David and Solomon both marveled at and struggled to understand the nature of God. The Apostle Paul drew from Job when he wrote, "Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" (Romans 11:33-35)

    It is good to ask such questions. In asking them it should drive you to praise God and study more about him. The desire for sound doctrine is supposed to inspire a life of godliness (1 Timothy 6:3). You're not going to fully understand the Trinity, and that's okay. What's not okay, however, is to reject God's Triune nature. To do that is to deny God himself.

    We read in 1 John 2:21-23, "I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son." If you do not have the Father or the Son, you do not have the Spirit either since the Spirit is the one who testifies about the true identity of Christ (John 16:13-14, 1 John 5:6).

    So here's what this comes down to: Joshua Feuerstein is a heretic, he is a liar, and an antichrist. The brand of "Jesus" Feuerstein presents is a false one. When he prays for his viewers and says things like, "In the power of the name of Jesus," if you know something about his doctrine, you know he doesn't actually believe in the power of God. He believes in his own power to call down the name of Jesus, channeling God to do his bidding, so to speak. That's what a Oneness Pentecostal believes. He is not submissive to the Almighty God of the universe.

    You might say, "But Brother Gabe, Josh's videos are so loving! They do so much good!" I would agree with you to the extent that I would agree a godless person is able to convince another person not to kill themselves. But what is he accomplishing? Is Feuerstein saving a person just long enough to introduce them to destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1), and yet still following the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) to eternal damnation?

    Feuerstein might be able to point a person to the true Jesus Christ of the Bible, but the Spirit would be doing this in spite of Feuerstein, not because of him. The gospel has the power to save eternally. There are much better videos and resources on the internet that you could be using instead of Joshua Feuerstein.

    He's a gun-toting, evolution-hating, loud-preaching, fire-breathing charismatic and a spiritual man. But that doesn't make him a Christian. He's a false teacher. I hope he repents of his heresy and follows Jesus -- the true Jesus. Until he shows evidence of this, don't share his videos.

    (I have written to Feuerstein. As of this blog, he has not yet responded.)

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    I've been told that I have a generally negative take on movies. Yup. I won't deny that. I confess that I went to see Son of God, Noah, and Exodus: God's and Kings with the expectation that they were going to be Scripturally off. I mean, really, can you blame me? Do I even need to say that in each one of those occasions, I was correct? (I guess I just did.)

    There are people praising A.D. The Series and should not. I'm not just out to offer my opinion. I'm also not writing just to say, "These are bad movies." I'm writing with the intention of drawing the reader to the true word of God. Do not get inherently excited about anything claiming to be "Christian." In most cases, they do way more harm than good. Test the spirits, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

    But as one friend asked of me recently, "Couldn't you do a review where you're actually recommending a movie, not just criticizing it?" I do feel like I gave a positive review of VeggieTales In the House. But alright. I shall officially recommend a film (in whatever official capacity I have). And the film I recommend is called Beyond the Mask, out today in limited release. I was privileged to get a sneak peek during a one-night showing a few months ago.

    Now I will preface this review by saying, again, it's been a while since I've seen it. I also didn't sit and watch it -- meaning I stood the whole time. Our infant daughter, Aria, was pitching a fit, and since having a newborn, my wife doesn't get to sit and enjoy much. So I took Aria to the back and walked in the aisle to sooth her so my wife could enjoy the movie with our kids.

    Yes, we also had our 7-year-old and our 3-year-old with us. I visited with someone who saw the film and determined that it was acceptable for them to see. There is some violence, but trust me, it's not Hollywood violence. I read the Bible with my children and leave nothing out. They were perfectly capable of handling what was on screen.

    The movie stars mostly unrecognizable names except for the always-charming John Rhys-Davies from Indiana Jones fame and Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (and the voice of Treebeard, in case you didn't know).

    Rhys-Davies also played Mordecai in One Night With the King, the 2006 film based on the biblical story of Esther, and has been in other Christian-ish titles. Beyond the Mask is also a Christian-based film (there's a reference to John 8:32 on the movie poster there) which makes me wonder if Rhys-Davies is a man of the faith, but I don't know.

    But yes, anyway, Beyond the Mask is a historical epic that takes place in Revolutionary-era America with Christian undertones. Some might argue about whether or not to call it a "Christian film" as that's not really the movie's approach. But within the dialogue, talking about matters of grace and repentance and even salvation in Christ -- all of that is theologically solid. Imagine that! A doctrinally sound movie!

    There are elements of the plot I don't want to give away. I went into the movie knowing very little about it, and I think that played into my enjoyment. The action and the scripting are all very top-notch, and there are some fun cameos featuring well-known American historical figures. I don't know who the gentleman was they got to play [omitting his name on purpose] but the likeness was pretty amazing.

    The actor playing the lead character is not the best. I'm sorry, Mr. Cheney, but this is a review and I have to be honest -- I thought the lead role could have been better. (If it's any consolation, I didn't think Christian Bale was a good Batman.) But Rhys-Davies is fantastic as always. What a voice on that guy. And the unknown Kara Killmer, who plays the lead heroine, steals every scene she's in.

    She's not just there to play the damsel-in-distress either. Killmer's character is smart, witty, and strong. While Hollywood either forces feminism down everyone's throat to unpalattable degrees, or presents an endangered woman with the endurance of a wet napkin, the filmmakers and Killmer have crafted a feminine character with such a natural vitality, the movie couldn't have made it without her.

    One of the things I wish they had done more of -- There's a vigilante element to the movie, and I wish they would have played up their Zorro-like character more than they did (again, it's called Beyond the Mask). Any kids who watch the movie might want to pretend to be the Masked vigilante. If they had developed his mystique, he could have turned out to be a captivating hero.

    At the same time, part of the plot is that as a vigilante, he's breaking the law. (Yeah, sorry, but Batman is a criminal.) That comes back and plays into the grace aspect of his redemption. There is a minor romantic element, a love-story subplot, but it's nothing inappropriate. The movie contains violence, and people die, which is rare for a "Christian" film to even attempt that. But it's necessary to the plot and not done for shock. Overall the film is a well thought-out epic that made for a great movie-watching experience.

    You have to understand, or maybe you do if you've read enough of my reviews, this is a rare thing for me to say. My church congregation knows. I get ribbed for how few movies I like. Some think I don't like anything. There are plenty of movies and shows I love. I just don't like wasting my time and money on something that someone spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make and couldn't afford to bother with little things like, um, a PLOT!! Maybe some dialogue not written by an adolescent. I don't ask for much!

    But Beyond the Mask gets everything right where it counts. I had a wonderful evening with the family. When my wife and I found out it was coming to theaters in limited release, we looked for it in our area, but perhaps we already had our turn. I would definitely watch it again. If it's playing in a theater near you, go see it. Let me know if you enjoyed it, too.

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    The following is a chapter of the book "40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and what they REALLY mean!)." You can find a copy of the book by clicking here!

    Ephesians 2:8
    "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…"

    The word "gospel" means "good news." But in order for news to be good, we have to know the bad news first. And here it is: you have sinned. All sin is open rebellion against God, and the penalty is death. By making a person aware of the bad news, we are able to till the heart for them to receive the good news.

    "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (v.1-7).
    Twice in these first seven verses, we are described as "dead." Not just dying—dead. As a corpse. Can you resurrect yourself? No. Nor do you have the power to revive anyone else who is dead.

    If you walked up to a dead man lying in the middle of the street and said, "Hey, there's a hospital over there, let's go and get you some help," that man is not going to get up to help himself. Again, he's dead! Even if you dragged him to the hospital, you could put the paddles on his body and shock him all day and he's still not going to have life.

    If we're dead, we're dead. We can't revive ourselves and no one else can revive us. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are regenerated, brought from death to life. "It is the Spirit who gives life," Jesus said; "the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).

    In Ezekiel 37, the Lord brought the prophet to a valley full of dry bones. There were so many bones that they covered the surface of the valley. And he said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" The prophet answered him, "O Lord God, you know."

    Then God said, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord."

    So that's what Ezekiel did. And when he spoke the word of the Lord, the bones began to rattle. They started coming together, bone to bone. Sinew started to form on them, just as God said, and flesh and skin covered them. But there was no breath in the bones.

    Then the Lord said, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So Ezekiel continued to prophesy the word of the Lord, and breath came into them and they lived and stood to their feet, "an exceedingly great army," as he described them.

    This is the picture of evangelism. This is how a person is brought from death to life—by the Spirit of God. First the Spirit regenerates the person to receive the gospel, then the Spirit breathes life into the person with the gospel. This is how a person is brought to salvation. Not by praying a prayer. Not by repeating after me. Not by coming down front. Not by being baptized in water. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works. Ephesians 2:8-9 reads:
    "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
    All three of those things—grace, salvation, and faith—are all the work of God. Yes, even faith, which is commonly taught to be from man and not of God. But faith is not a thing we direct at God. It's not something we use to channel God. The ability to believe (the ability to do anything, really) is given to us by God himself.

    One could argue that "this" in Ephesians 2:8 is talking about "grace," not "faith." That's fine. It still doesn't change the fact that faith comes from God. As Sam Storms wrote, "That faith by which we come into experiential possession of what God in grace has provided is as much a gift as any and every other aspect of salvation. One can no more deny that faith is wrapped up in God's gift to us than he can deny it of God's grace."

    Remember Romans 10:17 which says that faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 12:3 says that faith is apportioned by God. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2, we read that wicked and evil men have no faith. It's not from man. It comes from God.

    No where—not one place in the Bible—is salvation ever eluded to as being a cooperative effort between God and man. We do nothing to save ourselves. Again, we're dead. Apart from God we can do nothing. Romans 3:10-12 says that no one is righteous, no one seeks for God, and no one does good. So how can we possibly "make a decision" to follow Christ, which would unquestionably be a good thing?

    "Well what about repentance?" you might say. "We're supposed to repent of our sins. Isn't that a choice we make? Surely that was all me!" Nope. Repentance comes from God, too (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). I mean, really, we do nothing to save ourselves. It is from start to finish the gracious work of God.

    "But I chose to follow God!" you can argue. "I know he called me, and I answered! I made a choice!" The only reason you were able to make that choice is because the Spirit enabled you to. Romans 8:11 reads, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."

    It is by no work of ours that we are saved. We can take no credit for it. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, "not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

    Paul repeats this theme continually. To pastors Titus and Timothy, he wrote that God saved us not by works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy (Titus 3:5), because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:9).

    Now, even though our works do not save us, we are still called to work. Ephesians 2:10 reads, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Good works do not bring us salvation—we walk in them as a result of our salvation.

    In John 15:5, 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."

    We read in Romans 8:30, "Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." The salvation process, inside and out, from beginning to end, is the complete and gracious work of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
    To whom? The church in Ephesus.
    What was the setting? Paul was likely writing from prison in Rome.
    When did this happen? About 62 A.D.
    How did he say it? Through a letter.
    Why did he say it? Paul loved the Ephesian church and wanted to encourage them further in their understanding of the redemptive work of Christ.

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    I enjoyed Dr. Russell Moore's column 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Southern Baptists. As a follow-up, I came up with 10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists. This is not an argument against Dr. Moore's article. Like I said, I enjoyed it. I'm just piggy-backing (okay, ripping) off what he shared to mention a few things even Southern Baptists should know about our own denomination.

    1) We have a lot of great teachers... and a lot of bad ones, too.
    The teachers I have valued the most in my five years as a pastor are Southern Baptists: Voddie Baucham, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, David Platt, and Paul Washer among them. In my opinion, some of the most Spiritually gifted Bible teachers on the planet come from within our denomination.

    Unfortunately we have a lot of bad ones, too: men (and women) who devote themselves to myths, promoting speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. In their sermons, they wander frequently into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law without understanding what they are saying, or the things about which they make their confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7). The Apostle Paul told Timothy to keep anyone from teaching in such a way.

    Southern Baptist churches are autonomous (more on that later), so individual pastors need to hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, giving instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). Don't attend a church just because it's Southern Baptist. Attend a church grounded firmly in orthodoxy, submissive to the authority of the inerrant word of God.

    2) Doctrine is not a hot enough topic.
    And that brings me to the subject of doctrine itself, one that is not talked about enough in Southern Baptist circles. I've attended multiple SBC meetings from small, local gatherings all the way up to the national level, and doctrine is seldom ever talked about. There are Southern Baptist ministers who have more in common with Presbyterian and Non-Denominational ministers than they have in common with the pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the country. To quote Dr. Baucham, "Doctrine matters!"

    And when a jujitsu champion tells you something, you better listen to him.
    Dr. Moore is right when he says, "We don't agree on everything, but we're more united than you might think." We're still also very divided, and sometimes those divisions are giant gorillas in the room that no one wants to talk about. Even seemingly small things still cause massive divisions. It's not enough to quote Ephesians 4:4-6. We must, even on the convention level, follow the instructions of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 1 Timothy 4:7, and 1 Timothy 5:21.

    3) The pastor/deacon model given in the BFM 2000 is not quite how a New Testament church should function.
    Dr. Moore mentioned autonomy, and that's a great thing about SBC churches. I think a church can appoint and ordain its own elders and deacons, test and approve its own teaching, be held accountable to other autonomous churches, and send out missionaries without the oversight of a religious bureaucracy. But the pastor/deacon model mentioned in the Baptist Faith and Message (article VI) is not the model of a New Testament church given in Scripture. If there's anything I could change about the BFM 2000, it would be that.

    The biblically correct model is plurality eldership overseeing the teaching and spiritual needs of the church, and deacons who serve the elders and the church by helping to meet physical needs. In too many Baptist churches, the pastor is like a president or a CEO and the deacons are thought of as elders though they don't serve in that capacity and were not elected based on those qualifications (given in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9).

    Our church just recently adopted plurality eldership. It took us two years, studying the Scriptures and the experiences and teachings of other Baptist ministers. I'm still the pastor, considered a ruling elder devoted to ministry service (1 Timothy 5:17). But now it's not just me. There are two other men serving with me. We lead together and hold one another accountable. I have no more authority than they do. That's the way it should be.

    4) Infant baptism is not that big a deal.
    When a Baptist says that a person who believes in and practices infant baptism is a heretic, they display that they don't understand what infant baptism is. Not all paedobaptist perspectives are the same. The reformed perspective on infant baptism, whether in the Reformed or Presbyterian church (RCA or PCA), is not heretical. They're not baptizing their infants because they believe it will save them. It's a sign of the covenant. Just as circumcision was a sign and seal of the covenant for the descendants of Abraham, so baptism is for babies born to Christian parents.

    Now, as a Southern Baptist minister, obviously I don't fully agree with that perspective. It's something I continue to study -- I owe my Presbyterian brothers that -- but I don't share the hermeneutic that connects circumcision with baptism. Baptizing infants simply isn't necessary. Where a reformed paedobaptist and I would agree is that baptism symbolizes a covenant with Christ (Romans 6:4), and we would agree that the children of even just one believing parent are holy before the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:14). Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to exclude from church membership a person who practices paedobaptism.



    Dr. Dever (again, whom I greatly admire) has said that paedobaptists are sinning because they disobey the command to baptize and be baptized. I do not agree. I think that a reformed paedobaptist is absolutely keeping that command. If church membership, as Dr. Dever has also said, is a corporate endorsement of one's salvation, then there should be no reason to make paedobaptism a disqualifier for membership.

    When a person comes into our church seeking membership, and we ask them if they have been baptized, and they say, "Yes, I was baptized in the Catholic church as an infant!" well that's a whole different animal. We do teach them they need to be baptized for the first time since they haven't been yet. Lutherans, Apostolic Pentecostals, and the Church of Christ also teach that water baptism is salvific, and that's a doctrinal problem. But I have no major doctrinal issues with my reformed paedobaptist brothers, and neither should any other Southern Baptist.

    5) Baptism should be a bigger deal.
    That said, we as Southern Baptists probably don't make as big a deal over baptism as we should. Or let me put it another way: We don't take it as seriously as we should. When a person is baptized in your church, guess what? They're not a number. They're not some random wet head. They've made a public declaration of their faith, having been buried with Christ in their sins and risen to newness of life. And now they are the responsibility of your church.

    Don't just applaud and forget their names. Their baptism was done before the assembly for a reason. Know who they are. Remember them. Follow up with them. Talk to them. Get to know them. Invite them over to your house. Break bread together. Have spiritual discussions. Teach them how to pray and read their Bible. Make sure they keep attending church. This is all part of baptism, folks. Jesus said to baptize and teach what he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). That's not two separate commands in two separate verses. It's all part of the same process of making disciples.

    6) We might need to rethink the name "Southern Baptist."
    One of the points that Dr. Moore made in his column was, "Lots of us aren't 'Southern.'" Dr Moore definitely is. He's a southern boy from Mississippi living in Tennessee with an accent that gives him away. He's the quintessential Southern Baptist. Though I minister in Kansas, I was born in South Carolina and my parents were married in a Southern Baptist church. I'm proud to be a Southern Baptist preacher.

    But Dr. Moore is right, the Southern Baptist convention is not all that southern. Few Southern Baptist churches even claim to be Southern Baptist churches! The president of the SBC, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, pastors a church that doesn't have "Southern Baptist" in its name. It's the same story for the president of my own state convention. No where on his church's website can you find that they're associated with the SBC. I met a pastor last year who planted a SBC church in Alaska. Hooray, we get that far north! But that church also didn't have "Southern Baptist" in their name.

    Maybe the SBC was on to something in 2012 when they voted to use "Great Commission Baptists" as an alternative name. They didn't replace the name; just offered an alternative. The vote passed by what I would consider to be a narrow margin, 53 to 46 percent. Obviously the SBC at large is not all that on-board with replacing the name, but I think we should bring it up again. As more SBC churches are getting away from the SB part of the name, maybe GCB is the moniker we should adopt.

    7) There are some things in our past we should be ashamed of.
    The 7th point in Dr. Moore's column was, "There are some things in our past we're ashamed of." I would say we're not ashamed enough. I don't think most Southern Baptist parishioners are aware of our history. "The SBC was founded over the issue of human slavery," Dr. Moore says, "precisely over the question of whether slaveholders would be appointed as missionaries. It's not just that the SBC was on the wrong side of the issue on that, we were on the wrong side of the Bible, on the wrong side of the gospel, on the wrong side of Jesus."

    Before the early part of the 19th century, the Baptist churches of the south were almost all abolitionist. Slave holders would attend the Anglican churches until after the American Revolution when they were wooed into Baptist circles. The slave owners had all the money, you see, and by their influence, Baptist preachers started to abandon pleas in their sermons to set their slaves free. The slave owners wanted the church's affirmation that they could treat people as property and still be good Christians. But the Bible strictly condemns those who enslave others.

    You know the old saying that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Today more and more Baptist churches are refusing to speak up about sins of divorce, marital unfaithfulness, lazy parenting, porn, abortion, and homosexuality to name a few. Might the reason be the same as it was in Civil War-era Baptist churches; that they don't want to offend the people with the money or risk losing their numbers? We need to be more ashamed of our past than we are -- enough that we will preach holiness and declare the authority of Christ. Let us not ever end up on the wrong side of the Bible.

    8) Lifeway needs to stop selling certain books.
    Let me just be blunt: The hashtag movement known as #The15 is ridiculous. Its inception is steeped in so much controversy and back-biting, it's counter-productive. For all their efforts to try and remove heretical books from Christian bookstores like Lifeway, they've actually caused more problems. It's now that much more difficult for those of us who don't participate in silly hashtag campaigns to be taken seriously. (If you identify as #The15, quit whining over the Southern Baptist leaders who aren't listening to you on Twitter. There's a good reason you've been blocked. Grow up.)

    I'm glad Lifeway responded to last year's SBC resolution and pulled heaven-tourism books like Heaven Is for Real, 90 Minutes In Heaven, and The Boy Who Went to Heaven off the shelves. The books were lies. They should never have been on the shelf in the first place. Neither should books by Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and Sarah Young. I've been in stores where Meyer and Young have entire decorated sections promoting their work. They're false teachers. I still shop at Lifeway, but as the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist convention, they need to be more discerning about what they sell.

    9) The Southern Baptist church is doing more in the public arena than perhaps any other denomination.
    I love the presence of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that Dr. Russell Moore is the president of. The conferences we have, the issues we discuss, the presence of the Southern Baptist church in the public square -- we're not only the largest protestant denomination in the country, we are, in my opinion, the most prolific when it comes to engaging the secular culture from a Christian worldview (I'd encourage you to listen regularly to Al Mohler's The Briefing).

    You know what this name really needs? To be longer.
    But even as involved as we are, we could do much better. The convention has a great presence, but are we communicating the need for that kind of engagement to members of our congregation? Are we teaching them how? Do they understand why a "Christian worldview" is important? Do local pastors care about local government and inform their flocks about issues happening in their own communities? In the nation? In the world?

    The convention is getting into this routine of taking a public stand on issues that even secularists and other faiths agree with (and it doesn't always do that in the best way). When we share the public sentiment, it might be great PR, but unless we're proclaiming loud and clear the gospel of Jesus Christ, we're just adding another voice to already agreeable rhetoric. Our message is not set apart, and as the people of God, it's supposed to be (1 Peter 2:9).

    10) Evangelism is not someone else's job.
    At the Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus earlier this month, Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, delivered a great line: "We have a denomination that loves evangelism as long as someone else is doing it." Ouch! But true. If at the very least we were knocking on doors or doing on-street evangelism, that would be something!

    Church services on Sunday morning are not the way we engage a crooked and depraved generation. Inviting your atheist friends to church is not how you do it either. We reach the lost by going out into the community and preaching the gospel. When a person displays a repentant heart receptive to that message, we command them to be baptized and grow together with the rest of the members of the body of Christ. Evangelism is deliberate. It's intentional. It's loving. We can't do it accidentally. We do it on purpose. We've been commanded to do it. So do it!

    I love the Southern Baptist denomination. For all of its shortcomings and pitfalls, it is an honor to be a Southern Baptist minister. I'm so glad the Lord called me to this and that I'm in the church I am in. As a recent article in the Washington Post asked, how can the Southern Baptist denomination do more than survive, but thrive? By being serious about sharing our faith, by being firmly rooted in sound doctrine, and that no watered-down or politicized gospel will do.

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    An online journalist began her article this way: "I'm the daughter of two ministers and still spend every Sunday in church, so I grew up studying the Bible pretty closely. But in all my years, I've never heard the scriptures about homosexuality explained this way." She went on to reference Matthew Vines, author of the book God and the Gay Christian, and she is so floored by what he teaches about homosexuality: "What he found just might be a game changer."

    Well, I'm the son of a minister (not a pastor, but a minister just the same). Now a minister myself, I still spend every Sunday in church. I grew up studying the Bible pretty closely, and still do. In all my years, I have heard the scriptures about homosexuality explained the way Matthew Vines explains them. His arguments are not new. He's just the new face delivering them.

    And I do mean "new." Vines is 25. When he first appeared on the scene with a speech entitled The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality, delivered in front of his Methodist church congregation, he was 22. His only claim to fame up to that point was a Harry Potter fan website. Yet his arguments regarding homosexuality are given more veracity than those of educated and godly biblical scholars.

    Now, it's not that I don't think a 22 year-old can speak the truth and do it well. The real problem isn't Vines' age. It's that he's a false teacher. Summarized in the following four points, here are the six Scriptures that Vines redefines to make the Bible more friendly to his openly gay lifestyle.

    1) Genesis 19, the Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
    Here's how Vines explains the famous story: "God sends two angels disguised as men into the City of Sodom where the men of Sodom threatened to rape them. The angels blind the men, and God destroys the city. For centuries, this story was interpreted as God's judgment on same-sex relations, but the only form of same-sex behavior described is a threatened gang rape."

    Vines says the real point of the story is explained in Ezekiel 16:49, which reads, "Now, this was the sin of your sister, Sodom. She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy." Vines concludes that Sodom's sin wasn't that they were homosexuals. It was that they were greedy and inconsiderate.

    There are two problems with Vines' argument. First, he deliberately ignores other Scripture passages that mention Sodom and Gomorrah. Yes, they were guilty of plenty of sins, but the greatest of which was that they were sexually immoral and engaged in homosexuality. It is the only sin in the Bible that God has judged with fire and brimstone. So yeah, it's unique.

    As Jude wrote, God has kept fallen angels "in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day -- just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire."

    That unnatural desire is, very specifically, homosexuality as mentioned in Romans 1:26-27 (more on that passage in a moment). Jeremiah also mentions their sexual sin (Jeremiah 23:15) and Isaiah says Sodom was not ashamed of their sin (Isaiah 3:9). There are more references in the Bible to Sodom and Gomorrah's sexual immorality than this idea that they were merely self-absorbed.

    Second, Vines doesn't understand the context of Ezekiel 16:49. The chapter is one of the most shocking sections of Scripture with its use of sexual language. You wouldn't read it to your kindergarten Sunday school class. Israel had been unfaithful to God and he repeatedly calls the nation a promiscuous whore. Got the context now? With that in mind, let's read Ezekiel 16:49 again, now with the verses around it:

    "Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them when I saw it."
    If Vines thinks God would describe Israel as a prostitute and go as far as comparing them with the Old Testament's most notorious city because Sodom was merely inattentive, that's pretty thick. Sodom's perversity was very well known to the Israelites, recorded in their most sacred text (Genesis 19:5). Through Ezekiel, God told Israel that their sins were like the Sodomites, whose pride, hoarding wealth, and neglect of the poor were mere commas in a long list of abominations. As God removed Sodom, he would remove them as well.

    "Oh, if only they'd been considerate enough to spare a cup of tea!"

    2) Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, God Calls Homosexuality an Abomination
    Although Leviticus regards homosexual activity as an abomination, Vines argues that it says the same thing about eating pork or shellfish, wearing garments made of two different kinds of fabric, and a bunch of other rules that make up Old Testament Law. But Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law, Vines reminds us, so we can disregard Leviticus (perhaps Vines doesn't realize that when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," he was quoting from Leviticus).

    In the context of the whole letter to the Romans, Paul makes the point that righteousness cannot be attained by keeping the law. Christ is the end of the law in the sense that only through him can a person be righteous (Romans 3:22). Paul says in another place that the law is good if one uses it in the right way (1 Timothy 1:8). And one of the things the law is good for is convicting the sin of homosexuality (1 Timothy 1:10).

    The books of the law describe the need for sacrifices to atone for sin so that worshipers could approach a holy God. Included in those instructions are rules for ceremonial cleanliness: you could eat certain foods but not others, you had to wear certain forms of dress, you couldn't come in contact with certain things, and so on. Some rules were instructions about not imitating the customs of the pagan people around them.

    Basically, the point was this: God's people were to be pure. Compared to a holy God, we are spiritually unclean and cannot be in his presence without first being purified. Vines doesn't understand that. He's trying to turn filthy sins into clean ones so that he be openly gay and still call himself holy before God. But holiness is not based on our standard. It's based on God's standard.

    For a :90 video summary of the argument, click here.

    3) Romans 1:26-27, When People Turn Away From God
    Paul wrote to the Romans, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with the women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

    "Paul's words here are clearly negative," Vines agrees, "but the behavior he condemns is lustful." Yes, precisely. That's what homoerotic behavior is: it is unnatural desire. But Vines thinks it's necessary to point out that Paul "makes no mention of love, commitment, or faithfulness. His description of same-sex behavior is based solely on a burst of excess and lust."

    What Paul is describing in Romans 1:18-32 is a Gentile culture that has reached the apex of its hedonism and depravity. They worshiped the created rather than the Creator, so God turned them over to the lusts of the flesh and they burned with passion for one another, even exchanging what were clearly natural relations for unnatural ones.

    That's relations, not a heat-of-the-moment "burst" as Vines describes it. The Greek word is chresin which can also mean "use" or "function." In their debased minds (Romans 1:28), men and women exchanged what were clearly functional unions for those that are incompatible and dysfunctional. It does not take a rocket scientist to look at a man and a woman and realize they're anatomically compatible, whereas two men and two women are not!

    4) 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Uses of Greek Words
    We read in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

    The Greek words in verse 9 that describe homosexuality are malakoi (meaning effeminate) and aresnokoitai (meaning homosexual). Essentially they are describing both the giver and the recipient in a homoerotic encounter. Every gay activist, it seems, becomes a Greek scholar when it comes to explaining the meaning of these words. It was the first thing musician and professed lesbian Jennifer Knapp brought up with Larry King when she addressed Pastor Bob Botsford.

    According to Knapp, Vines, and theologian Mel White back in 1958, we've interpreted those words the wrong way. White went as far as arguing that the Greek word arsenokoitai is "mysterious" because there is no such Greek word. He figured it probably means dirty old men and malakois was used to describe hairless young boys. And can't we all agree pedophilia is a no-no? That's really what Paul was condemning.

    But the meaning of arsenokoitai really isn't all that mysterious. Paul was using two old words to make one new one, just as the rise in new technology has brought about new terms like database and smartphone. This is called a neologism, and Paul does it with arsenokoitai.

    As mentioned, Leviticus 20:13 reads, "If a man lies with another male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them." When we read that verse in the the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the words arseno and koitai lay next to one another (no pun intended). So not only is Paul calling homosexuality a sin, he's drawing attention back to the Levitcal Law that Vines thinks no longer applies.

    The Bible, Old Testament and New, clearly condemns homoerotic behavior, and that such a sin will keep a person from the Kingdom of God. Friends, it is never loving to encourage a person in behavior that God has promised he will judge. Furthermore, and I warn you, the Bible says that a person who is accepting of such behavior is just as guilty as the person who does it (Romans 1:32).



    The Gospel Omitted from Vines' Message
    Vines does a great disservice to himself and to others by neglecting to mention the next verse. Whenever I use the passage, I try to make it a point to never leave it out. Here is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in context:
    "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
    Such were some of you, but you were washed! You were sanctified! You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! In other words, none of those sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are unforgivable. God can forgive and transform the gay man or the lesbian woman just as he has transformed me, once a lustful man addicted to the passions of the flesh.

    But they must repent. The difference between me, who has been addicted to lust, and a man in a gay lifestyle is that by the grace and mercy of God I have put off the old self, which belongs to my former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. He must be renewed in the spirit of his mind, and put on the new self created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-23).

    Conclusion
    Same-sex marriage is not righteous. It's not holy. Folks, it isn't even marriage, and I am with Jesus Christ on that. He was not silent on the subject of marriage, nor is he absent in his judgment upon this nation. We are being judged. The legalization of same-sex marriage is a judgment on a godless nation. We must repent, or we will be destroyed.

    Matthew Vines is asking men and women to bow down at an altar to a false god. Don't listen to him. Renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:12-14).

    If you are going to read God and the Gay Christian, be of a sensible enough mind that you would give consideration to its response, God and the Gay Christian? written and edited by men who fear God and revere his word.

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    Following the racially motivated massacre on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the confederate flag was taken down this past Friday from the capitol building of my native South Carolina. It was regarded by many as a symbol of our racist past.

    In the spirit of this mindset, I want to present to you another symbol of our racist past that needs taken down: Planned Parenthood, the number one abortion provider in the country. The organization's founder, Margaret Sanger, was a proponent of the pseudoscience of eugenics derived from the Darwinian model of "survival of the fittest."

    I bring this up when, just today, a video was released showing an undercover investigator discussing with Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of Planned Parenthood, the internal harvest and distribution of human organs taken from babies aborted at their clinics. Says Dr. Al Mohler, "The sight of the senior medical director of Planned Parenthood reaching for salad as she explicitly discusses tearing apart babies in the womb is impossible to reduce to words."

    PP's origins are equally disturbing. Sanger created the Negro Project to sterilize black women which she described with names like "the unfit" and "the undesirables." In her book Pivot of Civilization, Sanger called immigrants and African-Americans, "human weeds... who never should have been born." In November 1921, Sanger said that the purpose of birth control was "to create a race of thoroughbreds." In her book Women and the New Race, she wrote the following:

    "Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives. So, in compliance with nature's working plan, we must permit womanhood its full development before we can expect of it efficient motherhood. If we are to make racial progress, this development of womanhood must precede motherhood in every individual woman. Then and then only can the mother cease to be an incubator and be a mother indeed. Then only can she transmit to her sons and daughters the qualities which make strong individuals and, collectively, a strong race."
    Planned Parenthood continues her racist strategy to this day. Four out of every five clinics are established in minority communities. According to the website Black Genocide, blacks make up 12% of the population, and yet account for 35% of the abortions in America. According to Operation Rescue, 69% of pregnancies among blacks are unintended while that number is 54% among Hispanics and 40% among whites.

    According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a very pro-abortion organization, black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion. More than 1,800 black babies are aborted every day in the United States. Abortion is the number one killer of blacks annually, more than heart disease, cancer, accidents, and violent crimes combined.

    Erma Clardy Craven, a pioneer and civil rights leader who labored to expose abortion as black genocide, once spoke of a time when 17,000 aborted babies were discovered in a dumpster outside a pathology laboratory in Los Angeles. "Some 12 to 15,000 were observed to be black," she said.

    We will proudly thump our chests and pop our collars as flags are lowered while retweeting hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter. But as long as the walls of Planned Parenthood are still standing and fatherlessness continues to be an ignored problem in black communities, we don't truly believe that black lives matter. We are not acting on anything. We're only reacting!

    When we cheer for the removal of flags but don't beg and plead for the walls of Planned Parenthood to be torn to the ground, we are displaying a seared conscience: "I hate what this flag represented in an era I didn't even live in, but I'm alright with this murder center protected by the laws of the era I live in now!"

    Slavery in America was horrible and heinous. Abortion in America is worse. More than twice as many babies are slaughtered in the U.S. in one year than the total number of slaves that were shipped to North America in the 340 years of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

    Lest you want to rejoice that we live in a more enlightened era, believing we are free from the tyranny of slavery, you're paying for this racist agenda with your tax dollars. In 2013, Planned Parenthood received $540 million in government grants. They claim that money is not used on abortions. That's a steaming pile of crap, folks. I don't have to see an allocation chart to know that money keeps those centers open to practice their murderous agenda while enjoying the government's protection and endorsement of this holocaust.


    The Pro-Choice Lie

    "But women must have a choice!" That is a lie you have been sold to turn you into parrot for one of the most successful and darkest slogans in human history: "Pro-choice." You've been indoctrinated by a culture of death and enslaved by the rhetoric, fooled into thinking you're supporting freedom when you're actually suckered into someone else's bidding.

    Just ask Norma McCorvey, the "Roe" in the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion on demand. In 1970, she was pregnant and wanted an abortion, but the laws in the state of Texas wouldn't allow it. Two law students named Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee wanted to challenge the Texas statute on abortion, and they got in touch with Norma to use her as their pawn.

    After getting smashed over beer and pizza, they started pounding into Norma their rhetoric: "Don't you think a woman should have a right to her own body?" they would say. "Yeah!" Norma would agree. But they never talked about what abortion really was. Norma didn't realize that they were advocating for the murder of the next several generations of children to come, and that her name was going to be on that ticket.

    "I was ignorant," Norma said. "I mean, I was dumb. I was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. I was one of those girls other mothers told their daughters to stay away from. That's who I was. I thought just by one thread -- just by one small, minute thread -- they could help me."

    But they didn't. They promised Norma an abortion she never got. They fed her lies and Norma bought them, all the way up to letting her case be presented before the Supreme Court. The whole journey was just one lie after another. "Every time you turn around," she said, "there's someone there shaking your hand with one hand and stabbing you in the back with the other."

    When the Roe v. Wade decision was announced on January 22, 1973, Norma's name, though it was "Roe" in the ruling, was enshrined in a law of death, and she knew it. "It might have been a victory for Weddington and Coffee and their cohorts, but it was shame for me," she said. "The definition of abortion hit me in the face. I could see little babies being pulled out of their mamas, but they were alive. That's what I lived with for the better part of fourteen years."

    Norma handled the pain she felt with a smoking habit, pot, alcohol, acid, a lesbian relationship, suicide attempts -- anything to take the pain away. But fortunately her story has a happy ending. While working for an abortion clinic called A Choice for Women, right next door was a church, and in that church was an eight year-old girl named Emily who invited Norma to come.

    Interestingly enough, little Emily was supposed to have been aborted. Her mother made the decision to keep her despite a hard pregnancy, and God used that little girl to bring his message of salvation to a broken woman. Norma eventually accepted the invitation, and it was in that church that she heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us in our place. In him we are forgiven our sins and receive eternal life. Norma repented and became a Christian.

    Upon being baptized, she declared that Jane Roe was dead, but Norma Corvey is alive in Christ. I pray that outcome would be the same for everyone who has been duped into believing that they deserve a "choice." What about the child who was conceived and then murdered? Where was their choice? People, how many times must that argument be made? I cannot choose not to participate. My tax dollars are paying for it.


    Government Funded Genocide

    In 2013, President Barack Obama became the first American president to speak at a Planned Parenthood conference. He praised the efforts of the organization for providing "quality healthcare to women," but made no mention of the service for which they are most well-known: abortion. He did speak of that first center that was opened up in Brooklyn by Margaret Sanger, the woman Dr. Michael Brown has referred to as the Killer Angel. Unfortunately, our first half-black president left out the part about her racist agenda.

    In March, 2009, then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was given the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood for advocating "women's health and rights throughout her public service career." Hillary said she was "honored" by the award. She is presently considered to be the presidential front-runner for the democratic ticket next year.

    Said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, "If Secretary Clinton were fully aware of the eugenicist past of Margaret Sanger, I cannot believe that she would be accepting an award in her name.  It is in fact shocking that the award still bares Sanger's name." I think it's shocking Planned Parenthood is allowed to exist at all.

    Our government is protecting an organization harvesting the organs of children. Their staff has been caught accepting racially motivated donations in several different clinics nationwide. It is an organization that bans parents from making medical decisions for their teenage daughters. It is an organization that has been caught covering up for statutory rape. It is an organization whose founder embraced eugenics and targeted the "unfit" for extinction.

    It's time for this symbol of our racist past to come down.

    I hope at least one political party -- cough, cough, republicans -- will grow a spine and finally do something about this like they keep promising they will but don't. America, take a stand! Let those who understand the value of life stand in front of every Planned Parenthood center in America, shouting, "Mr. President, tear down these walls!"


    (Edited on July 15 to include Dr. Mohler's article, and the longer, un-edited version of the undercover video. Planned Parenthood and their supporters have contested they do not "sell" fetal body parts for profit. To think Planned Parenthood does not benefit in some way from harvesting the organs of children would be naive. They're harvesting human organs. What else needs to be said?)

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    No doubt you're aware of the undercover videos put together by a covert team from the Center of Medical Progress (CMP) showing what Planned Parenthood, our nation's number one abortion provider, is really doing in the back rooms of their clinics. They are dissecting murdered babies, cracking jokes about it, and selling their limbs and organs for profit.

    On Monday, the bill S.1881 went before the U.S. Senate to defund Planned Parenthood, which receives revenue from the federal government to the tune of over a half-billion dollars a year. American tax dollars are paying for what Planned Parenthood does to nearly a thousand children every day, about two children in any given minute, dissected and discarded sold.

    It was a party-line vote with 60 votes needed to overcome a Democrat filibuster. The bill flopped, 53-46. Every Democrat except two -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana -- voted to continue funding the murderous gulag founded by noted eugenicist, Margaret Sanger. Our tax dollars are still paying to cut up children and sell their parts.

    And our President, Barack Obama, could not be more supportive. He is the first president ever to speak at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, saying "God bless Planned Parenthood." White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said he's not seen CMP's videos, and that there are no plans for any of the White House staff to watch them. That is so ridiculous a statement that even CNN criticized. Obama has said that any bill that comes across his desk to defund Planned Parenthood, he will veto.

    Today, the Federalist reported that this past Monday, the same day the U.S. Senate was voting to potentially defund Planned Parenthood, President Obama spoke to a group of young African leaders, and told them that harvesting organs from humans killed as part of an African ritual was "craziness" and "cruel" and it needed to stop.

    Said Federalist writer Mollie Hemingway, "He warned of dehumanizing marginal groups of humans and of the problems that arise when 'you are not able to see someone else as a human being.'"

    President Obama has condemned himself from his own mouth. He has called Africans to stop dismembering humans for their own ritualistic purposes, calling it crazy and cruel, but Planned Parenthood and the blood-lusting abortion culture of America at large gets a presidential pass.

    Romans 2:1-2 says, "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things."

    God has a way of showing us how stupid we are. Americans are operating with a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) and has been cauterized. That part of the American psyche has been burned off. The paradoxical ways our culture contradicts itself would be comical if it wasn't so sad, costing the lives of millions of people and destroying families in the process.

    On June 1, former Olympian Bruce Jenner, who won a gold medal in the men's decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympic games, made his transgender debut as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine and decided to call himself"Caitlyn." A couple of weeks later, ESPN announced that this 65-year-old millionaire grandfather, mens Olympian and reality TV star, would be the recipient of the Aurthur Ashe Courage Award. Because real courage is apparently a dude in a dress.

    About the same time Bruce came out or went in or whatever it's called when a person decides to gender-jump, a woman named Rachel Anne Dolezal, president of a Washington chapter of the NAACP, was accused of lying about her race. She identified as black. Her white parents spoke up and said she was a white woman posing as black, showing photos of her as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenager who was in fact quite white.

    Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed Dolezal on her MSNBC program which focuses on African-American issues. She point-blank asked Dolezal, "Are you black?" Of course, she said, "Yes." Later on, Harris-Perry asked if Dolezal could be trans-black. She identifies as black just like Bruce Jenner identifies as a woman. Why couldn't she be black? The overwhelming consensus from the culture was, "NO!" Dolezal was the liar. Jenner was the hero.

    That's a seared conscience, folks. These two issues were going on at the exact same time. It was completely providential, God showing us how bonkers America is. A person can choose their gender, but not their race. Oh yeah, and there was something else that happened in June because of gender-confused minds: same-sex mirage legally became "marriage."

    Roll around to July, and there we were screaming in moral confusion once again. It's barely been a month since the Center for Medical Progress began to expose the murderous business practices of Planned Parenthood. David Daleiden has been simply brilliant with the steady manner in which he has released these videos, each one more damning than the one before it.

    Abortion has never been as in-our-face as it is right now. Through technology and social media, we can see exactly what it is: a de-humanizing, murderous wretch of a practice, and those who partake in it are guilty of worse and worse sins. Though this exposition has been targeting Planned Parenthood, every abortion center on planet earth is the same. They're all really bad.

    And yet, what was the issue that the mainstream was screaming about last week? That Planned Parenthood needed to stop the barbaric practice of carving up living children? Nope. The worldly side of our culture went nuts over a dentist in Minnesota that no one had ever heard of who took a hunting trip and killed a tagged lion that no one had ever heard of.

    As I said to my congregation this past Sunday, worldly people exalt themselves to the place of God, taking upon themselves divine authority to choose which life is valuable and which one is not. Cecil the Lion must be avenged! Cecile the President of Planned Butcherhood gets a pass. Again, this is all providential, God showing America its seared conscience.

    And now we have this story of President Obama condemning a group of people in another part of the world for de-humanizing others and carving up their body parts when he refuses to acknowledge that same thing is happening in our culture, in our faces, and the government pays for it. Simply incredible. God has truly turned us over to a depraved mind.

    I want to say that God is showing us this to bring us to repentance, and maybe he is. But he also might be showing America this to say, "This is why I'm going to destroy you." In either case, he is being very patient with us. No matter the outcome, he will be glorified. Will you be on the side that has the mind of Christ and is ushered into his heavenly kingdom? Or are you among those with a seared conscience who will be consigned to an eternal hell?

    Romans 2:4-5 reads, "Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed."

    We must continue to hold steadfast to the faith and be a voice in the culture, calling a lost world to repentance in Christ, with the same patience that God has shown each one of us. Paul wrote to Timothy, "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness.

    "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being capture by him to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

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    Enough is enough. Planned Parenthood, shown without question to be butchering living children and harvesting their organs for profit, must not only lose federal funding, they must be shut down. Every abortion center in the country must also be torn to the ground, and abortion as a murderous act be made illegal.

    While my heart grieves for the children being slaughtered every day, I'm encouraged to see people banding together to protect life. Today there are protests going on at 300 different Planned Parenthood locations in the country. You can click here to find out more, and where one of those protests is taking place nearest to you.

    Walls of Jericho. March. And by the grace of God, they will come down.

    But perhaps you, like me, don't live anywhere near a Planned Parenthood facility. What else can you do? Plenty. In fact, even if you do participate in the protests today, these are things that you can do to make an impact in your own community -- and doing it year-round, not just on protest days. Here are 5 suggestions...

    1) Join or volunteer with a pregnancy center in your area.
    They used to be called "crisis pregnancy centers" or CPC's. Now they're more commonly known as pregnancy resource centers. There are about 2,500 pregnancy center's in the country. Compare that with 700 Planned Parenthood locations, or 1,800 abortion clinics altogether. That means there are more centers in the U.S. committed to saving the life of a child than there are centers committed to taking the lives of children.

    My dad works at one such center that saves about a thousand children per year. That is outstanding. Greater than 95% of the women that walk into his center make a decision to keep their baby. Compare that with the average Planned Parenthood center which aborts about 500 babies per year.

    Some Planned Parenthood centers do more abortions, some less. And most pregnancy centers are probably not saving 1,000 children per year. I put those statistics out there just to tell you that there is an amazing missions effort going on right now to save the lives of children, and it's probably happening right there in your community.

    At least twenty states provide funding to pregnancy centers. Now, I'm a very small government guy. I don't think the state should be giving money to Planned Parenthood or pregnancy centers. I'm just glad to see there are states that at least recognize the amazing service pregnancy centers provide for a community.

    They're often short-staffed, often volunteer, and often people don't even know about them. Even if your community does not have a Planned Parenthood or an abortion clinic, it more likely has a pregnancy center. Get involved in one. If your community doesn't have one (or it has a Catholic one), then start one. Their very mission is an active, ongoing protest against a culture of death, promoting life in Jesus' name.

    2) Raise awareness about abortion in your own church.
    Promote such pregnancy centers in your church. Let folks know they're out there. Encourage them to support pregnancy centers financially. Do a fund raiser. I believe it is our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at our church that have a baby bottle campaign going on where they collect change in baby bottles, and all the money they collect goes to our local pregnancy center.

    That just delights my heart to see children getting involved in protecting the unborn. We absolutely must educate our children about this horrible practice called abortion. Because if we fail to eradicate it during our time, then hopefully they will be able to eradicate it in their generation.

    It is not enough that your church only talks about abortion on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Once a year is not enough. I did my very first Sanctity of Human Life Sunday sermon in January of 2014. But folks, I promise you my congregation heard me talking about it well before that. We have to do more than stand on sidewalks in the annual Walk for Life or join protests; all good things, but we must do more. And we must do it inside the walls of our church, too.

    If the church had been more diligent in the past to talk about abortion as murder, if we'd not been so worried about "hurting feelings" when we say that, this would not have gone on so long, if it would have ever passed into law at all. People in our churches get abortions. How many lives could have been saved if we had been brave enough to say a word from the pulpit? How much hurt and pain could have truly been avoided?

    Speaking of that, here's the third thing you can do...

    3) Reach out and minister to those who have been hurt by abortion.
    There are those whose lives have been devastated by abortion because our culture communicated to them that they were doing the right thing. So they got an abortion, and now they're suffering with the consequences. My dad can tell you because he's personally counseled those who have had an abortion.

    That mother knows exactly when her baby would have been born. And every time that date rolls around, every time the calendar falls on what would have been their child's birth-date, she thinks about it. When the year comes that her child would have been old enough to enter Kindergarten, she thinks about that. Graduating high school, college, getting married...

    Abortion creates some serious scar tissue. And it's not just women, it's men, too. It's probably easier for a man to be heartless about this subject than a women. A man can't ever know what it's like to have a child growing inside and then having it ripped out. But there are men who do feel the pain of abortion, realizing that they played a significant role in ending a life.

    Those men and women need to know two things: 1) That they've sinned. They've murdered. They do need to know that is what they've done. But 2) they need to know that sin is not beyond the forgiveness and mercy of Christ. Only Jesus can forgive their sin and relieve them of the burden they feel because of their sin. We must reach those who have been hurt by abortion.

    4) Care for single mothers in difficult pregnancy situations.
    If a single woman has gotten pregnant, I think that it is the church's responsibility, again, to inform her that she has sinned and is in need of the forgiveness and grace of Christ Jesus. But I think in addition to that, the church needs to do everything it can to protect the child that woman is carrying. She needs love, care, and support, and so does her unborn child.

    Convincing her that she has sinned might be a discipleship effort. Maybe she won't be so ready to admit that right away. It also needs to be done tenderly. You're thinking about two lives here -- not only hers, but the life of the child she is carrying. She knows, because it is the mindset of our culture, that abortion is an option. You want to take every precaution to be sure she is not going to choose that option.

    Show her that she has sinned, but be tender with how you do this. This will require the work of the older women in the church to step in and mentor this girl. Knowing about the pregnancy center in your community becomes a benefit here as well because the center will be able to help out with medical advice and other services and goods she needs.

    5) Preach Christ and Him Crucified
    I was disappointed to hear that the organization behind the Planned Parenthood protests today has actually been telling people not to pray in Jesus name at these protests. Folks, no. That is absolutely wrong. Now is not the time to be politically correct. Exercising our culture's understanding of "tolerance" is exactly what has gotten us as far into this mess as we are in.

    People are not unified by outrage. They're not even unified by tolerance. They're unified by Christ. There is no greater unity. If we start shying away from preaching Christ as we protest against Planned Parenthood or abortion in general, our nation will not be driven to its knees. We must pray in Jesus name, or no prayer of ours will be heard (John 14:6).

    It is not enough to eliminate abortion. If we think that's enough, then we're practicing a works-based salvation. We must beg, plead for God's forgiveness on this country! We must have broken hearts over this matter or we will not heal. We will not be healed. Christ must be preached. That is the only way to know forgiveness. It is the only way to be unified behind a common cause.

    Unity happens in Christ Jesus. Spread the gospel. For all have sinned and fallen short of God's perfect, glorious, righteous standard. But the free gift of grace is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord, who died on the cross in our place so that we might share forever in his glory. We have taken lives. Millions of them. But Christ will save us if we repent.

    He is the healer of broken hearts, the forgiver of sin, the giver of life. He brings the dead back to life! If we truly want life and that is what we're standing for today, if we want to have our hands washed of this heinous sin, we must beg for his forgiveness. And we must tell others. We must do it and keep doing it until he returns.

    This is perhaps the most important of these five suggestions -- keep preaching Christ! Absolutely do not shy away from obeying this fundamental command, or you absolutely will shy away from other fundamental aspects of life.

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    Kim Davis is the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. "On whose authority are you not issuing such marriage licenses?" she was asked by the media. "On God's authority," she replied. Same-sex marriage goes against the laws of nature, she clarified, which have been set by God and stated in his word, the Bible.

    Yesterday, Judge David L. Bunning ruled that Davis was a dangerous criminal who needed to be put behind bars. After sentencing her to serve time in jail, cheers went up outside the court house, rainbow flags waved in the air, and gay men celebrated outside the clerk's office by making out. None of that was sensationalized or exaggerated. Davis was yelled at and spat upon as she was ushered past the crowd. "Love wins!" my foot.

    Good thing we got this criminal off the streets and locked away. Amiright, folks?

    Upon her sentencing, Judge Bunning said, "The idea of natural law superseding this court's authority would be a dangerous precedent indeed." Yes, he really said that. Expect Judge Bunning to rule next week against gravity, a law that sets a dangerous precedent.

    Said Rachel Held Evans of the ruling, "No one's being jailed for practicing her religion. Someone's being jailed for using the government to force others to practice her religion." In case you're not familiar with her name, Evans claims to be a follower of Jesus.

    But make no mistake: Kim Davis is being persecuted. She is being persecuted for being a follower of Jesus, and no other reason.

    Folks, it has been said to us that this was coming. None of this should take us by surprise. We read in 2 Timothy 3:12, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." There's no "if" about it: by standing on godly principles, you will be persecuted for it, some even put in jail as Kim Davis has been.

    Consider something shared by evangelist Paul Washer in the previous decade: "The church in America is going to suffer so terribly. We laugh now, but they will come after us and they will come after our children. They will close the net around us while we are playing soccer mom and soccer dad, while we are arguing over so many little things and mesmerized by so many little trinkets. The net even now is closing around you and your children and your grandchildren and it does not cause you to fear.

    "You will be isolated from society as has already happened. Anyone who tries to run for office who actually believes the Bible will be considered a lunatic until finally we are silenced. We will be called things we are not and persecuted not for being followers of Christ but for being radical fundamentalists who do not know the true way of Christ which of course is 'love' and 'tolerance.' You'll go down as the greatest bigots and haters of mankind in history.

    "They've already come after your children, and for most of you they got them. They got them through the public schools and indoctrination and the university and indoctrination and then you wonder why your children come out not serving the Lord. It's because you fed them right into the devil's mouth. So little by little the net is closing around, and then it's not little by little. Look how fast things are going downhill just in a matter of weeks.

    "But at the same time, know this: Persecution is always meant for evil, but God always means it for good. And is it not better to suffer in this life to have an extra weight of glory in heaven? You must settle this in your mind, this is the one thing I want to say over and over.

    "Down through history, you have a wrong idea of martyrdom and persecution. You think that these men were persecuted and martyred for their sincere faith in Jesus Christ. That was the real reason, but no one heard that publicly. They were martyred and they were persecuted as enemies of the state, as child molesters, as bigots, as narrow-minded stupid people who had fallen for a ruse and could contribute nothing to society.

    "Your suffering will not be noble, so your mind must be filled with the word of God when all people persecute you and turn on you. And then the Spirit of God and common grace pulls back and you see even your children and grandchildren tossing in the lot that you should die. This is no game. You want revival and awakening, but know this: for the most part, great awakenings have come only preceding great national catastrophes of the persecution of the church.

    "I believe God is bringing a great awakening, but I believe that he is raising up young men who are strong in trust in the providence of God to be able to wade through the hell that is going to break loose on us, and it will be on us before we can even recognize it -- unless, in God's providence, he is not done.

    "This is not silly talk. Apart from a great awakening, these things are going to come upon you. Be ready to lose your homes and your cars and everything."

    So you can stand on the side shouting down Kim Davis for "not doing her job." Or you can stand with Christ. A day will come when he will judge the living and the dead. Those who by the power of his Spirit remained obedient to his word, he will welcome into his eternal kingdom. But those who did not love his own and obey his word will be under the wrath of God, cast into eternal fire (Matthew 25:46, John 3:36).

    Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother or sister is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). Everyone who hates, as people are hating Kim Davis, even so-called Christians, is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15). Anyone who says "I love God" and hates a brother or sister is a liar. If he can't love a brother or sister whom he sees, he cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).

    Beloved, do not imitate evil, but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God. Whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 1:11). Pray for Kim Davis. May we be as bold to follow the convictions of God as she is.

    Oh, and in case the word of God has not been enough to convince you, though it should be, perhaps this will blow your mind: Kim Davis actually isn't breaking the law. She's an innocent woman, jailed though she has not even broken the law of the land.

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    The following is a chapter from the book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). You can pick up a copy here. Since we've been going through Philippians in the podcast (find the podcast player on the right), I decided to post this chapter...

    Philippians 4:6
    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (NIV)

    Generally when you see an online list of the most searched-for verses, Philippians 4:6 is clumped together with verses 7 and 8. This being at the conclusion of the letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul brought to their attention the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon On the Mount: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

    The ten verses in Matthew 6:25-34 are where we read Jesus' teaching about not worrying. The Lord cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. How much more will he also care for you? God knows what you need. We are to, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek God first, and we know that he will provide for us all things, there is no need for us to worry.

    Worrying displays a lack of trust in God. Philippians 4:6 actually starts right in the middle of a sentence. By adding in the portion from verse 5, we get this: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything." If we believe the Lord is in control, there's no reason to worry. Then when we pray, we can come to him with thanksgiving—not in a panic, which would display a lack of appreciation for God, thus hindering our prayers.

    Thanksgiving is a full-on assault against worry. Anxiety cannot thrive when we have thankful hearts. There's not a letter Paul did not write without expressing or calling for some form of thanksgiving. It is the will of God in Christ Jesus for each of us to give thanks in all circumstances. It is the expression of a heart that is satisfied in its Creator and Savior for all things.

    If we follow the instruction of verse 6, then we gain "the peace of God" mentioned in verse 7: "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Wow! A peace that "surpasses all understanding" guarding our hearts and minds. What's that like? Some of us can be so anxiety-laden that we can't even imagine such a feeling.

    The "peace" being talked about here is not simply relaxation or being stress-free. That is certainly a blessing from God, but it's not the point. We're talking about a peace that is afforded to us only through Jesus Christ, and no other way. As New Testament scholar Leon Morris once said, "The peace the Christian enjoys has no existence in its own right; it is possible only because of the presence of the Lord."

    Again, as mentioned earlier, it is rooted in the peace we have with God. Christ's death on the cross has appeased God's wrath which was burning against our sin and unrighteousness; our former selves before we came to Christ and the knowledge of his sacrifice. As it says in Colossians 1:20, he made "peace by the blood of his cross."

    "Soteriology" is the word that's used to describe the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ. Burk Parsons, editor of Tabletalk Magazine and co-pastor of Saint Andrews Chapel, has a great way of summarizing soteriology. He puts it, "Soteriology simplified: God saves us by himself, from himself, unto himself, for himself."

    And in him, we have peace—peace from the world, peace from the future, peace from guilt and the burden of our sins, peace with God. It's an eternal peace. It's not something that will be here for the moment but tomorrow we're back to stressing again. It's a peace we will have always because we can be confident and assured of God's total deliverance and unrelenting faithfulness.

    Because it is a peace that's eternally significant, it "surpasses all understanding." How can we possibly fathom such a peace with our finite minds? Understand it or not, the blessed assurance that results will "guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." As we read in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

    Therefore, let us put our hearts and minds, guarded in Christ, toward things that are pleasing to the Lord. Philippians 4:8 goes on to say, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

    Now, we could start going through examples of what we should put our minds toward and what we shouldn't. I often see Philippians 4:8 come out when someone starts talking about what television shows we shouldn't watch or the movies we shouldn't see or the music we shouldn't be listening to. Those sermons have their time and place.

    For now, let's consider it this way: If we devote our hearts and minds to the good things of God, we are able to help others in cases of urgent need and keep ourselves from being unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Whatever inspires us to worship God and share his love with others, let that be our full investment. And the God of peace will be with us (Philippians 4:9).

    Who said it? The Apostle Paul.
    To whom? The Christians of the Philippian church.
    What was the setting? Read aloud to the Philippian congregants who were likely meeting in the house of Lydia.
    When did this happen? Approximately 62 A.D.
    How did he say it? Through a letter.
    Why did he say it? To encourage Christians to trust in Christ in any and all circumstances.

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    At the end of August, I received an invitation to a private luncheon showing the film 90 Minutes In Heaven. The movie was free, and best of all the lunch was free. I was tempted to accept the offer, not because I actually want to see 90 Minutes In Heaven. I very much don't want to see it. And that's why I wanted to see it! A chance to offer a preemptive review of a bad movie with bad theology before it comes out? For a free lunch?! I'm there.

    However, the lunch was on a Tuesday which is the day I help feed lunch to high school students and share with them the gospel. It's an opportunity that I treasure and I hate missing it. Thinking about accepting the invitation to see 90 Minutes In Heaven lasted for about as long as it took you to read that first paragraph. Then I declined. When it comes down to it, I know all I need to know to tell anyone why they should not bother seeing this movie...


    1. It's a lie.
    I'm going to present five reasons here about why someone doesn't need to see this movie, but the number one reason is enough. The whole premise behind 90 Minutes In Heaven is a lie. The author did not visit heaven, but he presents his tale as truth and the film is pitched as an "Incredible true story."

    On January 18, 1989 (as it says in the trailer), author Don Piper (not John Piper), died in a car accident and went to heaven for, you guessed it, 90 minutes. There he saw everyone who preceded him in death, greeted first by his grandfather (apparently everyone who has an afterlife experience authenticates it as genuine by seeing a grandparent). Then he came back to write a bestseller about it.

    I have Don's book. It's sitting in the heresy section of my study next to the Book of Mormon and Blue Like Jazz (John's books are on a completely different shelf). Despite the title, it doesn't have much to do with an afterlife experience. The account of Don's heavenly visit lasts all of fifteen pages. The book and the film are mostly about his journey of recovery from his accident.

    If that's all this was about, I'm sure it would make a compelling and inspirational story. But the selling point is centered around the false notion that Don visited heaven. He didn't. I know he didn't because I read the Bible which says something completely different about heaven than what Don says it is (coming up in point 2).

    Don's account of heaven is like that of every other American who's never been there: being greeted by dead friends and relatives, angel's wings, pearly gates, beautiful sights and sounds, time and space have no meaning, light everywhere, light and more light, increasing light, going towards the light, and incredible heavenly music (which gets its own chapter, pg 29 to 36).

    And that's pretty much it. Don didn't see God. He wasn't even in his presence. He says, "If I had actually seen God, I would never have wanted to return. My feeling has been that once we're actually in God's presence, we will never return to earth again, because it will be empty and meaningless by comparison." (pg. 33)

    So his theology about heaven is based entirely on "feeling," not at all grounded in truth. Not once in his 15 pages is the Bible ever quoted. Time and space have no meaning in Don's heaven, and apparently God's word doesn't either, though God has said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

    Even if Don's story was true, and he actually visited heaven and came back to tell us about it, Jesus said that such stories have no credibility. If a person will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe someone who comes back from the dead (Luke 16:31).

    2. It makes a mockery of the Bible.
    The thing about books like 90 Minutes In Heaven, Heaven Is for Real, Flight to Heaven, The Boy Who Went to Heaven, Proof of Heaven, and other heaven-tourism tales is that experience trumps fact. The authors require their readers to accept whatever they have to say over what the Bible has to say.

    I'm going to say that again another way because it is so important: The authors of books about visiting heaven and coming back are demanding that we take their word over the word of God. Therefore, a four-year-old boy (Colton Burpo, Heaven Is for Real) has more authority than the apostles themselves, on the beaten backs of whom Christ built his church (Ephesians 2:20).

    A person who believes and eats up these kinds of stories believes in their heart that the Bible is merely a helpful guide but cannot hold a candle to experience. Experience is the real gospel.

    John MacArthur confronts such heaven-tourism accounts in his book, The Glory of Heaven, where he says the following:
    For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies -- with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God -- are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception. 
    We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: 'Who has ascended to heaven and come down?' (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: 'No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man' (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.
    Adds David Platt, "Four biblical authors had visions about heaven and wrote about what they saw: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. All of them were prophetic visions, not near-death experiences. Not one person raised from the dead in the Old Testament or the New Testament ever wrote down what he or she experienced in heaven, including Lazarus who had a lot of time in a grave for four days."

    Heaven is the place where God dwells in all of his magnificence and holiness, unabated in all his glory. When we read the biblical accounts of those who saw heaven, in the very presence of God they become terrified (Isaiah 6:5), fall on their faces (Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 1:17), or are silenced (2 Corinthians 12:4). They do not embrace friends and family members or have these self-gratifying experiences they can regale us with like they just returned from vacation.

    Seriously, I don't see much of a difference between Don's account of heaven and the caricature of angels with halos sitting in the clouds playing their harps.

    3. There will be no gospel.
    The gospel is the message that God is reconciling all things to himself, in heaven and on earth, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the grave so we can know that in him, we are rescued from death and will live forever with God. No such message will be presented in this film.

    While stumping for the movie, Don has said, "It's about learning to embrace the new normal and that's where people get hung up. People have to realize that you must turn your test into a testimony, and turn the pain into purpose." He said at one point he was angry with God, but heard God telling him, "Take the fist you are shaking at Me and open it to extend as a hand to others."

    Turn your test into a testimony? Turn the pain into purpose? Turn your fist into an open hand? Ugh. It's the tired trend of the American pastor trying to be a motivational speaker. Though Don's testimony is peppered with mentions of "God" and "Jesus," his story is not about God. Don's ministry is about giving people the warm-fuzzies. It is not about winning lost souls.

    The difference between a film like 90 Minutes In Heaven and the latest Pixar movie Inside Out (which I highly recommend, by the way) is that the latter incorporates real experiences into a work of fiction, while the former incorporates fictional experiences and presents them as truth. Both are feel-good movies. But Inside Out is honest in their approach while 90 Minutes In Heaven is not. (I can't believe I just said Disney was the less-exploitative one.)

    Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love. If a person is lying, they are not loving, no matter how genuine their intentions. Even if Don saw something resembling heaven and he is convinced that what he saw was real, it's still a lie. He does not care enough for those he shepherds to test his experience against the Bible and know whether or not it lines up with God's word. Worse yet is he doesn't love God's word enough to test his experiences by it.

    4. The acting is just terrible.
    I know, this reason is a lot more subjective, but there's a point. The big-name star of this film is Hayden Christensen, most recognized as little orphan Annie Skywalker in Star Wars, Episodes II and III. If you've seen them, I doubt I need to comment on his acting chops. The actress playing his wife is Kate Bosworth whose most notable work is Superman Returns. "But Gabe, I happen to know you liked Superman Returns." I did. The acting was still terrible.

    They're not in this movie to be professional. They're Hollywood names meant to draw in an audience. I was very disappointed to see Michael W. Smith was a part of this cast. Hey, I grew up a Smitty fan. I had hoped his presence in The Holy Ghost was just a fluke, like he didn't actually know the Wanderlust crew making that joke of a documentary were frauds. But you'd have to be irresponsibly naive to not know what 90 Minutes In Heaven was about before signing up for it.

    Don't be fooled into thinking any movie is legit by the names of big stars, even if those stars are commonly associated with the Christian genre. The Bible tells us to test everything, clinging to what is good and doing away with what is not (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

    5. If you buy a ticket, you're a sucker.
    There is money to be made in heaven-tourism books, and business is a-boomin'. The best-selling Christian book of the last decade is Heaven Is for Real, which has sold over 10 million copies. Don's book, 90 Minutes In Heaven, has sold over 7 million copies. Both books have been made into movies and are now making money off of the movie-rights.

    Someone could argue, "Wait, I heard that Giving Films, who produced 90 Minutes In Heaven, is giving 100 percent of profits to charities!" Sure, they probably are. But not Samuel Goldwyn, the film's distributor, or the actors or the screenwriter or anyone else behind this production. The only reason the movie got made was to bank off of the success of a false-teaching book about heaven.

    Again, it doesn't matter how great anyone's intentions are. It doesn't matter how many lives they claim they've made a difference in. They could be building fresh water wells for poor families in Africa. It's noble work, but they're leading people to hell in the process by presenting something that claims to be greater than God's word.

    Who goes to a movie to donate to charity? If that's important to you, then take it upon yourself to give to the charity that you feel led to give to. These filmmakers are just suckering you into a film. They play off of the sympathies of others first by making a movie about heaven that's not actually about heaven, then they double-down by announcing the proceeds go to charity.

    It's all a con, orchestrated by the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). It has the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5). The Apostle Paul wrote, "Avoid such people." Or in this case, avoid such films.

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    So I read the Pope's speech to congress. If I were a pro-life Catholic, I'd have been outraged by it (I am very pro-life, but very Protestant). The Pope had an opportunity no other Pope ever had: the chance to confront American lawmakers, gathered together in one place, who legislate the death of over a million children per year from that very room.

    And he didn't mention one word about it.

    "But wait!" the Pope's pro-life defenders might say. "He mentioned the Golden Rule! And he said that the Golden Rule 'reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development!'"

    So? There are people who think that killing a child in the womb is defending human life at every stage of development. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said it was merciful to kill a child. Anyone can take the Pope's statement and contort it to fit their worldview. I guarantee you there were both pro-abortion and pro-life politicians in that room who thought "the holy father" was on their side. (For those who don't catch my tone, I don't think of the Pope as "the holy father.")

    If a person of his influence is not willing to take a stand in front of a group of lawmakers who are responsible for over a million human deaths by abortion each year, not saying one word about how wrong that is, can that person really say that they care for the lives of the unborn? In that speech, he was more clear on his views regarding capitalism, the environment, and the death penalty than on the definition of life and family.

    Pope Francis came to the United States of America for the first time, a country presently embroiled in a controversy involving the exposure of one of the most insidious death-clinics on the planet (*cough* Planned Parenthood *cough*), and he couldn't hold one prayer vigil? What kind of statement for life would that have made if the Pope stood outside an abortion clinic and prayed for the lives of the unborn?

    What the Pope's speech affirmed is that Roman Catholicism is out of touch on multiple levels: there's no urgency on major social issues (abortion and family, which Francis only eluded to but did not directly address), Christianity is a mere after-thought (he only mentioned Moses and quoted one Bible verse), Jesus was just a great moral teacher (hence quoting the Golden Rule but never mentioning Christ one time), and let's just stick with pop-culture ideologies that we can all agree on (the death penalty and saving the environment).

    Again, that's not just the Pope. That's all of Roman Catholicism. Though there are periods and places of Catholics doing social good, there's little if any push to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Doing good things and being nice to people is not the gospel. When a religion thinks they can pray to anyone other than Christ and their prayers will be answered, as Catholics do, they're out of touch with the truth. Anyone who ignores the exclusivity of Christ will be wrong on a host of other doctrines.

    According to Roman Catholicism, the Pope's decrees and teachings are regarded as perfect and without error. Whatever he says is as authoritative as the Bible itself. The Pope's speech before Congress was a demonstration of that doctrine in action.

    Why would the Pope consider it unimportant to say abortion and redefining marriage are wrong? Because that would mean submitting to the law of God, which the Pope does not do. As we read in 1 Timothy 1:9-11:
    "The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."
    What a great passage the Pope could have shared before Congress! But he didn't. For being over 3,000 words long, his speech said very little, actually.

    We must do more than say "protect and defend human life," as the Pope did. We must specifically tell the lawless that abortion is murder. We must do more than talk about "the beauty of family life," as the Pope did. We must tell our sexually immoral culture that those who practice adultery and homosexuality stand condemned under the law. The door is then open to share the the gospel: the good news that in Jesus Christ alone, there is forgiveness from sin and deliverance from the death penalty we all deserve.

    None of that was in the Pope's speech. There was no law, and there was no gospel. The Pope doesn't think it's important to quote the Bible beyond the Golden Rule (even that he doesn't quite get) because he, along with every other Catholic committed to the doctrine of the Pontiff's infallibility, thinks his word is equivalent  to the word of God (really, he thinks of his word as superior to God's).

    Another reason Francis didn't call anyone out according to the law is because he may not have actually considered anyone in that room as lawless! There was this sense of "We're all the same here." At the beginning of the speech, he said the following:
    "Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."
    Is he preaching to the choir? Was there a person in the room who would have disagreed with that? Sitting right behind the Pope (pictured above) was Joe Biden, a Catholic democrat, and John Boehner, a Catholic republican. Knowing something about human nature, it's likely that both were sitting there thinking about the other going, "I hope he's listening to this."

    Other than sharing his view about the death penalty, Pope Francis didn't ever directly confront anything as being "wrong." It was the kind of speech anyone could relate to. I cannot believe that it made any difference whatsoever in a single person's life. [Note: The Pope thinks he's been given the keys to the kingdom, appointed in the apostolic line of Peter. So if the Pope says people are basically good, he thinks that makes it so.]

    What Francis and everyone else who loved his speech missed is that a society endures when it understands that the definitions of life and family are foundational. All these other problems we have as a nation -- racism, poverty, joblessness, immigration, illiteracy, misogyny, public shootings, political divisiveness, international hostility,  health care, human and drug trafficking, even environmental destructiveness if you want to throw that in there -- all come back to the definition of life and family.

    If life and family remain morally ambiguous, we will be broken on every other issue. If we aren't willing to stand in the fray and say, "That's wrong, but this is right," then what the Bible calls sin our culture will call normal. Sin must be confronted with the law -- the law of God. The conviction that follows can be resolved by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the responsibility of every Christian to do that, with gentleness and respect (2 Timothy 2:25, 1 Peter 3:15). It is unloving not to (Proverbs 13:24, Hebrews 12:7-11).

    The Pope isn't going to do that. I knew before he addressed Congress that he wouldn't. But hopefully now many others are beginning to see his inherent fallibility, and that the doctrines of Roman Catholicism are off. They're out of touch with the truth, as the Pope is. He needs to repent and submit to the Christ of the Bible, as we all do. That's me, and that's you.

    The Pope is so out of touch with the truth, he started the speech confusing the United States with being in South America. Infallible, my foot.


    EDIT: A later update on this blog quoted Pope Francis at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City the following day, where he referred to the cross as a "failure" from a human perspective. I regret that I reacted too quickly to the spray of comments on social media, and took Francis out of context. That section, previously here at the end of the blog, has been removed. The fourth paragraph from the top has been re-worded (the thought is still the same), and a spelling error was corrected in the fourth paragraph from the bottom.

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    I used to be involved in a Christian community back when I was in college. Needless to say, I graduated and moved on. Now that I'm in the workforce, I understand I should get involved in a local church. However, something is holding me back.

    Quite a few times, I felt betrayed and ostracized by the community I was in due to some of the drama that happened. It is hard for me to get involved into a new community given the fact that I've felt let down. Furthermore, it takes me a long time to get to know new people. How can I start anew and change my expectations for a better outcome? 

    Thanks,
    Let Down

    Dear LD,

    Though you sent this question in to Relevant Magazine, they gave you a lame answer. A lot of that article didn't even make sense. First of all, no one should ever be applauded for leaving the church over "drama." How do you start anew and change your expectations for a better outcome? What Relevant should have told you was this:

    Repent of your sin, ask God for forgiveness, and go back to church.

    You need to get over yourself. Your question was chock full of you and your expectations. There's no Christ in your approach. I see no desire to really change. You want everyone else to change, but you can stay exactly as you are. Not only is that not church, that's not Christianity. Jesus said no one can be his disciple unless he denies himself, takes up his cross daily, and follows after him (Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).

    There was not even a hint of that in your question, though you did take a few backhanded slaps at Christ's bride like it was all her fault. That's typical. All the people "slow clapping" (as Relevant put it) are just like you, and that's not a good thing. You're all about what you want, and it sounds like all you want is a group of people to hang out with who won't judge you and will let you do whatever. You need to ask God to forgive you and fix your perspective. Then find a church to attend that is grounded in the sound words of Christ.

    Even the most community-oriented, seemingly-selfless congregation is worthless if they aren't grounded in the truth (Romans 3:12). You might find the friendliest bunch of worshipers you've ever encountered. But you can find that in a bar! The church must have the word of Christ. It is that word that has called them together in one body, teaching and admonishing in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in their hearts to God (Colossians 3:15-16).

    You need correction. The church will help to give that to you; telling you to stop being selfish and be conformed to the image of Christ. You must be set apart, holy and beloved, as God's chosen ones are to be. You must have a compassionate heart and put on kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).

    You must bear with one another in the church as they will bear with you. If you have a complaint against another, you must forgive; for as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14) -- not "love" according to what you think it is. You must recognize love for what God says it is.

    What God says love is does not mean letting a person do whatever they want and making sure they feel warm and fuzzy, which is clearly what you're after. Love absolutely does not mean "never having to say you're sorry," despite a ridiculous movie line you may have heard.

    Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It's not irritable or restful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). When Paul wrote those famous words, he was rebuking a church for doing it wrong. Right now, LD, you need those words. You're doing every one of those things wrong:

    • "Love is patient." You have not been patient.
    • "Love is kind." Turning your back on the church is not kind.
    • "Love does not envy." You envy the community of the church, but you don't actually want to sacrifice anything in order to take part in it.
    • "Love does not boast." You're boasting that you did everything right while the church was wrong and she needs to fix it.
    • "Love is not arrogant." You think you're above correction. You're standing outside the church telling her to correct her problems, and then she'll be worthy enough for your company.
    • "Love is not rude."Your backhanded slaps at the church are rude.
    • "Love does not insist on its own way." At this point, do I really have to tell you how you're insisting on your own way?
    • "Love is not irritable or resentful." You're irritated with the church, and you resent your experience. You've got a chip on your shoulder and are holding on to a grudge.
    • "Love does not rejoice and wrongdoing." Refusing to attend church is wrong. You've found some sense of "joy" in not attending church because church was a burden. If you actually love Christ (and I must caution you, there was no evidence of that in your letter), you must love his bride.
    • "Love rejoices in the truth." Do you actually know the word of God? Do you love it? Do you rejoice in it? If you did, you would desire to be with other believers who rejoice in the truth despite all their shortcomings.
    • "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." It's necessary to put these four together because they have to do with endurance. Belief and hope don't stand alone in this context. They're about how we conduct ourselves in a relationship with the body of Christ. Because you love other Christians, you bear with them, believe with them, hope with and for them, and endure with them.
    Lest you think I'm being completely insensitive, I confess that there are some legitimate reasons to leave a church -- not ever leave the church altogether, but perhaps leave for another one. Even in such cases, a person should rely upon the advice of several counselors, they must be in prayer, and have open and honest communication with their current church before making such a change. Then if they leave, they must still treat one another respectfully, not talking ill behind one another's backs, even if one party does not behave themselves accordingly.

    I don't get the impression you've been through one of those legitimate reasons, though. You say you left "due to some of the drama that happened." Yeah, I'm not buying it. That's not the reason you left. Your reasons for leaving were most likely selfish, and I'm drawing that conclusion based on the self-centered and Christless tone of your letter.

    I've been a pastor in the same church for five years (associate for two, head pastor for three). In that time, I can't say that I've seen one single instance of a person leaving our church and having a legitimate reason to do so, especially not the way they left. In fact, I know of only one occasion where I felt like a person was genuinely wronged by us, her church, and probably did have a legitimate reason to leave. I would not have blamed her for leaving over what happened. But she didn't. She would later tell us, "I pulled up my big-girl pants and got over it."

    Some people have left our church over completely ridiculous reasons. If I went through the list, even you would say, "Are you serious? Someone left over that?!" If you were to go to those individuals and ask them why they left, they would probably give a generic answer like yours: "Oh, I felt so let down.""Oh, I didn't feel like I belonged.""Oh, it was just so much drama." Right! And they were part of the drama!

    And there's the rub, LD. When you were in church, you were part of the drama. You always will be. The church is going to be full of people you won't always agree with, and they won't always agree with you, but they love you anyway. If and when you repent and go back to church, you will find yourself sandwiched between a couple of sinners who have given you every reason in the world not to love them. But if you have been called by the Spirit of God, and you have a heart that has truly been transformed in Christ, you will love them anyway.

    Look, I put myself in that as well. I'm a sinner saved by grace. My wife and kids and I will give reasons to my congregation for them not to love me. But the flock I've been entrusted to care for (pastor means "shepherd") will be faithful and will keep coming back because they know it's not about me. They've not placed me on a pedestal and made unrealistic expectations of their pastor. They keep coming back because it's about Christ. What I teach is his word, not mine.

    It has to start there. It must start on the word of God -- not community, not goosebumps, not the style of music you like, not great programs, not atmosphere, not heating and air conditioning, not any other warm/fuzzy you're expecting of the church. The church is described as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25). It starts with Christ and his word.

    The Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

    Be honest -- Is that passage not talking about you? Have you ever really known the sound words of the Lord Christ? Because you haven't known them, you've been conceited and understood nothing; about God or his church. You've had this unhealthy craving for controversy over the church. As I've already pointed out, you've been envious. You've been the cause of discord and slander, deprived of the truth yet thinking that the church is a means of gain for you.

    It's time to repent, LD. If you don't know your sin, you don't know you need to be saved. If you don't ask God to save you, you have no business asking to be a part of his body. After seeking God's grace, ask him to help you find a church that is grounded in the truth. Then you must ask them for forgiveness. It may not be the church you attended before, but you still need to confess your sin. The Bible says to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:16).

    I'll be honest with you because love does not withhold discipline (Hebrews 12:6) -- If you refuse to repent and you continue to slander the church, you will go to hell. Now, don't hear me saying that attending church saves you. It doesn't. Jesus saves. But if you love Jesus, you'll love his bride, no matter her shortcomings. She's not yet perfect, and neither are you. That comes later, if you endure with her to the end (Revelation 19:7).

    There are times when a church must be called out for wrongdoing. I've already cited one example in 1 Corinthians. But you are not in that position. Right now, you must receive correction. If you love Jesus, you will show it by obeying what he commanded (1 John 5:2). And what he commanded is that you love his sheep and feed them (John 21:17). You also need to be fed, trained, and disciplined. First, you need to be humble enough to know that.

    I'm sure this is not the answer you wanted to hear, LD. But it's the answer you needed to hear. Repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ -- for real, this time -- and you will be saved.

    Grace and peace from God our Father
    Pastor Gabe

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  • 06/10/14--12:57: Obvious Child
  • A couple weeks ago, Beki and I had a night to ourselves, so we decided as part of our evening we would go out and see a movie. It was just a PG film, supposed to be family-friendly entertainment. We could have taken the kids. But as early as the previews, we were glad that we didn't. What was supposed to be a mild Disney film started with a joke about abortion.

    One of the trailers was for an upcoming film called Obvious Child. A better name for it would have been "Oblivious Child." It's the fictional story of a comedienne who had a one-night stand, got pregnant, and decided to get an abortion. This is all in the two-minute movie preview, complete with the character getting drunk and taking her clothes off. Preceding a PG-rated movie!

    Two of the critical praises for Obvious Child went like this: "Hilarious, heartbreaking, and totally genius." I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I guess that's the point. "The most winning abortion-themed rom-com ever made." Good heavens, that's a genre? How is a one-night-stand romantic, an abortion comedic, and what on earth are those subjects doing at the beginning of a Disney movie?

    Afterward, I approached the manager of the theater and told her what had just played during the previews of a PG-film. I came to her very peacefully, taking it on good faith that she didn't know about the trailer. I was relieved when she shared my surprise. Appalled and embarrassed would be apt descriptors. And she assured me she would take care of the mistake right away.

    Nonetheless (and I didn't tell her this), the damage was done. I mean on me. I'm damaged goods now. How much can I trust a movie theater to not show my kids adult subjects? Even when I've watched a movie or read up on it enough to know that the content is okay, can I believe the theater isn't going to throw in some random preview to, say, I don't know, a movie that makes a joke out of drunkenness, one-night-stands, and abortion?

    (Is it intentionally ironic that the movie is called Obvious Child? It seems like the film's producers are deliberately taunting those who hold the pro-life position. "Oh, yeah. We agree with you. It's obviously a child. We're going to have our character murder it anyway and get the audience to sympathize and laugh about it.")

    It's another reminder that the world cares nothing for my children. No matter how good a person's intentions might be, if they're of this world and they do not worship the Creator of all things, they see no eternal worth in my kids. They don't see the image of God my children were fashioned after. They don't even see the marks of the loving Creator upon themselves. Why would I expect them to see my kids that way?

    I once said to someone I was witnessing to, sharing the news of Christ with him, that I cared for him more than he did. That seems like an offensive thing to say, but he wasn't offended. By his demeanor, it almost seemed like he agreed with me. Perhaps he understood that because I saw him as eternally significant, created in the image of God, I actually did love him more than he loved himself.

    I don't really know what was going through his mind, so I'm only speculating, but maybe he saw himself as nothing more than a blip on the radar. Here today, gone tomorrow. A product of a one-use-and-then-dispose-of culture. It's of little wonder one-night-stand-and-then-abort is expected to be a relatable and ha-ha funny plot point. It would be only to someone who might find value in moments of life but not life itself.

    A week after sitting in a movie theater getting a two-minute promo for an abortion comedy, we were at a clinic watching a 3D ultra-sound of our baby girl. The kids oo'd and aw'd at seeing the image of her face for the first time.

    Preview of coming attractions: Baby Girl Hughes! Coming November 4th.

    On Sunday, I shared a picture from the ultrasound with the congregation and introduced them to my daughter. That's quite a contrast -- from the "Obvious Child" on a screen in a theater to the "Obvious Child" on a screen in the church.

    And that's the way it's supposed to be. This world is fallen and will be until Christ returns. We're to be the light of the world, shining the hope of the gospel into dark spaces. The world doesn't care about a person's eternal significance. We do. We are obvious children made in the image of God. That is why we must desire as God does that none should perish but all should come to repentance (1 Timothy 2:1-7).

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    Remember the debate over government funding for embryonic stem-cell research a decade ago? Early in George W. Bush's presidency, he nixed government funding for embryonic stem-cell research, though he allowed for research to be conducted on existing embryos. A ridiculous outcry rose up from the left calling Bush anti-science and accusing pro-life conservatives of being stuck in the stone age.

    The thing about their explosive response is that the Bush administration did not make embryonic stem-cell research illegal. All he did was cease government funding toward a practice with many ethical questions attached. Embryonic stem-cell research continues to this day (though it's not necessary). I'd rather it have been deemed illegal altogether, but at least our tax dollars didn't have to pay for it. That was it.

    Fast forward to today's decision by the Supreme Court, granting victory to Hobby Lobby who contested the ObamaCare mandate that would have required businesses to provide their employees with abortifacient drugs. Welcome to the Embryo Wars, Episode 2 (or episode 17,485, but who's counting).

    Once again, dissenting voices are decrying the decision made by the Supreme Court, who are allowing for-profit employers to opt out of having to provide abortifacient drugs in their healthcare plans for their employees. It was a close vote, but the Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare overstepped its bounds in trying to enforce life-ending, abortifacient drugs on employers.

    Why is this like The Embryonic Stem-Cell Research Debate of yester-decade? Because just like how the Bush administration's ruling didn't make embryonic stem-cell research illegal, the SCOTUS ruling doesn't knock out contraception coverage for employees. You would think SCOTUS just made contraceptives illegal altogether the way some are weeping over it.

    Out of 20 available contraceptives, 4 of them are abortifacients. Those are the contraceptives Hobby Lobby filed suit over. That leaves 16 other contraceptives that even a business like Hobby Lobby will pay for its employees to receive. As Justice Alito has said, employees still have access to contraceptives. Their employers are just not required by government enforcement to provide the ones that could potentially, you know, kill someone.

    Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition tweeted, "Serious question: Is there a medical reason a woman would require 1 of the 4 abortifacients rather than the other 16 covered contraceptives?" Hmmmm. Darn it, I just can't think of one.

    Meanwhile, Rachel Held Evans tweeted that the decision, "sets the stage/precedent for corporations to get out of paying for healthcare by claiming religion." No, it doesn't do any such thing! (Denny Burk has already written a champion response as to why Rachel Held Evans is wrong, which is a title the belongs at the top of her blog.)

    On the contrary, the SCOTUS ruling affects Catholic institutions like the University of Notre Dame and Little Sisters of the Poor in a less favorable way. The Catholic church is opposed to all contraception, not just abortifacients. They can opt out of providing contraception, but they have to fill out a Labor Department form, and by signing the form, they're designating the provision of contraceptives to someone else. They'd rather not have their hands in anything to do with contraceptives at all.

    It should not be the requirement of a business or an employer to provide any kind of contraceptives for their employees. Nor should it be upon the American people to dump money in some kind of public trust so that others might have access to free or "affordable" contraception. The whole issue removes personal responsibility and places the decision in the hands of the government. So many people want that to happen. And that's scary. That is not freedom.

    Just like all of the semantic arguments that came with the embryonic stem-cell research debate, be very cautious about how Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is talked about. The ethics of Hobby Lobby or any other corporation are not the point. Don't get suckered by Pharisaical catch-22's like, "Now who gets to decide what religion a corporation is?" That's a stupid argument which distracts from the much bigger issue.

    That issue is what 5 of the Supreme Court's 9 members determined today -- that our government is far overreaching its bounds. We would not even be talking about this if the Obama administration was not venturing into territory where it doesn't belong. Today was a victory for life. Continue to pray for kings and those who are in high positions that they will respect and fight to protect that life (1 Timothy 2:1-4, Proverbs 31:8-9).

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  • 07/30/14--11:50: It Pleased God to Crush Him
  • Recently I was witnessing in a park. There's a question I get asked that comes up every once in a while, and I heard it again: Why does God allow all kinds of false religions in the world to fool people away from believing in Jesus?

    There are some solid, biblical answers to that question. First of all, false teaching is a judgment. We often don't think about it that way, but the Joel Osteens, the Joyce Meyers, and the Rob Bells of the world are a judgment of God. They are heading up false religions as much as any other kind of pagan worship.

    In 2 Timothy 4:3, we read, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." We know from Romans 1:26 that God will give up a rebellious people in judgment to be consumed by their passions.

    A person gets "fooled" into following a false religion not because the false truth was more convincing to them than the truth of the gospel. It's because the condition of their heart had already turned them away from God and toward that kind of thinking. God allowed them to be turned over to a debased mind.

    The other thing we come to understand by the existence of many false religions is the genuineness and the authenticity of what Christ did on the cross. Look at the pagan religions of the world and you'll see a god (or most likely gods) that demand that the people do something in particular to appease their wrath. But in Christ, God appeased his own wrath.

    Part of God being a righteously just God is that he cannot pardon sin. When you ask forgiveness of your sins, God doesn't pardon you. He can't, or he wouldn't be just. If a man who was found guilty of murdering children asked the judge to be pardoned, we would not call that judge a just judge for letting that man go without paying seriously for his crimes.

    So how is it that we receive forgiveness of sins? It's because Jesus Christ died in the place that we were supposed to die, taking the penalty for our sins upon himself. In Isaiah 53:10, it says that it pleased God to crush him. The wrath of God was satisfied not because Roman soldiers killed Jesus. It's because it was God himself who killed him, pouring out his wrath on his perfect Son.

    When the Bible says that we are "justified," like in 1 Corinthians 6:11, it's because our sin has been paid for, and now it's just for God to grant us forgiveness of sins when we ask. We receive mercy and grace not because we simply ask for it, but because we ask according to the blood of Christ who paid for our sins.

    God's love doesn't override his justice, otherwise God would be unjust. It's because he's both loving and just that Jesus Christ died. These are some things we'll talk about more as we continue our study of 1 & 2 Timothy.

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