The Worst Advice You Could Ever Give Someone

college-advice

In “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” Sting sings:

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He’ll guide you well

Some of you may remember “The Land Before Time” (1988). In it Littlefoot’s mother says: “Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely.”

And Steve Jobs said: “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Follow your heart.

That’s the worst advice you could ever give anyone. That assumes that our heart is the ultimate authority in our lives. That our heart won’t mislead us. That our heart knows what is best and right and true. But for believers in Jesus, we know, or eventually come to know, that our hearts are flawed and deceptive, and that lots of bad stuff can come out of them. That’s why God gives us his Word. Kevin DeYoung says:

“On every matter in which the Bible means to speak, the last word goes to Scripture, not to councils or to catechisms or to science or to human experience, but to the word of God.”

Psalm 138:2 says:

You have exalted above all things
your name and your word. PS 138:2

God’s word is above all other authorities. It gets “the last word.” So…

If Science tells us the universe came into being by a Big Bang and was not created by God speaking it into existence, then Science is wrong (and many scientists believe in creationism)

If Science tells us that man evolved from monkeys and not created by God out of dust then breathing life into man, Science is wrong (again, many scientists believe God created man).

If culture tells us that it’s ok for men and women to have sexual relations outside of marriage, then our culture is wrong.

If our culture tells us we’re all born basically good and our main problem isn’t that we sin and incur God’s wrath, but we just need more self-esteem, then our culture is wrong.

And even if the church tells you that you must be a conservative or a liberal or you must home school or send to Christian school or you must or must not vaccinate, then that church is wrong.

When I was a young Christian I heard someone say the following and it has helped me immeasurably over the years:

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

First of all if God said it, it’s true, whether I believe it or not. But for Christians, we must believe God’s word. We must accept it by faith, whether we feel it or not. That settles it. End of story. We don’t let our hearts guide us, but God’s word. Our circumstances may scream that God has forsaken us. But Jesus said he’d never leave us nor forsake us. So I believe it. That settles it.

Don’t let your soul guide you. Don’t let your heart or intuition be your final authority. Let the Word of God, be the final word in your life.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

NOTE: I preached a message on this topic yesterday. It’s called “Breathed Out by God.” If you would like to listen to it you can hear it here.

Feelings Are Real. But Are They Always The Truth?

feelings

There’s a new movie coming out about James Brown, who sang the hit song called “I Feel Good.” He’d wail, “I FEEEEEEEEEL good. I knew that I would now.” And of course in his song “Happy” Pharrell Williams gives us some deep insights into that emotion:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Have you ever thought about how many feelings we can have? God has created humans with the capacity for an incredibly wide range of subtle feelings. We can feel happy, playful, calm, confident, courageous, peaceful, joyful, comfortable, optimistic, delighted, encouraged, satisfied, jubilant. We can also feel angry, afraid, depressed, hopeless, confused, hurt, sad.

Our culture is feeling-oriented and feeling-driven. Of course, Nike tells us “Just Do It” whether we feel like it or not. But popular music tells us we can’t help falling in love, and can’t help it when the feeling’s gone. We say “I’m just not feeling it.” Rather than saying, “I believe we should do this,” we say, “I feel like this is the way to go.” Even as believers we use “feeling” language a lot – “I feel like God wants me to go into music.”

I don’t have anything against feelings. They are a gift from God. But I’m grateful that early on in my Christian life I heard a truth that helped me immensely:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are real – we truly experience them. We don’t imagine them. They are real. But they are not necessarily the truth. They may be the truth but they aren’t always the truth. If we believe in Jesus Christ and feel like God loves us and accepts us that is the truth. If we feel condemned or or that God has abandoned us that is not the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

As believers we live by faith, not by sight. Our circumstances may appear to indicate that God is not for us or that he is giving us too much to handle. Yet we live by faith in God’s word which says despite our circumstances God is for us and is not giving us too much to handle.

So it is with our feelings. We live by faith in God’s word not what our feelings tell us. We may feel hopeless. We may feel like we can’t go on another day. The challenge for believers is always what are we going to believe– our feelings or God’s word?

We must believe and obey God’s word no matter how we feel.

I’m sure that Jesus did not “feel” like going to the cross for us. But Jesus didn’t live by his feelings. He obeyed his Father whether he felt like it or not.

We may feel like we can’t go on. We may feel like it is impossible to forgive someone. We probably won’t feel like rejoicing in the midst of affliction or giving thanks in everything but we can and we must obey God’s word.

Of course to be able to live by faith in God’s word we need to know God’s word. If we regularly take in God’s word and meditate on his promises, our faith will increase and we won’t be dependent on our feelings.

So remember:

Feelings are real but they are not necessarily the truth.

Feelings are a poor barometer of the truth.

We walk by faith and not by feelings.

I hope that you feel great today. I hope you feel God’s love and pleasure today. I hope you feel happy and joyful and thankful. But if these feelings elude you, don’t be discouraged. Thank God anyway. Praise him. Ask him for the feelings you desire. And believe and obey his word whether you feel like it or not.

What Parts of the Bible are You Ignoring?

650992_73096163

It’s not easy to make sense of scripture. Parts of it are downright weird or even horrific. The story of Judah and Tamar, God’s interaction with Hosea and Gomer, and any story using the phrase “devoted to destruction” come to mind. They are the stories you don’t see in children’s Bible story books, or if they are included it is with some serious sanitation and airbrushing (a Thomas Kinkade version of reality, so to speak).

Those passages get ignored because they gross us out or break our fragile understanding of God. But there are other portions of scripture we ignore in an entirely different way – commands that are uncomfortable or nigh impossible to follow. It is so easy to willfully overlook them, much easier than learning how to reconcile them to my life and God’s reality.

Love your enemies.

Forgive 70 x 7 times (that means ALL of the times).

Bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you.

Honor you father and mother.

Children, obey your parents.

Give to any who asks of you.

Lay down your life and follow me.

If it causes you to sin, cut it off.

Husbands, love your wife as Christ loves the Church.

Do not covet.

Serve God, not money.

Do not commit adultery (which includes willfully lusting).

Consider others before yourself.

Pray without ceasing.

Judge not lest you be judged.

Take up your cross and follow me.

And so on.

We have so many rationalizations and excuses for overlooking and ignoring such commands. So often our mindset is that of a transaction: every disobeyed or ignored command is a debt owed, and we simply can’t pay them all back. We’re in over our heads, and it feels impossible to face our wrongs and admit them. But we must, and it’s good and freeing when we do because we are not settling accounts with God; we are being restored in relationship. God’s grace and forgiveness far surpass our willful ignoring of his commands (that’s in the bible too, don’t forget). His grace is so great that what the debt we do owe was paid already so that we can be free to come to Him for forgiveness, as children.

So be brave and ask yourself “what parts of the Bible do I ignore?” Then trust God’s grace for understanding and forgiveness as you would trust a good father, a perfect father. He gave us scripture to show us as much of Himself as we can handle. It is for our good, our peace, even if we can’t riddle it all out. We can trust the parts that tell us of His mercy, goodness, sovereignty, and forgiveness. We can rest in the parts that tell us of redemption at the cross and the coming of a perfect helper to teach and grow us. When we rest in these parts of scripture we will begin to improve at all those hard commands and come to terms with those tricky parts.

How To Avoid The Whirling Dervish Syndrome This Christmas

dick-norton-christmas-decorations

Martha would be firing on all cylinders at Christmas. Beginning with a Black Friday marathon, she’d probably be a whirling dervish of baking Christmas cookies, hanging stockings, stringing lights, and dressing the family dog like Santa.  Her house would be a cacophony of lights and lawn ornaments.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Martha was serving her guts out.  She was doing a good thing – she was serving Jesus. She wanted him and her guests to enjoy themselves. She wanted to bless them. She wanted them to enjoy their challah and gefilte fish, bagels and lox and matzah ball soup and dishes of knish she’d prepared.

But Martha was “distracted.”  She was distracted by “much serving”. Martha was serving like a madwoman. But she was unable to focus on Jesus or concentrate on his words. She was probably catching some, but unable to think about what he was saying or reflect on it. “I heard him saying something about a lost sheep,” she said. “But who has time for stories? I got blintzes in the frying pan.”

Martha may have been joyful initially but now she’s getting annoyed at her sister.  She keeps glancing at Mary, hoping to catch her eye and motion for her to get in here and help.  But Martha’s enamored with Jesus.  Ahhhh this lazy sister of mine!  Martha thinks.  Now Martha is serving, but not joyfully.

Jesus said Martha’s problem was deeper than mere distraction about getting the meal on the table – she was “anxious and troubled about many things.” The cares of this life regularly choked out Mary’s joy and God’s word in her life.

In Martha’s eyes, Mary was being lazy and selfish. She wasn’t helping with all that needed to be done. Jesus said “one thing is necessary.” It is “the good portion.” What is this good portion? Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.” She was focused on Jesus and his word. She was undistracted in her devotion to Jesus. She was simply putting Jesus first. Her relationship with Jesus, getting to know him, and meditating on his teaching was her priority.

We too can be distracted, anxious and troubled about many things. I talked to a friend recently whose stress on the job feels like a tsunami breaking over him. Another friend is battling cancer, which is not only incredibly miserable for him, but painful, sad and distressing for his wife. Another woman’s husband has early onset dementia. I know a number of families who live paycheck to paycheck. Most of us know someone who struggles with the fury of depression, or who has a sick child.

These are major temptations to anxiety and fear. Serious distractions. Now add to all this the additional distractions and stressers the Christmas season presents – presents to buy and wrap, getting a tree, decorating, family gatherings, travel, then there’s the gift wrap outreach and the food collection and the Christmas eve outreach with the live camels. Ok, most of us don’t have to worry about live camels, but you get what I mean. And if aunt Mary and aunt Jean come to our Christmas meal it’s going to be tense, and who knows if Joe is even going to come…you get the idea.

Only one thing is necessary.

To sit at Jesus’ feet. To listen to his word. To rest in him.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3).

To avoid the Whirling Dervish Syndrome this  Christmas, as hard as it is to do, we must seek to stay our minds on Jesus and trust in him. Don’t neglect to take time in God’s word and to pray this Christmas season. Put that first. Make that top priority. A little time every day in God’s word. Carve out a time to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his voice.

How The Heck Does Modern Day Prophecy Work?

When it comes to the ongoing, modern-day work of the Holy Spirit there are few things more confusing to people than the issue of prophecy. Many people have had bad, weird, crazy experiences with self-proclaimed prophets. Many people have even made poor, life-altering decisions (like marrying someone!) in response to a “prophecy” of some sort. When you throw guys like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland into the mix it’s no wonder many Christians don’t want to mess with the issue of prophecy.

But I’m convinced many of the problems with and confusion regarding modern day prophecy are the result of failing to follow the relatively straightforward commands in Scripture regarding modern day prophecy. I’ve seen prophecy done properly and I’ve seen prophecy seriously jacked up. So…(deep breath)…let me attempt to lay out a simple, biblical case for what modern day prophecy should look like. 

PROPHECY IS FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH

1 Corinthians 14:5 says, “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

The primary, central purpose of New Testament prophesy is to build up and encourage the church. This is in distinct contrast to Old Testament prophecy in which the prophets would call down divine judgment upon the people of Israel and the surrounding nations. Old Testament prophets received direct, infallible revelation from God regarding God’s judgment on Israel and surrounding nations. The teaching of the Apostles along with the testimony of the New Testament make it clear that New Testament prophecy serves a very different function.

New Testament, modern-day prophecy is intended to build up, edify, and encourage the people of God. If a dude stands up and starts foaming at the mouth, prophesying judgment and hellfire and brimstone, I immediately tune him out. Why? Prophesy is intended to build up and encourage the church.

PROPHECY IS NOT NEW REVELATION ABOUT GOD

Prophecy is never, ever, ever new revelation about God. Once the canon was completed all revelation about God ceased. The fullest revelation of God is Jesus Christ. The teaching of the apostles fills out and explains who Christ is and what he accomplished. Anyone who claims to have new revelation about God is a heretic and should be driven out of the church.

So what exactly is prophecy? I would argue that modern day prophecy is God-given insight into specific circumstances which could not be known otherwise and which in turn enables a person to bring God’s word to bear on those circumstances (you may want to read that again).

Let me give an example of what I mean. Recently Jen and I attended a friend’s church. During the service a woman came up to the front and shared what she believed was a prophetic picture from the Lord. She saw a picture of the someone laying train tracks out in front of a person one small piece at a time. She believed this picture was a reminder that God will lead us one step at a time exactly where we need to go.

Now, there was nothing weird about this experience. I didn’t get the heebie jeebies. The woman didn’t convulse or say, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Her eyes didn’t roll back in her head. I didn’t get goosebumps. I didn’t see visions of glory. It was all very calm, ordinary, and orderly. Once she was done she quietly went back to her seat.

What I did receive was encouragement. Jen and I are in a period of transition right now. We don’t exactly know what the future holds for us. It’s actually kind of scary. The words shared by this woman encouraged me. I already know from God’s word that he will lead me. I know from God’s promises that he will give me wisdom and lead me in the proper path. I know he has good things in store for me. But I don’t always remember to apply what I know to my current circumstances. The woman who was speaking had never met me or Jen. She didn’t know what was taking place in our lives. And yet God used her simple, ordinary words to encourage us and build us up. God used her prophetic words to apply God’s word to our current circumstances.

Prophecy is not new revelation about God. Rather, prophecy is when God gives someone insight into particular circumstances which they would not have known otherwise. This insight then allows God’s word to be brought to bear more fully on those circumstances.

PROPHECY IS NOT INFALLIBLE

In 1 Corinthians 13:9 Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” Right now we only know in part. We don’t have a full understanding of God and all his ways. Because we know in part we only prophesy in part. In other words, prophecy is fallible. It can be partially correct or even incorrect. It is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret the things God reveals to us. 

In light of this fact all prophecy must be tested and evaluated according to God’s word. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good…” If a person prophesies something which contradicts the clear revelation of God’s word I immediately discard it as false. God’s word is the measuring stick by which all prophecy is evaluated. Anything contrary to the Word of God must be rejected as heresy. 

PROPHECY IS NOT BINDING

I get reeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy nervous whenever a so-called prophet starts telling someone what to do with their life. This is where prophecy can go South really quickly.

It’s important to remember that New Testament, modern-day prophecy is not binding. In other words, we are not required to obey something simply because someone says it is from the Lord. An example of this is Paul’s interaction with Agabus. In Acts 21:10-12 we read:

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Agabus prophesied that Paul would be arrested. In response to Agabus’ prophecy Paul’s companions and friends urged him not to go to Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Paul still continued on his journey to Jerusalem. He did not regard Agabus’ prophesy as binding.

Throughout my life I’ve had people give prophetic words over me. Sometimes these words are in regards to my future or what I should be doing. When I hear these words my mental response is always, “Well, we’ll see!” I don’t make major life decisions based on prophecy, I make major life decisions based upon the Bible. There are times when prophecy can instill fresh faith for a particular decision but it is never the basis for a life decision. Prophecy is not binding.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

If you believe in prophecy but aren’t really sure what to do I would encourage you to do two things. First, read Wayne Grudem’s book The Gift of Prophecy In the New Testament and TodayIt is a much longer and more thorough treatment of the subject of prophecy.

Second, I would encourage you to bring your questions and concerns to the Lord. Tell him you want experience prophecy but you’re not sure what to do. Tell him about your bad experiences with prophecy. He wants to meet you where you are. He wants to give you good gifts. 1 Corinthians 14:1 should encourage you that God wants to help you in this area:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

Don’t Let Benny Hinn Steal The Holy Spirit

Recently John MacArthur hosted the “Strange Fire” conference at his church in California. During this conference MacArthur and other well known speakers highlighted the dangers of charismatic theology and the supreme importance of the Word of God. I’m grateful for MacArthur’s steadfast commitment to the Word of God as well as his desire to highlight false doctrine. I, along with many others, have benefited from John MacArthur’s faithful, long-haul, verse by verse exposition of the Bible.

And I certainly agree that the charismatic movement has produced some seriously jacked up theology. Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and other charismatic preachers have left a trail of “healed”, “slain”, “spirit-filled” carnage behind them. But… (in the words of Pee Wee Herman, “All of my friends have big buts…”)

I am concerned MacArthur and other cessationists are discarding significant portions of Scripture in response to the abuses of the charismatic movement. As Christians, our theology cannot be knee-jerk, reactionary theology. Many good things in the church are abused. Preaching is abused (see Joel Osteen, et. all). Worship is abused. Money is abused. Authority is abused. The abuse of something doesn’t mean it should be stopped. Rather, it should be informed and governed and shaped by the word of God. The fact that the charismatic movement has created massive problems shouldn’t mean we instinctively argue for the cessassation of the spiritual gifts.

So, with that in mind, let me humbly lay out a biblical, theological case for the ongoing, supernatural, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament. To my friends who are cessationists, I love you. I love your passion for the supremacy of Scripture. All I ask is that you would consider what I’m saying.

FROM EDEN TO REVELATION

The chief delight of the garden of Eden was immediate and intimate fellowship with God. When Adam and Eve sinned they forfeited the privilege of God’s immediate presence. They were driven out of the garden and away from the presence of God. But because we serve a redemptive, restoring, rescuing God Adam’s sin was not the end of the story.

The rest of the Bible tells the grand story of God restoring and even surpassing all that was lost at the Fall. God began by calling Abraham to himself. Out of Abraham God created the people of Israel. God promised to dwell with the people of Israel, and in this promise we see the beginnings of God’s divine restoration plan. In Exodus 29:44-46 we read:

I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.

God was committed to dwelling with his people. He was committed to restoring all that had been lost at Eden. But Israel’s access to the presence of God was extremely limited. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and he could only do it once a year.

Certain men and women also experienced the immediate and powerful presence of God. The Holy Spirit would come upon prophets and judges and kings, empowering them to speak oracles and perform mighty deeds. For example, in Judges 14:6 we see the Spirit of God descending upon Samson: “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.” But the Holy Spirit would not remain upon these men and women.

As God’s redemptive plan unfolded one thing became crystal clear: the people of Israel did not have the ability to keep covenant with God. Their hearts were bent toward sin and idolatry. They continually strayed from the true and living God. If God was going to have a people for himself he would have to perform heart surgery on his people. He would have to give them hearts that longed to obey. And so in Jeremiah 31:33-34 we read the glorious promise of a new, heart-changing covenant between God and his people:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

The promise of new, covenant keeping, God-loving hearts is one of the great and glorious promises of the New Covenant. A second astonishing promise of the New Covenant is the promise of the immediate, indwelling presence of God’s spirit. The Spirit of God would no longer be limited to prophets, priests, kings, and judges. Rather, every covenant man and woman would experience the continual, ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.

We see this clearly when the Lord said through Jeremiah, “…they all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest…” We also see this clearly in Joel 2:28-29, which says:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Under the New Covenant prophecy, visions, and dreams would no longer be the exclusive property of prophets, priests, kings, and judges. Even male and female servants would receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God would no longer dwell in a tent or a temple, but in each of his covenant people. This incredible promise, like the one in Jeremiah, is a New Covenant promise.

Both of these promises are gloriously fulfilled through Christ. In Christ we receive new, regenerate hearts, which love and obey God. And, in Christ we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is made clear again and again in the Book of Acts. When the first Christians began prophesying and speaking in tongues Peter said, “But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…” (Acts 2:16) In other words, Peter interpreted the events of Pentecost as being part and parcel with the New Covenant.

We see this again in Acts 10:44-45 when the Spirit falls upon Cornelius and his family: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” The fact that Gentiles experienced the filling of the Spirit was proof they were part of God’s covenant family. The broad dispensation of the Spirit was proof that the New Covenant era had dawned.

Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit God is slowly restoring all that was lost in Eden. Adam and Eve forfeited the immediate presence of God through their sin. Jesus secured the immediate presence of God for us through his obedience. The promise of being filled with the Holy Spirit is clearly a New Covenant promise. It isn’t an apostolic era promise or a promise only in effect until the completion of the canon. It is part and parcel with the New Covenant.

ARE PROPHECY AND MIRACLES FOR TODAY?

The most common argument against modern prophecy, tongues, and miracles is that those things were for the purpose of validating the gospel preached by the apostles. In other words, when people prophesied, spoke in tongues, or were healed it was proof that the gospel was real and that Jesus was the Messiah.

While I understand this argument I have serious theological and exegetical problems with it. First, this argument fails to take into account the significance of the Joel 2:28-29 New Covenant promise. Despite the best arguments from guys like MacArthur, I can’t see this as anything other than a New Covenant promise. The original context of the promise and the interpretation by Peter in Acts 2 don’t give any indication this promise would cease after the apostolic era or after the completion of the Canon of Scripture. The cessassion of the gifts isn’t described anywhere in Scripture. At best it could be inferred as the logical extension of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. However, I’m not comfortable building my theology on inferences and logical extensions.

The most straightforward reading of Joel 2 is that in the last days (a.k.a after Christ) every covenant man and woman would be filled with Holy Spirit. Every Protestant agrees on the priesthood of all believers. I would challenge cessasstionists that a robust doctrine of the priesthood of all believers requires fully embracing Joel 2:28-29.

Because Joel 2 and Acts 2 indicate that being filled with the Spirit is a New Covenant promise the onus falls very heavily on cessassionists to prove that this promise has ceased to be in effect or that somehow the supernatural elements of this promise have ceased. To do so requires jumping through some serious exegetical hoops. Joel 2:28-29 promise must be arbitrarily parsed at odd places and a significant amount of anachronistic interpretation must be injected into the New Testament. Personally, I’m not comfortable jumping through those hoops.

The second major problem I have with the cessassionist argument is that prophecy, miracles, and tongues did not only accompany the apostolic preaching of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:26 makes it clear that the Corinthians experienced tongues and prophecy in the regular church gatherings: “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

In Galatians 3:5 Paul said, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith…” This implication is that God supplied the Spirit to the Galatians and regularly worked miracles among the Galatians as a result of their faith in Christ.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE SUPERNATURAL?

Charismatic craziness is not anything new. Paul encountered charsmatic chaos in the Corinthian church. Those folks were absolutely out of control. They were like a Holy Ghost frat party. They were trying to out-prophesy and out-tongue each other. They were getting drunk during communion. They were sueing the heck out of each other. They had major, major problems.

In spite of all the abuses occurring in the Corinthian church Paul did not command them to cease and desist with the spiritual gifts. Rather, he commanded them to do several things:

DO EVERYTHING IN ORDER

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:31-33)

Prophecy, tongues, and even miracles are to be done in an orderly, peaceful fashion. So much of the chaos that exists in charismatic churches is the result of failing to obey this simple command.

TEST EVERYTHING BY THE WORD OF GOD

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20)

In the Old Testament every prophet was to be tested. This requirement has not changed. Everything that occurs in a church must be tested against the clear revelation of God’s word. Every prophecy, tongue, and “revelation” must be tested against the Word of God.

Let me be clear on something: I fully believe in the sufficiency and authority of God’s word. Prophecy, tongues, and revelations do not add one iota to the completed word of God. I realize this sounds like a contradiction. What I mean is this: God may give someone specific prophetic insight into circumstances I am experiencing. This prophetic insight does not add anything to Scripture. However, it can help me apply God’s revealed word to my circumstances in a way that I would not do on my own.

God’s word is sufficient to sustain me through every trial. However, God may choose to supernaturally heal me from sickness as a way of encouraging me and giving me a taste of the Kingdom to come. If he does not heal me it’s not because of a deficiency in my faith, it’s because he is sovereign. I do not have any problem simultaneously embracing the sufficiency of God’s word and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.

THE END OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS

When will spiritual gifts cease? When Jesus returns. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 says:

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

These verses are crucial for our understanding of the Holy Spirit. When will prophecy and tongues and miracles and revelations cease? Paul spells it out clearly. The spiritual gifts will cease when the perfect comes. When we know fully. When we see face to face. I have a seriously difficult time interpreting this as anything other than the return of Christ. I simply cannot say that I know fully or see face to face right now. But a day is coming when I will see him face to face, and on that day the spiritual gifts will cease.

Until that day I will pursue the active, ongoing work of the presence. Guided by the Word of God and love for my fellow believers, I will pursue the Spirit. If you disagree with me that’s okay. We’re united by Christ, and one day all our disagreements will pass away along with the gifts of the Spirit.

Don’t let the crazy, unbiblical charismatics rob you of one of the most significant blessings of the New Covenant.

Don’t Use Scripture Like This!

Does anybody remember the old Viewmaster toys? The Viewmaster was a plastic contraption that looked like a cheap pair of binoculars. You dropped a circular cardboard reel with tiny squares of 3D film into a slot, looked through the Viewmaster, and voila! The tiny film suddenly became a 3D world. After you got tired of one picture, you moved a lever and advanced to the next square of film. As long as you pointed the Viewmaster at a good light source, the picture was pretty clear, but if you pointed it at a dark corner of the room your vision of Mickey and Minnie Mouse got a lot fuzzier.  I was fascinated with Viewmaster for several years as a kid before the novelty wore off.

I know, you’re wondering why I’m dragging you down memory lane with me and what this has to do with the Bible. But before I answer that, let me tell you one more story.

When I was about nine, I found out I needed eyeglasses. I was not a happy camper. I cried all the way home from the eye doctor. I wanted to be a mountain man like Davy Crockett when I grew up, and everybody knows mountain men don’t wear glasses. The cursed eyewear crushed my career plans in one fell swoop. There was a silver lining in the cloud, however; blades of grass, leaves, and small insects suddenly returned to my world! I had forgotten there were so many hard edges and clear lines out there. Fuzziness had become the norm.

Viewmasters and eyeglasses. Both let you see things, but with very different results. One let you see, with varying degrees of clarity, a miniature world that had nothing to do with your life. Mickey Mouse might look close enough to touch, but when you put down the Viewmaster you weren’t going to find him standing in your living room. But glasses are different. Put on a pair of glasses and suddenly everything in your world took on new crispness. You could see things you had never seen before.

Too often we read the Bible as though it’s a Viewmaster, not a pair of eyeglasses. The stories, the prayers, the praises and songs become windows into another world that has little to do with our own lives. Maybe we can describe with great accuracy and detail Abraham’s faith in God or Paul’s boldness for Christ – but when we put the Bible down we’re still just as anxious or timid as we were before.

God intends better things for his Word and his people than mere insight into past lives or historical situations. Scripture is a pair of eyeglasses, not a Viewmaster. It is a story of how God has acted and is acting to save his people through Jesus. It’s the story of how God is saving and transforming you.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you and I are the stars of the show. The star is our God, who saves sinners through Christ in the power of the Spirit. But as we see how God acts we are intended to see the world around us and our own lives with increasing clarity. God is not merely the God who once turned evil to good in the life of Joseph; he is the God who even now, perhaps in the darkest hour of your life, is creating a story with a triumphant, joyful ending. He is not only the God who reversed childless Hannah’s fortunes and gave her Samuel; he is the God who will one day, when Christ returns, repay everything you thought he took away with blessings unimaginable.

It’s not enough to simply know what God did in the past for people whose lives are distant from ours. To live faithfully and joyfully in this world we need to see our present circumstances with new eyes: eyes of faith, eyes trained by the Word to see what God sees. May God “enlighten the eyes of your hearts, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Photo by Delirio Verde Anaranjado

Happy Are The Mourners

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Mt 5:4

What does Jesus mean? Why is someone blessed when they grieve? Why mourn just to be comforted? Why not skip both? 

Jesus isn’t talking about grieving over a tragic event, but mourning over our sins.

“They shall be comforted.” By these words Christ refers primarily to the removal of the guilt that burdens the conscience. This is accomplished by the Spirit’s application of the Gospel of God’s grace to one whom He has convicted of his dire need of a Savior. The result is a sense of free and full forgiveness through the merits of the atoning blood of Christ. –A.W Pink 

Paul describes this mourning in 2 Corinthians 7:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

There are 2 kinds of grief: godly and worldly. Worldly grief is feeling bad because you got caught or things went wrong after you sinned. It’s regret because you look bad in others’ eyes or you messed up your life. But worldly grief doesn’t cause us to repent or turn to God. Years ago, a couple of us repeatedly appealed to a woman committing adultery. Her sin devastated her marriage and children. She was grieved – she wept and wailed but refused to break off the relationship. She shed tears but was unwilling to change.

The Corinthians’ grief led to repentance. “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” This kind of mourning results in blessing – when our grief over sin leads us to repent it yields the incredible comfort of salvation.

Godly sorrow regrets hurting God and we want to change, not to improve our lives or escape shame, but to please God. And when we mourn in this way, we’re comforted – with God’s assurance our sins are forgiven.

Godly mourning is a sign we’ve been born again. Unbelievers may grieve because their sins make them miserable, but not because they offend God. For believers, while grieving over our sins isn’t pleasant, it should encourage us that we do this because God’s Spirit dwells in us.

There are many other weaknesses and failures believers mourn over: our spiritual coldness and ongoing struggles with sin, our distracted worship and lack of desire for God’s Word and prayer. We wished we loved the saints more, had more compassion. These too show we’re born again. We wouldn’t care if God hadn’t changed us. The fact that we wish we were better servants pleases God.

The comfort of God

Jesus doesn’t want us to mourn over our sins just so we feel bad but desires us to know his comfort, God’s full, free forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” RO 4:7-8

The rhythm  of grief and comfort

We grieve when loved ones reject Jesus, then are comforted when he saves them. We mourn when brothers and sisters sin against us, but are comforted when we forgive them and are restored. We mourn when we endure various trials, but we’re comforted when we see Christ formed in us. We grieve when a brother or sister goes home to be with the Lord, but are comforted knowing they rejoice in God’s presence. We grieve over our weakness and lack of desire for the Lord, but we are comforted knowing that God sees us as righteous in Christ.

We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” 2 Corinthians 6:10. And we look forward to that day of ultimate comfort when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

I Haven’t Seen Target or Walmart Offering This Lately

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69

When life’s hard we can be tempted to run somewhere other than to Jesus for satisfaction. Like the Egyptians when Moses turned the waters of the Nile to blood.  They dug along its scrabbly banks in vain searching for something drinkable, rather than turning to God.

When we’re tempted to drink from some temporary cup, we should say where else could I go? Where else will I find the words of eternal life? I’m going to stay right here with Jesus.

Where else can we go? Philosophy doesn’t have the words of eternal life. Dr. Phil doesn’t. Facebook doesn’t.  Buddha doesn’t.  I haven’t seen Target or Walmart offering eternal life lately.  I drank from lots of empty wells in my day.  Only Jesus has the soul-quenching words of eternal life.

What we need in the storm or the desert are WORDS – Jesus’ words – everlasting words. We think we need cash, companionship, a job or a cruise, but what we really need are words. We need the promises of him who said heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.

Jesus has the words of ETERNAL life. All other solutions are field grass that’ll be gone tomorrow. Now that we’ve found Jesus, we’re living for eternity, not this mist called today. We’re storing up treasures that won’t rot or fade. Our fiery trials are momentary and light compared to the eternal weight of glory our sufferings are producing for us in heaven.

When we take Jesus’ words into us, they give us life. They revive us, strengthen us and infuse us with hope. They lift our micro-vision off this world and unveil the panorama of heaven.

Jesus knows how to sustain the weary with a word. If he can uphold the whole universe with his word (Hebrews 1:3) then his word can certainly enliven and rejuvenate and quench our thirsty souls.

So where will you go?

The Crazy Good Things You Can Expect From God In 2013

What can you expect God to do in your life in 2013? Some pretty incredible things. You can expect:

  • God’s mercies to follow you, and pursue you, every every minute of every hour of every day. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ” (Psalm 23:6)
  • God to meet every single true need that should arise. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
  • God to lead you, counsel you, guide you, and give you wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • God to freely forgive your sins each time you repent. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
  • God to wonderfully correct and discipline you if you should stray into sin. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)
  • God to continue working powerfully in you as you pursue holiness. “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
  • God to help you overcome patterns of sin that have plagued you for years. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. ” (Romans 6:14)
  • God to use trials in your life to refine and purify your faith. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
  • God to give you every good thing. “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

God has promised to do all these things, and many more. His promises are sure. 2013 is bursting with blessings.

+photo by AndyRobertsPhoto