Straw-Man Tactics

One of the talents of a trained debater—be it a politician, public relations person, or a preacher—is to establish identifiable targets to knock down. Hidden and moving targets are difficult to confront. A stationary target, and especially one we ourselves have set up, is easiest to hit.

In the realm of language and philosophical arguments, this is what is known as “straw-man theory”. It likely comes from military training where recruits are handed a weapon and instructed to attack a straw-filled target dressed up like some enemy. A commander is far less likely to witness new troops going AWOL (fearfully running away and disappearing from duty) when fighting against a person made out of straw. Once the training is deeply embedded in the soldier, they typically can transfer their skills to a live target and it makes no difference whether that target is viewed as straw or flesh. The order from then on is attack and destroy.

To win at an argument or fight, it is far more effective to pin down the opposition in order to strike a fatal blow. If that can’t be easily accomplished in reality, then making up a straw man that looks similar, can give both the enemy as well as all onlookers the impression that we have tackled the great dragon and given it a licking (that means spanking, not a dog’s greeting).

The method is to create a caricature with similarities to the opposition, but that speaks words that you put in its mouth, and does things that you describe as wrong, and that can’t be argued against by others (because it doesn’t actually exist), and then prove them wrong. In order to combat a straw-man argument, the opponent is often forced to prove the error of this fictitious opponent rather than directly confront the fabricator, thus creating a protective buffer as well as a distraction.

This method is common in all arenas where conflict may occur, including in churches. The problem for Christians, however, is that straw is not our enemy and training against what is not real will deceive the recruit into approaching evil as if it is dressed in red, sporting a long tail, and holding a pitchfork.

The problem with straw-man theories is that they are made up targets that don’t actually fit reality. A Christian may be given milk rather than meat to start out, but they are to always be taught the truth, be that viewed as good or bad. Misrepresenting evil and sin is just as vile before our Lord as distorting his word or creating caricatures of God.

Teachers of Christians must instruct carefully in line with God’s revealed word and avoid the attractive tendency to pack straw around their theology and doctrines. Sadly, religious training camps have hired many officers who perpetuate their own straw-man training, from generation after generation, who are now convinced that they know what the enemy looks like as well as what God desires, but who have hay sticking out from their own teeth.

Sampson fell for a straw-man tactic, when his foreign bride complained “you hate me”. In her effort to pressure him to tell her his secret, she invented a viewpoint and applied it to him. In order to demonstrate that her concern was just straw, he spilled the beans and ultimately lost his life.

Proverbs speaks of those who come first to present their views, who often seem right, until the other side has a chance to confront the straw-fallacies in the first story. This is one of the dangers with surrounding ourselves with those who speak, think, act, and look like us. In this case, diversity is a protection against straw-man attacks from inside our own circle of preferences.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were absolutely convinced that they had everything figured out, but they couldn’t even recognize the Son of God when he stood before them and spoke to them. Their religion had morphed from stone into straw.

Crusaders were absolutely convinced that “God wills it”, as they attempted to slaughter Arabs and foreigners living in and around Jerusalem. Their ministers told them that was the enemy, and they brutalized others rather than bare the Cross like their Lamb who gave his life instead.

Entire categories have been invented in order to teach straw-man doctrines, like suggesting that Jesus has abolished Jewish Rituals but not the stone-carved Old Covenant Commandments. Rather, if you break one, you have broken all, and there is no difference in obedience before God. Another grouping is to list doctrines as “core” versus “non-salvific”, but that is not taught in Scripture, because willful disobedience, no matter how trivial, is still rebellion.

Loved ones who have passed away are often said to be in a better place and smiling down from heaven on us now. It preaches well and the grieving understandably prefer to hear such encouraging words. However, that is a hollow straw-man theory that doesn’t find stable support in Scripture. The same straw is found in teachings on the Rapture doctrine.

Believers are coddled that they can never lose salvation, once they think they have it, because straw has been stuffed into a theory that says what people naturally want to hear rather than upholds what Scripture actually states.

Entire segments of the Church have replaced the authority of Scripture with the repetition of tradition, fulfilling the Lord’s prophecy that many have a horrible way of putting their straw-filled tradition ahead of the blood-stained words of God.

Christians are told to disregard entire passages, like warnings in Hebrews, or revelations about saints being judged for eternity according to their works, because enormous straw-man doctrines have replaced the truth and caused followers to embrace what is not real.

Santa Claus and his chimney-hopping reindeer with gifts are straw-stories attached to Christmas. For Christians, Easter bunnys and eggs have more straw in them than chocolate. The tooth fairy is yet another fabricated lie of straw, passed off as entertaining activity for kids. The distorted idea is it is ok to lie to children in the name of fun.

I recently heard a pastor state that baptism is not required for salvation, because if it was it would be salvation by works. His faith-alone theology, something made up out of straw by the founder of Protestantism, prevents him from admitting that God commands baptism for those who desire salvation.

Straw is useful to cows and to the military and in public debate, but it has no lasting place in upholding truth. If you don’t think you have scare-crows around you, you might want to check under the hats of all that you claim to believe. Those who surround themselves with reality and life, will avoid filling their minds or their ranks with straw-men.

Remember, God has promised to judge everything and everyone with fire. No matter how long it might have stood up or how well it is dressed or who you want to blame for setting it up, straw doesn’t stand a chance.

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation…but each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid…If any man builds on this foundation using…hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is…It will be revealed with fire….” (1 Cor 3:10-15)

Build your faith with solid truth and don’t assume your respected teachers always know the difference. As the Spirit commands, “test the spirits [of your ministers] to see whether they are of God, for many false teachers have gone out”. We need each other to continually hold us closely and humbly to the actual words of God in order to avoid participating in the distortions of straw-man Christianity.

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Ok, but Why?

Perhaps the most challenging student of all is that 5 year old, who when given an answer, responds with the same original question, “But, why?” To each layered answer comes the same dig for something deeper and more satisfying, “Ok, but why?”

To this great Why question of humanity, was previously given the biblical answer of: “so that men would seek God”. That is why God does what he does in our human realm. It is why he allows what he allows. That is where the answer begins.

That is not, however, where it ends. It is in our persistent seeking of the Lord that our understanding is deepened bit-by-bit as he opens the minds of obedient believers to the layers of his truths. At heart, each of us still has that 5 year old desire to know at a more satisfying level. Ok, but why?

It is only when Christ returns, and we see him face-to-face, that we will be allowed to see clearly and no longer “through a glass darkly”. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask for a deeper understanding now, but we should recognize that our complete satisfaction is embodied within Jesus, and it is through our faithful trust in who he is, that we are called to rest in this life without completed answers to our every question.

But longing to know more is good, and God wants to see that you care to know him more and to grasp his truths at a deeper level. So go ahead and ask it again. But, why Lord?

In many ways, this was the repeated question asked by Job. Why am I suffering? Why are you silent? Why do you allow pain to those who strive to obey you? Why do the wicked seem to get away with abuse? Why won’t you answer me?

Be aware that deeper answers will take greater maturity to hear and receive. Job had three friends who tried to give answers to his whys, but in each case, they gave educated but erred opinions that could not be supported by the evidence or by Scripture. There was, however, a fourth speaker (Job 33 – 37).

Elihu said of himself, “Be assured that my words are not false; one perfect in knowledge is with you”. His name means, “God is God”. He didn’t look impressive or have the credentials of the other three, but he was the only one who could answer why.

He describes Job’s complaint that God doesn’t answer his why questions, by saying that God does answer, just not as we often prefer. He speaks in ways that people often miss (Job 33:14). His responses, like through dreams, often

“terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:16-18)

The speaker continues to describe how, in addition to speaking in subtle ways, the Lord may allow a person to be “chastened on a bed of pain”. He also reminds Job that God is fully aware of what the wicked are doing. “There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide.” Their punishment and destruction has already been appointed. Again we hear, the cries of the needy always come before him, and he has a plan to rescue them, in a way and at a time of his choosing. But why?

“Men cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful.” (Job 35:9)

Ok, so humans are wired to cry out for help when under stress. But, why doesn’t it all stop when I ask for help? If I seek him, why does it still hurt? Why does God allow hardships, pain, suffering, war, abuse, discomfort, and lifelong heartache?

God is more than just the Creator. He is also in the business of salvation. He desires that those made in his image desire to know him, to seek him. But, because of our freedom to make choices, and our complete tendency to choose like Adam and sin against God, we need to be saved from ourselves.

As Elihu instructed Job and his three friends:

“God does all these things to a man—twice, even three times—to turn back his soul from the pit.” (Job 33:29-30)

Why does God do what he does, and allow what he allows: because he wants you to seek him. Ok, but why: because He also wants to save you for eternity from all the garbage that swirls within and would otherwise damage you permanently.

You see, life happens as it does, through all the hard things that we experience, because God is working out the eternal destiny for each person on this planet. For those who disdain his molding for more pleasurable experiences now, he is hardening them for a date with terror and eternal destruction. For you who recognize his majesty and his gracious call, and who respond with enduring repentance and faithful obedience, he is refining you like the purest gold.

Ok, but why is he taking so long? Because he wants everyone to repent and find his offered salvation:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

Ok, but why? Because God made you for a purpose–to belong to him and enjoy his family.

Ok, but why? So that God will be appreciated as God and not just another god.

Ok, but why? To bring glory to Jesus.

Ok, but why? So that you may shine like the stars in the universe.

Ok, but why? To allow us to participate in the Cross of our Lord, to remove all tendency toward sin, and establish his perfect righteousness in us.

Ok, but why? Because God loves his children and wants what is best for you.

Ok, but…. So that you will radiate with unfading beauty and majestic glory.

Ok,…. So that you will inherit eternal life with no more tears or suffering, and receive all the riches of heaven that belong to Christ, and become like your Father the Most High God.

Um…. So that you will be blessed forever.

Hmm. There is nothing better than to be the best with the Best of All.

Ok, I’m good with that. Do you want to play Lego’s now?

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Why? I just need to know why!

From age to age, the most asked question by every person from every culture throughout history has been, “why?”.

Philosophers, scientists, politicians, parents, news-watchers and star-gazers, and all those who struggle at times, want to know why. Why did this thing happen? Why do people do that to others? Why does life happen as it does? Why does cause turn into effect? Why am I like this? Why war? Why theft? Why abuse? Why suffering? Why pain? Why death? Why now? Why me?

The question always reaches into the deep past to try and explain the present experience and impending future. Reach back far enough, and the question ultimately forms the cry, “Why God?”

Why does God do what he does, allow whatever happens, and cause life to impact me in hard ways? Why God? Why?

In truth, God always acts principally for his glory. But that is not an answer to our need to know why? Our question is more personal, more individual, more differentiating.

It is a question that must be answered. Indifference is not an option for anyone. If we can’t find a suitable answer, then we are compelled to make one up.

The answer, “because I said so” is a common fill-in. The popular advertisement, “do what feels good”, is another fake answer of self-worship. Setting up pagan gods of human creative origin is yet another vain attempt at feeling forced to answer our why questions. Labeling those who look or act different from ourselves as the cause of our problems, results in an empty holocaust of abuse, that never erases the void of inadequacy at answering our own whys.

Sexual promiscuity foolishly attempts to fill the “why do I desire” question. Striking out at others, or strapping on a gun, are immature attempts to answer the “why do I threaten people to stay alive” question. Popping a few more pills is often a shameful answer to “why am I in pain” question. Often, depression is a debilitating response to the empty answers to grief or self-assessment.

We need answers that work. One way or another, we are driven to fill in the blank.

Very often, God speaks to humanity through parables. He says that he chooses to do this in order that most people will not be able to find satisfying answers to their why questions. Most will be left frustrated, empty, hungry, and in desperate need to try and answer their big why question with something that might dull the ache.

Relief can only ever be found in God’s direct answer. There are numerous hints in Scripture, for those blessed with the insight to recognize them. But, if you want a clear answer, you will need to listen very carefully.

Jesus told his faithful disciples that there would come a time that he would stop speaking in riddles and would tell them plainly about his Father. The irony is that, although his words are clear, and he often explains what he means in his parables, the Bible still cannot be rightly understood by scholarly study or educated review. The things of God can only be understood through the Spirit of God, such that the meanings will always slip past those who think they understand the words, but who don’t listen and respond as commanded upon believers.

If you are one of those who desires to know God’s answer to your question—to your plea of “Why O’ Lord?”—then ask your Savior to reveal his truth as recorded in Acts:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

God is God and there is no other source behind life or who can answer humanity’s longing for Why. Our extreme dependency, set in contrast to God’s absolute independence, is the basic reason for our universal need to find answers. God intentionally designed us this way from the very beginning.

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.

Creation is an answer to God’s declaration. Human existence is a result of God’s purpose. Nations arise when and where he determines and are not a by-product of random or dominant politics. Life happens as it happens, because God set it up that way. So WHY?

WHY GOD HAVE YOU DONE THIS?

“God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Act 17:24-27)

Why _____ ? So that you would seek him!

Whether good or bad, whether desired or feared: God does what he does, so that you and I, who are compelled to seek answers whether we like it or not, will focus that longing to know why toward drawing closer to him.

God is not in the business of fast-food answers. You can’t go through a drive-up-window, and request an answer with your order of fries. There would be no need for faith then. If you want to know why to something, press into him, read his word often, participate in his body the Church, and seek him with all your heart.

God really, really wants to answer your whys at the right time, but we must understand that the reason we are wired to desperately need to know why, is so that we will pursue satisfaction somehow, some way. Either we will find it by leaning into him, day-by-day; or, we will impatiently rebel and try to fill that painful void with artificial fillers.

It was that deceptive snake in the garden of Eden that first tempted humanity to reach out for our own and “be like God, knowing” all the answers. Unrestrained cherry-picking always results in sour grapes for those impatient with answers in due season.

Those who refuse to repent and seek him, not only hurt themselves, they push pain on the rest of us. God allows the abuse of others to impact his faithful, for the same reason he allows his faithful to wrestle against their own short-comings: to seek him. He has already gained every victory that needs to occur, so nothing happens outside of his purposes. Everything moves at his will. He gives added protection and peace to his followers, but they are not immune from struggles. We all need to seek him and mature in that.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your [Why] requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phi 4:6-7)

Real, true, satisfying answers can only ever come as a gift from God. They also will come to us typically in layers, over time, with interactive maturity as we make it our life’s practice to seek and pursue his glory. Seeking him, in prayer and with our life choices, is only the first part of God’s intended answer, but it is the most important reason at this point for each of us.

God does what he does, allowing life to occur as it does, so that we would be compelled to seek him throughout our time on this blue sphere. The rest of the answer to our specific whys will come like layers of baklava, drenched in syrupy goodness through eternity.

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Be a Brother, my brother

There are many ways that cultures identify connectedness, but few analogies are more universal or personal than speaking of family. The singular reference that joins as family, while avoiding added implications of authority, is that of calling a person a brother.

The term “brother” refers to those who are connected at the deepest level of identity. Blood-brother can be that of a genetic connectedness between those with at least one similar parent; or, it can reference two people who have made a commitment of supportive friendship by co-mingling their blood, like through a ritual or by serving in the trenches of warfare.

The Bible uses the term, brother, in several important ways; some obvious, some not-so-obvious.

The common references for brother, include physical lineage, like James and Jude being “brothers” of Jesus. In their case, they had the same mother, but different fathers, so we might more specifically identify their connectedness as “half-brothers”.

Genetic identity can be extended beyond immediate family, to that of race as well, calling those with similar features or background, brother. Some shorten this to “bro”, as a more personal reference to a recognition of connectedness.

Another common reference for brother, involves familial position, perhaps like Moses having an Egyptian brother, or like one who is adopted into a family. The genetic line might not be there, but the position of official acceptance within a physical family would be attributed to anyone adopted, or viewed in a similar manner, like step-brothers who share a connection as a result of parental-marriage, but not by blood-line.

Of course, it is common for group membership to attribute the connectedness of brotherhood, to those who join ranks, be that a club, or fraternity, or gang. Churches often refer to fellow believers as brothers and sisters in this way, and the Bible certainly uses this term as such. In fact, “brother” was the most common reference to a believer: 325 times in the New Testament.

The later introduction of the new term “Christian” is surprisingly used only 3 times in Scripture. Once to note that the term first started to be used in Antioch. Once by king Agrippa regarding Paul’s preaching. And the third time by Peter:

“but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” 1 Pet 4:16).

To be called a Christian is a glorious honor, but that was not the term most often used in the early church to reference believers. That term was that of a brother. It is also one of the general names given to followers of Jesus by the Lord:

“For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers”. (Heb 2:11)

“they love to be greeted [with important titles as religious leaders, but in contrast]…and you are all brothers.” (Mt 23:8)

Although there are times within Scripture when the male gender is intended, the original use of the term within biblical context was often aimed at this idea of side-by-side familial connectedness, a personal identification which fully includes women who believe in Jesus.

Regardless of race, or physical family identity, or any other form of discrimination, Christians are commanded to view each other as brothers. Even to the extreme of required separation of association due to persistence in sinful behavior, we are instructed “yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 The 3:15).

Most often, we commandeer this term and use it to compliment a close friend, someone we deeply identify with. This is the relationship that the Bible speaks of when it says that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. At its core, a person becomes our brother for no other physical or logical reason other than we feel strongly connected to them. In a more general sense, Jesus uses this term in the same way as he does in defining who is our neighbor: namely, anyone who is next to us is our brother, since we all ultimately descend from the same Adam.

There is, however, one more very important, and often missed, usage of this term. There was a subset of Christians to whom this label held special status. There were believers for whom, “brother” became “the Brothers”. We don’t have such capital letters within the original Greek, but we do have contextual use, that shows an apparent distinction in what the Holy Spirit reveals about a special group of believers.

Notice in 1 Cor 16 how this term, brother, is used in several ways:

“I urged you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.”

“Now about our brother Apollos”.

“I am expecting him [Timothy] along with the brothers.”

“All the brothers here send you greetings.”

The first quote is speaking of the group of Christians at Corinth, who were considered with Paul as fellow brothers in Christ.

The second is the same, specifically applied to one person, a fellow minister to Paul, named Apollos.

The forth is again a reference to a group of Christians who were with Paul in Ephesus, from where he was writing this particular letter.

The third quote, however, appears to be something different. “The brothers” that Paul was anticipating to arrive with Timothy were not just random believers. The surrounding text seems to indicate they were a specific sub-group of Christians who had become so well known that they appear to have been commonly identified simply as “the Brothers”. This same group are referenced again in this passage when Paul continues with the second quote from above:

“…I strongly urged him [Apollos] to go to you with the brothers.”

Paul was speaking in both cases about a group of people who traveled from church to church with a common purpose and a common heritage. They were not called elders, or apostles, or evangelists, although they may have also been such. Rather, they had become so well known as a group, that their individual identities never get mentioned. Scriptural references to these men show that they needed no introduction or acceptance by local pastors.

“With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel.” (2 Cor 8:18)

Paul is speaking above about some un-named Christian who was very well known, such that his name didn’t need mention, but instead the reason for accepting him is cited. This person appears to be one of several who have this status within the global church at that time. Without need for personal identification, they were known throughout Christendom as “the Brothers”.

It would seem redundant to suggest sending brothers to brothers. It is like saying, I’m sending the Christians to you Christians. Huh? Paul’s audience must have understood that the “brothers” he said he would send, were those already widely known and accepted by all the churches, not just within a city or region.

“And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.” (2 Cor 8:22)

“But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.” (2 Cor 9:3)

“So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction.” (2 Cor 9:5)

“I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him.” (2 Cor 12:18)

These “brothers” appear to have become accepted as inter-congregational missionaries. They would travel through all the known churches, giving special aide and expertise in church-life issues, as well as specifically preaching a common message of the gospel.

“As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.” (2 Cor 8:23)

During the early church development, this group of men had become widely trusted by the original apostles as believers who could be trusted with the truth of the gospel. It would seem likely that their role helped to sustain a common message to Jesus’ gospel in spite of the changing cultures from one region to another.

“For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.” (3 Jn 3)

“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,” (3 Jn 5)

Perhaps that is why, as the recorded era of the early church was about to move beyond readable Scripture, that the Apostle John speaks about a minister who was refusing to accept or submit to the influence or teaching of these “Brothers” who were attempting to interact with the other Christian brothers in that area. This pastor was not stopping church growth with new brothers, but preventing members of this particular group from being able to confront his teachings in church. He wanted his own denomination and he needed to get rid of any influence from these special Christians who were often used to teach the same gospel message in every church. He needed to stop their first-priority witness, so he could become first in the minds of brothers in that church.

“…who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” (3 Jn 10)

So who were these Brothers? Their names are not listed, nor is their individual identity necessary to discover. Their role was significant, and sadly does not appear to exist any longer. My guess is that they were eye-witnesses who had grown up at the feet of Jesus.

“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:6)

Whatever their names, they were a blessing to the early church. Others, like Paul and Timothy and the Twelve, contributed dramatic efforts toward building the church and spreading Christianity, but these Brothers appear to have helped provide the common glue to keep the gospel message and the approaches toward showing Christian love on similar ground. They helped ensure that what was preached everywhere was kept consistent and not allowed to morph into distorted messages. They appear to have taken on the directive of Paul to “seek to agree with one another”, and went about trying to help believing brothers find common ground of truth upon which to establish agreement, rather than the modern approach of “agree to disagree” or “agree at least to the mainstream basics”.

They were men with a common mission; with a connectedness of the gospel message as first taught by our Lord.

It was likely someone with this caliber of recognized authority and trustworthiness in preaching truth, who didn’t promote their own name when writing the dramatic instructions to brothers in Hebrews. He would have been well known at that time as one possessing the right to speak scriptural truth not found anywhere else in the Bible (thus a likely eye-witness of Jesus), and who could rebuke believers through his letter as being so immature that they needed to start all over again in being taught the truth about the gospel of righteousness, and who traveled with Timothy and thereby was connected to Paul in some way.

Like a disappearing race, these Christians, scripturally referred to simply as the Brothers, carried a common message from a common heritage, as primary-source graduates from that 3 year degree program taught by the Lord Jesus himself. It was their original proximity to the Teacher, rather than their personal identity or skill, that gave them their recognized connectedness as brothers of a select part of God’s family.

Others would lead the mission into all the world, and then these Brothers confirmed the unity of that original gospel. They set the mold for faithful Christian testimony for all generations to follow: to speak the good news consistent with that original gospel as taught by those who walked and talked and ate with and learned from the Master.

Oh, that God would grant his people such leaders once again—who care more about his truth than their ministry or ideas—preachers and servants of Jesus who love God’s word more than religious tradition or personal agenda.

Be a Brother, my brother.

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Intentional Out-Thinking

In a world and body dominated by self, it is an oddity to think of others. Selfishness is the pampered pet of every person.

To be Christian is to think of others more highly than ourselves, and that ain’t natural! It is the model and command of our Lord, who set aside his glorious nature as the Son of God to take on our fleshly existence as Jesus, because we desperately needed help. He cared more about us than maintaining his position, his honor, and even his life. This week is when Christians pause to consider how much he loved us in this way.

That is the gospel’s call to each believer; to love others ahead of self. Deep down, that burns. It crucifies ourselves in tortuous ways. It is a self-inflicted scourging of what we prefer, to elevate the benefit of others through whatever we can do. And, it pains us.

As a way to help instruct a young believer in how to do the un-natural, and elevate the interests of others, I shared the following 4 points that I learned from a woman named Mary.

If we are to be intentional about out-thinking—about concentrating our attention, planning, and efforts in ways that might benefit others toward what lasts—we need to practice thinking outward, rather than inward.

Step 1: Think of someone else.

Get something, someone, other than self, at the forefront of your attention. Focus on someone along the margins. Avoid dwelling on those who distract your attention from what is righteous, like the powerful, attractive, wealthy, or dishonorable.

Picture them; consider their circumstances. Think of what faces them in life. As God declared, “It is not good that man be alone”, so he created a helper. Think like a helper. Not a manipulator or controller, but a supporter and benefiter. Start by thinking of someone else.

Step 2: Think of what they might need, what interests them, what might honor them. Christians focus on the eternal by offering help along that way. Needs should be considered differently than wants. They should be those things that limit the person, hold them down, are beyond their full control, and can be addressed in a way that remains honorable to God.

Interests of others can help guide our thoughts on how to craft a benefit that they can receive and find relief through. As commanded, believers should give honor where due, so think also of how to honorably lift a person up while upholding truth.

Step 3: Think of something you can do to help that person with that need. Craft an approach that might breathe fresh air. Plan something that can ease pain, lift the downcast, help shoulder part of a burden, or turn their thoughts toward their Savior who can provide complete healing.

Remember, giving a cup of cold water can fill a momentary gap, but it is only godly if is satisfies the purpose of “because he is my disciple”. Filling needs must be intentional in serving Christ and bringing people toward him. Anything else, may be helpful, but not Christian. Believers in Jesus think of others best by elevating them before the throne of God in thought and action.

Step 4: Act for their benefit. Unleash yourself beyond fear and self-interest. Love doesn’t return empty, it repeats the Lord’s glorious words, “It is finished”. Do what you do, for the benefit of others, to the glory of God.

“I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mt 26:13)

Mary thought of Jesus.

Mary considered what he needed, what was of interest to him, and most especially, what might honor someone worthy of such public devotion.

Mary recalled that bottle of perfume that represented all her worldly treasure.

Mary “did what she could” and, before all the shocked crowds, emptied the entire bottle onto Jesus feet, humbled herself with flowing tears, and wiped his feet with her personal glory: her long hair.

One, two, three, four…for the benefit of another. Her out-thinking demonstrates for us the gospel truth of putting others ahead of self.

As we come up this week to remember the Cross, remember also how Mary crucified her self for the benefit of another to the glory of God. Think of how you can take up your cross daily, crucify your self-interests by putting the interest of another ahead of self, and push through the tears as you live the gospel with resurrected power.

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Setting Your Anchor on the Gospel (3 of 3)

The boy and his best friend could track everything, but one wily coon always seemed to stay one trick ahead.

An old-timer suggested he try the Shiny Trick. Along a known racoon trail, the boy drilled a hole in a log and dropped a shiny coin to the bottom. He hammered three nails at an angle around the hole so that the points almost touched part way inside the hole. Then they waited.

As they headed out the next day on their regular wooded-life adventures, the boy’s trusted huntin’ dog began to howl. Sure enough, there was that huge, angry coon, with one hand stuffed into the hole. All he needed to do was drop the coin and run, but with fist clenched over his new treasure, he could not get past the nails. He refused to let go and finally met his match to the wit of the boy and his huntin’ dog.

Christians are often like that coon.

By God’s grace, we evade every temptation and fiery dart thrown at us by the evil one, until we spot something shiny that we just can’t let go of. Sin is too obvious a trick for many longtime believers, but what about good things? What about our doctrinal beliefs, church traditions, or personal interpretations?

Continuing with our series, our anchor can break loose, if our Christian beliefs and practices don’t remain embedded in trusted ground. Life is dynamic, the Lord is often on the move, and our harbor conditions can change, so reviewing our attachment onto the original teachings of those first apostles remains critical.

As we saw last time, there is only one Christian foundation for the gospel already established, and since the passing of those early eye-witnesses, no changes to that foundation are accepted. Each believer and church must build carefully upon that ground without altering or replacing that trusted ground.

However, as was rapidly occurring even in that first century of the Church, many believers were grabbing onto shiny beliefs and refusing to let go, even when faced with imminent danger. Their anchor had begun to slip. 2000 years later, many today have compounded that drift so far that they no longer remain in the same ocean, let alone safely anchored in a godly harbor.

But how do you know when your anchor is slipping? And, how can you help strengthen its mooring line?

The short answer is to measure each belief to what the Bible actually says and adjust our attachments accordingly.

The problem is that a building’s foundation is hidden below ground, just like the sea-bed remains below the reflective surface of the water. Setting your anchor on what you cannot see requires careful application of procedures—it requires biblical obedience without changes to how we connect to that original teaching.

So, look at your doctrines and beliefs and review their wording to that of Scripture. This is where that Shiny Trick deceives, because even when the truth reveals errors in beliefs or traditions, many refuse to let go of what they like, what they have become comfortable in believing, what they have taught and been taught for so long, and what allows them to fit into a desired group.

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…Let us fix our eyes on Jesus”. (Heb 12:1-2)

Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. Can you find anywhere in Scripture where that teaching was directly taught? I don’t mean, can it be supported by references, but did the original apostles teach believers to accept the concept of the Trinity? It may be an acceptable teaching “built” upon the foundation, but how many churches have turned it into something foundational to Christianity? Neither the Trinity word, nor the concept itself, can be found anywhere in Scripture as something specifically taught as a foundational part of the gospel. A later church council promoted this teaching to combat errors being taught about God, but the foundation had already been set, so everything thereafter must stay submissive to that original writing. Beware of shifting sand that can dislodge your anchor.

Consider the doctrine of Mother Mary. Does Scripture teach that believers are to view Mary as their mother? John was told to accept her as his mother, and in response he accepted her into his home to support her, but consider what was taught about her. Those who shouted, “blessed be the one” who gave birth to Jesus, the Lord corrected and said, “blessed rather are those who do the will of my Father”. And, as far as who is our “mother”, the Bible specifically directs Christians to view the “Jerusalem above”—the Church—as our mother. Beware of anchor slippage that can drift away from safety in Christ.

Consider the doctrine of speaking in Tongues. It remains very popular, as it was in old Corinth, to measure a believer as genuine according to dramatic, outward evidence, like speaking in tongues. When Paul taught that he would rather believers preach five words of truth, than speak in tongues, he made it clear that outward signs are not foundational to Christian identification. Beware of rope decay that can suddenly break loose from holding your anchored boat in position.

Consider the belief of “once saved, always saved”. Most Protestants automatically accept this, but did the original apostles specifically teach this? It may be something that can be extended from the gospel, but the way in which it is taught today, must remain submissive to everything in Scripture. When Paul wrote that “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus”, and then added, but “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace”, it must be acknowledged that Calvin cannot override Paul. Beware of where you drop your anchor, for trusted ground can only be upon the foundation of the gospel and not on later interpretation.

Consider the doctrine of “faith alone”. Luther wanted a more convincing way to confront the error of religious indulgences, so he added the word “alone” to a key passage in Romans where it did not originally exist. He even wrote it into his German translation of Scripture. When confronted about his brash change, he retorted, “well, it should have been there”. Sola Scriptura and the other “Sola’s” all branch from this fundamental change that does not exist in the Bible. Teachings can build upon, if they remain submissive, but they are never to replace or change the gospel’s foundation. Beware of shiny anchors made with clay.

Consider the belief in infallibility. For generations, the Popes have hidden behind the teaching that they are all incapable of committing error or sin, yet their claimed decent extends down from Peter who was recorded by the Spirit to have committed the sin of hypocrisy while leading the Church. No decision of a Pope can ever be refuted or repented of, because that foundational belief defies God’s word that all have sinned and continue to need the covering blood of Jesus to heal and forgive. Beware of perfect anchors that never need to be checked.

Consider teachings on the importance of following the 10 Commandments or the Sabbath day or Tithing. Christians are grounded on a New Covenant and are no longer “under the Law”. Beware of those super-religious promoters of the fullness of Scripture, who defy the foundational changes to the sea-bed caused by the fulfillment of Jesus’ first coming. Anchors that remain attached to applying the Old Covenant cannot be Christian, for only in Christ is the veil of blindness taken away. The former was set aside in fulfillment in order that the new could be established as the foundation. Beware of the claims of tradition, of we were here first, of my degree is higher than yours, of my church is bigger and thus better, of that is the way it has always been, of I’m fine with what I believe, of my god would never do that.

Consider teachings on the imagined Rapture, on marriage redefinition, on the sexually immoral practice of divorce and remarriage, on the disgraceful practice of women preaching and leading men in church, on gender blending, on political engagement, on taking up arms to save our lives. What does the Bible actually teach on these subjects? Building our understandings and efforts carefully on that first, scripturally-defined gospel will keep our anchor solidly in place. Choosing to hang on to our shiny beliefs, may damage our anchor’s ability to hold us secure.

Remember, Satan can accurately quote scripture with the best of ministers. However, his agenda is always to twist the application away from the will of God. Beware of long lists of scriptural references that give the appearance of a solid foundation, but do not honorably uphold the full and original biblical teaching on a particular subject. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your church or denomination will rightly maintain your own anchor.

In the analogy, the anchor itself is not so much the problem; it is how, and on what, we set that anchor that can be an issue. It involves our response of attachment. Notice the boat-paraphrased wording to those believers who initially found their anchor in Christ, but then lost connection:

“He has lost connection with the Anchor, from whom the whole boat, supported and held by its rope and rode-chain, holds fast as God causes it to be moored.” (Col 2:19)

God causes the growth, but he does not force it, such that believers can lose their connection by their own disobedience. The context to this passage is toward believers who were mixing their claimed faith in Jesus with humanistic efforts at good religion. This was no small detail, because, it was eroding their anchor attachment to Christ. Their church and ministers were teaching them methods of worship that were “self-imposed” and “based on human commands”, rather than on what was specifically taught by the original apostles. Their denominational practices had begun to replace devotion to the original teaching of the Gospel.

Our hope, as Christians, must be in the Jesus described in Scripture and not a modernized interpretation of Jesus. He alone can keep us secure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Heb 6:19)

This hope, as defined in the above scriptural context, is offered to those who consistently keep their confidence in that first written gospel, which “was confirmed to us by those who heard him” (Heb 2:3):

“We have come to share in Christ, if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Heb 3:14)

There is a story in Scripture about a boat captain and crew that refused to listen to godly advice. They weighed anchor and set off when, and toward where, they wanted to go. A nor’easter of hurricane force descended upon them for two weeks. As depth soundings indicated, they recognized they were headed for a crash landing.

“Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.” (Act 27:29)

The boat was a complete loss. They refused to adjust themselves to what God had revealed. The lives of the entire crew would have been lost, except: “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you. So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (v.25-26)

It doesn’t have to be that way. Your ship doesn’t need to be destroyed, nor your own lives threatened. But don’t assume that favorable winds will always carry you where you want to go. Don’t be deceived that your anchor will always hold you secure where you place it.

Drop your anchor on trusted ground as described in God’s holy and faithful word. Set it firmly into that ground per the biblical instructions on what God expects of Christians who say they believe in him. Do your part faithfully and rightly. “Examine yourselves”, as the Bible says, and regularly check your anchor for signs of needed adjustment.

Then trust the Lord to hang on firmly to his obedient followers through the night. He is faithful, and will lose none of those given to him by the Father!

Those who have experienced the delights of boat camping know the joy of being rocked to sleep surrounded by one of the most beautiful parts of Creation. My first night on the water was fitful, as I wrestled with my trust in the anchor, and as I tried to identify what I later was informed was chine-slap.

Learning how to rightly set your anchor on trusted ground, leads to peaceful slumber and hopeful expectation of a pleasant dawn over the diamond-studded ripples. Give it a go; it will forever change you.

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Setting Your Anchor on the Gospel (2 of 3)

The gnarly old salt rowed his boat up onto the deserted island, grabbed the bow rope and anchor stick, found a favorable spot, tapped the stick home, and tied his boat up with plans to explore the shoreline.

As soon as his back was turned, however, his anchor flipped up into the air. With furrowed brow, he retrieved his anchor, grabbed a bigger hammer and pounded the stick deeper into the land.

Satisfied, he turned to go, only to hear a loud “poof”. His anchor once again landed back in the boat. As can happen with good cartoons, he growled as he grabbed his anchor again, fished out of the hold a jack-hammer, and proceeded to drive his anchor down deep in the same spot.

He gave his handiwork a scowl that would scare any decent pirate, then spun to stomp off on his planned mission. This time, the ground shook, the sea began to rapidly retreat, and his newly discovered island took on all the familiar features of an angry whale, who promptly blew the anchor out of his blow-hole so hard that the attached boat went sailing off into the surf, leaving the whiskered and wide-eyed sailor to attempt a Peter and become a wave-runner.

The moral? Set your anchor on trusted ground.

As previously reviewed, Christians are advised to keep a close eye on how they are connected to the good news of the gospel in Jesus. So long as we keep adjusting ourselves to the Lord’s expectations, instructions, and promptings, our anchor cannot be moved. However, if we drop anchor where it doesn’t belong, we are warned within Scripture that our beliefs can drift into dangerous territory and even threaten our ability to stay afloat.

In order to attract visitors, every harbor wants to be known as a safe haven for boaters. You won’t see many signs that say, “Welcome, lots of dangerous shoals, deadly whirlpools, and boat-eating squid”.

So it is within popular Christianity; all churches and groups who claim faith in Jesus will promote their harbor as safe for anchoring. Some may be; some should be avoided. Hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations over the last 2000 years have carved out hidden bays with attractive features for traveling boaters.

How can you identify trusted ground?

Remember the Lords caution: “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Mt 24:23) If a church or person says, look here we teach the Bible, or there is the gospel…be careful in what you believe. For, as this passage continues, many false teachers and deceptive ministers will promote ideas, church programs, and dramatic ministries that are so impressive that even the elect could be misled.

Trusted ground. Set your anchor in trusted ground. Everyone will tell you their ground is trusted, but how can you check the soil before you drop anchor? For that matter, how can you make sure the soil has not shifted over time? True believers need to regularly check their anchor line to keep it secure in trusted ground.

This is no new problem. The early church struggled with this same issue, and by God’s grace, the answer has been recorded over and over again for those with eyes to see. The call is to strive to maintain an anchor to what the original apostles taught.

“See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.” (1 Jn 2:24-25)

The conditional preposition, “if”, places the responsibility on believers to hang onto what was taught at the beginning of the church. The good news gospel of eternal life is the promise for those who keep their anchor on that “beginning” message. John wrote this instruction because “many antichrists” had entered the church and were teaching believers things that were slowly-but-surely changing the soil around their anchors.

Those who teach things that are different from what was originally presented at the start of the church, or who add new ideas, or who shift the meanings, or emphasize things differently than those writers of Scripture “are trying to lead you astray” (1 Jn 2:26). To avoid anchoring in the attractive blow-hole, look for doctrines and practices that strive to match what those apostles taught at the start.

As the apostle John was inspired to declare about early apostolic authority in writing truth to Christians:

“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.” (3 Jn 9)

“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” (1 Jn 4:6)

Some muddle this last quote and assume John is suggesting that all Christians have the authority to speak truth and others must listen. He is actually talking about himself and those like him who had been commissioned directly by Jesus in the beginning of the Church. Paul confirms the same original-apostle view.

“Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” (1 Cor 15:11)

Christian belief must be based on the biblical teaching presented by eye-witness apostles of Jesus. The biblical and theological foundation for Christians is specifically built upon “the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).

Peter’s approach, yet again, establishes this limited basis for defining the gospel:

“…I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (1 Pet 5:12)

“So I will always remind you of these things…and I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…and we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.” (2 Pet 1:12-19)

Peter believed he had the God-given authority to define the true gospel of grace, and that it matched what was earlier presented by the prophets. No other religious leaders have this right. All future instruction on the Christian gospel must submit to what those original apostles and even earlier prophets taught.

“I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” (2 Pet 3:2)

“We are witnesses of everything he did…He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Act 10:39-43)

In the same way, the Holy Spirit breathed through Paul that others could not originate God’s word, but that he—Paul—could. The Lord established a limited group of original church leaders with divine authority to define the gospel and no one else was allowed to add to or change what they spoke and wrote.

“Did the word of God originate with you?…what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.” (1 Cor 14:36-38)

“…when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (1 The 2:13)

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life”. (Rev 22:18-19)

Apparently, many were already ignoring the condition of their anchor, and were slipping away from what was originally taught…and that was less than a hundred years into the Church, let alone our 2000 years of possible drift. Improvements and changes to the gospel as first defined will bring curses that, if not repented of, will result in complete loss of a believer’s right to eternal life. It is that important!

When confronting church teachings that had begun to stray from this basis, Paul reminded believers on the foundational limits to defining the gospel. His caution to a fellow minister and the rest of the church was to “not go beyond what is written”.

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:10-11)

No believer, no minister, no ruler, no creed, no church council, no denomination, no amount of historical tradition, and no vote can ever add to or adjust this fundamental basis of the gospel as presented in holy Scripture. The anchor of a Christian soul depends on sustaining this unique and limited foundation. Only teachings, that remain submissive to and restrained within the New Covenant revelation of God recorded in the Bible, can provide trusted ground. Everything else is shifting sand.

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:1-2)

Belief in Jesus’ Gospel, per the above, depends upon holding firmly to what Paul taught, and not to what others think about what Paul taught, and not to whatever is different than he taught. This authority to define the gospel “for what I received and I passed on to you” specifically defines those to whom the Lord revealed himself, as “Peter”, “the Twelve”, “James” the brother of Jesus, “five-hundred of the brothers” and “last of all” Paul himself.

“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly…which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel…” (Eph 3:1-7)

The Spirit of God reveals truth to all believers, but this passage is talking about the foundational defining revelation that establishes the gospel message. No additional defining is allowed; only explaining and informing that builds and matures a believer, consistent with that original pattern.

The Christian witness is not based on personal testimony; it must remain based on the eye-witness accounts from the start of the Church. We can, and ought to, supplement the gospel with our own experiences, but never alter, undermine, or shift the truth as already grounded in the Bible. Congregational teachings, traditions, and practices can enhance individual experiences, but only so long as they remain submissive and supportive of the truth presented in God’s word.

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim 1:13; 2:2)

Apostolic and ministerial succession involves the passing of authority through the generations to qualified leaders who will imitate and replicate that original teaching. It passes along the responsibility, but never the authority to establish truth or define the gospel. Sadly, many still think they have that right, or are numb to the truth that the gospel must stay as originally taught or shipwreck the boaters.

“I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jud 3-4)

Jude, the brother of Jesus and James, writes to confront this anchor-drift by ministers who were secretly shifting the grace of the gospel. He describes all sorts of approaches that remain common in many churches to this day, like going around flattering others and telling them how amazing everyone is. Beware of shifting sand under your anchor, hidden below the surface.

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away…this salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (Heb 2:1-3)

Anchor drift is most dangerous when conditions seem calm and in familiar territory, because we can easily fall asleep or become distracted with the attractive sights or think we know everything. Church history, widely accepted traditions, advanced seminary degrees, and active church growth are not reliable measures for staying well grounded to the gospel. Our anchor needs to be set on what was taught in the beginning by those eye-witnesses. Our witness needs to promote their foundational witness and not stray into our own ideas.

“…watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them…now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God…be glory”. (Rom 16:17, 25-26)

The Christian call is to set our anchor on trustworthy ground. That requires a bit more effort than heave-ho. For reasons known to the Lord, weeds and wolves are allowed to toss anchors near true believers and to even impact the ground on which our anchors connect. To stay firmly attached, we are commanded to separate from those who teach or do things that drift from being careful with God’s word.

Yes, that may mean separating from long-time friends or leaders in church when our anchors get dislodged. That is a cost of discipleship that many will refuse to pay. A little slip in the anchor is normal, so why bother? We all agree on the basics of Jesus don’t we?

“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached to you, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Cor 11:4)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:6, 8)

“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us…If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (2 Jn 9-10)

These passages (and many others like it) refer to believers who have accepted anchor drift and are headed for disaster. Novice and lazy boaters drop anchors that they assume will do their job without further attention: same for Christians who think their connection to Jesus and his gospel is automatic. Those who want to ensure their secure moorage through the night, must rightly set their anchor as described in their boater’s handbook.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught”. (Tit 1:9)

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.” (1 Cor 11:1-2)

“This is the message you heard from the beginning”. (1 Jn 3:11)

“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:11-12)

“Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Act 1:21-22)

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”. (Act 2:42)

“And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:27)

“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (Rev 3:3)

“…that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Tim 1:11)

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ…whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” (Phi 3:17; 4:9)

Look into the recorded word of God to find trustworthy ground to set your anchor upon. Join with other believers who demonstrate a maturing pattern of seeking the same foundation upon which to live and serve. Recognize that the Lord allows ground conditions to shift, so regularly check your attachment as directed in Scripture. Repent of error; Separate from what persists against God’s word, and devote yourself to the original apostles’ teaching.

Next, we’ll consider how to spot and deal with signs of anchor drift.

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Setting Your Anchor on the Gospel (1 of 3)

Many unskilled boaters who drop an anchor for a night, expecting to be gently rocked to sleep, have suddenly found themselves dashed against shoreline rocks in the wee hours of dawn.

Do you know how to properly set an anchor?

As a Christian, have you properly set your gospel anchor? The analogy is fitting, in that the ground is typically hidden, and so it is easy to assume that the anchor will do what it is designed to do, all on its own, and we don’t need to contribute anything. Many believe they are safely attached to the Rock, and give little thought to checking what they depend upon, but cannot see.

Boaters who wish to safely see the dawn, and not allow their claimed faith to be ship-wrecked, need to read their boater’s handbook and set their anchor rightly. As the Lord instructs, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?” Handbooks are often a last resort for stubborn-minded travelers, but setting the anchor is part of our job–holding onto a rightly set anchor, no matter the storm, thank God, is the Lord’s job.

As any informed sea captain will tell you, there are several factors to rightly setting anchors. The most important factor is to figure out the ground conditions in order to determine what to expect and what type of anchor to drop. Sandy soil has very different characteristics than rocky soil. Wide blade anchors are more useful to bury deep under sand, heavy ones are best for more solid ground, and specialty styles can be easier to detach when time to weigh anchor.

Setting anchor on soft ground is much like building a house on sand–it is fine for a short stay, but you better hope no storm is a’brewing. Extra hard ground, on the other hand, can cause an anchor to skip and bounce without ever digging in. Since the attachment point is typically hidden or obscured, the second key is to “set” the anchor.

Setting an anchor, simply described, involves dropping it off the bow, sufficiently ahead of where the tide and/or winds will push the boat, giving it enough line to reduce the angle of pull, and then to gently drive the boat backwards. This extra energy helps to drive the anchor into the ground and grab. Too soft a pull, and the anchor can cut loose when least expected. Too hard a pull, and you just damage the sea-life with a farmer’s trench.

The third detail is to keep an eye out for changing conditions. Anchors are effective if rightly placed, set, and maintained, but they are not fail-safe if ignored. Good anchors give good sleep, and a hope for a bright tomorrow.

All this is fitting for Christians. The Gospel of Jesus is a reference to the good news provided by and promised from the Lord. It is good, because it offers freedom from the eternal penalty of destruction under the wrath of God because of our sin. It is good, because Jesus, while still fully God-with-us, came to this earth, took on our humanity as also fully man, and willingly died in our place to pay that penalty. It is good news, because those who accept his sacrifice, and his Lordship over their lives, become his for eternity.

In one sense, he is our anchor and he can never break loose. This analogy about setting our anchor is not about faith in Jesus; it is not about his sovereign ability to save those who come to him; and, it is not about anything we must do in order to be saved. Jesus has justified faithful believers by what he has accomplished, and we can rest assured through every storm, that this Anchor will hold.

Rather, the distinction being considered here, is something that the Bible teaches about where we place our anchor. This is a sanctification issue that requires believers to participate in evaluating their claimed beliefs. There are a number of ways Scripture addresses this issue, but here we will reflect on what God has to say about being poorly attached to the gospel.

If you will allow a boating paraphrase of the follow passage, consider what is being said to Christians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly dragging anchor away from the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are drifting dangerously toward a different shoreline gospel—which is no gospel at all. Evidently some people on your boat have let go of your anchor and are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal 1:6-7).

Even trusted Church leaders, like Peter and Barnabas, “were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” and had drifted into the rocks of hypocrisy. Their anchor had come loose and started to drift, but thankfully, they had a faithful deckhand who sounded the alarm and helped them re-set their anchor properly. However, the additional danger is that drifting can require a “reforming” of Christ in a believer:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19).

As another writer put it, again with a boater’s paraphrase:

“In fact, though by this time you ought to be a ship’s captain, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of godly boating all over again. You need knot-tying 101, not helmsmanship…captaining a boat is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good anchoring from bad.” (Heb 5:12-14)

In fact, some believers remain fast asleep as their anchor has come completely detached and have unknowingly become “alienated from Christ: you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal 5:4) Many think they are anchored to the solid rock of Jesus, but that anchor point remains below the surface and can be easily misread, if we are not humble and willing to regularly review what the Lord says about staying rightly attached.

The task before believers, who are awake enough to care about the placement of their anchor, is to stir ourselves out of our warm beds and review where we think we are.

To what is your anchor attached? And, how can you help strengthen its mooring line?

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Knowing with Certainty

Conviction is a drug of choice. We all want to possess absolute knowledge–to be like God–to be our own god. That is the mind-altering addiction we all suffer under since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden.

Within Christianity, it has even gained the status of a central doctrine: one of those teachings that believers are expected to accept and promote. “You can know with certainty that you are saved”, so says the preacher.

The assurance of salvation is that historic tenant of the church, that most often takes the biblical teaching of “knowing” and transforms it into an attractive alternative to faith. Assurance of Faith, as often taught, doesn’t need faith.

For sure, the Bible does teach about assurance in our faith, but the explanations typically given have altered what God offers into a formula that denies the need for God. Are you willing to take a closer look at your foundation to see if your belief in salvation remains biblically grounded or has become yet another tradition of religious men?

Jesus spoke about this common human tendency toward wanting self-assessed conviction for salvation–an alternative to faith that allows us to tell God that he is required to save us. To those who know that they know they will be saved for eternity, God says “away from me”.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21)

The Lord then says that “many” will try to justify why his rejection of their assurance of salvation should be reconsidered. Apparently they swallowed the doctrine that they were guaranteed to make it into heaven and that all the evidence of success in their ministry was proof that God’s Spirit was active in them. They were “certain” of being saved, but per the Lord, they were certainly deceived.

John the Baptist says something similar to the people of God who thought God had to save them. Many Jews believed that they were guaranteed salvation because God promised the patriarch that his children would be saved, and as documented children of Abraham, they were certain and assured of their promised destiny.

“And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Mt 3:9)

To arrogant Christians, Paul writes against making assumptions of eternal assurance contrary to the evidence, when he said:

“I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21)

Instead, he instructs believers to test themselves, to:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor 13:5)

Even those to whom God has directly said he would save them, he warns against such encouragement turning into a doctrine of eternal guarantee, when he stated:

“If I tell a righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.” (Eze 33:13)

The Lord confirms this warning of self-assessed assurance, after the Church had decades of growth and had begun forming doctrinal teachings, when he repeatedly said several churches were “doing well” as believers:

“Yet I hold this against you” (Rev 2 & 3)

Those who repent, would be forgiven, but he specifically tells those believers who refuse to repent, that he would take away their future hope in being with him, that the Lord himself would fight against them, that they and their children would die, that they would not be present when he returns, and that they were about to be vomited out of God’s mouth.

God promises two forms of assurance in Scripture. The one often taught, uses biblical passages, but twists it into a faithless assurance–one that we can measure ourselves, and that we can claim to possess without loss, and one that replaces any need for the fear of God or of trust in his mercy. We own this type of assurance. We can present it to God and make him accept us into eternity. We can rest assured that we are good to go.

This first type of assurance is the one that is possessed by believers who

“perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thes 2:10-12)

Non-believers don’t need a delusion added upon them, because the Bible teaches that they remain under the wrath of God. It is those who have somehow escaped such error, but then instead of submitting to the truth (in this case, the truth about eternal assurances), God gives them an alternative belief. They are absolutely convinced of their happy destiny, just like those who said “Lord, Lord”, but were identified as those who did what was wicked.

Many preachers will point to John’s use of the phrase “this is how you know you have eternal life” as meaning that a person can self-measure their lack of habitual sin, their physical acts of love, and their acceptance of the major church doctrines on the identity of Jesus, as proof of personal salvation. Notice, no faith needed. That is not what John was teaching. His use of the term “to know” is set in contrast to the Gnostic error that had entered the church, on how a believer can know what is right. This use of knowing is meant to emphasize the idea of “recognizing truth”, or identifying what is true, or understanding and seeing the differences between godly teaching and mis-teaching. He is not using the phrase to teach on certainty or absolute conviction. He wants Christians to find comfort in finding supporting evidence to their belief, to look for godly backup to their claim of faith, not to point to things we can see and conclude that we are guaranteed to be saved no matter what else.

Such apparent guarantees are called a “license for immorality”–an official assurance that a person can be certain in their salvation, even in spite of potential sin and without any further need for faith. That is a lie! That is not the assurance presented in Scripture.

The other biblical form of assurance remains dependent upon faith. The Bible declares that true assurance is “in Christ”, and not something we can measure or claim without continued faith in his personal call. There is only one person in all of heaven or earth that knows with certainty who will be saved.

I will say this again: There is only ONE person in all of heaven or earth that knows with certainty who will be saved. That one is not you. It is not your minister. It is not the burning conviction in your heart. It is not the evidence of good deeds or pious living or Church doctrine. In the context of biblical teaching on the resurrection to eternal salvation, we are warned against believing those ministers who twist the truth in church:

“Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,'” (2 Tim 2:19)

You have a choice. You can base your assurance for your life-hereafter on what you think you can measure about yourself, or on what grand doctrine has been historically taught to you; or, you can humbly base your assurance on faith in Jesus’ love for you and his promises to bring you to his heavenly kingdom.

The first is certain in what we think we will get. The second is certain only in knowing who Jesus is.

As Peter declared when he lacked certainty about what Jesus meant by “eat my flesh”:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69)

And, as Martha declared when she lacked certainty about what Jesus meant by, he who believes will live, and die, and never die:

“I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (Jn 11:27)

A believer’s assurance in God’s internal dwelling, assurance in transformation in spite of our weaknesses, assurance in knowing the unknowable, assurance in his sovereign control even when experiencing trials and abuse, and assurance in our promised inheritance for eternity as a saved child of the King, all rests on faith in Jesus.

Such faith is more than knowledgeable belief in the Lord, it is a trusting in him that fills all the gaps in what we don’t know, can’t see, are incapable of fully grasping, and simply do not yet have a hold of, without actually giving us any of those answers. This type of genuine faith is often seen as weak and uncertain. It is ridiculed as useless, brainless, and ignorant. It doesn’t provide convincing proof to satisfy the criticisms of others. It says we believe, with partial evidence, but admit that we don’t have all that we would like to have figured out or understood. The constant pressure, even for believers, is to try and replace faith with fact–something that others might respect. But, without living actively with this type of faith, it is impossible to please God.

We are encouraged to measure for fruit, for character, for evidence of a transformed life that is continually moving away from sin and toward the likeness of Christ, but such measuring is NEVER intended to replace faith. It only helps encourage. It gives a brief encouragement that we are likely on track. It helps us to grow in knowing him, but not in claiming guarantees outside of a very dependent and humble faith.

Those who know, and those who think they know but are deceived, all desire the same end–a resting in our hope that everything will work out well for us. The former admit they can be deceived and stay humble before the Lord, asking for him to search their hearts and remove any wickedness. The latter celebrate their expected destiny, rejecting any possibility of error, and tell everyone around them that they should enjoy the same certain conviction they have.

If you want godly assurance, then fix your eyes on the Lord and not on your claimed guarantees. Trust in his love and promises, while striving to obey him in every detail. Accept the humble cross that looks and feels like failure to everyone else, trusting that Jesus has it all figured out. Repent of errors in behavior and thought, as well as errors of incorrect beliefs. Don’t be like the arrogant who go around trumpeting their assurances. Let your assurance remain safe in the Lord and stay close to him.

There is only one reference to faith in John’s epistle. His teaching on knowing assurance remains fully upon a faith in what we cannot fully see or know:

“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 Jn 5:4-5)

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Truth Transcends

Truth cannot be reasoned.

[A previous series on this blog presented the concept of Truth, but this article will consider the philosophical problem.]

Philosophy is only as good as the validity of thought. Incorrect thinking leads to poor observations. To be useful, reason needs accuracy, it depends upon truth.

The problem is that human observation, logic, and reasoning are incapable of proving truth. It is a function of dependency. An object can point to a cause, but it cannot explain the cause, because it is limited as a result. The secondary result is dependent upon a primary cause. It is simple math; the first precedes whatever is second or subsequent.

As frustrating as this is for philosophers, most are not only aware of this problem, it haunts them. Human reason requires validity to justify observations. It needs truth to define right from wrong, but identifying truth itself remains out-of-reach, because it exists outside of and beyond human thought. [The same limit applies to “proving” reality or God]. Logic can point to the evidence, but not truth itself.

Truth enables, among other things, repeatable patterns of accuracy to be recognizable, but it is not part of the measurement. Rather, it causes the measuring to be valid or invalid. This is why observations and reasoned thoughts can be tracked using symbols and numbers, but truth remains outside of that system, and cannot be absolutely verified.

Numerous philosophers have openly acknowledged that the concept of truth transcends efforts to prove it (Godel, etc.). As one philosopher stated: “you cannot use reason to prove reason.” It is what is known as circular reasoning: using reason to prove itself valid. Science can attempt to measure objects and phenomena that exist, but it can’t reach anything that precedes the thought that is used to measure. In other words, our minds are our limits.

This is not to suggest that efforts have not been made to slap definitions to truth. Humanity is not about to give up its quest for god-hood.

The problem with most philosophical propositions on truth is they use a few observed trees to define the forest expanse, a tool to define the man, a few word patterns to define communication, purpose, intent. Rather, it ought to be that what is observed, derives from what is. Recognition never creates; it can give labels, but it cannot give identity.

Truth exists. It is. It is simply beyond human capture.

What follows is a brief perspective:

Truth appears to be that: Which Is; Is Independent; Is Continuous; and, Is Right

Which is. Truth exists, it “is”. Without it, there can be no such thing as understanding or knowledge. There can be no truth outside of or beyond existence. Much more than a concept or term, truth must “be”. The evidence of existence demands a being that is, that which is the unchanging and ever-present reality called Truth. Not all, however, of that which is can be called truth.

Is Independent. To be truth, that which is must be independent. Regardless of substance, nothing dependent can ever be truth. Dependent existence, reality, facts can only ever reflect degrees of recognizable truth or the line-crossing recognition of false reflection. Truth is true without any need for contrast. It exists ahead of and without dependence upon resulting logic, reason, observation, linguistics, or thought. It is true from what it is, not because it is recognized. Not all, however, of that which is and which might have some boundaries of independence, can be called truth.

Is Continuous. To retain the attribute of truth, that which is must also be continuous. Truth cannot ever stop being true, any more than it could ever become what it already is. Truth is always, has always been, and must always be. Without immeasurable continuity, whatever else may be can’t be true; at best, it can only reflect something of what is true. If it can shift over time, then what is true can at another moment be false, which violates laws of reason. Non existence also violates the law of excluded middle, for it must be true or false without change or absence. Not all, however, of that which is, which exists independently, and has continuity, like perhaps definitions, propositions, or substances, can of itself be labeled as truth.

Is Right. To be truth, that which is must rightly be true under every conceivable condition. By nature, unlike a paradox, it defines existence rightly in the concrete, abstract, moral, and theoretical arenas of observation. Such truth operates as the standard for all that is right, accurate, agreeable, reliable, and true. Truth is more than identification of accuracy, or the retention of right reasoning, it is good.

Identification of truth by limited beings will require faith. Regardless of religious preference, faith is practiced universally. Evolutionists depend upon a belief in progressive-improvements which cannot be proven. Materialists rely upon their form of faith in pre-matter. Science, in spite of its claims, simply cannot prove anything in absolute terms, thus leaving every theory and hypothesis dependent upon faith-assumptions. Atheists, who really are more like agnostics, need faith to confirm their rejection of what they cannot see, measure, or dis-prove. And yes, even Christians, rely on an informed faith—a belief in God and a plan for humanity that is supplemented by measurable evidence.

The infamous line, “I think, therefore I exist”, is a vain attempt at proof. It is just another evidence of circular reasoning, because the thinker cannot measure his own thoughts without dependence as part of what needs to be measured.

Discussion of any kind of truth must begin with an honest admission of limitations and a dependence upon faith. Those who are willing to admit that they cannot do what they want to claim—who submit to the reality of proof-limits—are capable of being reasoned with. Others are philosophical ostriches with their heads buried. To the open and honest, one can begin a reasonable conversation on how the available evidence of what we can verify points with far greater preponderance toward God.

In other words, those who accept that everyone forms beliefs with faith, are better able to receive the truth that all reasoning and observed evidence points with far greater a percentage toward the reality of God and of truth, than for any other form of belief. For example, the Bible is the only text in existence that continues to demonstrate a 100% accuracy. No other text or statement can attest to that kind of dominant proof—not even close.

Truth exists. We know it does; we can verify parts and pieces. We need it to be, in order to have anything worth saying or accepting as right. And, although it may require faith for absolute acceptance, there remains an enormous amount of sufficient-proof in the evidence we can measure, to conclude that truth is real.

The Lord our God, the Lord is One. He alone fits the definition, the reality, and the truth.

 

 

 

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