Monday, October 29, 2007

To Vote or Not to Vote

To vote or not to vote, that is the question. Many Christians are caught in a quagmire. If they vote, they are voting against the worse of two evils. There isn’t much choice. If they don’t vote, they feel they are abdicating responsibility as Christians to shine the light in their little corner of the world. So what do we do about voting? This is one of those questions that is open to debate, so rather than take a side, let’s discuss the issue. As usual, at the end, I will tell you what I think, for what it’s worth.

Many Christians believe that we have a responsibility to take a stand and vote our conscience. After all, we have an opportunity, so we should take it. To do nothing is to yield to the evil forces of the world. There may be a few good men out there to vote for so we should look for them and support them. A real “bell weather” for many Christians is the issue of abortion. To them, it is so horrible, that they will support the candidate without regard for their position on other issues.

I appreciate these arguments and would even concede that whether a Christian votes or not is between them and the Lord. I don’t think there is a “right” or “wrong” here. I look at it more as a difference in perspective. I would like to emphasize two obvious points:

1. To me it doesn’t make sense to vote for a candidate on a single issue and I am a lousy judge of character. I have seen too many say one thing and do another. Sorry, I just don’t have much faith in the system. If a candidate is against abortion but supports a policy that leads to the death of millions of innocents (collateral damage, especially from nuclear hardened weapons), which is worse?

2. We know from prophesy that the apostate Church will make an unholy alliance with the “State” and the antichrist will make an alliance with Israel. So just because they sound moral and into traditional family values or are supporters of Israel, doesn’t mean much.

The idea that we control our destiny through the voting process doesn’t hold much weight for me. Even the ancient Greeks realized that it was easy to manipulate people and their opinions. Citizens either took turns or were elected by “lot” (i.e. by chance). When you look at how our own elections are manipulated, it is appalling. It is like Kerry and Bush got together and said, “how can we completely avoid the issues and keep the voters focused on something completely inane – let’s debate our Vietnam war records! People will lose site of the economy, home security and Iraq.

But way beyond this, let’s try and put ourselves in the shoes of the early Christians, or for that matter, for most Christians down through the ages and even most of those in the non-western world today. It is quite clear in the New Testament that Christians were to do nothing one way or the other with regard to the ruling powers of their personal condition (e.g. slave or free). The Roman government wasn’t exactly enlightened. The most Christians were told to do was pray for their leaders and “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Can you imagine Christians picketing the Romans for violating their rights, for throwing them to the lions and for taxing them too heavily? When the heavy persecutions began, did they stand up and defend themselves? I would encourage you to read Miller’s Church History, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or any number of similar works.

The New Testament writers were very clear:

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20)
For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Heb. 11:14-16)
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (He10:32-39)
Just read Hebrews 10 to 13. Ask the Lord to give you a vision of your eternal destiny: But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels (Heb 12:22). Lift up your eyes to the New Jerusalem in eternity and let me ask you, how important is anything on this earth?

Saints down through the ages found no home in this world and if we are to escape the great deception bearing down on the earth today, we would do well to take our eyes off the things of this world and lift our eyes to Him and the eternity that lies beyond. A few years ago a group of Americans went to the poorest area of Haiti and met a widow with many small children and little means to provide more than a few meals a week for them. One of the American Christians asked if she could have anything, what would she want? How would I have responded? Wow, this is like asking the genie in the bottle for anything! Do you know her answer, “Just to live more in the presence of my Lord.” That meant more to her than all the world had to offer.

The real issue is seeing clearly where our citizenship lies and the true condition of this world:

that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12)
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2:15-17)
We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. (I John 5:19)
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. 12:9)

Brothers and sisters! Why would we want to put any hope in this world, the political processes or the leaders? The whole world lies in the evil one and Satan himself is called the prince of this world. (Eph 2:2) You can’t reform it. You can’t fix it. Don’t put your hope in the Republicans, Democrats, the Greens or the Independents! Satan is coming to deceive the whole world. Your only hope is to learn to live in the Spirit, in the presence of the Lord.

Okay, off my soap box. I know what is coming next. What should we do about the evil around us? All you can control is what you do. Can you control what society as a whole does on abortion? No. But if a woman/wife gets pregnant at a particularly inconvenient time, you have a decision to make. If people ask your opinion you can give it. Ultimately, all you can do is so live in the presence of the Lord that people see His life and light in you. That is what you can do.

A country music song challenges us to “learn to live like we were dying.” That is a good idea but I would say, we need to live today with an eye on eternity. Which citizenship really counts? The one you have in this world or the one in eternity?

by Dene McGriff

Friday, October 12, 2007

How To Know It’s God

by Ken Brown

When you commit yourself to the Lord and to an intimate relationship with Him, He will begin to reveal Himself to you in ways you never noticed before. Salvation or eternal life is only found in an intimate, experiential relationship with God. So, you must learn in time, by experience, to know Him (John 17:3). God’s purpose is to reveal Himself to you in an on-going relationship as you “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13), so you can learn to understand and recognize Him. And while He’s revealing Himself to you, He’s using all sorts of creative situations to conform you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). But, if you’re not careful, you can easily miss God.

The reason is that when God reveals Himself, it is not usually in ways the world would understand. This can bring us to a crisis point, as we compare what God may be doing to what we know is the conventional wisdom of the world. God will not work according to the wisdom of this world. In fact, He will usually do just the opposite. The key to knowing whether it’s God or not is found in this paraphrase of I Corinthians 1:18-21:

“The lesson that must be learned in our suffering with Christ is that, even though it looks foolish to those who are perishing without God, it is (in reality) the continual revelation of the power of God to us who are being saved. Remember what Isaiah said, ‘God will turn conventional wisdom upside down. The time will come when the so-called experts will be the ones who look foolish.’ So, where does that put the one who thinks he’s wise, or the well educated, or the one who understands the ways of the world? Isn’t God going to expose all of this pretentious nonsense? The world never had a clue when it came to knowing and understanding God. That’s why He likes to use the things that the world thinks are stupid or wrong or even unpleasant, to guide those who trust in Him on their way to salvation.”

For those of us who are learning to know God, we must not look at things with the eyes of our flesh or human understanding. We must learn to see with spiritual eyes, if we expect to see God. So, when you look at your circumstances:

- If it looks totally impossible (it’s probably God)

- If it’s going to cost you something you think you can’t afford (more than likely, it’s God)

- If it’s something unpleasant that you would rather avoid if you could (you can be pretty sure that it’s God)

- If it’s opposite conventional, worldly wisdom (that sounds like it might be God)

- If it’s going to make you trust God and stretch your faith (that’s God)

- If it’s something that makes you aware of your own weaknesses or faults (it’s God)

- If it gives you the opportunity to humble yourself (it’s definitely God)

- If it’s taking longer than you think it should (there’s a good chance it’s God)

- If it makes you look foolish to those who don’t know God (it’s God, again)

- If it makes you look like a failure to those who think they really know God (it’s probably God)

- If it makes your heart ache and makes you cry out to God for help (God’s at work, like it or not)

- If you don’t understand it, don’t know what it’s going to take to fix it, or don’t have a clue what to do about it (look for God, that’s probably Him too!)

Having a real relationship with God is an exciting adventure. It’s unpredictable because it will usually contradict anything we know or can reason in our mind. God wants to teach us to trust Him, and the only way we can learn to do that is to submit to Him and hang on!

But understand this, the journey will take you places you don’t want to go, force you to do things you don’t want to do, cause you to feel things you never wanted to feel and know things about yourself that you never wanted to know. If you submit yourself to God, He will begin to tear you down, so He can rebuild you in the image of His Son. The tearing down and rebuilding process will be exciting, perplexing, excruciating, joyful, fulfilling and depressing. And many times you won’t understand it – except when you’re able to look back and see what God did and know how you changed!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


By Paul Proctor
October 10, 2007

What do you suppose it means when a 2008 presidential candidate named Barack Obama tells an evangelical church on the campaign trail, "I am confident we can create a kingdom right here on Earth," even though Jesus Christ told Pilate shortly before His crucifixion: "My Kingdom is not of this world"? (John 18:36)

And what do you suppose it means when our current compassionate conservative born again evangelical president says in an interview, "…I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God" when Jesus Himself said: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me"? (John 14:6)

And what do you suppose it means when Colorado Community Church in Englewood Colorado uses a violent video game as a "recruiting tool" to draw kids into their basement where a twelve year old participant proclaims: "It's just fun blowing people up"?

And what do you suppose it means when a church called The Gathering in Sevierville, Tennessee sends out 50,000 pamphlets advertising "Red Hot Sex" to arouse nearby residents into attending their services?

And what do you suppose it means when churches like The First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, Tennessee bring in an organization called XXX Church and hosts a porn-themed Sunday to try and address their church's own addiction to pornography?

And what do you suppose it means when the children's pastor at Christ Church in Nashville publicly endorses an 11-inch plastic Jesus doll as a teaching tool for kids, when the second commandment clearly states: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…"? (Exodus 20:4)

And what do you suppose it means when Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee purposely hides the Gospel from those who need to hear it behind community service projects and volunteerism while Pastor Ron Edmonson declares: "All our volunteers have been asked to invest expecting nothing in return" when Jesus specifically commanded Christians 2000 years ago to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15)

In an August 2000 article titled "The People's Church," I posed the following question:

As the doors are all thrown open to anyone and anything, I ask you, is the church affecting the culture or is the culture infecting the church? Who is proselytizing whom here? Look around and tell me what you see.

I would say the answer to that seven-year old question is now obvious, wouldn't you?

So what does it all mean?

Here's a clue:

"For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." - Acts 28:27

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More on Suffering

by Ken Brown

I’ve talked about this in several of the previous articles, but I have more to say. The religious hucksters love to prey on the ignorant and unsuspecting by preaching a gospel that promises emotional and material blessing now to those who would embrace it. "Come to God and get in on the good life that He promises and that only He can give." And the good life described by these deceptive entrepreneurs is not a future life with God in the eternal state, but a life in the present where all their desires (if tempered by the right moral values) are fulfilled. You would think these guys were gleaning their message from Hollywood and Jack Nicholson movies: "Did you ever think that maybe this is as good as it gets?"

If you went to the Christian Book Store (please don’t), you’d see shelf after shelf of religious fantasies with titles like the currently popular "Your Best Life Now". Am I missing something here? Is not the underlying theme of everything God has ever revealed to man the promise of something better in the next life? Now, I’m not a man who is generally prone to fear or depression, but if I truly believed that this is as good as it gets, I’d be quickly driven to a deep, dark despair from which there would be no return. My hope for a future eternity with a righteous and holy God is the reason I get up in the morning.

So, what’s my point? There’s a huge gulf that separates truth from the message heard by most of those who attend the various religious institutions or look for answers in religious books. Let me explain. Since the fall of man, this life was never meant to be easy or carefree. Remember the curse described in Genesis 3? It was the result of man’s disobedience and every aspect of the curse made this life more difficult and problematic. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:13-14 could not be more clear when He describes the life of the believer as one that is compressed by the pressure of obstacles that must be overcome.

OK, there’s a bigger point I have to make here. The fact is this: coming to God does not make this life better or easier; it makes this life even harder and more difficult. Let’s review. When we truly submit our lives to God and to His purpose (and remember what that purpose is – to conform us to the image of His Son), we are quickly introduced to the concept of suffering. You can count on it. Things that never went wrong when you were ignorant of truth and wallowing in error will go completely nuts when you embrace truth. People who were loyal to you, who would follow you into battle, who would give you the shirt off their back will abandon you. People you love will hurt you. And to your total amazement, you will hurt people you love.

And when you understand the purpose of God and the fact that it is not simply a concept to be understood in the mind, but a reality that must be experienced in life, then suffering is recognized as part of the package. That’s why today’s "bless me" gospel is so deceptive. Our carnal nature is such that experiencing the kind of blessings that religion promises can never change us. Religion always appeals to the flesh, thus the promise of the things we all want. Yet, God demands that we reject our flesh and what we want and embrace what He requires. Getting what we want will never change us. God knows, and we have to accept the fact, that suffering is what gives us the opportunities to change in the ways that He wants us to change.

It is only the hurtful circumstances and the stressful situations that push us into a corner, forcing us to a point of decision. Am I going to be obedient to what I know God wants or not? Am I going to obey my carnal nature or reject it and suffer the consequences? Am I going to manipulate my options and try to avoid this unpleasantness or recognize it as God working in my life and submit to it? Or, if the situation is unavoidable, am I going to be bitter and angry over it, or am I going to ask God to help me understand it and benefit from it. Am I going to allow God to humble me, embarrass me, hurt me, isolate me and ask me to give up the things I want or that I think I need? In other words, am I going to submit to God so He can continually put me in situations where I have the opportunity to reject my flesh?

Even Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8) and His willingness to suffer became the example we are all encouraged to follow (I Peter 2:21). We are to share in His suffering (Philippians 3:10, I Peter 4:13) and have no reason to expect that we will share in His glory if we don’t (Romans 8:17). And as I have argued before, if the plan and purpose of God is that we submit to Him and be changed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), then change is required. And further, if suffering in all its various forms is what God uses to facilitate that change, then what can I say about those who want to avoid suffering? What is the true spiritual condition of all those folks out there who will accept only a message that promises blessing?

I know what the problem is. This whole business about suffering just sounds wrong. It’s negative. It’s scary. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not what we want to hear. It doesn’t make us feel good. You certainly can’t build a church on it. But these last seven statements all come from our carnal nature. So, there is a bottom line here. I talk about it in the article "Avoiding the Dog and Hog Disease, Part 2: Self Preservation and Materialism". When we truly submit to God and to His purpose (I mean completely surrender and learn to be honest and transparent with Him), then we learn two things: the first is that we must embrace suffering (the subject of this article); the second is that the things that are important to religious institutions (more specifically, moral values) are not necessarily important to God. This second thing will be the subject of a future article.

But for now, let’s concentrate on the concept of embracing suffering. The Book of I Peter is the example I like to use and I’ll try to be brief. Peter understood suffering. He talks about it in every chapter of this letter, five chapters with five different aspects of suffering. In chapter one he explains that suffering is necessary to prove the genuineness of our faith (verse 7). The word translated "trial" in most translations is dokimion from the verb dokimazo and is a test to prove whether or not something is real or acceptable. In this case the meaning is clear. God uses suffering in our lives to test us to see if our faith is real.

And let’s be clear on this point. Faith (pistis) is not what we believe or accept as true in our minds. In Scripture, faith describes our real experiences with God (Hebrews 11). Faith defines our relationship with Him, a personal relationship in which we are submitted to Him and He is personally involved in our lives to accomplish His plan and purpose. And Peter tells us that God uses suffering to test the reality of that relationship. What’s the application here? When we encounter difficulties, when we suffer, what is our response? Do we take it patiently (James 1:3) and seek to understand God’s reason for allowing it? Do we try to be Christ-like in our response to it so we can learn and grow from the experience? Or do we try to avoid it or rebel against it?

And, we should emphasize this point as well; the test is for our good, not God’s. He knows what we’re going to do before we ever do it. But the purpose of it is to teach us. When we respond correctly, we have a sense of His approval; but when we don’t, it exposes our weakness. And when we fail, in His mercy He allows us to take the test again. If we’re truly submitted to Him, we recognize our failure, repent and determine to pass the test the next time we face it. If we’re not submitted to Him, we continue to resist. Then reality is revealed, maybe not to us (because we’re so good at deceiving ourselves), but to Him.

In chapter two Peter talks about undeserved suffering (verses 20 - 23) and the fact that it is unavoidable in the believer’s life. Why is undeserved suffering required? Because when we suffer in this way it gives us the opportunity to be Christ-like. He wasn’t guilty of anything. He wasn’t deceitful in any way. Yet, when He suffered abuse, He didn’t fight back or retaliate in any way. He simply trusted His Father. Given our ability to protect ourselves, justify ourselves and keep others from taking advantage of us in any way, underserved suffering is a supreme test of our willingness to control our flesh. And when we do, God is pleased, because we have just demonstrated an important aspect of the character and nature of His Son.

Chapter three talks about suffering for the sake of righteousness (verse 14). The word in the text is dikaiosune and describes what is just or right. For every believer righteousness is the fulfillment of all that God is. We are to be partakers of His divine nature (II Peter 1:4). And if we are, then we determine to be like Him and do what He does. Of course this will cause conflicts in our lives as we refuse to follow our flesh, cave in to the pressures the world puts on us or give in to the temptations of evil. As Peter cautions in this same verse, we shouldn’t be afraid of the opposition this brings. Again, it proves a reality in our lives: are we more concerned about God’s approval or do we take the deceptively easy way out and act in a way that gains the approval of those around us.

Suffering because you bear the name of Christ is found in chapter four (verse 14). Here Peter tells us that when we suffer the abuse of others because of our obvious devotion to Him, we’re fortunate. Why? Because it is certain evidence that the Spirit of God is resting on us. Talk about a reality check, this is certainly it. When even unbelievers (as ignorant and rebellious as they are) recognize God in your life and abuse you for it, then it’s real!

Then in chapter five, and this is my favorite one; Peter talks about suffering at the hands of evil (verses 6-10). And, if you’re familiar with what I’ve said in previous articles on so-called spiritual warfare, I’m not big on yelling at the devil or making false claims of authority that I don’t have where he’s concerned. The key to avoiding unnecessary suffering at the hands of evil is and always will be humility (as in most other cases, just the opposite of what religion claims). Humility is how Peter starts this paragraph on suffering. Of course, anyone familiar with the Gospel accounts knows that even Jesus suffered at the hands of evil. Yes, when it was the Father’s plan, Jesus exposed and triumphed over evil; but by the same token, when it was His plan Jesus suffered the abuse of evil and was powerless to avoid it.

And it is not possible for us to avoid it either, as Peter makes clear in verse 9 when he tells us that this kind of suffering is appointed to the whole brotherhood of believers. Isn’t it strange how religious types want to believe they can control their own fate? They want to believe they have power over the devil and his imps. It’s a fleshly response coming out of religious institutions that are purposely crafted to appeal to the flesh. Only God has power over the devil and the devil is the prince (ruler) of this world (John 12:31) and the god of this world (II Corinthians 4:4).

But this is the good part. Let me translate verse 10 for you. This is what it says: "And the God Who is generous in giving His favor and blessing, the One Who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will make you everything that He wants you to be, then you’ll never change, you’ll never suffer again and that’s the way it will be forever." What a fantastic promise! Of course the part about suffering "a little while" is God’s perspective. We may groan and moan and wonder "how long, Oh Lord", but it really is just a short time.

And here I have to quote Paul, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present life cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us." So, those who have bought into religion and its empty promises can have their best life now, if that’s what they choose. I’d rather have the life that God has chosen for me, including all the suffering that He has determined, so I can have my best life for all eternity.