Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?

“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” (or similar), is a question I frequently hear from the lips of new or immature Christians who have often been battling an area of sin, are guilt ridden and are scared that God will or has already kicked them out of the ‘family’ because he won’t stand for their weakness’ any further. The image is one of a shouting boss or angry dad who, “Won’t put up with your incompetence any longer!”

However, the answer to their question and the balm to their fears biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. John MacArthur once said, “If you could lose your salvation you would.” With respect to John MacArthur, I’d go a step further and say that if I could lose my salvation I already would have.

When people come to know Christ as their Saviour, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their eternal security. Jude said, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” – Jude 24. Jude knows that his half-brother Jesus is a God who is All-Powerful, and it’s his power that is able to keep the believer from falling, not yours or mine. It is up to him, not us, to present us before his glorious presence.

Jesus proclaimed, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” – John 10:28-29b

In other words, both Jesus and the Father have us firmly grasped in their hands. Think about it, they are so amazingly strong, who could possibly separate us from their holds? That’s a firm grip I’m thinking.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” If believers did not have eternal security, the sealing could not actually be to the day of redemption, but only to the day of sinning, apostasy, or disbelief. And then John 3:15-16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will “have eternal life.” Logically then, if a person were to be promised eternal life, but then have it taken away, it was never “eternal” to begin with. That means then that if eternal security isn’t true, the promises of eternal life in the Bible would be lies.

Ah… But What About Hebrews 6?

There are many people who have taught (and others sadly still teach today) that Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly shows that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. I admit, that at a cursory reading, it does seem that this interpretation is correct. But, as it is with many scriptures, we need to be careful about not getting into the‘first glance then interpret habit’. So, let’s slow down and take a close look at this passage and see what it really is saying.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” – Hebrews 6:4-6

This passage begs the question, “How can one be ‘enlightened’ and fall away?” It does seem to be speaking of someone losing his or her salvation.

Or does it?…

It’s important to know that this section of Hebrews is talking about apostates and heretics who may have, to some degree, embraced the gospel presented to them, but have now abandoned it. However, if we want to fully understand what is being said here we need to also know context. For instance, it’s important to know how the believers who originally read this message would have understood the phrase, “those who have once been enlightened”. Today, we might think it means that they were enlightened about the truth, or that they were regenerated. But before we add our cultural or 21st century interpretation to this passage we need to first ask what the intent of the original author was, and how would his readers have understood it?

Glad you asked…

What this passage is speaking about is of certain individuals who were involved, perhaps heavily involved, in a church community. They would have heard the gospel, and would have seen the Spirit working in the lives of the Believers. They most likely would have even received some of the blessings of being part of a covenant community, even probably publicly confessing Jesus and then getting themselves dunked ‘baptized’. By the way, it’s important to note in light of this passage, that in many instances, the early Christian writers spoke to conversion and baptism as “enlightenment”.

Back to the context. The context leads us to understand that those same people just described, never had a saving knowledge of Jesus. They only “tasted” or “sampled” him. They were never truly converted to him by faith.

Think about it this way. There is a big difference between marrying someone and just going out on a few dates with them. Anyone can learn things about Jesus, even come to admire him, and even enjoy being part of a community that celebrates him, yet still have no real lasting commitment to him.

Another example is Costco. Yes, I said Costco and yes, I mean the big giant corporation. Anyways, Deb & I are card carrying members and will go to buy and experience the perceived savings and the occasional deals that the blessed membership brings to our lives.

On occasion, one or both of our boys will come along, but for very different reasons. They are “enlightened” by, and enjoy many of the same goodies that Deb & I bring home, but they aren’t members and so can’t experience the same benefits of being a member that the totalitarian corporation can bring them. They do not have access to the inner sanctum on their own. They simply come with us to “taste” the samples that are given out. They are in Costco, but not of Costco.

We see this today. There are people who attend church for years, involve themselves in a lot of good things, even have a perfect attendance record, but aren’t saved. They’ve been “enlightened” by seeing God at work, but have only just “tasted” or “sampled” what was going on, never really being a part of it. Never buying the membership card as it were.

To paraphrase Scripture, they were “in the church, but not of the Church.” In the end I think we can all understand that to be a baptized member of a church, and to be “enlightened” by the life seen in the Church and seeing God at work, doesn’t mean the same thing. In other words, “enlightened” does not necessarily mean “saved.”

But Doesn’t ‘Fallen Away” mean That They Were Saved At Some Point?

That still leaves an important question unanswered. If the ‘those’ is someone who has ‘tasted’ of the Church, has seen what’s been going on and seen God at work, has been ‘in the church, but not of the Church,’ what exactly have they ‘fallen away’ from that they can’t be ‘restore[ed] again to through repentance’? Doesn’t that imply that they were originally brought to a place of repentance? Doesn’t ‘fallen away’ mean that they were at a place to have fallen away from? In other words, weren’t they saved at some point?

John Calvin states that the unsaved person in this situation holds onto the “shadow” instead of the “substance.” This, Calvin proposes, is what is called a “temporary faith.”

Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says that temporary faith is most likely “grounded in the emotional life and seeks personal enjoyment rather than the glory of God.” That’s why it is not difficult to understand why this kind of false faith is quickly lost when God or the church stops being be fun, or when it simply loses its appeal. But for those of us who have taken a hold of the substance – Jesus Christ – our salvation, from beginning to end, is undergirded by God. Understanding this helps us I think understand the parable of the seed in Matthew’s Gospel.

Three Indicators That You’re Truly Saved

For those of you who still are uncertain about whether you are saved or not, the following is what I share with those people who come to me with heart felt questions about their security in Christ. I discovered over the years that The Apostle John was gracious enough to give us three indicators that help us to know that our salvation is owned in our hearts.

1) We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so love him with our whole heart.

You should have confidence in your salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1 John 5:11-13. John doesn’t want people to doubt. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus.

You believe he is the Christ – the Messiah, 1 John 2:22.

You believe he is the Son of God, 1 John 5:10.

You believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2.

If you get your theology wrong about Jesus you’ll not have eternal life. But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you do believe in his only Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and that you believe that he is who he claims to be… God come in the flesh. As we grasp this great truth the great truth begins to grasp our heart and we begin to love God with our whole selves. As a result, we see the other two indicators begin to take root in our faith journey.

2) We Aim to Live Righteously

You should also have confidence if you live a righteous life; 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24. Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness – should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. We see this also in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.

This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, if you live a life where your radar is continually being pulled back to a morally righteous life (even though you will stumble at times), you should have confidence. And in case this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, 1 John 1:9-10.

3) We love other Christians

You should also have confidence if you love other Christians, 1 John 3:14. Even the grumpy and mean ones or the ones who don’t seem to love back. None of that matters. In other words, if you hate like Cain you don’t have life, but if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters no matter how they respond (or not respond), then true relationship with Jesus is a marker in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. Keep in mind, these are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We aspire to live a righteous life. We are generous in love toward other Christians.

Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people; 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. None of the three are optional. All must be present and growing in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance.

John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you are seeing these become growing habits and desires, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

Be Encouraged

On those day where you may still feel less than encouraged, you may find your heart blessed by these words of Charles Spurgeon taken from a sermon he preached Sunday Morning, March 23, 1856, At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

“If Christians can fall away, and cease to be Christians, they cannot be renewed again to repentance. “But,” says one, “You say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that replies against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So, God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.”

After all is said, I still believe that the most powerful argument for eternal security in our salvation is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which speaks to the fact that our security is based on God’s love for the ones he has redeemed.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Insert image here (Paul’s mike drop…)

Is Suicide The Unforgivable Sin?

I love travel documentaries and one of my favourites has been, “Parts Unknown” on CNN hosted by Anthony Bourdain. You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Anthony was found dead by suicide this past Friday June 8th2018. According to his mother, Anthony had everything to live for. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” Gladys Bourdain told the New York Times.

Another celebrity, Kate Spade, sounded happy the night before her body was found in her New York City apartment last Tuesday morning. “There was no indication and no warning she would do this,” her husband Andy Spade said in a heart-wrenching statement published in the Times.

For more than four decades Antoon Leenaars has tried to construct a theory to explain why people kill themselves. Among his findings is that those who die by suicide are often tragically gifted at concealing their true intentions, even from themselves. “We find it in the suicide notes and in the psychological autopsies,” said Leenaars, a Windsor psychologist whose archive of more than 2,000 suicide notes is believed the largest collection of its kind in the world. “There’s both a conscious and unconscious intent to be deceptive, to hide, to mask,” he said.

I think that’s why, for the most part, we are often surprised when someone takes their own life. I haven’t personally experienced a close friend or family member commit suicide, yet I have been around many others who have had close friends or family take their lives, and I can tell you that it can be terribly confusing and heartbreaking. For the friends and family of that person who has taken their own lives, grief can be like a wild animal inside, thrashing to get out. There are times It won’t be contained, spilling out in sobs and screams, while at other times it turns inward, causing those left behind to desperately examine every interaction over the weeks and days preceding their loved one’s death, wondering what they could have done differently. It’s a terrible place to be.

Does the bible say anything about committing suicide?

Is suicide the unforgivable sin? Does the person who self kills go immediately to hell? Within the church community, this controversial topic has unfortunately often been addressed in emotional ways, not through biblical analysis. For example, for those who grew up Roman Catholic the prevailing view is that suicide is definitely a mortal sin, irretrievably sending people to hell. Influenced by the arguments of Augustine and Aquinas, this belief dominated through the Reformation. This of course causes much angst and problems for the survivor to process through. As a result, the approach is most often an emotional one. Besides this traditional position of the Catholic Church, we encounter three others:

1) A true Christian would never commit suicide since God wouldn’t allow it.

2) A Christian may commit suicide but would lose his salvation.

3) A Christian may commit suicide without losing his salvation.

As purposeful as those statements are, we still need to ask what the Bible, not tradition or opinion says. As much as we don’t have all the answers, let’s begin by talking about those truths we do know as revealed in God’s Word.

We know that humanity is totally depraved (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-18). Of course, we should understand that this doesn’t mean we’re as evil as we could be, but rather that every human capacity – intellect, heart, emotions, will – is tainted by sin. We also know that even after regeneration, a Christian is capable of committing any sin except the unforgiveable one. We see the unforgivable sin mentioned in Mark 3:25-32 and Matthew 12:32. A study of these passages leads us to the conclusion that they are referring to the continual rejection of the Holy Spirit in the work of conversion, ultimately referring to a committed unbeliever.

I think that it’s important to remember as well, that a believer is quite capable of taking the life of someone else, as David did in the case of Uriah, without this action invalidating his salvation. After all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has forgiven all of our sin – past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:11-18). Still, suicide is a serious offense against God because it represents arrogant violation of the gift of life the Creator has given. However, if a genuine believer is theoretically capable of taking another’s life, why is it impossible to conceive he or she could ever take his or her own?

The truth is that the sin a Christian will commit tomorrow was forgiven at Calvary – where Jesus justified us, declaring us positionally righteous. He accomplished this work through one single offering that didn’t need to be repeated again. On the cross Jesus didn’t make us justifiable; he made us justified (Romans 3:23-26; 8:29-30).

Granted, some point out that Scripture contains no instance of a believer committing suicide, while it includes many cases of unbelievers doing so, thus coming to the conclusion that believers simply don’t (won’t) commit suicide. But this is an argument from silence. Scripture doesn’t explicitly mention many things in life. Moreover, some hold suicide robs a Christian of her salvation because it doesn’t provide an opportunity for repentance. But if you were to die right now, would there be any unconfessed sin in your life? I think that we could only say that yes, of course there would be.

The sacrifice that covers the unconfessed sins we have remaining until death is the same sacrifice that would cover a sin like suicide. Suicide is not what determines whether a person gains entrance into heaven anyways. If an unsaved person commits suicide, she has done nothing but “expedite” her journey to hell. However, that person who committed suicide will ultimately be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because she committed suicide. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We should also point out, however, that no one truly knows what was happening in a person’s heart the moment he died. Some people have “deathbed conversions” and accept Christ in the moments before death. It is possible that Anthony Bourdain could have had a last-second change of heart and cry out for God’s mercy, we don’t know, but if he did, we can know that God’s mercy would have reached him even there.

Back to our original question. Issuicide the unforgivable sin? If we’ve established that a Christian is capable of committing any sin, why can’t we conceive that someone could commit the sin of suicide? And if we believe Jesus’ blood is capable of forgiving any sin, wouldn’t his blood cover this sin too? The wonderful truth of the matter is that if Jesus’ sacrifice has made believers perfect forever (look up Hebrews 7:28-10:14), could any sin remove their salvation? Based on scripture, I’d have to say a resounding no – including suicide.

Further to this point, if someone like Moses (and Job, and Elijah, and Jeremiah) came to a point where he wished God would take his life, couldn’t a believer with schizophrenia or extreme depression, who lacks Moses’ strength of character, make this wish a reality? Martin Luther believed that a true believer could be oppressed by demonic powers and thus driven to the point of suicide. The suicide of a believer is evidence that anyone can struggle with despair and that our enemy, Satan, is “a murderer from the beginning” – John 8:44

Having said that, on the basis of Scripture, history, and the experience of God’s people – as well as the indwelling Spirit and the means of grace in the church – it’s most likely that suicides will be rare (though not impossible) for genuine believers.

How should we respond to a survivor?

Even still, when a suicide does occur, we should seek to comfort, not accuse. Instead of identifying the horrors we should seek to comfort the hurting. Our chief focus should be on that about which God has said much (salvation), not on that about which he’s said little (suicide).

Sometimes the best thing we can say to a survivor (friend or family member of someone who took their own life) is NOTHING! In fact, sometimes the best reaction is no words at all, but a hug. There is much comfort that comes with the caring presence of friends, and the assurance others are praying for them. Even still, if you do feel led to say anything, here are some examples you can use that I have found helpful as I have come along side those who are hurting.

“Tell me a favourite memory of…”

“I love you, and my prayers are with you.”

“How can I help you today?” (Following through with errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, going to church with them, etc.)

“I am so sorry for your loss. Words fail.”

“I’m here.”

The best advice to anyone who wants to comfort a suicide survivor is: “Show up, let them see you care, and respect the griever’s right to feel bad for a while (guilt, anger, sadness, etc.). Too many survivors reported “friends” who avoided them altogether after their loved ones’ suicides rather than to risk saying the wrong thing. Please don’t do that, because that hurts most of all.

When The Darkness Overwhelms

Guest post from Quina Aragon   originally posted NOVEMBER 8, 2017

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Disheartening conversations. Division within the body of Christ. Fear for my husband’s safety as he drives. Family members facing heart-wrenching trials. Friends suffering physically, emotionally, spiritually. Strained relationships. And those are just my more immediate concerns.

There’s the global persecution of Christians, terrorism, natural disasters, mass shootings, and more. Oh yeah, and my own struggles with idolatry, apathy, and distrust of God’s goodness.

Has anyone else felt like the darkness—both within and without—might just consume you lately?

TRUE LIGHT

Last year I studied the Gospel of John in my Bible Study Fellowship group. One of the themes is light versus darkness.

In John 1, Jesus is referred to as “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). He is “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Yet when the true light came into the world, the world didn’t recognize him, nor his own people receive him.

Why did the majority of people reject Jesus? John tells us: “the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

People may have loved the darkness, but the darkness couldn’t overcome the light. Jesus didn’t come in vain. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Surrounded by the darkness of this world, Jesus transformed children of darkness into children of light. He promised that “whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

DARK NIGHT, DARK DAY

Fast forward to the night before his death. After Jesus washes Judas’s feet and shares a meal with him, Judas leaves to betray Jesus for the price of a slave. “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30).

A dark night indeed.

On the same night Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, the rest of his friends abandon him (Matt. 26:56). Fully aware his friends were about to fail him, Jesus offers them words of comfort: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Overcome the world? Really? The next day, Jesus was nailed to a cross, consumed by physical and spiritual darkness (Matt. 27:45-46).

But it is there—in midday darkness, suffering the greatest injustice of all time—that Jesus was actually defeating the darkness of this world (Mark 15:33-34Acts 2:36Is. 53:3-10). This is why he could call the cross—the very tool used to shame and punish criminals—his glory (John 13:31-32Heb. 12:2).

Jesus bore our darkness in his body and faced the wrath of God on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21Romans 5:9Is. 53:10). On that third day he rose in victory over our sin, death, Satan—all the darkness (Col. 2:13-15). Jesus overcame the darkness.

IN THE LIGHT, WE OVERCOME

What does this mean for us here and now? In his epistle, the apostle John tells us: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5). This means that if you’re in Christ, you’re in the light—the very light who overcame all of the world’s darkness.

Because Jesus overcame all that darkness for us, we too will overcome the world and all its darkness. 

Right now we face trials of all kinds: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword (Rom. 8:35). “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” (Rom. 8:36) Yet because we are in the light himself, we know that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

We pray now for deliverance, protection, healing, and all kinds of help. Amazingly, we often see God answer with a resounding, “Yes!” to our persistent prayers. But we don’t get to say what God knows is best for us here and now. Sometimes he says, “No,” and in his providence the cancer stays, the slander persists, the violence attacks.

We look to him, we cry out to him, and we trust in him—even as the darkness closes in. Whether on this side of eternity or the other, he will make right every wrong (Is 61:112 Cor. 4:17). No darkness can thwart the amazing plan of God to bring us safely into his kingdom, be it through many tribulations (2 Tim. 4:18Acts 14:22).

Because of Jesus, we can and will overcome the darkness, both within and without. In him, life will swallow up death (1 Cor. 15:51-57). In him, light will consume the darkness (Rev. 21:23-25). We may feel overwhelmed by the darkness, but it will never consume us.

The light is our hope, and he is risen. So we will rise.

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” (Rev. 21:23-25)

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Quina Aragon is a wife, mother, and artist who enjoys copyediting, creating spoken-word videos, and writing for her personal blog and The Witness. She lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a member of Living Faith Bible Fellowship.

Five Ways to Respond to the Horrific Church Shooting in Texas

On November 5th 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelly burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed (at least) 26 people and shot approximately 20 more. The youngest victim was reportedly two and the oldest was in their 70s. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was also murdered. This little town near San Antonio is reeling in agony. For them, this tragedy is Apocalyptic in scale.

Families were decimated, an entire community for the rest of time will be remembered as the place where it happened. No doubt, this little hamlet of civilization has been flooded with news agencies from around the world, agents with the FBI and ATF, ambulance-chasing opportunists of the worst varieties, and well-meaning helping hands (who often get in the way). Whenever schools resume, they will need an army of people trained in crisis therapy. Life will not get back to “normal” in this town for a long, long time – if ever.

I don’t know if anyone is able to tell us the real motive behind the shootings yet. We don’t know with certainty if it was religiously motivated or not, but if it is an attack on Christianity,  is it to be expected?

Whatever the reasons, we do know one thing… It’s evil. How do we (Christians) respond in the face of evil? As disciple’s of Jesus we need to go to our master to find out. Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Tertullian, one of the 2nd century Church Fathers wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This implies that the church grows as others see the way Christians respond to death. The martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Could we see the beginnings of a regrowth of the church through the blood of martyrs?

Last year was the worst in the past 25 years for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries.

It was just two and a half years ago that nine people were murdered during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, S.C.  How did Christians in Charleston react in the face of evil? They said to the shooter, “I forgive you.” This is not natural. It is supernatural. But it’s what Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you…” – Matthew 5:44

Persecution doesn’t just come from a person bent on murder. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples. I’ve personally witnessed anti-Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment and in some cases the growing outright persecutions?

I am convinced that what we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians nearing the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, need to understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception.

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response to the horrific shootings in Texas? There are many more, but allow me to share five.

1) PRAY

No matter how frequently such persecutions occur and increase, our first response should always be the same: turn to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

“Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart. Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait. But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.”

2) GRIEVE

As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep. That was one of the identifying markers of Jesus. “Jesus wept.” – John 11:35. Yet in times of tragedy we just might be tempted instead to try to explain away and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. When a friend or co-worker is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

The truth is, we want to know. We want to bring comfort and we want to “fix it.” But in our attempts to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a project to be fixed – they are real people who at those moments just want and need love. Most often without words… more often only with your presence. A hug along with the words, “I’m so sorry” can be the most therapeutic and amazing words and actions that your friend needs at that moment.

3) LOVE

The death of anyone should lead to grieving, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. Loving is not easy especially if it for the ‘murderer – the offender. It’s a sacrifice, but we need to remember that Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

4) HOPE

I think that we Christians should certainly support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, however we should also be realistic about the root cause and the ultimate solution. We need to always be quick to recognize that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. The shooting of these folks is First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs TX, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. At its most fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die in this church is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Knowing this should cause us to look away from superficial hope during these times of tragedy.The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating sin & death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most-high God, who is Sovereign and good, able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

5) MEANWHILE…

Yes, we continue to live in a fallen world where evil flourishes. However, one day when the Lord returns, evil will be defeated forever. And that is the hope Christians have. Meanwhile, let us pray for those who are persecuting the church and for those who are controlled by evil. And let us live so that others may know Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion and gives us all a hope for a future where there will be no death or evil. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

What to Do If You’re Chronically Frustrated at Church

September 14, 2017                                                  by: Brett McCracken

Stopping the Cycle of Discontent

We live in an age of constant dissatisfaction. Because of our digital connectedness and access to everything all the time, we have never been more aware of the “other options” at our disposal and how what we have stacks up against what we want (or what Instagram or Facebook reveals that others have). Furthermore, the deeply ingrained nature of consumerism tells us to never settle for what we have but always to strive for more and better. And so we live in a constant state of glass-half-empty unsettledness, hyperaware of what could be a better fit for us, what might make us happier and more comfortable.

This attitude is everywhere, including in our churches. Most of us can relate to feeling unsettled and a bit disgruntled in our churches. The reasons are manifold. The pastors never seem to speak to the current-event topics that occupy your mind and stir your heart. The worship band always adds annoying contemporary additions to perfectly good old hymns. Your suggestions for social justice initiatives or small-group curriculum never gain momentum. Everything about the church is just so predictable. Week after week it’s the same thing. It doesn’t feel relevant to what’s happening in the world, at least as you see it.

Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem?

These feelings of frustration are aggravated by the constancy of media, which bombards us with images and ideas and other stimuli that are dynamic and always changing. Any church would feel stifling and boring by comparison! Furthermore, the nature of social media is predominantly negative, conditioning us to view the world through the lenses of grievance and complaint. We naturally bring these lenses to bear in how we see our church. We have eyes to see what’s wrong, but no patience to dwell in the goodness of what’s right. What starts as small nitpicky things grow in our minds over time, snowballing to become larger grievances that eventually become deal breakers. We slowly disengage from the church, from a place of bitterness and anger, or we just leave.

How can we stop this cycle? Rather than letting dissatisfaction fester to the point that we leave the church or become embittered, what can we do to deal with our frustrations?

1. Search your own heart.

The pervasive “culture of complaint” in today’s internet age has led us to focus our anger and frustration externally, blaming this person or that institution for the things that are wrong. But what about us? What role is our own sin playing in our disgruntled state? Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem? Perhaps we should start where G.K. Chesterton starts when he answered the question, “What is wrong with the world?” with two simple words: “I am.”

2. Focus on God.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the nitpicky particularities of church that we forget what it is all about. We are there not to be comfortable, nor to be affirmed in our preferences. We are there to worship God; to hear from him; to proclaim his glory and to rest in his goodness. Choosing this posture can go a long way in softening our edginess about church. Don’t look inward in worship, rehashing bitterness in your heart. Don’t look around you either, finding fault in what your fellow churchgoers or leaders are doing. Look upward to God. Focus your gaze on him. That’s why you’re there.

3. Talk to your leaders.

Another unfortunate way social media is changing us is that it frames our complaints in a distant, anonymous, decontextualized way. We air grievances with the ease of a tweet, with the protective buffer of screens and distance, but we rarely do the harder work of hashing things out in person, in longer, more nuanced, and more civil conversations. But this is crucial in a church community.

If you have problems or grievances about the church, talk to your leaders in person. Emails aren’t the best. Texts are worse. Ask them for a meeting, one where you do as much listening as talking. Frame your issues not as demands or critiques but as observations and suggestions. And approach it all in a spirit of love and edification. This is not about you and your comfort; it’s about you as one member seeking to strengthen the whole body.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is the managing editor of Biola Magazine at Biola University and the author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters. He writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition website, Christianity TodayRelevant, and his website, BrettMcCracken.com.

10 Images of Hope & Comfort Found In The 23rd Psalm

Often when attending a funeral, we hear comments and words that are meant to bring comfort. Even before someone passes away, we will look to offer the right words to share with the one about to leave us. Too often however we stumble over the right thing to say, making us feel like a fish out of water in an already uncomfortable situation. The question is, just what word does one say (or not)?

In my Pastoral experience over the years, I have found that coming back to the word of God is always the best way to share hope and comfort. More specifically I have found Psalm 23 to be the most comforting as it parallels God’s relationship with us. These inspired words speak to the journey each one of us makes through our life’s experience, and explains how God wants to walk with us through the stages of life as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 was written by David who was a great leader in the history of the nation of Israel. He was a general in the army and later on in his life became the King of Israel. But prior to any of this David was a shepherd who, as a boy, took care of his father’s flocks. As a result, David knew first-hand about the relationship between the sheep and the Shepherd. In this wonderful Psalm, David shares with us 10 images of hope & comfort that he learned through his experiences with his sheep, but even more importantly with his shepherd.

1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – Verse 1

The shepherd is the one who takes care of the flock. He knows his flock; he knows the sheep; he understands the needs of the flock – but also of each of the sheep individually. He knows the sheep who have gotten into the brambles and need grooming or who has been injured and need special care to grow strong, or which ones like to run away from the flock and go exploring; which sometimes gets that sheep in trouble because there are wolves out there. The shepherd knows the sheep and he cares for each and every one according to their needs because the Shepherd loves the sheep (you & me).

2 “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” – Verse 2a

Sheep will not lie down if they’re hungry, or if there is a threat of danger, or if they are irritated. Sheep will not rest if it is not at peace. Sheep will not drink from a fast-moving stream. They get spooked and so then regardless of how thirsty they are they will wander up and down the bank bleating and crying, knowing they need water to live but too jittery to take a drink. But the shepherd calms the sheep simply by being there and finds that quiet pool, that calm spot where the sheep can relax and get the refreshment they need. Do the cares of life make you jittery at times? Do you long for a place of calmness and refreshment? Trusting the Shepherd brings peace and calmness to our lives, and so the question needs to be asked, ‘Do you know the Shepherd’?

3 “He leads me beside still waters.” – Verse 2b

Sheep will not drink from a fast-moving stream. So the shepherd goes out of his way to find his sheep a quiet pool. God can help us find calm in our lives, too, so we can drink deeply from streams of living waters.

4 “He restores my soul.” – Verse 3a

This refers to what a shepherd calls a “cast down sheep”. Somehow, he has gotten upside down (onto his back) and can’t get back up. The shepherd comes along and sets him on his feet again. Sometimes this happens to us, too. Sometimes we as people find ourselves in the same place as a cast down sheep. Much like that commercial on TV… “Help I’ve fallen & I can’t get up!”

The problem is that we have all wondered away from the shepherd at times, and we’ve fallen upside down, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray.” – Isaiah 53:6

Perhaps a difficult event in our lives has caused us to fall away from God: That might be a death in our family; loss of a job; illness; overwhelming responsibilities; broken relationships. Events like this can cause us to become angry with God and even to distrust him. Perhaps we have simply chosen to serve ourselves instead of our God. Isaiah continues…”each of us has turned to his own way,” When we realize the need in our souls to be restored to our loving God, our Shepherd hears our cries of alarm, and helps us back onto our feet. He forgives us and restores us to a right relationship when we ask him.

5 “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – Verse 3b

Verse one and two described the spring; when grass is plentiful and the sheep willingly following the Shepherd. Verse three is a description of mid-summer, when the grass is getting scarce. Sheep, when they are in their pasture, will ruin pasture quickly – eating from the same grassy area until it is so short that it dries up and dies. So the shepherd makes new paths for them so that they can find fresh grass. Some of us need a fresh start (healthy grass). Jesus, our Shepherd, wants to help us find it, but the pathway back to green pastures can be dangerous.

6 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” – Verse 4a

This part talks about the trip to the high-country meadows in springtime. This route is through some tough country with lots of rocks, deep ravines, and cliffs. Places where wolves and wild animals stalk their prey for an easy kill. This shepherd was constantly on the look-out and protected the sheep. This is what God does for us, too. There are many times when life is treacherous and scary. Jesus wants to be our Shepherd through these times, as well.

7 “Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” – Verse 4b

The rod is a weapon to kill a bear, while the staff was a stick with a crook in the end to bring in a sheep for inspection or to pull them by the leg from a cliff. The Shepherd is well prepared to keep us safe. He will not let anything take us from him if we decide to follow him.

8 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” – Verse 5a

Finally the Shepherd and the flock arrive at a fresh mountain meadow where the grass is unspoiled by the harsh summer sun. All around the meadows, there were snakes, wolves and predators waiting to snag stray sheep. In the middle of this tension and danger, the shepherd led the sheep to a banquet of fresh grass – to a place of peace in a scary world.

9 “You annoint my head with oil.” – Verse 5b 

In the summer time, the gnats and flies would get up the noses of the sheep and lay their eggs in there. It would drive the sheep mad. Here, the shepherd anoints their heads with oil (pours it over their noses). This kills the gnats and gets rid of them. What an amazing picture of our father who loves to provide tender, loving care.

10 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Verse 6

It’s now the part of the story where they have all come back to the farm for winter, back to the safety of the home pasture. The end of the life cycle (retirement, ageing, death). It’s a picture of an eternal life with our Shepherd who has helped us all the way through every stage of our life. No more perilous trips to the upper meadows; no more fast flowing rivers; no more wandering off; no more rocks and crevices; no more wolves. Rather there is safety in the Great Shepherd’s home and eternal peace in his love

Important Question

Do you know the shepherd? Do you experience his care; his protection; his guidance; his restoration when you wonder off? Here’s the key: It’s as we make Jesus our Shepherd now, in this life, and choose to live with him day to day, that we prepare for our eternal life with the Shepherd “back at the farm”.

Maybe life has become confusing. There may be some things you can’t understand or you wonder why they are happening to you (like the loss of a family member). Or, you are facing a situation that is frightening or has you worried. At a time of the death of a friend or loved one, you ask yourself questions such as: “Is there life after death? What am I really accomplishing in my life? How can I know how I should live now?” Perhaps you’ve been asking some of the big questions of life. Questions like these are often raised in times of loss or at times when we are confronted with death. I want you to know that the shepherd desires to lead and care for all those who would choose to follow him. He wants to comfort us and help us make sense of life, not only in times of loss and confusion but every day we live.

This Psalm is not only a comfort at a time of loss such as at a funeral, but it also shows God in a whole new light. Jesus is one who understands the turmoils of life and death and will help us in them. In the end Jesus is the only one who can give us purpose and hope in a world of hopelessness, sorrow, death and trouble. In the end Jesus is the shepherd and he is the Word that we need to share as we experience the toughest moments of life… and death.