It’s Not Too Late – Hope for the Fight Against Porn

(Guest post – )

I could see the pain in his eyes. And fear.

His question was about his lack of assurance of salvation, and it was easy to tell this was not philosophical or merely theoretical. It was turmoil of soul over some besetting sin.

All it took was one clarifying question to uncover the source: guilt over his repeated return to Internet pornography. It was good he felt guilty, as I’d soon tell him. It was a sign of God’s grace.

By now, such a scenario was no surprise in college ministry. Here on a Christian campus, the pastoral issue that had come up more than any other was assurance of salvation. And after some initial bewilderment and a few extended conversations, the typical culprit soon became clear. Porn and the subsequent acting out.

Epidemic in This Generation

Assurance of salvation may be at an all-time low among Christians with the epidemic of porn use through ubiquitous Internet access. Sometimes it takes the form of existential angst and epistemological confusion, but often lack of assurance is the product of some deeply rooted sin. Could I really be saved if I keep returning to the same sin I have vowed so many times never to return to again?

We recently surveyed 8,000 Desiring God readers. Our study found that ongoing pornography use is not only dreadfully common, but increasingly higher among younger adults. More than 15% of Christian men over age sixty admitted to ongoing use. It was more than 20% for men in their fifties, 25% for men in their forties, and 30% for men in their thirties. But nearly 50% of self-professing Christian men, ages 18–29, acknowledged ongoing use of porn. (The survey found a similar trend among women, but in lesser proportions: 10% of females, ages 18–29; 5% in their thirties; increasingly less for forties, fifties, and sixty-plus.)

Graph of survey results

Hear His Voice Today

“Online access to porn may be new to this generation, but the invitation to repentance is gloriously ancient.” 

While the issue of online access to porn may be new to this generation — and progressively devastating to those who were exposed to it younger — the invitation to repentance from besetting sin is gloriously ancient. And perhaps no biblical text is more relevant to today’s struggles than Hebrews chapters 3 and 4.

Two-millennia old itself, the book of Hebrews points even further back into the past, to God’s invitation to repentance in Psalm 95:7–8: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7–8, 13, 15; 4:7). While this offer of rest stretches across the centuries, the actual application to individual believers is restricted to those who have not yet fully hardened their hearts in unbelief and moved beyond repentance.

Hebrews is written to a group of persecuted Jewish Christians who are tempted to abandon their worship of Jesus as Messiah (the reason for their persecution) and return to the Judaism to which they once adhered apart from Jesus. Not only is such a move theologically disastrous (in terms of how one understands God and his revelation), but it is also personally, and eternally, devastating. These early Christians were experiencing the same hardness of heart that accompanies repeated sin and unfought unbelief in professing Christians today.

Into such a context, Hebrews reaches for Psalm 95 and the immediate exhortation it holds out: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” It’s a word our generation desperately needs to hear.

If You Still Hear Him

The emphasis on “today” is essential. Tomorrow is not a given. What you have is right now.

If you hear God’s voice today — calling you to Christ and his holiness — and reject that voice, your heart will be some degree harder for it, and do not take for granted that you will have next week, next month, a year from now, or even tomorrow to find repentance.

Every time we ignore the convicting voice of grace, we inch one step closer to judgment. Every conscious embrace of unrighteousness darkens the soul and adds callouses to the heart. At some point, no warmth or softness remains. Then, like Esau, who “found no chance to repent” (Hebrews 12:17), it will be too late.

“Our great hope against porn lies not in ourselves, but Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.”

 But today — today — if you still hear his gracious voice in the promptings of his Spirit, if you still feel the guilt, if you still sense the shame, if you still know some distaste for the impurity of sin — make today your point of turning. “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).

 

It is good that you feel bad about your ongoing sin. That’s the touch of grace. You still have the chance to turn from sin’s coldness to the warmth of a forgiving Christ. If your heart was already hard beyond repair, you wouldn’t be bothered by sin. Your conviction is his kindness.

As Long as It’s Still Today

Make today count for some new initiative in the fight. Renounce the sin while you can still muster the heart to do so. Involve a Christian friend in your struggle, with whom you can live out the priceless grace of Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Choose righteousness today. Every concrete embrace of holiness matters. Every choice against evil, every act of righteousness in heart and mind and body. Every renouncing of sin prepares you, at least in some small measures, for choosing righteousness the next time. “We are always becoming who we will be” (Joe Rigney, Live Like a Narnian, 52), and today really does matter. Right now counts.

Where We Have Our Hope

And most importantly, fix your eyes afresh today on your advocate and great high priest, who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” and “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He is ready to dispense mercy and send grace “to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We say no to sin by saying yes to Joy in him.

Here, at God’s right hand, sits our final hope. Not in our accountability, or our resolves, and definitely not in our willpower. Not in our record in the past, nor our ability in the present, nor our potential in the future. Our great hope lies not in ourselves, but outside of us, in Christ, who has overcome, and in whom we too will overcome.

Are We Taking Our Responsibilities Seriously As Members Of God’s Family?

When my children were much younger I understood that at least once a year I would suffer the agony of a required family duty, a responsibility that brought no joy and in fact brought with it much pain and suffering. But I did it willingly, putting on my nice persona, pasting a grin on my face even though in reality I would be aching on the inside, my energy completely sapped from my bones, all before it even began. But I did it because it was my responsibility as a valued member of the Savage family. So what was this much dreaded chore? It was the annual elementary school Christmas concert.

Each year I’d find myself sitting in front of a bunch of kids I didn’t know for what seemed like agonising hours, listening to many failed attempts at singing, much poor acting, and long minutes of waiting for the grade eight class who looked after the sound equipment and lights, to catch up to the performance.

The funny thing is that I would actually book off a good portion of my day on purpose for this agonising feast of the senses. The reason I showed up and endured was for the sake of my kid (and because my wife told me I needed to be there). The thing is that once I was there, I was definitely going to make sure that I was ready for my child to walk out on that stage, because I’d been waiting, counting down all the other performances until my child was finally, gratefully next.

I knew that near the end of the performance, and it always seems to be at the end (why can’t my kid ever be first?), when they would be up there in all his or her glory. And when that moment finally arrived I knew that the room would light up, and I would be so proud of my child, because in my eyes at least, my kid was proclaiming to the world that they were an amazing member of the Savage clan and I’d always tell them, “Well done!” – every single time. 

In the end I knew that my responsibility as a suffering dad would prove to be worth it because each time I would leave feeling privileged to have experienced the concert my child had been a part of.

My children learned very early on that they were loved unconditionally as my kids. This allowed them to grow up confident of their place within the family circle. But there were moments (such as times of complaining regarding a chore or two) where I’d remind them that though they were privileged to be a part of the ‘Savage’ family, they also had responsibilities.

The responsibilities for them certainly included chores around the house, but it also meant representing the ‘Savage’ name well outside the walls of the home. Why? Because their actions ultimately reflected who their parents were to the rest of humanity.

A child tells us a lot about the parent, isn’t that right? As you observe the behaviour of a child you learn a lot about the discipline (or lack of it) at home. In many ways the child ‘broadcasts’ the parent and makes the parent known to the rest of the world. 

As members of God’s family, we enjoy a position in the universe that is without equal. But with the privileges we enjoy we need to ‘own’ our responsibility and recognise who we are representing. Jesus said that we are to, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Jesus put it like this, “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.” Why should we do all this? … “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45

That is why we have to do things that might not be easy or natural – even radical, such as loving the other members of our family – our brothers and sisters – who might not be easy to get along with, even loving those considered to be enemies. And being members of God’s family also means that we need to own the responsibilities of serving others without thought of return, esteeming others better than self, loving the other members of the body of Christ like nobody’s business even if they aren’t lovable, and dying to self because that’s just what we do. And why? All this so that we may be like our heavenly father, and so that we may proclaim the family name, so that the family name becomes really really famous.

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The next time you are uncertain about your responsibility in any given situation as a member of the family of God, ask – Is this the sort of thing worthy of my Father’s name? Is it consistent with the family to which I’m a part of? Is this honouring our family name and more importantly is it honouring our father who has stamped his name on us and who we’re representing here in the world?

Whenever we step out onto the world stage, whether that be on our way to work, at Starbucks getting our grande non-fat americano misto, heading to church to worship with others, or serving our neighbour next door or on the other side of the world, remember that our heavenly father is there waiting for us to step out to shine our lights before this dark dark world, in order to proclaim to that world that we are responsible members of God’s clan, pointing people to his son Jesus and in the end hearing from our heavenly father, “Well done!”

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:23

Transgenderism – Identity Crisis Or Identity Lie?

Who would have suspected, even as short as 15-20 years ago, that the clear separation of the sexes would be questioned. Today, however it is not only questioned but the idea of transgenderism (or transsexualism) is being championed by many as a new normal.

If you haven’t seen on the news or heard about Bruce Jenner, now identifying as Caitlyn Jenner, then you must have been living on the moon.  Interestingly enough, the now Caitlyn (formally Bruce) was reported to be having second thoughts about  the transition from male to female according to author Ian Halperin. He says that the former Olympic decathlete may de-transition in the next few years and come out as Bruce once again. Apparently Caitlyn is still attracted to women and his transition has created problems for the former Olympian to meet the right woman to settle down with.

To be fair, I don’t know if Halperin’s claim is accurate or not, however the facts are that if someone is confused of their gender before hand, who’s to say they wouldn’t be confused after they transition? In many cases the identity crisis they are experiencing doesn’t come as a result of wrong gender, rather it comes as a result of not knowing who they are as an individual in their very being.

BTW… to be clear, I’m not addressing the world of a hermaphrodite, that is a whole other issue, rather I’m speaking to the issue of one clear gender self identifying that they are now, or wish to become, another gender.

I admit that the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism or describes anyone as having transgender feelings, however the Word does say plenty about sexuality. First off, we’re told that God created two (and only two) genders. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27. The current speculation about gender fluidity is foreign to the Bible.

The closest the Bible does come to mentioning transgenderism is in its criticisms of homosexuality (Romans 1:18-32) and transvestitism (Deuteronomy 22:5).  Add to that to the fact that the Greek word translated “homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 literally means “effeminate men.” So, while the Bible nowhere plainly mentions transgenderism, it does clearly speak to instances of gender “confusion,” and explicitly identifies them as sin.

That may be what a disciple of Jesus believes but that doesn’t stop the argument coming today from the mainstream media that those who disagree with and/or speak out against transgenderism are nothing short of hate criminals at the very worst, or uneducated bigots in the very least. After all, how can you not feel for someone who is ‘trapped’ in a gender that does not match their ‘true’ gender?

So am I bigot or a criminal because of my convictions? Personally, I feel for Caitlyn and for the thousands of others who are struggling with their gender identity. The question I think begs to be asked is just how do we respond to those struggling in this area? For that matter how do we respond to those who are in our families or places of work or friendship circles who may feel they are no longer struggling and seem to be quite happy following their transition?

If gender matters to God then it should certainly matter to me. If God calls something a sin then no matter my feelings about it I must accept it as a sin. However that doesn’t give me licence to be a hater or a bigot.

Our response as Christians should be nothing less than deeply felt compassion while becoming a people who prayerfully begin to reasonably understand transgender and sexual-orientation issues and what the Bible says about them. And then to listen carefully with those whom God may place in your life who are transitioning or have transitioned as you build an authentic relationship with these very real people. It’s only then that we are in a good position to speak truth in love. Speaking “In love” means speaking with great respect, empathy, and appropriate humility. And it means to love with action (such as hospitality), not just words as John speaks about, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18.

And I think that love means being slow to speak, especially on social media. If you do choose to speak, work hard to speak with an unusually respectful, gracious voice. Maybe unknown to you, someone you know is struggling with their gender identity and your words could possibly impact them one way or another, so always speak as you would to a friend.

We must lovingly point people to Jesus Christ because it is only through Christ where we discover that our identity is not in our gender, our colour, our jobs, or our societal roles, but rather it is found in being chosen by God for an amazing purpose.

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“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

When we become a disciple of Jesus Christ we are now forever owned by him and no longer a part of the world, or for that matter ourselves. We’re set apart and now exist for God to make us into his holy people, to share his holy character – which is now our identity. These new identities mean that we now have an active role in the presence of this amazing, holy God. Our life is now about priestly service and so never out of the God’s presence as his royal priesthood, no longer in the neutral zone of life but always in the temple courts. This means then that if we act in an unholy way we are acting out of character and working against our true identities. We are either finding our identities in Christ or we are out of character if we’re not.

We were created to discover our identity through a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ but when we try to find it elsewhere, whether that be in other things, other people, or in what I do or who I am, well then, it never measures up. That’s because all these other measurements are temporary. I may get a face lift but eventually age catches up with me, I may change my gender but I am still the same person deep inside. We simply can’t find eternal satisfaction through the temporary.

Yet people still keep trying, believing the lie from Satan that we don’t need God. Lying is Satan’s primary weapon against the church, and he uses his tactic of deceit effectively to separate people from their heavenly Father and the truth. He tries to convince people that God is not the answer and that our identities are found in any other place rather than in Christ. He is passing on the same identity lie he began in Eden. The lie that we find our identities apart from God. And he continues to do so because his success depends on people believing his lies because quite frankly, the more the world hears these lies the more they believe it and Satan knows this. Adolph Hitler, a man who learned how to lie effectively, once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

But the damage caused by listening to Satan’s lies and by trying to discover our identities without Jesus can be seen in the pain and suffering evident in people’s lives. Just look no farther than the billboards on our streets or the ads on TV. Women driven to fulfill the western world’s ideal of beauty – the dream woman, sometimes to the point of eating disorders that destroy not just the body but also the soul. Women and men, caught up in a never ending cycle of disappointment and heartache day after day because they just don’t measure up to the world’s idea of beauty or satisfaction or identity. It is only when a man & woman, put their hope in God, will they become a deeply settled & strong person who knows who they are.

Out of all the things in this life I don’t know, here’s what I do know. We’re all “trapped” in bodies that we need deliverance from. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” – Romans 7:24. That’s why Jesus came: to deliver not just Caitlyn Jenner but also people like you and me from the hold of sin and failing disordered bodies, in order that we may be given glorious, powerful, confusion-free resurrection bodies.

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.

I Wonder If Most Of Us Would Have Shouted “Crucify Him” Rather Than “Hosanna”

This past Sunday was celebrated by many millions of Christians worldwide as Palm Sunday, the day in the church year marked as the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem for the last week of his life. When he did, the common people were ecstatic; their Saviour had come to make right all their wrongs. From their understanding, he’d enter Jerusalem, set Israel free from Rome, sit on his throne and usher in the golden age of the Messiah. It all made sense and the timing couldn’t be better to proclaim himself king and throw off the shackles of Rome.

But the problem for these bright eyed fair weather followers was that a short time later Jesus was standing before Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36

Not what they had expected, not what they had planned for their Israel. And because of this, only a few short days later, another parade of sorts took place – this second one was to crucify their king. And this time instead of shouting Hosanna, they spit on him, mocked him and shouted, “Crucify Him!” Roughly translated as, “You didn’t live up to the hype, Jesus!” “You didn’t fulfill my idea of the Kingdom!”

Why all the hype? 

The Passover was a huge celebration that represented the beginning of the harvest season in Israel, but more importantly it was related to the Exodus from Egypt after 400 years of slavery. The name “Passover” refers to the fact that God “passed over” the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt.

Also it must be remembered that the last time Israel had been independent was a hundred years before, when Judas Maccabeus had led them to victory over the Seleucids and became king. He had adopted the palm branch as a symbol of his victory and put the image of a palm branch on his coins to use them in temple feasts to celebrate their victory.

Palms were signs of victory and of military achievement by the Romans as well. The Romans gave palms to the victors in the Roman games and emperors gave them to their subjects following their military conquests. So when we read that the crowd rushed to get palm branches for this occasion, it wasn’t just because they were convenient. It was hugely symbolic – it was a big deal.

The palm branches are certainly significant, but I think that the cheers of the crowd are noteworthy too.  “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Hosanna in the highest!” -Matthew 21:9 The word “Hosanna” is a Latinized transliteration of a Hebrew phrase that means “save us!” We see it in Psalm 118 as “Save us, we pray, O Lord. O Lord, we pray, give us success!” in verse 25 followed by. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” in verse 26, which interestingly enough, was commonly used in their worship at the temple as well as a popular greeting shared between people on their way to Jerusalem for the festival.

The point is that all of this wasn’t something that was spontaneously made up that day. There was deep meaning behind it and was immensely significant to those who participated in welcoming their King. The crowds obviously believed Jesus was the “King,” the Messiah who had come to establish Israel’s independence from Rome, to liberate them in a very real way as a political hero. It all seemed so perfect and hopeful.

What was the problem? 

The only problem for their victory party was that Jesus isn’t that kind of Messiah, symbolically declaring that fact by riding into town on a donkey. Any history lesson would tell you that a conquering king would have ridden into the city on a warhorse, or in a magnificent chariot, but Jesus rode on the back of a donkey. Why is this so significant? Because of what Zechariah said. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” – Zechariah 9:9

The symbolism wouldn’t have been lost. Jesus knew his scripture, as did the crowds, and he (as they) would have remembered that when Solomon, King David’s son had become king, he rode his dad’s favourite donkey during the inaugural procession into the royal city of Jerusalem. Now here Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, the city of David as a far greater ‘son of David”.

He accepted the title of “king,” but refused to become the military messiah that the people – even his disciples – wanted and expected. It’s no wonder then that just a week later, when these would-be followers realise Jesus’ goal is not in line with theirs, they stop shouting “Hosanna!” and start shouting “Crucify Him!”

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How should we respond?  

It’s easy for us to criticise those people in the crowd that day. How could they not have recognised Jesus for who he truly was and claimed to be? But based on our track record today, in most of our lives, I’d be afraid that we would be more comfortable in the ‘Crucify him’ crowd than in the ‘Hosanna’ crowd. Think about it for a moment. What do we expect from our Messiah? Is he invited into our lives in order to meet all our expectations as we understand it should be? If our wish list isn’t fulfilled as we think it should, do we get pouty and quit shouting Hosanna and instead join the crowds in rejecting him? We may not call out to have him crucified but do we reject him in other ways? Living for self, pride, disobedience, doubt, etc.

What was hard for the crowds, Jesus’ disciples initially, and even us folks today to understand is that Jesus’ victory parade that day had a much deeper meaning behind it then a temporal militaristic campaign. The fact was that Jesus didn’t come to bring us liberty from earthly enemies or immediate problems, though we may experience some of that from him. Jesus instead came to liberate us from the source and root of our problems: sin, evil, and death itself! This is the triumph behind the triumphal entry!

The question is, how do we respond to Jesus’ entry into our very own lives? Do we choose to follow Jesushim wherever he leads, or do we allow ourselves to be swept along with the masses who shout Hosanna one minute and reject him the next because he wasn’t what was expected?

In the book by C.S. Lewis, ‘The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe, Mrs. Beaver says to Lucy, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

We may not know where King Jesus may take us, we might not fully understand his purposes in any given time and place of our lives and his kingdom may look way different from what we might think. But if we follow him, he will transform us, we will be changed and he will use us as he has done with any who have committed to follow their king down through the centuries. But is it safe? Of course it isn’t safe but he is the King – and he is good.

4 Lies Of Christian Legalism

Can you remember a time when you felt fear – deep, mind numbing, body shaking, thought blinding fear? Perhaps you experienced a terrible thunderstorm, the wind so loud you wondered if the roof on your house would stay on. Maybe you had to drive through a blizzard or a torrential rain storm and you were praying all the while you were on the highway that you wouldn’t crash. Quite possibly you witnessed a fight or were threatened in some way. Perhaps you feared for the life of a loved one and for hours you didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Being afraid isn’t our favourite place to be and so when we feel like we’re in unsafe situations we look for things to hold onto, things that’ll bring order to the chaos, things that’ll anchor us and give us the assurance that we’ll be safe.

This feeling fearful or unsafe thing isn’t limited to the physical world. We can feel fear, emotionally, socially, and mentally, and every time we feel fearful in those situations we seek safe places – anchors. Sometimes those safe places are good places to be, but often they are not. That’s why some people try to hold on to unhealthy ‘anchors’ such as drugs, abusive relationships, alcoholism, or some other ‘vice’ in a deluded attempt to alleviate a fear in the moment. The problem is that it doesn’t stop the fear. In fact, it only exasperates the fears already being faced.

We Christians may not admit it, but we often do the same thing as it pertains to our walk of faith. There’s a tendency to believe that it’s the extra ‘things’, the rules and regulations in our ‘religiosity’ that we need in order to be safe, to anchor us. So, we set up traditions and rules with a spiritual skin wrapped all over it and then call it religion.

In Colossians, Paul refers to four lies about traditions and regulations that 90% of us Christians admit to having held onto at some point in our faith journey (the other 10% lied about not going there). The thing is that they don’t add a lick to our spiritual identities and most certainly do not make us ever feel sufficiently safe in our eternal futures. Legalistic rules filled with tradition or perceived biblical rules, that end up just becoming cheap substitutes for what should be the goal of our lives as Christians – To glorify God in and through our lives and to enjoy being in his amazing presence forever.

What could be these 4 lies then that Paul speaks to?

Lie # 1 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you an acceptable Christian

“Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” – Colossians 2:16

So often we find ourselves worried about what others think, about making sure we look good and that we are doing the right ‘Christian’ (religious) thing. What ends up happening is that we surround ourselves with so many religious safety nets that we can’t see Jesus for the rules. Jesus wasn’t about rules – he was about relationship.

Much too often, we come into the body of Christ and are quickly introduced to something other than the gospel… legalism. Legalism refers to an emphasis on man-made rules and prohibitions as the standard for spirituality. Someone tells you how wrong it is to indulge in certain practices that ‘they’ have deemed unacceptable in the Christian community.

These individuals are not only convinced that these practices are wrong but consider it their duty to judge you as less Christ like because you do them! “Don’t play cards… Don’t watch movies… Don’t drink wine… Don’t get a tattoo…etc.”. As if Jesus isn’t near good enough to have taken care of the law for us. Listen, if you are convicted by the Holy Spirit about some of those things in your life then by all means listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as you’re convicted, but it’s not your or my job to convict others where there is no conviction in their lives about these things or practices…you nor I am the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, there are house rules that we as a community must live by… thou shall not kill (good house rule). Thou shall not commit adultery (another good one). Love each other (a great law to live by). But where there isn’t a direction by the word of God I can’t go around and hold up man-made laws or traditions as though they have the same weight as the word of God. Where one person has liberties in an area with God another may not. We can’t make those demands on others let alone ourselves.

Just look in Romans 8 where we see how Jesus fulfilled the law, both its moral demands and its ceremonial demands. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4

If keeping the Law could not make us acceptable before we received Christ, why do we think that keeping the law can make us acceptable after we are believers? Or as Paul rhetorically phrased it… “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” – Galatians 3:3

Sadly, many genuine believers are living under some form of a yoke of bondage, thinking if I just do this or do that, I’ll be more acceptable to God. They may not say this overtly but their actions betray them.

The point is that the consumption of food and drink is in itself no basis for judging a person’s acceptability with God or standing in God’s family. To be sure Paul had to deal with the abuse of food and drink; the problem of eating meat offered to idols and the problem of drunkenness (1 Corinthians 8, 11:21; Romans 14). But his approach to these abuses was never to forbid food or drink. It was always to forbid what destroyed God’s temple and injured faith. He taught the principle of love, but did not dictate its application with regulations in matters of food and drink.

Lie # 2 – Legalistic rules and regulations say that Jesus isn’t sufficient

“These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”  – Colossians 2:17-18

I recall watching the cartoon version of Peter Pan as a child and being fascinated by the shadow of Peter. It had a life of its own and in many ways, was an independent entity apart from its owner. I remember as an 8-year-old trying endlessly to ‘awaken’ my shadow so that we could enjoy separate adventures – together. Remember I was only 8. It didn’t take me long to discover that In the real world  a shadow has no substance, and for that matter has no independent existence. It simply is a proof of the fact that there is a reality somewhere behind it making it happen. It is not solid or real – simply a copy of the real thing. Much like Pepsi is to Coke. No matter how hard I tried to make my shadow ‘real’ it was always going to be lifeless, it was always going to be just a copy. Paul is stressing to us that legalism through rules and regulations are only insufficient “shadows” that do nothing to put us into right relationship with God and most certainly don’t make us safe.

In my wallet you might not find much money but you will find pictures of my kids. I value these photographs and look at them occasionally when I am away from home. But what would you think if I propped up these pictures all over my house or office and talked to them and tried to relate to them? You would think I’d gone a little crazy – and rightly so. But, more than that, I would lose connection with the very people whose pictures I hold. They would end up feeling ignored and our relationship would be damaged and would most likely end.

That is what Paul says is wrong with shadows. If you continue to give the shadow key significance after the real person or thing has been identified, you’ll only end up killing your opportunity to enjoy the real person or thing itself. here’s the point. There are times we put more trust than we think into our rituals or regulations than we do in Jesus. If you don’t believe me then ask yourself… do you feel better about your relationship with God after you read the bible for a week or if you have been attending church every Sunday for three months than when you didn’t read the Word as much or missed church for a few weeks? Or do you feel that God’s depth of love for you is dictated by how well you serve him? Or have you ever said, “Well i’m not really being that good of a Christian” as if you were the one sanctifying you?

I absolutely understand that we learn more about who God is as we read and pray and serve… but we need to do those things out of love & not because they are rules, things we need to do as a ‘good’ christian. What Paul is telling us is that the reality in our faith is Jesus, not other ‘things’ such as rules, regulations or otherwise. It’s him, not the shadow, that journeys with us through life, who comforts us when we need it and gives us the strength to face temptation. But when we forget that, we then are believing that rules & regulations are more sufficient in making us Christlike than Christ himself.

So do we truly believe that Jesus is sufficient? Truth is that God couldn’t love us any more than he already does. Remember that God doesn’t have lots of love to give – He is love and so is an endless reservoir of love. But when we trust more in regulations and those rules we place on ourselves and others… then it means we really don’t believe that God really loves us like he said he does or that Jesus is truly sufficient enough to take care of us… because if we truly believed the truth about him, well then we’d never rely on those shadows again.

Lie # 3 – Legalistic rules and regulations deny the authority of Jesus

“And not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. – Colossians 2:19

Jesus is to be “the head of the body,” a metaphor that demonstrates the authority of Christ over the church as well as the dependence the church is to place in Christ (Colossians 1:18). That’s what the writer of Hebrews puts so much effort into doing throughout the book of Hebrews. Attempting to show us the superiority and authority of Jesus Christ over and above all of the shadows of the Old Testament. We are not to content ourselves with shadows when we can fill ourselves with the real thing. And “Jesus is ‘the real thing’.

When we die to self and live to make him known, when we can’t help but love our fellow disciples, when we crave the word of God, when we welcome discipline and tribulations in our lives because we know we are being made into the image of Christ, when we seek out fellowship with other believers because we love being with God’s people we can know that as we grow, all our spiritual growth has as its ultimate focus – Jesus.

Avoid the false teachings, the legalistic rules, the empty rituals and the unsatisfying regulations that move us away from Christ, and instead take advantage of the things God has given for growth.

Lie # 4 – Legalistic rules and regulations will make you holy

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23

The false teachers in Paul’s day practised asceticism, which was a poor attempt at freeing the spirit from the ‘prison’ of the body. The view that the body was evil eventually found its way into the church. In fact, there were many who began to find ways to punish their bodies believing that this was a way to free their spirit from the body. A monk named Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. I’m sure his cell probably smelled like a lot of guys’ dorm rooms. Even Martin Luther, before discovering the truth of justification by faith, nearly wrecked his health through asceticism.

Paul addresses a similar issue in Galatians 4 writing that while we were children, we were held in bondage under the ‘elemental’ things of the world. Elemental is from the Greek meaning “rank” used to speak of basic, foundational things like ABC’s or 123’s. Paul was saying that these rituals of human religion they were engaged in were elemental because they are only human, and could never rise to the level of the divine.  But he asks then that now that they’ve come to know God, how in the world could they go back to grade 2 – to the ABC’s? Do they really think that these rituals, holy days, and rules of diet will do it for them? Do they really want to be enslaved all over again?

Legalism only leads us back to unchristian slavery instead of freedom in Christ, and in any event, doesn’t free us from our lusts, at the very best keeps them on a leash which just isn’t good enough. Rules and regulations will not, and cannot make us holy.

The great news is that through our union with Christ, we, the redeemed are set free from man-made rules designed to promote spirituality and holiness.

What are the legalistic rules, regulations & traditions that you or I hold onto while we live out our own faith journey experience? What are those things we need to let go of in order to truly experience freedom in Christ and find safety in our relationship with God? True Christian safety and freedom never comes from restraining desires by rules and regulations, but from the death of evil desires and the springing to life of good desires. And this can only happen as we grow in deep love with Jesus and know him intimately, asking him to fill us with his spirit in order to be empowered to live for him. And as we grow we can know that he will complete the work that he began. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

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6 Ways To Support Your Pastor

I remember watching a great movie a number of years ago, with actor James Garner in the lead role. The title of the movie was “Support Your Local Gunfighter”. James was the new guy in town and was viewed by the local folk as their answer to the ‘bad guy’ problem. Almost as soon as James rolled into town he was recruited by the mayor to take on the role of Sheriff. It wasn’t until later that the ‘new’ sheriff noticed all the tombstones (including a made to measure coffin being readied for him). After inquiring about the tombstones he learned that they were the burial sites of all the former sheriffs over the past year. It seems that the sheriffs were hired by the townsfolk to solve their problem, but they were not supported by them. Whenever the gang of hooligans came to town, they pretty much could have their way because no one would stand up to them – except for the poor sheriffs who would be subsequently shot and killed. The movie centred around the sheriff gaining the support of the reluctant townsfolk and winning the town back in the end.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what we do to some of our pastors. Do we have a number of tombstones of former pastors in our pasts? Do we rally around our pastors or do we leave them to take the fiery darts alone? Do we hide behind them when the bad guys come but then have the casket ready once the shooting ends? I know of a great many people who love their pastors dearly and would hate for them to be hurt, however I know a great many times where our pastors are viewed as the  hired professional and little if any thought is given about supporting them.

I would venture to guess that many of us don’t even know our pastors – I mean really know them as a real person. What do they love to do during their time off? What is their favourite sport or hobby? Do you know what hurts them or do we just view them as almost a non-human, a type of super-human? What makes your pastor tick? Does he love cinnamon rolls? Does he struggle with issues that we need to support him in? Do we expect them to be perfect? Maybe its not that we view them as saviours, but then again perhaps we don’t think about them at all until Sunday morning or when an issue arises.

Pastoral ministry is tough, draining, and emotionally taxing. There is an emotional and spiritual intensity that is not experienced in most professions. Unlike most other careers, a pastor doesn’t just leave the issues at the office, rather carrying the weight of leadership around the clock while being expected to be a strength for the flock under his care. It’s a 24/7 calling, definitely not for the faint of heart and it requires a unique combination of battle toughness and fatherly tenderness. A pastor is closely connected to the lives of the people he serves, and vicariously experiences both the joy and heartbreak that his people experience. 

So how can you support your pastor? Here are 6 simple ways.

1  Pray for your pastor

The most important thing you can do to help your pastor be fruitful and effective in his role is to pray for him daily and pray with him as opportunities arise. which might mean heading to meet him at his office early in the morning or late at night (check first when it works best in his schedule).

  • Pray the Lord will give him wisdom in his various responsibilities.
  • Pray for his role as both husband and father (if he is married and has children).
  • Pray for his wife and children
  • Pray the Lord will protect him in the area of sexual purity.
  • Pray he would be able to strike a good balance between his ministry, family and personal life.

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2  Support your pastor’s leadership

This doesn’t mean that you blindly support your pastor, no matter what decision he makes. I am not suggesting, nor does the Bible suggest, that you submit to ungodly or abusive leaders. If your pastor says that there is no need to challenge his spiritual leadership, that is probably the cue to do just that, just make sure you do it in love, gentleness and with Godly council. However, the Bible is clear on the topic of being willing to submit to the authority in the church you have chosen to be a part of.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” –  Hebrews 13:7

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13

It is an awesome step to accept God’s call to be a pastor and to take seriously the roles and responsibilities that such a call entails. You should be able to trust, believe in, and submit to those the Lord has placed in authority over you. If you can’t do this, you need to address this issue, and in extreme cases, leave if you can no longer respect and trust the leadership over you. 

3  Encourage your pastor

Lots of people will criticize and find fault. They will both email him and talk to him (and about him) in discouraging ways. But choose to be one of those who look for ways, and reasons, to encourage him — to camp on the positive, not the negative.

Tell him what you appreciate about his ministry, and be specific. What has he recently done or said that you have profited from? A pastor’s teaching or preaching help many, but few tell him specifically how he has been a help and blessing. Every once in a while, write a personal note or even text him, telling him you are praying for him and how you were blessed by what he said or appreciated something he has done. When you have the opportunity, thank your pastor personally face to face for specific aspects of his leadership.

4  Get to know your pastor

A pastor has a lonely job. Most people seem to ‘take’ from the pastor and forget to give. The folks under his care take his time, his energy, his resources, his wisdom and his counsel. And so, it is refreshing and encouraging to know that people in the church family really care about him, pray for him, and sincerely want to get to know him, not so they can take, but so that they can give.

Why not schedule some time with your pastor and offer to take him to the next football game or out for breakfast or lunch at his favourite restaurant? Ask him to tell you his story, how God saved him, how he met his wife, how he was called into ministry. I’ll guarantee you that he will appreciate this and be a better leader as a result of your initiative.

5 Talk honestly to, not about your pastor

If there is something that you honestly have a problem with – some decision he made, something he wrote or said that you disagree with – please talk to him, not about him.

This is one of the big sins in the body of Christ. It’s like we have been given permission to be passive aggressive in our dealings with each other. We seem to talk about people easily if we have an issue with them, but talking to them about that issue face to face is hard if not impossible. As a result, the foyer after the worship service in some churches has been known to be full of smiling faces on the outside but angst ridden hearts on the inside. That is unhealthy in so many ways and a barrier to unity and spiritual growth.  

From personal experience, I can tell you that most pastors want to hear from people who have issues or questions with something at the church. Really – they do. Most relish the opportunity to both genuinely listen and share concerning your issue so the two of you can have a mutual understanding and respect for each other.

Talking about others rather than talking to others is gossip pure and simple, and it never makes things better, only worse. “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler.” – Proverbs 20:19

6  Don’t forget his family

Don’t forget about his wife (and children). She needs to know she and her family is loved and cared for as well. Make sure that she is spoiled by the love of the women in the church, prayed for and blessed in ways that bring joy to her life. They are in ministry together, even if she isn’t as visible as he is, and will often feel the sting and pain of ministry as deeply as her spouse, in many cases even more intensely if the painful moments are directed at her husband. When she is loved (goes for the kids too) it becomes a blessing for your pastor as it frees him up emotionally to know his bride is cared for so well.

These six ways are only a start. There are many more ways you can support your pastor but even if you began with only one of the ways suggested it would make a world of difference to your pastor (and his wife). Even the Apostle Paul needed to be encouraged and he wasn’t afraid to point it out. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1: 3-8 (NIV)

Paul was encouraged and strengthened when he knew that he had the support of his friends and ministry partners. It meant so much to Paul that he tells them that he ‘longs’ for them. To ‘long’ for someone speaks of a pretty intense relationship. It smacks of a need to receive as in ‘I need you because I know that I will receive immense value from you”. Does my pastor ‘long’ for me? Does your pastor ‘long’ for you, or are we more of a burden/discouragement to them?

I figure that if Paul needed to be supported and encouraged, then I don’t think that it’s a stretch to think that my pastor needs to be encouraged and strengthened too.

Why Christians Must Support Donald Trump

“I hate that guy!” “The world would be a better place if she just died today” “If I only had a gun I would…”

We have been seeing, and quite possibly feeling, the deep frustrations of people upset over the governmental leadership they now find themselves under. This has led to marches, rantings on social media, public displays of rage and heated debates around many social spheres at work, home and play. With any political change-up, we find that certain people will be fearful, frustrated, and angry while others will be joyful, optimistic and quite happy about who has been voted to be the ‘first among equals.’

In Ontario, where I currently make my home, I read with dismay some of the death threats (or at least the vivid wishes she were dead) being made about the Premier of the Province via twitter.  What concerned me even more though was that some of my Christian friends joined in.

I understand some of the very real frustrations with our leaders, whether they be Kathleen Wynn in Ontario, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa or Donald Trump in Washington, however what is to be expected of us in our responses to them, even if they are causing much angst? Please don’t think I’m advocating a ‘use me as a door mat’ passivity or even silence, nor am I suggesting to vote or not vote for any of the political personalities out there. For that matter I’m Canadian so couldn’t vote for Trump even if I wanted to; however, I do think that there is a higher response expected of the Christian community that must be embraced first before anything else is said or acted upon.

When the church was first ‘getting its legs’ the emperor was Nero who tortured and killed his enemies which included Christians. Many of those killed were covered with the skins of beasts in order to be torn to pieces by dogs, or were nailed to crosses, or were covered in oil and then fixed on spikes, while alive, ultimately being lit as torches to serve as nightly illumination for his garden parties. It is also believed that Nero was the one responsible for the deaths of both Peter and Paul. And this reign of terror wasn’t his only ‘problem’. Tension among Roman leaders ultimately became so great that the Praetorian Guard transferred their loyalty from Nero to Galba, leading the Senate to declare Nero a public enemy. Nero was forced to flee Rome, and he later took his own life.

This guy was one messed up dude, and yet, the apostle Peter specifically calls the people of Christ to show submission to the emperor. “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” – 1 Peter 2:13-14.

The apostle Paul called on the churches to support, through prayer and by showing thanksgiving, “kings” and “all who are in high positions” “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-2.

And keep in mind that both these Apostles said these things while under the reign of Nero. The point is that Christians, above all people, should support through prayer and through showing respect, President Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Premier Kathleen Wynn as well as all of our elected officials even if you are the polar opposite politically. After all, unlike those who see politics as the ultimate authority, we recognize that our political systems are temporal. We don’t then need to be provoked into the kind of outrage that passes for much of contemporary political discourse.

Finally, the apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1 . If that is the case, unlike those who see history as impersonal or unpredictable, we are able to see behind everything a God who is sovereign over his universe and so then can trust him even if we can’t trust the specific person who is in power at the moment.

 

 

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