Daily Archives: October 22, 2012

Future Shock – Dr. James Emery White

Future Shock

Dr. James Emery White Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

I was recently asked four compelling questions by Outreach magazine related to the future of the church. They were specific, and as a result, forced me to galvanize quite a bit of “wide” thinking into a concise format.

I am curious to hear your thoughts once you read the questions and my answers. Specifically:

*Did you agree with my answers?

*What would you have answered differently, or added to the answer(s)?

*What questions were raised, to your thinking, as a result of my answers?

I think we will all be served by this conversation. So post, and read the other posts, with a keen mind and open heart.

Here are the questions/answers:

What changes should the church anticipate in the next ten years?

The headline is that the unchurched will be increasingly made up of the “nones”: those who believe nothing in particular, are antagonistic toward religion in general, and are not engaged in any kind of “seeking.” As a result, evangelism will need to make the same transformation as modern military combat: less large-scale, mass invasions and aerial assaults and more house-to-house, hand-to-hand engagement. Further, Christians in America will find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment due to the dynamics of a post-Christian culture. This will be a defining era as churches will have to choose between wider cultural acceptance through cultural compromise or growing animosity and even persecution through continuing orthodoxy. Finally, the technological revolution will only continue in terms of new mediums of communication and interaction. The pace churches keep with technology will prove to be as decisive in the next ten years as the pace churches kept with, say, music or dress in the last ten.

What obstacles do we need to overcome to be more effective in outreach in the next decade?

It is ironic that the very thing the world hates about the church is its worldliness. When churches and church leaders become entangled in the web of party politics, power, greed and sexual immorality, the world’s stomach turns in disgust. So that is first. Once the church purifies itself of such things, the second task is to fill itself with our great distinctive – grace. That things like judgmentalism and condemnation are so associated with the church is an affront to the gospel. Grace combined with truth is what sets us apart, and is the one thing we have to offer the world that it does not already have. Next, we will have to get our own house in order in terms of observable love toward one another. The bitter blogs and polarizations must end. The final ingredient will be the need to have an actual passion for those who are lost. There is much rhetoric in favor of evangelism, but little reality in terms of dying to ourselves to do what it takes to reach people. We are very much a consumer-driven church, giving in to a spiritual narcissism where the needs of the believer are paramount over the needs of those apart from Christ.

What cultural shifts are you observing now that the church should prepare for in the future?

Sociologically, the three great macro shifts have not changed: secularization, privatization, and pluralization. But let me offer three micro shifts that are immediate in their challenge: First, the movement toward becoming an increasingly post-Christian culture. Not an anti-Christian culture, or even a non-Christian culture, but a post-Christian culture. To be post-Christian means the very memory of the gospel is fading. The result is a culture that is more like Mars Hill than Jerusalem; openly pluralistic, spiritual but not religious, embracing agnosticism as a badge of pride. A second shift is the changing nature of thinking, relating and self-identifying as a result of the internet and social media, resulting in becoming more shallow, more isolated, and more tribal than ever before. Third, the increasingly truncated understanding of Christian life and thought within the Christian movement itself must not be ignored. Historic understandings on the atonement and revelation are suspect, issues related to humanity are being made up on the fly if even considered, and a robust ecclesiology is almost a matter of scorn. But it is not simply a new pseudo-orthodoxy that is creeping in, but a shallowness of thinking. We are increasingly in a battle of ideas, yet the Christian sub-culture is as anti-intellectual as I’ve ever seen it. Our thinking is very bad, when we are thinking at all. Much of our discipleship is hands and heart, which is all well and good, but we must not forget the discipleship of the mind. If we’re standing on Mars Hill, let’s not forget that contending for the faith in that context demands the mind of a Paul.

Do you foresee particular changes that will affect your local church and/or community?

Six changes come to mind: First, technology will increasingly become a necessary medium of discipleship due to the nature of how people receive and digest information. Second, in a post-Christian and spiritually illiterate world, visual elements (akin to the stained glass of the Middle Ages) will need to be more widely employed to convey biblical truth, particularly in regard to evangelism. Third, one-on-one evangelism must become more central (as opposed to a more general invitational approach to large-scale events). Fourth, leadership development and theological education will have to be increasingly shouldered by the local church. Fifth, we will have to take prayer much more seriously, and engage it much more intentionally. If culture progresses as it now portends, spiritual warfare will rear its head in ways that most of us have only read about in missionary biographies. Finally, we will need to prepare Christ followers for an ever-increasingly hostile environment where a vibrant faith brings persecution.


Avoiding temptation

Scripture: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.

So you become a Christian. You think, “Follow Jesus: that won’t be so hard. Obviously, this is the way I want to live, so I’ll avoid all the bad things.” Unfortunately, it is not so easy to avoid those bad things – those sins – that keep you away from God. But the good news at least, as St. Paul noted, is that anything that has tempted you, has tempted others, as well. Any sin you commit is not the first of its kind. Others know how you feel!

But the even better news, he wrote, is that God will give you a way to avoid falling into the trap of yielding to your temptation and falling into sin.

“Get Behind Me, Satan!”

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4, our Lord Jesus was sorely and brazenly tempted before He started His ministry. Jesus had gone into the wilderness by Himself. While He was alone and hungry, the Evil One tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread, to have Him summon angels to attend Himself, and to make Jesus worship him. Each time, Jesus used God’s Word to rebuke the Devil; Jesus would not give in to sin even if it made his life easier.

God does not want us to give in to sin either. For us, temptation will probably not show up as the devil. But we are tempted to sin – to make life easier for ourselves, to enjoy a pleasure not allotted to us, to avoid something we don’t want to do – in hundreds of ways.

Our temptations tend to show up in more earthy ways: for the original humans, it was eating a piece of fruit God told them not to. Have you ever taken a sweet, or something else, that didn’t belong to you? That’s an easy temptation to fall prey to. As Jesus quoted in Matthew 4, and in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, God taught His Chosen People after they’d escaped Egyptian captivity. He humbled and tested them in the wilderness, allowing them get hungry and then to feed them, “to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3a) The manna God provided was only available at certain times and certain ways, and the Israelites had to obey God’s words to be able to even eat. We also have to depend on God’s Word for survival in avoiding sin.

It Gets Worse

It might seem like eating something, even if it doesn’t belong to us, couldn’t be that big a sin. You might think of a small temptation, “It’s not so bad” or “Maybe just one.” Does anyone ever stop with “just one?” Isn’t the temptation for “maybe just another” great, too? When does it stop? If you can’t be trusted with something small, how can you turn away from great temptation?

In the story of Jesus’s temptation, we see the way evil tries to work. First, Jesus was tempted to calm His hunger. Next, He was tempted to test God, by throwing Himself off a high point. Finally, Jesus was tempted to give up all His future glory for the ruling of the earthly realm, by worshiping the Evil One.

You can see how each temptation becomes worse and the sin deeper – a good reason Jesus told His followers, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41) In other words, be aware of what’s going on around you, and keep your focus on God, so sin doesn’t sneak into your life.

What happens when you give in to temptation

If we take something that isn’t ours, we could end up being punished by the law of the land, in hopes that we will learn our lesson. That’s bad enough, but even if we aren’t caught and have no earthly consequences, doesn’t the sin wear away at us? When someone continues in sin, they become immune to knowing the difference between good and evil, craving more and more; yet nothing will fill the void.

Worse, we disappoint God and other people if we give in to the temptation. Sin always hurts someone, even if it’s “just” ourselves – there are no “victimless crimes.” If you lie, cheat, or steal, you become a person people can’t trust. If you harm your own body, you hurt the people who depend on you.

Giving in to sin becomes the habit, and soon, your life – and your relationship with God – could be destroyed

God Gave Us A Way Out

Any new Christian has a host of sins to put behind them as they seek to live a godly lifestyle. More mature Christians must constantly assess their lives to make sure sin doesn’t creep in. It is just so easy to take the sinful way, especially if the sinful behavior is habit. But we can place our trust in Jesus, and believe in God’s Word that He will give us a way out.

The Bible tells us that Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testing we do, yet He did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) As a human, Jesus experienced a sampling of all the sins and temptation that humanity falls prey to. He knows how we feel; He knows our weaknesses! So we can rely on His strength to get us past the trouble; we can use His goodness to distract ourselves from worldly evil. Jesus knew how hard it can be to turn away from temptation. When He taught His Disciples to pray (using what is now called The Lord’s Prayer), He addressed it by having them ask God, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.” (Matthew 6:13) In other words, we’re to pray that God will spare us from times of trial. If He doesn’t, we ask that He help us makes the proper choice: to focus on Him and avoid the sin. Remember, it is set in stone that He won’t allow you to be tempted past your endurance. That means that any temptation you experience IS one you can turn away from. God has already given you the ability, and He is faithful .

Results of Turning from Temptation

Feeling temptation isn’t itself a sin. Jesus Himself experienced temptation, but “He did not sin.” He didn’t pretend He wasn’t feeling tempted; instead, He acknowledged it and dismissed the tempter.

When you see something you know you shouldn’t take, it is hard to pretend it is not there. Instead, understand how you are feeling, and make the conscious decision to choose God’s path for yourself. The more you make the right choice, the easier it becomes. Choosing to turn from temptation becomes a habit.

And most importantly, we eagerly expect God’s heavenly reward, which Jesus referred to in His Parable of the Talents. The Lord encourages us to invest well that which God has given us – we don’t want to squander His gifts by yielding to temptation. The master rewards his dependable servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)

Just for You

Jesus knows how we feel. Josh Hamilton talks about his fight with temptation.

Personal Help

Do you feel tempted and would like to talk with someone who could give you ideas about turning from temptation? We have trained, caring followers of Jesus who want to help you say “no” to sin! Just click here to share your story. You will hear from someone shortly!

Prayer Points

Will you pray this week that:
• That God will let you avoid times of temptation
• To praise God for providing escape from temptation
• That you will depend on God in times of trial
• That He will forgive you and help you to “do better next time,” if you sin
• To praise the Lord that He knows our hearts and understands our weaknesses

GodLife Family

Renew your faith every day and provide yourself a godly distraction from temptation by visiting the GodLife Facebook Page. It’s a place we can daily gather as a family to express ourselves and pray for one another!

Counterfeit Sanctification

By John MacArthur

Sanctification isn’t easy—it takes faithfulness, hard work, and self-discipline. And even then, it’s not purely a function of your will, but the work of the Holy Spirit in you. It’s not manufactured overnight.

As with anything that takes time, effort, and patience, people are prone to look for shortcuts. Some people substitute a mystical, subjective feeling of closeness to God for actual spiritual growth. Others cling to outward expressions of godliness while sin still makes a home in their hearts.

But that’s not true spiritual growth—it’s counterfeit. If you truly love the Lord, you can’t be willing to move the goalposts on biblical sanctification.

There are many varieties of counterfeit sanctification. Some are easier to spot than others, but all lead to the same kind of spiritual shipwreck. Here are a few to be on the lookout for in your own life…