Daily Archives: February 15, 2018

February 15 The Joy of Affection

“It is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:7–8).

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Often the strongest and deepest relationships are forged in the crucible of Christian ministry.

Undoubtedly there are people who occupy a special place in your heart. Perhaps you seldom see them or talk to them, but they are on your mind and in your prayers often.

That’s how Paul regarded the Philippian believers, and it was right for him to do so because they were such an integral part of his life and ministry. They stood by him in every situation—even during his judicial proceedings and imprisonment in Rome.

The gratitude and joy Paul felt was more than an emotion. It was a moral obligation to praise God for what He had accomplished through them. That’s the meaning of the Greek word translated “right” in verse 7.

“Heart” refers to the center of one’s thoughts and feelings (cf. Prov. 4:23). Paul thought of the Philippians often and eagerly yearned for them with the affection of Christ Himself. In Philippians 4:1 he calls them “my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown.”

The mutual affection between Paul and the Philippians illustrates that often the strongest and deepest relationships are developed within the context of Christian ministry. There’s a special camaraderie among people who work toward life’s most noble goals and see God achieve eternal results through their efforts. Guard those relationships carefully, and cultivate as many as possible.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Make a list of those who share in your ministry. Also list some ways God has worked through you in recent weeks. Spend time thanking Him for both.

For Further Study: Barnabas was a faithful friend and ministry companion to Paul. Read Acts 4:36–37, 9:22–28, 11:19–30, and 13:1–3 and answer these questions: ✧ What does “Barnabas” mean? Did he live up to his name? ✧ How did Barnabas pave the way for Paul’s ministry among the disciples at Jerusalem? ✧ What adventure did Paul and Barnabas share that began at Antioch?[1]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 58). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

FEBRUARY 15 TRAGEDY: MEN DO NOT KNOW THAT GOD IS HERE

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.

GENESIS 28:16

The patriarch Jacob saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”

Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours.

Men do not know that God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew!

The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son.

If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.

It has been asked, “Why does God manifest His Presence to some and let multitudes of others struggle along in the half-light of imperfect Christian experience?” We can only reply that the will of God is the same for all—He has no favorites within His household. All he has ever done for any of His children He will do for all of His children. The difference lies not with God but with us![1]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

40 Days to the Cross: Week of Ash Wednesday – Thursday

Confession: Psalm 51:5–8

Behold, in iniquity I was born,

and in sin my mother conceived me.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward parts,

and in the hidden parts you make me to know wisdom.

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Reading: Mark 8:34–9:1

And summoning the crowd together with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life on account of me and of the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a person give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, that there are some of those standing here who will never experience death until they see the kingdom of God having come with power.”

Reflection

Some are saying, Oh that the world was crucified to me and I to the world! Oh that my heart were as dead as a stone to the world and alive to Jesus! Do you truly wish it? Look, then, to the cross. Behold the amazing gift of love.… Sit down like Mary, and gaze upon a crucified Jesus. Then will the world become a dim and dying thing. When you gaze upon the sun, it makes everything else dark; when you taste honey, it makes everything else tasteless; so when your soul feeds on Jesus, it takes away the sweetness of all earthly things—praise, pleasure, and fleshly lusts all lose their sweetness. Keep a continued gaze. Run, looking unto Jesus. Look, till the way of salvation by Jesus fills up the whole horizon, so glorious and peace-speaking. Then will the world be crucified to you, and you unto the world.

—Robert McCheyne

Glorifying in the Cross

Response

Has the cross changed the desires of your heart? During the season of Lent, many choose to fast or refrain from certain practices. If you have done so, are you focusing your gaze upon the cross?[1]


[1] Van Noord, R., & Strong, J. (Eds.). (2014). 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

February 15, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Return to Nazareth

But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.” And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (2:19–23)

The fourth and final prophecy that Matthew mentions in chapter 2 pertains to the journey of Jesus’ family from Egypt to Nazareth.

When Herod was dead, the greatest immediate danger to Jesus was over. In his Antiquities Josephus reports that Herod “died of this, ulcerated entrails, putrified and maggot-filled organs, constant convulsions, foul breath, and neither physicians nor warm baths led to recovery.” A rather fitting end, it seems, for such a man. Not nearly so fitting was the elaborate and costly funeral that his eldest son and successor, Archelaus, prepared in his honor—especially in light of the fact that just five days before he died, Herod, by permission from Rome, had executed another son, Antipater, because of his plots against his father.

The angel of the Lord had told Joseph to stay in Egypt “until I tell you” (2:13). Now the angel reappeared to Joseph as promised, telling him, Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead. The fact that the angel spoke of those who sought the Child’s life indicates that Herod was not alone in his plans to destroy his supposed rival. But like Herod, the other conspirators seeking the death of the Child were themselves now dead.

Joseph was not instructed to return to any particular city or region but simply to take the Child and His mother back into the land of Israel. When he arrived in southern Israel, however, and heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. The ones who had previously sought to kill the infant Jesus were dead, but Archelaus posed another, more general, threat. In one of his numerous acts of brutality shortly before he died, Herod had executed two popular Jewish rabbis, Judas and Matthias, who had stirred up their disciples and other faithful Jews in Jerusalem to tear down the offensive Roman eagle that the king had arrogantly erected over the Temple gate. The following Passover an insurrection broke out, and Archelaus, reflecting his father’s senseless cruelty, executed three thousand Jews, many of whom were Passover pilgrims who had no part in the revolt.

Any Jew, therefore, who lived in the territory of Archelaus was in danger. Consequently Joseph was again warned by God in a dream, [and] he departed for the regions of Galilee. That they came and resided in a city called Nazareth was not only because Joseph and Mary were originally from there (Luke 2:4–5) by divine providence, but that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled. Matthew focuses on two features through all of this narrative: (1) divine revelation as indicated by angelic instruction for every move, and (2) the fulfillment of a divine plan revealed in the Old Testament.

The specific statement that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene does not appear in the Old Testament. Some interpreters have tried to connect Nazarene with the Hebrew nēser (branch) spoken of in Isaiah 11:1, but that idea is without etymological or other support, as is the idea of trying to tie the prophecy to the “shoot” of Isaiah 53:2. Because Matthew speaks of the prophets, plural, it seems that several prophets had made this prediction, though it is not specifically recorded in the Old Testament.

Other sayings and events unrecorded in the Old Testament are nevertheless quoted or referred to in the New. Jude tells us that “Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way’ ” (Jude 14–15). Yet no such prophecy is mentioned in Genesis or in any other part of the Old Testament. In a similar way we know of Jesus’ teaching that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” only because of Paul’s later reference to it (Acts 20:35). The saying is not mentioned by any of the gospel writers, including Luke, who reported the account in Acts. John tells us that he did not even attempt to record everything that Jesus said and did during His earthly ministry (John 21:25).

Matthew does not tell us which prophets predicted that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene, but only that more than one of them did so. The prophecy is said to be fulfilled when Jesus was taken to live in Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary had formerly lived. Matthew’s original readers were largely Jewish, and it was probably common knowledge among them who the specific prophets were that had made the prediction. For later readers, the Holy Spirit obviously felt it was enough that we simply know that the prediction was made and that it was fulfilled as Matthew explains.

Nazareth was about 55 miles north of Jerusalem, in the regions of Galilee, where the Lord had directed Joseph to go. The town was in an elevated basin, about one and a half miles across, and was inhabited largely by people noted for their crude and violent ways. The term Nazarene had long been a term of derision, used to describe any person who was rough and rude. That is why Nathanael, who was from Cana, a few miles to the south, asked Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The question is especially significant coming from Nathanael, who by Jesus’ own word was “an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (v. 47). Nathanael was not given to maligning his neighbors, but he was shocked that the one “of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote” (v. 45) actually could come from such a disreputable place as Nazareth.

The early Jewish persecutors of the church apparently considered Jesus’ being from Nazareth as evidence that He could not be the Messiah, rather than, as Matthew tells us, a sign that He was. Tertullus, acting as attorney for the high priest Ananias and other Jewish leaders, spoke derisively of Paul before the Roman governor Felix as “a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). The church Father Jerome wrote that in synagogue prayers Christians were often cursed as Nazarenes, with the petition that they would be blotted out of the Book of Life (see Ps. 69:28). Jesus’ living in Nazareth not only fulfilled the unnamed prophets’ prediction, but gave Him a name, Jesus the Nazarene, that would be used as a title of reproach, thus fulfilling many other prophecies that depict the Messiah as “despised and forsaken of men” (Isa. 53:3; cf. 49:7; Ps. 22:6–8; 69:20–21). The gospel writers make clear the fact that He was scorned and hated (see Matt. 12:24; 27:21–23, 63; Luke 23:4; John 5:18; 6:66; 9:22, 29).

It was therefore at lowly and despised Nazareth that the royal Son of God, along with the righteous Joseph and Mary, made His home for some thirty years.[1]


23 The town Joseph chose was Nazareth, which, according to Luke 1:26–27; 2:39, was his former home and that of Mary (cf. 13:53–58). This final quotation formula, like that of v. 15, should probably be construed as telic: this took place “in order to fulfill.” But the formula is unique in two respects: only here does Matthew use the plural “prophets,” and only here does he omit the Greek equivalent of “saying” and replace it with the conjunction hoti, which can introduce a direct quotation (NIV) but more probably should be rendered “that,” making the quotation indirect: “in order to fulfill what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene” (cf. W. Barnes Tatum Jr., “Matthew 2:23,” BT 27 [1976]: 135–37). This suggests that Matthew had no specific OT quotation in mind; indeed, these words are found nowhere in the OT.

The interpretation of this verse has such a long history (for older works, cf. Broadus; for recent studies, cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 97–104; Brown, Birth of the Messiah, 207–13) that it is not possible to list here all the major options. We may exclude those that see some wordplay connection with an OT Hebrew word but have no obvious connection with Nazareth. This eliminates the popular interpretation that makes Jesus a Nazirite or second Samson (cf. esp. Jdg 13:5, 7; 16:17, where LXX has Naziraios as opposed to Matthew’s Nazōraios; cf. Lk 1:15). Defenders include Calvin, Loisy, Schweizer, and Ernst Zuckschwerdt (“Nazōraios in Matth. 2:23,” TZ 31 [1975]: 65–77). Also to be eliminated are interpretations that try to find in Matthew’s term a reference to some kind of pre-Christian sect. The evidence for this is feeble (cf. Soares-Prabhu, Formula Quotations, 197–201) and the connection with Nazareth merely verbal. E. Earle Ellis (“How the New Testament Uses the Old,” in New Testament Interpretation [ed. Marshall], 202) sees a pun here as an “implicit midrash,” but significantly he then has to put the word “fulfillment” in quotation marks.

Matthew certainly used Nazōraios as an adjectival form of apo Nazaret (“from Nazareth” or “Nazarene”), even though the more acceptable adjective is Nazarēnos (cf. Bonnard; Albright and Mann; Soares-Prabhu). Possibly Nazōraios derives from a Galilean Aramaic form. Nazareth was a despised place (Jn 7:42, 52), even to other Galileans (cf. Jn 1:46). Here Jesus grew up, not as “Jesus the Bethlehemite,” with its Davidic overtones, but as “Jesus the Nazarene,” with all the opprobrium of the sneer. When Christians were referred to in Acts as the “Nazarene sect” (24:5), the expression was meant to hurt. First-century Christian readers of Matthew, who had tasted their share of scorn, would have quickly caught Matthew’s point. He is not saying that a particular OT prophet foretold that the Messiah would live in Nazareth; he is saying that the OT prophets foretold that the Messiah would be despised (cf. Pss 22:6–8, 13; 69:8, 20–21; Isa 11:1; 49:7; 53:2–3, 8; Da 9:26). The theme is repeatedly picked up by Matthew (e.g., 8:20; 11:16–19; 15:7–8; see Turner). In other words Matthew gives us the substance of several OT passages, not a direct quotation (so also Ezr 9:10–12; cf. Str-B, 1:92–93).

It is possible that at the same time there is a discreet allusion to the nēṣer (“branch”) of Isaiah 11:1, which received a messianic interpretation in the Targums, rabbinic literature, and Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 104), for here, too, it is affirmed that David’s son would emerge from humble obscurity and low state. Jesus is King Messiah, Son of God, Son of David; but he was a branch from a royal line hacked down to a stump and reared in surroundings guaranteed to win him scorn. Jesus the Messiah, Matthew is telling us, did not introduce his kingdom with outward show or present himself with the pomp of an earthly monarch. In accord with prophecy, he came as the despised Servant of the Lord.[2]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 46–48). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 124–126). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Rick Warren and C. Peter Wagner, partners in spiritual crime

Re-posting a piece penned by the late Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries in 2014 titled “The Unregenerate Know Nothing of This Struggle.”

Here at Apprising Ministries you’ve heard me warn you on a regular basis about the despicable Church Growth Movement (CGM),1 which slithered out of the spiritual black hole known as Fuller Theological Seminary (FTS). Briefly, we trace the origins of the CGM back to Donald McGavran who in 1965:

 was asked by Fuller Theological Seminary to establish the School of World Mission…. His major book  Understanding Church Growth does not primarily focus on Theology (but rather on the social sciences. McGavran’s theology is primary apologetic.

Although the name of his book is Understanding Church Growth, he focuses mostly on growth and little on the church. (source, bold in original)

At this point it’s important to note that C. Peter Wagner, McGavran’s partner in spiritual crime at FTS is listed as the co-author of Understanding Church Growth.2 You might also notice that the mythology of McGavran and Wagner sounds an awful lot like the seeker driven Purpose Driven Church methodology of Rick Warren.

There’s actually good reason for this as I shared a couple of years back in Rick Warren on Mentors like C. Peter Wagner. For you see, “Apostle” Wagner—the wingnut who developed the spurious New Apostolic Reformation—happens to be the mentor for Warren’s doctoral dissertation at FTS on, you guessed it, church growth.3

Since this isn’t the main point of this piece, let me just point out that these men essentially espoused the same man-centered theology as the late Robert Schuller4 who once wrote the following foolishness:

Classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be “God-centered,” not “man-centered”…[and teaching about] a holy God who hates sin…we [need to] redefine our doctrine of sin.”

Historical theology has too often failed to interpret repentance as a positive creative force… Essentially, if Christianity is to succeed in the next millennium, it must cease to be a negative religion and must become positive.5

So, if you didn’t know where these man-centered myths came from, now you do. Here’s why this is important before you read the devotional teaching to follow. Another entity of the CGM, which would also slither into the visible church to marry man-pleasing mythology to business methodology is Leadership Network (LN).

It’s no secret that Rick Warren has been deeply involved with LN for decades.6 You need to know that LN teaches a fable known as “pre-conversion discipleship.” For example, we consider the following from Emergent Church “missiologist” Alan Hirsch, who was very involved in the early Emerging Church.7

Hirsch writes:

we need to reframe evangelism within the context of discipleship…even “the Twelve” (and “the Seventy”) were all what we would call “pre-conversion disciples.”8

That’s from Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship where Purpose Driven Pope Rick Warren himself gushed in his foreword:

No, sorry about that Rick Warren; they are clearly teaching a mythology that someone who is still in the flesh can actually be discipled. However, the critical fact is that the Twelve and the Seventy were very specifically chosen by Jesus Christ Himself and interacted directly with Him; and thus they were converted before they were sent out.

This brings me to the most important part of this short article. The CGM has really crippled the Christian witness outside the Body of Christ and produced the neutering of the Gospel of repentance and the Cross. As such, you need to know that there are scores and scores of false converts kidding themselves that they are Christians.

George Whitefield was a leading figure in the Great Awakening, a major revival “that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s.”9 Well, I  offer Whitefield saw more conversions to Christ than Rick Warren et al could ever dream of seeing. He was once asked, “Why do you always say, ‘You must be born again!’?”

Whitefield simply replied, “Because you must be born again!” Don’t deceive yourself, no one can follow Christ in the flesh or ever hope to please God (c.f. John 3:3-7; Romans 8:7-11). If you don’t find what you’re about to read happening to you personally, then you have every reason to wonder whether you are a regenerated Christian:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

If you fail that test you just might cry out —Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24). If this be so, good; the Lord is calling you. Now you’re ready for the Good News;  there’s repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ Name. Come to HIm now; He died on the Cross for your sins.

And if you’ll but reach out for Him, then your next cry wil be — Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)

“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you cannot do the things that you would.” Galatians 5:17

In this one verse the apostle Paul describes the thing that continually plagues every Christian. We, as the people of God, desire more than anything to love God perfectly, but can’t. We long to cease from sin and ungodliness, but can’t. We strive to worship our God with our entire being, but can’t. We try to do good and honor God in all things, but can’t.

Why do we continually do, say, feel, and think things that are evil? Why are we so hard-hearted, unforgiving, and ignorant? Why can’t we do what we desire most?

It’s because we have two natures called . . . flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, Adam and Christ.

We do indeed believe our God, but not as we would. We do love our Savior, but not as we would. We do live for His honor and glory, but not as we would.

Our flesh won’t allow us. It always interferes. It keeps us from doing the things that we would. When we would do good–then evil is present with us. Our most fervent faith, is mixed with unbelief. Our most selfless sacrifices, are mixed with selfishness. Our most ardent prayers and supplications, are marred by our infirmities. Our most spiritual moments, are contaminated by our sickening carnality. Our meekest hours of submission and dependence on God, are corrupted by our self-will and pride. Every mountain top experience of spiritual pleasure, is tinged with shameful wanderings within. Our clearest views of Christ are darkened by error, misconceptions, and preconceived notions. Even when our hearts seem to be most fixed on God’s glory, they are torn between this world and the next.

The reality is, that as long as we live in this world–we will be at war within ourselves! The flesh will not submit to the Spirit–and the Spirit will not submit to the flesh. We will be . . . pulled this way one moment–and that way the next; believing one moment–and doubting the next; praising God in the morning–then murmuring at night; seeking God’s will today–and our will tomorrow. As long as we live in this body of flesh there will be a constant struggle within us–a struggle between flesh and Spirit.

Lost unregenerate men know nothing of this struggle! This internal warfare is peculiar to believers. Unbelieving, unregenerate, impenitent, rebellious, lost sinners know nothing of this fight with SELF. They don’t loathe themselves as all believers do; they lovethemselves. They have but one nature–and that is sin, which rules in their hearts supremely. Lost men do not have grace within, to oppose the works and motions of the flesh. All they have is a nature that is dead in trespasses and sin, that walks according to the course of this world.

The struggle doesn’t begin within a man, until that man is born of God’s Spirit and given the gift of life and faith in Christ.

This war between our flesh and Spirit is best for us. If it were not so, then God would not allow it. God is control of this fight, and has ordained it for us in His infinite wisdom and grace. This constant battle within our hearts is good for us, because it keeps us looking to Christ–ever seeking Him, His grace, His help, His power. This lifelong fight will make the prize that much sweeter–when Jesus will present us “to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless!” Ephesians 5:27

Frank Hall

Further reading

Footnotes

  1. e.g. Teachings of Demons on Church Growth
  2. http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Church-Growth-Donald-McGavran/dp/0802804632, accessed 4/8/14.
  3. You’ll find helpful background material here: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2009/12/4/134435/084, accessed 4/8/14.
  4. e.g. see Man-Centered Methods of Rick Warren a la Robert Schuller and Robert Schuller: Father of the New Reformation
  5. Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation [Waco: Word Books, 1982], 64, 65, 104
  6. e.g. see http://herescope.blogspot.com/2006/01/leadership-network-spawns-emergent.html, accessed 4/8/14.
  7. The emerging church, another arm of the CGM, was also launched by LN. See http://www.herescope.blogspot.com/2005/11/how-leadership-network-created.html, accessed 4/8/14.
  8. Alan Hirsch, Deborah Hirsch, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010], 150.
  9. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm, accessed 4/8/14.

Source: Rick Warren and C. Peter Wagner, partners in spiritual crime

‘Save The Persecuted Christians’ Campaign Launches

Save The Persecuted Christians

Institute on Religion & Democracy Press Release
February 14, 2018
Contact: Jeff Walton Office: 202-682-4131, Cell: 202-413-5639, E-mail: jwalton@TheIRD.org

“Caring for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, and knowing that we are one body of Christ with them, should be in the DNA of every church and every individual follower of Jesus Christ.”
– IRD Religious Liberty Director Faith J.H. McDonnell 

Washington, DC—The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is joining with the Save The Persecuted Christians (STPC) campaign, an informal alliance of individuals and non-profit organizations dedicated to using their expertise, skills, and energy to protect Christians worldwide suffering discrimination, torture, rape, slavery, banishment and murder simply because they believe in Jesus Christ.

The campaign is modeled after the extraordinary work of the campaign to Save Soviet Jewry, which began in 1970 with banners and signage in front of synagogues and churches. Save The Persecuted Christians hopes to spawn a similarly powerful movement that will be a catalyst for change in the minds and hearts of American Christians – to wake the sleeping, transform the apathetic, ignite the passive, and empower all those who care but don’t know how to take action.

Dozens of churches will hang the official “Save The Persecuted Christians” banner in front of their place of worship beginning today. Churches can continue to join the effort at any time, by ordering a free banner and information/resources kit from the website, http://www.SaveThePersecutedChristians.org.

IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith McDonnell, with 24 years of experience in advocacy work for persecuted Christians, coordinates IRD’s partnership in STPC.

IRD Religious Liberty Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:

“IRD is proud to be part of the Save The Persecuted Christians coalition, and to re-energize a movement that 20 years ago led to the International Religious Freedom Act and other policy efforts to help the persecuted.

“A day that is both St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is especially appropriate to launch a campaign that we hope will become a gift from the heart of American Christians to their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith, and a time to remember that although the Lenten road experienced by persecuted Christians is so long and hard, it leads to resurrected life.

“It is my hope and prayer that churches that look to IRD for counsel on having a truly Biblical social witness in the world will immediately reach out to the STPC website and join the campaign. Caring for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, and knowing that we are one body of Christ with them, should be in the DNA of every church and every individual follower of Jesus Christ.

“This initiative is truly on the heart of God. IRD has planned a conference for May 10 of this year on Western Christian apathy to the plight of persecuted. With the work of the STPC campaign, we envision more Western Christians empowered to daily intercede for and to take action on behalf of their persecuted fellow Christians.”

http://www.TheIRD.org

Source: ‘Save The Persecuted Christians’ Campaign Launches

For the believer, death does not have the last word

When we close our eyes in death, we do not cease to be alive; rather, we experience a continuation of personal consciousness. No person is more conscious, more aware, and more alert than when he passes through the veil from this world into the next. Far from falling asleep, we are awakened to glory in all of its significance. For the believer, death does not have the last word. Death has surrendered to the conquering power of the One who was resurrected as the firstborn of many brethren.

– RC Sproul
full article here

What Do You Do with Your Guilt?

The cross of Christ has resources not just for forgiveness and the removal of guilt, but also the removal of sin’s power in our lives. We have the Holy Spirit! Remember our theology: justification never happens without sanctification coming along for the ride.

Lots of people have been raised on guilt like it was their bread and butter. If they didn’t measure up in any way, guilt! If they transgressed in any way (whether the Bible defined it or the parents defined it didn’t always matter), guilt! Guilt was made to seem like the way of the Christian. If you weren’t feeling guilt, then you wouldn’t stay in line. Guilt was the fence to keep people from going crazy.

This guilt came from fear, because Christian homes were afraid of the world out there, and the hedonism it advocated. They felt that they needed to erect barriers against the world’s influence. Guilt is a powerful weapon in the hands of scared parents. Of course, since many parents never told their children what to do with the guilt (since, if they did, they would lose their best weapon, and the children would go berserk!), the children learned to find ways to cope. Unfortunately, these ways of coping did not take away the feeling of guilt.

The various ineffective ways of dealing with guilt include distraction (food, entertainment, fun events, idealistic crusades, feverish workaholism), self-atonement (making oneself feel really bad, and even guiltier than before, even wallowing in it, so that one can atone a bit and feel a bit less guilty afterward), projection (if I make everyone around me feel guilty, then I will feel less guilty: one suspects this the real origin of the “Jewish mother” caricature), and ignoring it (this never works very well even temporarily).

Feelings of guilt can come from two sources, and these two sources must be handled quite differently. 1. Feelings of guilt can come from actual sin. There is only one way to deal with this kind of guilty feeling: take it all to the cross, to Jesus. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, as the hymn says. However, some people have a proud streak in them, and they won’t let go of their guilt feelings even if their actual guilt before God is gone. Here is it vitally important to make a distinction between actual guilt and feelings of guilt. After all, it is possible to feel guilty even when one has done nothing wrong. It is also possible, through a seared conscience, not to feel guilty even if one has actually sinned. If a person is not letting go of their guilt even after taking it all to Jesus and repenting, then the theological point must be made: this is pride speaking. The person is saying that Jesus’ blood isn’t really good enough to cover all my sins. I need to “double atone” by feeling guilty, even after I read that Jesus has forgiven me. This is a deep theological problem, which can only be answered by stressing the divinity of Christ, and hence the infinite value of Christ’s sacrifice.

2. The second source of feelings of guilt arise out of things that are not sins, but which the person has been duped into thinking are sins. These would be man-made additions to God’s law. The answer is different: education must take place about what God actually requires and what He doesn’t. Here we can think easily of the questions of alcohol, smoking, and other things that fall within the realm of Christian liberty. Of course, Christian liberty is always bounded in these matters by the weaker brother: we never want to make someone else stumble. However, and teetotallers seem to be especially prone to instigating this, we can easily be made to feel guilty by someone who believes in “not a drop.”

The million dollar question that remains is this: if we were to shed all this extra, unneeded guilt, how in the world will we stay in line? Several things need to be said here. Firstly, guilt does not keep people in line! If a person feels guilty, they are most likely to think, “Well, since I’ve already done this, what’s a little more sin?” They are not likely to think that they do not want to become more guilty. Secondly, the cross of Christ has resources not just for forgiveness and the removal of guilt, but also the removal of sin’s power in our lives. we have the Holy Spirit! Remember our theology: justification never happens without sanctification coming along for the ride! Actually, what we need to know is that the beautiful feeling of a clean slate is much more motivating to holiness than guilt is. For then we can plug into the gratitude that we know when we are forgiven. We then have a good thing: we wouldn’t want to damage it. This is a far more effective way of dealing with guilt than the ineffective ones listed above.

Lane Keister is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article first appeared on his blog, Green Baggins, and is used with permission.

The post What Do You Do with Your Guilt? appeared first on The Aquila Report.

Five Questions to Ask About Entertainment

Entertainment is often an expression of God’s gifts of creativity, storytelling, and beauty. But it can also provide mindless amusement, or damage our souls. How should Christians handle rapidly multiplying entertainment options in a God-honoring way?

Here are five questions to ask about your entertainment choices:

1. What purpose does entertainment serve?

The other night I came home from work, Costco, and the grocery store, put away the food, cleaned the bathroom, did a load of wash, and started dinner. After dinner, I was done. I just wanted to zone out in front of television.

It wasn’t wrong to watch television, but it wasn’t helpful either. I needed to rest. I needed God to revive me. Instead, I turned to the television.

Contrast that scenario with the following: my husband and I are going to dinner and a play in Chicago in a couple weeks. We are looking forward to the art and shared experience.

Entertainment serves completely different desires in these cases. In the first, entertainment is escapism, allowing  me to turn off my brain and retreat from the responsibilities of life. In the second event, entertainment is engaging with life, art, and people.

God wants us to enjoy life, and I don’t think he is opposed to good entertainment. Entertainment should be life-giving—a means of engaging with our world rather than retreating from it. Entertainment should not be a substitute for life.

Before you turn on the television or retreat to your iPad, ask yourself what you are seeking. To engage life in enjoyment or to escape?

2. How much time do you spend with entertainment?

Years ago, I wrote down the number of hours I spent watching television every day for a week, and I was surprised by the total. I hadn’t thought that I watched too much—just a show now and then—but it added up to a fair amount.

This is a worthwhile exercise.

Compare your time spent with entertainment to your time spent with spiritual input in your life. A couple hours at church on Sunday, maybe a small group meeting, and fifteen to twenty minutes reading your Bible, or a devotional every morning, might be normal for you. Maybe you invest more; maybe less. Let’s say we average five to eight hours per week receiving solid biblical input.

According to a Nielsen Company Audience Report (CNN article), the average American adult spends over 10 hours a day in front of a screen and about four and a half hours a day watching television or movies. Using these averages, entertainment consumes 32 of our hours per week.

Of course, those are averages, and entertainment is not always devoid of positive or godly influences, but those numbers give me pause. Ephesians 5:15-16 offers helpful guidance when examining your time:  

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

How much time are you giving to entertainment? Are you making the best use of your time?

3. Is what I’m watching true, honorable and commendable? Is the novel I’m reading excellent, praiseworthy?

God’s Word gives us some guidelines for choosing entertainment wisely. These qualities are taken directly from Paul’s words in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

That’s a pretty high bar for entertainment choices. Your definition of what is excellent and praiseworthy may be different from mine, but we must submit our ideas of what is appropriate to God’s Word.


What we allow into our eyes and ears affects our heart and soul, probably more than we know. 
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I memorized this passage years ago, and I found it helpful when evaluating television or movies for my children and for myself.

My husband and I look for story lines of redemption, transformation, and truth. We don’t like watching stories that make evil look good and good look evil, and we have rejected a number of series because, in my husband’s words, they are not good for our souls.

Take some time to examine your entertainment choices considering God’s Word to us in Philippians 4:8, and establish some criteria that your family will use when choosing entertainment.

4. How is this affecting my heart?

What we allow into our eyes and ears affects our heart and soul, probably more than we know. And what we allow to influence our hearts will direct our lives, as Proverbs 4:23 points out:

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

Jesus also said that what our eyes take in will affect the rest of us:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:21-23)

These verses are preceded by the command to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven; and, they are followed by the caution that we can serve only one master. Right in between are these verses about our eye being the determining factor of the light or darkness in our bodies—and our hearts.


God’s Word gives us some guidelines for choosing entertainment wisely.
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If our hearts are the wellspring of life, and if our eyes allow either light or darkness to fill our hearts and influence our loyalty, then it is important to pay attention to what we permit our eyes to absorb. If we watch enough television we will find ourselves adopting unspoken—but very clear—messages of worldly loyalty.

Take an honest diagnosis of what you allow into your eyes and ears and ask the Lord to help you discern how it is affecting your heart.

5. Jesus, will you help me?

Jesus came to save us from the darkness of our sin. He is our light and he offers us life that is truly life (John 8:12, John 10:10, 1 Timothy 6:18-19). He submitted to the punishment of death that was ours because of sin, and offers us his resurrection life when repent and believe in him. Only by the grace of God can we believe that Jesus would do that out of his great love for us.

Once we repent and believe, God begins the process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. Years ago, when I surrendered to him, he started changing my interests and desires, and they are still undergoing metamorphosis. Suddenly what once looked like light, now looks dark.

When we need the Lord’s help to make godly entertainment choices, he is ready and waiting to assist us. Jesus couldn’t watch television, but he knows that we are in a constant battle to choose our entertainment wisely. We’re told in Hebrews 4:15-16 that Jesus will help us:

 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Talk to Jesus about your entertainment choices, and ask these questions:

What am I seeking from my entertainment?

How much time am I investing in it?

Is it true, honorable, and praiseworthy?

Does what I read, watch, or do fill my heart with light or darkness?

Ultimately, ask the Lord to direct your choices; He will.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

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5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically

James 1:1-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James of course was inspired by the Holy Spirit to remind believers not to grieve or be sorrowful, but to be glad and full of joy when we “meet trials of various kinds.” So God’s people are supposed to suck it up…even be glad and joyful when we’re being put through the ringer? Seriously? Easier said than done for most of us.

Michelle Lesley, who writes Bible studies, says “You can do this!” Lesley suggests 5 ways believers should handle the tests and trials of life. And as always, she goes right to the Source:

Your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to get it fixed.

Your child develops a behavior problem, and you have no idea how to help her.

Somebody royally messed something up at work and now you have to figure out how to fix it.

You’re smack dab in the middle of a tenuous situation at church instigated and exacerbated by THAT lady.

Anybody who tells you, “Come to Jesus and all of your problems will be over,” is selling something. The Christian life is not a stroll through a flowery meadow with never a bump in the road. In fact, sometimes it’s just one big pile of poo after another.

The truth is, if you come to faith in Christ, you’re going to continue to have some of the same kinds of general “that’s life” poo that you had before. People at work will keep messing up. Your child will still pour nail polish on your new white rug (Why do you have a white rug if you have children?). Your neighbor will back into your fence (again) and drag her feet about fixing it (again).

So what’s the point of coming to Christ if you’re just going to keep having problems?

Because the point of coming to Christ is not for Him to make all your problems disappear, it’s for Him to redeem you from your sin and propitiate God’s wrath against you. That’s why the symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a magic wand. So how does God want us to face those tests and trials of life in a biblical, Christian way?

1. Recognize God’s Purpose in Testing You

There are scads of blessings and benefits that come along with repentance and faith in Christ, and one of them is that poo now has a purpose. (I sense some of you have had enough of the word poo. OK, moving on…)

What is the purpose of all these aggravations, sorrows, and worrisome circumstances that keep coming your way?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2-4

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Romans 5:3-4

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:9-11

Those difficult situations we face in life – whether they come as a consequence of our sin, a consequence of our Christlikeness, or simply a consequence of living in a post-Fall world – are the tools God uses to make us more like Jesus. Obediently bearing up during hard times develops steadfastness and maturity, endurance, character, and hope, holiness, peace, and righteousness.

You want those Christlike characteristics, don’t you?

I do too. But I’ll be honest – my flesh is not crazy about the fact that God often pulls a chisel out of His toolbag instead of a feather duster. And once again, we’re back to the cross versus the magic wand. We want God to “abracadabra” us into Christlike character. God points us to the cross.

2. Look at Tests and Trials Through Jesus’ Eyes

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1c-2

Jesus was not some crazy masochist who enjoyed being beaten, mocked, nailed to a cross, and having the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin. That was not fun. It was not pleasant. It was such a unique kind of awfulness that a whole new word had to be invented to describe it: excruciating. It was such a horrifying specter that it caused Jesus to sweat blood as He prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”

God does not require you to enjoy pain, suffering, inconvenience, stress, or aggravation any more than He required Jesus to enjoy it. What Jesus did was to focus on “the joy set before Him” – the results of His suffering and the great and glorious things it would accomplish – to help Him endure the suffering. That’s what God wants us to pattern our approach to suffering after – Jesus. We don’t look at the circumstance itself. We look past the circumstance to how God is going to be glorified, how He’s going to grow us in Christlikeness, what we’re going to see Him do in answer to prayer, and whom He might save as a result of the circumstance. We look at the finish line. The winner’s circle. We focus on those things to help us get through the pain and exhaustion.  View article →

Source: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically