Faith-It-Forward is a Backward Idea

BewareBeloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Representative Randy Forbes (R – Va) leads the Congressional Prayer Caucus.  He has started a new initiative called “Faith-It-Forward.”  You can learn more here.

While I am not questioning the Congressman’s motive, and while I intend to do all I can through legal channels to protect 1st Amendment rights of all Americans, I find this particular effort both sad and amusing.

This is an attempt to gather all the stories of religious folks doing good in their world, as well as an effort to show off certain religious people who have proven quite successful in their occupational fields.  The bottom line, per Mr. Forbes, is “We need to change the narrative.”  Forbes believes the narrative of religion (and it’s obvious he has especially in mind Christianity) has been warped by mainstream media and those who oppose us.  In that he is surely correct.  But where he errs is in thinking we can somehow change people’s minds by plastering how “good” we are all over Facebook!  And he errs in thinking we should expect the world to get our story right!

Sure, Jesus did say, “Let your light shine among men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).  But two things stand out here:

  1. Jesus surely did not mean His followers were to conduct publicity or marketing campaigns to show off their holy living!  It should be noted that in the same sermon, Jesus also told His followers, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1).  Jesus went on to warn us of making a show of our prayers or generosity – the very thing this campaign is seeking to do!
  2. Jesus’ main concern is that God receive all the glory for any good done by His people.  So, Christians are to live in such a way that any praise is immediately and by default deflected upwards to God alone.

These are increasingly perilous times for the Christian Church and followers of Jesus.  I get that.  I am concerned by that, believe me.  I’m not keen on doing jail time for preaching God’s Word, nor do I enjoy the ongoing erosion of our Constitutional freedoms and rights as Americans.  I am praying God will help us and turn our nation back towards the ideals that Founded the United States of America.

But here’s what I think we Christians have forgotten: America is an anomaly.  The freedom of religion we have enjoyed for a few hundred years has never been the norm.  Jesus promised to build His Church, not America!  And build the Church He has, with or without governmental endorsement.  Don’t take my word for it.  Ask the brothers and sisters in China.  In Sudan. In North Korea.  In Syria.  In Myanmar.  In 1st century Rome.

So, dear American believers in Christ, be not shaken or surprised!  R. Kent Hughes once wrote, “Those God royally elects, He ruthlessly perfects.”  God is perfecting His Bride.  Christ is purifying us, O Church.  Give Him glory!  As Peter urged persecuted believers in his day, “keep on rejoicing.”

And do not forget that our identity and success has never been tied to the world’s “narrative.”  Indeed, the true narrative of the Church has been one of blood, sweat and cross-bearing.  Why would we expect anything less?  We do follow a crucified and risen Lord, don’t we?  We need not worry about trying to make the world like us.  They never have.  They never will.  Read Jesus’ words in John 16:18-27 again.

It’s not us they primarily hate.  It’s Jesus.  The world is still trying to crucify Him.  But it is our joyful job to just keep begging as Christ’s ambassadors that sinners “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20).  And as those sinners, by God’s saving grace, are reconciled, we shall once again be reminded that our Savior said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

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Forgiveness the Charleston Way

BA2274-001“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12

The nation and perhaps the world has been watching Charleston, SC this week.  A deranged and heart-dark young man murdered 9 worshipers in cold blood while they prayed together in a church building.  Perhaps this deluded racist hoped to spark more riots?  Cause even more bloodshed?  Wreak even more havoc in the aftermath?

Well, if he wanted these things, he picked the wrong venue.  He may well have gotten riots if he shot up a downtown nightclub or bar.  But he chose a Christian church.  A place where people learn Christ.

Those precious followers of Christ whose loved ones are being buried this week gathered in the courtroom recently to address the murderer.  One by one they announced love and forgiveness.  Not hate and bitterness.

While I do not want to disparage these brothers and sisters in Christ in any way, I do want to take the opportunity to remind the flock I pastor that despite best intentions, publicly announcing your forgiveness to an unrepentant person is not always the wisest or most biblical course of action.  Why?  How could forgiving someone be wrong?  I didn’t say forgiving someone is wrong.  I said publicly announcing it may not be wise.  Let me explain.

I find the lack of understanding among Christians concerning forgiveness is wide-spread.  So, let me try and summarize the basics concerning biblical forgiveness, noting that I am indebted to my seminary counseling professor, Dr. Stuart Scott, for many of these insights:

  • Forgiveness in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, is viewed in two ways.  One, there is the heart attitude of forgiveness.  This type of forgiveness deals with our own hearts, and bids us release the offender to the sovereign hand of God.  This forgiveness says, “I will not hold this sin against you, nor will I allow your sin to make me bitter, or to make me harbor anger towards God or you.  I will guard my own heart before God and release you to Him.”  We can do this kind of forgiveness without ever telling the offender and without the offender ever repenting and asking for our forgiveness.  [Indeed it’s not really recommended to tell the person you’ve forgiven them in this sense if they’ve never repented, because it makes them think they’re now “off the hook” in the repentance department.]
  • Followers of Christ are absolutely obligated and commanded to give this kind of forgiveness, whether or not the offender ever repents.  If we do not forgive from our hearts, releasing the person to God and refusing to allow bitterness to control us, then Jesus plainly states we are none of His (Matt 6:14-15).
  • The second way forgiveness is presented in the NT is a pardoning transaction that reconciles the offended and the offender.  The first type of forgiveness deals with our own heart attitudes, but this type deals with an actual transaction whereby the two people or parties are brought together again on friendly terms.  This requires repentance on the part of the offender.  This is clearly the type of forgiveness Jesus had in mind in passages like Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:1-4.  This is also the forgiveness God extends to us when we repent and turn to Jesus in faith (Mark 1:15).  O blessed reconciliation wrought for us by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Rom 5:6-11).  We were God’s enemies, but His grace has brought us near Him (Eph 2:11-22).  Praise God!  He forgives repentant sinners!
  • So, forgiveness in the Bible is in two senses: one is vertical (between the offended and God), the other is horizontal (between the offended and the offender).  And both glorify God in Christ!

The crux of the matter is best captured in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:23-35).  Without belaboring the point, we may easily summarize the truth in this way: “The Forgiven Forgive!”  An unforgiving spirit (vertical) or an outright withholding of forgiveness in the face of obvious repentance (horizontal) are sure signs that genuine salvation in Christ has simply not taken root in your heart.

Just as we are called to love as Jesus loves, so too we are commanded to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).  That’s a verse we recite many times a week in our house!

So, while the spirit of those saints in Charleston is commendable, they may have been a bit wiser to have simply told the criminal, “May God forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”  This is a bit different and a more biblical approach than just saying, “I forgive you” when the person has shown zero remorse.

Jesus hung a cross and demonstrated both kinds of forgiveness.  Looking on His tormentors in pity, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus did not look at them and say, “It’s alright.  I forgive you.”  But Jesus did forgive a repentant criminal hanging beside him!  He told that man, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise!”

We do well to look to the example of our sinless Savior in these matters.  Only then will we be able to “forgive one other, even as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

And yes, we pray for a sweeping revival across this land of true, biblical forgiveness.  First from God to repentant sinners as He draws them to faith in Christ.  And second from persons to persons, starting within the church, and flowing out into the streets and farms of this nation.  Soli Deo Gloria!  


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Stephen Cox - Amen Pastor, a good word.

Transgender Hysteria

bruce-jenner-olympicsThanks to Bruce Jenner’s recent public “transformation,” it seems transgenderism is front and center in American pop-culture.  A missionary friend of mine who works primarily in New England sent me a picture this week of a transgender bathroom sign in Boston.  He called it “a sign of the times.”

Indeed.  A “sign.”  Of our sinful depravity which we now celebrate, embrace, promote, flaunt and force upon everyone, everywhere.  While the world is being terrorized by radical Islamists, and our cities are ablaze with violent crime, our State Department is busy trying to force the LGBT agenda on the rest of the world, especially “backwards”Africa and Asia.  But America is the Nation going backwards.  And downwards.

I believe the Church of Jesus Christ is called to extend kindness and love to every person, including those suffering from the sinful delusion called “gender confusion.”  I want to state that up front.  There is no justification for mistreating a transgendered person, or a person who expresses confusion in these matters.  They are a human, made in God’s image, like me.  They are a depraved sinner, like me.  They have no hope of heaven apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ, like me.  They need to repent of their sin and trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, like me. They need to learn as believers in Jesus to fight sin and temptations to sin by the power of His Spirit and Word, like me.  They may not share the same sins and temptations, but they are no less or more in need of the saving love of Jesus than I am.  So, in many ways, we are the same.  To say it again, in the most important ways, we are the same.

That said, a genuine love for a person who is transgendered or gender-confused, must constrain us to tell the person the things I just said above!  It is not loving of a doctor who knows the disease and the cure to withhold that information from a dying patient.  It is hateful.  Despicable.  A crime!

And the transgendered community, and those experiencing gender confusion, are dying.  Consider a recently published, long-term study of this community in Sweden here.  In brief, the researchers found that those who had undergone sex-change surgery were now:

  • 20 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • 5 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • 3 times more like to require psychiatric hospitalization.

Does this look like a picture of health and happiness?  Did changing “sex” fulfill these people?  You see, this thing called “transgenderism” is merely another manifestation, or symptom, of the true human condition – sin.  Jesus said we do what we do and say what we say and think what we think because of resident evil – sinful hearts, minds, and wills (Mark 7:14-23).  Denying or ignoring or rejecting God’s creative design of humans as distinctly “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) will never give us joy and fulfillment in life.  We sinners are always looking for joy and satisfaction and love in all the wrong places.

Long-time Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Paul McHugh said this:

“At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. ‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is a civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”

McHugh went on to say that America is supporting a “psychiatric misadventure.”

“A woman shall not wear a man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 22:5).  

God minces no words.  His will and Law in this matter are clear.  But take heart!  There is hope for all us “abominations.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14).

Stop looking for joy and fulfillment in your gender, in your confused mind, in your friends and family, in your bank account, in your appearance, and in your surgical alterations.  Look to Jesus, the Man of all men, who came to set both male and female free in the deepest parts of our souls (Gal 3:28).  Jesus can free us, even from the sin of gender-confusion, sex re-assignment, and mass perversion.

O transgendered sinner, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!  

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A Hunger for God: Fasting and Prayer

HungerIn preparation for a fast I read an excellent book about desiring God through fasting and prayer that I want to commend to you. In A Hunger for God by John Piper he helps us think deeply about why we fast. His main point is that the kind of fast that God wants from us is one where we hunger for God more than food, thirst for God more than water, and desire God more than anything else. We fast because we have an appetite for God. We say with our fast: “O God, I want you.” Below are a couple of my favorite quotes.

“Christian fasting, at its root, is a hunger for God”

“Food is good. But God is better. We meet God in his good gifts and turn every enjoyment into worship with thanksgiving. But from time to time we need to test ourselves to see if we’ve begun to love his gifts in place of God.”   “Fasting is an intensification of prayer. It’s a physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence, ‘We hunger for you, oh God, to come in power.’ It’s a cry with our body, not just our soul: ‘I really mean it, Lord! I hunger for you. I want the manifestation of you yourself more than I want food.’”

May our fasting be a joyful preferring of God over all our other desires. Our great God is most satisfying and in Him we have atonement and everything we need.

In answer to the question of is it appropriate for a congregation to fast together he writes, “Matthew 6:1–18 begins with the warning ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.’ The point of the whole section is not that public righteousness ‘before other people’ is bad, but that doing it ‘to be seen by them’ is bad. This is confirmed by the fact that even though he said, ‘when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret,’ nevertheless he himself practiced public prayer… Being seen fasting and fasting to be seen are not the same thing.”

“It is possible to do extraordinary fasting and yet not humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and turn from wickedness. (Jeremiah 14:12, Zechariah 7:5, Isaiah 58:3)”

The book up to this point was excellent and helped me orient myself for a proper fast, but I found even greater gold in his chapter on Isaiah 58:1-12 entitled “A different fast for the sake of the poor”. He notes the parallels between this passage and the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18 and Matthew 25:35–36. He argues that what God desires from us is that we not only afflict our souls with a fast on one day, but that we afflict ourselves in order to relieve the affliction of others as a way of life. We must deny ourselves for the benefit of others. (Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:24-26; Philippians 2:3-4) We can say no to many of our desires in order that we can be a part of God’s work throughout the world. May we be those who pour out their lives in service to those around us so that they too may find the atonement that comes only from the perfect sacrifice who laid down His life and bore the wrath we deserved.

Again I highly recommend A Hunger for God to you. You can even download the PDF of the whole book for free here. It will be worth your time.

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Marriage Matters

MarriageMattersBookHow does God use our marriages to change us?  To grow us in holiness?  To reveal our sins and shortcomings and encourage us to look only to Christ for satisfaction?  How can we gain clearer vision, that we might see God at work in our marriages and come to embrace the everyday grace of the gospel?  How can my marriage be rescued from its primary nemesis – my own selfishness?

Marriage Matters – A 12-week study using Winston Smith’s book by the same title aims to answer these very questions, and more!  Join us each Sunday at 9:30 am (June 7 – Aug 23) as we seek to build our marriages on the sure foundation of God’s saving love and glory in the gospel of Jesus Christ.   For more information, contact Pastor Keith.

Marriage Matters by Winston Smith is about the Extraordinary Change that can come through Ordinary Moments. The Kindle ebook edition is just $2.50. Drawing on his extensive experience as a marriage counselor Winston Smith, offers a simple yet powerful prescription for changing your marriage. He shows how examining the everyday disappointments and irritations in your marriage will help you understand yourself, your spouse, and your need for God’s love. Change begins with seeing day-to-day interactions from a different perspective, taking simple steps to love one another more effectively, and then learning how to take those steps over and over again. Interactions that used to devolve into pointless annoyances and fights can become an opportunity for God’s activity and love to become increasingly evident and powerful.

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