Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When You Are About to Lose Hope

Are you losing hope? Are you discouraged?

Perhaps your heart aches for a wayward child.
Your marriage may seem all but over.
You are alone and feel as if your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.

Are you mad at God or feel that He has let you down?
Is your health headed south with no chance of an upward turn?

Perhaps you have seen counselors, doctors, and tried various medications, but nothing is improving.

What do you do? Is there any hope?

Trust me: I know what it feels like to lose hope. I write this blog from personal experience. I am actually writing this blog more for me than anyone else right now.

Here are some things I suggest for those who are about to lose hope. Don’t try to do them all. Just pick one or two that you can apply right now, and then add others later. Here we go:

1. Somewhere in your situation, sin is probably involved. It might be your sin. Or it might be the sin of another that is affecting you. In either case, allow the sin to magnify the beauty of God’s grace. Think about it: it is an amazing truth that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20). In other words, the more sin there is, the more grace that can come … IF the sinner confesses and repents of his/her sin (1 Jn. 1:9). This is how good the Gospel is! Anytime we experience sin, even if that sin causes us great pain, we need to allow that sin to magnify our view of the cross of Jesus Christ. To the depth that we realize the seriousness of sin is the depth that we will appreciate God’s love and grace!

2. Rest in the truth that only God can change a heart. If your situation involves someone who is frustrating you, only God can change his/her heart. Other things might help bring this about (e.g., counseling, speaking the truth in love, prayer, etc.), but the bottom line is only the power of the Holy Spirit can ultimately change a person’s heart, including mine! I am dealing with a wayward son right not, and I keep coming back to this truth. I am going to do everything I can to influence my son, but at the end of the day, I can rest in God being the only One who can change him from the inside out. “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). For those struggling in marriage, this truth is very important. You cannot change your spouse!

3. Lean on the body of Christ for support. Take advantage of the strength available through the body of Christ. “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:10). God wants us to lean upon our brothers and sisters in Christ when we begin to lose hope. For this to occur, we have to do something that few are willing to do: being humble and transparent to share our struggle. As long as we keep our pain inside, we forfeit the body of Christ being able to support us. When we share, then various members of the body can reach out to bear our burden. Share your pain, and receive the support of others.

4. Turn to God in prayer. In Psalms 73, Asaph is in turmoil. He envies the wicked; he feels that his obedience has been for naught; and his struggles are not making sense to him. The turning point comes in v. 17: “It was oppressive to me until I entered the sanctuary of God.” It is only as he gets alone with God that he gains a proper perspective. The same is true for us. We must get alone with God when we are struggling. We must get in the Word when we lose hope. Only then will we gain a godly perspective of our situation. Furthermore, when we come to God in prayer we must be sure to:

5. Be brutally honest with God. When we struggle, feel confused, or get angry it is important to “pour out your heart to God” (Ps. 62:8). God knows it all, so if we are not honest, we are only hiding those emotions from ourselves. Get them out. Blow some steam. Express your honest feelings to the Lord. But, at the end of the day, we must be willing to submit to God and not develop a demanding spirit. A demanding spirit is when we demand that God do what we want when we want it. On the other hand, faith is trusting God to do His will in His time. I find that when I am honest with God in prayer, often it leads to confession, because in my honesty I often see my sin.

6. Persist in prayer, because it often takes time to overcome the forces of darkness. Spiritual warfare is very real when we are losing hope. Satan is the master of discouragement, condemnation, and darkness. God is the giver of encouragement, hope, and light. Demonic spirits must be defeated in prayer—persistent and fervent prayer. We have to pull down strongholds and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). In Daniel 10, God heard Daniel’s prayers on the first day he prayed, but it took 21 days to overcome the Prince of Persia, a demonic spirit over the region of Persia. We mustn’t be surprised when our battle with unseen powers takes 21 days (or more) to overcome.

7. Search out a “wounded warrior”. A wounded warrior is someone who has been through something similar to our difficulty, but has come out the other end better instead of bitter. There is only one letter different between better and bitter. Better is because of a focus on Emanuel, whereas bitter is focused on “I”. 2 Cor. 1:3-8 is one of my favorite passages. In it we learn that God comforts us in our struggles so that we can comfort others who need it. I love the church, the body of Christ, because she is filled with warriors whose faith has endured great hardship, and thus can now help others. Another word I often use is “wounded healers.” The best healers are those who have been wounded themselves, but experienced the healing power of God. They are the best ones to turn to when we are wounded but not yet healed.

8. Ask God for encouragement. This may seem odd, but specifically ask God to give you some encouragement. He may do it through a song, a scripture, an encouraging word from someone, or just emotional relief. God as a father has great compassion for His children. I know this because I feel this for my children, and I am an imperfect father. God is a perfect father and wants to gives us hope when we are down. Recently I was struggling and asked God to encourage me. That day I received an email from a missionary, telling me something that greatly encouraged me.

9. Ask God to reveal to you something you need to see. Sometimes our discouragement is due to carnal thinking, sinful choices, negligence in the Word, etc. If this is the case, we need the Holy Spirit to reveal this to us so we can repent. “He who hides his sin shall not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes it shall find mercy” (Prov. 28:13).

10. Cling tightly to the God of all hope.
This may be very difficult to believe right now, but Romans 15:13 is still true: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” So, what is it about God that gives us reason for hope? Let’s consider just a few of the many reasons:

a. As a loving and caring Father, God has compassion on His hurting children. I know how I feel when my children are hurting. My heart goes out to them. God’s heart goes out to us when we are hurting. He wants to come to our aid, and He will. He is a “very present help in time of need” (Ps. 46:1).

b. God is faithful to bring us into the next chapter of our life. We can all look back and see His faithfulness in our past. His faithfulness in the past assures us that He will be faithful again in our present and future.

c. He promises to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebr. 13:5). Never let this truth become a cliché. Think about it! The God of the universe, the Creator of the world, promises to be with you always, everywhere, no matter what. You have God with you at all times!

d. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23). This means with each new day, we get new mercies … just for that day! In other words, whatever we need for a given day, we can experience His fresh mercies. Did you notice the passage says “mercies” and not just “mercy?” God’s goodness is plural—more than one! We need plural mercies, and God gives plural mercies.

e. God is all-powerful. This means He is able to do miracles, to change circumstances, to bring things across our path that we need, to change the heart of others, etc., etc. No obstacle is greater than God. No person is more powerful than God. No challenge is bigger than the Lord.

f. Jesus understands what it is like to suffer. One of the most amazing things about the incarnation (i.e., God becoming a man in Jesus) is that our God can totally relate to every struggle we face. “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in every way, as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebr. 4:15-16).

g. God is worthy of praise. Take time right now to worship and praise Him. When we put on the garment of praise, it often dispels the spirit of despair (see Isa. 61:3).

Don’t give up. Help us just around the corner. Ask God to show you what part of this blog you are to apply to your life right now. Let me know how God works in your life. Email me at davidholt08@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"But I Can't Forgive Myself"

I often hear people say, “I have received God’s forgiveness, but I just can’t forgive myself.” There is a lot of pain behind a statement like that. This usually indicates the person has done something so bad that he/she continues to feel deep shame for it. In addition, some feel the need to punish themselves for their past sin by continuing to feel bad about it.

But is it biblical to forgive self? I don’t want to in any way be insensitive to the pain one who going through that makes such a statement, but there is no biblical support for forgiving self.

The real issue is, “Have we truly accepted God’s forgiveness?” If we have accepted God’s forgiveness, then there is no need to forgive self, because if God declares something forgiven and cleansed, then that is all that matters.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Acts 10:15

If you say, “I have received God’s forgiveness, but I can’t forgive myself”, then you are putting yourself above God and this is a subtle form of pride. If you say, “I can’t forgive myself,” you are saying your assessment of your sin and forgiveness is more important than God’s.

Furthermore, if you are trying to punish yourself for your past as some form of penance, you need to understand that Jesus bore the punishment of God for your sin, and His punishment is enough. He was punished for your sin, so that you would not have to be punished.

It is an offense to the cross to not forgive yourself for a sin Jesus died to pay for!

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isa. 53:5

Take this to heart: nowhere are we told to forgive self. The issue is accepting God’s forgiveness. It is what He says about our sin that matters, not what I say about my sin. If God declares it forgiven, then case closed!!!

The solution for our sin is the blood of Jesus. Jesus shed His blood so that we could be completely forgiven. Therefore, bring your sin to the cross and leave it there. To pick it back up is an insult to the sacrifice of Jesus!

Meditate on these truths, and allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of righteousness (e.g. that you are forgiven and stand in the righteous in Christ):

“God made Him who knew no sin, to become sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor. 5:21

“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 Jn. 1:9

“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Jas. 2:13

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Ps. 103:12

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isa. 43:25

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isa. 1:18

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Hebr. 8:12

“Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebr. 10:14

“Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebr. 10:17

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebr. 10:22

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 Jn. 2:1-2

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Anger and Men

Anger is a common struggle for men. This is because God has hard-wired men to be aggressive, fight for causes, and lead. When something gets in the way of a man, he is susceptible to anger. This can be good or bad.

With Jesus, anger was good, but with us, it is often not good.

God’s Word says, “be angry but sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). How do we do this? Ephesians 4:26 is quoting Psalm 4:4. However, Paul is only quoting part of Psalm 4:4. The rest of Psalm 4:4 gives the secret to being angry but not sinning: “Be angry and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent” (Psalm 4:4). I believe this teaches that the best thing you can do when you are angry is remove yourself from the situation (so you don’t do something stupid!), get alone (on your beds), and allow the Lord to search your heart (ponder in your own hearts).

In allowing the Spirit to search your heart, ask this crucial question, “Lord, show me the goal that is being blocked.” Anger is due to a blocked goal. Often our goal is selfish and needs to be yielded to the Lord. 99% of anger is because we are not getting our way. We must be willing to surrender this to God. God uses anger to surface our selfishness and pride, so that we will allow Him to change that area of our life.

Now, anger can be righteous. In this case the goal being blocked is a righteous goal, and God may be using our anger to move is to godly action. When Jesus was angry in the Temple (Mark 11:15), it was because His goal of seeing the Temple used for worship was being blocked. He expressed his anger by overturning tables. Had He expressed His anger by hitting people, then He would have sinned. But He did not.

If we are angry because a righteous goal is being blocked, then we need to be very careful that we seek the Lord about how to respond to that anger. Those who expressed their anger toward sin and injustice in a godly way have done much good for the kingdom of God over the years.

So, to summarize: anger is due to a blocked goal. If the goal is ungodly, then it needs to change. If the goal is godly, then we must not sin in our strategy to meet the goal.

The bottom line is that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us control our anger. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Ask the Lord’s Spirit to so empower you, that you see changes in your life that are unexplainable apart from God!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Believing is one thing ... Doing is another

I got saved my senior year in high school and was immediately discipled by a more mature Christian. What a privilege! Oh, how he helped me grow in the Lord. Then I went to college and was discipled by various men for all four years. What a privilege! Oh, how they helped me grow in the Lord.

Part of my discipleship included reading the book “Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman. What a privilege! Oh, how that book made me believe in discipleship.

When I became the senior pastor of a church in 1990, I immediately selected four men to disciple. We met regularly, and I sought to pour my life into these hungry and teachable men. What a privilege! Oh, how I helped them grow in the Lord. And oh, how they helped me grow in the Lord.

After about two years, I was benefiting as much as they were from our discipleship meetings. So, we kept meeting for 17 years as an “Iron Man” group (“as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” – Proverbs 27:17) instead of as an intentional “discipleship group.” There is definitely value in both kinds of groups. However, I got away from intentionally discipling men.

Two years ago God used Ken Adams to reveal to me that I certainly believed in discipleship but was not doing it. I made a serious commitment to get back to doing discipleship. Here is the commitment I made: Lord willing, every year for the rest of my life I will disciple a different group of men. Their commitment to be in my group will be the same: Lord willing, every year for the rest of their life they will disciple a different group of men. And so forth and so on.

I have done this now for two years, and the fruit has been amazing. These men are growing, and some are now discipling others. I plan to have a reunion every five years of all the men affected by this commitment to truly DO discipleship, and not just say I believe in discipleship!

“And the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Important Lessons from 25 Years of Pastoring

Recently I was asked to speak to a church staff of about 30 on the most important lessons I have learned in 25 years of pastoring. Here are some of my notes from that talk:

1. The best thing you can give your church is a spiritually-alive pastor; therefore, do whatever it takes to stay spiritually healthy.

It is our job to keep our walk with God strong and vibrant. The best example we have is our love relationship with Jesus. We have the privilege of getting paid to seek the Lord. We must take advantage of this opportunity, and do everything we can to grow in the Lord. If you find yourself spiritually dry, and need some time away to seek the Lord, do it! There is nothing more important you can do for yourself and your church than keeping your walk with God strong. This also insures that your ministry be an overflow of your relationship with God.

2. Be aware of your fatal flaw, and make sure it doesn’t get the best of you.

We all have at least one area of vulnerability or “besetting sin” (Hebr. 12:1) in our life. Like with Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12), the Lord may not completely remove it, but use it to keep us dependent on Him. However, if we blow it, this area could cost us our ministry. Don’t let this happen. Too many lives are at stake.

3. Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of ministry.
Too many pastors have served the church at the expense of their family. We have a lot of flexibility with our schedules, and can actually use this flexibility in a way that benefits our family. Be at your child’s soccer game in the middle of the day; schedule a getaway during the week; and do breakfast or lunch dates with your kids when other dads are at work. My biggest fear (and I hope it stays my biggest fear) is that I would be successful in ministry but a failure at home.

4. Get your identity from who you are in Christ and not from your ministry performance or title.
If you are joyful only when the church is going well, and down when the church is doing poorly, it might indicate your identity is too wrapped up in your job. We must know who we are in Christ. This security and significance in Christ cannot be taken away and is not dependent on our ministry performance.

5. Minister as a team; it’s biblical, easier and more fun.

A pastor is to equip the saints for works of service (Eph. 4). This means he is not to do all the ministry himself. He is to train others to do ministry. He is to delegate and give away the ministry. In addition, he is to minister alongside others. We need others around us. It is dangerous to do ministry alone. God designed the body where every member is equally important. When you minister with a team you enjoy, it is so much fun.

Tips for Teams:
a. Value every member.
b. Affirm each other.
c. Know your role and don’t try to do others’ role.
d. Submit to authority and trust God to change them.
e. Speak the truth in love.
f. Defend one another.
g. Be clear on the vision and support it.
h. Don’t talk about others behind their back.
i. Believe the best in others and give them the benefit of the doubt.

6. The Word and the Spirit is the double barrel shotgun of ministry.
We need the Word for truth and the Spirit for power. The Word without the Spirit equals “dry up”; the Spirit without the Word equals “blow up”; but the Word with the Spirit equals “grow up”! “I came not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with the demonstrate of the Spirit and power, that man’s faith might not rest in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).

7. Don’t forget who the real enemy is.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:10). Our enemy is not the deacon board, our spouse, nor our chief credit. Our real enemy is Satan, and he can be defeated as we submit to God, resist the Devil, and stand firm in the faith (Jas. 4:7; 1 Pe. 5:8).

8. The church is still the hope of the world, and Jesus is still her Head.
The church is the hands and feet of Jesus. His body is His method of accomplishing His will. Because Jesus is so committed to His kingdom and His Bride (i.e. church), we can be confident that He will continue to change lives and build His church. Never forget that Jesus is more concerned about the welfare of His church than we are. Remembering that Jesus is the Head of the church (and not me) helps me to sleep well at night.

9. Discipleship is one of the most eternal investments we can make.

Jesus gave his primary ministry effort to just 12 men! If His top priority was discipling a small group of men, should ours be any different? I made a commitment two years ago to disciple a small group of men every year for the rest of my life. For men to be in my discipleship group, I require them to make this same commitment. “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful me, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).

10. God’s power can change anyone.
One of the greatest joys in ministry is seeing lives changed. We all know this is accomplished only by the power of the Holy Spirit! Recently I witnessed the former faculty advisor for the atheist club at the University of Georgia get saved! If ever I doubt God’s ability to change someone (or something in my life), I will think of how this man has been changed by the power of God!

I consider pastoring one of the greatest privileges in the world. For more on this, see my book “Pastoring With Passion” (ChurchSmart publishing). Feel free to email me at davidholt08@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

You Never Know

“Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16

You never know how much a little can go a long ways when it comes to outreach.

Recently I was flying from Atlanta to Colorado. I met a man on the plane who used to play football at the University of Georgia. Since I am a pretty big BullDAWG fan, we had a lot to talk about during our flight.

As we were leaving the plane, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “Give him one of those tracts in your backpack.” I always carry two tracts with me: one a basic gospel tract, and the other the “My Heart Christ’s Home” booklet. I said, “Steve, I want to give you a little booklet that has meant a lot to me, and I think it will encourage you” as I handed him the “My Heart Christ’s Home” pamphlet, along with my business card. He thanked me and we parted ways. I did not expect anything to come of it. I me of little faith!

The next day I got this text: “David, when you get back in town, can we get together? I want to talk to you about “my house”! Wow. All I did was hand him a tract and now he wants to talk to me about his life in Christ. How cool!

So what came of this? Well, we met the next week for breakfast and had a great talk. He really opened up to me. He told me of his conversion but lack of lordship, divorce, struggle in his present marriage, and need to find a church. God really blessed our talk. I believe this may be the beginning of an ongoing friendship. All because I simply handed him a booklet about the Lord.

How cool that God used something so small to lead to a major ministry opportunity.

This little experience has given me a greater desire to be more sensitive to those promptings of the Spirit. You never know ….

Thursday, September 1, 2011

You Might Be Dating Someone's Future Spouse

When I was dating a girl in college, the man discipling me issued this challenge, “Treat your girlfriend the way you would want another man to treat your future spouse.” “What?” I asked. He explained to me that my present girlfriend might eventually be someone else’s spouse one day. That also meant that another young man could presently be dating my future wife. It just so happened both scenarios were true.

The challenge was for me to treat my present girlfriend as if she would one day be married to someone else. I was to treat her in such a way as to one day be able to present her to her future husband with these word, “Ethan (or whatever his name might be), this is Emma, and I have done nothing with her that I need to ask your forgiveness for, and I have helped to prepare her for you. Your relationship with her will in no way be damaged because of my relationship with her.” Wow! How huge is this. You might say, “This is way too much to expect today.” REALLY? I don’t think so. I think this is what God calls us to in our dating relationships.

“Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2).

To take this a little further, if I am NOT going to eventually marry the girl I am currently dating, then that means MY future wife is possibly dating someone else. Let’s assume she is. Let’s assume my future wife is dating a man named Jacob. Here is the principle I need to live by: I should not do anything with my current girlfriend (and I am not just talking about the physical here) that I would not want Jacob to do with MY future spouse. Many would say, “I would not want Jacob to even kiss her.” Great. Then don’t kiss your current girlfriend. I know many today who are pledging to make their first kiss with their boy/girlfriend at the altar of marriage.

The higher you raise the moral bar, the less likely you are to cross an unhealthy line of morality or compromise biblical standards.

Young people, and others who are dating: I encourage you to take this to heart and make it your guiding principal as you spend time with your boy/girlfriend. Treat that person as if he/she is going to be someone else’s spouse, and do not do anything with him/her that you would not want another person doing with YOUR future spouse.

Having a clear conscience before God and man is worth a million dollars!

“In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men”
(Acts 24:16).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Questions Couples Should Ask

Since writing my blogs for fathers, in which I provided questions they can ask a future son-in-law or daughter-in-law, I thought it might also be helpful to provide some questions a couple should answer before ever getting engaged. These questions make sure a couple covers all necessary bases before committing to marriage. If the couple doesn’t have these answered before engagement, then certainly they should have them answered before saying, “I Do.”

1. Are you saved? Do you have a personal relationship with Christ?
2. How are you growing in your relationship with God?
3. What helps you to grow in your relationship with Christ?
4. What do you believe your life calling is?
5. Do you desire to pray with your spouse?
6. Do you read the Bible regularly? Do you enjoy time in God’s Word?
7. What type of church do you attend/want to attend?
8. What do I do that encourages you the most in your relationship with God?
9. What is your understanding of the roles of the husband and wife in marriage?
10. How do you envision your marriage glorifying God?
11. What is your philosophy of parenting?
12. What type of budget do you live on? Talk to me about your standard of living and/or your anticipated standard of living once married?
13. Are you in debt? If so, how much?
14. Do you tithe? Do you think a Christian should tithe?
15. What was your relationship like with your parents growing up, and now?
16. What are some of the most painful things you went through as a child?
17. What is something difficult you have been through and how have you grown through it?
18. Do you have any painful things in your past that you have not been healed of?
19. What have your previous dating relationships been like?
20. What do anticipate being your top three needs in marriage?
21. How are you willing to sacrifice in your marriage?
22. How do you anticipate your spouse sacrificing for you?
23. How do you anticipate responding if your spouse is not meeting your needs and things are not going well?
24. Are you willing to get counseling in your marriage if it needs help or is not going very good?
25. Once children come, how do you want things to be in the family in terms of the mother staying home, working, etc.?
26. What do you like to do for vacations?
27. Where do you anticipate spending holidays once you are married?
28. Do you take any medication and if so, for what?
29. How often are you moody or depressed, and how might your spouse be sensitive to that in the marriage?
30. What are the most important qualities for your spouse to possess?
31. What do you like to do for fun when you have free time?
32. Are you a virgin? If not, have you repented of that sin(s)?
33. Are you willing to take a blood test for STDs?
34. How have you experienced the forgiveness of God in your life?
35. How have you experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in your life?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fathers: Questions to Ask a Girl Dating Your Son!

Fathers, the following are some questions to ask a possible future spouse for your son! With commentary provided in italix.

Once your son is in a serious relationship, you might consider asking the young woman some (or all) of the following questions. Of course, her dad should be grilling your son, but it also helps for you to ask her the following questions (notice there aren’t as many as for the son dating your daughter). For some these might seem a bit too intimate, but my goal is to have such a close relationship with her that it wouldn’t even be that awkward.

1. Have you received Christ as the Forgiver and Leader of your life?/Tell me about your conversion experience. If this woman is not saved, she is disqualified immediately because I don’t want my son being unequally yoked. Marriage is hard enough when you are equally yoked.

2. Where are you at with the Lord right now, and what are you doing to grow in your relationship with Him? This tells me if she is a growing Christian. It also tells me what spiritual disciplines she practices. If she can’t be disciplined as a single woman, not much chance she will once married.

3. Are you in an accountability relationship with another woman (or women’s group)? The women she has in her life will tell me a lot about how teachable she is.

4. Tell me about your relationship with your parents (the good and not so good)? Often a woman will treat her husband the way she treats her dad. You might talk to her father about how she treats him.

5. What needs do you have in your life in which my son will need to be sensitive to in order for this marriage to work well? The more I know about her needs, the more I can help my son be a great husband.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your free time and whom do you do it with? How a woman spends her time and whom she spends it with tells me a lot about her.

7. What is your understanding of the roles of the husband and wife in a marriage? What role do you expect my son to play in the marriage? What role do you see yourself having? It is very important to get a person’s expectations on the table before the “I Do” is said. I am asking this as much for my son as I am for my sake.

8. What attracts you to my son? Certainly the physical will be part of it (or should be), but it better not be all there is. The more character qualities she mentions, the more points she gains with me. I really hope to hear that she respects him!

9. How much debt are you bringing into this marriage? Many people have college loans. I want my son to know what he will have to handle as the provider. Hopefully he already knows the answer to this question.

10. What are some of your guiding principles and philosophies of parenting? This woman will be the mother of my grandkids. Pretty important!

11. When you have children, do you desire to be a stay-home mom or work outside the home? I hope she wants to be home with the kids, and I certainly hope my son’s salary would allow her to be home.

12. Tell me about your past dating relationships. This will make a lot of people squirm, but if she has made some mistakes (which most of us have), how has she made past wrongs right and gained a clear conscience? My son will suffer if she brings past baggage into the marriage.

13. How will you respond when my son is struggling in some area, like with anger or lust? I should probably share with her what I have observed to be some of the major struggles in my son’s life. She probably already knows them. She needs to know what she is getting into, because we can so easily hide our weakness when dating.

14. If you ever feel like my son is putting his work or hobbies before you, how will you respond? Can she speak the truth in love?

15. What is your biggest fear or apprehension about marriage?

16. What will you do if you are struggling in this marriage and an old boyfriend tries to make contact with you on the Internet? Marriage counselors tell us that the Internet is in some way a major force in 70% of all divorces.

17. What will you do when your sex drive decreases but his stays the same or increases (this often occurs after you have a child)? What will you do to avoid sexual immorality in the marriage? No commentary needed here, because the importance of this area is obvious to all.

18. Are you physically healthy? Are you willing to take a blood test for STDs? When I got married we had to do this. Can’t believe this isn’t required today.

19. What is something in your past that was painful or difficult, and how have you trusted God through it? This is a great question to ask any fellow follower of Christ.

20. Do you have any questions for me? The questions people ask tell me a lot about them.

Now that we are done with questions, I have a statement to make: if my son ever treats you poorly, feel free to come to me, and I will do everything I can to help.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Questions a Father Should Ask Someone Dating His Daughter

Fathers, once your daughter is in a serious relationship, you might consider asking the young man some (or all) of the following questions (commentary in italix):

1. Have you received Christ as the Forgiver and Leader of your life?/Tell me about your conversion experience. If this man is not saved, he is disqualified immediately because I don’t want my daughter being unequally yoked. Marriage is hard enough when you are equally yoked.

2. Where are you at with the Lord right now, and what are you doing to grow in your relationship with Him? This tells me if he is a growing Christian. It also tells me what spiritual disciplines he practices. If he can’t be disciplined as a single man, not much chance he will once married.

3. Are you in an accountability relationship with another man (or men’s group)? Howard Hendricks says a man who doesn’t have this in his life …. is an accident waiting to happen.

4. Tell me about your relationship with your parents (the good and not so good)? Often a man will treat his wife the way he treated his mother. Might be a good idea to talk to his mother. She will know her son well!

5. What do you enjoy doing in your free time and whom do you do it with? How a man spends his time and whom he spends it with tells me a lot about him.

6. What is your understanding of the roles of the husband and wife in a marriage? What role do you expect my daughter to play in the marriage? If he thinks he can come home from work, put his feet up, and have my daughter serve him hand and foot, I just might have to put my foot down on him.

7. What attracts you to my daughter? Certainly the physical will be part of it (or should be), but it better not be all there is. The more character qualities he mentions, the more points he gains with me.

8. What needs do you have in your life in which my daughter will need to be sensitive to in order for this marriage to work well? Hey, knowing this can help me to help him should my daughter ever come to me with frustrations. We men need to look after one another.

9. What is your fatal flaw (i.e. besetting sin or area of greatest vulnerability) and what are you doing to make sure it doesn’t flare up and burn your house down? I am assuming here that I have a close enough relationship with him to ask such a personal question.

10. How are you going to be the financial provider? He better pass this question or else he doesn’t have a chance, because I am not going to pay the bills forever, and he better be able to or else I am not giving my daughter to this guy.

11. How much debt do you have? Do you have a plan to pay it off? How a man manages his money says a lot about him.

12. How are you going to provide spiritual leadership in the marriage and family (when kids come)? I will give extra grace here because I realize we all have a ways to go here, but he at least he better have some thoughts on this one.

13. When my daughter gives birth to your children, what are your expectations of her in the marriage now (i.e. stay home, work outside the home, etc.)? It is never too early to think about these kinds of things. At least it gets them as a couple talking this, if they haven’t already.

14. What are some of your guiding principles and philosophies of parenting? This guy might father my grandkids! Pretty important.

15. Tell me about your past dating relationships. This will make a lot of guys squirm, but if so, how has he made past wrongs right and gained a clear conscience? My daughter will suffer if he brings past baggage into the marriage.

16. How will you respond when my daughter is struggling in some area? I am looking for sensitivity, kindness, and tenderness here.

17. What will you do if you are struggling in your marriage and an old girlfriend tries to make contact with you on the Internet? Marriage counselors tell us that the Internet is in some way a major force in 70% of all divorces.

18. What will you do when your wife’s sex drive decreases but yours stays the same or increases? What will you do to avoid sexual immorality? No commentary needed here, because the importance of this area is obvious to all.

19. Is there pornography in your past or present, and if so, what are you doing about it? I’m not going to say anymore here.

20. When my daughter/your wife is at that “time of the month” and becomes quite irritable, how are you going to handle it? What will you do if she is driving you crazy and you are about to loose your temper? He probably won’t know how to answer this, but at least it gets him thinking.

21. Are you physically healthy? Are you willing to take a blood test for STDs? When I got married we had to do this. Can’t believe this isn’t required today.

22. What is something in your past that was painful or difficult, and how have you trusted God through it? This is a great question to ask any fellow follower of Christ.

23. Do you have any questions for me? The questions people ask tell me a lot about them.

Now that we are done with questions, I have a statement to make: if you ever hurt my daughter, I will kill you!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lessons from Gettysburg

This week I had the privilege of returning to Gettysburg National Military Park, the site of the famous Battle of Gettysburg that took place on July 1-3, 1863. There is something solemn and sacred about being on the very grounds where 51,000 Americans were killed and wounded in just three days, by far the bloodiest spot on U.S. soil. It is hard to believe this took place just 148 years ago.

As I walked the grounds, toured the museum, stood silent in the cemetery, reflected on the war itself, read inscriptions on monuments, and just contemplated what took place on this small piece of land, my mind was filled with a variety of thoughts and emotions.

It is difficult for us in the 21st century to imagine our nation so divided that we would war with one another. Though the Civil War was a dark time in America, through it came the unity we now enjoy as the UNITED STATES of AMERICA! As a native southerner, I must say I am glad the south “lost the war,” for in God’s sovereign work, this resulted in the end to that terrible blight called slavery.

At one point in my day, I walked the slope up “Little Round Top,” where Chamberlain’s soldiers held their ground against a bastion of soldiers from Alabama. I caught the smell of sweat honeysuckle in the air that was once filled with the stench of death. My afternoon included a mixture of rain and sun, almost representative of how a storm is often needed to bring the sunlight of hope.

It seems that often it takes the negative to produce the positive, death to give life, and pain to yield gain. By far the greatest lesson in this war, as is true of all wars, is that it usually takes the sacrifice of death to win victory. Blood must be shed to bring lasting freedom. The few must sacrifice for the benefit of the many.

Our tour guide mentioned that the Georgia monument had the best quote of all: “When duty called, we came; when country called, we died.”

Just before I left, I visited the cemetery: row after row of buried soldiers, many just listed by a number. I couldn’t help but notice the many crosses on the graves. How fitting—Jesus gave His life, shed His blood, and sacrificed Himself so that we might be free from sin, death, and Satan. When Jesus breathed His last on that cruel and vicious cross, He said, “It is finished.” Paid in full—the sacrifice of the One for the many; the pouring out of His blood in battle, that we might be free.

But there still rages a Civil War within us—that battle with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. We fight this battle every day. However, the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds. We take every thought captive and make it obey Christ. Following Christ sometimes takes the same courage those soldiers displayed at Gettysburg.

As we die to self, we live for Christ. As we say “no” to temptations, we say “yes” to the One who gave His all for us.

So once again, God has powerful lessons for us from history. After all, history is really His Story! The physical, natural and humanly is designed to point us to the spiritual, supernatural, and divine.

Lyrics to Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"... But at Your Word"

“And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’" (Luke 5:5)

In this one verse we have a powerful truth: we can act in faith despite our circumstances!

Here is the situation in Luke 5: Peter had fished all night and cleaned his nets. He was tired. He was discouraged. He had caught nothing. For a fisherman to fish all night and catch nothing is very disappointing. And yet, in the midst of this scenario, Jesus calls Him to obey His Word and go out again.

Perhaps right now you are disappointed, discouraged, and disheartened about your circumstances. It may be your marriage, your children, your health, your job, your lack of a job, your relationships, your finances, or all of the above. It is very easy to get down and depressed when we focus on our circumstances. Jesus said that in this world we would have (not might have) tribulation (John 16:33).

Right on the heels of Peter fishing all night with no results, Jesus tells him to go back out to fish again. Peter acknowledges his frustration … but then he acts in faith with this profound statement: But at your word I will let down the nets.” Here is faith at its finest: taking God at His word, even when the circumstances are not going our way!

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is proclaiming truth when life shouts otherwise. Faith is standing on a promise from God and praying it into reality. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

So, how do we do this? First, we can be honest about our struggles in life. David did this frequently in the book of Psalms. Most Psalms start off with David complaining and pouring out his heart to God. However, as many Psalms progress, we find David moving from frustration to faith. Therefore, the second thing to do is act in faith by taking God at His word. We can proclaim God’s Word about the situation we face. For example, if a lost or wayward child is causing us frustration, faith says, “I am so frustrated that my child is not following you, Lord, but at your word I will continue to pray and proclaim your truth that you desire for no one to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If we feel fearful about a situation, faith can say, “Lord, I am feeling fear right now, but at your word I claim that you have not given me a spirit of fear but power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:6). If someone is mistreating us and we are about to slip into a pity party, faith proclaims, “Lord, I am hurting right now and lonely, but at your word I claim that you are with me always and you can give me 1 Corinthians 13 love for this person.” If we don’t know how we are going to pay a bill, faith says, “Lord, I am worried about these bills, but at your word I ask you to be my provider (Philippians 4:19), and I thank you in advance for what you are going to do.”

Where do you need to do a “but at your word” in your life? Find Scripture to claim that directly relates to whatever challenge you are facing, and speak it out in faith. Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gaining a Clear Conscience

Having a clear conscience is a huge blessing. A clear conscience is where you know you have dealt with every sin God has revealed to you. You are free in Christ because you know you have forgiveness. When we sin against another, we need to not only ask God to forgive us (1 Jn. 1:9), but we also need to ask the person to whom we sinned against to forgive us. This will result in a clear conscience (Hebr. 10:22; 1 Pe. 3:16).

Paul said in Acts 24:16, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” In addition, consider Romans 12:18 when it says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Obviously it takes two to have complete peace, but we are to make sure we do our part in having peace with everyone. Taking ownership for our sinful behavior is one way to insure we do our part in having peace with others.

Ask God to reveal to you anybody with whom you need to ask forgiveness from. Often He will show us friends, family, spouse, and others that we need to go to and humbly ask forgiveness.

Lord God, thank You for your kind forgiveness of my sins. Lord Jesus, thank You for shedding your precious blood for my sins. Holy Spirit, please reveal to me everyone I have sinned against. Show me those I need to humbly go to and ask forgiveness. Use all of this to bring about great healing in my life and theirs.

First ask God to forgive you for the sin, and then go to the person and consider saying something like this, “I need to ask you to forgive me for sinning against you by _____ (name the sin). Please forgive me.” It may be best to do this in written form instead of in person, depending on the distance involved and the volatility of the relationship. Seek to be led by the Holy Spirit in what and how you do this.

Monday, May 2, 2011

How do we know Jesus is the Son of God?

1. His birth through a virgin.

2. His teachings were astounding.

3. His love was penetrating.

4. His miracles were supernatural.

5. His fulfillment of prophecy is mind-blowing.

6. His resurrection is indisputable (empty tomb, no evidence to the contrary, etc.).

7. His disciples’ martyrdom (who would die for a known lie?).

8. HIStory is supportive.

a. Archeology
b. Extra-biblical writers (e.g., Josephus).
c. Changed lives (disciples, Paul, and billions of others).

The best way to know Jesus is the Son of God is to receive Him as Savior and allow Him to be your lord and life!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How Can We Know the Bible is God's Word?

1. The Bible claims to be God’s Word.
This does not make it such, but it does make it a document to be reckoned with.

2. The Bible is historically accurate.

3. Archeology and extra-biblical sources continue to verify its accuracy.

4. The Bible has been preserved over time despite many attempts to destroy it.

5. The Bible was recognized as having a divine author from early on.

6. The Bible displays an amazing unity (i.e, salvation in Jesus Christ) amidst incredible diversity.

7. The Bible points ultimately to the living Word of God, Jesus.

Lu. 24:44 “all that was written in the psalms, the law and the prophets was written about me.”
John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and wit is they that bear witness about me

8. The Bible provides supernatural insights into the world and life that extends beyond the human ability of the writers to know.

9. The Bible contains prophecies that demonstrate a divine author.

a. Predictions in O.T. history that have been fulfilled.
b. Prophecies fulfilled in Jesus (most written 700-1000 before He was born). Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 53; Ps. 22; Zech. 9:9
c. Prophecies yet to be fulfilled. Mt. 24; Rev. 15-21

10. The Bible has led to many changed lives.

With all of this said, the best way to know the Bible is God’s Word is to read it and experience its power firsthand.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Helping Men Spend Time with God

At our church we have "iron man groups." These are groups of 3-5 men who meet for encouragement, accountability, and support. Currently we have about 25 of these groups. I am in regular contact with the captains of these groups, and often they ask me about how to get their men to spend time with God. Here is what I tell them:

1. Be sure you are modeling this—leadership by example. The best way to motivate your men to spend time with God is to do so yourself and then to freely share with them what God shows you from His Word, how you are benefiting from it, how you pray, etc.

2. Almost every time you meet, talk about it. Ask them how their times with God are going! See if they want to be held accountable to this, and if so, do it with fierceness and love. Each time you meet simply ask, “So, how are your times with God going? Where are you in the Word? What is God teaching you from His Word? How many days this week did you spend some time alone with God?”

3. If they are not spending time with God, help them to identify what the barriers are: laziness, priority, conviction about its importance, not knowing how, etc.

4. Make a "pact" as a group to each have a Quiet Time for 21 consecutive days. Email them every day to remind them. Studies show that it takes 21 days to develop a true habit.

5. Don't be reading any other books for a "study" if the men are not spending time with God. In other words, if they are currently taking time to read another book, they can now substitute that time for time in the Word and prayer, which is more important! Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The best book is the one that makes you put it down for the Book of books.”

6. Teach your men how to have a Quite Time. Make it very "doable." Just ask them to read about 5-10 verses a day (going through a book like Ephesians, so that today I read Eph. 1:1-5 and tomorrow I read Eph. 1:6-10, etc.) and then spend about 5 minutes in prayer using the ACTS approach (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

7. Agree as a group to each have your time with God in the same book of the Bible. For example, say "Hey, let's all be in the book of Ephesians this month. So, for next week, let's each bring something that stood out to us in the first chapter."

8. Last but not least: pray for them, that God will give them the desire and the power to do this (Phil. 2:12-13).

Friday, April 15, 2011

To Tattoo or not to Tattoo - Biblical Principles for a Godly Decision

Recently a young person asked me what I thought about him getting a tattoo. He wanted a nice Christian symbol permanently inked into his body. I greatly admired the fact that he was truly seeking Godly counsel before making this very important decision. Rather than give him an “I am for it or against it” answer, I provided him with the following biblical principles to use in his decision:

1. Ask your parents what they think. After all, one of the 10 Commandments is to “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12).

2. Consider your influence on others, “for all things are lawful but not all things are profitable” (1 Cor. 10:23). Make a list of all the possible effects this might have on others, young and old alike.

3. Consider the permanence of this, and ask yourself, “Is this something I want on my body when I am 50, 60, 70, or 80 years old?” It may be “cool” now but what about then?

4. What will your present or future spouse think about it? After all, when married your body does not belong to you alone but also to him/her (see 1 Cor. 7:4). What would it be like to be married to someone who did not like your tattoo and always had a bit of resentment toward it?

5. What will your future boss think about it? If the tattoo is not visible, this is not an issue. However, if the tattoo is quite visible to others, it could cost you a job. I know of employers who have interviewed potential employees, and upon seeing their tattoo offered the job to someone else. Whether right or wrong, this does happen.

6. Think through your future counsel and influence upon your children one day. What if your future child wants to get a tattoo and it isn’t a Christian symbol, and after you say “no” he says, “But you have one. It just looks a little different than the one I want to get”?

7. Be sure to evaluate your motives. It is always a good question to ask ourselves, “Why do I really want this? Am I doing this to be cool, to fit in, or to get acceptance from others?”

8. Be willing to give it more time before deciding. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:31). You never go wrong waiting, but you can go wrong rushing a decision like this. I give this same advice to those unsure of marriage!

9. Last, but certainly not least, is to ask the Lord what He thinks. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

One final thought: I know some will point to the following passage to say that all tattoos are sinful – “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:28). However, I think a careful study of this passage will reveal that tattoos at the time of this prohibition were clearly connected with pagan worship. While some tattoos today would certainly fit that context, not all do, and therefore, this passage cannot be used to forbid any and all tattoos.

We must be prayerful, biblical and wise and in all our decisions.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Critique of "Love Wins" by Rob Bell

Today I read Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.” I had my Bible in front of me as I did so. Frequently I turned to passages he addressed as well as many he tragically neglected. About every five pages I have question marks in the margin of my book.

My conclusion is that this book is quite unbiblical, reductionistic, misleading, universalistic, and caters to our feel-good culture. It is outright dangerous.

Here are my comments and concerns about the book:
1. He takes God’s love at the expense of God’s holiness. We cannot pick and choose which attributes of God we like and discount the ones we don’t like. Here is a good example: “Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue. God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life. However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Let’s be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God” (p. 182). What does Bell do with Romans 5:9: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him”?
2. He is quite reductionistic (i.e. reducing the truths) about God’s character, heaven as a real place, hell as a real place, salvation as needing to “call on the name of the Lord” as Romans 10 says, and the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.
3. This statement pretty much summarizes the book and you can see how unbiblical this is: “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God" (p. 109).
4. Though he never says he is a universalist, he pretty much is in that he says everyone (except those who outright deny God and say they want nothing to do with God) is in God’s family and will go to heaven. He says “Jesus forgives them all, without their asking for it” (p. 188). So we don’t have to “believe on the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31) … “repent and believe” (Mk. 1:15) … “call on the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13) … “confess with your mouth and believe in your heart” (Rom. 10:9) … “receive Him” (Jn. 1:12) … etc., etc.?
5. He completed overlooks passages like 2 Thess. 1:5-12 and Rev. 20-21 that would be very problematic to his teachings about hell.
6. He allows the many complexities of sin and people’s issues cloud his theology. I am all for being sensitive to people’s pain and abuse and questions about God, but people’s experience can never trump God’s Word.
7. Unfortunately this smells of classic liberalism – reducing God’s truth to that which we can more easily stomach and present to others without offending them.
8. It seems he has an ax to grind with Christians who have turned off people by their “turn or burn” approach.
9. Bell admitted in an interview that much of this book comes out of his own struggles with things in the evangelical movement. It is dangerous when our experience in this respect shapes our theology.
10. He makes the “all” in certain verses about the atonement apply to the whole world, regardless of their response to Jesus. Yes, Jesus died for all in one sense, but this doesn’t guarantee the “all” respond in faith.
11. This book again shows how important Systematic Theology is. Bell takes a few verses about a topic and builds a case that excludes so many other verses that speak of the same topic. Systematic Theology takes the whole of Scripture about various doctrines.

Are there any positives? Well, at least in the last chapter he talks about the time he prayed to receive Christ as a child and how life changing this was. This was very good to hear since everything up to that point had been critical of the typical evangelical way of doing evangelism.

In conclusion, once again this is a reminder that theology matters. We must be sharp in our biblical understanding, because as the time of Christ gets closer, many will fall away (Mt. 24:9), be seduced into the doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1), and gather teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3). We better be like the Bereans who examined everything they heard (the teachings of Paul at that time!) to see if it is consistent with God’s Word (Acts 17:11)!

Oh Lord, we cry out to You for discernment and wisdom. Help us to stay true to Your Word in all we say, do, and teach others. And may we defend Your truth with love, in the power of Your Holy Spirit.

For a much more thorough critique of the book, I encourage you to check out the one by Kevin DeYoung found at the Gospel Coalition:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Being Offended By God

In the book, The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge says, “'Would Jesus purposefully offend me?’ Someone might ask. ‘He wouldn’t do that, would He?’ The answer is, yes. He not only would, but He will. If you choose to believe in Jesus, the time will come when you will have opportunity to be offended by Him. It’s inevitable” (p. 200).

Some of the greatest saints in the Bible have been offended by God. It is part of the process God takes us through to test our faith and obedience. Most importantly, this experience is divinely designed to move us to the “father” stage of maturity found in 1 John 2:14: “I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who has been from the beginning.” The road we must travel to “know Himtalic who has been from the beginning” is the path of pain, perplexity, and trials. However, at the end of this journey is a faithful and loving Father who “rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Being offended by God shatters our image of God and forces us to either hold fast to Him or abandon Him. If we hold fast, we pass the test. If we abandon Him, we fail the test. Be warned: for some, being offended by God leads to unbelief – they quit believing in God because He was not what they expected.

Being offended by God is a defining moment; it’s a turning point in our life; it may be the most severe test of our life.

So, what does it mean to be offended by God? Being offended by God is when:

  • God allows or causes something to happen to you that is very unpleasant, but the difficulty is not due to any wrongdoing on your part – case in point: Job when he lost everything while being the most righteous man alive.

  • Something happens that causes you to become angry at God – exhibit B: King David when his enemies were prospering while he was suffering.

  • Trials come into your life and you feel betrayed by God – case in point: Jesus when He cried “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46)

  • God doesn’t meet your expectations of who you think He should be or what He should do for you – exhibit D: John the Baptist when he questioned whether Jesus truly was the Messiah. After all, if Jesus was the Messiah, then why was John in prison and Jesus not delivering the Jews from the Romans? After answering John’s question about whether or not Jesus truly was the Messiah, He said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (ESV; Luke 7:23). There is an important lesson here: We must be careful that our expectations of God are biblical and not fleshly!

Perhaps you are experiencing something very difficult: divorce, cancer, loss of a loved one, disabled spouse, prolonged physical issues, depression, unanswered prayers, delayed answers to prayer, loneliness, unemployment, etc. If you are honest, you feel like God has not come through as He should. You are now realizing you have been offended by God.

If you have been offended by God, what do you do? How can you pass the test? What can you practically do to insure that you hold fast to God and experience Him in a fuller way rather than drift into unbelief? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Do not neglect spending time with God, even though many days you will not feel like it. I highly recommend the book of Psalms because of the honesty of the authors. Speaking of honesty:

  1. Be totally honest with the Lord in prayer, but do not allow a “demanding spirit” to surface within you. A demanding spirit is when you demand God to do what you want Him to do, instead of submitting to His will in the midst of pain.

  1. Analyze carefully and biblically your expectations of God. Many are “offended” because of fleshly and selfish desires. If you realize your offense is due to selfishness, surrender this selfishness to God.

  1. Be still and know that He is God (Psalms 46:10). In quietness and trust shall be your strength (Isaiah 30:15). Allow God to show you His love when you are hurting (Romans 5:5).

  1. Share your heart with at least one “Garden Friend.” A Garden Friend is someone you can be totally honest with, like Jesus when He told His select disciples in the Garden that His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Mark 14:34). In addition to sharing your heart with this person, be open to his/her counsel.

  1. Ask God to encourage you when you feel discouraged.

  1. Guard your “fatal flaw.” A fatal flaw is the area you are most vulnerable to sin and temptation. When we are going through hard times, our flesh will want to sin more than ever. Therefore, be aware of this and take steps to avoid falling to your fatal flaw.

  1. Find Scriptures that apply to your situation and pray them back to God. God loves to hear His Word. God is delighted when we take Him at His Word. This is called faith, and “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Obviously, being offended by God is no fun at all. In fact, it can be painful to even admit you are offended by God. After all, He is perfect, so how could you be offended by Someone who is incapable of wrongdoing?

In any case, we all have times when God does not come through like we expect. When this occurs, the key question is this: Will we confess as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15)???

Corrie Ten Boon, while in a concentration camp during WW II, once said, “The deepest level of faith is choosing to trust God when there is no apparent reason to … except that He is God.”

“I write to you fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:14).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

When You Don't Like God

Have you ever found yourself not liking God? I know this sounds like an almost irreverent question, but I believe if most of us are honest we will at some point go through times when we still love God, but we don’t actually like Him. We don’t like what He is doing—or not doing, so we think.

Have you ever been frustrated over how God is running the universe? Do “natural disasters”—shouldn’t they actually be called “supernatural disasters”—ever disturb you wondering if God somehow gets pleasure in wiping out large groups of people with a hurricane, storm, or other force of “mother nature?”

Or, what about when you claim a biblical promise on prayer, and believe with all your heart that God is going to come through with a miracle of healing, but the person you are praying for ends up dying? If and when this type of thing happens, you probably don’t like God for a season. I have a friend who lost one of his best friends to cancer, and afterwards could not pray for about six months.

I hope I haven’t caused you to stumble by simply asking these questions. Instead, my intent is to help those who are struggling with such issues, because I believe they are far more common than most of us want to admit. Being a fully devoted follower of Christ does not mean we never wrestle with such difficult issues. Instead, it means that we actually do face these struggles head-on and don’t pretend they aren’t there.

King David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), and at times he struggled with such questions as, “Why, O Lord do you reject me and hide your face” (Ps. 88:14); “Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?” (Ps. 44:23); “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3). We can establish from his example that having a heart for God does not mean we don’t struggle and question. In fact, sometimes it is because we so deeply love God that we do struggle. If we did not care about the things of God then we would not struggle because the issues in question would not matter to us.

So, what is the answer when such questions trouble us? Faith. We must believe that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, even when our mind is flooded with unanswered questions. After all, God’s Word says to “lean not on your own understanding” but to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5-6). You see, it is ultimately a heart issue and not a mind issue! God does not promise to answer all of our questions (“the secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to man”—Dt. 29:29), but He does promise to “never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebr. 13:15) and to be a “very present help in time of need” (Ps. 46:1).

What is faith? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebr. 11:1). It is that “not seen” part of faith that is difficult, isn’t it? We don’t see something now but we believe in God—that is faith! The “not seen” time may be when we are actually seeing bad things or circumstances that challenge or “test our faith” (Jas. 1:3). I don’t think we talk enough today about this biblical concept of the testing of our faith. A test is something we are put through to determine what we know or how we will respond. If we pass the test we are advanced, but if we fail the test we will either have to retake the test or be sent back in life.

When Jesus was asked about a tragedy that occurred (tower falling upon and killing eighteen persons—Luke 13:4), I find it interesting that instead of giving an answer about why it occurred, He simply used it as an object lesson on repentance and judgment. Perhaps rather than ask, “Why did this happen to me,” we should be asking, “What do You want me to learn from this?” Based on Luke 13:4 when natural disasters take the lives of many people, God would want this to remind us of the final judgment and the need to live with an eternal perspective. I must be willing to not have all the answers. After all, I am not God. I must be willing to accept my human limitations and just trust in what I do know about God. Someone once said, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light.”

I must not allow the clouds of questions and doubts about life block the sunlight of what I do know about God. We know far too much about God (i.e. holy, loving, sovereign, faithful, merciful, gracious, powerful, eternal, etc.) to allow the few things we don’t know about Him cause us to stumble or lose faith.

In a wonderful little booklet called “When the lights go out” by Graham Cooke, he says, “Faith depends on one thing—your understanding of the nature of God … It is not essential that we understand everything, but that we trust God in everything” (p. 16, 28). This is why I believe the most important part of the Christian journey is gaining a proper understanding of who God is!

So, when things occur that cause us to question and not like God, it is good to be honest about this, especially with a trusted friend. And at the end of the day we must exercise faith by clinging to the truths of who God is. We must cry out to God in desperate prayer, asking for His help and strength.

The sanctification process in the Christian life is not easy. It is filled with times of doubt and despair. The people God has used the most throughout history have often been sifted, tried, persecuted, and depressed. But in the end, they remained steadfastly trusting in the nature of God.

“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles … A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Ps. 34:6, 19). “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

In the words of the famous Winston Churchill, “Never give up; never give up; never give up!”