How do you really experience God?

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When our church dived into Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God I reacted with my usual lack of expectation that it was really worth the excitement. I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

Blackaby’s book undermines the authority of Scripture only to replace it with subjective measures of the work of God, mainly our perceptions and feelings. He does a lot of harm to Christians by leading them to expect God to provide a special revelation, or assignment, just for them. It’s bad enough that many Christians have an unbiblical worldview (most according to many surveys). We need the kind of clarity that can only come from the Bible which is the word of God.

I thought it was a typical, off-the-shelf, Christian self-help book until I read a few reviews. I then discovered a much bigger problem.

I have heard people talk about the will of God in a mystical fashion my whole life. They told me to seek after it and ask God for it. I was supposed to follow the Holy Spirit’s “leading.” Of course, nothing ever happened and I wondered about what it took to gain this knowledge. And with each decision point I would reach where I hoped God would show me the way I was disappointed and increasingly frustrated.

The problem is that this is an unbiblical way of living the Christian life. I don’t know where it came from but it certainly didn’t come from Jesus. If we want to know the will of God then we must know the word of God. A healthy spiritual life is one where the believer is growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not passing from one emotionally stimulating experience to another.

Blackaby wants you to hear God’s “voice” and that includes the scriptures but is not limited to them:

“God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. He uses the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church (other believers). No one of these methods of God’s speaking is, by itself, a clear indicator of God’s directions. But when God says the same thing through each of these ways, you can have confidence to proceed.”

What?! The Bible, by itself, is not a clear indicator of God’s directions? Has Blackaby not read what Paul wrote to Timothy?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Not only is the Bible a clear indicator but it is the ONLY clear indicator of God’s “directions.” Your goal is not to develop a spiritual 6th sense that will indicate when God is “leading.” Everything we need to know in order to live a Godly life is found in the scriptures. Whatever help we get from others only supplements what is in the word of God. It is never a substitute for the revelation of the Bible.

Lest you think that I’m just being a negative it’s important for me to say that we are so blessed to have the Bible as our guide. Peter himself said as much:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  

And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts…

Peter had an actual mountaintop experience. He saw things that you and I should never expect to see in our lifetimes. And yet, years later, he would go so far as to say that the word of God was far more valuable than any of those miracles he witnessed. It is so important that we understand this because of our temptation to think that if we see a sign then our faith will be solid.

The Bible is explicit, specific, and true. Spiritual maturity comes through time spent in the scriptures. Taking Blackaby’s approach means forever attributing your gut feelings to the Holy Spirit. You can see the fruit of that approach in your churches and among your family and friends.

If God did not reveal Himself to us through His word we would know nothing about Him. Hold fast to the word. It is the only firm foundation.

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

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3 Ways The Church Undermines Marriage

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This is not a post about how Christians are to blame for gay marriage becoming legal. It’s also not a sanctimonious rant by a blogger sitting in an armchair. These observations come from personal experience.

1. Financial stability > Marriage

Many Christians undermine marriage by focusing on the financial obligations. The problem here is that Christians put financial security ahead of marriage. You don’t get married until you’re in a steady job, usually after you graduate from college. I’ve gotten the impression as I grew up that marriage wasn’t worth it if you had to struggle. They’re the ones that like to remind you that love doesn’t pay the bills.

2. Success > Marriage

This one is closely related to the first since financial stability can be seen as a prerequisite for success, if not a success itself. The focus here is on maintaining a certain standard of living that includes a house, car, spouse, two kids, and maybe a pool in the backyard. It’s a chasing after a lifestyle.

People often told me that I should complete my education before getting married. Why get married when you have so much on your plate already, nevermind having to support a family? Even sociologists will tell you that it’s better to graduate, get married, and have kids, in that order. But if you hold off on getting married until after you graduate then aren’t you making education a higher priority than marriage?

3. Fun > Marriage

The culture says that only after you’ve sucked all of the juice out of life should you settle down and get married. It’s where you go to die slowly, like a long-term hospice program. It’s a life full of responsibilities, stress, problems, etc. How dreadful!

What do these three problems have in common?

These perspectives on marriage focus on the short term. Rarely do people talk about the legacy they will leave to future generations. That’s probably because they don’t believe they will have one. Their focus is on this life.

In 1900 there were over 1,000 descendants of the famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the early 18th century. Among them were doctors, lawyers, university presidents, medical school deans, law school deans, senators, and a vice president. The impact they had on this country and the world was possible because Edwards and his wife were faithful. They hoped in that which they could not see and they bore much fruit.

I think it’s inspiring to know that I will be remembered by my descendants hundreds of years from now. It makes me ask myself: what do I want to be said of me and my life?

Spiritual Side-Effects Of “Alternative Medicine”

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Some Christians, if they knew more about the religious connections of alternative medicine, wouldn’t want to participate. Some people I interviewed started off as enthusiasts for different alternative medicines. But once they found out about the religious dimensions, they didn’t want anything to do with it.

Alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic are not just popular in the broader society but also in the church. What many Christians don’t know is that these practices are rooted in religious worldviews that are not biblical by any means.

I know how touchy this subject is because I’ve had many Christian friends who have used these treatments. I don’t have to be obnoxious about it but there is no alternative to getting informed and informing others because it’s a threat to your spiritual well-being.

Candy Gunther Brown is a professor of religion at Indiana University and has written about this in her recent book “The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America.” 

The most interesting thing she says, in my view, is that Christians who adopt these religious practices end up adopting the underlying ideas. It’s horrifying to think of what is happening to Christians in churches that provide yoga classes.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Your Job Is Not Your Calling

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He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.

Lamentations 3:2

I’ve learned a lot about the meaning of God’s calling in my life last year. That time was the most difficult in my short life. i spent most of 2013 looking for a job and a sense of direction.

Being unemployed with no prospects is a horrible feeling. Every day a door was slammed shut in my face and the failure became unbearable. The only way to avoid it was to not try at all, which didn’t help much.

Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.

Lamentations 3:3

Thinking about the future filled me with despair. My life seemed to unravel the more nothing happened. I believe God was crushing every aspiration. It was as if every desire was on a board and God was erasing them one at a time right in front of me.

In our occupation-centric society we define ourselves by our jobs. It’s usually the first or second question we ask someone we’re getting to know. I felt the pressure to graduate college and find a lucrative job from myself and others.

I asked myself: what meaning is there in life if I could achieve nothing I desired? I began to realize that the only way life can be meaningful is if I am walking in the will of God.

Even though my life was a complete failure God would redeem it. Success is now defined by what He accomplishes in and through me. Only in this way will I understand that He must get the glory.

Success is now defined by what He accomplishes in and through me.

At that point I decided that God had to be in complete control of my life. If I needed it then He would have to provide it. If I don’t get it then it’s because He doesn’t want me to have it. God is good.

I had a new perspective on life but everything didn’t change right away. God kept me waiting and kept pushing me farther out on that limb. Months passed but He provided a job but the transformation already happened.

I learned that God did not call me to be successful. He didn’t even call me to a particular job. My calling is to follow Jesus, to believe on the one whom the Father sent. I didn’t need to find my calling. I needed to do it.

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began

2 Timothy 1:9

Did it matter that Jesus was a carpenter or that Paul was a tent-maker, as opposed to fishing or herding sheep or building boats? While we are called to work hard and be productive the Lord’s main concern is not my job.

Paul made tents to support himself even though his calling was to preach the gospel. His job was incidental to his calling, or his ministry, not central. I had that backwards for a long time.

But then how do I decide whom to marry, which job to take, where to worship, or in which city to live? I’d say that it’s not up to us to fulfill God’s plans. If it were we would be in big trouble.

If I’m trying to find out God’s purpose for me then I’m trying to take back control. Books that teach me how to know God’s calling for me are talismans I use to get what I want. Doesn’t that sound like paganism?

However, if He is going to accomplish anything in my life then it’s up to Him to make it happen. I am totally dependent on Him and incapable of accomplishing anything apart from Him.

This is a huge weight off of my shoulders because I don’t have to worry about anything. I can trust in the power of God. It isn’t up to me to make my life meaningful or happy or successful. The Lord will ensure that. I just have to wait on Him.

“Customer Announcement: We Have A Lost Child In The Culture”

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Are young people fleeing from the church?

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church. When I hear that anywhere between 45% and 75% of young people who grew up in the church leave by the end of their first year in college it only supports my concern that there’s an exodus of young people.

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church.

Having come across a few articles now that push back against this narrative I’m more skeptical and curious. And this is to my shame because I studied economics in college and I, of all people, should know that data doesn’t automatically give you the big picture. In fact, many researchers have looked at the data and have come to a different conclusion.

Bradley Wright pulls the data from the General Social Survey on those who identify as Evangelicals by age. The chart he produces shows that the percentage of people who are Evangelicals rises during the 1970s and declines in the 1990s, most sharply for the 18-29 age group. Today we are back to the same levels as the early 70s.

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Bradley also looks at how many Americans are Evangelicals or “Born-again” Christians. (As a pedantic side note I’d say that “born-again” and Christian are synonymous. If you’re not born again you’re not a Christian, but I digress). It hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. There is a decline in religious affiliation (and a rise in the un-affiliated, or “nones”) but that is mostly affecting nominal mainline Christians and Evangelicals.

Ed Stetzer has also analyzed the data and does not believe it supports a pessimistic view. In commenting on the Pew Forum’s 2012 study which showed a rise in the number of people who have no religious affiliation (the “nones”), he said this:

The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here– and for action.

Conservative churches and institutions are holding up better but they still face challenges as more Americans move away from a biblical worldview, including church-going, Bible-reading Christians. There has been a growing movement of “New Calvinists” which has produced organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 The Gospel. Daniel Darling mentions that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary enrolls more students into their Masters of Divinity program than any other similar school.

The church has always thrived in hostile environments and will continue to do so. Jesus did say that He will build His church. I think we can take this as an opportunity to preach the gospel and show the stark contrasts between the cultural and biblical perspectives. If only a few more believers behaved as if they were confident that they are already victorious then we’d see some amazing changes take place.

What Does God Think Of The Minimum Wage?

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You’ve probably heard about the “living wage” in the minimum wage debate but you probably don’t know what it means. If you do know what it means then it’s likely that no one else defines it the way you do.

The idea is that workers need wages to support their families and only the government can mandate. Increasing the minimum wage will combat the inequality that God condemns in the scriptures. Christians, in particular, will make passionate arguments that appeal to our desire to help those less fortunate.

But does the Bible support this notion of a living wage? Is it really the kind thing to do? Why are we forced to choose between doing something, even if it may not work, and doing nothing?

Those who argue for a minimum/living wage will quote passages of Scripture such as James 5, Deuteronomy 24, Amos 8, and so on. In these verses, and many others, you will see that God is concerned with justice for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. He especially condemns the rich landowners who don’t pay their workers. What we don’t see is any guidance regarding the minimum wage.

The idea of the living wage sounds simple enough but how do you determine the amount? It’s easy to see how much the cost of living changes as you move from San Francisco to Omaha, Nebraska but you can also see it drop if you move an hour east of San Francisco to the Central Valley. A minimum wage in large states is difficult to do, to say nothing of a national wage.

To make things even more difficult we have to consider that no two workers are the same and so any given wage may support one worker but not another. A worker who has a wife and children will need a higher wage than someone who is single and childless. Someone who has a poor credit history may also need a higher wage to pay off debts. How can you mandate one wage that will work for everyone?

Another shortcoming is that minimum wage increases do not help the poor because the majority of poor Americans do not have jobs. This is the reason why most economists do not view this policy as an effective weapon against poverty. The 28 states that raised their minimum wage above the federal level between 2003 and 2007 did not reduce the level of poverty.

When I worked as a security guard for a year I started out making minimum wage ($8/hr) and a year later I was at a different company making $11.40/hr. I wasn’t a statistical anomaly. This happens all the time. We all know that no one ends up where they started and it would raise questions to hear of someone stuck in such a job. A normal life includes such hard beginnings and rites of passage whether it is work, college, or even marriage. What matters more than our current circumstances is the possibility of improving them.

Good intentions can lead to bad consequences. A proper understanding of the Bible teaches us to be concerned about justice for the poor and vulnerable but also compels us to recognize the complexity of the issue of wages that goes beyond simplistic prescriptions. To avoid God’s judgment we have to make decisions based on the right motives. There’s no law Congress could write that can compel us to love our neighbor.

Going Through The Motions

 

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If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Isaiah 57:13,14

In chapter 57 the Lord tells us that He is with those who are contrite and humble. Only those who know they are broken truly see the character of God in a special way. You cannot fake that and you definitely cannot fool God. Therefore it makes sense that the next thing God does is warn Israel about their insincere worship.

The main point of verses 1-7 is that the people outwardly obey but there is no change in their hearts. They go through all the rituals but it is only lip service. They don’t really mean it. But you cannot truly serve God and become more bitter, self-righteous, and angry. Your character should reflect back on the Lord and cause men to glorify Him.

In verses 8-14 God is telling Israel to stop paying Him lip service and draw near with their hearts. The end of the law is love, as Paul writes, but they do not give their bread to the hungry or open their homes to strangers. They are not acting like the people He wants them to be.

It is easy to forget that following Christ is a process of sanctification. God is daily shaping us into the image of Christ. As we become mature in our faith we should bear the fruit of communion with Him. God is love and when we serve Him we become filled with His love. People should see our kindness and compassion to the brethren, the poor, and the needy.

Our ministry for the Lord should change us and it should change us for the better. The Gardener does not tend to His vineyard without the expectation of bearing fruit. God has a vision for His church and if we are not characterized by the love we have for the brethren then we are not truly serving the Lord.

You need to know what kind of person God wanted to you be and use that to gauge whether you are being obedient to Him.

Are You Thinking About Your Family Legacy?

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We live in a relatively affluent time compared to prior generations. One of the consequences of growing affluence, it seems, is the decline in birthrates and the size of a typical family. The industrialized countries of the West tend to have birthrates at or below replacement level, which is two children per mother. When we look at Third-World countries the birthrates are higher and the families are bigger.

For this reason economists think of children as an inferior good. There are normal and inferior goods. Normal goods are those things we buy more of as our income increases and inferior goods are those things we consume less of as our income rises.

There are various reasons why people have fewer children as they make more but one of the consequences of this trend is that people tend to think of children as a burden more than a blessing. Small families have become normative and big families are often seen as odd, if not disturbing.

I think there is an underlying set of expectations about maintaining a certain standard of living which is difficult to do when you have many children. The problem with this is that it encourages us to be selfish and short-sighted.

Over the last few months I have asked myself what it is in life that is worth my highest commitment and I keep coming back to the kingdom of heaven and family. I think of these because they are the only things I can invest in whose return will pay off for time and for eternity. I think that if the main reward is in this life then it will ultimately disappoint.

I find confirmation of this in the stories of people who have accomplished great things only to be left empty inside. George Foreman tells of the disappointment that overwhelmed him the night he won the heavyweight title. He worked so hard to climb that mountain only to be left wondering if there is anything more to life.

The biblical alternative is a multi-generational vision in which you are part of a continuum that traverses the generations. It is a vision in which your family is your kingdom and you are aware of the impact of your decisions in this life on your descendants several generations into the future. It is based on an understanding that your children are the only record that this world will have of your existence.

In his book, What He Must Be: …In Order To Marry My Daughter, Voddie Baucham shares a fascinating anecdote about Jonathan Edwards and his descendants:

Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the most influential American theologian of all times. Born in 1703, his books are still a mainstay in Christian colleges and seminaries. More importantly, his collected works are featured prominently in many pastors’ libraries. However, far too few people know the other side of Edwards’s story. Edwards was not only a remarkable preacher, professor, pastor, and prolific author. He was also a loving family man. He was devoted to his wife, Sarah, for thirty-one years until his death in 1758. He led in regular family worship and oversaw the education of his eleven children. Moreover, his was a multigenerational legacy seldom seen before or since.

‘In 1900, A. E. Winship studied what happened to 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah by the year 1900. He found they included 13 college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers and a dean of a law school, 30 judges, 66 physicians and a dean of a medical school, and 80 holders of public office, including three US Senators, mayors of three large cities, governors of three states, a Vice-President of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury. They had written over 135 books and edited eighteen journals and periodicals. Many had entered the ministry. Over 100 were missionaries and others were on mission boards.’

Winship also wrote this concerning the legacy of Jonathan Edwards and his impact on America:

Many large banks, banking houses, and insurance companies have been directed by them. They have been owners or superintendents of large coal mines… of large iron plants and vast oil interests… and silver mines…. There is scarcely any great American industry that has not had one of this family among its chief promoters…

When I read this it makes me covet that kind of achievement, and I think it is the kind of thing God wants us to desire. We often appreciate the connection we have with our ancestors but we rarely think about the people who are yet to be born after us, especially after our death.

What if someone told you that 100 years after you die you will have over 1,000 descendants, people who are alive because of you? What if a similar story was told about your descendants being scientists, engineers, and political leaders? Edwards led the Great Awakening but I think he had a much bigger impact on the world after he died through his family.

It takes faith to see the appeal of a blessing that you won’t enjoy because you are not around to enjoy it but there is a joy in the hope that you will be reunited with tens of thousands of brothers and sisters in the Lord who were the fruit of your multiplication.

How To Know That You Know God

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And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 1 John 2:3

Although John’s writings (his gospel, Revelation) are often focused on the spiritual things above nevertheless he is very practical in his epistles to the church. I get the impression from his letters that John is the type of person who is concerned about the real world application of the gospel. Missouri is the “show me” state; John is the “show me” apostle. If he were alive today I think he would love the saying, “the proof is in the pudding.” In this passage John gives us three tests which determine whether we know and love God.

Knowing God is not a matter of acquiring information but of obedience. We do not come to know God by reading the bible, studying theology, or memorizing scripture. We do it by putting Jesus’ teachings into practice. I like this because it is practical and straightforward, not some esoteric mystery. It requires us to have an attitude that sees Jesus as our Lord, that is, our superior who commands us in all things. Jesus said that it is the doer of the word that loves Him. If you believe that Jesus is Lord and His commands are binding on you then you know that you know God.

Anyone who claims to know God must follow Jesus’ example as the model for his life. In verse 6 we read, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” The Christian’s mandate is to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples of all the nations. Disciples reflect their masters like children resemble their parents. A disciple wants to be like his master. He follows the same thought process and has the same priorities. Those who think that Jesus’ example is irrelevant today are not His disciples and it is no surprise that they bear no resemblance to Him. If you are seeking to emulate Jesus’ life then you know that you know God.

You cannot know God if you do not love His people, your brethren. Gandhi said that he likes Christ but not Christians. He was clearly clueless about Christ because you cannot separate the two. Unfortunately, there are many Christians who share a similar sentiment. They claim to love God but they have no love for the church. The problem with this attitude is that it fails to understand an important part of God’s character. He loved us first when we were still His enemies. If we want that love to abide in us then we have to begin to see people the way God sees them. It shows that we appreciate and thank God for His grace and mercy towards us. You love much when you know you’ve been forgiven much. In John 13:35 Jesus said that our love for each other would be the defining characteristic of the church and mark us as His disciples. If you love the church, for whom Christ died with all its imperfections, then you know that you know God.

This passage has a very encouraging message that gives hope to everyone and reveals God’s wisdom and glory. It teaches that God is not known only to the priest and theologian, or even the literate. He is known by those who obey Him, follow His example, and love the brethren. The Lord makes us equal in that He reveals Himself to all, rich and poor, strong and weak, famous and anonymous, male and female, old and young, healthy and sick, Jew and gentile, clergy and layman, without distinction or favoritism. We have hope in that we know now what we must do to know God. We know the way and we can walk in it and be assured of success. There is no excuse for not knowing God.