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In this week’s post, we will need to temporarily leave our current topic of Thoughts on the Last Days and return to the topic of ChristianSpeak: Puzzling Things That Christians Say, Pray, and Sing.

It just never seems to end.

Teaching abounds in the Western church about following the dream that God has for your life.

Here are a couple of quotes from the website of a well-known preacher:

“Whoever you are, wherever you are, God has a dream for your life.”

“God created you to impact your world. He sees the great potential He placed within you. Don’t be afraid to receive God’s dream for your life and to pursue that dream with determination, discipline, and integrity. God’s dream for your life will exceed anything you could imagine!”

So, a few questions.

Where in the Bible does it say that God has a dream for our lives?

Where are we taught that we shouldn’t be “afraid to receive God’s dream” for our lives? What does it even mean that I shouldn’t be afraid to receive God’s dream?

Where is the Bible does it say that I should pursue God’s dream with determination, discipline, and integrity?

And, finally, not a question, but a sarcastic comment. I am so happy that “He sees the great potential He placed” within me. Again, what does that even mean?

Where did all this dream talk come from?

I asked a Christian friend these questions when she promoted this dream teaching on a social media site.

She said, “Joseph followed his dream.”

Joseph did have a dream that his father and brothers would one day bow down to him, and it happened. That’s a great dream to follow, isn’t it?

However, how did Joseph “receive” or “follow” God’s dream for his life?

As it turns out, he didn’t “follow his dream” at all.

It just happened to him. Better said, God sovereignly brought that dream to pass, and Joseph had only a small part to play. Because the account about Joseph, his family, and Egypt are not about you or really even about Joseph, ultimately.

It’s about God and His glorious redemptive power and plan.

To start with, Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to some Midianite traders. These men in turn sold him as a slave in Egypt. Joseph had nothing whatsoever to do with this. On the contrary, he was a victim of kidnapping and slavery.

When he was serving as a slave in Potiphar’s house (an officer of Pharaoh), he was accused of sexual assault and subsequently thrown into prison. Please note that even though he did the right thing and refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances, he was found guilty nevertheless. How is this following or receiving the dream God gave him?

But didn’t Joseph do a good job in prison? Yes, but read this: “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21).1

And this: “The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23).

Yes, Joseph did a good job in prison. We can assume he was a responsible man and worked with integrity. However, it’s clear that the Lord gave him favor in the sight of the jail keeper and made him succeed. That’s what the Bible says. God was about His sovereign work.

Well, how about the interpretation of the dreams that vaulted Joseph to the heights of leadership in Egypt? Read Joseph’s own words: “Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer’” (Genesis 41:16).

God sovereignly accomplished everything that happened in the Genesis account of Joseph. Joseph had very little to do with the fulfillment of the dream the Lord gave him. The Lord gave the dream, and the Lord fulfilled the dream.

So, does the account of Joseph in Genesis indicate that “God has a dream for our lives,” or that we are to “receive God’s dream for our lives”?

No. The dreams Joseph had were to accomplish the saving of Israel (Here Joseph is a type of Christ) and bringing his family into Egypt, furthering a redemptive plan for God’s people about which Joseph had little or no knowledge.

The dream teaching abroad today leads us away from a life that focuses on humility and sacrificial living in, with, and for Jesus and brings the spotlight on you. I encourage you to reject such me-centered teaching. I encourage you to think through what men and women teach, as good as it may sound at first.

Be careful. The last days will be thickly populated by false teachers in the Church. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John all warned about false prophets and teachers. Judge all things. Yes, including what is written here.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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The Book of Revelation is a gigantic mystery to me, at least in its details. Yes, I’m familiar with the popular church meme that we’ve read the last chapter and the Church wins in the end. However, there is some serious trouble for believers between chapter one and twenty-two, and we should take a careful look at it—especially if we want to be among those who count themselves victorious in the Day of the Lord. Therefore, we are going to look at the seven letters Jesus wrote to the churches. I don’t intend to dig deeply into these letters, but some of the things I read here disturb me—again, concerning the Church.

Let’s begin with Jesus’ first letter, which is to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). This letter disturbs me greatly.

Here’s why.

Jesus first lists the things the Ephesians had done well:

They were working.

They had patiently endured.

They couldn’t bear with those who did evil.

They tested false apostles.

They hadn’t grown weary.

Sounds like a pretty good church to me. In fact, better than most that we may be aware of. At least the Christians at Ephesus were testing false apostles—people that Paul warned them about, by the way (Acts 20). I’m not sure most churches today even have the courage to challenge false apostles. We don’t want to be labeled as “divisive” and “haters.”

Nevertheless, in spite of these admirable traits, the believers at Ephesus had stopped loving Jesus, and, by extension, people.

Jesus’ warning to them is exceptional—and scary. If they didn’t repent, He would remove their lampstand. We have learned earlier—chapter 1, verse 20—that the lampstands were the churches.

So, the church at Ephesus would no longer be a church. That Jesus would actually do this should cause us to tremble. The church at Ephesus would go spiritually dark. I’m not sure I really understand what this even means, on a practical level. These people wouldn’t be considered Christians anymore?

The good news is that church history says that the Ephesian believers did repent and got back on track.

The Lord Jesus found no reason to chastise the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), so let’s move on to the church at Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-16). Jesus told these believers that they had held fast to His name, even in the days when His faithful witness, Antipas, had been martyred. They didn’t desert Jesus when their lives were on the line.

That’s a strong place to be as a church.

However, some in the church were holding to the teaching of Balaam and engaging in sexual immorality.

What did Balaam “teach”?

In Peter’s second letter, he wrote about false teachers who taught like Balaam: “They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing…” (2 Peter 2:14–15)1

Balaam was a man who compromised obedience to God for the sake of money. You can read about his shameful disobedience in Numbers 22-24 and 31. It’s an interesting account. What’s interesting is that some of the things Balaam did seem quite right. What’s also interesting is that, somehow, he led Israel into sexual sin. I’m not sure I understand how compromising obedience for the sake of money is associated with sexual immorality, but Peter connects them. Perhaps it’s becoming worldly where everything is compromised. Perhaps it’s being compromised, not only by money, but by the culture. So, a question: Will the Church today compromise its stance on hetero and homosexual immorality in order to look inclusive to its culture? Will it compromise so it won’t be despised by the world? Will it compromise in order to maintain its tax exempt status so people will keep making tax-deductible donations?

I would maintain that certain segments of the Church have already done so.

The good news for the believers at Pergamum is that Jesus told them that He would come to them soon and war against “them” with the sword of His mouth. According to Revelation 19:15, this sword is a sword of judgment: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.” Jesus is making a separation here. Jesus will deal harshly with those who compromise. The others, and those who repent, will be rewarded.

How much stronger can Jesus say it? The lesson we learn from the letters to these two churches is be diligent to make the love for Jesus and others the most important aspect of your life in God. And do not compromise. You don’t want to be on the receiving side of the sharp blade of Jesus’ judgment. However, I know that even as I write this, some of us will. I don’t need to speak as a prophet. The Word of God has already spoken. Before Jesus returns, the rebellion, the falling away, the apostasia, must come first, as Paul told us.

For some of us—perhaps too many—there are unhappy days ahead.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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I’ve thought in the last few years that the revealing of the man of lawlessness would bring anarchic chaos in the days before the Lord returns.

However, now I think that my understanding and focus of this difficult yet glorious time to come has been wrong.

Here’s why.

Concerning the day of the Lord, Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

It seems clear that the man of lawlessness will be a man who rebels against the law of God—a man of sin, iniquity, and unrighteousness. Paul paired sin and lawlessness in Romans 6:19: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

Now, it surely follows that anyone who makes it his or her goal to sin against God may very well have little regard for the laws of government and the norms society. However, I must face the fact that both kinds of lawlessness have been around for a very long time. We don’t need to dig very deeply into history to find the iniquity of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and ruthless Roman emperors. And what shall we say of the history of the world in the 20th century? The murderous, infamous men of that era cannot be viewed as men of law, except laws of their own making. In fact, the governments and societies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others were exceptionally fascistic. Therefore, it doesn’t follow that the reigns of men who defy God’s moral law bring anarchy.

So, I am thinking now that the nations in the days to come will not be characterized by unfettered anarchy but by unfettered sinfulness. This should not surprise us, since Jesus said, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37–38). This should not surprise us, since there is absolutely no way that the laws of men are adequate to restrain the sinfulness of mankind.

But, oh, they have tried—and will try, as well they should.

In the United States, they are trying now. The problem is that this country is a post-Christian nation and the definitions of sin are shifting.

It is striking to me that in 1920, the United States passed an amendment that outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages. Can you imagine the spiritual state of the country at that time? Enough people had apparently been spiritually changed in the revivals of the 19th and 20th centuries that liquor was viewed as evil. However, Prohibition was a total failure. The courts and prisons were overwhelmed. Corruption among the police was endemic. People died of poisoning trying to brew their own liquor. The amendment was repealed thirteen years later, and people rejoiced in the streets.

So, sin won. It was just too strong for the American society to deal with.

Were the pious folks in the early 20th century wrong? Is there a problem with alcohol? Well, first let me ask you a question. If you were in the Senate or the House, and a bill came up that would you knew would save the lives of over 30 million people in eighty years, would you vote for it? According to a little research I did, since 1930 around 25 million people have died in the United States in alcohol-related car accidents. 25 million.

According to drugwarfacts.org, 80,000 people died in 2013 of alcohol-related causes and diseases. If that number were relatively constant for eighty years, that’s an additional 6,400,000 people. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes today.

What shall we conclude from this? Moral lawlessness is amazingly strong, even in what most consider a lawful nation. And that moral lawlessness is growing in the West. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I have little doubt that all nations have followed or will eventually follow the same course.

Without Jesus, sin will win. Every time. Every time, regardless of how many laws nations pass.

However, new kinds of moral laws are now being enforced. The lawful United States continues to become an increasingly morally lawless nation. To think of prosecuting those who sell or use death-dealing alcohol is ridiculous. To think of legally prosecuting people who don’t bake cakes for homosexual weddings is not.

Is the stage being set for a man of moral lawlessness? It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? I understand this is a pessimistic outlook. As we’ve seen, major revivals in the United States were unable to stem the tide of moral decline, as the failure of Prohibition in the early 20th century proved. In the same decade of the Jesus People revival in the 1970’s, abortion was made legal in the United States. Should we be surprised about the moral degradations to come? No. I have no clue what they will be, but they are coming.

However, the growth of early Church during the time of the depraved Roman government gives me hope to press on. People’s lives can and will be transformed by the power of the cross. Nevertheless, one day in the not-too-distant future, this world, this lovely world that God created, will be judged by the only just and moral power in the universe. And the only escape from that devastating Judgment will be for those who are dressed in the righteousness of God Himself, the blood-bought garments of Jesus Christ.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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One of the most troubling passages for me concerning the last days is 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…” This word “rebellion” is the Greek word apostasia, and it has meanings of falling away, departure, and abandonment. Our English word “apostasy” comes from this word.

Is it true that before the Lord Jesus returns, the Church will fall away? Jesus said this: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9–13).

This is a bit chilling, because Jesus tells us in these verses that Christians will be hated by all nations for the sake of His name. All nations would include…all nations. I have been wondering lately what believers in the West will do when they are perceived as the enemies of culture. What will become of all the methods of attraction that seeker sensitive churches have done to get people through their doors? That will be difficult when Christians are considered bigots and haters. The members of our cultures won’t care how contemporary our music, dramas, and videos are. We will be despised. Jesus made it clear again in John 15:18–19: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

So, that many will fall away is not surprising, is it? Who wants to be detested by his own culture? I don’t. I like making friends. And that we will betray one another shouldn’t be surprising, either. We all want to be accepted and desire to be friendly with acquaintances and shopkeepers. The heat will be on to avoid being perceived as a backward adherent to an ancient religion, one who refuses to accommodate to modern-day cultural norms, who, worst of all, don’t want people to love each other and find happiness.

False prophets will arise. I am not sure what that means. I suppose we could all compose our lists of false prophets today. Regardless, the wisest course is to heed Jesus’ warning with which He began this discourse: “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.”

We must not be led astray to follow someone claiming to be a Deliverer who is not Jesus. My opinion is that, because the times will be so difficult and hateful, believers will be tempted to go after someone who will offer them some kind of relief from the contention, the heat, the loathing. “I’m a spiritual person, but I’m not religious. Sure, I believe in Jesus, but He didn’t hate anybody.”

We must believe and trust the Lord Jesus through all that is to come. We must ask for help to persevere when we are reviled and abhorred. We will become pariahs and tempted to cower like dogs.

I do not look forward to this.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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Last night, I had the opportunity—privilege, really—to teach at a small Bible study. The passage I dealt with was Matthew 18:1-4. In this passage, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus responds with two answers. One has to do with the disciples, and the other has to do with Himself. Without going into a lengthy study of these verses, please allow me to sum up the topic of this passage: The meaning of greatness in God’s kingdom. I encourage you to do a study of this portion and discover Jesus’ view on greatness in His kingdom.

So, last night, I attempted to explain the implications of Jesus’ teaching in these first verses of Matthew 18. I was flabbergasted with the response. It seemed like I was talking about one topic and everyone else was talking about another. It’s as if I was teaching on one planet and everyone else was teaching on another, with no discernable means of communication between the two parties. It was the most baffling teaching experience I’ve ever had. One person said the topic of this passage was about purity. One said it was about innocence. Another person said it was about trust and conversion. I kept telling them that Jesus was responding to a question about…greatness. Not purity. Not innocence. Not trust. Not conversion.

Greatness.

They couldn’t hear it. It’s not that they wouldn’t hear it—they couldn’t. Let me make it clear that these are all good, sincere Christian folks. I’m not criticizing them. I wasn’t angry with them during the study. No contention arose. I was just stunned that they simply ignored or were unaware of the plain meaning of words in this text.

When I was praying about last night this morning, I think I understood why this was so difficult for them, apart from their clear inability to deal with the plain meaning of these verses. It’s because they thought that entering the kingdom of God is only about salvation. True, salvation is part of it, because Jesus said that unless we were born again we would not see the kingdom of God. However, there is more to God’s kingdom than this, as crucially important as being born again is. God’s kingdom is more complex than this. The kingdom of heaven is about rulership. It’s about who is the king and who isn’t. It’s about humility for us and greatness for Jesus. Smallness for us and enormity for Jesus. However, it’s about following Jesus’ example of smallness and humility when He walked the earth. Philippians 2 tells us to have the same mind Jesus had when He “emptied himself” and becoming obedient to the point of death.

Thankfully, I think a couple of lights of recognition blinked on when I talked about insignificance in Scripture. Who was the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene, a formerly demonized woman, whose testimony was almost worthless in Jesus’ time. I read 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, about whom God chooses. I mentioned a few of the many, many other examples, all throughout Scripture of the Lord choosing those of insignificance. David. Ruth. Esther.

If you’re a Christian, I plead with you to deal with the plain meaning of words in Scripture, even if they somehow oppose what you have been taught or thought you understood in your history. If they agree, which they certainly may, well and good. If they don’t, wrestle with the text. Our God is not a vanilla, churchy God. He is a God who, because He loves us, will blow up our religious suppositions and traditions for our spiritual good.

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When the Christian lady prayed for the young woman and then said, “Keep saying, ‘I am healed,’” it didn’t surprise me. I had heard this positive confession teaching for a very long time. However, in my own little snarky self, I said, “Perhaps she should rattle some snake bones, too.”

Ok, please forgive my snarky self. At least I didn’t say it aloud. And let me be clear. I am happy that the woman was praying and believed in the power of the Lord to heal. She’s a fine Christian lady. However, again, I can’t help but ask, “Where did we Christians get this stuff?”

In this case, I think I know the answer, if memory serves. It’s from Romans 10:8–10.

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

So, do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord?

Yes.

Do I believe that it’s important to confess with my mouth that I am healed?

No.

Why?

The primary reason is that we are not told to do so in Scripture. No prescriptive passages teach us to do so.

Second, we don’t see anyone in Scripture doing that. No descriptive passages indicate people did so. (And keep in mind that the Bible describing someone doing something is not the same thing as the Bible telling us to do something. Such descriptions are helpful but are not commands.)

Third, this practice makes my healing dependent on me, not on God. If I just keep saying, “I am healed,” the healing will “work.”

Fourth, this activity shifts my faith in the Lord to faith in my healing. Faith has an object. I must have faith in something. Christians are to have faith in God, not in an action or activity.

So, finally, since such “positive confession” makes my healing dependent on my works, not on the Lord God of the universe who has the power to do anything, I become something like a pagan, who must do and say certain “magic” things to cause God to work. So I hope that explains the snarky self-talk about snake bones.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to study cases of healing in Scripture. I would be happy to be corrected and be told where to find cases of people who were told to confess their healing in order to be healed. In addition, I would encourage you to challenge some of the traditions that you have been taught, not to disrespect faithful men and women, but to make sure that what you think and say lines up with Scripture. Jesus was very unhappy that religious leaders taught “as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Telling people to keep saying, “I am healed,” is a commandment of men, not of God. The Lord can heal. However, He doesn’t heal everyone, according to His will and purpose. That may be hard to swallow, but it’s true. Trying to conjure up a healing by doing certain “right” things will not alter this sometimes brutal truth.

By the way, the reason I used the above photo is that this man, Pastor Francis, prayed for thirteen people to be raised from the dead—at least that was the count over ten years ago when we talked to him in Papua New Guinea. And none of those raised had to keep saying, “I am raised” in order to stay raised.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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One of the puzzling things Christians have been saying for the last fifteen years or so is, “God has a purpose for your life.”

However, that doesn’t sound puzzling, does it?

But it is.

It’s puzzling because there’s some truth running around in that sentence, but there’s a lot of cranial smoke and theological fog swirling around it.

If you don’t know what I mean, here’s a sentence that should clear up the smog:

Jesus is your purpose.

Please allow me to explain.

If a person becomes a disciple of Jesus Christ (see Luke 14:25-34 ), Jesus will, by His Spirit, lead him or her into all truth. Jesus said He was, after all, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because that statement from Jesus is so familiar to us, let’s pause a moment and think about what it means. One of the problems Christians have after reading and hearing the Bible quoted for several years is that we switch on the, “Yeah, yeah. I know that” self-talk. This can be very dangerous, because we think we know biblical truths when we only know them superficially.

Jesus said that He was the Way, Truth, and Life after He had told the disciples that He was going to go and prepare a place for them, and that they knew the way to where He was going. In spite of this, however, Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Jesus then replied with the well-known truth: He was the way to where He was going.

In other words, all that is necessary for us to be with Him and the Father both here on earth and forever are in Him. He is The Way to that destination and all that entails.

In addition, since He is the Truth, He will tell us all that is truly necessary for us to get there, with no omissions or mistakes. The Lord is not inattentive. He is not unaware of—anything. We just too often think He is. No. He has the stunning power to attend to you, along with everyone else on the earth.

And since He is the Life, there is no genuine life in anyone else, in any other place, or in any other truth. Period.

And finding your purpose is not finding life. Purpose is not life. Jesus is life.

So.

If we are His disciples, He will provide all that we need for the way of life and the truth of life; indeed, life itself.

It’s not that He knows about life and can teach us about life.

Life is Him.

And thus, our purpose is Him.

Now, to clear up any remaining spiritual smoke. Does the Lord have something specific that He wants you to do?

Sure. And He will tell you what that is, because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He will make the way of it, the truth of it, very clear. The believer doesn’t have to spend hours in prayer and fasting to discover these things. He knows how to make His will known to you, unmistakably. I encourage you to read the Bible about how the Lord made it clear to people what He wanted. Hint: There was no silent meditation involved. Jesus speaks and things happen. His voice is…compelling.

Will it be a call to ministry? Will it be a call to be a mom or dad? Does He have a gift or gifts that He has given or will give you?

It could be one or all of those things. He knows.

And He will let you know.

So, if you hear someone say, “God has a purpose for your life,” say back, “Jesus is my purpose.”

Keep the center of life on Him, not on you.

Blow away the smoke.

All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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Why do Christians say things that are so puzzling? They learn them from others without questioning, without doing due diligence to discover if what a teacher or leader is saying has any basis in Scripture.

For instance, it seems that many Christians have gone into the “I declare” zone. Here are a couple of random, typical examples from a blog site:

“I am like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, I am yielding fruit in season—NOW! THIS IS MY SEASON; my leaf does not wither and in whatever I do, I prosper.”

“From Proverbs 11:25 I declare: ‘I will be exceedingly generous and I will be exceedingly prosperous. I water and I am watered.’”

Sounds scriptural, doesn’t it? However, is this practiced in the Bible, or are believers instructed to do this in Scripture? In the New Testament, believers do make declarations. However, most of them concern what God has already done, whether it’s a healing, a deliverance, or a salvation. There are too many examples to cite here, so I encourage you to check this out with your own study. However, here is one example: “And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed” (Luke 8:47). The others are declarations concerning preaching the gospel: “…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). All the examples I found glorify God or His truth. None of them were personal declarations that laid claim to God’s promises or were attempts to claim for an individual believer something the Lord had said.

Let’s pause a moment and ask what I hope is a sensible question. Why do I need to speak into existence or “claim” something that God has promised? Isn’t He the One who keeps and is able to keep His promises? Does He need our help to keep His promises?

The Lord performs enormously wondrous works, all by Himself. Those things that He has promised He will perform according to His will and purposes, in His time. Please note how the declarations cited from the blog above center on the speaker, not God. This should give us pause. It almost seems that this practice attempts to turn the speaker into a demi-god, a god who has some but not all of the powers of God.

This declaration nonsense is just another example of a self-centered belief system held by misled Christians that a declaration about what God has already promised makes any difference whatsoever. It is a goofy spouting of pretend power that these hoodwinked Christians think they possess.

I remember, years ago, often encountering the destructive, condemning, legalistic teaching that unless you declared or claimed your healing, you might not be healed. Or that the reason you had not been healed was because you had not declared or claimed healing. What oppressive, faith-in-the-grace-of-God-destroying heresy!

Christian believers. Remain true to the Word of God. Check out what has been told you by powerful, influential preachers. There’s a lot of junk out there.

All scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2004-07-08_1925_2_FromJoeWatson

I cannot tell you with any accuracy where I picked up some of the strange things that were inserted into my Christian vocabulary as I grew up in the church. These words, thankfully, were not implanted into my belief system because, truth be told and to my shame, I didn’t really think about them and therefore they didn’t take root. They just became inattentive ChristianSpeak. I didn’t pause to consider whether some of the things I prayed and said were actually biblically true. However, as I have (hopefully) matured a bit over the years, I look back on some of these statements, sayings, and proclamations and wonder, “Where on earth (or anywhere else) did they come from?”

Let’s start with one that came late enough in my life that I was able to question it from the start. Numerous times when I have prayed with Christians the last few years, I hear this: “Lord, be with so-and-so as he or she does this and that.” I’m not sure what this request to the Lord means. I don’t know what the pray-er is asking of the Lord, because all Christians know and agree that Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us. He told us He would never leave us (Hebrews 13:5), which echoes what He announced to His people Israel: “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). In addition, we are instructed that the Holy Spirit actually indwells believers: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14). If the Lord is with us, will never leave us and even lives in us, why are we praying that He will “be with” a believer? He is already present and in-dwelling. I am dozy and ignorant if I lend credence to a non-biblical prayer by adding my I-agree amen.

The second puzzling prayer request is one that has been around for quite a few years: “I plead the blood of Jesus over so-and-so.” Again, I don’t know what this actually means. We know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin, redeems, ransoms, and purifies us. So, then, to what purpose is this “pleading the blood of Christ” over a fellow believer? So they will be forgiven? Redeemed? Ransomed? Purified? This cannot be, because all of that is accomplished in the Lord’s work of salvation. So, I just don’t understand why we are praying for Jesus’ blood to be at work this way, and I don’t know why we are “pleading” it. So, Christian brother or sister, if we are praying together, you won’t hear my affirming “amen” when and if you plead the blood of Jesus over someone. I really don’t know what you are asking the Lord to do.

I also refrain from singing certain lyrics when I am worshiping with the church, for the same reason. For instance, when a song says that we are dancing before the Lord, I’m not dancing, and no one is dancing, I feel I am being insincere before the Lord and the church by singing that I’m dancing when my feet are embedded in concrete, which, in my Western worship experience, they usually are. It’s just the way it is, and the way I am. Even in Papua New Guinea, where they joyfully danced in worship, the best Laurie and I could come up with was a “holy sway.” Boy, did we feel white, foreign, and Western. Or worshipfully poverty-stricken. Or something. Thankfully, the gracious nationals did not care.

Thus, if a song says, “We lift up our hands,” I lift my hands. If I don’t lift up my hands, I remain silent, because then my worship would become untruthful and dishonest before God and the church. People in gatherings should know that our worship and theirs is marked by godly integrity. Otherwise, we may as well be singing “la, la, la” from Hey Jude.

There have been many examples in my experience as a Christian where praise/worship songs contained lyrics that I didn’t understand but sang anyway. For instance, what does it mean to “Shout to the north” or “Sing to the east and the west”? I’m not sure, but I confess that I sang these words anyway, completely careless about what I was proclaiming. I looked recently in my concordance for passages in Scripture where God’s people were exhorted to shout, and the only One whom we are told to shout to is the Lord. There are none that instruct us to shout to a direction on the compass.

It is not wise to pray or sing lyrics that we do not understand or give thought to. It is a lazy, religious, churchy way of prayer and worship, one that lacks sincerity and truthfulness.

All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Joe Watson for the photo.

2009-02-23_1759_2_BangaloreHardRockCafe

One of the themes of the Bible is the contrast of the city of man to the city of God. We are told not to love this worldly city—“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15)—but to seek a spiritual one. The author of Hebrews wrote that men and women of faith “…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). There will be comfort, peace, glory, and apparently, some kind of inclusive rulership there (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:17, 21:4, 22:3-5).

We see those two cities in most vivid contrast in the book of Revelation. The city of man, Babylon, represented as a prostitute in chapter 17:1-5, is eventually destroyed (Revelation 18:10-13). However, the wondrous city of God is established afterwards. “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:2–4).

The New Jerusalem is the place of eternal residency that eventually awaits us. Therefore, while we are here living in and under the influence of the city of man, it is necessary that we are continually challenged to walk by faith in our magnificent God and not according to the dark, burdensome, yet attractive reality of what the world presents. In the passage that follows, we will find Paul telling the Corinthians that although there will be affliction in this life, an eternal, not temporal, hope awaits.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:7).

These are profound verses. However, its encouraging promise is an answer to the reality of earthly hardship and affliction. Does God allow suffering? Yes. Does He even cause it? Yes. This is His purpose and plan to bring us into a future that is eternally glorious beyond all comparison. We do not see it that way and are often quite unsure we want it. However, in spite of our uncertainty and even at times, blatant unfaithfulness, He desires what is best for us, although discomfort awaits. In our ignorance, we prefer a comfortable life with no weight of everlasting glory; a limping walk on a broken leg that impedes our anemic journey instead of a re-broken, healed one that allows us to summit the mountains of eternity.

This is the God of discomforting love, peace, sacrifice, and victory.

This is the God we do not know.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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