I am going to step out on a limb and state the obvious. I have not been posting much to the site for quite some time now. For those who read this blog on a regular basis, I apologize. Life has been accomplishing its mission of creating busyness as of late and my blog has suffered. With the crazy shifts in weather this Spring my family has consistently been fighting off some type of seasonal illness. We have had allergies, colds, sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, etc. In addition I have taken on a second paying job so I am currently working full time at the hospital and part-time with the Alzheimer’s Association. I also took some time off to roof my house. I have somehow managed to continue writing content for my next book but something had to give and that ended up being my business. To call this website a business is a bit of a misnomer. I do have a license to operate Stratosphere Networking as a business but I have invested more money into it than I have made from it. Don’t worry, I have not invested my life savings or anything – it’s just a website, so there really isn’t much overhead. Since the majority of my funding comes from ads, it really doesn’t make much. That’s alright because I started this site as a type of hobby of sorts. It really exists to give me a chance to write for an audience and to give others the opportunity to learn about some really talented people. It also serves as a marketing tool for my books, so it is worth having.
The thing is, however, it just has become a low priority for me. Since something had to give, it was my blog. This doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing or posting funny cartoons. It does mean that I may be uploading less content for awhile though.
All of these transitions are happening for a reason and I am asking you to join me in prayer. I want to hear clearly from God. I don’t think I will continue working two jobs for the long haul. I want to spend time with my family and working two jobs makes that more difficult. I know God has something better for me than my current status and I am anticipating something great in the future. Will you join me in prayer? Will you believe with me that things will get better? Please don’t give up on this site because I hope to one day have the time to invest into it again.
PS - The parrot really has nothing to do with today's article - I just found it interesting.
Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9:10-13
Have you ever thought about how the Pharisees of Jesus’ day became the way they were? Do you ever think there was a time when faith in God was more than just a religious code that they set out to perfect? I’ve thought about that this week because I don’t want to ever allow myself to go there. It’s clear that these Pharisees thought it was ridiculous that Jesus spent time with these known sinners, yet spent little time with them, the creme de la creme of the religious world. If Jesus came to your town, would you expect him to stop at the biggest church first or perhaps the church that saw itself as the most spiritual? Who exactly do we think we are?
This attitude is what Jesus was trying to warn these Pharisees about in this passage. The Pharisees had made a science of righteousness, ceremonial and legalistic righteousness, that is. As Jesus told them at another time, you legalistically tithe on even the spices and herbs from your garden, but you neglect justice and loving God. How can this be? So, Jesus tells them to look into something God said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
I’m certain this was not a pleasant thing for these Pharisees to hear, though it was very needful. These tax collectors and sinners knew that they were in need of the mercy of God. The Pharisees believed themselves to be deserving of the attention of God. Can you see the extreme danger that is found in this attitude? And can you, like me, see the need to continually crucify in ourselves this attitude of self-righteousness?
God’s desire is to grant mercy. Those who recognize their desperate need for God are the ones in whom God will do His work. (By the way, ALL of us fit into this category, but we don’t all recognize it) God isn’t interested in our “sacrifice,” or our religious offerings. God isn’t interested in how well we can perform rites and rituals. God isn’t interested in how well we can keep the rules. I’m certain He desires obedience from His children, but obedience is not the entrance into His Kingdom. Only through God’s mercy can we enter the Kingdom.
Jesus made it even clearer when He said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. So, was He saying that the Pharisees were righteous already? Not at all. He meant that He had not come to call those who were righteous in their own opinion or in the opinion of the public. This is what Jesus was teaching about in Matthew 6 when he encouraged private devotion rather than public and condemned hypocrisy. Instead of coming to call those who already think themselves righteous, Jesus came to call those who think of themselves as sinners. It reminds me of the parable Jesus told in Luke 18 where the man who was justified prayed, “Have mercy on me, the sinner.” This is the contrite and repentant attitude of a person whom Jesus will call to Himself. May God keep us from ever thinking ourselves deserving attention more than needing mercy.
D. Courtney Hill
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” Matthew 6:6
I’ve been thinking and meditating on this thought this week and I’ve come to the conclusion that times of private prayer are vital to a Christian’s life and work. I realize that perhaps I just made the most obvious statement of all, but I would ask you to bear with me for a moment in thinking about this…
I’ve read where Jonathan Edwards was trained as a young boy to spend time in prayer and to do it according to a rigid schedule. There is even a certain amount of pleasure that can be derived from being able to keep a religious code or schedule, and he shares in his writings that he felt this way. But I’ve also read where Edwards later realized that his time of genuine, private prayer decreased over time until it had become almost nonexistent. The conclusion that he reached is that genuine prayer is driven by an authentic love for God, to know Him and draw near to Him, and not merely as a means to feel better about myself, to ask for needs to be met, or even to find answers to questions to share with other believers as a teaching, like in preparation for a sermon or a lesson. God is not a means to an end, but He is the ultimate goal.
So, what if my time of private prayer diminishes to almost nothing? I would say that this is a dangerous sign and should be taken very seriously. Saying public prayers or publicly participating in prayer is not the same as private prayer. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 6 above that public prayers, while good and valuable, do not necessarily reflect the inward spiritual condition of a person. People may offer many grand prayers filled with colorful words and phrases and continue on and on, sounding beautifully, but their hearts may be far from the Lord. Public prayers, therefore, are no true barometer for a person’s spiritual well-being. As Jesus pointed out through the first 18 verses of Matt. 6, hypocrisy is a very real problem among religious people, and God hates it. But if a person is praying privately, who is their audience? Hypocrites don’t pray privately because they have no person to impress standing nearby.
So, for this reason, Jesus points to private prayer. Now, as I stated above, Edwards was taught to engage in private prayer and he did it methodically and meticulously. Though he found great pleasure in his religious conquests, he later found private prayers diminishing and he even realized at some time later that he never truly knew the Lord to begin with, though he found God to be inescapable. If you study his life, you’ll see that he didn’t believe himself to be truly regenerated until after he was pastor of his first church, which ended after a short tenure. It was at this point that he began to spend time in private prayer purely for the purpose of communing with God. This is what I believe Jesus is referring to throughout the early part of the sermon on the mount. He wants authenticity in us. Private prayers are more likely to be authentic, which is why Jesus tells to go alone into our inner room.
If you look at Matthew 6:1-18, you’ll see Jesus addressing this same thought and desiring to help people distinguish between empty religious practice and genuine, God-inspired actions. Whether doing good deeds, giving money to the poor, saying prayers, or even fasting, the main idea is presented up in verse 1: Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
So, this is the question: do you ever go to the Father with no agenda other than simply seeking His face and enjoying His presence? Do you ever just go to Him to be with Him? The Westminster Shorter Catechism is a tool that many Puritans used with their children to teach and train. The first question and answer in that catechism says, "What is the chief end of man?" The answer to be given is this: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for eternity." Do you enjoy God as you commune, worship, pray, and live? That is the key that I’m speaking about here, and it is at the heart of what I think Jesus is teaching in that text. So, what are the benefits of spending time in this kind of prayer?
1. Communion with God- there is nothing better. You want and need time with the Father for YOU. If you grew up in a large family, there may not have always been time for every child to be one on one with the Father, but that is not so in God’s family. I think the only reason why any genuine believer thinks they don’t need this is because they’ve not really experienced it. Why do you want to go to heaven? To be with the Lord. Who is our greatest prize? He is our prize. Heaven is a bonus. Eternal life is a bonus. No sin, sickness, pain, and death is a fringe benefit. He IS OUR TREASURE! So, let’s spend time treasuring Him!
2. You need for God to work on YOU before you can work on others. (I’m guilty of this my friends, I have to confess) What do we have to offer to others in our own strength and wisdom? Nothing. Even if we have some great teaching that is very scriptural, if we don’t have God’s timing, God’s power, or God’s working in us and through us, nothing will be accomplished.
Along this line, I’ve come to realize this more and more as I get older and as I grow in faith (I’m sure many here already know this), we are sufficient in Christ for every good work- whatever He may want of us and require of us, we can do it. But apart from Him we can do nothing. (Jesus told us this) I see this every time I open the Scriptures and begin to share with people. If God doesn’t cause that word or that teaching to come alive within these people, I can do nothing. What amazes me at times is that God will have me teach something, from a particular verse, about a particular idea, and everyone may look at me like I’m nuts, but one comes up afterward and says, “Thanks, that’s exactly what I needed to hear.” Sometimes you don’t get that kind of confirmation (most of the time you don’t, actually) but believe this- when you’re being obedient in what you share, God’s Word will not return to Him void.
3. The power to live, the power to obey, the power to resist temptation, the discernment of the Spirit, the wisdom to speak the right words or do the right thing, these all come from God. Can we expect to be found faithful if we haven’t spent time with the Father? (by the way, we’re spending time with God, praying to the Father in the power of the Spirit in the authority of the Son.)
I’ve recently had a bit of a struggle of my own in this area. It has been a cause of concern for me in my own walk with the Lord, but I’ve been inspired by the Lord to come to Him seeking only Him and I’ve found a greater sense of peace with God than I’ve had before. It’s this idea of treasuring the Lord, praying for no other purpose than to commune with the Lord, and reading the Word only to know Him more. That may seem an easy thing to you, and I truly hope it is, but for me it’s not always easy. I hope these words encourage you today.
D. Courtney Hill
Sometimes I think a crisis of some kind or a shock of some kind is required for us to be awakened to our most destructive flaws and characteristics. Have you noticed this in your own walk with the Lord? I know I have. You’re cruising right along, carrying on the day to day things, minding your own business, and suddenly there’s a shocking moment, disturbing even. Usually at that moment it’s not a happy time. I would say for most of us we might even be angry that God would allow something like this in our lives.
I’ve had a few moments like this in my own life recently, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t happy about them at the time they happened. But I’m realizing more and more just how gracious God has been to me in these things. The thing God has said to me is about self-sufficiency. I think this happens to us in a natural way, unintentionally on our part, over the course of time. When we begin to serve the Lord, we know we need God’s wisdom, power, and direction to do anything good, so we begin with much prayer and seeking God; and we step out in much trembling. But God works through us, and then again, and again, and at some point along the way, we begin to have great comfort in this ministry He has given us.
This is where sin can begin to creep in if we do not guard ourselves. After so many successes and so many times seeing God work, we gradually begin to see less need for so much prayer and seeking God, because now we can handle this. Well, that’s what God has shown me in myself. He also brought to my mind this passage of Scripture...
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)
I really believe that the heart of this passage of Scripture is the key to overcoming this sin of self-sufficiency. The key here is to always remember that it is Christ IN us which makes us effective. Remember this also, great numbers of people pouring in do not always reflect effectiveness. What makes our ministry effective? What does good fruit look like? God working through us is the only way we can see ourselves as a success. Seeing genuine life change in our own lives and in the lives of others is the true measure of our effectiveness.
The truth of the matter is this: the moment we believe ourselves to be strong and able to accomplish the task might be the most dangerous point in our ministry. We ought instead to see ourselves as weak and desperate in every endeavor, for that is our true state. What kind of Kingdom are we building? We’re building a spiritual Kingdom. What work can we accomplish in building a spiritual Kingdom with physical tools? We can’t accomplish anything of eternal significance without God’s intervention. So, this is our state. We are continually in a state of desperation.
We are not wise, mighty, or sufficient, but we are fools for Christ. We are weak in ourselves. We are prone to sinfulness. We are prone to pride. We are prone to wander from God. We are prone to build physical kingdoms on the earth, even in the name of ministry. But God uses the weak, the broken, and the desperate. So, we must remain in His hands and watch Him do His work.
D. Courtney Hill
I don't usually just link to outside sources but there is so much reporting going on today about today's tragedy that I cannot cover it any better than those who have reporters on the scene. I also cannot keep up to date with all the new information. Please keep those who lost family in your prayers and pray for the healing of those injured by this horrible event that took place today on American soil. God, please be with our nation as we wrestle with this unfathomable tragedy. - Tim
White House Believes Boston Marathon Bombing Linked to Terrorism
I am very excited to share you about an event that will be taking place this Wednesday, April 10th at 7 p.m. at Christian Life Center. "With a message of hope and inspiration, experience the Watoto Children's Choir. Ambassadors of the millions of orphan and vulnerable children in Africa. Make plans to attend - and be sure to tell your friends!"Where: Christian Life Center 1901 North Park AvenueHerrin, IL 62948When:Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.For more information visit:http://www.clcherrin.com/https://www.facebook.com/clcherrin
or call (618) 942-7369I hope to see you there! -Tim
I’m often amazed at Christian people who jump around so quickly from one church to another within their community without really knowing what that group teaches or believes. I often am made aware of families who leave one place and go to another without skipping a beat. I suppose the prevailing wisdom must be “if they talk about Jesus, they must be ok.” Well, that kind of thinking has shipwrecked the faith of many, because many false teachers and groups speak of Jesus. Now, there are, within the faith community, many churches which are considered to be orthodox in their teachings. You may be thinking: “what is orthodox? Sounds like a term for stuffy, old people.” Actually, it is a critical term that we need to know as Christians. Orthodox means that the beliefs being taught are consistent with the historical teachings of Christianity.
The Apostle Paul was very concerned with this, and was in fact establishing it, when he said this to Timothy… “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines.” (1 Timothy 1:3) Actually, if you were to give a general theme to 1 Timothy, it would be an emphasis on the need for sound doctrine and theology. What we believe about God is essential. That’s what theology is, after all, the study of God and His attributes.
Now, there are clear differences between various churches. Some of these differences, in my opinion, are barely even reasons to divide. For example, one of the primary differences between Baptists and Methodists is the way in which we baptize people. They sprinkle or pour water over someone, whereas, Baptists have always fully immersed the person. Now, I stand very firmly upon baptism by immersion, but does that mean I can’t have fellowship with a Methodist or that I could never send my kids to things the Methodist church is doing? Not at all. (Actually, my children participate in a basketball program with our local Methodist church every year and we’ve never had any issue.) United Methodists are an orthodox Christian church, by the way. But it must be said that not every church around fits that same kind of description. I should also note here that, though I don’t have trouble fellowshipping with Methodist brothers and sisters, I’m not planning to become one anytime soon. I worship and fellowship with Southern Baptists because I believe that their teachings are the closest thing to Scripturally accurate and historically Christian that I have found. Others disagree, so they are part of other fellowships. That is between them and God, of course, and I do not condemn them for making a decision based on faith and their best understanding of the truth. But my point is that people have historically based their church attendance on what they believe and how it agrees with their own God-given convictions based on the authority of Scripture.
But today, it would seem, that teachings, beliefs, doctrine, and theology no longer form the primary criteria for choosing a local place of worship. It seems very often today that people don’t really know exactly what they believe, and it seems it doesn’t really matter to them all that much. Some glaze over when I speak the words “doctrine” and “theology.” It seems these things have become secondary to things like atmosphere, music, lighting, video, drama, sound, excitement, games, fun, kids’ activities, charismatic personalities, and etc. But here is my question: what if, in a quest to find these new criteria in a local church, we throw out the need for being a part of an orthodox Christian church? What if, in our desire to find a place that will appeal to our senses, we sacrifice one of our greatest needs, which is to feast upon the full truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as part of a biblically founded body of believers?
Today’s world has found many substitutes for truth which are much more ear tickling. One of the common ones I’ve found is known as the “prosperity Gospel.” There are several groups and pastors who preach this message because it sells, especially to a self-absorbed and materialistic group of Americans. The basic idea here is that God’s desire is for His children to be blessed, which is true. But the application of this truth is skewed. The idea that is usually preached is one of God’s desire to give you health, wealth, and prosperity. Many Scriptures speak of God’s blessings for His children. But are these passages speaking primarily of physical blessings or spiritual blessings? Are these blessings primarily temporal or eternal? They are primarily spiritual and eternal, without question. It’s clear that God doesn’t always want all His children to be wealthy in this world. Some of the greatest saints of our faith died broken, penniless, and absolutely content. In fact, the witness of the Apostles is that we not only may not be given great wealth, but that, in fact, we are destined as believers to suffer for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. How does suffering for Christ fit into the prosperity Gospel? It doesn’t. That’s why these preachers and their churches last for relatively short periods of time- usually no longer than their own personal ministry. Rarely will you ever see a prosperity gospel “ministry” be carried on successfully by anyone other than the founder. This is because it’s a man-made message and ministry.
Another false teaching here is that God always wants perfect health and no disease in the lives of His people. One of the lies which rips the hearts out of people is this: the only reason a person ever is not healed of a disease is because of their lack of faith. Is this true? Scriptures can be brought forth which appear to support it. Jesus often healed in response to great faith, so it must be true, right? The teaching says that perfect physical health can be expected by the members of our church who have great faith. But what happens when the cancer has no cure, and, despite many prayers, calling together of the elders of the church to pray (as James says), no healing is given? Well, since every believer with true faith is healed, this person must not have faith. Is this true? Is it biblical? No. God can still heal today, my friends, and He does, often in response to the prayers of His children. But perfect health is not promised. Timothy had an ongoing stomach ailment and Paul himself had a thorn in the flesh which tormented him which God would not remove. Not every sickness will be healed, obviously. Death will come to all according to God’s will. Those who have the greatest faith do not live forever, but they die in the same faith in which they lived.
A related teaching in this prosperity Gospel message was once called “the Word Faith movement” or back in the 1980s it was known as “Name it, claim it.” It is very similar to some of the teachings of Joel Osteen. And there is no question, you can draw quite a crowd with such a “positive message.” He’s filled a former NBA arena preaching this. The idea is that we must speak out positive words about ourselves and believe ourselves to be a success- and our speaking of these words will cause them to materialize in our lives. The idea is that God wants you to have that promotion, God wants you to have that new house, God wants you to have that new car, and God wants you to always be healed of every sickness. Therefore, speak out the words and it will happen. Think positively and you’ll begin to see these things become a very real part of your life. If you listen closely, you’ll hear some of the same thoughts here as you might find in some modern spiritualism movements and books. Oprah has a movement which bases its teachings on a book called “the Secret.” Many eastern religions use similar ideas in their meditation practices. If you can visualize yourself driving a new car, it might eventually be yours.
All of this stuff is a bunch of hooey, of course. None of it is orthodox Christianity. But hey, you can fill up a church with it, because it tickles people’s ears. They like to hear it. It’s a positive message that lifts the spirits, at least temporarily. The chickens come home to roost when the leader gets an unexplained illness and it won’t go away, files for bankruptcy, runs off with the secretary, or is missing with last month’s budget receipts. Many televangelists have defrauded people out of millions of dollars based on some of these same ideas or principles. And something else that always goes with all of this- those who are experts at appealing to the lusts of your flesh while telling you that God is giving it to you, also know how to put on a good show. They’re good at it, because that’s usually what they are, showmen.
Bottom line here is this: Beware of these things my brothers and sisters in Christ! The devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Jesus warned Peter that Satan’s desire was to destroy him. That would be my warning to many today. The so-called Christian community is filled with many genuine, spirit-filled leaders but it is also, as in the days of the Apostles, filled with many false prophets. Beware my friends. Study the Word. Learn the Word. Know the Word. Do not be deceived. Study the orthodox teachings of Christianity. Chances are, if your church or pastor is teaching things which no orthodox church has taught, it’s not historical Christianity that is in error.
Why Am I Protestant?
All of the hype and excitement surrounding the election of a new Pope has me thinking about many things in regard to our faith. One of the things I’ve noticed in this excitement is the degree to which many Protestants seem to be just as excited as many Catholics regarding the new Pontiff. It makes me wonder if many Protestants view him as their leader as well. This makes me ask another question. Have we lost our understanding of why we call ourselves Protestants? I think many have. Protestants are, by definition, protesting against something. In this case, we are protesting against what we believe are unbiblical teachings in the Roman Catholic Church.
Before I even begin to talk about these things, I would like to say that I’m NOT denouncing Catholics here or saying that no Catholic is truly a Christian, or anything of the sort. I would not presume to make such a judgment. As is the case with Protestants of whatever stripe, salvation is a personal matter between the believer and God. However, there are differences between what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what Protestants teach. If there were no differences, we’d all still be Catholics. There are many things I admire about the Catholic Church, in fact, and I think we can learn much from studying her teachings, but there are some critical differences which serve as the reason I’m not a Roman Catholic.
(By the way, in a very real sense of the word, we are all catholic. The word catholic is a synonym for the word “universal.” Catholic simply means universal Church, and all genuine believers in Jesus Christ are a part of that One Church, regardless of what other title is over the door post of their local meeting place.)
One of the primary reasons for the Protestant Reformation is the office of the Pope. According to the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wycliffe, Knox, Tyndale, et al), the papacy is not biblical. If you read Luther’s 95 Theses, you’ll find that, in addition to the practice of selling and granting indulgences (aiding a dead loved one in escaping from purgatory), he believed that the power vested in the Pope by the Roman Catholic Church is not biblical. The idea of a man being able to grant indulgences and the corruption that accompanied such power is what sparked Luther’s protest.
Catholics believe that this newly elected Pope, Pope Francis, is a direct successor to the Apostle Peter, whom they believe was the first Pope, as enacted by Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 16:17-19. They believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. That is, that he is the representative of Jesus Christ, that He speaks for Christ when he speaks ex-cathedra (from St. Peter’s Basilica), and that he speaks infallibly when he does so. That means that Roman Catholics believe the authority with which the Pope speaks from the porch is equivalent to the authority of Scripture. In fact, when and if a contradiction happens between Scripture and the words of the Pope, the Pope’s words will supersede the authority of Scripture. Indeed, the more recent a proclamation or teaching, the more authoritative and binding it is.
The Reformers saw the office of the papacy as unbiblical. The “keys to the Kingdom” as referred to in Matthew 16, belong to Jesus Christ and are given to the entire Church as a stewardship, not to Saint Peter and not to successive Popes. As for authority, the Reformers believed in Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone is our authority. Roman Catholics believe in progressive revelation of God’s message to man, which includes the Scriptures but also includes the Roman Catholic Catechism, which consists of the pronouncements of the Church through various Popes which have also spoken infallibly from Rome. I should note that Protestants have no trouble with a Catechism. In fact, many use such tools to teach their own children. The issue here is with the authority given to the Catholic Catechism as equally inspired as Scripture itself. Protestants believe that Scripture is our sole authority, though we certainly respect and recognize God’s working through teachers and leaders throughout the centuries. We simply do not view their words as a final authority or inerrant, as the Catholic Church views the words of their Popes when speaking ex-cathedra.
The distinctives of Protestantism can be summed up in the 5 Solas of the Reformation:
Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
Solus Christus - Christ Alone
Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
Sola Fide - Faith Alone
Soli Deo Gloria - The Glory of God Alone
The Reformers believed that the Catholic Church was violating all of these, and so they protested against it. This is why we are where are today. I would be remiss if I did not mention at some point in this article what I believe to be the MOST critical difference between what I believe and Catholicism, and it is summed up in Sola Fide and Sola Gratia just above. Faith alone and by grace alone, not works of any kind- not even God-inspired works (which Catholics refer to as "meritorious"), can count toward salvation. It is as the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Now, the next verse says that we have been created unto good works, but the merit for salvation is found by grace through faith alone- in Christ's completed work on the cross on our behalf. Catholics believe that justification itself is a process, not a one-time event, and that our "meritorious works" contribute to our salvation in the final analysis. So, this is one of the primary reasons why I'm a Protestant.
Now, I would not presume to say that God has ordained all that has happened in various Protestant churches since the time of the Reformation. In fact, one of the greatest indictments against the Protestant Reformation is all of these denominations which have risen since that time. Some estimate that number to be over 20,000 Protestant denominations. It’s ridiculous. However, it should be noted that there were and are valid reasons for not being a part of the Catholic Church today. I would encourage everyone to read, study, and pray about these reasons and come to your own conclusions. It is worth your time my friends.
I had a disturbing realization recently. It is in regard to this idea of making disciples. We all know that the Great Commission Jesus has given us is all about making disciples of all nations, in our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and uttermost parts of the earth. But I think we all have a very limited, and possibly even skewed, view of what this means. Here’s my realization: we’re actually making disciples of people all the time, whether intentionally or not.
I should clarify that statement. I’m not saying we’re always making disciples of Christ unintentionally, though I’m certain that does happen in the life of genuine believers at times. I’m saying we are making disciples of people- that is, they are watching us and many are following our example, whether good or bad, whether it is like Jesus Christ or the worst version of yourself. We are making disciples.
Think about it for a moment. The people around us with whom we are in relationship, whether our children, our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, and even people we interact with within the community, are viewing who we are and how we live. The ones who love us the most are the ones upon whom we have the greatest influence, and we are discipling them. Now, we may not be helping them to become like Christ, but they are learning our ways. In fact, they are likely adopting our ways in many cases. That is discipleship. The trouble for most of us is this: we aren’t often exemplifying Jesus Christ to them. (I’m sheepishly raising my hand right here) Sometimes the ones we love most get the worst version of who we are and that is what they mimic. But living life together is what making disciples is all about- spending time with them, showing the character of Christ to them, loving them as Christ has loved us. This is what it means. It’s not just walking up to a stranger and giving them a Gospel tract and trying to get them to pray a prayer to receive Christ. I’d say that’s one of the least effective means of making disciples going now.
Now, you might say, “Cool, I’m making disciples without even trying!” But before you feel you’ve just been let off the hook, let me just add this. Just living your life as usual is not being obedient to Christ’s command to make disciples. The fact that we may be making disciples unwittingly should challenge us to set as good an example as we possibly can. So, actually, I haven’t let you off the hook. If anything, I may have just set you on high alert 24/7. Sorry about that. (not really) But there is more here as well. If living life with people is the way we make disciples, and we’ve been commanded to make disciples of all nations, we’re going to have to make an effort to become involved in the lives of people. Ouch! If you’re like me, a natural recluse, that is a painful thought. But this is the command of Christ. We don’t tell them about Jesus and then leave them. We don’t just sit down and have a 30-minute Bible study or sermon with them and claim we’ve fulfilled the command of Christ. If you’re going to make a disciple, an investment will be required- an investment of time and energy. And it will most likely be an inconvenience to your schedule. It will cost you. But it will be worth it my friends, both in this life and in the one to come.
So, how’s the disciple-making been going for you? What does your band of followers look like these days? Who are you influencing? How are you influencing them?
May God's grace and mercy be w
D. Courtney Hill
If you’re like me, sometimes you hear words like this and you don’t know exactly what someone means, so let me define “pretentious” for you. According to dictionary.com:
Pretentious: (adjective) 1. characterized by assumption of dignity or importance, especially when exaggerated or undeserved: a pretentious, self-important waiter. 2. making an exaggerated outward show; ostentatious. Synonyms: Pompous or bombastic
Have you ever been in a church like this? I’ve known of many churches who have made themselves a reputation in the community based on this very thing. Here’s a possible bulletin announcement from such a church:
“Welcome to Utopia Baptist Church, where our pastor walks on water, our worship leader has perfect pitch, and our people are probably better than you. Come join us. If you have hang-ups or failings, don’t tell us. Just smile and do what we do and everything will be fine. Our motto is: Utopia Baptist Church, the most perfect place this side of heaven!”
Have you ever been to a church like this? God hates it. Jesus told the story of 2 men who went to the temple to pray in Luke 18…
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I believe some of us are so used to being pretentious, we don’t even know how to be real anymore. It becomes a lifestyle. Slogans you might have heard go like this: “Never let them see you sweat.” “Never let down your guard.” “Don’t show that you have any chinks in your armor.” “Don’t show any sign of weakness or they’ll eat you alive!” The advice I’ve been given from many people, even pastors along the way at different times, is that it’s always best to put on a good face for the public. But I don’t hear this echoed in Scripture. Who are we fooling? We’re not fooling God. I wonder if we’re fooling ourselves. We may be able to fool others for a time, but who is it helping? Why not be honest? If we can’t be honest with our brothers and sisters in Christ about our struggles, then who can we trust? I fear many have walked away from churches with this very thought in mind.
The truth is that pretentiousness breeds a false air of perfection. Once that lie is believed, people within our church then become judges with evil motives. Now we’re all being pretentious together. We say, “Every person here has his life together and seems to rarely ever have any failings. So, in order to fit in, I put on a happy face, too.” Since I’ve been led to believe these people don’t have any problems or sins, I come to the conclusion that anyone who does have problems or sins must be a bad person. Once we fall into this pattern, we feel we have the right to condemn others anytime we discover some kind of sin in them. This becomes a pattern of destruction within the body. If it continues, people become angry and bitter toward one another. It’s easy to develop a series of false relationships. If I have faults, why would I want to share my heart with these people? I must be a freak because I fail and fall regularly. So, I keep it to myself and I become bitter.
I’m not talking about everyone coming into the church and airing every sin publicly or playing the victim to gain sympathy. I’m simply talking about being honest with one another about the fact that everything isn’t perfect. James said that we should confess our sins to one another. (James 5:16) John said that when we deny having sin in our lives, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not even in us. That is, if we continue in this pattern of lying about our sins while putting on airs for everyone around us, it is evidence we don’t even know God. (1 John 1:8-10) Let’s stop being pretentious. We all have sins. We all have problems. We all have struggles. It’s part of living in this fallen world in a fallen body with sinful desires. Stop denying it. I am weak. You are weak. We are prone to failure. We are desperately in need of daily grace and mercy from God just to exist.
Being pretentious also kills fellowship because people feel they can’t be themselves. If they have struggles, they feel like a leper in a room filled with pretentious people. No problems are dealt with. No sin is confessed. No repentance happens. A local church should be a place where we go to find help to deal with our broken lives, not a place we go to feel like an outcast. What does scripture teach us about brothers and sisters who sin? Galatians 6:1-3 makes it clear: Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Our goal, according to the Apostle Paul, is to restore this person to fellowship with God and with the body. Our goal is not to treat them as a failure and talk about them behind their back. Yet, can’t you see how this pretentiousness leads to talking about them rather than ministering to them? If we belong to a church where supposedly no one sins and certainly no one talks about it, the natural inclination is to shun anyone who ever does something bad enough to become known publicly in some way. So, rather than restoring them, we destroy them with our self-righteous words. And can’t you see that true intimacy in relationships becomes nearly impossible in this kind of situation? I can’t share with you my real struggles because you’ll think I’m such a horrible failure. At least, that’s what I “believe” will happen, because that’s the face so many in the church put forward. So, this air of perfection stymies any genuine fellowship among the members of the body and, therefore, it cripples the body.
It’s time to acknowledge our failures my friends. Not one among us is perfect. Only Jesus Christ Himself lived a perfect life and He made it a point to make friends and show love to sinful people. After all, He said, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. So, why are we all faking perfect health when we’re often coming to our weekly meetings with many failings, sins, and problems, struggling to maintain our fake persona. Let’s just drop the facade.
D. Courtney Hill