I went from being an agnostic/atheist to being born again on September 6, 1974. Joy had recommitted her life to Christ earlier that year and dragged me along for the ride. Together we have undertaken an interesting journey that included some very difficult days and some exciting and blessed times. In the beginning, we had never even thought of being â€œin ministry,â€ per se, much less starting an apologetics missionary ministry to cults and non-Christian religions. Yet â€“ here we are. We had a passion to reach the lost, yet the â€œlostâ€ in our thinking were not really JWs and Mormons, as much perhaps as people who did not go to church and/or rejected the gospel for one reason or another.
Well, in the late 70s, God put some Jehovahâ€™s Witness women smack dab in the middle of Joyâ€™s bowling league. And, wouldnâ€™t you know, God put a great and inexplicable love in her heart for these women. Peculiar, no? One thing led to another, and soon she found herself reading whatever books she could get her hands on about Jehovahâ€™s Witnesses to learn the doctrine and history of this group â€“ to enable her to converse with them when the right time presented itself. Â Naturally, she dragged Don into her project, who, up until that time, had been happily engaged in running a construction company. The â€œgreat interestâ€ that came out of nowhere led us, step by step, to truly understand our own Christian faith and doctrine â€“ and how to defend the faith against cult teaching and the great anti-God, anti-Christian cultural shift which was ramping up outside and even within the church. We had to learn what we believed and how to defend it against the great tide of every kind of misinformation and lies which were confronting a comfortable church, a church that largely had very little inkling of the revolution taking place in culture and how great the damage culture would wreak upon it in a relatively short space of time. We are not contending that the church was fast asleep at the switch, as there were many good pastors and churches. But the church at large had very little idea of the great storms and waves about to start rolling in to shipwreck the church. It seems the thinking of Christians was more in line with comparing â€œthis or that otherâ€ Christian denomination to â€œoursâ€ â€“ little did they know the entirety of the church would be threatened in a relatively short span of time.
Enter seeker-sensitive ideals for churches, purpose-driven churches, and Televangelists making a killing spreading the false gospel of guaranteed prosperity and healing. We also need to mention Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, and we cannot exclude the new Dominion Theology, and on and on.
On the right of the political spectrum, we saw an alliance of prominent Christian pastors like Jerry Falwell and cult leader Sun Myung Moon. Other prominent Evangelicals aligned themselves with the political left, as shown in a Christian Post article, Obama Points to Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes as Models for Faith-Driven Action in June of 2007.
This article quotes Obama sharing his belief that segments of the church were united with him and his views of faith:
From Willow Creek to the ’emerging church,’ from the Southern Baptist Convention to the National Association of Evangelicals, folks are realizing that the four walls of the church are too small for a big God. â€˜God is still speaking’
He mentioned his friends, Rick Warren and T.D. Jakes. We have no reason to doubt that Warren embraced the doctrine of the Trinity and was opposed to Word-Faith theology. Jakes, on the other hand, was and remains a Oneness Pentecostal (a Fourth Century heresy) and Word-Faith teacher. What they both seemed to share in common with Obama was compromising on essential doctrine in order to satisfy â€œmanâ€™s need.â€ The article outlined the denominational views of Obamaâ€™s church:
The UCC, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Saturday, is holding its biennial General Synod in Hartford, Conn., June 22-26. The liberal denomination, which prides itself on being the first denomination to ordain openly gay and lesbian ministers, emphasizes progressive causes and also began to endorse same-sex â€œmarriageâ€ starting in 2005 – a decision which caused a rift in the denomination and the departure of about 100 churches from the UCC.
These strange alliances were made possible through a gradual shift in the view of the gospel itself and have progressed with no sign of slowing since the article was published in 2007.
In the 1970s, although much of the church teaching had been gravitating toward an anthropocentric (man-centered) theology, there still remained the understanding that we are sinners separated from a holy God, and our most important need was salvation. One of the popular tracts of that time was titled â€œSteps to Peace with God.â€ The tract was clear that God loved us, but sin separated us from Him. Jesus Christ, Who is fully God, incarnated and lived a perfect life we could not, willingly died, was buried, physically resurrected, and become the bridge between God and us. Redemption is promised by believing in and calling on His name, as Scripture declares. There were no promises in the gospel proclamation of an easy life, and there was a caution expressed that Christians may experience loss of family and friend relationships due to our newfound devotion.
We know Jesus Himself said that we, as Christians, would be hated by the world just as He was. Life may, in fact, be quite difficult at times for Christians choosing to live out their faith.
By 2007 the gospel message seems to have subtly changed. The new and improved version began, â€œGod loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.â€ God is primarily concerned about our personal happiness and fulfillment. But is that true?
It is true that God loves us. The Apostle John writes:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The Apostle Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 5:8:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Earlier, the Apostle had emphasized that our justification is by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ. By faith, we believe in God and the promises of a glorious future, though our earthly life, what we can view and evaluate with our senses, may be beset by problems. The theme of the preaching of the gospel is Shalom, or peace with God. This gospel is God-centered, and though we own the immense spiritual blessings of being united forever to this Holy God, there is no promise of health, wealth, or popularity in this dark and troubled world. Paul makes this interesting observation about our life as we may experience it. He wrote:
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;( Romans 5:3)
â€œExult in our tribulationsâ€? What sort of a â€œwonderful planâ€ is this?? It certainly doesnâ€™t come across as speaking wealth or physical healing into existence for ourselves. Tribulation sounds an awful lot like suffering! In 2nd Corinthians, Paul gives an overview of his own life after coming to faith:
Are they servants of Christ? â€“ I speak as if insane â€“ I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
Paul continues and talks about his â€œthorn in the fleshâ€ and his asking God to remove it. Godâ€™s response?:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weaknessâ€ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Our life may well include suffering â€“ WILL include suffering. Even worse, life can be terribly unfair! People with no regard for God may seem to live lives of ease. It may be true that other Christians seem to have a far more blessed life than we do! On top of that, there are injustices, insults, and false accusations. No matter what, life on this earth is never going to be â€“ nor even come close to â€“ a paradise of equality, impartiality, and wholeness. All the good intentions in the world are not going to deliver a perfect world of peace and security until Jesus rules.
We are given no green light to form alliances â€“ for any supposed greater good â€“ with those who endorse and actively promote sin. The fearful ordeals believers endured in history to stay true to their calling are listed in Hebrews:
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32-38).
The writer of Hebrews calls these saints â€œmen of whom the world was not worthy,â€ and indeed the world was not worthy of them, as much now as then. Much of the church today is clearly misrepresenting â€“ underreporting, certainly â€“the possible suffering one may encounter in this earthly life. And certain segments of the church are offering guaranteed health and wealth to people who â€œhave enough faithâ€ to claim these things. This can lead to vast disillusionment of the Christian whose life is not turning out to be like the proverbial â€œliving your best life now.â€
Thankfully, there are many pastors and lay people who do come alongside hurting people to affirm the truth that they are not forgotten or forsaken by God.
We will all encounter hardship to one degree or another. Most of us have not endured the difficulties spelled out concerning the biblical â€œheroes of the faithâ€ lauded in the book of Hebrews. But we all do struggle against pain and loss.
The Apostle Paul always kept the eternal view of life in his mind:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
For the next 21 verses, the Apostle describes the glorious future of believers and concludes with perhaps the most important questions of all on this life:
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who diedâ€”more than that, who was raisedâ€”who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
â€œFor your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.â€
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34-39)Î©
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