August 1

Our Weapon Against Discouragement

When one studies the armor of God in Ephesians 6 it becomes clear that each piece of the equipment is designed to defeat a particular strategy of Satan.  The belt of truth, for example, counteracts the comprising of our integrity.  Satan knows that if he can lead us into dishonesty or duplicity he can inflict all manner of trouble in our lives.  An old Chinese proverb says, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when integrity is lost, all is lost.”  Satan knows that full well, but the belt of truth keeps us living a truthful life.

 

What battles against discouragement?  Which piece of the armor?  Let me put three verses together and it becomes clear.  Then let’s consider this piece of armor.

 

Take the helmet of salvation, Ephesians 6:17a

For a helmet the hope of salvation, 1 Thessalonians 5:8

Hope does not disappoint us, Romans 5:5

 

Note that it is clear that the helmet of salvation refers to final salvation, what we are still hoping for.  Salvation in all its totality is in view, but particular emphasis falls on our future glorification which we are still hoping for when Jesus comes.  And this hope will not disappoint us because Jesus cannot be defeated and will bring about the completion of our salvation when He returns.

 

Putting this together the helmet of salvation is the piece of armor that keeps us from discouragement.  Knowing that we cannot ultimately be defeated, that Who we have placed our confidence in cannot fail, gives us hope and confidence in the times when life in a fallen world does disappoint us.  We can keep our head up for we know our ultimate victory will transcend every discouraging thing in this life.  Let’s consider three applications of this.

 

Satan is already defeated at the cross, John 12:31-32.  Jesus said that at the cross the prince of this world would be judged and “will be driven out.”  Jesus said that He “will draw all men to myself.”  So Satan is already a defeated foe.  The decisive battle has been won.  Only the final sentence upon Satan awaits to be carried out.  We are not called on to defeat Satan, but live in the victory already provided by wearing the armor.

 

We may lose spiritual battles, but not the final war, John 21:15-15.  Peter lost a spiritual battle when Satan sifted him like wheat as Jesus predicted, and Peter denied his Lord three times.  We can lose spiritual battles too.  But, like Peter, Jesus can restore us and we can go on living for the Master once again.  Despite failure we will still share in His victory.

 

God always has a remnant of faithful believers, 1 Kings 19:18.  God told discouraged Elijah that there were still 7000 faithful Israelites.  That was a small remnant but God was still working through them to accomplish His will.  All faithful believers belong to Jesus remnant and so are His tools to accomplish His will.  Since this is always the way God has worked, we can take great courage in knowing He is still working through us in that way today, outnumbered as we often feel.  So, let’s put on the helmet and face down the discouragement of our day.

 

Your friend, fighting with the weapons, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Plans during Sabbatical

The Elders at Bethel have graciously allowed the pastors to choose a one month Sabbatical to refresh, relax and invest in spiritual renewal.  The term Sabbatical comes from the Old Testament Sabbath referring to the seventh day as the day of rest and renewal.  Counting my three years as a youth pastor I’ve been privileged to be in the ministry for 31 years.  This is my first official Sabbatical so I am very grateful.  What to do?

 

A nice development in the publishing world has been the opportunity for unknown writers to publish manuscripts through small market companies.  I have one pastor-friend who has already published two books through this very means.  A member of Bethel has a pastor-cousin who has written several books this way.  Since I enjoy writing I thought the Sabbatical would be a good time to try my hand.  What to write?

 

Several years ago I was teaching the Cornerstone ABF on the subject of Christian Ethics.  A large part of that study focused on the 10 Commandments.  Out of that grew an awareness that the 10 Commandments undergird all Old Testament and New Testament ethics and morals in the Bible.  Wherever you go in the Scriptures, moral and ethical teaching always relates back to the 10 Commandments.

 

As I realized this it gripped me that I had never preached on all 10 Commandments.  When I learned that the two tablets of stone given to Moses are the only part of the Bible not written through human authors but by the very finger of God Himself, it seemed to me that every pastor at some point in His ministry ought to do a series on the 10 Commandments.  Two years ago I did that series.

 

What I learned felt literally like the joy of discovery.  There were so many discoveries that I couldn’t wait to share the messages in the pulpit.  At the close of the series I was presented with a lovely quilt of the 10 Commandments by three ladies at Bethel who started the quilt unbeknownst to me along the way.  Their appreciation was the most visible response I’ve ever received to a series of sermons.

 

Since the research for that series is done, I’ve decided to try my hand at publishing it in book form.  I find research is very hard work, but writing is more stimulating and enjoyable.  So during the days of the week for this Sabbatical I will enjoy writing the research in chapter format and renewing the truths I’ve learned before.  How far I can get in a month will be a new experience.  A dear friend has provided me a get-a-way where I can enjoy privacy but not be far from home.

 

During the evenings and weekends I’ll be relaxing with my family and pulling our camper to various places where Jay may be having Legion baseball tournaments.  The “camper that never leaves the church” may get a little more use this summer.  Swimming and camping are the hobbies that refresh me so I look forward to plenty of that during the Sabbatical.  Thank you to the elders for this opportunity.  I’ll miss my church family and rejoice to be back in late July.

 

Your friend, thankful for a Sabbath, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Awaiting the Supreme Court Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage

By now we are aware that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage will be handed down in June 2015.  Currently 36 states and the District of Columbia recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry.  If the court rules accordingly, state laws opposing such marriage will be overturned and same-sex marriage will become the law of the land.  This will be as monumental a social change as was Roe v. Wade in 1973 that mandated abortion-on-demand throughout the U.S.  If the court does not rule in favor, the tide of opinion is turning in our country and it is only a matter of time when a future decision will mandate it in all 50 states.

 

Already some Christian leaders have warned that a favorable ruling will mean “the end of Western Civilization as we have known it.”  Certainly that was the effect of Roe v. Wade with one out of four pregnancies in America now ending in abortion.  The legalizing of same-sex marriage will mean the triumph of the sexual revolution which has always wanted no restrictions on sexual behavior.  Already advocates of plural marriage are advancing their arguments, attempting to change further the meaning of marriage to be what anyone wants it to be.  Justice Samuel Alito’s perceptive questioning raised this issue of what is to stop several people from demanding group marriage if the definition of marriage can be changed to include same-sex couples.  The lawyer could only respond that society has not recognized marriage to include more than two people.  We might add to her statement, “yet.”

 

Several reactions to this come to mind.  One, the Bible is very clear that homosexual relations are morally sinful.    You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination, Leviticus 18:22.  This is so clear it needs no explanation, and it can receive no refutation.  As D. James Kennedy wrote, If homosexual relations are not wrong, then nothing is wrong.  Bible-believing Christians have no choice but to stand on the truth of God’s Word and not compromise.  Others may capitulate but we cannot.  And we will be tested.

 

Two, the open acceptance and normalizing of homosexual relations is a sign that God has abandoned our culture to the consequences of its sin.  Three times in Romans 1 Scripture says emphatically that God gives up to degraded passions a society that abandons Him, vv. 24, 26, 28.  Those degraded passions are men committing shameless acts with men, v. 27, and even their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, v. 26.  The result of this is that a veritable floodgate of iniquity opens up as a culture descends ever more deeply into moral darkness and chaos, vv. 29-32.  That is now what is ahead morally and spiritually for America.  Apart from national repentance and revival we cannot avoid descending into a new spiritual Dark Ages.  God’s judgment is upon us.  May He graciously spare us with revival.

 

Three, the gospel of Jesus Christ is still able to rescue sinners from the bondage of sin.  We don’t despise sinners, but lovingly and boldly share the good news that can set them free.  That’s every sinner’s hope.  Despite the lie that homosexuals cannot be delivered, Paul knew better.  He knew many people in Corinth who practice homosexuality, 1 Corinthians 6:9.  Yet he wrote this about his Christian converts, And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God, v. 11.

 

Your friend, sharing the good news, Pastor Brian (:-}).

May 1

Sinfulness, Humility, & Amazing Grace

One of the clear teachings of the Bible is that the closer we get to God the more aware we are of our own continuing sinfulness and His marvelous grace in forgiving us on a daily basis.  This has a twofold outcome of humbling us, for we truly are miserable sinners, and yet, at the same time, giving us the deepest joy for God has truly been merciful to us for Jesus’ sake.  So we regularly experience the remorse of contrition with the joy of forgiveness.  We can say with the Apostle Paul, I am the worst of sinners, 1 Timothy 1:15-16, and yet again, Rejoice in the Lord always, Philippians 4:4.  This is always the safest position for every Christian, because it will keep us humble in ourselves yet joyful in the Lord and not despairing.

 

One day in a restaurant I experienced this thru a simple illustration.  The restaurant has a high ceiling with sun lights around the center.  While waiting for my meal the sun was beaming thru those lights sending shafts of light into the room.  All of the dust particles were illuminated by the shafts of light so that I was surprised.  I had been in the restaurant many times without ever noticing the dust floating in the air.  I assumed I was breathing crystal clear, Upper Peninsula air.  But in the sunlight I could see the air I was breathing was loaded with dirt particles.

 

What hit me is that this is what the Christian life is like.  Those dust particles were there all along, but they were never detected by me until the brilliant light of the sun shone upon them.  Had the clouds blocked the light I would have continued to think the air was dirt-free.  It is the same as a Christian.  We fail daily in many ways often imperceptible to us.  Sins of commission, omission, thought & word cling to us daily.  Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?” Proverbs 20:9.  Clearly, no one.  It is only when the light of God’s Word shines upon us that we see the hidden dirt exposed so clearly by the light of God’s truth.

 

That’s why the more we study the Bible and learn of the beauty of God’s holiness, the more the brilliant light of His character exposes the remaining impurity within us.  We are surprised at the sins we never saw before.  We are humbled and led to confession, and then filled with wonder and praise because the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin, 1 John 1:7.

 

A great biblical illustration of this truth is the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair in Luke 7.  Simon the Pharisee, proud of his own righteousness, snubbed Jesus by not having a servant wash His dirty feet as was customary.  But this woman lowered herself to do the dirty task with her own hair (which the Bible says is a woman’s glory).  Jesus said, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little, Luke 7:47.  The closer she got to Jesus the more humbled she was by His forgiveness of her many sins.  But at the same time, the more she also loved Him and found overflowing peace in His wonderful grace and acceptance.

 

Commenting on this woman, B. B. Warfield, the old-time, Bible-believing Princeton theologian, wrote, But we are saved sinners; and it is our salvation which gives the tone to our life, a tone of joy which swells in exact proportion to the sense we have of our ill-desert; for it is he to whom much is forgiven who loves much, and who, loving, rejoices much.  Amen.

 

Your friend, in Christ, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 1

The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards for Us Today

In a recent sermon I mentioned the story of Jonathan Edwards.  He was a pastor in New England who was instrumental in the First Great Awakening that saw revival come to the thirteen original colonies of Colonial America in the 1700s.  Today Edwards is considered to be one of America’s premier pastors and his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is probably the most famous sermon ever preached in America.  Today Edwards has enormous influence through his spiritual and doctrinal writings.

 

But that was not always the case.  In his own state of Massachusetts he was widely discredited and ignored after his death.  The only portrait we have of Edwards was painted through a Scottish benefactor who believed Edwards would one day be recognized by posterity as a great Christian leader.  His own American countryman had no such concern to preserve his likeness for later generations.  How did this come about?

 

In New England it was believed that Holy Communion was a converting ordinance, that is, that nonbelievers could become believers by participating in communion.  The problem was that to partake of communion one had to be a member of the church.  This led to the widespread practice of admitting people to membership who were nominal Christians who gave mental assent only to the teachings of Christianity but were not born again and gave no personal testimony of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  Edwards himself went along with this practice for years admitting unsaved people to church membership.  He finally saw two errors which are widely taken for granted today.

 

One, if nonbelievers become church members they can be lulled into a state of complacency thinking that all is well with their souls when it is not.  This can lead to false assurance causing them to think they are right with God when they are not.  Two, if a church becomes filled with unconverted members they can become tools of the Devil.  When issues arise that require spiritual thinking, the unconverted member has no capacity for that and can be used of Satan to bring compromise and division into the church.  This actually happened in New England as many of those churches became Unitarians denying the Trinity and deity of the Lord Jesus.

 

Today the dangers of unconverted church members are clearly understood and Bible believing churches require a personal testimony of saving grace before admitting members.  But in the 1700s when Edwards finally opposed the practice and spoke out against it he was forced to resign from his church after twenty three years as one of the most faithful pastors in America.  Rather than continue a practice he knew was contrary to Scripture and harming souls, he resigned with no place to go.  His own relatives were the leaders in the opposition to him causing long term rifts among his extended family.  He was without income for six months with a large family to support.  When Edwards finally found a new church it was a difficult ministry in frontier conditions with dangers from hostile Indians.

 

Once again we learn that a courageous Christian standing on the truth of Scripture often turns out to be right and a safeguard to future generations.  Thank God for Edwards’s legacy for us today.

 

Your friend, learning from history, Pastor Brian (:-}).

March 1

Lessons Learned from the “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven”

At age six Alex Malarkey was in a car accident with his father Kevin that resulted in the boy being in a coma for two months.  He claimed that he had been to heaven during that time and spoke to Jesus.  Out of the experience came the best-selling book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven.  Now 16-yrs-old, Alex says the book is not true and has admonished LifeWay Christian stores for profiting from it.  He wrote a letter addressed “to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism.”  An excerpt from the letter says:

 

“I did not die.  I did not go to heaven.  I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.  When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible.  People have profited from lies, and continue to.  They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth.  Anything written by man cannot be infallible.  It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven…. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient.  Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

 

Over the last number of years books of this type have proliferated even among Christian publishers.  One of the books reports a trip to Hell and another was made into a movie.  Now that Alex has recanted his story as a fabrication promoted by publishers eager to make money off of the public, what lessons might we learn about why these stories are succeeding today.

 

One lesson is that Americans are increasingly elevating personal experience as the arbiter of truth instead of the Bible.  Pastor David Platt pointed out that there is not one instance in the whole Bible of a person dying, going to heaven, and returning to tell about it.  Even Paul who experienced visions and revelations of heaven was not sure whether he went to heaven bodily or in his spirit, but he said he could not talk about the things he had heard, let alone write a book about them, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.  In addition, Proverbs 30:4 explicitly declares that people do not go up to heaven and come down again.  Asking a series of questions with a no answer the verse opens by asking, Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Clearly no one.  Shouldn’t this create caution about the many who claim otherwise?

 

Many years ago a Christian leader told me that a popular Christian movement has a tendency to elevate personal experience as the guide for the Christian life instead of biblical truth.  As absolute truth is more and more receding, people are replacing it with their own feelings, intuitions and experiences.  While former generations viewed such individual, subjective impressions as untrustworthy, currently there is an enormous confidence in the powers of the self to determine what is true or false.  One deeply deceived New Age Movement follower once replied to me, after I asked how he knew his experiences were true, “You just know.”  It didn’t matter if the facts could not be validated, he just knew and was so sincere about it.

 

It is extremely sad that a Christian publisher has led the public astray with a made-up story that contradicts the Bible in the first place and now is admitted was not true.  As Alex now says, The Bible is sufficient.  Let’s read it, learn it, and test every truth claim by it.

 

Your friend, needing insight and wisdom from above, Pastor Brian (:-}).

February 1

Two Bible College Graduates; Two Very Different Directions; Why?

Recently Professor Bart Ehrman, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, has come out with a new book entitled How Jesus Became God:  The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.  Dr. Ehrman has become nationally recognized even by Bible-believing Christians as a scholar with a vast understanding of the Greek New Testament and early Christian history who writes bestselling books for every-day readers.  His latest book claims that the first three Gospels do not present Jesus as God and it was only at the end of the first century when John was written that the followers of Jesus turned Him into a God-Man.

 

What makes this more than just another liberal-view-of-Jesus story are two things:  1) In our post-Christian America, this view of Jesus as just a Jewish teacher is very appealing to more and more people.  2) Ehrman is a former Bible-believing Christian who pastored a Baptist church and broadcast his sermons on local radio in New Jersey.  He did not start out in the liberal camp but came to his views when he encountered questions he felt the traditional view of Jesus could not answer.  He presents himself as an insider who sincerely seeks the truth but can no longer believe the traditional view and be intellectually honest.  This is very appealing to people wrestling with similar questions and having doubts about the Bible.

 

What causes this to be of more-than-usual concern to me is that Bart Ehrman graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1976, the same year that I entered Moody that Fall.  He later graduated from Wheaton College with his faith solidly intact.  What happened?  How is it that we both had the same training, came out with the same beliefs and commitments, preached the same Bible, but ended up going two very different directions?  Let me offer an observation for our learning.

 

Ehrman went on to get a Master’s degree and PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that abandoned a high view of the Bible 100-yrs-ago in the early decades of the 20th Century.  Emphasizing critical scholarship without a reverence for the Bible as the Word of God placed Ehrman in a dangerous environment where his faith was sorely tested.  While working on a problem in the Gospel of Mark where Mark makes what appears to be a historical error, Ehrman’s professor wrote on his research paper “Maybe Mark made a mistake.”  That was a turning point in Ehrman’s thinking as he began to view the Bible as more of a human book containing many inaccuracies that he felt could not be explained away.

 

I went on to get a Master’s degree too and a DMin degree, but at schools with a high view of the Bible as God’s inerrant Word.  I too saw apparent problems and inaccuracies in the Bible that demanded answers.  But I cannot image a professor of mine ever writing in the margin of a paper I wrote “Maybe Mark made a mistake.”  My professors would’ve suggested solutions that resolve the apparent contradiction giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt in light of its integrity in so many other ways.  For my professors, scholarship rested on underlying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ giving them convictions about the reliability of God’s Word even amidst difficulties.

 

Perhaps the lesson here for us is that the Bible is a supernatural book that requires faith as well as intellect to be believed.  If we depend solely on human reason without faith we will waver and fall.  Trust in the living God and in His Son are indispensable to learning the Bible aright.

 

Your friend, undergirded by faith, Pastor Brian (:-}).

January 1

What Will We Do with a New Year of Opportunities?

As we approach the New Year of 2015 let’s think about opportunities.  In 1 Kings 16 we read about the reign of three significant kings in the Northern Kingdom of Israel—Baasha, Omri, and Ahab.  What is important to note is that Baasha had been a tool used of God to end the evil dynasty of Jeroboam.  So he was given a significant opportunity to lead Israel in a new direction back to God.  Instead, Baasha chose to follow Jeroboam’s example and ended up preparing the way for one of Israel’s worst kings—the evil Ahab.  Look at the lessons we learn.

 

The opportunities of life are God-given.  God said to Baasha, I lifted you up from the dust and made you leader of my people Israel, 1 Kings 16:2a.  Note the dramatic contrast.  Baasha was nobody who had nothing, but God graciously lifted him up to make him somebody—the king of Israel—with something—a position of great influence.  In a similar way, if God is gracious to us we will have 365 new days in 2015 filled with resources, time, position, relationships, and influence.  These opportunities are His gifts to people who are nothing without Him.

 

Our God-given opportunities are to serve His purposes.  God indicted Baasha saying, But you walked in the ways of Jeroboam and caused my people Israel to sin and to provoke me to anger by their sins, 1 Kings 16:2b.  With great privilege came great responsibility.  God raised up Baasha to be a reformer, to turn the Northern Kingdom away from the syncretistic worship of Jeroboam that mixed pagan practices with the worship of the Lord.  What an opportunity for incredible good!  Instead, Baasha continued those practices likely because he thought it would consolidate the people around him.  He squandered God’s purpose for Him.  Oh that such would not happen to us in 2015!  Where does God want us to lead, where does He want us to serve His kingdom, and what is His purpose for us in the New Year?  We must answer those questions if we would seize God’s purposes to accomplish great good through us.

 

God will require an accounting of our opportunities.  After reigning in Israel 24 years 1 Kings 16:1 says, Then the word of the Lord came to Jehu . . . against Baasha.  Mark that word “against.”  It was accounting time.  Likely Baasha thought this day would never come.  But it always does.  God wanted Baasha’s name to be right there with the great kings like David, Solomon and Hezekiah.  Instead his named is included with kings like Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab.  God wants to reward us too with significant honor in His presence when Jesus returns.  As we enter 2015 we must think about that day of accounting as a motivation to do God’s will now to receive God’s honor later.

 

Since God’s Word will ultimately prevail, true success is measured by His Word.  God announced, So I am about to consume Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like that of Jeroboam, 1 Kings 16:3.  In just the 2nd year of the reign of Baasha’s son, Elah, God’s prophesy came literally true and Baasha’s household was completely wiped out and his dynasty ended.  Baasha was possibly a successful military-political ruler in some significant ways (see v. 5), but none of that is recorded because he failed in the most crucial way.  An old question asks, How surprising is it to climb the ladder of success only to discover in the end it was leaning against the wrong wall?   Which wall of success will we be climbing in 2015—God’s or our own?  Now is the time to make sure our achievements measure up to God’s Word.  Then His success will be our success.

 

Your friend, awaiting 2015, Pastor Brian (:-)}.

December 1

God’s Sovereignty & Satan’s Power

One of the ways people sometimes attempt to solve the problem of evil and the love of God is by limiting God’s sovereign control and giving more power to Satan than he really has.  Satan is a powerful being as a former archangel called Lucifer capable of supernatural power (e.g., Job 1 & 2).  But he is not sovereign over our lives able to do whatever he wants.  Sometimes people attribute anything bad that happens to the working of Satan so that God is let off the hook, so to speak, and maintains the image that we want to have of Him as a safe, benign Heavenly Father.

 

This is a very tricky problem because the Bible is very clear that God is not the author of evil.  God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one, James 1:13.  Yet there are many times in Scripture when God uses the evil that Satan or people do to accomplish His purposes.  It is hard for us in the same sentence to say that God is never the cause of evil but that He permits it and uses it in people’s lives.  Thus, though God is never the agent who does evil, He is responsible for permitting it to happen to His people.

 

That may seem troubling to us but it is far better than other alternatives.  If God is the direct cause of evil then we have a God who is not omnibenevolent (all-good) as the Bible says, Romans 2:4.  Or, if some evil happens that God is not in control of then God is not omnipotent (all-powerful) and there are things out of control in the universe that He is powerless to stop.  That hardly squares with Psalm 115:3, But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

 

The safest alternative is that God is absolutely sovereign and in control of all things.  He does not cause or condone evil but He often permits it and uses it to accomplish His purposes so that ultimately He controls what happens to us, even the bad things.  In this light, 1 John 5:18 strikes the right balance and is such an encouraging verse.  We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.  Notice a number of conclusions we can draw that point to the right balance between evil and the love of God.

 

  • Satan is an evil being who desires to harm us. He is the evil one, not God. 

 

  • God puts a limit on what Satan can do, He keeps us God is sovereign, not Satan.

 

  • God is a good God who has given us new life so that we do not give ourselves to sin.

 

Therefore, we can conclude, that when God permits Satan to ply us with trials sore or directly sends us trials Himself, we can withstand them, grow in our love for God, not give in to sinful choices to manage the trial, and come out stronger in the end.  James 1:12 says, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  Amen!

 

Your friend, trusting in a sovereign God, Pastor Brian (:-}).

November 1

The Priority of Discipleship Training

One of the sad realities that we see in the Evangelical church are the number of young people who leave their faith after becoming adults.  I have read statistics that as many as three-fourths will at some point in their adult years quit attending church and stop actively pursuing a walk with Christ.  Some of those will eventually return when they get married and have kids of their own who they want to have the same solid upbringing that they had as children.  PTL for those who return!  But many more will not return and eventually live comfortable, secular lives that adopt the values of the culture.  Why is this and what can be done about it?

 

One clear and obvious reason this happens is that some young people are never truly born again.  Years ago I ministered to a young father raised in the church who was going to prison for a crime he committed.  When I asked him about his conversion experience he said he made a decision at a youth rally but that he was just following the crowd and it really never meant anything to him.  I challenged him to turn to Christ for real which he did.  He became a model prisoner and upon release has been following Christ ever since.  Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed instructs us that three of the four responses to the seed of God’s Word are superficial responses that do not last and bear fruit, Mark 4:14-20.  Certainly some of the attrition that we see is because of superficial responses to the gospel.  We can’t determine what occurs in anyone’s heart.  That must ultimately be between them and the Lord.  Some people will believe for a time and then fall away.  However, one thing we can do is not push superficial responses to the gospel making it an easy formula for entering heaven rather than wholehearted trust in the Savior arising from a real sense of need.

 

Another reason for the attrition may well be a tendency on the part of churches in recent years to entertain our young people rather than train them.  The church is always tempted to adopt the ways of the surrounding culture and the current American scene is more into entertainment than ever before.   There are more entertaining options today that become substitutes for the more demanding way of discipleship that Jesus called us to follow.  If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free, John 8:31-32.  Notice the priority here of really knowing the truth and holding to it in order to be set free.  That takes a lifetime of intentional training.  It is very easy for us as parents to settle for a superficial understanding of the Christian life on the part of our kids and not prioritize the more serious training that will equip them with deep convictions about Christ and His Word, (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where the emphasis is on thorough equipping).

 

Perhaps a story from my own experience will help.  As a boy I participated in Pop Warner football for five years.  Practice was held every night after school.  On Wednesday nights I was not allowed to practice because my parents wanted me in our Boys Brigade program at church which was very similar to Awana.  I was the only boy in the entire East Muskegon Football Club that never practiced on Wednesday night.  I didn’t always like it but my parents held firm.  Today I look back and realize the training I experienced in Boys Brigade and the foundation it gave me helped change my life.  Football was fun and exciting, but it had zero spiritual impact.  My true heroes today are my Brigade leaders.  As I grew older I participated in other training opportunities that deepened my faith and drew me closer to Christ.  I had fun like every teen and played sports and was in the band, but discipleship training made the difference.  It is Christ’s method, Matthew 28:19-20.

 

Yours, trying to remain in the Way of Christ, Pastor Brian (:-}).