Meditation–CRISIS IN AMERICAN CHURCHES

God’s church in America is in crisis. Various Protestant denominations have splintered over doctrinal issues, while the Roman church faces increased scrutiny and legal challenges resulting from failure to protect congregants from unfaithful clergy. What does this mean for us as faithful members? Who is to blame? All of us? Whose responsibility is it to work through the mess, ours or just the paid leaders? What do non-believers see when they see the church in disarray? Let’s take a quick look at what’s happening within one church — the United Methodist Church — as it struggles to minister to its membership about the homosexual community in light of the Bible’s teaching.

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“Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NASB)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. … They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” — 2 Timothy 4:3a, 4 NIV)


THE AMERICAN CHURCH IS IN CRISIS TODAY.

J.Meditation.ChurchInCrisisThis is not the first time, and the Bible tells us it won’t be the last, but this is now, and whatever happens, it will be our legacy — the legacy of those of us who are alive now.

Just check the headlines of our national media, and you’ll see scandals in the Roman church, fractious debate among Methodists, soul-searching within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Look back a short while, and you’ll see divisions within the Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches.

While the specific issues differ within each denomination, the core issues are similar: in some way, they revolve around sex and gender, human relationships, faithfulness, and expected gender roles. (A quick Google search will pick up relevant articles in addition to the above links.)

The issues can be specified further with pinpoint accuracy: the result of man’s sin nature and constant rebellion against God.

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THE PRESBYTERIANS, Lutherans, and Episcopalians have drifted from the headlines for the time being, while the Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church have filled the gap.

The Roman church is paying a heavy price for its institutional failure to confront sexual abuse of children — boys and girls, but mostly boys — and of women, called to serve alongside ordained priests. Legal battles and court settlements will burden the institution for years to come, but the greater damage will be its tainted witness to a world in need of answers.

Right now, I want to focus on division within the Methodist church.

The Methodist church is exposing its inner divisions to the world at large over the issue of homosexuality — both its active practice among congregants and the calling of active homosexuals to the clergy and  bishops.

views2As an international body, the Methodist church is split further between the more liberal church in America, which teaches tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and the more traditional branch in Central Europe and especially in Africa, which strives to follow the Bible’s authority.

A recent vote by delegates to the General Conference exposed the rift as Americans largely voted to adopt a more inclusive church discipline, while the Africans voted to stay with a stricter interpretation of Scripture.

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THAT DECISION did not sit well with many American Methodists, some two-thirds of whom preferred a less restrictive plan that would have permitted each congregation, and its pastor, to determine its acceptance or rejection of homosexual clergy and members.

Unfortunately, the public dialogue from disaffected Methodists has served only to exacerbate the division.

Most of the commentary has been to lament those who want to maintain Biblical purity as being “intolerant” or “judgmental,” as people who claim a “moral superiority” and “smug rightness of viewpoint” and who, of course, are “legalistic.”

Words matter, and the terms we use frame the debate. While the reformers term the debate between “traditionalists” and “grace-filled,” the debate might better be termed as between the “faithful” and the “revisionists.”

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AT THE HEART of the Methodists’ quandary is the role of Holy Writ; specifically,  whether the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God or whether it is merely inspired text written by men, who were flawed (as we all are) and wrote against a 64. Church_Doctrinehistorical and geographic backdrop far different from our own.

The distinction, then, is whether the 21st century American believer should read God’s Word as being eternal and universal because God is perfect and never changes, or if the Bible should be read in some “holistic” manner, in which the reader inhales the overall “sense” of the Bible and then fills in the details according to the current culture’s understanding.

The rift is huge, and the debate rages on. We are left to wonder how much prayer goes into the argument, especially among those who declare that “God didn’t write the Bible.” We can rest assured that those who quote Scripture telling us God did write the Bible are on their knees in prayer for direction.

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WHERE DOES THIS GO?

Jesus established His church to proclaim His message to the world and to provide love and support for those drawn to it. He vowed that “all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). He said His church will prevail.

In the end, Jesus wins.

But what does it do for a weary, broken world now, when those who claim to love their Lord and have access to His Holy Word are so unfaithful in the conduct not just in their personal lives but in their witness through the various church bodies?

While we are all “treated” to the current discord within the Methodist and Baptist churches, and difficult legal issues confronting the Roman church, let’s not forget the Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopal churches, whose divisions continue to simmer.

We need a heart change.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus.


PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, we have fouled up Your church so badly. We have  scandals in one J9. OPEN BIBLE w IMAGEbody, discord in another. We fight over important matters with members who don’t hold to the Bible’s eternal and universal truths, and we quarrel with others about trivial items that have no impact on our witness. Lord, You told us Your church will prevail, despite our arrogance, greed, and pride. Lord, we ask You to forgive us as we lay down our sins at the foot of the Cross. Lord, we repent of our selfishness. Lord, forgive us and supernaturally make Your church a strong voice for Truth. In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen


Questions for Personal Meditation and Group Discussion:

1. How impacted are you personally by the rancor, faithlessness, and discord within the various church denominations specifically and across the board in Christendom? Does the issue affect your worship experience or is it, for you, just a matter for church leaders to handle?

2. To what do you attribute the divisions that exist within the various denominations? Do you believe in any way you have contributed to the problem, and do you believe you can make a difference to bring healing?

3. Have you (or your family) switched church denominations or congregations within a denomination within the last 10 years as a result of divisions within your church? Have you (or your family) prayed for church healing? Where do you see the various church denominations going over the next generation?

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation–TRUSTING OUR GOD

Sometimes it’s difficult for us to let go and accept — in faith — that this is God’s universe, not ours, and that He is in control, and we are not. That’s true not just for the big things but for the little things, as well. Just as the Father knows when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), so He is involved in the intricate inner workings of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). The Lord wants our obedience (1 Samuel 15:22) over worship, which means He requires our faith and acceptance of Him (Hebrews 11:6). In return, the Lord promises us life (John 10:10, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28).


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Comments welcomed. Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion. Why not forward this blog post to a relative, friend, or neighbor who might be blessed by it?


“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways.”  Psalm 139:1-3 (NKJV)

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”Isaiah 40:28 (ESV)


THAT AMAZINGLY PROLIFIC AUTHOR, Anonymous, penned these words, and they are so true:

“God knows the future, you don’t. So stop worrying and make wise decisions based on His Word and trust Him with the results!”

J28.Trusting Our GodMost of us want some control over our lives. Some of us go so far as to be called “control freaks,” meaning we strive for absolute control over the events around us, people’s actions, and even the outcomes.

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GOD TELLS US THROUGH His Holy Word that this is His universe (the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind” — Daniel 5:21 ESV); He has sovereign rights over it; and we are not in control.

Jesus tells us, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25 NIV). The Lord’s half-brother, James, warns us against self-confidence. How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14 NLT)

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INSTEAD OF TRYING to claim God’s glory, we need to let the power of God’s Holy Spirit work through us. Jesus assures us that we should “abide” in Him and He will “abide” in us, “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NASB)

When we place our faith and trust in Almighty God, we’ll find He can exceed our every expectation, “above and beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 CSB).

J28. Trusting_Our_GodGod is in charge. He loves us, and through the blood of His Son, He claims us. We should not strive to take His glory or run His universe or even control our lives and the lives and events around us. We should humbly ask Him to graft us onto His tree of life and live lives that testify to His goodness.

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JESUS COMMANDED IT: In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NET).

Peter repeated it: “Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming.” (1 Peter 2:12 GNT)

Trying to accomplish everything ourselves is not only failing to trust in God, but it turns us into our own god. Besides not working, it violates God’s First Commandment (see Exodus 20:2a-3 BSB):

“I am the LORD your God. …  

You shall have no other gods before Me.”


PRAYER

O Lord God, Our Heavenly Father, forgive us when we fail to trust You, to know, Father, that You alone are worthy, You alone are good. Through our pride and arrogance, we usurp 50. Open_BibleYour authority over Your creation and, most of all, over our lives. That leads to our peril. Lord, help us bend the knee to Your glory and goodness and learn to lean on You in all our ways, knowing You will make our paths straight. Lord, we pray these words in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN


Questions for Personal Meditation and Group Discussion:

1.  Do you find it difficult to recognize fully and completely that God is in charge of His universe and we are not, that our actions will be in accord with His plan or we will be in disobedience?

2.  Why is it difficult for you to relinquish control over your life? Do you believe that God exists and that He has a plan for your life, or do you reject God and proclaim “this is my life, my body, my will” and seek your own glory? 

3.  How real is God for you? Is He a figment of our imaginations or does He live in Your heart? How big is your God? Is He big enough to require your attention? Can He deliver on His promises? Should you strive to obey His will? Is He just a Sunday morning ornament or is He an everyday companion? Can you claim for your own life God’s promise in Jeremiah 30:22 CSB: “You will be my people, and I will be your God.”

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation — LIVING BY FAITH, NOT REASON

God’s promises to mankind are based on His good provision but require our acceptance. Why? Because He graciously gave us the gift of free will. That means we can accept — or reject — life. We cannot reason our way into salvation, where we take control, connect the dots, and conclude that salvation is possible and that we possess the means to attain it. It is a matter of faith, where we place our total confidence in the Lord to provide for our needs. Because we cannot attain salvation on our own, we also cannot lose it on our own. God keeps us for His glory.

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Comments welcomed. Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion. Why not forward this blog post to a relative, friend, or neighbor who might be blessed by it?

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (CSB)

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NET)

WE COME TO GOD T56. Prayer-Partners-menHROUGH FAITH, NOT THROUGH REASON.

Our sinful natures and finite minds cannot combine to produce within us a saving power apart from the grace of God. It is His will that we may be reconciled to Him. It is not of our own doing, that we might boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

LET’S SEE HOW THIS WORKS.

A man (or woman, if you’re a woman) comes into your life and asks for some help. He (or she) is struggling with life and thinks you might be able to help. Why? Well, because you’re a bit older, more mature, more settled in your life, which is a good indicator that you may have experienced whatever it is that he (or she) is going through now and lived to tell about it.

So you set up shop, share a cup of coffee and a Danish, and sit back to listen to this person’s tales of woe.

You say: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Other person says: “?”

He (or she) is stumped.

He (or she) mumbles something about going to church or having spent a couple of weeks one summer at church camp and, then 20 years ago, memorized a few verses before his (or her) grandmother got sick … and, basically, that’s it.

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NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY, you’re unable to get this person to acknowledge, beyond some lame comment, that he (or she) even has a need for such a personal relationship, assuming that such a thing actually exists.

72.Family_Bible_StudyThe Bible is clear that such a thing actually does exist and that we are ~commanded~ by God to seek it. He promises this: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)

Yes, God draws us to Him first (John 6:44), but we have the privilege — and responsibility — to respond through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Jesus said to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), not in this world, because our heavenly treasures are under God’s faithful keeping and will not be tarnished or broken or lost. They will be ours forever.

We then pray with our young charge and exhort him (or her) to begin praying to Jesus Christ to ask that He would intervene in their lives and show them where they have 15 minutes a day they weren’t aware of to spend in prayer and Bible reading. You say that if he (or she) is sincere in that prayer, Jesus will deliver.

You remind them of what the Bible says: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV).

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AS YOU PART FOR THE DAY and watch this child of God drift away, you raise a silent prayer on their behalf, asking God to give them eyes to see and ears to hear. You know that if he (or she) does not turn to the Heavenly Father, whatever difficulty they may be facing will not end well.

If, however, this person does turn to the Lord, then he (or she) can lay claim to God’s promises to be with them and protect them through the storms of life (John 10:10).


PRAYER

O LORD, our merciful and majestic Redeemer, our Creator and Sustainer,  our Savior, we 44. Cross_on_Biblethank You for the opportunities You give us to reach out to others when they are in need, when they come to us for help. Lord, may we always point them to You, to Your sustaining grace, to Your everlasting love, to Your merciful justice. We pray also, O Lord, that as they ask You in prayer for time in their day to spend personally and intimately with You, that You will shower them with time and desire and so change their lives. In Jesus’ powerful name we pray. AMEN


QUESTIONS:

1. Do you find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a regular time each day for prayer and Bible reading? Do you think it’s even necessary to spend time alone with God every day? Would you feel comfortable asking God to find the time for you, or do you think He’s way too busy with more important stuff?

2. Why do you think it might be a good idea to hear from God’s Word each day and enter into prayer with Him regularly? Do you believe He intervenes in human affairs and longs to intervene in your life?

3. Are you uncomfortable with the idea that our response to God’s gift of salvation is a matter of faith and not of reason? Do you see that faith means we’re placing all of the burden on God, whereas reason means we are the ones who have earned salvation?


Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.


 

Today’s Meditation … Grace And Sin

Without a guiding light, man is left to his own devices. The Bible tells us … and our experience proves it … that without direction, our actions are base, selfish, and cruel. When God intervenes to show us a better way, too often we reject Him, preferring still our sinful desires. For those who do believe, however, He promises Paradise.

Find blog posts at LoveAndGrace … tweets at TwitterComments welcomed. Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion. Why not forward this blog post to a relative, friend, or neighbor who might be blessed by it?

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“In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25 (NLT)

“This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NKJV)

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EVIL. PURE EVIL.

There is evil in the world. There are evil people in the world. There are evil deedscommitted every day in the worl46. Rebellion_Against_Godd.

Much of the evil is unspeakable: torture of political prisoners, rape of women and girls as an act of war, abandonment of born children and abortion of those unborn, acts of terrorism against unsuspecting innocents — all of those in addition to acts of nature that cruelly take human lives.

We yell and scream, “Why? “Why, O Lord, is there such evil in the world?”

Some cry out without naming the Lord because they don’t believe He exists; or, if He exists, that He’s relevant or cares about us.

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THE ANSWER SURROUNDS US.

52.SinGod created a perfect world and allowed his prized possession — men and women — the freedom to choose to obey Him and be blessed or to disobey Him and be cursed. We chose to disobey Him. Evil is the result.

Yet, the Bible tells us that God so loved us that He sent His only Son into the world to live as a sinless human being among us and then, being found without blemish, slaughtered for our sakes, to pay the debt for our sins and to restore fallen mankind to Him. (see John 3:16)

The Bible says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” — John 3:17 (NIV)

Men still rejected Him, loving the darkness and their own sin more than the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness offered by their Creator. (see John 3:19) By rejecting the Creator, men also reject a guiding light; and, without a guiding light — be it a king or priest or prophet — men still do what is right in their own eyes. (see Judges 21:25)

For those who do believe, who are called by His name and seek forgiveness, repenting of their evil deeds and their sinful heart, God promises everything — Paradise with Him forever. The Bible says, “Everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16b (NLT)

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PRAYER: Our Father God, how could we  repeatedly reject Your loving and merciful overtures of support? How could we be so blind to the life-giving promises You make, 68. Holy_Bible_Crosspreferring, instead, to live out the sinful desires of our hearts? You have been so gracious and forgiving, so quick to love us and so slow to condemn us. Thank You for being a God of mercy as well as a God of judgment. Lord, hear our prayer of repentance, forgive our sins, and restore us to a right relationship with You — and keep us on the straight path that You have laid out for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen

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QUESTIONS:

  1. Is the God of the Bible real for you? Do you believe He created you and the world around you and that He has a plan for your life? If not, what keeps you from taking the step of faith necessary to claim your inheritance as a child of God?
  2. Do you use the excuse of pointing out the sins of others, ignoring the clear fact that God will hold you accountable for your actions?
  3. If you were to die today, do you know (or can you guess) where you will spend eternity — be it with God, without God — or do you maintain there is no after-life? If you were willing to open your heart to God’s saving message, do you know what you should do about it or whom to consult?
  4. Can we at LoveAndGrace pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

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Doctrine Vs. Unity: A False Choice?

The evangelical brand of Christianity is splitting, perhaps beyond repair, into rival camps. While the fabric was being torn for decades, the rip is more noticeable as a large voting bloc supported the presidential election of Donald Trump over rival candidates. Only Trump selected an evangelical running mate and promised to support policies the bloc supports. Other candidates actively opposed those policies. Recently, the anti-Trump evangelicals held a conference bemoaning their minority status. Where does this brand of Christianity go … and will there be a healing balm?

“But as for you, speak the things that are consistent with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1 BSB)

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22 NLT)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.

ARE CHRISTIANS TODAY TO CHOOSE between sound doctrine or a unified church?

Is that a real question or is it a false choice? Can we have both? Have we ever had either?

Where do you stand?

67.Conference_LectureRecently, some 50 evangelical leaders gathered at Wheaton College in Illinois to discuss the fate of the evangelical religious movement.

The impetus for the meeting, according to organizers quoted in various media accounts, was to assess the spiritual health of the evangelical community after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, especially in light of polling that shows 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him.

(The definition of “evangelical” was not mentioned in most media accounts, but generally it encompasses four basic beliefs: inerrancy of the Holy Bible, Jesus’ redeeming work on the Cross, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus, and a call to evangelize.

(Also, there is an apparent discrepancy in the poll survey in which news organizations that commissioned the poll were more interested in the subset of “white evangelical” than in “non-white evangelical.” Finally, the term “evangelical” was not defined in the survey.)

Therefore, 20 percent of white evangelicals did not vote for Trump. Of that number, some voted for one of his opponents, while others declined to vote at all.

Conference organizers — let’s call them “the 20 percenters” — expressed dismay and frustration with the vast majority of their fellow believers — let’s call them “the 80 percenters” — who voted for Trump.

They drew the conclusion that the 80 percenters were destroying the brand, that evangelicalism had reached a “crisis,” and that something must be done to restore its tarnished image.

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ATTENDANCE WAS INVITATION-ONLY. So if your name wasn’t on the invite list, the organizers did not want to hear from you. 

67.SocialMedia_globeProminent names that were not invited included Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, both supporters of the Trump presidency, although not necessarily of the man. Their writings and public utterances have been supportive of Trump’s policies when they line up with traditional evangelical values.

Prominent names that were invited included New York City megachurch pastors Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard. At one point in the proceedings, Keller characterized the divide among evangelicals this way: “We are being driven apart because there’s now a Red and a Blue evangelicalism,” thus imitating the political divide within the secular world.

What, then, about the 20 percenters? What values does their testimony support, especially since the winning candidate not only selected an evangelical running mate but not one other presidential candidate even sought the evangelical vote or promised to meet the voting bloc’s social policy goals.

Evangelicals have been strong supporters of religious liberty, marriage between one man and one woman for life, sanctity of life from pre-born through physical death, and support for Israel’s right to exist, among other concerns, but how do the 20 percenters defend their vote for another  candidate either lukewarm toward those values or outright opposed to them?67.MyWay_MyWay

Not said.

It didn’t come up.

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WHAT IS THE STATE TODAY of the body of Christ? As of now, more than one month since the two-day conference ended, no “statement” has emerged summarizing its findings, leaving the public without a sense of how conference organizers would respond.

Members of the president’s faith advisory council noted that the conferees held more “progressive” views on social issues than does the president and his evangelical supporters.

Some evangelical organizations, such as Focus on the Family, are dialing back their political involvement, believing it can interfere with the Gospel message they want to promote, while other groups are ramping up their efforts to preach the Bible to a world in darkness.

But those nagging questions just won’t go away: Should Christians — in particular, evangelicals — promote the values they believe God has laid out in the Holy Bible regardless of secular world pushback … and now pushback from within the body of Christ?

How does the secular world, eager to discredit God’s Word, view the apparent split within the evangelical community?

You know those complaints:

  • 55.Holy-Spirit-Descends-BibleYou claim to love the sinner but not the sin, but do you really love the sinner?
  • Can words written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago really be valid universally for all time?
  • How can you claim to know the ultimate truth? Who made you the arbiter of what’s right and wrong?

Should the evangelical movement split into rival factions, each representing its version of truth, or should the various factions find a unifying message to heal those divisions?

Belief over unity? Unity over doctrine? Engage in the world; retreat from it?

Are evangelicals becoming the religious-based arm of the secular fight between “conservatives” and “progressives,” between Republicans and Democrats?

For those of us who believe the Holy Word of God is the Almighty’s love letter to us, that He is perfect and unchanging, our conviction rests in His eternal truths. We believe that He has told us clearly what He expects of us, and the expected criticisms from non-believers lack impact.

Fair enough, but now it’s reached a new level: much of the invective comes from within the body of Christ.

Witness the meeting at Wheaton College.

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THERE ARE TWO SIDES to this story, as there are to so many stories.

Those who organized the conference downplayed any anti-Trump messaging, 67.Agree-Disagreeemphasizing the discussions, the prayers, and the “painful conversations” that took place, according to one religion writer for a secular newspaper.

Yet those “painful conversations” were how the evangelical movement  could continue
unstained when 80 percent of their fellow believers voted for  a candidate they all conceded was flawed morally, but who was the only candidate who pledged to honor biblical values in his policies.

On the other hand, news reports showed that several attendees left the conference when it became clear to them the proceeding was not just to express dismay with the election results but, more alarmingly, a roasting of the 80 percenters who voted for him.

Those defectors said the conference by its very nature was political and was not an attempt to unify the faithful.

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AS THE SUMMIT ENDED, one of its the organizers reportedly said that in future meetings, evangelical leaders will “fan out in all kinds of directions,” as Christians recognize diversity within their movement.

However, the non-invited Franklin Graham said on FaceBook that he is “not interested in fanning out in all kinds of directions” but wants to focus on one direction only: “reaching lost souls” and “calling people to cross the line from death to life, in Him [Jesus Christ].”

He further said the word “evangelical” should not be used in a secular political context but only in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Apparently, there is a deep split within the evangelical body of Christ, just as there are fissures growing within Christendom’s denominations. Each faction claims to be following Jesus Christ while questioning the faith commitment of the other side.

The Bible tells us what to expect in the future … and it isn’t pretty.

Listen to the apostle Paul counsel his young friend, Timothy:

You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.  (2 Timothy 3:1 TLB)

Yes, and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him. In fact, evil men and false teachers will become worse and worse, deceiving many, they themselves having been deceived by Satan.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13 TLB)

Is everyone in the evangelical community looking to the Bible for guidance … is only one side … if so, which one?

Paul, again:

For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)

Are those 20 percenters — the ones who supported a candidate opposed to biblical values, as well as those who declined to vote — are they substituting their own values for the ones laid down in Scripture?

The prophet Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)

God warned us through Paul what He will do if we disobey Him:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

Whether the evangelical movement is irrevocably split or can reconcile in Christian unity may be less important than where we are in our individual walks with Christ.

In the end, He will call us to account for our words and deeds, not hold us responsible for the larger church movement.

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PRAYER: O merciful and mighty Father God, our hearts break for the failure of our witness. You called us to be light to a fallen world so that men  and women would see our 44. Cross_on_Biblegood works and give You the glory, but we’re stumbling about in the dark ourselves. Lord, speak into our hearts with Your words of wisdom. Forgive us our pride and self-importance and recast our gaze to the road You light for us, to that straightened path You’’ll make for us, through the narrow gate You told us to find. Lord, you’ve given us a choice: help us choose life. In Jesus name. Amen

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you see doctrinal splits within the various Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) and even within the ranks of evangelicalism? Do they matter to you? Does this matter to you, or do you toss it off as “inside baseball,” just the stuff for the full-time paid Christians? Has this event stayed under your radar?
  2. What effect do you think conferences and forums, such as the one held at Wheaton College, have on the body of Christ and its internal connections? What effect do you think they have on the external world when their deliberations are covered extensively by secular media?
  3. Do you think discussions about the divisions within Christendom (whether among evangelicals or within denominations) weakens our fellowship? Do you believe the body of Christ should refrain from such discussions and focus solely on the spiritual matters that bring us together?
  4. Jesus Christ prayed for unity in His church. He also said His mission was to proclaim the Truth. Has His church remained unified, and does it proclaim the Truth? If you could pick one quality or the other — “unity” or “truth” — which would you value more? Why? Can you understand why your neighbor might disagree with you?

Galatians 5: “Fruit of the Spirit”

In Galatians, Chapter 5, the apostle Paul reminds us that two spirits are at war within us — the spirit of darkness, which rules this world, and the Spirit of Light, which is God’s eternal Spirit. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we no longer are slaves to our sinful natures; however, we need to choose to live by the Spirit. Moral impurity, idolatry, and jealousy are some manifestations of the spirit of the flesh.  But the fruit of God’s Spirit include love, joy, peace, and patience. The contrast is startling. Through Christ, we, indeed, are new beings.

“Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants. … They are opposed to each other. (Galatians 5:16-17 GW)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

This meditation is Part 5 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here. Part 4, “Born of the Free Woman,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

I AM FREE!

WOW! YES, I AM!

Free to be me, free to laugh, free to dance, free to say whatever I want. No  chains to bind 45. Children_Ignoring_Parentsme, no tasks to complete, no master to please.

I am my own man (or woman) …

… and who are you to say any differently?

How does “my thing” (whatever it might be) in any way harm you, keep you from being you, doing your own thing, get in your way.

I’m not hurting anyone. So. Leave. Me. Alone!

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WOW, INDEED.

Does that litany strike home? It does for me.

I can remember those youthful collegiate and graduate school days spent pouring over books, writing term papers, making new friends, dreaming big dreams, and just thoroughly enjoying being a young adult.

Except that I wasn’t really free at all, not by a long shot.

52.SinI was a slave to my sinful nature, but I was unaware of it. I had no clue. I imagine that put me in some pretty stellar company. There are a lot of people who have no clue how beholden they are to the pull of their sinful nature. Sadly, many of them are Christians … or, at least, church-goers … let’s call them “church-ers.”

Because of God’s grace, that would change. The voice of Jesus Christ would penetrate the surrounding fog: “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] came that they [men and women] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB, emph. mine)

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THE APOSTLE PAUL writes to us in Galatians, Chapter 5, to live our lives not according to the will of the flesh, but of the Spirit of God. He reminds us that those two spirits — that of God and that of the flesh — exist in tension within us. They compete against one another. 

One spirit leads us into darkness, lies, and slavery, while the other frees us from bondage and leads us into the light — the only place where we truly can be free.52. Sinful-nature-at-war-with-God

It’s easy to tell the two spirits apart, Paul reminds us; in fact, He tells us “the acts of the flesh are obvious” (Galatians 5:19 NIV): among them are sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, and so many others.

Then, he warns us that “those who live like this,” that is, those men and women who are unrepentant in their hearts, who have not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, who persist in living in the bondage of their sin, those people, he says, “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 NIV).

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WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE like that.

Jesus told us in His earthly ministry that He had a better message: “Come to Me, all of you  who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 CSB)

He told us if we listen to His words and build our lives on solid ground, His grace and mercy would help us withstand the storms of life, and, yes, those storms surely would come. (Matthew 7:24-25)

“Then you will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 BSB)


LOS FRUTOS DEL ESPIRITU

Amor, Gozo, Paz, Paciencia, Benignidad, Bondad,

Fidelidad,  Mansedumbre, Dominio Propio.

Contra tales no hay ley. — Gálatas 5:22-23


Those who, in Paul’s words, “belong to Christ Jesus,” are set free from the bondage of sin. “They have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24 ESV)

Of course, remaining sinful beings, we will continue to commit sins, but we no longer will live in sin or be attached to or enslaved by sin (1 John 3:6 ESV).

And what are the signs of that Spirit, the Spirit of God’s holy grace? Paul says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

52. fruit-of-the-spirit

Against that Spirit, he says, “there is no law,” that is, the Old Testament law does not apply, but the new covenant, the covenant of God’s grace DOES apply.

Paul’s parting shot in this chapter are words we need to claim for our own and write them in our hearts, much like the ancient Israelites were instructed by God through Moses to obey the law (Deuteronomy 6:6).

Our obedience to God hasn’t changed through the millennia; only the covenant has changed because God has replaced obedience to the law with obedience out of love to His grace.

Paul says: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

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PRAYER: O LORD, our majestic Savior and King, we humbly come to You, unworthy of prayer except as You grant us through the life blood of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Place within our hearts a love for the Lord, a desire to be holy, a willingness to serve. Let us focus each moment on the spiritual gifts that You require of us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, because against such virtues, O LORD, there is no law. In His Name be all the glory and honor. Amen.

 

Galatians 4: “Born of the Free Woman”

The story of Sarah and Hagar is so symbolic of the promises of God that the apostle Paul uses it to explain how we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are children of the free woman, not the slave woman — that we are saved by grace as a free gift from God, not bound as slaves to the law to be judged by our failure to obey. Why, Paul asks the Galatians, would you want to rebind yourselves to the law when God through His Son has freed you by His grace! Why would we, as His followers today, want to bind our souls to the misery of being slaves to our works, our fears, our doubts — our guilt. Jesus has freed us from all of that!

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:7 NIV)

“There is a Scripture that tells us what to do: ‘Expel the slave mother with her son, for the slave son will not inherit with the free son.’ Isn’t that conclusive? We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:31 MSG)

This meditation is Part 4 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

THERE WAS A FAMILY THAT HAD A YOUNG SON AND ALSO OWNED A  SLAVE.

51. adam-eve-teaching-children-82611-galleryAt first, when the boy was young, the slave, who was an adult and trusted by the child’s father, watched over the boy and guided his steps. You might say, the slave “ruled over” the child.

As time went on, however, their roles changed. The child grew to be a man, while the slave remained … well, a slave.

As the child became a man, he was entitled to an inheritance from the father. Not so the slave, whose term of service never changed.

Enter a benevolent outside force that scrambled the picture in a way the world had never seen before. This external force said it could do for the slave what the law was unable to do.

This external force could graft the slave onto the family tree, giving him the same rights as the natural child; in fact, freeing him from his servitude, making him a co-equal son with the natural son, and granting him an equal inheritance from the father.

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THAT’S ONE WAY OF LOOKING at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In what our Bibles call 51. Envelope-to-the-Galatians“Chapter 4,” (the chapter headings were not in the original text of the letter), the apostle explains the migration that God the Holy Spirit provides everyone of us who progresses from our natural state — that of “unbelief” — to a new, born-again, state, that of “belief.”

In Paul’s terms, we are all slaves from birth by virtue of Adam’s and Eve’s rebellion against God, which ushered in our sinful state. To correct our behavior, God issued the Law, which started with the Ten Commandments. Paul tells us that the Law could not make us virtuous because we could never obey it entirely and consistently.

It’s main function, Paul said, was to show us our inequities, our imperfections, our sins, so that we would realize our need for the saving power of God the Son.

Once we accept the saving power of the Son, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts and takes up residence, creating within us a new person. Paul explains, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

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TO EXPLAIN HOW THIS SLAVE-SON-HEIR transition takes place, Paul took the Galatians (and us) back to the days of Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, and his wife, Sarah.

51. abraham-and-sarah-bible-storyGod had promised Abraham and Sarah that He would provide them with a son and that through that son, Abraham’s descendants would populate many nations and would become as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Speaking of Sarah, God said to Abraham, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:16 ESV)

As time went on, Abraham and Sarah, by this time 90 to 100 years old, felt that God had not provided the son He had promised them, so they wanted to help Him out, without asking His consent. So Sarah “gave” Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, to bear a son for her.

They named this son “Ismael.” Ismael was beloved by Abraham, but God said Ismael was not the child of God’s promise to Abraham. There would be a second son, this one born of Sarah. They would name him “Isaac,” and Isaac would be the son of God’s promise. The covenant would pass through Isaac, not Ismael.

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PAUL WALKS US THROUGH the story by recounting the tension that developed in Abraham’s house between the two son-bearing women—Hagar, the maidservant who provided a son (Ismael) for Sarah when Sarah remained barren, and Sarah, who later provided a son (Isaac) when the Lord opened her womb.

The Bible tells us that when Isaac was weaned, Abraham threw a great feast for him, but Sarah pleaded with him to discard Hagar and her son, saying Ismael’s continued presence could jeopardize Isaac’s inheritance. (“That slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac,” Sarah told Abraham. Genesis 21:10 NIV)

When Abraham asked God what he should do, God told Abraham to obey his wife, Sarah, reaffirming for Abraham that the covenant that God declared would pass through Isaac, not Ismael.

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THAT BRINGS US BACK to the beginning of our account where there are two sons — one son born of a slave woman into slavery and one son born of a free woman into the rights 51. Hagar & Ishmael Augo4of inheritance.

Here’s where Paul wants us to take special note. As he continues his letter from the points made in Galatians 1-3, that it is God’s grace that provides us with salvation, not our good works, Paul reinforces this amazing truth: that the Lord transforms us, we who are born with sinful natures as slaves of sin, into sons of the Father and, as sons, then as heirs of his good fortune (Galatians 4:7).

Paul tells us that the Law, expressed in the Old Testament, was meant “to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24 NIV) so that He could save us through our faith and His grace (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

Once the we have been led to God the Son through God’s grace, we become sons of God the Father. Because we are sons, along with the Son, God the Father then sends God the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Through that transition, done entirely by God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are transformed from slavery into sonship and, as sons, “God has made [us] also an heir” (Galatians 4:7 NIV).

51. Holy-Spirit-descendingIn effect, we who once were born of the slave woman now are children of the free woman and, thus, of God’s promise.

Born into sin; reborn into salvation!

All because of God’s grace.

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PRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, it is only by Your grace and mercy that we can enjoy life and have it abundantly, as Your Son assured us. We give You all the glory for the blessings You have given us. Help us understand, or at least appreciate, the transition You have provided for us from our birth into sin and slavery under the Law to sonship with the Eternal Son and, with Him, being heirs of the promise. We thank You, we praise You, we honor You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.