Monday, May 30, 2016


In Untamed Christian, Unleashed Church, Terry Wardle, professor of spiritual formation at Ashland Theological Seminary, confessed “I am bored in church.” Although many of us feel the same way, he tries to justify his boredom by pointing to the deficiencies in the church. He is bored because most churches do not manifest the dynamic and miraculous presence of the Spirit:

·         We must have his Presence. We are little more than a tame imitation without his [miraculous] Presence…We will only be a force in the world when we are once again clearly, and dangerously [because the Spirit is supernaturally manifesting through us], the People of the Presence. The people…experience and manifest the power of the living God…I am desperate because I have tasted…and the power of the experience is beyond words. (17)

What should this look like? Wardle writes that “the supernatural should be natural for all Christians (24)”:

·         Not always proper, sometimes messy…Dangerous is what the church should be…the church should be un-tame to the core. (25-26)

Wardle believes that signs and wonders should be the standard diet for the Church, even if messy at times. And he is not alone. Bethel Church, Redding California, is devoted to a “signs and wonders” revival, which they claim that they are experiencing. One young woman, who had previously been a student at Wheaton College, claimed that her experience of the Lord had previously been very limited:

·         “I even felt from a young age that there was something more to God. I mean, Jesus went around and healed people. What is salvation actually about? Why am I only pursuing one shade of salvation?” (Christianity Today, May 2016, 34)

She now claims that she has a more direct experience of God at Bethel. However, is the miraculous the unmistakable sign that the Spirit is at work? Not always! Jesus had warned that we would be confronted with deceiving wonders:

·         Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:23-24; ESV)

Jesus was referring to the end-times. Paul also warned that these miraculous deceptions:

·         The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

However, we’d be wrong to suppose that these signs and wonders would only be performed during the Tribulation. Even the Israelites had been warned about this danger:

·         “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Here is a case of a false prophet performing a miracle to lead Israel astray. However, if his teachings did not coincide with God’s commandments and teachings, then Israel was not to follow. Instead, this was God’s method of “testing” Israel’s love for God. If Israel truly loved God, they would obey Him and not the worker of miracles.

Bethel congregants report many miracles, but what does Bethel teach? Martyn Wendell Jones reports that they tend to mix the occult with Christian teachings:

·         Bethel leaders have been said to practice “grave sucking” or “grave soaking,” purportedly a means of absorbing the spiritual anointing of deceased Christians by lying atop the graves. Accusations of mixing New Age practices with Christianity are also common.

Nowhere in the Bible is such a practice commanded. Well, perhaps the Bible doesn’t reveal to us everything we need for a relationship with God? Instead, going beyond the Bible is prohibited in these matters. Paul had warned “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another” (1 Corinthians 4:6). Similarly, Isaiah had warned:

·         And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)

Does Bethel go beyond Scripture? According to Jones, they do. Repentance is essential to revival and a healthy relationship with our Lord. However, one observer commented:

·         “There is never a call for repentance or faith in Christ [at Bethel] – never. It is all about experience and signs and wonders.”

Instead, as two of their leaders have gladly confessed, Bethel is committed to spiritual experimentation to learn what will best produce signs and wonders:

·         “ I do not know how to learn except to experiment.” (36)

Evidently, this leader pays little heed to Scripture:

·         All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for EVERY good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

It is Scripture that enables “the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” not experimentation. Nowhere does Scripture advocate experimentation as a means of learning the ways of God. In contrast, another Bethel leader admitted:

·         “We celebrate creativity, revelation, invention, and innovation above comfort, safety, and security.” (36)

While there is certainly a place for “invention and innovation,” these are not scripturally encouraged to improve our relationship with God. Instead, the Bible is clear that our Lord requires faith, repentance, confession, and obedience to His Word and not our own innovations.

Interestingly, Wardle admits that there is a downside to these “revivals”:

  • I have experienced Christians moving in gifts in the absence of love. It can be a real mess. Spiritual pride, showing off, self-righteousness, a critical spirit – it all shows up, and when it does, it’s nasty…In the end, far more people are hurt than helped. (142)

  • What starts out as a fresh move of the Spirit ends in a confusing and unproductive free-for-all of unbiblical spiritual excess…There has also been more than a little immaturity evident in these movements, which has not always ended well for the people or congregations involved…Not all people or congregations who have “caught the fire” [of the Spirit] have survived the experience. Individual believers, and in some cases local churches…experience division and in some cases destruction. (152-53)

Perhaps these weren’t revivals at all but demonic counterfeits. Instead, when we walk in the Spirit, we should manifest the fruits of the Spirit:

·         But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

They also abide in the Word of God:

·         “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples… Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (John 15:7-10)

And what about the supernatural manifestations of the Spirit? Shouldn’t they accompany us? Not necessarily:

·         For we walk by faith, not by sight [of miracles]. (2 Cor. 5:7)

·         Now faith [not miracles] is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

In contrast to Bethel, we should not demand or expect miracles:

·         Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen [the miracle of the resurrection] and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

·         But He answered and said to them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign.  (Matthew 12:39; Luke 16)

I certainly don’t want to miss out on any of God’s miraculous blessings, and so I pray in the manner of my Lord: “Not my will but thy will be done.” I don’t want my will anymore. I just want what He has for me. That might be the safe way, but the Holy Spirit promises to compensate for my failures to pray correctly:

  • The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-27)

I’m therefore confident that I’m not missing out! He promises as much!


For all of us who care deeply about love and unity within the Church, race remains a hot issue. Many solutions have been offered – affirmative action within the Church, shaming seminars for perceived racists, adopting a color-blind mentality, and various forms of “mea culpa,” even for those who have not committed a known racist act.

Christena Cleveland, associate professor of reconciliation at Duke’s Divinity School, answers with a full-color-broadside:

·       “Jesus is not white. The Jesus of history likely looked more like me, a black woman, than you, a white woman.” (Christianity Today, April 2016, 36)

However, this assertion of color elevates color to the level of the Gospel itself. It degrades worship to physical appearance. However, Cleveland does have a valid point. In general the Church has elevated color, along with its false and divisive assumptions about Jesus’ appearance. The Church has hosted pictures and made movies showing a white Jesus. Consequently, these images have served to unbiblically influence our worship, causing us to visualize Jesus. However, there are scriptural warnings against this very thing:

·       “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4; ESV)

Do we have scriptural permission to physically imagine Jesus? According to the renowned theologian, J.I. Packer, we do not:

·       How should we form our thoughts about God? Not only can we not imagine Him adequately, since he is at every point greater than we can grasp; we dare not trust anything our imagination suggests about him, for the built-in habit of fallen minds is to scale God down. (Growing in Christ; 243)

·       Hence, the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything.” This forbids… imagining the true God as like yourself or something lower. God’s real attack is on mental images… If imagination leads out thoughts about God, we too shall go astray. No statement starting, “This is how I like to think of God” should ever be trusted. An imagined God will always be more or less imaginary and unreal. (244)

The 2nd Commandment prohibition pertains to making any likeness of God, knowing that these likenesses will encourage us to worship through the use of images and imaginations. It was for this reason that God didn’t visually appear to Israel at Mt. Sinai/Horeb:

·       “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16)

We are not to worship God through the images of our imagination but through His revealed truths. Although the imagination can be used profitably in other areas, Scripture never gives us the freedom to use imagination in worship, as Jeremiah warned:

·       This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts [“walketh after the imagination of his own heart;” KJV] they say, 'No harm will come to you.'” (Jeremiah 23:16-17; Ezek 13:2; Luke 1:51)

And this did not seem to change with the advent of Jesus. Instead, He insisted that worship must be a matter of spirit and truth, not image and physical appearances:

·       “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him MUST worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

Therefore, Cleveland correctly explains:

·       While Christ the Lord transcends skin color and racial divisions, white Jesus has real consequences. I all likelihood, if you close your eyes and picture Jesus, you’ll imagine a white man. Without conscious intention or awareness, many of us have become disciples of a white Jesus, Not only is white Jesus inaccurate, he also can inhibit our ability to honor the image of God in people who aren’t white.

When physical appearances become associated with worship of God, God is demeaned and humanity is exalted, or at least certain segments of humanity.

Cleveland also laments that “many well-meaning Christian ministers” have reached out to people of color “without truly seeing them as equal.”

This indeed is lamentable. Culture and color can never be the basis of unity and love in the Body-of-Christ. Although this should not become an argument for color-blindness, we must be careful to not elevate color, culture, or ethnicity.

Instead, there are powerfully compelling biblical reasons to affirm our essential equality before God. Paul had confirmed our common brotherhood before the classist/racist Athenians:

·       “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26)

Paul also affirmed our ultimate unity in Christ:

·       For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

This is a unity that transcends color, accomplishment, education, and any other distinctions that the eye sees. It is an essence and a relationship that dignifies-to-the-max anyone who has received Christ.

And how should we view the redeemed of the Lord? Jesus has given us many portraits of His redeemed:

·       “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

Paul often echoed the same truths:

·       For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)

Cleveland concludes by asking us to examine ourselves:

·       Those who still perceive a white Christ must ask whether they can and will worship a dark-skinned Jesus.

Better yet, we must ask ourselves if we are worshipping God in the way that He wants to be worshipped – in spirit and in truth.

I am not at all suggesting that we should ignore the feelings, experiences, and cultures of marginalized peoples or to make believe that these differences do not exist. Instead, I am suggesting that we major in the majors.

Deliverance came to me, not by affirming my ethnicity and the pride I had derived from my Jewish identity. In fact, I had majored in this pride to my great detriment. Instead, I found freedom from my debilitating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy from the new “ethnicity” I had been given by my Savior:

·       I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Consequently, it is all about Jesus in whom this inadequate soul is buried for all eternity!

Sunday, May 29, 2016


First of all, we all have spiritual gifts:

·       To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

We are commanded to use these gifts:

·       As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10)

But how do we discover our gifts? I think that there are several ways. Most importantly, we must commit ourselves fully to God. As we commit ourselves to Him in obedience – and this includes meditating on His Word day and night (Psalm 1) - He will begin to make things clear to us:

·       Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

When our Lord is #1 in our lives, He grants us discernment and wisdom through His Word. When He is not #1, we inevitably harden our heart against His pleadings, and when we do this, we also harden our hearts against His illumination and wisdom.

Here is another way that we can discern His calling. If we are performing labors for the Lord that are drudgerous, these are probably not our giftings. Instead, God wants us to be cheerful in our service to Him and therefore gives us gifts that are pleasing:

·       Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

These verses suggest that God will give us gifts that we can perform cheerfully. If instead God gives us gifts that are displeasing, we will not be able to persist long in them. Instead, God gifts us in a way so that we can joyfully persist and perfect our gift.

Others can also help direct us in discovering our gifting. We are to seek godly counsel. Their counsel should be able to direct us to discover and use our gifts.

Most importantly, we need not worry about discovering our gifts. Why not? Because our Lord has a blessed plan for our lives:

·       For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

We need not worry. The doors He opens for us, no one can close

·       “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

We need to remember that God is in charge. He has even ordained the number of hairs we have on our heads, as Jesus had explained to His agitated Apostles:

·       And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:28-30)

Our God cares even about the little things in our lives. How much more our using the gifts He has given us for the edifying of His Church!

Therefore, we need not worry about discovering and using His gifts. We should be concerned about only one thing – that He is #1 in our lives:

·       Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [or even ‘What are my gifts?’] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33)

When our Lord is #1, everything that we need will be given to us!

Saturday, May 28, 2016



We are to be self-critical. If we do not examine ourselves, God will, as Paul had explained:

* Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:28-31; ESV)

If we do not judge ourselves, there will be serious consequences. We are also required to judge our brethren:

* My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

Of course, before we judge others, we must hold ourselves accountable to a standard at least as stringent as the standard we use to judge ourselves. This is what it means to be "spiritual":

* Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

We have to first be humble, realizing that we too are liable to the same kinds of temptations. We should never think that we are above them, lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

There is also a calling, especially for pastors and teachers, to correct other Christians in leadership positions, lest they bring disrepute upon the Church. In this regard, apologetic or discernment ministries play a vital role. For example, Hank Hanegraaff has often exposed the false teachings of prosperity ministers:

* Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), went so far as to suggest that if God does not kill “heresy hunters,” he will. Benny Hinn took it a step further. On TBN’s Praise the Lord program, he said, “You have attacked me. Your children will pay for it.” On another occasion Hinn shouted, “If you care for your kids, stop attacking Benny Hinn; you’re attacking on the radio all the time. You will pay, and your children will. Hear this from the lips of God’s servant. You are in danger.” Other threats could be cited, including the time Hinn ominously snarled, “I’m not exactly the normal kind of guy, you know. I’m from Israel. Sometimes I wish God would give me a Holy Ghost machine gun. I’d blow your head off.” ("Christianity in Crisis: The 21st Century")

If the Church fails to expose and to distance themselves from ungodly teachers, then the world will distance themselves from the Church and the brethren will be led astray.

For an example of the disrepute that these teachers have brought upon the Church, Hanegraaff writes:

* This cancer has now reached the epidemic stage, and is spreading with such speed as to genuinely warrant the words “Christianity in Crisis.” It has so disfigured the face of Christianity that pagans looking on from without either smile with condescension and cynicism, or, with CNN founder Ted Turner, caricature Christians as “bozos” and “idiots.”

However, the damage done to the Body of Christ by false teachers is even a greater concern. Therefore, Paul warned the Ephesian elders:

* “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)

Because of the inevitability of false teachers arising even within the church, the elders had to be vigilant. Why? Because false teachers could ravage the flock! Consequently, Paul had insisted that the elders had to be able to scripturally defend their churches:

* He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:9-11)

The only remedy to error is truth. The only answer to Scripture twisting is sound teaching and correction.

This means that we must judge, if we love the Church. Besides, sometimes even loving God requires us to judge. For example, God had warned the Church at Pergamum to repent for tolerating false teaching:

* “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:14-16)

Their tolerance of false teaching was a sin against God, and they were called to repent of this sin.

To be a friend of the world by tolerating what we should not is to be an enemy of God.