Category Archives: Faith

Christian Syncretism And the American Church: A Perilous Partnership

Syncretism is a technical term used to describe the mixing of two distinct religions into a single hybrid faith. Historically, within the Christian community, syncretism has been applied primarily to new believers in the developing world who retain a portion of their traditional religion and layer elements of Christianity onto it. Examples of this include the continued practice of voodoo and witchcraft while proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Of equal concern to the church in this area has been the retention of social practices that, though not rooted in traditional religion, nevertheless violate clear biblical principles. Examples include ostracizing widows from the community and the practice of polygamy.

Curiously, the American church rarely examines itself internally for evidence of syncretism. When it does, the focus has been primarily on the most egregious and easily dismissed transgressions. Examples include universalism, the introduction of new age beliefs (such as the power of positive thinking), and theological flexibility on issues of personal holiness.

Meanwhile the most widespread syncretic practice within the American church flourishes, and is largely ignored and unaddressed by Christian leaders. It is a blind spot that threatens more than the health of the local church body and its ability to transform society. It risks leading millions, if not tens of millions, of churchgoers down a perilous path of spiritual destruction.

The blind spot is the grafting of Christianity onto the foundation of the American Dream (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a life marked by material wealth and comfort”). The result is a faux faith whose adherents are nearly indistinguishable from unbelievers on matters of prime importance to the American Dream: allocation of financial resources, investment of time, self-determination, and an emphasis on comfort, safety, and leisure.

What makes this expression of syncretism so dangerous is that it sounds so good. And we, the church, have been at it for so long that we have become adept at framing our pursuit of the American Dream in spiritual terms. In an effort to vindicate our lifestyles, we distort and misuse Scripture in grotesque ways – often embracing as truth the exact opposite meaning of whatever message Jesus taught on the subject.

But Scripture is unambiguous on the matter. The call of Christ and the American Dream are contrary to one another. Each advocates principles categorically opposed by the other. To pursue one necessarily requires rejection of the other. They cannot co-exist. Any attempt to splice the two together into a harmonious hybrid that balances Jesus’ teachings with the world’s lifestyle always fails. Jesus refuses to compromise or sanitize His truth so we can satisfy our infatuation with the world.

For the American church this dichotomy is too difficult to digest. Preaching such a position not only risks losing current confessors of the Christian faith, it complicates the conversion of new practitioners. Worst of all, preaching such a message would require living the message first. And that is perhaps the greatest barrier.

Few Americans steeped in the benefits and pleasures of the American Dream are able to renounce that worldview – certainly not without great difficulty. The world’s clutches go too deeply into our flesh. Its lures are too appealing and hypnotic. Its indulgences are too satisfying.

At the same time the church is committed to propagating the Christian faith. It wants to proclaim Jesus the Lord of all. It wants to gain adherents and grow the size of Christ’s bride. And it wants to remain faithful until His return.

So how do you reconcile the contradictory teachings of these rival worldviews: the American Dream on the one hand and the call of Christ on the other? If you are the American church you graft them together. This, of course, requires ignoring or distorting significant sections of Scripture. But it is a small price to pay for the opportunity to chase the American Dream while professing fidelity to Jesus.

A deep and comprehensive discussion of this issue would fill enough pages to complete a multi-volume manuscript, which far exceeds the limitations of this blog. Instead, I’ll highlight several themes integral to the Gospel that the American church ignores or distorts because they undermine the message of the American Dream.

These are not tangential matters referenced obscurely in Scripture. They are fundamental truths that Jesus emphasized over and over in His teaching, and that the apostles reinforced throughout the epistles. They provide believers the proper understanding of what it means to place one’s faith in Christ and commit oneself to Him as a disciple. In short, they apprise would-be Christians of the expectations Jesus has for them so they can make an informed decision of whether to follow Him or not.

1] Near the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He shared this truth with His audience. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, NLT).

Notice Jesus’ emphasis on the size of the gate that leads to eternal life. It is incredibly narrow. That narrowness speaks not just of the fact that Christ alone is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no one can come to the Father except through [Christ]” (see John 14:6), but also of what it means to place one’s faith in Christ. Authentic faith leads down a long and difficult road, as Jesus asserts unambiguously in the above verse.

This difficulty arises not from our own efforts to seek out pain, suffering, and misery in some vain attempt to warrant God’s mercy. Such misplaced struggles fail to grasp that God’s mercy and grace are never earned. Nor is salvation.

Nor is this difficulty reflected in the garden-variety trials experienced by all people, regardless of faith. Jesus is not referring to health issues, a job loss, or relationship problems.

Instead, the difficulty arises simply by following Christ’s example, keeping His commandments, and pursuing a real relationship with Him – all of which is basic foundational Christianity. However, in living out our faith in these ways we incite remarkable resistance from several sources.

First, our flesh fights us. The desperately depraved heart that resides in each of us before we come to Christ refuses to die easily. It does anything and everything necessary to prevent us from unseating it as the sole authority in our lives. This includes deceiving us into believing that God wants us to enjoy the American Dream as part of His blessing and to savor the comfort and pleasure of the good life. Our flesh persuades many of us to profess Christ as Lord in name only, allowing it to retain actual control of our lives. We must battle the flesh every day to keep it crucified and prevent it from securing a foothold in our lives.

Second, our culture mocks us. American society despises biblical Christianity (though it is willing to tolerate most apostate forms of the religion). They find offensive our belief in the power of prayer, our insistence that Jesus alone offers salvation, our embrace of biblical morality, and our unwillingness to compromise truth. Steadfast Christians offer a daily reminder to secular society that God does exist and He holds accountable all those who refuse to repent. This drives many of them to antagonize those who faithfully follow Christ.

Third, the world tempts us. We are bombarded daily with messages informing us of our need for the latest technology, apparel, treasure, or invention. Advertisers hound us with false promises that ring true because they’re packaged in slick Madison Avenue marketing campaigns. If only we buy their product we will become cooler, healthier, better looking, more popular, more successful, and more satisfied – and will attain a state of nirvana.

Fourth, the forces of darkness oppose us. Satan and his demonic legions go to great lengths to prevent people from placing their faith in Christ. One of his most effective strategies, especially in America, is to convince us that the American Dream is not just consistent with following Christ, it represents one of the great benefits of following Him. In doing so, Satan undermines many of Jesus’ teachings and refocuses our attention on enjoying the good life and pursuing leisure, luxury, pleasure, and popularity instead of intimacy with Christ.

We must be mindful that the call of Christ leads down a difficult path while the American Dream promises ease and comfort. Too many in the church have chosen ease and comfort instead of obedience and convinced themselves it reflects God’s blessing. In doing so they have entered the broad gate that leads to destruction.

2] We must count the cost. It is surprising how few churchgoers understand that following Christ comes at considerable cost. Surprising because that truth appears in so many of Jesus’ teachings and parables, and is reinforced by the apostle Paul in unmistakable language.

In one such parable Jesus explained that a builder counts the cost before beginning construction to ensure he has sufficient resources to complete the project. Similarly, kings count the cost of going to war before waging an offensive campaign to ensure they have a reasonable likelihood of victory.

Christ then informs potential followers that they, too, must count the cost of becoming His disciple. Why? Because the cost is high. Jesus explained to the crowd that day in these terms. “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33, NLT).

That reflects absolute commitment. Jesus doesn’t ask for a portion of His follower’s lives. He asks for all of it. And contrary to popular teaching, He isn’t asking for His disciples to simply be willing to forsake all (in some conceptual, ethereal manner that never materializes into substantive action). He requires total abdication of control over their lives. You’re all-in or you are not a disciple.

What does that look like practically? It will vary by individual but will always look extreme and radical to the outside world (and to the apostate church). Speaking in broad terms, Paul offers us a glimpse of what Jesus’ statement means. “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11; NKJV).

There is far too much in this passage for us to unpack here. For our purposes it is important to note that Paul recognizes that as a follower of Christ he is called to count as loss all things he previously valued, and to do so in his daily pursuit of Christ, which then serves as evidence of his faith.

Early in His ministry Jesus provides two metaphors for heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46, NKJV).

Jesus is not suggesting we buy our way to heaven. Eternal life is extended by grace and not earned. What He is emphasizing is that salvation, though free, costs everything. That means when we accept Christ as Lord we yield every area of our life to Him. We retain no rights to our lives, our time, our resources, our dreams, our income, our safety, or our career. Nothing. In other words, we ‘forsake all.’

That is one way we demonstrate that we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And it is evidence of not only our love for the Lord but the authenticity of our faith.

The American Dream, in contrast, promotes the preeminence of consumerism, luxury, leisure, entertainment, comfort, and excess. Obviously, none of that comports with what Jesus taught. Not even remotely.

3] Sacrificial Stewardship. When we yield the entirety of our lives to Christ and forsake all, what does that look like in practical terms? Does God really want us to literally sell everything, give to the poor, and then take up our cross and follow Him in poverty, as He counseled the rich, young ruler? (See Matthew 19:16-22).

Pastors are in almost universal agreement that Jesus gave the rich, young ruler that guidance because wealth was what prevented him from fully committing himself to Christ. They then conclude that since no one in their congregation puts wealth or material possessions ahead of Christ, the message to the rich young ruler has no relevance for the American church.

Which is shocking. Because if the American church is not the modern manifestation of the rich, young ruler, then the issue of spiritual adultery (loving the world more than the Lord) simply does not exist on the planet today. Like the ruler we are comfortable in the Lord’s presence talking to Him. Like the ruler, we are confident in our current spiritual condition. And like the ruler, we are so blinded by our profound love for the world that we cannot fathom its existence.

This passion for wealth and worldly possessions is evidenced in the verse most frequently cited as a favorite by churchgoers, especially within evangelical circles. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). We then emphasize God’s plans to prosper us when we quote it. No misused verse better reveals churchgoers who have layered apostate faith onto their pursuit of the American Dream.

Not only do we demonstrate our lack of understanding of the context when we employ it to justify our prosperity (which happens in hundreds of churches and at thousands of Bible studies every week), but our near universal decision to use the NIV version exclusively reveals our bias for justifying our love for the world. (For a brief but helpful discussion of the verse, read here).

Jesus provided a very simple but profound test for whether we love wealth and worldly possessions more than Him after advising us to store up treasure in heaven and not on earth. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; NKJV).

Most of us give somewhere between 2% and 10% of our income to the church and/or Christian ministries. Then we spend the remaining 90%+ lavishing ourselves with whatever material pleasures our heart desires. Does that sound like the action of a committed Christian or someone pursuing the American Dream?

Jesus makes it clear that we are stewards of the financial resources He gives us; we are not to treat those resources as our own to spend as we please. To the faithful steward Jesus will say, “you were faithful over a few things, I will make you a ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:21, NKJV).

Over and over again Jesus and the apostles warn of the dangers of wealth and love for the world. One compelling parable, in particular, serves as a constant reminder to (and indictment of) the American church.

The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’” (Luke 12:16-21, NKJV).

Were it retitled for the current age, this passage would be labeled the parable of the American Dream. The rich man represents the bulk of Americans, including most churchgoers, who choose to spend increases in income primarily on themselves. They cannot satisfy their lust for the things of the world, always expanding their collection of material possessions. Also consistent with the American Dream is the emphasis on self in attaining the success that yielded the increased wealth.

Finally, the rich man in this parable decides to use his free time on himself, satisfying his carnal cravings. The American Dream, too, advocates a lifestyle of comfort, luxury, leisure, and pleasure. We spend an inordinate amount of our time chasing our desires for worldly activities such as sports, entertainment, shopping, vacations, and thrills. As Americans we believe we have earned it, and as Christians we believe God wants us happy. So we chase these worldly outlets as aggressively as our non-Christian peers.

Of course, these activities are not innately evil or sinful. But just as we direct a disproportionate amount of our income towards ourselves, leaving God the crumbs, so too we invest far more of our time on our own pleasure and interests than in cultivating our relationship with Christ and advancing His agenda. We do not practice what we profess. The chasm between our claim Jesus is Lord and our excess pursuit of the world reveals our faith as disingenuous. We are all talk and no walk in this area.

Jesus’ warning to the man for whom the earlier parable was given is germane for us as well. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15, NKJV). It is a timely reminder for all Americans, especially those in the Church. Probably far more than we care to admit.

Conclusion: Our spiritual idolatry (worship of worldly things instead of God) and spiritual adultery (grafting our pursuit of the American Dream with our professed commitment to Christ) has serious repercussions. For the American Church, it risks missing Jesus’ return if it does not awaken to this blind spot and begin teaching biblical truth to the lost sheep of America. For the individual churchgoer the risk involves embracing a faux faith taught by an apostate church. Jesus describes the dire consequences of that decision in this way.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV).

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The Ultimate Gift.

What is the greatest gift you could ever receive? Deep friendships? Perfect health? Unimaginable wealth? Peace of mind? Absolute power? Long life? Beauty? A brilliant intellect? Worldwide fame?

At first blush each of those gifts might sound fantastic. But they all suffer from the same shortcoming. They cease to exist upon your death, at which time you no longer enjoy their benefits. At best, you might have them for a hundred years. Likely, you would experience them for a much shorter period of time. Worse than that, such gifts only satisfy emotional, physical, or carnal cravings but never address the deeper longings of the soul.

The ultimate gift, in contrast to those above, satisfies your spiritual hunger, gives your life meaning and purpose, provides you with the hope and strength needed to persevere through difficult circumstances, and reveals God’s immeasurable love for you. Best of all, the ultimate gift lasts forever.

This ultimate gift is available to everyone. Regardless of your ethnicity, your economic status, your gender, your physical attributes, your moral failures, your religious upbringing, your popularity, your political affiliation, your social strata, or your intelligence, you can receive this gift. No matter how desperate your condition, how much society rejects you, how ugly you view yourself, how unworthy you feel, how poor you are, how heinous a crime you committed, how hopeless you feel, how unsuccessful you are, this gift awaits you.

It is the gift of spiritual salvation: the opportunity to experience a real relationship with God in this world, and enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.

How does one receive this gift? Before answering that it might help to understand why one needs the gift.

The Bible tells us “all have sinned” and that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” (See Romans 3:10, 23. HCSB translation). The fact is no matter how hard we try we still sin. Not only that, but our best efforts to please God and to do good fall far short of His standards. The Bible says “all our acts of righteousness are like filthy rags.” (See Isaiah 64:6).

What is the consequence for our sin? The Bible declares, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23. HCSB). This verse is not referring to a physical death. Instead it speaks of a spiritual death in which we remain forever separated from God. Instead of spending eternity in heaven we are condemned to hell, which the Bible describes as a place of everlasting darkness, torment, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Obviously none of us wants to spend a moment there, let alone eternity.

So how do we keep from ending up there? Most religions teach the need to earn our salvation by performing good works, acts of charity, and making sure our virtues outweigh our sins. We are told that when we come before God he will compare our good deeds with our bad deeds. If the former outnumber the latter we will gain admittance into heaven. In other words, we alone possess the power to earn our place in eternity.

The Bible, however, disagrees with that consensus. Instead it teaches “no one is made righteous by the works of the law.” (See Galatians 2:16, and Romans 3:20). In other words, no one can work there way into heaven with good deeds. No amount of righteous living will earn a person eternal life with God. What hope is there, then?

Our only hope lies in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life. Not once did he sin. He obeyed all of God’s commandments and never violated one. Therefore, He was righteous in God’s eyes.

To reconcile sinful mankind with Himself, God “sent His Son (Jesus) to be the propitiation for our sins” by dying a brutal death on the cross. (See 1 John 2:2, and Romans 3:25). His sacrificial death accomplished two things. First, it imputed (or assigned) our sins to Christ. This means Jesus bore on the cross the wrath of God that rightfully was due us. Second, it imputed to us the righteousness of Christ.

This powerful truth is worth restating. Christ endured the wrath owed to us while His righteousness was assigned to us. As a result we can be restored into a right relationship with God. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What, then, must we do to secure this gift? Place our faith in Christ and surrender our lives to Him. It really is that simple. The Bible says that God’s righteousness is available “through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (See Romans 3:22).

What does is mean to place your faith in Christ? Several things. First, faith includes repentance. Both Jesus and John the Baptist began their ministries with the phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (See Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, NKJV). When a crowd asked the apostle Peter what they must do to be saved he responded, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” (See Acts 2:38). Repentance involves two components. First, we must commit to turning away from the pattern of sin in our lives and, second, we commit to turning to the example of godliness Christ gives us.

Second, faith includes a verbal confession of Jesus as Lord and belief in your heart. The Bible explains it this way: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” (See Romans 10:9-10, NKJV). In other words, it is not just enough to declare with your mouth, “I believe in Jesus.” You must believe with the heart.

When we trust in Christ for our salvation we “are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The term justified here means ‘declared righteous.’ Redemption indicates we were purchased at a price, which was the blood Jesus shed on the cross. In other words, by His mercy God declares us righteous because Christ’s sacrifice on the cross paid the debt of our transgressions.

Finally, what does it mean to surrender our lives to Christ and make Him Lord? The apostle Paul offers this thorough definition: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (See Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV. I urge you to study this passage carefully as it touches on some of the previous biblical truths we discussed).

Jesus defines surrender in more succinct terms, telling potential followers “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (See Luke 14:33, NKJV).

In summation, the entirety of the Good News of Jesus Christ, as discussed above, is captured unambiguously in this final Bible verse. “For you are saved by grace through faith, and not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (See Ephesians 2:8, emphasis mine).

If you are still weighing what to believe, take time to read studiously through the above verses a second time. As you do, ask God to open your heart to Him and reveal His truth to you. He will gladly answer that prayer.

It’s Time to Choose: Judgment or Jesus.

Recently, as 2017 came to a close, I decided to spend a few hours on New Years Eve reading and reflecting on Scripture. For whatever reason I focused on chapters 13-18 of Revelation.

These chapters describe: the two beasts who, along with Satan, form an evil trinity that virulently opposes the holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit; the three angels who proclaim blessing and judgment; the seven bowls of God’s wrath and judgment; and the city of Babylon (which represents modern civilization) and her utter destruction. John the apostle, the author of Revelation, offers a detailed and vivid account of the world’s end in these six chapters.

In particular he warns of the final pair of antichrists who will “wage war against God’s holy people and conquer them” (13:7, NLT, and throughout); will “deceive all the people who belong to this world” (13:8); and will control the global economy, requiring anyone who participates in commerce to receive “a mark on the right hand or on the forehead” to reflect their allegiance to the antichrist. Although those who receive the mark will enjoy the temporary material benefits offered by this world, in the end they “must drink the wine of God’s anger that has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath, and will be tormented with fire and burning … that will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night” (14:9-11).

It is important to note that according to this passage of Scripture there is a time coming when no one can participate in the global economy unless they have voiced fidelity to the antichrist and worship him. Those who buy and sell in the world’s marketplace reveal their devotion to the devil because “no one can buy or sell anything without the mark” of the beast (13:17).

In contrast, those who belong to Christ will refuse the mark, excluding them from participating in the global economy. Their refusal will lead to more than just an inability to buy and sell in the marketplace. It will lead to imprisonment and death.

What a dramatic difference those competing scenarios represent. Those of the world whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enjoy the material spoils, luxuries, and excesses of this world. The people of God, however, will bear immeasurable pain, suffering, and tribulation.

In the face of such a traumatic and agonizing scenario John warns his audience to keep in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who he paraphrases, “Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword” (13:10a). Those who belong to Christ must come to terms with their destiny so they can “endure persecution patiently and remain faithful” and “obey (God’s) commands and maintain their faith in Jesus” (13:10b, 14:12).

It is critical that we remain mindful of the fact that the two scenarios described above represent the short-term outcome for the two groups John identifies: those of the world and those who belong to Christ. In the short-term the worldly survive and thrive as the global economy flourishes and produces unprecedented wealth, while the godly suffer terribly and undergo brutal deaths. In the long-term, however, the scenarios are reversed. The worldly spend eternity in the lake of fire with the devil and will be tormented day and night forever and ever [See 20:10, 14-15], while those in Christ spend eternity in heaven, which overflows with peace, love, and joy.

As I read Revelation and was reminded once again of God’s wrath and judgment poured out on all those who love the world and worship evil, a sense of sadness settled on me. How could people choose to spend eternity in continuous, unrelenting agony? Why would anyone reject the Savior for Satan?

And then it dawned on me. Such people choose to embrace the short-term pleasures and comforts of this world in the hope that there are no long-term consequences. In contrast, those in Christ embrace His promise of future glory and therefore willingly accept the short-term trials and tribulations He sends our way, which refine our faith and demonstrate our love for Him.

After reflecting on those six chapters, I could read no more about judgment and wrath. So I asked God to direct me to a different passage; one filled with hope for those who are in Christ. I was quickly led to Romans 8.

Wow! What an awesome transition. After reading about God’s judgment and wrath in Revelation I now read these words from the apostle Paul: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The fiery lake of torment and eternal suffering holds no power over the believer. For those in Christ are not subject to God’s wrath.

Why? Because they are judged righteous in Christ. Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross bore God’s wrath on our behalf, so that we stand justified before God. Therefore, for those who belong to Christ there is NO CONDEMNATION. What an incredible truth. What a comforting promise.

Those in Christ Jesus, however, are not just the recipients of that amazing assurance. We also receive the Spirit of God as evidence of our authentic faith in Christ. And with the Spirit’s presence comes power. “Because you belong to (Jesus), the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2).

It is important we understand that when we surrender our lives to Christ we not only receive the promise of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also receive an expectation of holiness. This holiness is unattainable on our own strength. It is only by the power of the Spirit that we grow to resemble the Lord in our speech, conduct, and thoughts.

Paul described it in these eloquent terms.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit IF you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all)… Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:5-9, 12-13 – emphasis mine).

What is Paul saying in this passage? Simply this. If we truly belong to Christ we will conduct our lives under the power of the Holy Spirit, who will empower us daily to crucify the flesh and surrender more fully our lives to Christ and for His glory. We will live more sacrificially, setting aside our own interests to further the will of the Lord. We will no longer allow our sinful nature to dictate our priorities, plans, and pursuits, nor use our time, income, and resources to advance its agenda of selfishness, pleasure, comfort, idolatry, hedonism, and materialism. Instead we will pursue that which magnifies the Lord and will obey all He asks of us, no matter the cost.

In short, those of us in Christ Jesus will live in a manner that is an extraordinary contrast to how those of the world live – since we are controlled by the Spirit and they are controlled by their sinful nature.

As you begin the New Year consider these questions.

1] Are you focused on the short-term (as those in the world are) or on the long-term (as those in Christ Jesus are)?

2] What does your calendar, your checkbook, and your thoughts reveal about your commitment to Christ? Does it reflect total surrender or half-hearted devotion?

3] In what areas of your life have you crucified your sinful nature? In what area(s) is God calling you to put to death your selfish flesh?

4a] How difficult would it be for you to no longer participate in the global economy?

b] How confident are you that the Lord will provide for your needs if you refuse to accept the mark of the beast?

c] Are you prepared for imprisonment or death if that is required to remain faithful to Christ?

5] Is eternity with Christ worth the loss of worldly treasure, safety, comfort, freedom, and pleasure?

6] What specific action(s) is the Lord calling you to take after reading and reflecting on this message?

Surrender or Perish

Imagine being the president and facing an escalating conflict with a country determined to conquer your nation and to compel your citizens to follow its laws.

Would you fight with every fiber of your being against such subjugation and, as president, order the military to pursue any means necessary to defeat the aggressor?

What if a trusted advisor informed you the only way your nation could survive was to surrender? The advisor explained that any attempt to protect your nation or any effort to launch a preemptive attack would result in your nation’s utter destruction.

Would you dismiss such advice as unsound or even treasonous? Why would any leader willingly abdicate control of his nation to a foreign head-of-state, without doing everything in his or her power to prevent it?

That was the situation faced by Zedekiah, king of Judah, more than 2,500 years ago. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, a powerful empire spread across the Middle East, threatened to invade Judah and absorb its citizens into his kingdom.

So King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah, a prophet of God, for advice. And this is how Jeremiah responded.

If indeed you surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then you will live, this city (Jerusalem) will not be burned down, and you and your household will survive. But, if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city will be handed over to the Babylonians. They will burn it down, and you yourself will not escape from them.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18, HCSB).

As the capital of Judah, Jerusalem represented the nation. If it fell and burned then all of Judah would likewise be destroyed.

Understandably, King Zedekiah hesitated to listen to Jeremiah’s advice. It conflicted with common sense and seemed so counter-intuitive.

So Jeremiah reassured him.

Obey the voice of the Lord in what I am telling you, so it may go well for you and you can live. But if you refuse to surrender, this is the verdict that the Lord has shown me… You yourself will not escape from them, for you will be seized by the king of Babylon and this city will burn down.” (Jeremiah 38:20, 23, HCSB).

We face a similar choice today. Not as kings or presidents but as the leader of our sovereign lives.

Inside each of us is a spirit of selfish rebellion that seeks to do whatever it pleases. Our sinful nature has established ‘self’ as lord, and has enthroned our ‘flesh’ as the king or queen of our heart. And too often we do whatever it demands of us.

We zealously pursue the things of this world, chase ephemeral dreams, and seek anything our evil hearts desire. We are in love with a world that promises happiness, satisfaction, and approval but delivers despair, discontent, and rejection instead.

In response we attempt to season our lives with religion: an hour of church every Sunday, religious music in the car, occasional prayers whenever we need something. We give a few cents on the dollar (maybe a dime if we’re generous), volunteer a couple hours a month, and use religious language at church.

Many of us profess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, take communion on a regular basis, and believe the Bible is God’s inerrant Word. We say the right things, believe the right doctrine, and avoid all obvious forms of wickedness (at least in public). We are certain that God’s best for us aligns with our own desires: to entrench ourselves in entertainment, cuddle ourselves in comfort, and lavish our lives with luxury.

We have persuaded ourselves that our lives can mirror those of our unchurched neighbors, as long as we maintain a veneer of religious righteousness, confess Christian creeds, and accept Jesus as Savior. We have convinced ourselves that such a modest commitment to Christ is sufficient to spend eternity in His presence. We have deluded ourselves into believing that we can live the good life in this world and then live it again in perpetuity when the Lord returns.

But God is whispering something we either refuse to hear because of our stubborn hearts or cannot hear because we are too busy chasing the world.

Surrender to Me.”

That is an easy request to obey unless you really understand it. Surrender is comprehensive. You cannot surrender one portion of your life to God and retain another. Imagine King Zedekiah telling the king of Babylon that he will surrender his army but not his navy; he’ll surrender one city but not another. The Babylonian king would recognize this as no surrender at all and would lay siege to Jerusalem.

Yet many of us take a similar approach with God. We give him a few hours a week, claim that represents surrender, then spend the rest of our time pursuing whatever pleasures we delight in.

We do the same with our income. We toss him a few dollars, insist that is enough, and then buy for ourselves all manner of worldly possessions to momentarily gratify our insatiable appetites for the things of this world.

But God demands total surrender, a full and complete commitment to Him in every area of our lives. That is what it means to place our faith in Christ. Authentic faith always transforms the life of a believer.

Jesus informed his followers of this truth with these words:

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33, NKJV).

Those willing to obey the Lord’s call to surrender will, like King Zedekiah, live. And that life will be everlasting.

Those who decline to surrender their lives to God in full will instead, like Jerusalem, burn. And that, too, will be for all eternity.

Do not be deceived. A casual commitment to Christ is no commitment at all. A half-hearted surrender is nothing more than a veneer of religion.

Call upon the Lord today and commit yourself to Him. Ask Him to empower you with His Spirit so you surrender your life to Him anew every day. And study His Word (the Bible) as much as possible to learn more about Him, His holiness, and His love.

Biblical Prophecy and Discerning the End Times.

Scripture has a great deal to say about the future, often referred to as the Last Days, End Times, or the Day of the Lord. From Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Daniel to Jesus’ apostles John and Paul in the New Testament, numerous men of God describe signs of the end times in varying degrees of detail. They address the emergence of an evil antichrist, the establishment of a world system that flourishes worldwide, and a growing global conflict that comes to an explosive conclusion in Israel. And many of them highlight social trends that will surface in the last days.

Peter describes it like this: “In the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! … These teachers oppose the truth [and] have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are” (2 Timothy 3:1-9, NLT).

But prophets and apostles aren’t the only biblical figures who prophesy about the future. Jesus spends a great deal of time talking about future and providing a number of clues that signal the world’s end and foreshadow his return. As his ministry and life near their end he offers this response to a question about the signs of those events. “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. “Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come. “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about—the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing in the Holy Place.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones.“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time. “So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near. “Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven” (Matthew 24:4-31, NLT).

But the book of Revelation remains the most prominent book of prophecy in Scripture for many believers. It goes into considerable detail about the last days, the antichrist, Babylon, and God’s judgment of a sinful world. Millions of committed Christians, casual churchgoers, and non-believers alike have studied the words contained therein in hopes of discerning the timing of Christ’s return, the identity of the antichrist, and the nations involved in Armageddon. They read books from experts and scholars who proclaim to possess insight into how it all ‘goes down’ in those last days. Sadly, many of these ‘insights’ conflict with Scripture and paint a picture that is easily digested by a trusting and desperate audience.

The fact is many of the details regarding the end times will not be made clear until those days are upon us. And many of those details will bear little resemblance to the narratives offered by many self-proclaimed experts and religious charlatans.

So how should we read and study prophecy? With an eye toward understanding the big picture and broad trends without concerning ourselves too much with learning granular specifics, much of which will remain a mystery until the Lord returns.

My new novel, A Town Called Babylon, offers one portrait of how the world will look in the end days, how society will tempt Christians to compromise their faith to remain in good standing, and how the antichrist might emerge. It is not meant to be a definitive treatise on the end times.

Rather I hope to galvanize readers to think critically about biblical prophecy and consider the possibility that widespread views propagated by popular pastors and authors may not be accurate. I want to encourage readers to investigate Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they seek to understand prophetic passages and, especially, the book of Revelation. And I hope to entertain readers in the process with a compelling story, colorful characters, and a hopeful conclusion.

You can purchase a copy at Amazon in both paperback and e-reader formats. I hope you enjoy the read. Here’s a link for your convenience.

Release of new novel: A Town Called Babylon.

Excited to announce the release of my new novel, A Town Called Babylon. It is an engaging and provocative dystopian thriller.

Unlike other novels in that genre, however, it does not travel well-worn ground focused on tyrannical governments. Rather, it provides a glimpse into the alarming world of societal tyranny. Drawing on biblical prophecy and burgeoning social trends, it paints an unsettling portrait of the immediate future when society – working in concert with powerful institutions such as corporations, academia, and the media – threatens and attacks truth, individuality, and religious freedom. The picture that emerges is at once frightening and hopeful, cautionary and insightful.

Set in fictitious Babylon, the story revolves around Dr. Philly Love, a neurosurgeon who steadfastly refuses to embrace as truth the pronouncements of the Intellectual Council, and Browning Dillon, the worship pastor of Babylon Community Church who has serious reservations about society’s worldview. When the pair meet at a neighborhood barbecue, sparks fly. As they draw closer to each other they find themselves targeted by sinister forces masquerading as angels of light – dark powers determined to destroy them and unify the world under one banner.

It is available on Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and online at Barnes & Noble. I’ve attached a link below for more info. If you would like a signed copy (at 25% off), please contact me via email.

Follow God – not fear.

How many of us allow fear to influence our understanding of God’s will and dictate the extent to which we serve and obey Him? When the Holy Spirit prompts us in a direction we don’t want to go how many of us use a rational response to explain our disobedience?

  • I can’t move to that neighborhood, Lord. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to put my family’s safety at risk.
  • I can’t go on a mission trip there, Lord. It’s too hostile to Christianity. They might put me in jail if they learn I’m a believer.
  • I can’t leave my job to work at a non-profit, Lord. The reduction in salary would force me to work another ten years before I retire.
  • I can’t tell people at work about my faith, Lord. That’ll jeopardize my career and sabotage my next promotion.
  • I can’t give generously to the church, Lord. That’ll undermine my 401k and diminish my quality of life in retirement.

Whenever we use logic and commonsense to refute God’s call and justify our disobedience we demonstrate a lack of trust. Such actions reveal doubt and a failure to exhibit the courage of our convictions. We may want to follow God down whatever path He lays out but fear paralyzes us.

To overcome that paralysis we need a reminder that God’s omnipotence does not require favorable circumstances to emerge victorious. He can accomplish anything through anyone. In fact, He is far more likely to use the weak and unqualified to achieve the remarkable and miraculous, then He is to use the powerful and competent to accomplish the ordinary.

We must remember that God often assigns endeavors that appear impossible, sends us on journeys that look perilous, and instructs us to pursue objectives that seem overwhelming. And He does so for several reasons. First, it forces us to rely entirely on Him. It is only in the crucible of total helplessness that our trust in God truly flourishes. After all, if we can accomplish God’s will on our own strength than we learn only self-reliance not God-reliance.

Second, it refines and matures our relationship with Christ. In situations where our focus must remain on God constantly, our understanding of Him and His character develops and deepens. We come to know Him more intimately, and we become more like Him in every detail.

Finally, it prepares us for a new mission. As we respond obediently to God’s direction today, He equips and prepares us for our next assignment tomorrow. In time our baby-steps of faith grow into giant leaps of faith.

Take some time today to ask God for an assignment that strengthens your faith, fuels your trust, and draws you closer to Him. And make that a prayer habit moving forward.