Why the Rush to Get Past Gratitude? Some Words on Thanksgiving

Living Biblically

Finally, Thanksgiving has come, and in a flash is disappears into the past.  Most spend their time cooking, eating, shopping, watching football, parades, and other shows of interest.  Family and friends make their way into our homes, consume turkey, chicken, or other similar dishes.  We catch up on things in our lives, laugh, and perhaps play games while gazing at the television.  Meanwhile, as we watch football or other programs, big Christmas sales advertisements flash between plays, timeouts, quarters, and halftime.

Black Friday begins Thanksgiving afternoon and for many even earlier.  Christmas pushes it way backwards and swallows Thanksgiving and even the day before and perhaps the week before.  The mails clog our mail boxes with ads as thick as a Sunday newspaper.  They beckon us to open wide our wallets and push our way through malls and their stores competing for the same toy, tool, or electronics item.  The…

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Ten Obstacles to Saving Faith: Introduction and Obstacle One

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul sets out to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ. Part of that defense of the gospel is faith. Throughout this letter, Paul gives meaning to faith by association with the contents of the gospel. The center of that gospel is Jesus Christ. He associates faith with the following:

  • grace (Romans 1:5; 5:2; 12:3)
  • righteousness (1:17)
  • Christ’s sacrificial death (3:25),
  • justification (3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1)
  • righteousness (4:11-13; 9:30-32; 10:6-8)
  • God’s promises and inheritance (4:13-20)
  • obedience (1:5; 16:26)

All of these comprise the meaning of God’s saving act toward us. They stand in contrast to our alienation from God and unbelief resulting in rebellion against and rejection of Him. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul sets out ten obstacles to saving faith, which prevent people from coming into relationship with God both in our existing life and in the life to come of eternity. These obstacles resist the above listed benefits from God and reflect unbelief. This article addresses the first obstacle with subsequent articles taking up each of the others. While Paul writes of these obstacles from the perspective of those who reject God and fail to believe Him, Christians can also stand in the way of enjoying relating to God and enjoying His presence in life through not believing God in the benefits He offers.  This is not to say that Christians do not possess these benefits.  Rather, believers can doubt them and fall into a similar life as someone who does not believe the gospel and the benefits it brings them.

In laying out the condition of all humanity in Romans 1-2, Paul sets forth a heavy indictment of those who reject God. Among the first of these indictments include ungodliness and unrighteousness. He writes,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

Notice that ungodliness and unrighteousness begin a downward spiral. The first of their acts is the suppression of truth. Once this suppression occurs, indignity toward God results in dishonoring him. That follows with lack of gratitude leading to futile thinking and a dark heart. Once rejection of God and His glory thrusts Him down through dishonor and ingratitude, it leads to lifting up a claim to wisdom and ultimately full-blown idolatry.  A claim to the wisdom of which Paul notes, is really a claim of being wiser than God for recognizing what is best for ourselves.  The wisdom of which Paul speaks leads to idolatry (1:23), that is corrupting the image of God and setting up images gods unworthy of Him.

Rejection of God takes many forms:

  • Embracing God and then turning away (apostasy)
  • Claiming that one cannot know God (agnosticism)
  • Denying that God actually exists (atheism)
  • Worshiping of other gods (polytheism) made in the image of man (idolatry)
  • Defying outright God although one knows Him (rebellion)
  • Practicing the occult and cultism (Satanism)
  • Making excuses for not embracing God by faith (self-will)

Regardless of the form, they all add up to unbelief and rejection of God. Paul makes known that unbelief is the key ingredient leading to ultimate idolatry and all of its trappings: uncleanness, lust, and dishonorable treatment of self. The list Paul makes provides a summary of the type of people who typify unbelief (Romans 1:29-31), among which consist of sexual immorality, envy, murder, strife, violence, lack of trust and love.  Idolatry is the act of the worship of gods made in the image of those things in the created order including humanity.  It is the enshrinement and placement of anything in the created order as first place before God.  All of the above listed rejections of God are idolatrous practices.

Notice that their progression begins with ungodliness and unrighteousness. These two characteristics describe the natural bent of humanity. The first term, ungodliness, refers to a lack of respect or irreverence. It is a failure to render honor. It is the negation of a bent toward the goodness that characterizes God. The second term suggests unfaithfulness or disloyalty and not imperfection. It could also describe faithlessness that exhibits wrongdoing, injustice, and wickedness. Unrighteousness is a force for all other evils, especially those that Paul sums up at the conclusion of the chapter (1:29-31).

In listing the irrational and hostile traits at the conclusion of chapter one, Paul illustrates an undeniable truth. Those who exhibit ungodliness and unrighteousness toward God conduct themselves in like manner toward their fellow humans. If they demonstrate unrighteousness toward God, they will do so toward others. If they display acts counter to the sexual design for which God created them, they will perpetrate sexual immorality as described in the Bible toward others (1:29). If they are haters of God (1:30), they will be malicious, envious, deceptive, evil-minded, violent, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful toward others (1:29-31). Dishonor and irreverence only perpetuates the results of these characteristics toward others. The empirical evidence is obvious worldwide where we witness conflicts and wars over the material goods of the world and the desire to deprive others not only of their property but also of their lives either on an individual level or on the level of a society or nation.

Faith in God cannot stand when such turmoil and maliciousness exist. They exist or have existed within each person on the earth and in every person who has ever lived who never turned to God. For faith to exist and thrive, all individuals must recognize, admit to, and turn away from ungodliness and unrighteousness. The Bible calls this repentance. Repentance and faith must come together, and they do so only through God’s activity within the individual in turning a person from his or her own self-oriented condition toward Jesus Christ to recognize Him as the Redeemer of one’s soul.

Copyright (c) 2014 Action Faith  Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Cannot be used or stored in any form without expressed written permission from Action Faith Books Press.

The Dones of Church

This morning I read an article from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed by Thom Schultz called “The Rise of the Dones.”

It highlighted that many leaders in the church are leaving for good.  Why? Schultz notes, “The Dones are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.
Schultz preceded the above remark with, “Why are the Dones done? Packard describes several factors in his upcoming book, Church Refugees (Group). Among the reasons: After sitting through countless sermons and Bible studies, they feel they’ve heard it all. One of Packard’s interviewees said, “I’m tired of being lectured to. I’m just done with having some guy tell me what to do.”
Interestingly enough, this interviewee did not seem like he wanted to play either unless that play centered around him.
I think when we contextualize the point of Schultz’s article, it boils down to what the churchmen said in Malachi’s time. Present congregationalists won’t admit to this, but the parallel is stunningly similar. Those leaders in Malachi’s time could also be saying, “I’ve heard it all. I have labored fruitlessly. I’m tired of being bashed by God. Been there, done that. God’s word is wearisome. So bye.”
Is it not a heart issue for the Dones also? Are they not really pointing their finger at God and saying, “What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance…?” The current crowd of the Dones may also be saying, “What profit is there in being a disciple and serving God in he church?” The cycle returns.
It seems that the issue always seems to find its way in the heart.  It is a sad commentary when people echo the churchmen in Malachi’s time,
“I left the church because I didn’t get anything out of it.  No recognition for my service.  No pat on the back or attaboy.  No since of control over programs.  It seems to boil down to, “What’s in it for me?”
Many want to attend the Church of Me and sit on the premises rather than stand on the promises (as Southern Baptists used to say).
One person replied,

Perhaps, it is a heart issue – but not the way you think.  It isn’t that it is useless to serve God – rather it is useless to continue to be part of a congregation where your role is to “plop pray and pay” and to provide hands (no brain necessary) for the leader’s vision…I understand why so many may be. … especially if their church changed under their feet leaving no opportunities.”

Hmm.  My reply is,

Malachi expressed that same sentiment about the “churchmen” in his day. “Ploppers” are not engaged in serving God. Of course, prayer is a gift. Samuel prayed for the people daily and even said, “God forbid that I should sin again Him in not praying for you.” But when we become exhausted in our prayers, God becomes a burden. Augustine’s mother, Monica, made it her life-long ministry to pray for her son daily. In God’s timing, God answered that one prayer, and look at what happened. Augustine became one of the most influential theologians in church history after leaving a life of debauchery. As for “paying,” that is turning God’s gift of giving into a “pay to play” situation. Many take that one by offering conditional gifts to the church.

God is the one who disburses His gifts in His church. Would He then allow those same gifts curl up and die? He also opens up opportunity. Faith sees those opportunities and steps out. Often, it is what we want and not what God wants of us. Opportunity always exists in the church to serve people. It is not always in the big stuff or before a large crowd to be seen. There is the coffee ministry, greeters, ushers and hushers, custodians, money counters, visiting the sick at their homes or in the hospital, or changing stinky diapers in the nursery while singing a lullaby. The last one does not need to be formalized. While doing these things, the opportunity to share the gospel one on one with new comers always exists. Nike’s motto is, “Just do it.”

Again, it is a matter of the heart and not the art of ministry. This past Sunday, my pastor brought up in teaching from Malachi that we should be taking an inventory of our heart. I like what Zig Ziglar once said, “Perform a check up from the neck up to prevent the hardening of the attitudes.”

Wise advice for all the Dones who are fed up from the neck up.”

Only a personal inventory and faith reveals true motives.  The challenge still remains, Who do we worship and serve – ourselves or God?  Isaiah’s response is very telling,

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of †unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5).

After God touched his lips and asked,

Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” (6:8)

The prophet’s reply was,

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (6:8)

Isaiah did not say, “I’m done” but “I’m undone.”  He chose the better response to which the LORD declared,

And He said, “Go…”

God determines the mission with the gift and the power.  Ours is to walk by faith by also declaring, “Here I am, send me!”

Tension Between Faith and Unbelief

Shortly after our first parents decided to walk their own road not taken, their two sons struck out on divergent paths.  Both lived in the same household.  Both observed their parents.  One killed the other.  What happened?

The Scriptures give us very little about their motives and the forces that motivated them.  Most of what we receive came from oral tradition since those who wrote of them were not their contemporaries.  What we do know is telling about both of them.  One statement about Abel gives us great insight about his motivations.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews states,

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).

Abel acted out of faith, and Cain behaved from unbelief.  If we follow the author’s argument carefully, we gain valuable information about both.  Before entering into observations of the events surrounding the two brothers, we must consider the context of the original circumstances.  Afterwards, we can review what other biblical authors write of them.  We can make several observations from the above text:

  1. Abel offered to God
  2. Abel’s offering arose out of faith
  3. The offering Abel made was superior to Cain’s
  4. Witness testified of the superiority of Abel’s sacrifice
  5. Abel’s offering showed his righteousness
  6. He left a legacy of faith as its first martyr

Some of these observations are puzzling.  First, we do not know what made Abel’s offering “a more excellent sacrifice.”  However, we have hints throughout this passage.  The first hint, which the author intentionally places, is faith.  If we consider the entire context of Hebrews 11, we understand that the author emphasizes faith.  The author also sets out to support the main point: faith has as its grounds substance and evidence (Hebrews 11:1).  The substance of faith is hope.  Its evidence is unseen realities.  The dominant unseen reality behind creation is God.  The chapter places stress on God as the Creator to emphasize that the visible did not create the visible.The author provides a number of examples to support this primary point.  The earliest example is creation itself, a time when no one lived.  It takes faith to understand that all that exists comes from God.

He then moves to the offspring of our first parents.  Abel was the very first man of whom God gave witness to his righteous standing before Him by faith.  Abel was also the first martyr for his faith.  Cain took out his fierce anger toward God by murdering his brother whom God accounted as righteous not so much because of the gift he offered God but because of his faith expressed through the gift.  Abel’s faith pleased God.  We know this truth by what the author subsequently informs us about faith,

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11:6).

God is more interested in faith than in material things offered to Him.  Cain failed to honor God, and God saw through his gifts to his heart.  Cain’s response to God’s rebuke showed that faith did not dwell with him.  Rather, Cain became furious toward God rather than showing faith from receiving God’s rebuke.  With the nature of the gift placed momentarily aside, we can come to terms with God’s rejection of Cain’s offering.  Although his response resulted from God’s rejection of his gift and subsequently confronting his wrath, that wrath toward God already existed.  It simply had opportunity to express itself upon God’s rejection of his gift.  We can see from his behavior that faith was not in Cain’s gift to God.  Because of his unbelief, Cain showed dishonor toward God.  God therefore rejected both the gift and the dishonor that arose from unbelief.

Sometimes unbelief and rebellion fester in the heart before it later presents itself.  An unbelieving heart is one of rebellion against God, and it fails to please Him (11:6).  The conclusion the Hebrews author draws about genuine faith follows immediately from the Cain and Abel episode.  Abel’s faith preceded his gift while Cain’s unbelief preceded his.  Cain receives no mention in Hebrews 11 because the author intended to give examples of those who pleased God through faith.  Cain failed to make the list.  Cain’s heart caused him to withhold a pleasing  sacrifice to God.  That was the first expression of his unbelief.  A viewing audience may not perceive anything negative in either gift these two men offered.  They both presented gifts from their respective occupations.  Consequently, the bystander may be surprised by God’s pronouncements.  However, as the story unfolds, the second expression of Cain’s unbelief rushes with violence from his heart.  He rages against God and sought an opportunity to murder his own flesh and blood.  God sees what individuals cannot.

We can quibble to the end of time about the sacrifices and their meanings each man brought to God.  Scholars have done so and will continue to do so.  However, one thing seems clear about the Genesis account of Cain and Abel and the Scriptural witness of each of them.  Cain voluntarily left God’s presence (Genesis 4:16).  He was unrighteous from the outset.  His leaving was the ultimate act of unrighteousness.  The Hebrews passage makes clear that faith played a dominant role with Abel for God to give witness to him as righteous.  Cain’s omission in Hebrews 11 speaks loudly about his unbelief and the results.  Jude compares false teachers to the “way of Cain,” warning about their participation in Cain’s sin and unbelief (Jude 11).

In the account of Cain and Abel, we observe the tension between faith and unbelief.  That tension continues to exist along with their respective fruits.  A life of biblical faith in Christ pleases God.  A life of unbelief calls for God’s wrath.  The way of Cain is the way of falsehood arising from unbelief.  Faith seeks after God and honors Him.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  This article cannot be used for any purpose without expressed written permission of Action Faith Books Press.

Faith Versus Evolution

The following is an excerpt from the book “Nothing But the Gospel (Action Faith Books Press, October 2014, Amazon: http://amzn.to/1EzgJyk).Nothing But the Gospel Cover for Kindle

Faith in the unseen reality enables us to understand seen reality and its order as from God.  Evolutionists depend on seen reality.  They cannot to come to grips with the material world as created.  Their faith resides within the scope of the material world and cannot reach beyond it without the Creator giving the understanding that He created all things…

While we perceive the world and gather knowledge from it, God alone informs us of Himself and that this world comes from Him. The letter to the Hebrews confirms God’s initiative when its writer states,

“By faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11: 3).

Understanding of the divine requires faith. Perception, human wisdom, or reason cannot bridge the gap between that which we see and God. Perceiving unseen reality requires an act of God in the human mind and heart. Knowledge and discernment of the world and of spiritual realities need divine enlightenment or spiritual understanding.

Consider an illustration. Evolutionists would not draw the same conclusion as the writer of the Epistle of Hebrews. Atheistic evolutionists would disagree with the understanding that the “worlds were framed by God.” They would reach a very different understanding. Rather than claiming faith in God gives understanding, evolutionists would claim science gives understanding. That is, a Big Bang occurred apart from any God and eventually produced the worlds in space. The evolutionist begins with what one sees and draws the conclusion about evolution and the origins of the universe. Such an understanding is devoid of faith in the God of the Bible. Rather, it is faith in seen reality. Faith in unseen reality gives understanding of the origins of creation – God.

Hebrews offers a stunning conclusion.  Faith in the unseen helps us grasp and understand even what we see – the created order.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.