Of No Opinion

There is an old saying that goes something like this, “Opinions are like noses, everybody has one and they usually stick them where they don’t belong.” The meaning is pretty obvious in that too many times we assert our opinions where they are used to instigate more trouble than solution.

In the book of Judges one of the key verses is…
Judges 21:25 (NASB95) 25In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
…In other words, when there was no authoritative standard everyone began to walk according to his or her own opinions and it was nothing but trouble for Israel. They were divided among themselves and facing continual harassment from their enemies. It was a sad time where God had to raise up individual standard bearers to turn the people back to God and defeat their enemies.

I have heard several leaders say this, so there is no need to quote any one person for this statement, “When someone asks me my opinion on something I simply say I am of no opinion but God’s Word says this…” In other words, I refuse to give you an opinion in which you make seek to argue with but I will give you the forever settled Word of the LORD.
Colossians 4:6 (NASB95) 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

If people want to argue, let them argue with the Word, not your opinion even if it is reasonably correct. God has not promised to defend our opinions but He has promised to back up His Word.

It is time we all began to be of no opinion but rather bearers of God’s truth alone. Its time our convictions concerning the Word of God are made clear. We believe it. We speak it. We live it to the best of our ability. We have no need to get in debates over it. God has already declared that long after everything else fades away His Word will remain.

People used to say, “The Bible says it, and I believe it, that settles it.” The truth is that is not a correct statement. The correct statement is, “The Bible is settled whether I choose to believe it or not.”

…I’ll leave you to ponder on that one.

Distorted Grace

The word ‘distort’ means, one sided, unrecognizable, indistinct, misrepresented, or deformed. One English dictionary says, 1. Alter shape. 2. Give inaccurate report of something. 3. Make something unclear or unrecognizable. 4. Reproduce a signal inaccurately.

Grace means the unmerited favor of God to us. That grace allows us to repent of sin and enables us to live lives worthy of the Lord Himself to which we have been called.
Colossians 1:10 (NASB95) 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

There is a huge error subtly entering the core doctrines of some churches. Yes, I said doctrines! That is not a legalistic term. It refers to the core apostolic teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ. This error is actually a heresy, a distortion of the meaning and necessary response to this unmerited favor, this grace of the LORD so wonderfully given us.

Grace has become so altered by some that it has become unrecognizable in light of the total teachings of the New Testament. The inaccurate report of grace is that grace takes away all accountability for continual un-repented of sin. This misrepresented grace goes to the extreme and says sin all you want with no fear of judgment. Thus totally ignoring Paul, the grace preacher, who cried God forbid how can we who have died to sin continue any longer it! Romans 6:1-2

I, for one, am a grace preacher. We are saved by grace and we are kept by grace. At the same time I am with the apostle Paul who says…
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB95) 5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
What test? The test of sin no longer having dominion over us. The test of allowing grace to cause us to sin less and less, not more and more which is the mark of the unbeliever, not the believer!

Grace at its most deformed presentation is universalism. That is, in the end everyone is already saved because of the Cross of Jesus Christ. This heresy nullifies the need for repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Savior that produces spiritual transformation. In effect it discredits any form of judgment. In doing so it totally ignores or explains away Paul’s words in…
Romans 1:18 (NASB95) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Likewise the words of the apostle Peter are not only ignored but also mocked!
2 Peter 3:7 (NASB95) 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:10–12 (NASB95) 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

Peter goes on to say…
2 Peter 3:15–16 (NASB95) 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Could it be that the distortion Peter was speaking of concerning Paul’s teaching was that of grace so abundantly provided yet so horribly abused by some?

There is a red line that must be drawn in the sand when it comes to accepting continual sin in us and in the Church around us.
Hebrews 10:26–31 (NASB95) 26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Not to tell people that their sin leads to judgment puts us in opposition to the very gospel itself. Some of the first words we have that Jesus ever preached were…
Matthew 4:17 (NASB95) 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The reason for a nation so backslidden is because of a Church that is so backslidden!

I beg every child of God to examine themselves and their teaching in light of all scripture clearly written. It is one thing for us to be in error. It is quite another to lead others into error with us. It’s not just our blood on our hands, but theirs as well.

Raise a New Banner

I may have been born way up north, but I was raised a southern country boy through and through. I have a very distinct southwest Virginia accent. I was raised on sweet tea, cornbread and onions, cathead biscuits, brown beans, fried chicken (really fried everything), and lard and butter were the shortenings of choice.

Likewise I was raised to be southern proud…but never racist. In fact, to me being southern was never about racism but rather a more laid back culture than those faster talking northern city folk.

Many years ago I was preaching a message on the kingdom being ‘colorless’. At the time I was preaching to an almost totally lily-white congregation in an effort to make the church more multiracial. In the message I made the statement, “The south was wrong on the issues of slavery and racism.” Afterward, a very influential member of the church and community pulled me to the side and said, “You may be right but you probably shouldn’t be so vocal about it around here.”

I didn’t remain silent after that discussion and I will not remain silent now. The Southern Confederacy was dead wrong and unchristian in its stand on slavery and racism. Period. Biblical passages were twisted to prove invalid points. It still happens today as anyone can pull a passage of scripture out of its context and supposedly ‘prove’ just about any point of view you want to take.

The present battle over the battle flag of the Confederacy is another issue we must now deal with and the implications of it are far greater than simply southern culture. For many years of my life I viewed the southern battle flag through lily-white southern eyes and considered it nothing more than a remaining cultural symbol of the south, without reference to her sins against others of color.

I was wrong.

The flag needs to come down from government public buildings.

I am in no way saying the flag should be banned altogether. This is a free country with free speech and I for one would not have it any other way. If individuals want to fly it, wear it, or tattoo it, have at it. However every Christian needs to weigh the implications of this flag in light of other Christians and what they have experienced under it’s banner, not just 150 years ago, but today.

My desire is that another banner be raised over all others…
Psalm 60:4 (NASB95) 4 You have given a banner to those who fear You, That it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.

A genuine Kingdom of God minded people must allow nothing fleshly to divide us. Our first allegiance is to God and other believers no matter race or culture. Just as Jesus is LORD over everything that can be named, the banner of the LORD must fly high above cultural heritage as well.

I’m still a southern country boy at heart in the sense of all the good things it means to me. That will never change. However, my mindset about other things that hurt people and causes harm to come to them has changed

Take down the flag, but be sure to raise the Banner of the Lord in its place.

A Fickle Generation

As a pastor I’m constantly seeking ‘better’ ways to present and communicate the gospel. It’s not that I want to be the latest and the greatest but rather that I realize eternity is at stake for so many. Maybe if I said it this way or that way? Maybe if I wore a suit or maybe if I wore blue jeans? Maybe if I was older or younger and hipper in my presentation? Maybe if I had this kind of music in church or that kind of music? Maybe if I preached a harder Word or a happier one?

Maybe then I/we could reach our present generation more effectively.

What’s it going to take to win this present generation?

Jesus faced the same type of generation that we face today and this is what He had to say to it…

Luke 7:31–35 (NASB95) 31“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 “They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Please notice the critique was not of the message but rather the messengers. John the Baptist came strictly adhering to ascetic law and practice living a clearly separated life from virtually everything while living in the wilderness. Jesus came as a man living sinless yet freer in his daily practice and lifestyle. He liked to mix it up with others, go to parties and hang out with what some would call a less than holy crowd. Either way, the people could not be pleased and would rather find fault in the messengers and ignore the message.

Please also notice the people expected the messengers to dance to the beat they provided for them at the time. They wanted to control the messengers rather than have the message of the messengers speak to them and bring change. They wanted puppets on a string but couldn’t get either messenger to dance for them as they wanted. So they stayed offended at the messengers and ignored their message altogether.

Nothing has changed.

The solution? Preach the Word anyway.

When people don’t like the Word being preached they will find a way to reject the messenger. You see the Word of God when taught and preached honestly brings conviction no matter the style of the messenger. When the Word given is so clearly from the LORD people must find another way to reject it without in their minds offending God. So they turn on the messenger no matter his practices. It’s ironic that both John the Baptist and Jesus were killed because they wouldn’t dance to anyone’s beat but God’s while both their messages were the same, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

I suppose there are some in every generation who are fickle when it comes to how they want their religious leaders to act and live. I believe both John the Baptist and Jesus were happy in the way they chose to live and minister. John was the greatest of the OT prophets and Jesus certainly the greatest of the NT. Both were true to their calling. Both were true to their mission. Both were true to the Word and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

The message of the cross will be preached this Sunday in a variety of churches with pastors of various styles and personalities. Don’t go hoping everything suits you but rather go to receive the life changing Word the LORD himself has for you!

Gray Hair in the Mirror

Growing older is meant to be a blessing. Proverbs says gray hair is a crown. That seems to be less respected in our day than ever before. Increasing technology and the fast pace of a changing culture seeks to make gray hair equivalent to irrelevancy. That’s why hair coloring and products to make us look more youthful are billion dollar industries today.

For me, I refuse the coloring and cosmetics. I have earned every gray hair and wrinkle that I have. To me they are signs not of aging, but hopefully of increasing in wisdom. I have passed through the “been there and done that” stage to understanding at least in part where I want to go and what I need to do to finish well.

The danger in growing older is in believing your best days are behind you. That is only reinforced when people want to talk about what they perceived as your better days. It is true I have had better days of health. It is true I have seen the Lord do some powerful things over the last 30 years of ministry…but they were only preparatory for what is to come.

Here is the lesson I have learned…

Life is seasonal and if we don’t grow in them we have failed to understand the LORD’s working in us. Successful living is not gauged by our public successes. Successful living is gauged in the knowledge of Him and how we live that out. No longer am I driven to do some of the things of the past. I am now settled into becoming the kind of man God wants me to be.

What I was in the past was more due to my gifting and anointing to minister. Don’t read into that. I was not a heathen in the pulpit. There was never glaring sin to disqualify me. The difference is now I’m more concerning about becoming all the LORD wants me to be as a man…than a minister. If my ministry success was all because of calling, gifting and anointing, all the credit goes to the LORD and the LORD alone. It was and it is.

False prophets will stand before God one day defending their successful ministries filled with crowds, signs and wonders, and preaching prowess, but they will hear depart from me, I never knew you. That tells me knowing the LORD and being known by Him are far more important than perceived ministry success. Paul’s life aim was not successful ministry, but rather to know Him and to make Him known. Something that even at the point of writing the book of Philippians, He had yet to achieve to the point he desired.

I am no longer driven to go to every church growth guru’s seminar. I am no longer driven to grow the largest church in the area. I am no longer driven to build buildings or serve on some board that does little more than take up time and give you something to add to your resume. Nor am I driven to have to preach the lights out every time I’m in the pulpit.

I much more concerned about growing people into genuine disciples of Jesus and finishing my course well. Whatever that involves and whatever the LORD chooses to do with that…I’m good.

Gray hair in the mirror reminds me I’ve already been there and done that.

Warts and All

Several years ago I preached a message titled something to this effect on a Wednesday night. I began by teaching some of the high standards found in the New Testament. Those concerning sin and righteousness, but mainly those concerning love, even reading the most beautiful passage on love found in 1 Corinthians 13.

From there we began to look at failures by some of the very ones who penned the New Testament…
• Peter’s prejudice exposed and sharply rebuked by Paul at the Galatian Church.
• The struggles of the early Jewish Church accepting gentiles into the faith in Acts 15.
• The classic falling out of Paul and Barnabas, evidently a very heated one over John Mark.

That is what I love about the Bible! It records real life people desiring to flesh out the highest of principles and yet failing at times themselves.

Why do I write this?

First, cause it points us time and time again back to our righteousness that is found in the grace of Christ alone. On our best (or worst) day, our acceptance before the Father is based upon Jesus’ work on the cross. The shedding of His blood is the bedrock of every spiritual blessing we have been bestowed. Salvation, justification, redemption, and all the rest of the biblical terms that seem to have faded from modern church teaching are the only things that allow us right standing before God.

Second, it gives us all hope. If the writers who penned such high standards failed themselves at times, the potential and probability of our doing the same is there. And just like them, we will still be loved and used of God if we choose to keep trusting in the Cross of Calvary alone.

As best I can tell from the Bible, both Old and New Testament, God has only used one perfect person in all of history. His name is Jesus. The rest of us, He chooses to use, warts and all.

Don’t Change the Standard

Progressives in society are continually looking for ways to advance their agendas through the changing of social norms. To be honest, some things desperately need to be changed when it comes to righteous government for all people, racial and gender equality in the work place, and ensuring the basic human dignity of all people in the world we live. For God so loved the world, we should too!

The problem comes when progressive means the throwing away of standards necessary for an ordered society.

The same is true in the Christianity of our day.

Progressives are seen as heroes of Christianity becoming more acceptable, more palatable for the masses of our day. Therefore you have:
• The Bible is rejected as an inspired book of absolutes from God Himself.
• Those who refuse to go that far begin to reinterpret what has been plainly written to fit their agenda.
• Sexual immorality of every kind becomes not just tolerated, but acceptable.
• Other religions are accepted as another way of encountering the one true God.
• Original sin is debunked and those espousing such biblical truths are considered near blasphemous in some circles.
• Judgment and hell are no longer mentioned.
• Universalism (Pretty much everyone will be saved in the end because God is love.) begins to creep into the equation.

Herein lies the danger. There becomes no reason to be ‘redeemed’, ‘born-again’, or ‘saved’. The need to repent of our sin and actually receive Jesus Christ as our personal savior becomes a mute point. This is more than dangerous! It’s heretical and is a false doctrine that causes people to plunge head first into the flames of a literal hell…of which Jesus Himself spoke repeatedly!

There is a proverb that says, “Proverbs 22:28 (NASB95) 28 Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.”
22:28 To move a boundary stone was to attempt to seize land furtively. More is involved here, however, than real property. The boundary stone represented the ancient constitution of Israel, and to violate that heritage was to undermine the distinctive character of the land in Israelite society.
D. A. Garrett (1993) Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 14, Page 195). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

True Christianity was never meant to be a ‘progressive’ faith. It is rooted in ancient revelation from the beginning of Genesis. Its truths are timeless and unalterable. They must be or we are no different than any other religious belief. And again that becomes universalism. It nullifies the cry of Peter in the book of Acts, Acts 4:12 (NASB95) 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

For 2,000 years men and women of God have gone before us without moving the ancient standards to make the message more acceptable to the world at large. Because of it, countless people have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Church herself has stood the test of time even though there may be more and more of only a remnant that has remained true…especially in western culture.

Lest you misunderstand me, the means of communicating the Word of God must progress with the times. Modern means of communication, praise and worship, and ministry tools must keep up with the times.

But the standard, the message, the easily understood standards so clearly written in God’s inspired word must never be changed!