Overcoming the pull towards Nominalism

ClarityMalachi 3:16-18  Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD  gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.  (17)  “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”  (18)  So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

One of the things sincere Christians must be vigilant about his not giving place to nominalism. Not only is it bad for our personal life, but it also distorts the purpose for which God saves us.  He has clearly called His people to be salt and light as they demonstrate and declare the message of the gospel.  Nominalism will seek to pull us away of that purpose.

Spiritual nominalism is always lurking at our door. It is that polluted part of our flesh that longs for the easy way by moving towards half-hearted living, lack of sacrifice, and a life of ease.  It will pursue convenient commitment (commitment subject personal convenience).  When nominalism is dressed in religious clothing and given place in individuals and among the church it not only drains Spiritual life, but it distorts the testimony of God.

A dangerous thing about nominalism is it is never satisfied. When it is given a small place in our life or among a group of people it always wants more. It works like gravity as it is always pulls things downward.  It is usually comfortable hanging out with others who are on a downward trajectory or it seeks to pull those in authentic faith down.

It works much like a deteriorating neighborhood. It begins with little things and if not addressed they multiply and become bigger things. Pretty soon the whole neighborhood deteriorates and people hardly notice anymore.  A good neighborhood becomes a ghetto and people coming in from the outside notice it immediately and stay away.

Demas and Mark similar journeys different results

awolDemas went from a co worker on the front line with Paul to wasting his life on the “love of the world.” He was only mentioned three times in the New Testament. In two of them he is on the front line with Paul and others building the church and expanding in mission (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:23-24).  The last time he is mention it’s a much different story, 2 Timothy 4:10-11 for Demas, having love this present world, has deserted  me and going to Thessalonica.

What a disappointing account of someone who was being used by God. Paul did not mince words. He showed clearly the motivation of Demas moving from the front line towards a nominal posture.  Demas “loved this present world and deserted.”  Who knows, he may have even gone back and gotten involved with the church in Thessalonica becoming a nominal Sunday morning attender.  He could have made a bunch of money and gave a respectable tithe while giving his best efforts in pursuit of wealth.  One tradition gives even a more disappointing account.  A copyist in an ancient manuscript preserved in the Medici Library in Florence adds in the margin the information that Demas became a priest of a pagan temple at Thessalonica.  How sad!

Unfortunately I have seen Demas’ over my 36 years of serving God.  They move from the frontlines of serving Jesus and go AWOL.  Nominal Christianity becomes their identity. Usually a “love for this present world” becomes the dominant force in their life.  Some were leaders like Demas.  I have seen them go from front line service to nominal semi-Sunday morning attenders.  The only thing that seems to stir them now is recreation and money.

John Mark had a similar experience but didn’t stay that way.  He was on the front lines as a fellow worker with Paul and Barnabbas but became frightened at one point and abandoned them.  He turned around and wanted to go back with them but Paul was skeptical (Acts 15:36-47).

Thankfully Mark continued in his pursuit of God. This restored Paul’s confidence and he specifically requested that Timothy bring him to Paul right after speaking of Demas.  2 Timothy 4:10-11  for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica… (11)  Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. Mark not only returned and became useful, he ended up writing a gospel.  That is restoration!

Was Paul too hard on Mark?  Shouldn’t he have given him a little more grace like Barnabbas did?  Paul was not just concerned with Mark’s backslide but the effect it would have on the front line co workers.

There is a negative effect those that go AWOL.  This is why the military is so hard on them.  It usually results in a court marshal and at times it was justified to shoot them on the spot. Paul probably was adopting the posture David did in regard to those going AWOL.  David would not tolerate them because of their negative effect.  He only wanted the faithful close to him so their fire for God would help keep his burning.

Psa 101:1 …I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.  3  I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me.  4  A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.  5  Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.  6  My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; He who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me. 

 

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Five Minute God Thoughts: A Fresh Call to Become Authentic Disciples

Romans 8 says that all of creation, whether they consciously realize it or not, is yearning for God to make evident who His people are.  In many ways society is getting darker. Jesus said this would happen.  When darkness progresses it is a great time for “the light of the world” to shine brightly.  For this to happen according to God’s design His people must live and demonstrate authentic Biblical discipleship.

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Authentic followers of Jesus bring clarity in the midst of confusion

evil goodThe prophet Isaiah said something to the people in his time that is aptly appropriate for God’s people today. Isaiah prophesied during a time when the northern 10 tribes of God’s people were taken away into judgment and captivity because of their continued disobedience.

Those that were left, among whom Isaiah lived, were heading towards the same fate.  Isaiah pronounced anguish over the things they were embracing trying to turn them away from what had already brought God’s judgment on His people.   As you look around at things today, not just in culture but also being embraced by God’s people, it is eerily similar to what Isaiah was addressing.  In Isaiah 5:20-30 he warns them.  In verse 20-21 he says, “Woe (CEV “you are headed for trouble”) to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Doesn’t this sound like the culture around us?

He goes on to speak of another woe (“your heading for trouble”) in verse 21 because they were wise and clever in their own eyes and made heroes of those who were doing evil things.  “Wow to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own site. Their heroes are those who drink wine and their valiant men are those who make strong drink.”

Calling evil good and good evil

JennerWe are doing the same thing today.  We all know the saga of Bruce (Catlyn) Jenner who went from Olympic athlete, to reality show celebrity, to a transgender female who is now being rewarded with the Authur Ashe award from courage at the ESPYs.

I also recently watched an Episcopalian leader (complete with his white clerical collar denoting holiness or separation to the Lord) defend his own gay marriage and proposed the need to redefine the institution of marriage to include homosexuals.

We have all seen another recent example of Rachel Dolezal, an NAACP chapter leader who rachaelwas exposed at lying about her gender pretending to be black when she was actually a white female with two white biological parents.  Not only did she hide her identity to get and keep the NAACP job, she had also sued the historically black Howard University in the past for denying her a teaching post because she was white.  In spite of all her lying and continual lying some are starting to make her a hero because she is a “Trans racial” warrior, a black woman living in a white body who is fighting for the rights of African-Americans.

These things are happening in a cultural context in which Christian’s who hold Biblical views  are often being labeled and marginalized as “hateful” and not worthy of having a public voice or presence.  People who hold Biblical views are being sued, denied jobs, or losing jobs, not because they are actually doing anything wrong, but because they are “believing” things society has defined as hateful or bigoted.  It truly is what Isaiah said, “calling evil good and good evil.”

It is bad enough that culture is doing this but even those who identify as God’s people at adopting the same posture.  Isaiah goes on and says in verse 25 “On this account the anger of the LORD has burned against His people.”   Because they did not change we know from history they suffered the same fate of judgment and captivity that the other tribes did.

A prophetic hope

The last prophet in the OT, Malachi, addressed a time in which God’s people were beginning to do similar things.  Malachi chapter 3 is a very future oriented passage while at the same time dealing with similar problems.  He begins it by identifying a messenger God was going to send which Jesus and other NT writers later refer to as John the Baptist.  Mal 2:7, Mal 4:5; Mat 11:10, Mat 11:11; Mar 1:2, Mar 1:3; Luk 1:76, Luk 7:26-28; Joh 1:6, Joh 1:7.

Malachi refers to a future phenomenon that gives hope for the confusing day we live in.  In verses 16-18 he says, “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name.  (17)  “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession (Paul says this “people for His own possession” was at the heart of why Jesus died Titus 2:13-14),… “(18)  So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.”

God’s answer

What is an important answer to standing against the confusion of our culture?  What is a key to God’s people not sliding into agreement with the culture who calls evil good and good evil?  Instead of following culture into confusion, bondage, and destruction God’s people should be leading them out into the freedom of Christ.  God’s people should both live the alternative of the gospel and proclaim it in words and deeds.

One key is what Malachi said, those who “feared the Lord” begin to connect together speaking God’s truth to each other.  It caused a “book of remembrance” to be written.  A “book of remembrance” is a collection of valuable things that should not be forgotten.  This is a spiritual phenomenon that happens when authentic followers of Jesus connect together around His presence and truth.  God comes among them strengthening and igniting spiritual passion and clarity.

This is what Paul described in Ephesians 4:15 “Speaking the truth in love to one another.”  It is what Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego experienced in Babylon when the stood firm against threats from the culture around them (Dan 2:17-49) and were able to participate in a move of God that changed their culture.  It is what the early church did when facing threats to stop living for what God had showed them (Acts 4).  Their response ignited a move of God that influenced their surroundings.

Authentic followers of Jesus need to regularly connect with other of the same heart so that God’s spiritual life is increased and made evident through them.  It becomes a seedbed to both demonstrate and proclaim the freedom of the gospel of Jesus.

 

 

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Either change your name or change your conduct

decision cardLegend has recorded a story about Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.  As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – a serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.  The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him.  Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man feared for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?”

Alexander the Great asked the soldier. “Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice. “Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded Alexander the Great. “Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?” “My name is Alexander, sir,” the soldier repeated.  A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”  A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.” Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your  conduct.”

I had a couple of encounters recently that caused me to think of the story above and our calling to be authentic followers of Jesus.  I was recently sitting in my doctor’s office waiting room and I recognized a man there that I wanted to witness to.  I knew of him through some of his relatives.  Unfortunately they had previously been victims of his many sexual perversions to which he had never apologized for or even acknowledged having done them.  These were not one off encounters but happened numerous times.  This obviously caused an alienation and tragic continual effects on their lives. I obviously hoped that I could help him find Jesus, freedom, and restoration.

I moved close to him and began to turn the conversation to Jesus.  He said something very shocking, “I’m not an atheist or nothing.”  I ask for clarification to which he said, “I ask Jesus in my heart over 20 years ago.”  I tried to contain my surprise because many of the things I knew that had happened occurred since he “ask Jesus into his heart.”  My conversation with him ended with no resolve.

A couple of days later a friend of mine came into a prayer meeting a relayed another shocking story.  He worked with a lady the previous day whom he had been in school with years before.  He had not been around her since that time. He was surprised to see her in a Muslim head covering, a Hijab.  He wasn’t quite sure how to respond because he had many conversations with her in the past about Jesus.  She was a Christian who attended church and he had prayed with her many times about life issues. How could she have converted to Islam?

He was finally able to bring up the issue and find out what happened to cause her to leave Christianity.  She acknowledged that she was involved with Jesus years earlier but grew disenchanted with the whole Christianity thing.  She was having personal struggles and knew something was missing in her life.  She met some Muslims and realized that there was something about their god that was different.  He was holy.  He was not just mighty but almighty.  The Christians and church she was around made God out to be “merciful but not almighty.”  She had a diet of a syrupy sweet Jesus who had no sense of judgment or power.  This was coupled with the Christians she was around whose lives didn’t reflect much of a good advertisement for a holy God.  When she heard of a god who was holy and almighty she moved towards Islam.  She wanted a god who was solid to build her life on.

Fortunately my friend was able to present Jesus to her afresh as both almighty, merciful, but also holy.  He spoke of the cross and the plan of salvation.   He ended up praying with her again and she acknowledged she wasn’t that deeply into the Muslim thing and would search for Jesus.

The Need for Authentic Discipleship

Both stores reinforced that we live in an hour when there is a great need for authentic disciples to clearly follow Him and “obey everything He commanded.”  In doing so they will both demonstrate His life through their lives and call others to follow Him.  Our calling is both to become disciples and make disciples.   disciple

Mt 28:18-20 All authority…go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I commanded and I am with you to the end.  

It is hard to justify Biblical Christianity apart from being disciples of Jesus.  The word “disciple” appears 269 times in the Bible to refer to God’s people.  The  designation “Christian” only occurs 3 times in the New Testament one of which is Acts 11:26 “disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.”  The phrase “Follow Me/Come after Me” (which is the root of discipleship) appears 25 times in the Gospels.  The phrase “Believe in Me” appears only 4 times.   We are clearly called to follow Him as disciples and help others do the same.

What is Biblical discipleship?  The word “disciple” means “A follower, a learner, and one who adheres to.”  The definition is amplified as “seeking to increasingly submit all areas of our life to the empowering presence and Lordship of Jesus.  Then help others do the same.”  This is the nature of authentic Christianity.  Let’s follow the design of Jesus and like Alexander said, “Change your name or change your conduct.”

 

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Five Minute God Thoughts: Decisions determine our desitiny

“How did I get here!”  Most of us have had seasons and times, especially when facing challenges, in which we wondered how our lives ended up like this.  While we face issues that are often beyond our control the actual place we end up is usually more about the decisions we make (the Bible calls it “paths”) than circumstances or even our intentions.   There is a universal truth that “our decisions determine our destiny” more than any other factor.  Our daily decisions have more of a bearing on our life than the intentions we have in our heart.  If we want to live in the life Jesus desires for us we must let His design, more than our disappointments, determine the steps we take.

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