Reflections from a Christian Scholar Part 1

(Today’s post will be broken down and shared over the length of the day. It is an extensive article and deserves to be digested a point at a time. Please take the time to reflect on each proposition and check its fit to your Christian worldview. It is worth the time and effort. Michael)

Dr. K. Hamren is an assistant professor of English at Liberty University. Her dissertation focused on twentieth-century Russian poetry, with an emphasis on the horrors resulting from Marxist-Leninist ideology in the Soviet Union.

During the weeks following the death of George Floyd, I have been following the news with an increasing sense of sadness and concern for the problems facing the United States regarding race and racism.

I’ve been unsure how to respond as I’ve scrolled through social media and watched increasingly polarized rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle—except to listen to the voices of Black friends and neighbors who are hurting and to pray for justice.

I’ve tried to apply the biblical principle of being “slow to speak” (James 1:19), but I’ve been convicted recently about joining a particular thread of the (inter)national conversation taking place among those who share my faith in Jesus Christ and want to support truth and justice without compromising on principles peculiar and integral to our faith—principles that they are afraid might be stealthily replaced by rhetoric from other, incompatible frameworks of thinking.

Two frameworks I’ve been hearing about increasingly often are familiar to me from my own field: Critical Race Theory and Marxism. Because I have some expertise in these areas, I want to offer some thoughts and, hopefully, clarification to the conversation.

I’ll begin by giving some credentials, not to ask for accolades but to indicate why I want to address these areas of the cultural conversation in particular. I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university.

In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum. As a result, I’ve studied these theories extensively.

What gives me an unusual perspective in my field, however, is the fact that my primary research interest—and the topic of my doctoral dissertation—is twentieth-century Russian literature. My studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework.

I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.

That said, I do believe that some reactions to the protests following the death of George Floyd in particular and the Black Lives Matter movement in general are based on a failure to recognize important nuances in the conversation.

I’m going to address what I believe to be some problematic reasoning I’m seeing come from Christian sources on race:

I’d Call You Godly

If you are striving daily to give God your heart and mind and are sensitive to sin in your thought life, I’d call you Godly.

Lord God, Your Word says that You bless the home of the righteous but Your curse is on the house of the wicked (Prov. 3:33). Lord, please help me cleanse my home of any kind of materials that support or fuel wickedness. Make this the kind of home You can fully bless.

Lord, You detest perversity, but You take the upright into Your confidence (Prov. 3:32). Please make me a person You can take into Your confidence.

Lord God, help me to guard my heart above all else, for it is the wellspring of life. Help me to put away perversity from my mouth and keep corrupt talk far from my lips (Prov. 4:23-24).

Christian Liberty and the 4th of July

As June slips into July and your neighbors begin stockpiling firecrackers to shoot off as soon as you’ve fallen asleep, our minds shift to thoughts of freedom, independence, and liberty. In anticipation of our country’s annual 4th of July celebration, we tend to focus on the outward expressions of our liberty—from the patriotic clothes we wear to the red, white, and blue desserts we bake.

While our outward expressions of freedom create a fun celebration, as Christians, we know that “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

When you became a Christian, Jesus set you free. But what does that freedom really mean, and how is it different from the freedom we celebrate on Independence Day? If you want to cultivate a heart that is centered on the love of God, it is important to consider what the Bible has to say on the topic of Christian liberty.

Christian Liberty Focuses More on Interdependence Than Independence

When God created the heavens and the earth, He made a point of declaring all of his creation good. But in Genesis 2:18, God establishes for the first time something that is not good: independence. God looks at Adam, the pinnacle of His creation up to that point, and says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Man is interdependent by design. We have been created to depend on both God and each other.

Independence is a strong American ideal. We praise each other for independent thinking. We are often encouraged to act independently without considering the needs of the people around us. It can be challenging to shift our view of independence. But like much of the truth we discover in the Bible, the wisdom of the Kingdom of God is counterintuitive to the wisdom of our culture. (Isaiah 55:8-91 Corinthians 3:18-20)

This call to interdependence is repeated throughout the New Testament in many verses that talk about the followers of Jesus forming a body. (Romans 12:51 Corinthians 12:27Ephesians 1:23Ephesians 4:16)

The biblical picture of a healthy community of believers is a single body. Each part of the body is unique and vital, but all the parts are completely dependent on each other. Loving God well means accepting our dependence on Him and His body, the church.

You may feel uncomfortable as you begin to think of yourself as interdependent rather than independent. We tend to think of independence as a sign of strength and dependence as a sign of weakness. But as you shift your thinking to embrace the biblical standard of interdependence, you will grow in love and compassion.

It may help to remember that interdependence doesn’t only mean that you resign yourself to your dependence on others, but it also means that you choose to become a person others can depend upon.

Christian Liberty Empowers Us to Be Transformed

It’s natural to think of liberty as the freedom to do as we please. However, Christian liberty empowers us to live rightly in our freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 famously reminds us that “where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom,” but as we continue to read, we see that the freedom we have in God’s presence isn’t the kind of freedom we often idolize: freedom that stays out of our way, not interfering with our desires.

Instead, the freedom we have in Christ has a very specific purpose which is made clear in the next verse, 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.“

The freedom we feel in the presence of God’s Spirit liberates us from sin, selfishness, and any oppression that would interfere with our continued transformation into the image of God. The liberty God offers is what unveils our faces so that we are able to contemplate the Lord’s glory.

Our transformation is impossible without liberty, but it is not a liberty to stay as we are; it is a liberty to become what we should.

In this way, Christian liberty does not herald our individualism. It is not concerned with offering us the ‘freedom to be ourselves.’ Instead, as we focus on the gifts that Christ’s death and resurrection have purchased for us. The liberty we have received will gradually make us less ourselves…and more like the God we love and serve.

What Should Liberty Look Like?

In our culture, liberty often looks like an insistence on our freedom of speech, protests, acts of defiance, or an assertion that our rights be honored. In short, our experience of liberty is riddled with our fear that it might be taken from us.

However, Christian liberty is so confident in its freedom that it is willing to submit to others.

When we feel insecure in our freedom, it’s natural for us to turn liberty into an inward-facing ideal. When liberty feels guaranteed, it opens the door to virtue, allowing us to choose, in our free will, to love and bless people beyond ourselves, submitting to them willingly because our liberty is secure in Christ.

Galatians 5:13 illustrates this shift from liberty that is self-focused to liberty that reaches outward. It says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.”

We know that Christ’s death and resurrection have set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-14,) but we don’t always know how to live well as Christians who don’t have a law or set of rules to follow. Sometimes, we try to set our own personal rules of good behavior rather than learning what it looks like to live in Christian liberty.

Galatians 5 encourages us to live in the freedom Christ purchased for us and not try to go back to following the law. But if the law doesn’t matter anymore, what does? In Galatians 5:6, we learn that, “the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.”

Liberty Looks Like Faith Expressing Itself through Love and Service

Rather than trying to prove our righteousness by returning to a law that Christ fulfilled, liberty looks like faith expressing itself through love.

So, this July, enjoy your celebration. Make some noise. Light up the sky. But take some time to reflect on the difference between the nationalist brand of liberty we’ve grown accustomed to, and the humbling nature of the supernatural liberty we have been offered in Christ.

Ask yourself how your view of American liberty may have interfered with God’s calling for you to embrace interdependence, be transformed into His image, and willingly submit yourself to others as you love and serve them. As you focus on Christian liberty, you may even begin to notice the people around you who have suffered from the limits of our American definition of liberty.

Considering others in a new way may cause you to be a little less showy about your individual liberty and a little more focused on the internal changes that are naturally prompted by true Christian liberty.

Ann Green

The Face of the Church Today

The regathering of churches for in-person services is garnering a lot of attention in both the religious and secular media. I totally get that. There are very few organizations other than churches that meet as a large group every week. The implications are significant.

We are following closely as more churches open for in-person gatherings. While we are not yet seeing even half of the churches open, more are added each week. It thus behooves us to get these early reports. Those that are open will be making adjustments. Those that are not yet opened can plan accordingly.

For now, we see several early trends. The list is not exhaustive, but these five findings are the most common we are observing.

1. Most churches are cooperative with local and state officials and desire to comply with their guidelines. While the media will highlight adversarial relationships between churches and governments, such tension is simply not the norm. To the contrary, the vast majority of church leaders desire to work with governmental entities. The real story is not a battle between church and state, but a cooperative spirit between the two.

2. Early attendance is significantly lower than the pre-quarantine era. At this point, one-half of the churches we have surveyed have an attendance of 60 percent or less than the pre-quarantine numbers. We rarely hear of a church that has an attendance of 80 percent or higher. For now, those churches are the outliers.

3. Returning senior adults present a unique challenge for many church leaders. We have numerous reports that senior adults are among the most eager to return to in-person services. Frankly, this trend is going contrary to our initial expectations. We thought most senior adults would be the last returning group because of potential health concerns. But as many of these older adults return, leaders are concerned how to minister to them spiritually and protect them physically.

4. The negative church members and naysayers are back. When the pandemic began, many churches had to hit the pause button on a number of fronts and issues. One of the unintended positive consequences was the pause taken by the negative church members. It has been a blissful silence for churches. Now that churches are planning to regather, the pause is lifted and the acrimonious few are back.

5. Most churches are utilizing some type of extra service at least for the short-term. The regathering churches are adding space to allow for social distancing. Some are adding services. Others are adding overflow rooms. Some are doing both or providing other creative solutions. The need for extra space has been exacerbated by children coming to the worship services who were previously segregated in their own age-graded area.

For certain, the way churches are returning is changing regularly. These five findings will undoubtedly change as church leaders make necessary adjustments. 

Tom Rainer

Cutting Off Our Own Fingers

If we let passion take the place of judgment, and self-will reign instead of Scriptural authority, we shall fight the Lord’s battles with the devil’s weapons, and if we cut our own fingers we must not be surprised.
—charles haddon spurgeon

God wants his children to live as children of the King with Kingdom Authority. The whole matter is this: In order to live exercising authority over the world, the flesh, and the devil, we must first submit to the authority that God has set over us.

We will learn more of this principle later, but the problem of rebellion is very much a part of today’s world. People don’t like the idea of authority—Kingdom Authority or any other kind.

The word authority is an ugly word for many in today’s society. It resonates with restriction, regulation, and control. Just the mention of the word can cause brows to narrow and scowls to form.

Resisting authority comes naturally to us because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden. And it intensifies with fervor today. A swell began to rise up in the ocean of ideas and philosophies in the 1960s.

We find ourselves reliving the 1930’s with all that might bring.

The generations of the 1970s and 1980s rode the tide of the 1960s and the wave crested for the generation of the 1990s. The young people who grew up in these years will be remembered for many things—but in regard to man’s rebellion, there can be no greater example than those who sought fame and recognition through killing sprees in the public school system. One of these murderous young men said, “My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law…. I feel no remorse, no sense of shame.”

Churning into a bona fide tidal wave of rebellion, this revolution hit the shores of every home in America. And the shock waves are still washing over the lives of every family in America today.

The revolution of the 1960s was to liberate the traditional family. Women were supposed to be set free from their husbands, their homes, and their children. The husband was to be set free from responsibility and liberated from authority. Even the children were granted liberation from limits.

Now they wish to destroy traditional society and will settle for no less.

Everyone was set free from time-honored standards of morals and ethics. The alluring song of free love was heard across the land. And what did we get with all the freedom we espoused? Abandoned restraint and a loosening of family values. With the seeds we sowed in the 1960s, we now have a harvest of fatherless children, vile venereal diseases, runaway divorce rates, and a generation of jaded, unloved, and undisciplined kids.

Our high schools hand out condoms to students, and fifteen-year-old mothers wrestle with the idea of birth control implants to keep them from getting pregnant again. The sexual revolution has come full cycle. People talk about sex openly, all right. In fact, it’s about all some people think about. Sex has become a sport—like an aerobic workout.

The time has passed when young men and women save themselves for marriage as a matter of honor. Junior high virgins may even tell the lie that they are promiscuous, because to be a virgin is to be a misfit. It’s a mark of shame for a fifteen-year-old to never have “gone all the way.”

Indeed, God knew all along the result of the evil that rampaged through the morals of our society. His Word tells us, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).

The cry for freedom of expression is really a form of rebellion that mocks beauty, truth, and culture. In the name of art, men and women are producing works that defame the deity of Christ, belittle the Christian institution of the family, and degrade the beauty of God’s creation. Instead of music that is edifying and uplifting, many of today’s music performers are writing lyrics saturated with violence, obscenity, vulgarity, and outright blasphemy. Too much of today’s music is basically pornography set to music.

The theme underlying it all is anti-authority. Instead of portraying police as the protectors of our community, they are portrayed as freeloaders at doughnut shops. Instead of fathers who lovingly care for and support their families, we have television programs that make a mockery of fatherhood, and of parenthood and healthy marital relationships as well.

What is the end result of a generation that cuts its teeth on anti-authority rhetoric? Rebels and revolutionaries at worst. “Closet rebels” at best. It’s very difficult to be a part of today’s society and not be affected. I am afraid there is a little rebel in each of us.

We are in a crisis of monumental proportions—it is an authority crisis. Jesus prophesied that the last days will be marked by a spirit of lawlessness (Matt. 24:1-12). Indeed, our generation has seen the fulfillment of that ominous prophecy.

Our only hope is in discovering the Kingdom Authority that Jesus offers his children. I’m not talking about mere power, but authority. Many Christians today talk about having the power to overcome evil. That’s not enough. Don’t confuse authority with power.

Jesus made the distinction in Luke 9:1 when he gave the disciples power and authority over the satanic forces of wickedness. As in the passage we saw earlier from Luke 10, the Greek word here for “power” is dunamis, which means ability and strength, and the Greek word for “authority” is exousia, which means the official right. Authority is conferred; power is innate.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day boasted of their position in the kingdom of God and questioned what Jesus meant by the freedom we have as believers: “They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:33-36).

With Kingdom Authority comes freedom, not bondage. These Pharisees who were vassals of Rome and slaves to sin were boasting about freedom. They were not free but slaves. The rebel is free to do what he wants within limits, but he is never free to do what he ought without Kingdom Authority operating in him. He is free to choose as he wishes, but he is not free to choose the consequences of that choice. He may show his freedom to choose by stepping out of a window of a skyscraper. At that point, however, he is not free to choose the consequences of that choice. The choice then chooses for him.

The paradoxical truth is that the freedom and authority we have in Jesus is because we are under authority. Let me illustrate. The train that runs with incredible speed on ribbons of steel is far freer to be what it was made to be than a so-called free train that may choose an excursion through the meadow. It is only free to wreck. A train is made to run on tracks, not in the green glades along the tracks.

When we wrap our arms around this truth, we will be set free and filled with joy as the psalmist who said, “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). The law of God is a song in our life. The late, great Dr. Vance Havner had this to say:

One does not ordinarily associate law books with songbooks, mandates with music. But here’s a man to whom the law of the Lord is no burdensome thing, a pattern of hard lines. Here’s a radiant believer to whom law is liberty and service like unto a happy song.

One may be good in such a bad way. Some of us have punctiliously kept the statutes but have failed to sing the songs. We have whiteness but no light. The Christian life does have its stern, unyielding requirements; but every law has a song written on the back and between the requirements runs the refrain. Duty turns to delight and mandates become melodies.

There must be a law if there is to be liberty. Try to play a piano and you will run into laws as fixed as the decrees of the Medes and Persians. But through those statutes you reach the songs, drudgery leads to delight. The law of Christ brings the liberty of Christ. Keep His statutes, and they become songs. The other side of commandment is conquest. What seems restraint to the outsider means release to you.

“Ye shall know the truth”—there are the statutes. “The truth shall make you free”—there is the song. But to know the truth is to know Him, otherwise it is legalism. If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. His law book becomes a song book!

Back to the Garden

There is more. There is also mortality, because the wages of sin, finally, is death (Rom. 6:23). Death was the penalty that God first threatened for disobedience in the garden of Eden: “When you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:17 NIV). Now we are mortal; having sinned in Adam, we also die in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21–22). We are dead spiritually—dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). One day soon we will die physically, not simply because death is a part of life in the natural universe but also because God stands in judgment against our sin. Our inescapable mortality is the irrefutable demonstration that we are sinners who seek our own ungodly glory. Nothing is more un-godlike than death, which strips away every last pretension to deity. Here is the futility of our condition: we will end up right back where we started. Rather than subduing the earth, we will be subdued by it, for dust we are, and to the dust we will return (Gen. 3:19).

For those who die without Christ, there will be a second death, infinitely and eternally more terrible than the first (Rev. 20:14–15). As a holy judge, God will display his wrath against sin. Though it offends the sensibilities of the secular mind, the doctrine of hell as a place of endless torment and eternal separation from God is a plain biblical truth that was taught more by Jesus than anyone else in the pages of Scripture (e.g., Matt. 5:22; 10:28; Luke 12:5; 15:22–23). Sin leads to death, and after that, to judgment.

If the best explanation for the beauty of humanity is the biblical doctrine of creation, then the best explanation for the tragedy of humanity is the biblical doctrine of sin. As he wrestles with the mystery of our humanity, the Princeton theologian Daniel Migliore writes that “we are rational and irrational, civilized and savage, capable of deep friendship and murderous hostility, free and in bondage, the pinnacle of creation and its greatest danger. We are Rembrandt and Hitler, Mozart and Stalin, Antigone and Lady Macbeth, Ruth and Jezebel.” What accounts best for our divided hearts is our fall from created innocence to sinful corruption. “This is the source and explanation of all that is wrong with man and the world he inhabits,” wrote Philip Edgcumbe Hughes: “It is the sickness unto death from which man in his fallenness inescapably suffers.” Separated from God by our sin, we do not love him, worship him, obey him, or serve him as we should. Such is the depth of our fall that sin has become the pervasive and perverse condition of every human enterprise.

It all seems to be lost: the family, the church, the city, and the society that God intended—the science and technology, the law and the politics, the business and the arts. The world is the way it is, and we are the way we are, because we have fallen into sin. As a result, the heart of humanity has a deep and painful longing to return to paradise. Happiness is not only our hope, wrote G. K. Chesterton, “but also in some strange manner a memory; we are all kings in exile.” As Joni Mitchell set our longing to music in her 1969 song “Woodstock”:

We are stardust

We are golden

And we’ve got to get ourselves

Back to the garden.

No Warm Fuzzies

You might be relieved to know that we can love without feeling all warm and fuzzy. We live by faith. We love by faith.

Lord Jesus, Your precious blood of the covenant was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). After You poured out Your own blood for my forgiveness, help me not respond with a heart too hard to forgive others.

According to Your Word, love is the most excellent way to deal with anything (1 Cor. 12:31). So please help me to live in harmony with others and be sympathetic toward others, loving as a sister or a brother, being compassionate and humble. Help me never to repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this I was called so that I may inherit a blessing (1 Pet. 3:8-9).

Is Society Dragging Itself to Chaos?

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards, famed pastor and theologian of colonial America, delivered one of his most famed messages of all-time at a church in Enfield, Connecticut. The title of his message was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Using Deuteronomy 32:35 as his text, Edwards argued that sinners are kept in the hands of God. Their sin pulls them to hell, whereas God tries to save them from their awful fate in hell. Using vivid language and descriptive adjectives, Edwards notes that the normal state of humanity leads toward destruction. That is, if humanity is left to its own devices, human beings drag themselves to hell. Three important truths are found in Edwards’s classic declaration.

The weight of our sin drags us toward destruction.

Edwards writes,

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies.

The further a person turns from God, the greater the weight of sin the person carries. The same is true of society. The more a society turns from God, the greater the weight of sin that it bears. Racism, anarchy, and violence are not traits that demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.

God’s grace is what keeps a person from facing judgment now.

Edwards points out the following:

That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

Just because God has not brought judgment yet does not imply that he will not. In due time, God will bring due judgment to a person and a society unless the person or party repents. It is by God’s grace that our society has not been brought down already. How long will God offer his protective hand? Only God knows. But the point of Edwards’s message is that you may not have another opportunity to respond to his grace, for the flames of judgment may be around the corner.

Outside of God’s forgiveness, judgment is inevitable.

Edwards continues by noting,

All wicked men’s pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

Darkness is the veil of sin. Unsurprisingly, protests during the day are peaceful. The individuals protesting at this time are mostly standing for just causes. However, violence and looting come at night. Most likely, these individuals take advantage of the unrest for their own purposes. Wearing masks and using the dark of the night, rioters think that their identity is concealed. However, God knows all things, is in all places, and possesses all power. God is the ultimate Judge overall. Everyone will stand before God (2 Cor. 5:10). This is an inescapable truth.

The nationwide riots and unjustified killing of innocent people serve as depictions of what hell will look like. The looting, killing, shooting and burning all illustrate well the hell that human beings create for themselves. Hell is a place of rebellion. It is a place designed for rebellious entities, not originally planned for human beings.

These issues, while scary, do not take God by surprise. Jesus warned during his message on the Mount of Olives that “you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matt. 24:6-8, ESV). He goes on to say that he will return instantaneously, saying, “For as lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27, ESV).

Going back to Edwards’s message, a parallel can be drawn from Edwards’s message to the state of our society. While the sin of society is dragging itself toward chaos, they are but birth pains indicating that the return of Christ is closer than ever before.

Brian Chilton

A Promise from God Is a Fact

The Greek concept of knowledge was that it meant acquiring propositional truth-information gained and stored in the mind. But the Hebrews saw knowledge as having to do with relationship and experience. The Old Testament says that Adam “knew” his wife (Genesis 4:1). To “know” her meant that he had an intimate husband-wife relationship with her.
The apostle Peter in the New Testament wrote in the Greek language, but he had a Hebrew mind-set Thus he wrote,

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)

He was saying that our intimate, personal, “marriage” relationship with Christ provides us with everything we need to live a godly life. So how do we enhance our marriage to Christ? How do we deepen our experience of him? In the next verse Peter wrote that God gave us 

his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

As we appropriate God’s promises by faith, we enrich our communication with Christ, our trust and adoration of him, and our obedience to him. This is a lifetime process. The better we get to know him, seeing him make and keep promises, the greater confidence we will have in his trustworthiness as the years go by. A beautiful marriage is a work of art that takes a lifetime to complete, and so does a beautiful Christian life.

A promise from God is a fact 

Another important passage which speaks of God’s promises is 2 Corinthians 1:20.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

God doesn’t make any yes-and-no promises. All of his promises are positive in outlook, and in Christ they are “So be it” and “Count it done.” When God promises to do something, he will do it.

All this is for the glory of God. It is not so that any of us can be known as great promise-claimers. It is for God’s glory, but it is “by us.” You and I are the means, the vehicle, the channel by which God glorifies himself as we experience, appropriate, and claim the promises of God. We should claim these promises for ourselves, for our families, and for others to whom we minister.

General promises

There are two kinds of promises in the Bible: general promises, which apply to all Christians at all times under all circumstances; and specific promises which apply only in certain situations.

Examples of general promises are 1 John 5:11-12 (“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son”) and John 3:16 (“Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life”). If you heard the gospel of Christ and believed it, you have received eternal life. This promise is always true. Whenever we are tempted to doubt it, we can go back to God’s word and ask, “What does God say?”

Another general promise is 1 John 1:9, which is the Christian’s bar of soap: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If you’re a Christian, there will never be a time in your life when 1 John 1:9 isn’t true for you, and available when you need it. The Holy Spirit wants us to confess the sins he points out to us. When we are sensitive and responsive—confessing, and making restitution if necessary—then God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The slate is clean, and our channel of communication with the Father is wide open and perfect. Our intimacy with him grows.

Incidentally, the difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusation of Satan is threefold. When the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, the conviction is specific, gentle, and hopeful. But the accusation of Satan is vague, harsh, and discouraging. If you’re struggling with guilt recognizing this difference can help you determine whether it is the Holy Spirit’s work or the devil’s.

Another general promise is Galatians 5:22-23.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Have you ever met a Christian whose life did not manifest all these qualities? Probably you have-perhaps while looking in the mirror this morning. But why do we not experience all of them? Aren’t they the fruit of the Spirit promised by God? Yes, but we may not experience these fruits because we aren’t claiming this passage in prayer, and allowing the Holy Spirit to control us.

Claiming God’s promises is the heart of our prayer life. We simply take back to God his promises of what he said he would do. We do not try to twist his arm and persuade him to do something he’s not inclined to do. We don’t say, “Well, you probably don’t want to do this for me, but I would like to ask you anyway.” No, God has said he will do it. It brings joy to the Father’s heart when his children come to him and say, “Please fulfill this promise in my experience today.”

Another general promise is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which tells us we have a way of escape from temptation. We are all tempted, and when temptation comes we should ask, “Father, show me now the way of escape in this particular situation.”

The more specific we are with God in the way we claim his promises, the more specific he will be with us. To pray, “Lord, bless so-and-so” may be only a salve for our conscience. That’s all. Dawson Trotman used to mention the man whose prayer life consisted of glancing up at the framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer on the wall each night before turning out the light, and saying, “Those are my sentiments”-click. No real substance. No real depth. Therefore, no deepening marriage relationship with Christ.

The Bible contains an incredible wealth of promises from God which he wants us to appropriate and spend. So many Christians go through life “nickel-and-diming it.” They’ve got millions in the bank, but they won’t write a check. They’re afraid God will go bankrupt. They would never admit that, but it is the way they live.

Specific promises
God frequently will give guidance and direction to individual

Christians in particular areas of life in a way that doesn’t apply to the entire body of Christ or to all the Christians in a given community.

One illustration of this is found in Acts 13:47. The apostle Paul had preached the gospel to the Jews, but they had rejected his message. Therefore, he said, he would turn to the Gentiles.

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The passage Paul quoted was a messianic promise from Isaiah 49. This promise had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But now God led Paul in a new direction in his ministry through a secondary use of the promise. Every teaching of Scripture has one basic interpretation, but it can have several applications-and here is a case in point. The promise in Isaiah had one interpretation—Jesus Christ. It had one application in the coming of Christ, but it also had a secondary application (not an interpretation) in offering guidance for Paul as he shifted from ministering primarily to Jews to ministering to Gentiles. This verse didn’t apply in this way to the entire body of Christ, but it did to Paul and his team.

Staying safe

When we come to a promise of this kind, there are several guidelines to have in mind to keep us from drifting off into error, imbalance, heresy, or some other harmful and subjective application.

First of all, many promises are conditioned upon our obedience to God.

Second, the Holy Spirit is sovereign and can say what he will to whom he Pleases; but God will never lead you through one verse of Scripture to do something he clearly prohibits somewhere else in the Scriptures. We must be careful not to put a wrench on a passage in such a way that we say, “God led me to do this” about something God doesn’t allow. Keep in mind the total witness of the Scriptures whenever you use a particular promise as the basis for making a decision.

Third, do not decide when and how a promise should be fulfilled. Don’t prejudge God, or try to paint him into a comer. Remember whose servant is whom. God is not my servant; I am his. He gives me the privilege of prayer and of claiming promises, but in doing that he doesn’t become my servant. God is not my errand boy. I am his servant, and his errand boy.

God wants us to know that he is loving, kind, wise, and gracious. He wants us to believe he is like this whether or not he answers our prayers the way we had in mind.

The fourth guideline I would suggest is that you present your need to God in prayer, and let God pick out the promise. Don’t jump the gun. Don’t be anxious. Don’t turn the Bible into a magic book or a fetish-putting it out in the breeze and letting the pages flip to a certain place. Simply continue having your quiet time, reading and studying the Bible, and going to church, and let your heart go out to the Lord concerning your need. At some point in time-it may be a day or a week or a month or several months later-the Holy Spirit will impress you as you’re moving through God’s word, and he’ll say, “This is for you.” You have been presenting your need to him, and suddenly the Spirit of God witnesses to your heart and says, “Claim this promise in prayer.” God has spoken to you.

Remember finally that God makes and keeps promises for his glory-“that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God” (1 Kings 8:60).

Skip Gray

It Is a Sin Issue Not a Skin Issue

(This article was penned by Shane Idleman, a pastor of a multiracial congregation and staff, offers one of the best insights to the turmoil in our nation. I pray that you will read and share the article as it offers sanity and faith to a dialogue so geared to anger and hatred.)

Martin Luther King Jr., in the Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963, wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” I hold the same opinion today.

Evil forces are seeking to dismantle us by destroying our unity. Christians need to speak up against all forms of racism and injustice when they see or experience them. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” (Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor).

As I continue to read the news feeds, my heart immediately goes out to the children being raised in today’s environment (many with no fathers to guide them) viewing this world through the dark lens of hopelessness and fear presented in every form of communication around them. But what if we looked through a different lens—a biblical lens?

  • Yes, some people used the Bible to support slavery. That was wrong. But evil people have always tried to pervert the Word of God to support their godless agendas. It is happening in our own day with so-called Christians twisting Scripture to support gay marriage and abortion.  
  • Instead of taking down every statue, why don’t we teach history again? Auschwitz still stands in Germany for a reason—so people will not forget.
  • What if more people knew that many of America’s founders were responsible for planting the first seeds of equality and for the eventual end of slavery in America? People who want to incite anger and hatred reject this truth because it doesn’t fit their narrative or their agenda that America is evil.
  • What if we remember all the parents who lost sons (more than 300,000 from the Union side alone) fighting for freedom during the Civil War?
  • What if we truly comprehended that we are all made in the image of God without a racial hierarchy?
  • What if we stopped allowing the secular media to shape our thinking and instead got back to the Bible? Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report . . . think on these things.” How are you doing in this area?
  • What if we understood that what some define as racism in the church is not racism at all but preference? We all “prefer” certain settings and styles of worship. Ethnic groups as well as age groups generally have preferences that are based on experience and upbringing—on what is familiar and comfortable.
  • What if we erred on the side of grace and didn’t always assume that a person—white or black—was a racist?
  • What if parents fostered unity instead of promoted division? Racism and division are not inherited; these sinful patterns are taught, and children are influenced heavily by the ideals of their parents.
  • What if we acknowledge that the true source of this conflict is spiritual and that we are in a battle against a common enemy (Ephesians 6:12)?

We Need Spiritual Reform over Social Reform

Sadly, those who do not forgive or release bitterness, anger, and hurt never experience freedom, happiness, or true restoration. Ephesians 4:31–32 encourages us to “let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Without this change of heart, hope is elusive.

Advocates of the lie of “separation of church and state” have held Americans in bondage for far too long. How much longer will we allow their godless agenda to remove God from America? God’s Word must be allowed in all areas, from police precincts to government offices, and from schools to inner cities and state prisons. We need spiritual reform more than social reform. In fact, social reform cannot really happen unless the hearts of individuals that make up that society are changed. Only God can change a cold, unforgiving, bitter heart of stone into a warm, hope-filled heart.

We must stop walking on the eggshells of political correctness, and stop seeking collective redemption from the world. God is our only hope!  We must repent of personal sin and seek Jesus for personal redemption. He changes us from the inside out, and in turn we change the world around us, sharing with others what God has given us—the peace that surpasses all understanding (see Philippians 4:7).

A Sin Issue, Not a Skin Issue

Sadly, we are now at the point where if you don’t agree with someone you are called a racist, and many pastors and leaders have fallen for the deception, some even almost apologizing for being white. Yes, you heard me correctly. I’m alarmed at the silent shepherds and those pastors fueled by anger. It appears that most are putting culture before Christ. The social gospel (which is no gospel at all—Paul was clear in his warning in Galatians 1:9) brings rage, division, and self-loathing. The true gospel brings peace and unity. Read the article on the sin of silent pastors here.

There is a huge divide in the Christian community over the Black Lives Matter movement. No matter what black leaders such as Ben Carson, Voddie Baucham, Larry Elder, Bishop Harry Jackson, Candace Owens, and Marcus Rodgers say about the negative effects of BLM, it doesn’t seem to matter. The Holy Spirit is not divided, so where is the division coming from?

We honor the phrase black lives matter because they do matter. We actually want to take it a step further, though, and say #AllBlackLivesMatter and should be honored, from the prevention of innocent children being killed in the womb to the protection of innocent black people and police officers. We want to calm the flames of racism rather than add to them. But we must look at the foundation of what we are promoting since the ends do not always justify the means. 

All of this begs the question: Can’t we care deeply for innocent black lives without agreeing with the BLM’s agenda? Yes, of course we can, but that doesn’t fit the agenda of those funding and pushing the movement. Their goal is not reconciliation but retaliation. Why not start a movement that focuses on all black lives and centers around reconciliation, restoration, and forgiveness versus Marxism, retaliation, and rage? We are commanded to love one another and to remember that vengeance belongs to the Lord alone (Leviticus 19:18Romans 12:19).

The plea of many of us caught in the middle—black and white—is that we should not promote an organization that seems to be promoting a new civil war. These are not my words but those of many of my black friends. One BLM leader has even said, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down the system,” and another co-founder tweeted about killing “men and white folks.” Racism is on both sides. How can any Christian support that, and how can any pastor endorse it?

At the core, this problem is not a skin issue but a sin issue. Hatred is colorblind—it infects people of every tribe and tongue and nation. The only solution is redemption and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Many law enforcement officers are being radically changed by the gospel, as are those who had participated in sparking civil unrest. This is where our focus must be. America, overall, is being humbled by God. I’m optimistic because these are often the seeds of revival and renewal on a massive scale.

Responding to the Media Circus

As Christians, we are truly caught in the middle. We are not identified by our skin color but by our identity in Christ. My heart breaks for the atrocities that have happened in humanity’s past, but in each of these seasons, good men and women, many of them Christians, rose up to make a difference. We must focus on the cross, not on cultural identity.

The media circus will only get worse. In a land of approximately 330 million people, many of them lost, without God, and without hope (Ephesians 2:12), we will continue to see unspeakable acts of violence as video footage is released on a constant basis. We will see hoaxes portrayed as hate crimes, legitimate hate crimes portrayed as “justified,” and right will be called wrong and wrong will be called right, all in an attempt to fuel division and fear. But we cannot allow this to cause a knee-jerk response and act in ways that would cause the name of Christ to be blasphemed. Nor can we retreat from the battle and walk on eggshells in fear. We need real Christ-centered and Spirit-filled unity.

We must not allow the forces of hell to shake us. We must be different, think differently, and walk differently than the rest of the world. We must show the beauty, compassion, grace, justice, and love of Christ to those around us—to our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, and the stranger in the grocery line—without regard to the color of their skin.  In short, brothers and sisters, we must be the true church.

Shane Idleman

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