Faithfulness > Fame: Understanding Salvation

Faithfulness in the minutia of life within the context of suffering reveals far more about the eternal essence of our souls than anything that happens on a stage, screen, or social media platform. Many church goers assume the opposite to be true. They think that the great preacher with a massive congregation and an even more massive online following has been granted a direct line to heaven. Potentially he has. But according to Jesus, the massive public platform is not the main evidence of his faith. The primary evidence of faith consists of simply of doing the “will of my Father who is in heaven.” If a pastor can hold the attention of thousands for 50 minutes while spending the remaining 10,030 minutes of his week in a crumbling fortress of self-centered fear that produces frequent outburst of anger, greedy demands for more money, and a never-ending stream of insults, Jesus will have nothing to do with him come eternity. He will tell the pastor, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (Matt 7:23).”

The same response will also greet exorcists and miracle workers who supposedly do great works for God while living lawless lives at odds with the salvation of the Lord that trains “us to renounce all ungodliness and evil passions (Ti. 2:12).” The great threat to the church is not the absence of the supernatural or the absence of human gifts. The great threat to the church proves to be the presence of the supernatural and grand gifts within hypocritical leaders. In other words, false teachers will gain entrance into the church precisely because they possess the supernatural or natural gifting needed to wow the masses. God tells Moses in Deuteronomy 13:1-4, that the false prophets will perform true signs and wonders, because

“God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Those who make either supernatural or natural ability the measure of their spirituality or of the spirituality of their leaders will be sorely disappointed. God cares far more about whether or not we love our neighbor than whether or not we can impress our neighbor.

In other words, what matters first and foremost is not someone’s ability to expand this church or that denomination. What matters most of all is the person’s faithfulness in the minutia of life within the context of suffering.

Storms and Floods > Platforms

Jesus doubles down on the importance of faithfulness when he tells the famous story of the two builders: one who builds his house upon the rock and the other who builds his house upon the sand (Matt 7:24-27). At first, both seemingly build the same structure. Both go to church, attend Bible studies, discuss the latest evangelical twitter controversy, spend a week or two on a mission trip, and read their Bible. The wolf and the sheep appear to be quintessentially the same from a distance for few can see whether they habitually lie to their neighbors or if they always speak harshly to their kids at home.

But then their circumstances change. Adversity comes in the form of everything from cancer to seeing the deacons smoking behind the shed. The foundation begins to feel the weight of physical pain, emotional anguish, and institutional hypocrisy. Though the believer may deeply feel the spiritual weight of the adversity, he or she will not turn their back on Christ as the storm rages around them. As the Apostle Peter did in John 6:68, they will declare,

“Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

They may shift their memberships from a dying church to a living church. They may shed tears and mourn the profound brokenness of this world as Jesus did when he encountered Lazarus’s death. True believers can be pushed to the brink of collapse by the intensity of their suffering, but their house will not fall. They will remain patient at the dinner table, speak kind words to their coworkers, and faithfully commune with God through prayer. As Jesus promises us in Matthew 12:20, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Jesus will never abandon those who have trusted in him for salvation. The righteous will withstand the storms affliction.

Conversely, the false believer, the wolf, or the hypocritical Christian will crumble when the storms beat against his home. The intensity of the storm can be as simple as a poorly timed sermon or as profound as the tragic loss of a child. But those who forsake the faith when life becomes difficult reveal that their peacetime faith was insincere. To cope with adversity, the wolf will return to its vomit for comfort, a vomit than can consist of alcohol, pornography, divorce, angry outbursts, and a host of other foul things that lead them away from worship, the local church, and Jesus.

Before the storm, the fake sheep often appear genuine. For this reason, a false Christian’s deconstruction can profoundly wound vast swaths of Christendom. As Jesus says, “the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it (v27).” Of this we can be certain, those who build their lives on the sands of lawlessness will fall and at times with a loud bang. The hypocrites will be exposed. The storms will come.

The Danger of Living in the Past

Though the discussion above can be applied posthumously to a whole host of situations, Jesus’s concern and our concern should not be for the past. We should not spend an inordinate amount of time conducting autopsies of dead churches and deconstructed believers. Rather, we should examine our own lives and the lives of today’s leaders in light of Jesus’s warning in Matthew 7. We should seek to preserve the living.

How are we doing? Are our leaders faithful in the midst of suffering? Are we faithful in the minutia of life in the midst of suffering?

Church Wolves Will Come

The downfall of pastors both great and small should sadden us. But such events should not surprise us. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus tells his disciples, his church, to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In other words, false teachers will come. Pastors will fall. The church should prepare for the arrival of wolves.

Why no Guards?

The prevailing sentiment of God’s people makes no allowance for the possibility of such false teachers. The local congregation sees no need to guard the pulpit or its ministry apparatus for it assumes that only qualified, sincere, and devoted candidates will express a desire to pastor or lead a class. The local church assumes the very inclination towards the pastorate, mission field, or Sunday school room is the greatest prove of the person’s qualifications for the said ministry. When a question or two does arise that challenges the persons fitness, the majority of the congregation falls back upon this or that positive experience that they shared with the pastoral or missional candidate. The members remark that he was pleasant a conversationalist at lunch the other day or that she passionately cared for the kids in nursery the other night. Moreover, they assume that if the soon-to-be installed leader were truly of the devil, he would tell us about his love of money, or she would list teaching heresy as one of her hobbies on her social media profile. Since he’s nice, he must be qualified to lead the youth group. Since she’s nice, we really should support her trip to Nepal. No thought is given to the possibility that that the nice face could just be a mask hiding the soul of a wolf.

Beware the Wolf

According to Jesus, we should entertain such a possibility. Instead of blindly trusting every person with a Bible, our savior longs for us to test the spirits. In other words, we should examine the fruit of those who aspire to church and ecclesiastical leadership. Jesus notes in Matthew 7:18, “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” When a prospective leader arrives at the church, the church should pat down the person’s character to see what fruit he or she has produced. Anyone can say “Lord, Lord,” talk passionately for a few minutes, or make a charming impression at a church social. But a man called by God to serve as an elder will bear fruit well beyond the controlled interactions tied to his professional ministry. He will consistently affirm others with his words, demonstrate a love for his family, a compassion for his enemies, a contentment with his income, and sexual purity. The man who spews out hate, hungers for money, and focuses inordinate amount of his attention upon sexual topics should not be advance into the pulpit even if he seems sincere, passionate, and gifted. In other words, the man who justifies his moral failings through appeals to his ability (an ability he may truly possess) is unquestionably wolf. To borrow the words of Paul, a faithful teacher must be above reproach (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3). There is no room for equivocation. A good teacher will not preach truth on Sunday and then lie on Monday. A godly leader will produce good fruit.

What A Wolf Does

Once the church grants the wolf unfiltered access to the sheep, the false teacher will feast on the lives, relationships, and finances of the sheep, leaving a path littered with the bloody fruit of sin. The wolf may not stop feasting until he has eaten that local church into extinction. The damage one wolf or a wolf pack can do stretches the limits of our imagination. If a wolf cannot be removed quickly, the sheep should flee.

What God Does

Though wolves remain a very real threat, no wolf will overthrow the Church. Local outposts may fall into disrepair when their pulpits are left unguarded, but the church militant will forever survive. Moreover, justice will come. Someday soon, the false trees will be cut down and cast into hell (Matt 7:19). The good shepherd will also attend to his wounded sheep, restoring them to health. God will always show himself faithful even during a wolf attack.

Though God will stand by his church, wisdom demands that local churches should exam a potential church leader’s spiritual fruit long before giving him the keys to the pulpit or the ministry framework. Not every wolf has to run rampant among the sheep if we will but stand guard. Will you?

How Should I Pray? (Part 1)

If your prayer life became your Sunday school’s prayer list, what would people find? Would most of the content focus upon uncle Jimmy’s cancer, Aunt Susie’s arthritis, or cousin Sally’s job hunt? Would your classmates find pleas for Bobby’s salvation or for Lashanda to love her enemies at the office? What would comprise that list?

Our answer to this question proves insightful. As Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Seminary, noted, “If we really want to know what a person believes, we should listen to them pray.” In other words, our faith is only as deep as the prayers we pray.

At this point, we should not all become self-conscience and begin praying in slow mumbles so that no one can hear us. According to Jesus, God hears in secret. Even if others do not hear us God does. He takes no delight in the mindless, repetitive prayers of unbelief. To pray well, we must pray as God would have us pray.

Our need for prayer help should not surprise us. According to the Scriptures, we do not naturally drift towards goodness. Jesus declared our hearts to be garbage dumps that produce among other things, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” We come to faith because God mercifully reveals himself to us in his Word through his spirit. He accomplishes our spiritual growth and sanctification in the same manner. We grow in our ability to love God and others through the study of his word. We should not be surprised by our need for help in the spiritual disciplines.

What Do We Say?

When Jesus teaches us to pray, he does not begin with Aunt Judy’s broken leg. He begins with his glory. Jesus said, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:7-10).” It is good an appropriate to ask God to provide us with our daily needs. But we must not do so to the exclusion of God’s glory. Our prayers should be filled with a concern for the glory of God.

Hallowed Be Your Name

To accomplish this goal, our prayers should focus on the Hallowing of God’s name. To hallow God is to honor him. The apostle Peter tosses out the term when he wrote, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy (1 Peter 3:15).” To honor the name of God, we must know his name. In other words, we must hollow God as he reveals himself to us in the Scripture. Our salvation depends upon our ability to recognize the name of God. The apostle Peter reminds us, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven among men by which we must be saved.” The soul that prays to the great She God or to Mohamed does not know Jesus. To honor God, we must pray to the Father, Son, and Spirit as God commands. We cannot pray to the God of our imagination.

Practical prayers for honor should concern our hearts and the hearts of those around us. We should pray that God would teach us to revere and worship him with greater sincerity. We should pray that our quiet times and family devotions will make much of God. We should pray that our churches would hallow God’s name when they meet to pray, preach, give, and fellowship as the collected body of Christ.

Lastly, we should pray that God’s name will be glorified among the nations. When we enter this world, we arrive with no intention of honoring God. According to Psalm 53:1, we do not even acknowledge his existence. “The fool says in his heart, ‘“There is no God.”’ When we pray for God’s name to be glorified, we are praying that those at war with God would come to love him. As the retired pastor John Piper noted, “[Worship] is the goal and fuel of mission.” To pray for God’s honor is to pray for missions.

Your Kingdom Come

Next, Jesus instructs us to pray for the coming of his kingdom. As Saint Augustine noted long ago, two kingdoms exist: the kingdom of man whose dominate ethic is selfishness and the kingdom of God whose dominate ethic is love as defined in the beatitudes. When Christians pray for Jesus’s kingdom to come, they pray for Jesus to overthrow the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of light.

This occurs in two ways. First, we pray for Jesus’s kingdom ethic to take root in our world. We pray for our hearts to become more meek, merciful, and sensitive to sin. We pray for our rules to be just and ask for help to pursue righteousness. And then we beseech Jesus to come back on his white horse. With this phrase, we affirm our desire to see Jesus overthrow the world of death and to fully establish his kingdom which will ensure that every fiber of abuse, sickness, and hatred is vanquished forever to the pits of hell. Our longings for eternity should find expressions in our prayers.

Such prayers of hope also reveal that we correctly understand that Jesus alone can establish perfect justice and mercy. When we pray for Jesus’s kingdom, we affirm that neither human charity nor human political parties can heal this broken world. Our hope is not the next benefit ball nor the next election. It is the coming kingdom of Jesus. For this we should pray.

Your Will Be Done

Lastly, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven, God’s moral will is accomplished perfectly. Heaven is glorious because there neither angel nor saint questions the goodness of God. They know him, love him, and obey him. When we pray, we should pray for such perfect obedience to be found on this earth. When we struggle with pornography, greed, cursing, a biting tongue, or vengeful heart, we should ask God to bring our will into agreement with his. Our prayers should be filled with petitions that seek to unshackle our hearts from the pains of sin.

Similarly, we should pray that the same would be true of our spouses, kids, coworkers, and fellow church members. Instead of attempting to force them to change through the withholding of intimacy for example, we should pray that they will do God’s will do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven. We should take our concerns about our husband, our wife, and that annoying guy on the third floor to Jesus, imploring him to do what we cannot. We should long for God’s will to be done in our life and the life of everyone on earth as it is done in heaven.

So You Struggle to Pray

A few weeks ago, I did an informal social media poll on prayer. The number one challenged faced by the respondents concerned a lack of focus. As they begin to pray, their minds begin to wonder. Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer in-part for this very reason. He provided us not with the ultimate prayer to pray but with a framework by which we can focus our prayers. The next time, we find our minds struggling to pray, we should begin with the glory of God. We should pray for his name to be hallowed, for his kingdom to come, and for his will to be done. We should pray as Jesus taught us.

And now we have gotten back to those prayers lists. Does the prayer list of your life resemble the Lord’s prayer? If not, let’s begin today to pray for God’s glory today.