What Does Your Prayer Life Say About Your Faith?

prayer.jpgAre you saved? Do you pray? We often do not draw a line between faith and prayer. But, the Scriptures bind the two concepts together with the force of an unbreakable chain. Those who have been saved pray regularly. And those who regularly pray have been saved.

In 1 Samuel 7:8, we read, “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” A few verses, early the nation of Israel had experienced true rival. Samuel had shared the Word of God with his nation. The people believed and “put away the Baals and the Ashhtaroth, and they served the Lord only (4).” Things were going phenomenally well; and then, the Philistines show up ready for battle. The Israelites have all the weapons that we would find at a tent revival and Philistines have the armaments of full combat dress.

In the midst of this terrifying situation, the people of God cry out to God. They turn to their They pray. And their response is the response of all true worshipers of God. When trials come, when adversity strikes, and when sorrow surrounds them, they run to the throne room of God. The Christian is one who happily embraces Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).” The Christian knows that God creates, sustains, saves, rules, and loves. And they respond to this knowledge by praying.

Conversely those who find prayer unappealing are those who do not trust the Lord.  In 1 Samuel 8:1-6, the nation of Israel once again encounters adversity. Samuel’s sons have perverted Justice exploiting the legal system for financial gain. But instead of seeking the Lord’s advice or asking God to intercede, the elders make demands of Samuel and God. They demand that the creator of the stars bend His will to accommodate the fluid culture of his fallen, prideful, and noticeable frail human creatures. And the elders of 1 Samuel 8 are not alone. Men and women who love the world have little cause to pray as they are their own saviors who know what is best. The love of the world always leads us away from God. And instead of seeking him, we will seek to control him.

Anyone can confess Christ. But, only those who love him will regularly and continually pray to him as Samuel did.

In short, our prayers or the lack of our prayers says much about our Christian life.

As Dr. Albert Mohler, the President of Southern Seminary, said,

[Prayer] discloses our view of God and of ourselves. It discloses our priorities and our assumptions about God’s priorities. It discloses our doctrines of God, man, sin, redemption, the world, and a host of other theological matters. If we really want to know what a person believes, we should listen to them pray.

Do we pray? And if we pray, do we seek the wisdom, the knowledge, and the salvation that comes from the Lord? Or do we simply make demands of God that will enable us to gain the wealth, prestige, or white picket-fences that our culture values so very much? Do we love God?

What does our pray life say about us?

Why Churches Need Church Discipine: This is Church 101

church-discipline.jpgChurch discipline. These two words seem to be an oxyomoron. Church and discipline belong together just as much as hot goes ice or happy with grief. Christians should love sinners, extend grace, and shower out love. Discipline, rebuke, and excommunication appear to be terms reserved for the religous dark ages when knights lived in candle-lit castles and bathed twice a year. As early as 1900, evangelicals had began to distance themselves from this ungracious practice. They said,  “[Church discipline] sounds punitive. Its savors of transgression, conflict and punishment.” Give us Jesus, love, and mercy. No discipline! Fastforward 115 years. Little has changed. Most churches never discuss or practice discipline. And those congregations that do occassionaly execumicate people often discipline those who recieved 25 year prison terms. Church discipline continues to be an evangelical oxyomoron.

But church and discipline do go together. The Greek word “παιδεία, discipline” is credited with producing righteousness in believers (Heb. 12:11; 2 Tim 3:16). To grow in Christ, believers must discipline themsselves. They must form their hearts into the image of Christ by studying the Word, by submitting to sound preaching, by attending Sunday school classes, and by joining a local church. As believers seeks after the things of God with the people of God, their minds will be filled with knowledge of God. This knowledge will shape their thoughts and desires which in turn will determine theirs actions, resulting in increased godliness and biblical living. The positive nature of church discipline could also be labeled formative discipline or discipleship.

But the process does not stop with instruction. As Jay Adams helpfully notes, Church discipline is, “education with teeth…that sees to it that the job gets done.” Discipleship, sanctification, and spiritual growth cannot happen apart from meaningful accountability… apart from discipline.

If the Christian who faithfully attends church and who regularly repents of sin is treated by his church in the same manner as the Christian who never attends church and who regularly gets drunk, the church indirectly promotes sinful living. Hiscox rightfully warns:

Let the school be controlled by strict, yet wise and kindly discipline, or the pupils will learn more of evil than of good.

Many churches are unmotivated, apathetic, and filled with vices because they neglect church discipline. They refuse to confront sin. They actually boast in their ability to tolerate sin as did the church in Corinthian. They claim that their failure to deal with the divorces in their congregation is a sign of wisdom. After all, who has the time or ability to discern who is right and wrong? These churches do not want to get sidetracked from the gospel, from evangelism, and from their growing kids ministry. We are so spiritual we ignore sin to pursue God. Talk about non-sensical thinking.

Yet the opposite is true. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:6,

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

When we turn a blind eye to sin, the sin does not go away and the church does not grow in holines. Unconfront and unaddressed sin makes nest and  gives birth to new generations of sin, anguish, and controversy. If the church leadership winks at one divorce, more will come. If one example of greed is excused, the sin will grow and deplete the church’s budget. If the pastor refuses to address the members known gambling addiction and allows the man to gain influence in the church, to teach a Sunday schoo class, and to serve as a deacon, that gambler will sway the church towards error and foolish decisions. Unconfessed, unconfronted, and unrepented of sin destroys the local church.

Though church discipline seems counterintuitive to our human natures, the practice is needed.  J.L. Dagg has prophetically warned:

When discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it.

How Do We Do It?

If we see that a brother is sinning or has sinned, we go to him privately and encourage him to repent. If he repents or clears up the misunderstanding, all is good. The brother has been restored and won back. Our relationship is no longer broken. The rebuked brother has grown in his faith by putting off his sin and embracing righteousness afresh. If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will confront them in love, seeking their spiritual well being.

But if he both admits to his sin and refuses to repent of it, we take another friend and go back to to the brother. We repeat the confrontation. If that confrontation does not bear the fruit of repentance, we take the matter to the church. Then the whole church should seek out the man and call him to repentance. If that does not work, then he is to be kicked out of the church. We expell the man desring him to  come to grips with and repent of his sin. Leviticus 19:17 says,

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Go confront them!

Hopefully, most confrontation never moves beyond the first step of church discipline. The loving rebuke of a brother or sister should suffice a majority of the time. But when more actions is needed, the church must take it. The church must move forward with discipline.

Upon investigating and verification of the unrepentant sin, the church must be willing to excommunicate the former member, breaking off all familial, social contact with him. Paul tells the Corinthian believers to, “not even eat with such a one” (1 Cor. 5:11). God has already declared the believer to be worth of judgement. The church must follow suit and treat the unrepentant sinner as a sinner.

If she does not take actions, she allows the brother to wrongly believe that sin is tolerated in God’s eyes and acceptable in his kingdom. She encourages her other members to abandon the hard work of righteousness. And she proclaims to the world that redemption is a fraud, unnecessary, and unneeded. If believers never repent of sin, why should unbelievers?

The God of the Bible and of the church is a Holy God. He commands us, his people, to “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God (Lev 20:7).” The true local church will strive for holiness and execomunicate all who love their sin more than Christ. Dr. Albert Mohler correctly concluded,

A church lacking these essential qualities, is biblically defined, not a true church.

Is your church a true church? Does it practice meaningful church discipline?

If you wish to explore the topic of Church Discipline more, I encourage you to grab copies of one of the books below:

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The Shack: A Dangerous Journey For Evangelicals

the-shackThe Shack is a beautiful story of redemption. It is mysteriously beautiful journey that seeks to explain the relationship between God, humanity, and evil. And as we see the likable, rugged Mack grow in his understanding of God, we cannot help but see ourselves in his story. And because The Shack is such an effective literary devise, the book and now movie could prove to be extremely dangerous.

The doctrines that Christians would readily balk at if seen in cold text books can often slip by unnoticed when dressed in the beauties of a compelling narrative. And though The Shack protests against being classified as a theological work, it is just that. We must see it as such. If we do not, we will find our worldview being reshaped. As Dr. Albert Mohler said a few years ago,

In evaluating the book, it must be kept in mind that The Shack is a work of fiction. But it is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied.

The same can be said of the movie as well. For us to be discerning  Christians, we must take this narrative back to the best narrative, the gospel. We must examine The Shack’s theology. We must see if the God of the Bible and the God of The Shack are the same.

Is the Shack True?

At first glance, the answer appears to be yes. The author barrows heavily from the language of conservative Christendom, encouraging us to enter into the dialogue with an open mind in an attempt to escape the false notions of God that we have created. But despite his claims to the contrary,  Paul Young commits the very crime his book seeks to overcome. He has recreated God, by taking, “the best version of you that you can think of.”

And we know this because, he portrays God the Father as both a “large, beaming African American woman” and as a “dignified, older, wiry [man with] sliver-white hair pulled back into a ponytail.” The Holy Spirit is described as wiry-looking “Asian woman.” The very descriptions of God defies God’s commands. Young has placed his own human into God’s nature. In so doing, Young has clearly violated the command of Exodus 20:4 which says:

 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

By making God the Father and the Holy Spirit appear as people, Young has blasphemed the very God he claims to be representing. And as Octavia Spencer, Graham Greene and Sumire Matsubara seek to represent the God of the universe on the big screen, they will fall infinitely short of the biblical descriptions of the Father and Holy Spirit. And, they cannot help themselves. No created being can capture the grandeur, holiness, wisdom, purity, justice, grace, mercy, goodness, and truth of the God of the universe who set the whole world in motion and who sent his son to redeem the lost. Regardless of their talent, no actress or actor can authentically role-play God. It is antithetical to their nature.

Now, the actors’ very inability to accurately represent God is the very thing that will make the book and the movie so appealing.  Humans can easily relate to the trinity that resembles them. But in making God more relatable, likable, and personal, Young’s narrative fails to capture the God of the universe that humanity desperately needs to understand. Young promises hope but delivers only confusion.

And because Young’s framework for understanding God exists apart from the ‘book,’ the God of The Shack advances many unbiblical doctrines, heresy.

First, Papa claims that there is no hierarchy in the trinity. The trinity is said to exists in a “circle of relationship, not a chain of command.” Yet in John 8, 14, and 16, a hierarchy is present. Jesus does the will of the Father, and the Holy Spirit comes to make much of Christ. Remember Jesus’ words:

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

Since Young misunderstands the nature of the trinity, he cannot help but misrepresents the nature of human relationships, advocating for the abolition of the distinctive roles of marriage. According to Jesus of The Shack, God never wanted women to find their security in men and men to find the joy in their work. God wants relationships to exist structures that do not demand respect. God wants, “male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals.” Surprisingly, the Jesus of The Shack appears to have forgotten about the words he spoke in Genesis 2.

The God of the Shack seems to also have forgotten about the biblical doctrine of salvation. Instead of coming to pay for the sins of the world, Jesus comes to reconcile the whole world to God by removing pain, the darkness that keeps us from seeing God. According to Papa, God has no, “need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my purpose to cure it.” Sin is not our ultimate problem. Lack of relationship is. Thankfully the cross has cured this aliment for all.

Later on in the book, Papa tells Mack bluntly that, “through his [Jesus’] death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world…The whole world, Mack” (p.194).  Not too surprisingly, Jesus tells Mack that, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims…many are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want them to join in their transformation in sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved.”

While Young clearly deems most religious activities to be fruitless, he readily teaches that all people will be in heaven after they sincerely being seeking after God. The path traveled does not matter. The universalism of The Shack directly contradicts the words of the real Jesus who said,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

Not too surprisingly, humanity’s response to this divine drama is not one of repentance and faith at least not towards God. (We are called to liberate others by forgiving them thereby empowering God to reach them.) Because Christ died on the cross, we no longer have to follow the divine law. We are to do the opposite. The Holy Spirit tells Mack, “In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” In short, repentance and faith have been exchanged for the ambiguous ideas of love and relationship. If we love well, we have pleased God. We are to forget the the whole idea that God’s law has been written on the hearts of his children (Heb. 8;10:16). We are to  abandon the notion that salvation results in us having the divine power necessary to keep God’s “ You shall not” commands (John 14:5). As the Spirit tells Mack, “contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty.” God wants us to embrace the beautiful uncertainty of loving relationships.

And now we have arrived at the crux of the argument presented in The Shack. God is mysterious, unknown, and bigger than historical Christianity. He/She cannot be and must not be reduced down to the Bible. As Young writes, “Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.” This is our greatest problem. We have reduced God to the Bible.

This is not a new complaint. Young joins a long list of liberal theologians who have regularly sought to free, “Gods’ voice” for the leather binding of our ornate study Bibles. What’s new is not the content of The Shack  but the accessibility of the doctrines it follows. Regardless of how palatable the format of fiction is to our senses, Young’s liberal theology will continue to be just that, liberal theology. And we evangelicals must not let the beauty of this narrative confuse us. God’s narrative in the Scriptures is far superior.

We do not have to fear The Shack. But we must recognize the book and the movie for what they are: a distortion of the gospel. We must exercise biblical discernment. Towards that end, I encourage you and your family to pass on the film this weekend and every weekend. Don’t go to the cabin. Go to the Word.