Posts Tagged ‘watered down gospel’

Judges 3:7-11 (Part 1 of 2)
Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

Recently, over the last few days, I have been reading a book entitled, The Hole in our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung. The point of the book is that we, today, have veered away from wanting to be a holy people, a kingdom of priests, as Christians. We have begun to see it as acceptable to think about, ponder upon, and participate in actions that are clearly not holy. We have lowered the bar on our holiness. Compare our generation of Christians to the spiritual giants of the past. We live in a culture that is progressively less and less moral and it has affected us as Christians. In his book, DeYoung states,

“In the past Christians equated holiness with abstaining from a few taboo practices such as drinking and dancing; our churches have many unregenerate persons in them who are necessarily uninterested in holiness; we emphasize a culture of cool that pushes the boundaries with language, entertainment, alcohol, fashion, and whatever else is deemed cool; labeling something as unholy or ungodly feels judgmental; we fear legalism and are frightened by words like diligence, effort and duty; we face the reality that pursuing holiness is hard work; and finally, many Christians have tried and just plain given up.”

We would rather blend in than be different. We would rather go with the tide and stand against it. We would rather accept that which is clearly against Scripture. Seeking holiness and separation from that which is immoral and against God’s Word is often too difficult. We are called Neanderthals of the past when we go against the tide of “I should be able to do what makes me feel good” sentiment of our day. We would rather condone gay marriage that fight against the backlash of culture. We would rather be silent on men dressed like as normal rather than neuroses that requires psychological assistance. We would rather let them go to the bathroom in the same bathroom as our precious “female by nature” wives and daughters. We would rather allow our daughters to dress in ways that attract the sensual thoughts of men and act all surprised and shocked that our daughters are sexually active and getting pregnant out of wedlock. We would rather accept that having babies without being married is now acceptable. Sex outside of marriage is normative now and those who do not participate in premarital sex are considered weird. Adultery is the single leading cause of divorce in America. We trade in our spouses like we trade cars. Why even get married? More and more Americans see marriage as unnecessary legal entanglements and why shouldn’t they? Half of Protestant denominations now openly accept and/or perform gay marriage and have no issue with gay clergy. We accept that religion should be a menu of options now rather than the Scriptural imperative that Jesus is the only way to the Father in heaven. We now see that we should be able to pick and choose what fits us best from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and the host of other religions. We have made ourselves our own gods in the process. Holiness is for old fogeys. Holiness is a standard imposed upon us by the mythical religions of the past. We are too evolved now to seek to live by standards set by some external force that we cannot see.

And, as Christians, we are in this thing now and it is deep. The culture itself bombards us with our worship of ourselves and what we think is right. The culture bombards us with sex as recreation. The culture bombards us with self-styled, menu-driven religion of tolerance. The culture bombards us with the need to accept gay lifestyles as normative. The culture bombards us with greed as acceptable behavior. The culture bombards us with lying, cheating, stealing. The culture bombards us with adultery and fornication as acceptable. We have two choices. One is that we are to stand firm on the Word of God as written or become like the culture and throw away the Bible and just be another self-actualization “religion” where we in essence worship ourselves and the high ideals of self-love, self-actualization, and the continual attempt to be one with the goodness of the universe. To be holy is to seek to please God. To be unholy is to seek to please ourselves. To be holy is hard work. To be like the world around us is easy.

That idea of holiness vs. acceptance of the culture around us just to fit and attract people is as age old as God choosing the Israelites to be His holy people. As followers of Jesus Christ chosen by Him through grace by faith, we are called to be a holy people, a kingdom of priests, but yet attract people. Do we forget the commands toward holiness just to fit in. Look what is beginning to happen to Israel when they decide that it is easier to blend in than stand out. Let’s read Judges 3:7-11 now for the first of two reads:

7 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim,[a] to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. 9 But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge[b] and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. 11 So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.

In this passage, we that the nation has succumbed to the attractiveness of the idol worship of the nations around Israel as well as of the remnants of the former nations that were left behind when Israel did completely drive them out of the Promised Land. They intermarried with them and accepted their pagan gods. By accepting these gods into their homes, they gradually began to accept the immoral practices associated with them. They gradually allowed these immoral activities to be considered normative. Before long they had strayed from God and were living just like the world around them. Similarly, today, the church has a choice to make and so its people. We can become so enamored with attracting people inside our fellowship that we begin accepting behaviors as normative that are clearly against Scripture just so we can fill the pews. Likewise, as individuals, we must be discerning about connecting with people where they are at, yet, not compromising on the essential beliefs of the Christian faith.

In the day of the Israelites, Baal was the most worshiped god of the Canaanites. Most often cast in the form of a bull, he symbolized virility and power and strength and growth. Asherah was Baal’s female consort and was viewed as the goddess of fertility and sensuality. In essence, they represented the worship of desire and of self. Not too much different from the world in which we live today.

How can we be holy without driving people away in today’s culture? How can we be holy and attract people to Jesus Christ? How can we do this? How can we get people to see their need in the midst of all this pleasure-seeking? How can we attract them and be holy at the same time?

That’s the struggle of God’s people through the ages and is certainly no less and probably more intense now. We must demonstrate to the world that we are different through our striving for holiness. We must demonstrate to them that their pursuits are going to leave them empty. We need to be different so that they will see us when all this anti-scriptural behavior (sin) that they have touted as new freedom ensnares and enslaves them. God wants us to be holy not because He is keeping us from fun but rather He knows that sin is destructive and soul deadening. It always comes up empty and wanting.

That is when they can see us as Christ followers and be drawn to us. How can they be drawn to us if we are no different than the culture? That’s when we can tell them about the forgiveness in Jesus Christ. That’s when we can tell them about His righteous covering. That’s when we lead them toward the truth of Scripture and its conviction through the Holy Spirit of our sins that we use to think were “culturally relevant”. It’s only by being different and separate and apart that we can attract those whom the Lord wills. Fitting in is not the answer. We’ve seen Israel’s example. Holiness is the answer.


Amen and Amen.


Numbers 9:1-14 (Part 5)

The Second Passover

I recently read an article, Lesbian Bishop Wants to Remove Church Crosses So Muslims ‘Won’t Be Offended’, at The idea behind the removal of the crosses in the seaport area where this bishop presides was so as to not offend the multicultural seafarers that enter the port city of Freeport. This is what Christianity has become – a female gay bishop proclaiming that we should not offend people of other faiths with symbols of our faith. There was once a song by Aaron Tippin back in the whose lyrics included the words, “if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything!” Never have these words been more true when a leader in the Christian church suggests that we water down our faith to the point that we no longer hold that the symbol of our faith, the cross, as a non-negotiable aspect of who we are. This bishop defended her position by saying we will not negotiate the tenets of our faith but just the symbols of the faith. From the mere presence of this bishop in the position that she is in makes it appear that we have already begun negotiating the faith away to suit the world’s desires. The mere existence of this woman in her position and with her characteristics means that we have negotiated away certain aspects of the faith that are offensive to those who desire to be a part of the faith. When we begin negotiating away the symbol of the cross. It is just another watering down of the nature of Christianity. In twenty centuries, we have become a religion and not a faith. We have gone from being willing to die for our faith twenty centuries ago to not wanting to offend anyone with our faith.


If we have already ripped out certain parts of the Bible to accommodate this bishop, why then not tear down the crosses! Why not say that Jesus is no longer the only way to the Father. Just rip those words of Jesus, right out the Bible. It’s all negotiable! Jesus being the only way to God is offensive in the multi-variant world in which we live. That other people who have belief in something other than Jesus are doomed to hell is offensive and, well, it takes the pressure off too. If all roads lead to heaven, we as Christians do not have then the desperate need to evangelize not only the non-believer but the believers of all the other religions of the world. That’s too much work! Let’s just say it’s OK that if you believe in something other than Jesus you will get to heaven. If it God’s Word is timeless and eternal then why are we negotiating away the faith in ways that make us more palatable to the culture around us. Have we become so enamored with our culture that we have watered down our faith to make it acceptable to the culture. What would our Christian forefathers think? They died because they would not deny Christ for the culture. They willingly gave up their freedom or even their life rather than denounce or turn their back on Jesus Christ. And now it has come to the point that we suggest taking down the crosses from our churches in coastal Sweden so as not offend. We are so afraid that we might have be house churches again, sneaking from one place to the next to share the gospel, so afraid that we might be underground once again that we are stripping our faith of that which makes it our faith.


The fact that the gospel by its very nature is offensive to the world culture, regardless of time period, and how we have forgotten that in today’s world is what the Holy Spirit put on my heart this morning when I read through this passage one final time before we move on to the next. Let’s read through the passage, Numbers 9:1-14, for the fifth and final time this morning and for this morning, let’s concentrate on vv. 13-14 today:



9 The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2 “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3 Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”


4 So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, 5 and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.


6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”


8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”


9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.


14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”


Here, in this passage, God, first, says that His own people would suffer judgment for not obeying His command for the Passover rites. He also said that foreigners living among the Israelites must follow the same prescribed regulations. This principle designed for foreigners was not to beat them over the head with the ways of God’s own people but it meant that if you wanted to be a part of God’s people there were non-negotiables of the faith. In the same way, we should not cover up or water down our beliefs as Christians in today’s world to make our message more palatable to the world around us.


As we compromise our faith, we lose it wondrous offensiveness and we lose its unfathomable urgency. The gospel is offensive because it is hard on sin. We think, “The gospel is really offensive. It could be better received if we weren’t so hard on sin.” The trouble with this is when we pull on that string we unravel the whole thing! Think about it, what is at the heart of the offense of the gospel? It was Paul that said the gospel is folly to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:18) and He said that almost 2,000 years ago.


What is the folly? What is the foolishness? It is the cross. So, if in effort to remove the offense we would unwittingly remove the substance! There are sharp edges to this gospel. There is blood, death, wrath, sin, greed, and anger. You can’t sand that down without losing it all. Paul continued to preach Christ and him crucified (even though he knew it was perceived as folly) precisely because he knew that this same (foolish) gospel was also the saving gospel. It is the offensive nature of the gospel that we cannot be good enough and we cannot negotiate away our sins by doing more good than bad. We are screwed! We are damned before God because of our first sin much less all the others that we commit. That’s offensive. We cannot fix it ourselves. We cannot do enough good! That’s offensive. We need intervention from one person and only one person, Jesus Christ. That’s offensive.


That we cannot offset our sin nature by good works and by self-improvement and self-actualization is offensive. That we cannot negotiate this sin away because the culture says it is OK and acceptable is offensive. That there is only one way to fix it is offensive. That there are not multiple ways to fix it is offensive. Jesus says we are sinners all of us! But he offers us reconciliation to Father through Him and Him alone. This is a huge point. If we think of the gospel and our mission in the world as Jesus coming to bring us the birthday present for our moral awesomeness then it is not the gospel. It is by grace that we are saved. Grace is a gift. Salvation is from sin, Satan, and death. Anybody can pat us on the back for doing good but it is only Jesus Christ than can save us from our sins.


When we water down the gospel to the point that we take the cross down off a church then we have ceased to be the church. We are a culture club of self-improvement. When we become a culturally palatable self-improvement club, we eliminate the very offensive core of the gospel and the very high burden that we have as Christians.


The offensive core of the gospel is that we are all sinners in the eyes of God and that we have not hope on our own. We have only one hope and that is to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who came to die for sins in our place and take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. And that it is through His resurrection that we have eternal victory over our sins and can exist in the presence of God forever through Him and Him alone. The fact that only Jesus can save us always places a high burden on us to take the offensive message to everyone we know and do so in love. It is urgent that we share that there is only one way and it is urgent that we do so in a loving way because it is not because we are superior that we share this message. We are the condemned who have been set free. We are the sin alcoholics talking to other sin alcholics and teaching them about the one and only way we got sober. We are the beggars telling other beggars where we found food.


When we water down the gospel, when we negotiate away the faith to make our faith more palatable to the world that does not wish to see itself as sinners, when we start editing God’s Word to meet the needs of the culture, we lose it all. We lose our message. We have no message. We have no mission. We have no church.


Amen and Amen.

In my small group discussion last Wednesday, we talked about the tension of being Christian in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity. We talked about the tension of loving others while at the same time standing on Scripture. Are we not supposed to love everyone regardless of their lifestyle? How can we love everyone but yet have Christian principles? We are not to judge others but do we compromise the gospel if we do not stand on Scripture? Ours is a ministry of reconciliation is it not? We are to love people to Jesus Christ, are we not? These are the tough questions of our faith. We are called to be lovingly accepting of others so that we can have the opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others. How do we do both, love others as Christ has loved us but also not compromise our beliefs in that effort? I think that is why we move to the next Beatitude in Matthew 5:10. There, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. So, what should we learn from this Beatitude? I think that there are three things that jump out at us.

• First, we should notice that Jesus says “persecuted” and then adds the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness”. That is something we will explore.
• Then, we will look at when reconciliation stops and standing on principle begins.
• Third, we will look at how far we will go in modern day America in pursuit of a Christ-like lifestyle.

The first point that I think Jesus makes in this Beatitude is that those who honestly believe in his name and live their life in emulation of Him will face persecution because of righteousness. Let’s make a distinction here, people around the world are persecuted but is it persecution because of righteousness? Again, let’s understand terminology. William Tyndale says that righteousness evolved from an earlier word, rihtwis, which would have yielded the modern English word, rightwise or rightways and also, righteousness. He used it to translate the Hebrew root, tzedek, which appears more than five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word, dikaios, which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament. Dictionaries define righteousness in theological terms as “living a life that is in accord with divine principles; a life that is pleasing to God.” Jean Vanier, in his book, “Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John” said, “There are two dangers … for the friends of Jesus. The first is the temptation to make compromises with a culture that marginalizes and crushes some people in order to avoid conflict and rejection. … The second danger is the temptation to like to disturb this status quo. When we are rebels at heart and like to shock people, we can create a fight in order to be in the limelight. We can do some of these things unconsciously, experience rejection and then think that we are being persecuted like Jesus was.”

Thus, you find two avenues here that are NOT what Jesus was talking about. Those of us who swallow what the world dishes out to avoid conflict and thus feel we are trying create or make peace. Those of us who believe that cultural acceptance of the church is more important than standing out or standing on the principles of the gospel. On the other hand, those of us who go out and look for ways to get a fight started in the name of Jesus so that they can be publicly rejected and feel that they are being persecuted in the name of Jesus are equally not in alignment with what Jesus is saying here. Persecution for persecution’s sake is not what Jesus is after here when he talks about persecution. He includes the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness” before he says, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus is saying that if your heart is right with God through your relationship with Jesus, then you will know when to quit offering up reconciliation. Jesus is also saying that to “stir things up” just for the sake of stirring it (meaning to create conflict for the sole purpose of creating conflict) and then claim matrydom when we get the backlash is not righteousness at all. There are those who believe that the leadership and their following at Westboro Baptist Church fall into this category. They seem to seek conflict rather than reconciliation. They seem to revel in their rejection not only by non-believers but by fellow mainstream Christianity as well. There is danger in thinking that you are the only one that really understands the Bible. There is danger in thinking you get it and no one else does. Thus, what Jesus expects of us is to measure everything we do by the Scriptures, by the life that He led. Just like him, there will be times in which we are persecuted for living our lives in a Scripturally-measured manner, for not going along with what everyone else believes, but it will be for righteousness that results in martyrdom not for seeking martyrdom for martyrdom’s sake. I think it is clear that Jesus would not want us to seek conflict simply for conflict’s sake, out of some sense of pride or need to be recognized, but rather only experience conflict when we are being asked to compromise the values of God as laid out in His Word.

True believers do not measure their actions by worldly standards, by what others think of them. True believers will do what is right, fight for what is right even if it means we will be ridiculed, tormented, shunned, or killed or any combination thereof. True believers have that peace that passes all human understanding that gives them fortitude in the midst of the stormy seas. They knowthat Jesus is in the boat with them. They know as the song, “Our God”, by Chris Tomlin, states “And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?” Thus, this peace beyond understanding allows those who believe in Jesus to stand in the line of fire, to say this is wrong when everyone else says it’s right or at least OK. For they know, they have measured their actions by the standards of the Scriptures, they have surrendered their will to that of our God and that whatever the consequences they will still have that one most important relationship in our lives – our relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second point that God has revealed in this Beatitude is its position in the sequence of the Beatitudes. Why did Jesus pronounce this Beatitude where he did in his Sermon on the Mount? It was John R.W. Stott in his book, “The Message of the Sermon on the Mount”, who said, “It may sound strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed.” The order here to me is important but also then the fact that they both are “in” as Beatitudes is important also. First, the order is important. God first invites us to be peacemakers then he says, ya know, you are pretty much going to get persecuted at some point because of living your life to glorify my name. To me, Jesus is saying that if you live a life filled with the Holy Spirit, you will by your nature seek peace and make peace. This is a peace in the sense that you want to share the peace of a holy life with those that do not have such peace. Being a peacemaker means that you will do what it takes to attempt to share that peace that you have found in Jesus in all your relationships. It also means that you will apply that concept in the face of hatred and meanness directed at us. There will be those that we encounter in life that will misconstrue and misinterpret what we say and hold a grudge against us for that. As John Stott says, in his aforementioned book, “not all attempts at reconciliation (peacemaking) will succeed.” There are those who will simply, and full-on, reject Jesus Christ, reject our ministry of reconciliation, and reject us for believing in this Jesus nonsense. There are going to be those that we encounter that are in full-on, ongoing rebellion against God. They want nothing to do with God’s Word and reject it without the slightest thought. They reject it as old-fashioned. They reject it because it points out sin in their lives that they are unwilling to turn away from.

This is, to me, why Jesus placed “blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness” as the next Beatitude. This means that true Christians will make every attempt to share the gospel with others not because of trying to impose their will upon others, but out of gratitude to God. We are so grateful for his grace that it gives a warm peace in our hearts that we are simply too excited about not to share. In accepting God’s grace, we accept the moral standards for our lives that God lays out in His Word. And through that obedience to God’s Word, we find peace. True believers realize that He is in control and that all things are done according to his plan and that each experience in life good and bad work together to refine us and make us better tools for His kingdom. Having said that, God’s standards by which we gladly accept as the cornerstones of our lives are not often acceptable to this “me, my, get my needs met before yours, look out for number one” world that we live in. Our attempts to be peacemakers in our world may cause situations in which we are threatened with having to compromise our Christian values or denounce them altogether by our actions in an attempt to achieve peace and reconciliation with others.

Here lies the importance of the order of the Beatitudes. Jesus is saying through the placement of these Beatitudes one after the other is that His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to be Peter and deny Jesus. His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to throw our Christ-given values under the bus. At this point, a true believer then measures what he is being asked against the Scriptures. In these situations, we as true believers must refuse to participate in that which will compromise what we are taught by the Scriptures. Persecution in whatever form that takes will surely follow when we don’t “go with the flow”. Again, persecution for righteousness is sacred according to Jesus. These are the people who are not martyrs simply because it makes them look good to do so. Persecution for righteousness is when we continue to love in the face of hatred. Persecution for righteousness is when we refuse to act in a non-Scriptural way because we simply believe that God’s way is better than man’s way.

The final point that comes to through the blessing of God that lights fires in my mind and gets translated on to this page is the culmination of the other two points. First, we interpreted that this Beatitude points us to the truth that those who fashion their lives after Christ we have a peace so complete that we see beyond the persecutions that we may suffer to the bigger prize which is our relationship with Jesus and our eternity in His Kingdom. Second, we see that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers first but that we must never compromise our Christ-like values in attempting to make peace in this world. Finally, the question becomes, how are you willing to go to stand firm on your beliefs in Christ. He says and virtually guarantees that if you fully accept the Christ-like way of life, persecutions will come. He says basically, “Pretty much bet on it!” This point leads me to a quote from Clarence Jordon in his book, “Sermon on the Mount” where he says, “One wonders why Christians today get off so easily. Is it because unchristian Americans are that much better than unchristian Romans, or is our light so dim that the tormentor can’t see it? What are the things we do that are worth persecuting?”

Wow, Clarence really puts us in our place with that statement. Are we so comfortable in our existence of cable TV with 500 channels, blazing fast internet speed as with sit on our couch surfing, going back and forth to work, and so on that our light is so dim that we CANNOT be persecuted for our beliefs. It’s like we, including me, say “Lord I will do this much for you but being pointed out as a Christ follower … ummm…. Don’t do that!” How come you and I claim to be Christians in a low-impact sort of way but, as Francis Chan says in the video that goes with his book, Crazy Love, there are people in Islamic countries that will lose their families and their possessions if they are so bold as to be baptized publicly and say that “my relationship with Jesus is so important to me that I will risk everything for it.” People in other countries just in this century have been singled out, tortured and put to death for firmly standing on the promises of Jesus. Can you or I do that? How far will we go in our pursuit of Christ? Will we pursue him with the same fervor as we follow and swear by our favorite sports team? Am I as willing to be pointed out as a Christ follower as I am for being a Clemson or a Carolina fan? How in love with God are we in our two car, two-story house, comfortable little worlds? Are you willing to be ridiculed for saying that you are a Christ follower? Are we willing to lose your job to follow God’s ways of doing things and refusing to participate in something ungodly at work? Are we willing to leave our comfortable life behind to pursue where God is calling you to be? Are we willing to die for being a Christian? Think about it…how far are you and I willing to take this Christ following thing? To the death?

Lord, please help us to examine our lives such that we live our lives by your Word in each and every act that we undertake in life. Lord, please help us to understand that eternity with You is more important that worldly acceptance. Lord, give me the strength and the awesome level of love for you that by sheer nature that the light I shine cannot be hidden. May I live a life that is pleasing and brings honor to you even if it brings ridicule, marginalization, or even death! May my life be such that if I was put on trial for being a Christ follower that there would overwhelming evidence to convict me. Amen and Amen.