Discipleship Is…

What does discipleship look like?

As hard as it may be, every Christian needs to take an ongoing look in the mirror and ask: have I ever “made” a disciple? The Great Commission is not a mere suggestion so if Jesus commanded it, we ought to be busy doing it (Matt. 28:16-20). If you’re not sure what discipleship books to buy or where to begin, the Bible is still the best place to go for insight on what discipleship looks like.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides valuable instruction for his protégé in the faith. His goal was to equip Timothy so that he would be equipped to serve the church in Ephesus. Through Paul’s words to him, we see a picture of what discipleship could look like for us today. In the particular context surrounding his letters, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was a serious need — as discipleship always is. Prior to this final letter he’d ever send, Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and protect it faithfully from those would attack it from the inside (Acts 20:28). This church was being opposed and the enemy was seeking to undermine its effectiveness. Ephesus was an important epicenter for pagan worship as it was home to the Temple of Artemis and not everyone was a fan of what the gospel was doing to their city. The church was in a battle for souls at Ephesus as the power of the gospel started putting idol makers out of business (Acts 19:24-26). Discipleship was vital to the health of the church then, and it still is today.

With that context in mind, here are three fundamental truths about discipleship that can be drawn from Paul’s pastoral letters.

Discipleship is hard work. Nobody worked harder than Paul to further the gospel and make disciples (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul travelled extensively, reasoned and debated with evangelistic prospects, was beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and eventually killed for the gospel. Through all of this he endlessly poured his life into his disciples. In 2 Timothy, the term Paul uses to describe Timothy is “son” (1:2;2:1). This would be inferred by the text but using such terminology would mean that Paul put in the time and effort it takes to earn that right. You don’t get the privilege of that kind of relationship without putting in the work. Other terms that correlate hard work, ministry, and discipleship are “soldier” (2:3-4), and “workman” (2:15). References to “suffering” or “hardship” (2:3; 3:12; 4:5) are reminders that advancing the gospel and making disciples is arduous labor because we’re preparing others for the same kind of work. Disciples aren’t made in a microwave; they’re made in the field. Keep your work boots by the door each day.

Discipleship is giving direction. Whether you blame passive fathers who produce passive sons, or fault societal assault on dogmatic instruction, it seems that fewer and fewer leaders are prone to giving clear, authoritative direction. Paul doesn’t hint at things or just shoot the breeze with Timothy; calling it “life on life.” He isn’t afraid to tell him what to do! While it’s true that discipleship can be more caught than taught, giving direction is essential if you want to get somewhere. Jesus, while making disciples in a “life on life” scenario with the twelve, still had precision and purpose in what He did. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he focuses on the task at hand and provides marching orders. Contrary to what anti-authoritarian opinions may be, discipleship includes telling people what to do and showing them how to do it. Paul uses imperative after imperative when directing Timothy. Jesus said that making disciples would involve “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship is much more than just telling people what to do, but it’s certainly not less. Of course, being an example is non-negotiable when directing others. The disciple-maker’s instructions must match his own actions as well.

Discipleship is duplicating yourself: One of my favorite portions of 2 Timothy is a section that not many people spend time focusing on. From 4:9-22 there are at least eighteen names listed. Two are those who either deserted or harmed Paul but the rest are people who have come alongside him in ministry and been discipled by him along the way. This is a powerful picture of duplication! Discipleship is not about creating a following that seeks after you, it’s about creating disciples who do ministry long after you. Paul was eventually beheaded and this was his last letter. But because he was faithful to the task of making disciples, his work empowered others to suffer for the gospel and advance the church.

Discipleship should never be far from our ministry repertoire. Without pouring into others we become cesspools of self-importance; forgetting that we have been saved to bring the gospel of salvation to others and we’ve been made into disciples to make disciples of others.

7 Threats From a False Teacher

False teachers and abusive leaders need to maintain their power. Therefore, they use a series of threats to keep people quiet and in line. Get out of line? You might hear one of the seven statements I’ve listed below.

Some people who aren’t false teachers or abusers do use some of these from time to time. For example, someone may be accused of behaving like a “Pharisee” because they’re relying on legalism to achieve their righteousness. That isn’t in the context here. This particular post is in the context of a pastor or church leader who is approached by a well-meaning church member concerning teachings that are not faithful to Scripture and are twisted for a desired end.

Don’t Put God in a Box

This phrase is usually directed at those who are trying to convince their church leader to keep his or her teaching in line with Scripture. You may hear this kind of statement after congregants push back against a pastor who gets up one Sunday and starts tossing out random prophecies that don’t come true (or make sense). Another example would be a concerned church member who says, “Pastor, that’s not exactly what God said He would do in His word.” The pastor would respond, “Don’t put in a box.” The pastor may even tag on one of these other statements to beef up his domneering response.

Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

This threat tends to be used when venerated leaders are opposed for their false and abusive teachings. Their defense? They claim to be “anointed” by God and immune from any accountability and that if you criticize them God will bring judgment upon you. Those who blindly follow them will usually echo this phrase as well as they warn a whistle-blower to keep quiet. Should you ever hear this threat you have nothing to fear. When you “mark” someone who is teaching false things, you are not touching the Lord’s anointed. You are obeying the Lord Himself (Romans 16:17:18).

Don’t Be a Pharisee

The Pharisees were not necessarily the best example of what true worship looks like. Even though they were very devout, they were legalistic, twisted God’s word, and burdened people with manipulative teachings that were not a part of God’s Law. They were known to control people with their spiritual arrogance and elitist mentality. Without question, they were a questionable group. Therefore, it’s not surprising when the term “Pharisee” is used in a pejorative manner. This threat from a false teacher gets used when someone holds them accountable for Scripture twisting or loose living. The false teacher will respond claiming, “Don’t be a Pharisee!” Ironically, it is false teachers and abusers who are pharisaic. They add to God’s word, they use their authority to exploit people, and are hypocrites.

Be Careful, Religion Put Jesus on a Cross

I remember seeing an outlandish service take place. There were false prophecies flying everywhere, people being “slain in the spirit,” manifestations of people’s bodies that included: gyrations, roaring, foaming at the mouth, and slithering like snakes. These manifestations appeared demonic but were claimed to be angelic. Some onlookers were very disturbed by the excessive actions taking place in the service and let it be known to the leaders. They were told, “Be careful. It was religion put Jesus on a cross.” This threat means one thing: don’t question anything or you’ll be labeled an “anointing killer.” It’s the perfect way to keep people in the dark; causing them to cower in fear that they’re like those who crucified Christ.

God Told Me I Could

When self-proclaimed prophet Todd Bentley beats on people as he prays for them, he says God tells him to. In one service, he bragged about kicking people in the face and beating on old ladies (we wrote about this in Defining Deception so you can check out the footnotes there). Another false teacher I grew up very close to used to do whatever he wanted with the offering money and explain that God gave him permission to. Never trust a leader who justifies sin by saying God commanded it.

Donate or God Will Curse You

The famous “give or die” threat has raised a few dollars over the years. Some, like Oral Roberts, have even used the “give or I will die!” fundraising ploy. Is there some biblical truth to principles of giving, receiving, and living a generous life? Of course. However, no one should ever trust a leader who says to give money or God will curse (or kill) someone. Back in my BC days (before Christ) I was in the crowd during a fundraiser in which a family was told if they didn’t give money to the building campaign that God would not give the baren mother a baby. Greed makes false teachers say whatever they can to get the mighty dollar.

If You’re Divisive, Expect a Disease

When I was 18 there was a family in our church who was leaving because they no longer trusted the leaders. The track record of the church told the story. Mishandling of funds was common. Upon leaving the church they encouraged a few others to leave because it was no longer a healthy place to be. I vividly remember the threat: If you divide the body of Christ then disease will come upon your body. This was common. A pastor within our church once had several leaders invest money into a deal guaranteeing a huge (and quick) return. It sounded too good to be true because it was. A businessman who was near 80 years old simply wanted to be paid back after his money was stolen but was told to keep quiet or else…

When people wonder why publically calling out false teachers is a big deal, simply ask: Would you point out a known sex offender in a neighboorhood full of children? Would you warn others if an active shooter were present in a shopping mall? Would you not pick up your infant if a pitbull entered the nursery? Of course. Then why wouldn’t we be faithful to point out dangers and protect the precious children of God?

Keep standing for the truth and holding fast to sound doctrine. Preach the truth. Refute error. Expose evil deeds.

There is a coming King who is building His church (Matthew 16:18). His reward will be great for those who stay faithful.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

God has an ultimate agenda for His people that brings glory to His name and joy to their hearts. He doesn’t have to, but He most often uses human leaders to unravel His plans.

Much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their positions of power to abuse and exploit people for their own gain. And, much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their position as for good. Nehemiah is one of the most prominent examples of spiritual leadership that viewed authority as God-given privilege — a responsibility, really — not a mandated right. Nehemiah held a job as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11), and later as governor (5:14), and used his position of influence to carry out God’s agenda. Warren Wiersbe’s strikes the heart of leadership challenges when he writes, “In our day of public scandals in almost every area of life…how refreshing it is to meet a man like Nehemiah who put serving the people ahead of gain for himself.”

Simply put: we need leaders like Nehemiah. He’s a model worth emulating and one that we should pay close attention to.

Here are five qualities that Nehemiah possessed, though the list could be much longer. As you read through, take notice that these are not things a leader is naturally born with. These are qualities that every leader in the body of Christ can strive for and obtain by the grace of God.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer

After learning about Jerusalem’s distress, Nehemiah’s response proves much about his leadership. He gave himself to “fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). Nehemiah was no priest but sought the Lord on behalf of the people with the priestly passion (1:5-11). When we come face-to-face with troubling circumstances, our first response says a great deal about our leadership aptitude. Do our knees hit the floor with a sense of ownership and confidence? Do our hearts break for those in bondage? A passionate prayer life is a mighty weapon in ministry.

Nehemiah was a prudent planner

Nehemiah has close access to the king and when an opportunity presented itself he was ready with an answer. When the king offered him the chance to make a request, he wasn’t at a loss for words. In fact, he prayed (of course!), then came to the king with clear plans for action and was shown favor by the king (2:1-9). How many times do we ask God for big things but our plans are nothing more than a meandering daydream? It’s been well said that goals without a deadline are just dreams. Nehemiah wasn’t praying for God to open doors for his barely-vetted idea. He was prudent, planned, and ready when the answer was, “Yes!”

Nehemiah was a confident motivator

When rallying the officials concerning the rebuilding of the wall, Nehemiah explained the dire situation, then called for progress! He motivated them by explaining the favor God had shown them in opening the doors for a rebuild (2:17-18). The result of his prayers, his plans, and call to action? “Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work” (2:18). For all his ability to motivate, not everyone was impressed. In the face of opposition and ridicule, Nehemiah spilled the secret to his confidence declaring, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (2:20). His constant call was to “remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (4:14). Within the church today, leaders have the opportunity to motivate people to take on big challenges for the glory of God and the good of His people. Motivating them with divine confidence is critical to moving the ball downfield.

Nehemiah was focused on giving God glory

When the wall was completed, it wasn’t said the Nehemiah was the greatest in the land. He didn’t stand and testify of his strength, wisdom, and might. Nehemiah has continually testified about what God had done and the result was this: “And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). Now that is a leader who has created a culture of glorifying God!

Nehemiah was committed to obedience

At the end of the book of Nehemiah, we find that the devotion of the people and their obedience to God had faded. Nehemiah quickly stepped in and called for the people to remember the sins of Solomon (13:26) and turn in obedience to God. Ever the watchman on the wall and the defender of God’s commands, Nehemiah refused to back down when it came to pleasing God. As leaders, we can grow exhausted in our efforts to call people into obedience to God. Sometimes it may seem like all a leader is doing is policing people’s bad behavior. Yet, after all he’d faced, how was it that Nehemiah still found the strength to take on another course correcting challenge? He was serving an audience of One. In the end, he declared, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31). A leader stays committed to even the hardest parts of our task by remembering Who we serve and why we serve Him. Nehemiah modeled what it means to obey God for the right reasons and stay focused on what matters most.

May a generation of Nehemiah’s stand tall in the midst of great challenges; determined to do great things for the glory of a great God.

Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada

3 Principles on Spiritual Conflict

Spiritual conflict (or “warfare”) is a subject that often succumbs to two extremes. First, there are people who blame the devil for everything — even things that are their fault. Second, there are those who dismiss demonic activity altogether; lumping it into a mystical-mindset best relegated to the extreme corners of fringe charismatic groups. Both of these views are anemic. The fact is, spiritual conflict is real and leaders do well to maintain a balanced understanding of this subject for the purpose of their own lives and counseling those they serve. The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel provides a splendid backdrop for valuable principles on spiritual conflict. These can be used to walk people through the delicate balance of discerning what spiritual warfare is, and isn’t.

The Devil is in the Business of Temptation

Right of the bat, Mark records Jesus’ encounter with the Devil in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) in which Satan tempts the Lord. Even Jesus was tempted! Spiritual conflict is very often synonymous with temptation. Think about your own life for a moment. Have you ever noticed that whenever you commit to walking in obedience, temptation comes knocking on your door? Plenty of longtime Christians will tell you that their greatest moments of weakness come after making big commitments to the Lord. Jesus modeled perfection in the face of temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and dealt with it by sticking to the word of God (Luke 4:4,8,12). And remember, Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with a red tail and pitchfork claiming, “Here I am to tempt and deceive you!” We often think spiritual warfare looks like a Hollywood scene. It doesn’t. Temptation is part of “enemy tactics” so don’t be blind. Turn to God’s word and remember that God has given us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Win the battle by first refusing to live denial. Admit that temptation is real. You are not immune. Then, turn to God’s word and resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7).

Christ Has Power Over Demons

Mark records a powerful moment in which an evil spirit that was possessing a man (could have been many evil spirits because they say “us”) declares that Jesus is the Holy Son of God! (Mark 1:24). Jesus, with a mere command, takes authority over the unclean spirit and casts it out instantly. No sweat, no screaming repetitious phrases, no three-hour exorcism. There are numerous people claiming power of demons today who go around putting olive oil on people and shouting superstitious — mostly repetitious — phrases. But is this the model for modern ministry? Even the archangel Michael did not take “authority” over the Devil in Jude by saying, “I rebuke you, Satan!” Michael, knowing where true power came from said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). Our best bet in spiritual conflict is to stick close to Christ. Where He reigns, demons cannot. Where He resides, demons cannot. If someone believes they are experiencing demonization of any kind, the first thing we ought to encourage them to do is to get on their knees, confess their sin, and surrender their will to Christ.

Truth Transforms

In Mark 1:38 Jesus leaves one region and goes elsewhere saying his purpose was “…so that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” Jesus did not come to put on an endless show of exorcisms and mystical wonderings. His primary goal was to preach His kingdom come! The truth transforms so we must proclaim the truth. It also stirs up and drives out evil.

I once had a counseling session with a man I knew very well. He was in charge of an area of our ministry. Within ten minutes of our session, his eyes were moving in different directions and his face was contorting in disturbing fashion. I could see something was off so I chose to counsel him by reading a certain passage of Scripture out loud. Suddenly, I looked up and realized he was staring intensely at me. Then, without warning, he attacked me physically. His eyes grew large, his voice changed, and he tried to subdue me. After sitting on him and eventually getting him over to our main office I called other pastors in to pray. It became very obvious that this man was experiencing some level of demonization. He was cursing at us, calling us false prophets, and calling the church pulpit “weak.” At one point he looked at me, claiming to be the Devil himself, and said, “I own your uncle and I own you! You’re ours!” I remember wondering how someone who was sitting under the faithful preaching of God’s word each week could experience such bondage. Turns out, he wasn’t. One of our elders discovered that this man had stopped coming into the sanctuary and was hiding in the corner of the courtyard avoiding the preaching portion of service every week. Whatever was at the root of this man’s oppression did not want him hearing the preaching of the word. The truth always cuts through the core of people’s hearts. Want to know the best way to stay spiritual safe in the midst of spiritual war? If you’re a pastor, preach the word. Saturate your life with it. If you’re a church member, cement yourself under sound preaching and supporting the ministry of the word. Saturate your life with it. Truth is the best antidote in spiritual conflict.

In just one chapter of Mark, we quickly see a framework for spiritual conflict and can apply it to our lives. Spiritual warfare is real. Jesus is victorious. His truth protects our lives.

What to Expect from My “Prosperity Gospel” Book

This July Zondervan will release my next book entitled, God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies.  One of the great joys throughout this project has been the repeated effort by the team at “Z” in focusing on getting the gospel to people who need it. Especially encouraging is the joint goal of everyone involved to give more than we take.

While publishing a book costs money and there is compensatory work involved on both the writing and marketing side, there is a collective conviction that our mandate to honor Christ through this book must transcend any pressure to “sell books.” I am eager to see this book used as a tool for God’s glory — not for sordid gain. Here is a sobering thought: In a rat-race effort to sell books, it’s easy to become the very dragon that we’re attempting to slay.

With plans taking shape for the next 6 months, I wanted to share some personal thoughts about the marketing plan and be transparent about how I’m going to approach things when it comes to money and royalties. Here is what you can expect from a book that seeks to charge the prosperity gospel with the grit of a bull while displaying the grace becoming of servants of Christ.

A prosperity gospel book should give more than it takes. Get ready for big giveaways.

For this project, the plan is to invest back into the people who are buying the book in some big ways. In just the first month since pre-orders began, 100 books were donated to The Central Africa Baptist College and Seminary to support pastors who are training for ministry. Africa is one of the most plagued countries in the world when it comes to prosperity theology. Plans are in place to give away thousands of dollars in books in resources to those who pre-order in the coming months as well as pastors around the world. During February, every pre-order will be entered to win the entire set of MacArthur New Testament Commentaries (34 Volumes). All subsequent months will have brand new book bundles for people to win. Then, during the 9 days of the release month (July), we’ll give away another MacArthur set to someone who pre-ordered!

This book is likely to upheave people’s bad theology. We need to help them recover long-term.

Books like this one can come off like a tornado. The clouds move in, the rain and hail pour out, the thunder roars, lightning cracks, and then all that seems to be left is upheaval. Instead of leaving a wake of destruction, this book is designed to help people with the theological rebuilding process. After the initial wrecking ball tears down exploitive and abusive theology, there will be a hopeful and upward trajectory. There will be plenty of resources continually offered on social media and at www.forthegospel.org. In addition, I was part of launching Reformanda, a teaching ministry, with six other faithful men and there is plenty of resources for people there as well. Finally, the book contains numerous recommended resources for those who will need an ongoing roadmap. The goal of this book is to destroy “speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and shed the light of truth into dark places.

Royalties aren’t for my big house. They’ll be used to build God’s kingdom.

Imagine the irony of me writing a book on the prosperity gospel only to make a ton of money off of royalties so I can live like a king. That’s not only shameful considering my background; that’s hardly what God’s purposes are in blessing a project like this. In an effort to operate with transparency and integrity, allow me to state the obvious: A book speaking against the prosperity gospel technically makes money “off of” the prosperity gospel. As such, it is the conviction of both my wife and me that royalties* from this book be used for theological education and providing resources to pastors and people who have been exploited by the prosperity gospel. Prayerfully, God will use this project as one that gives more than it ever takes. May it be blessed to be a blessing.

As the next few months unfold, you can both support this project and benefit from it in three simple ways:

  1. Scroll down and subscribe to this blog for content directly to your inbox
  2. Pre-order the book and email your order confirmation to contact@forthegospel.org to be entered into drawings for theological resources. *Must be subscribed to the blog
  3. Pray that God uses this book to rescue people being exploited by prosperity theology.

Soli Deo Gloria

*Due to legalities associated with royalties, taxes, and fees, I cannot say “100% of royalities” in this statement.

3 Takeaways from India 2019

From January 25th – February 3rd I and a brother from our church embarked on a 34-hour journey deep into the heart of India. While it’s not necessary to share our exact location, I can share that we were in the southern half of India. Our objective on this trip was not to convert Hindus, but rather, to strengthen and encourage local pastors who are facing monumental challenges in ministry.

The trip was prompted by a request from our local partner and was spurred on by a zeal to see pastors trained and supported in a region with little opportunities for such training.

Over the course of nine days, we came to learn about local threats to the gospel directly from national pastors and leaders and spent time discussing strategies for the years ahead. We also provided training seminars during the day and expositional sermons at night. In total, I had the privilege of preaching and teaching about a dozen times (sometimes cramming two sermons into 90 straight minutes of preaching at the request of our hosts). We ministered everywhere from a small village church to a crowd of 700+ pastors from all around southern India.

It’s impossible to put into words all the incredible experiences that we had on the trip but I’d be doing my dear brothers from India a great disservice if I didn’t at least boil things down to a few key takeaways. I’m not saying I have the solutions to the challenges contained in some of these takeaways, but it still seemed noteworthy to point them out.

The Prosperity Gospel is the #1 Issue The Global Church is Facing Within Its Own Ranks
One afternoon we sat with approximately 15 pastors for a time of fellowship and discussion. What I came to learn was shocking. Previously, I understood that the prosperity gospel was somewhat of an issue in India. After all, 15 years ago I was in Mumbai for a massive crusade with the “Hinn family entourage” and millions of people attended our crusades where we promised health, wealth, healing, and salvation to the desperate crowd. But this trip was different. As the pastors shared their hearts, I was told that the entire region is seeing a wave of compromise within the church. One pastor confessed that he has “started preaching prosperity theology” because people will leave his church if he doesn’t. Another pastor shared that even in areas where the church appears to be thriving, those churches are not healthy — they preach the prosperity gospel. As men opened up in honesty, the clarion call within the room was that faithfulness was still our mandate.

While religions outside of Christianity (like Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism) still result in great persecution against Christians, nothing seems to be assaulting the church from within like the prosperity gospel and other branches of charismatic extremism.

When you analyze the global church on a macro level; adding in stats from South America, Africa, and even China (yes, China!), the prosperity gospel (and associated movements) is the #1 issue we’re facing. Sound doctrine is in short supply. There is a famine in our land.

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Hungry for More Access to Theological Training
Over and over again the pastors and leaders asked, can you please help us get more resources in our own language and help us access training for ministry? Out of the approximately 1000 pastors I came across, very few had received any formal theological training though they were desperate for it. It’s not as though they could apply for financial aid and simply go to seminary. In the smaller group of pastors that I interacted with, 6 had been to seminary, 5 had finished. Of those 5, at least 3 had to leave the country to acquire their training. While I understand that these numbers cannot accurately represent the entire global picture, they do serve as a wake-up call for the need to train and deploy leaders internationally. People are hungry for theological training so they can be more effective in local ministry.

At one point a pastor shared with me that India has its very own version of “Benny Hinn” and “Joel Osteen.” These local national imitators put on the same ruse that false teachers do in America. I immediately thought, where are the local national theologians who can push back on this threat? Why is it that there are influential false teachers assaulting the church but these local pastors are hard-pressed to find a commentary set or apologetics resource in their own language in order to study and answer the questions of their congregation? I was struck with the conviction that we must be intentional about training nationals to be warriors in their own nation. Furthermore, it seems there are still many places around the world that are not getting the translation support they need to contend for the faith.

How amazing would it be to see countries explode with their own seminaries and their own theologians so that more locals can move more quickly into training opportunities and be unleashed on the local church when ready? It’s hard enough to minister in places around the world where persecution is intense. Without access to theological resources, many leaders are like unarmed soldiers in the middle of a war zone. If we can help them get started, we must.

Jesus is Building His Church and the Gates of Hades Cannot Prevail Against It
Even in the darkest corners of the earth, Christ’s light cannot be stopped. India is no exception. One church we visited was located in a village that had been completely Hindu one generation prior. All efforts to evangelize people there had borne no fruit. Then, a family planted a church of 4 people in the village and tried once more. The result? An explosion of conversions and some 80 members now growing in their faith. The locals have threatened them and tried to eradicate their church, but Christ continues to increase their number. One pastor shared how his church started in his living room, then spilled outside his home, only to lead them to erect a church building to meet the growing need for space. Now, 400 members gather each week to hear the preaching of the word, share a meal, and sing for the glory of God together. Without question, in the midst of a spiritual battle between darkness and light, our unstoppable conquering King is building His church.

As generation after generation seeks to be faithful to the Great Commission, God will use them to see great things unfold. It’s easy to get lost in the noise that can is American evangelicalism. Personally, being reminded of what our family in Christ is facing around the world puts many things into perspective. Suddenly, stone throwing over social justice and arguing over politics seems less important. It’s amazing what nine days, less Wi-Fi, and some good old-fashioned Indian food will do. Change of pace and change of place really do equal a change in perspective.

Here’s to more living out the Commission we’ve been called to. Life is short. Let’s stay busy.

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

How to Heal from Theological Abuse

It’s not uncommon for me to receive communication from people who God has graciously saved out from extreme charismatic abuses, prosperity gospel exploiters, and cultish movements like the New Apostolic Reformation. I find myself both overjoyed and heart-broken at the same time because on one hand it’s the beginning of the rest of their new life in Christ. Sadly, on the other hand, it’s often the beginning of a very painful journey through loneliness, despair, and confusion.

People saved out of deception don’t know where to start. Imagine being in their shoes and having everything you ever believed and most everyone you ever trusted turn out to be predominantly false. Now, go even further. Your friends, social circles, and even family members ostracize you when you try to explain the truth to them. You get labeled as “rebellious” or “hateful,” are threatened with divine judgment, and anyone associating with you is warned not to join you in “touching the Lord’s anointed.” Few people understand what many theologically abused exiles say feels a lot like PTSD.

One of most common series of questions looks something like this: What can I do to heal and move on from the abusive theology and actions I have been a part of? What do you think my next step is? How to I get over this? How do I get stable after being so confused?

Before any of those questions can be answered effectively, it’s important we echo the words of Martin Luther when he was asked how the Reformation happened. He said, “The Word did it all.” Friend, whenever “reformation” happens in our lives it is a “word-centered” process. That is what the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our dark souls.

I’ve put this list in emails to people time and time again so I thought it best to compile a blog in case this may help more people get answers. Think of this list as a “plagiarize and customize” kind of thing. Use what you think is helpful and toss out what you don’t.

If you have some helpful tips, add them in the comments here or on social media. My guess is that over time, we’ll continue to see people share their stories and provide practical steps towards recovery from their own experiences as well.

Here are several next steps:

1. Cling to a (BIBLICAL) church, your pastors, and wise mentors — In my case, I was fortunate to be saved at the same time that our church was shedding shallow methods (and some bad theology) and embracing sound doctrine. We received a lot of help from seminary professors, selfless pastor-theologians, and retired pastors. Our pastors and elders (thankfully) were open to learning and growing! They wanted truth. Had they not, my wife and I were ready to pack our bags. God was gracious — we didn’t need to leave and so we all grew together. Older, wiser, and spiritual balanced mentors will always be used by God to play a key role in helping abused and confused sheep recover. Overall, run from error and abuse, find a biblically minded church with leaders who shepherd people, then stick to it like velcro! That’s the takeaway here. Don’t go rogue. Don’t do “online church” because you refuse to trust anyone. Don’t wander aimlessly. Find a Biblical church and plant yourself there.

2. Get into counseling — Depending on your church size and pastor’s schedule, you may need to seek counseling outside your church. In order to keep progressing, I recommend seeing a biblical counselor. I remember a very fruitful season of growth because at various points over a period of three years I met with biblical counselors. I poured my heart out, told them everything I’d been through, asked questions, received wisdom from the word, and put truth into practice as soon as possible after each session. Counseling is huge for recovering. Don’t hold back. Get your trust issues out on the table.

3. Saturated your life with sound teaching — For all the time our society spends binging on Netflix, wounded sheep do well to put that energy into soaking up sound doctrine. I’ve heard story after story of people who were saved out of deception and subsequently spent Sundays under their pastor’s teaching, then spent 5 nights a week reading solid blog articles, devouring theological books, and watching John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, and Paul Washer sermons — taking notes as though they were in the front row at church until their eyes couldn’t stay open. Get serious about sound doctrine. God will use it to strengthen you.

4. Journal what you’re learning —This may not be your first thought, but writing can be very useful for processing thoughts, emotions, and the wisdom you’re learning. Make T-charts of “true teachings vs. false ones,” write out verses that debunk your old beliefs, write your testimony in 500 words, 250 words, and a 50-word elevator speech. Consider making prayer lists and spending substantial amounts of time on your knees with the Lord. In short, putting things on paper helps bring clarity to otherwise sporadic thoughts and emotions.

5. Continue your education – Seminary education may not be your thing but continuing education should be. This could be an online learning program, or a Bible Certificate from a seminary or Christian University, or starting some classes at your local church’s bible institute. Doctrinal training puts “meat” on the bones of your new beliefs. Many churches have excellent (free) resources for training lay people (find one of those kind of churches). If you’re church isn’t there yet, consider an online learning tool like Ligonier Connect.

6. Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Never stop doing the steps listed above. Even if school ends, or you’re counseling is complete, continue saturating your life with the Word. Stay plugged into the local church, keep accountability close by, seek out wise counsel, and prioritize your devotion to Christ. What you’re experiencing now is the Christian life. We get saved, and then the fun begins — even if the “fun” takes hard work. Remember, God is the one working in you and through you, but your hands need to stay on the plow. The road to recovery is more like running a marathon, not using a microwave. Salvation is instant, sanctification is a process. Trust the Lord and stay the course.

A High View of God’s Glory

The fullness of the Christian life and all that it entails can never be experienced without the jaw-dropping moment in which God’s glory becomes everything to a believer. If you’ve not had such a moment, much is in store for you to experience. It is the most humbling moment of your existence to find that so little is actually about you and that your purpose is found in living for His glory. Many Christians have some idea of God but the concept of His glory eludes them as they live day after day caught somewhere between a love for God and a self-centered belief that their life belongs to them.

People ask time and time again, “What exactly is God’s glory? What does it mean that my life’s purpose is for His glory?” The truth is, God’s glory is so vast that no single chapter, no single book, and no grandest canyon could ever contain all that He is. But there, in the impossible vastness of who God is we find a definition of God’s glory: It is every aspect and attribute of God.

He is from everlasting to everlasting. Where the best of humanity ends, God has barely begun. While we as humans are prone to believing how necessary we are, God is, in fact, no better with us and no worse off without us. He is the crown jewel of His own glorious crown. He is glory defined. A life of purpose for humanity is only found when the purpose becomes Him. God exists for Himself. We exist for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Reflect on your own life for a moment. Has the immeasurable value of God’s glory settled on your soul? Have you been shaken to your core by the finitude of your own power and authority? Are you acutely aware that every morning you’re allowed to wake up is pure mercy from the One who gives permission to your heart to pump the oxygen-rich blood your body needs to breathe just once more?

The truth is, every Christian loses sight of the glory of God from time to time and needs a moment of renewal; devoting the heart and its affections to Him once again. He is to be the object of our affections and the center of our world. Three things renew our commitment to living for — and striving to understand — His glory.

Awestruck by His Character

A high view of God’s glory is charged through being awestruck by His character. God’s revealed attributes are the conduit; stirring our affection for Him. We live more fully for God’s glory when we know exactly who He is!

Jonathan Edwards modeled the joy we find in seeking who God is when he wrote, “The greatest moments of my life have not been those that have concerned my own salvation, but those when I have been carried into communion with God and beheld His beauty and desired His glory…I rejoice and yearn to be emptied and annihilated of self in order that I might be filled with the glory of God and Christ alone.”[1]

His attributes are endless and yet He’s chosen to reveal to us what we need to thrive in relation to Him and relationship with Him. To be awestruck by His character is to know His attributes which include:

  • His Eternality (Genesis 1:1)
  • His Sovereignty (Psalms 115:3)
  • His Infinite Wisdom (Romans 11:33)
  • His Goodness (Psalms 34:8)
  • His Mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5)
  • His Justice (Romans 2:5)
  • His Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • His Love (1 John 4:8)
  • His Holiness (Isaiah 6:3)

Under the umbrella of every one of those characteristics the endless nature of God’s nature is proven. What’s more? God is perfect in His expression of those attributes. In other words, whatever He does, and however He does it, it is perfect — no matter how we might feel on this side of heaven.

Aware of Your Own Corruption

Few things elevate your view of God’s glory better than a proper view of self. Biblically speaking, we are corrupted and God knows He is the best thing thing we have going for us. Romans 3:23 declares, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Plainly, you will never measure up! That’s step one in becoming aware of your corruption. Quoting the Psalmist, Paul writes, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). We are utter failures at achieving anything but sin, and we’re complete disasters at being “good enough” for God. Now before you crawl into a dark corner of hopelessness and shame, welcome that reality into your mind and embrace the weight it places on your heart. You need to become O.K. with admitting what you see in the spiritual mirror of your life if you want to live for God’s glory. We are by nature, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). The bad news must come out if you’re going to celebrate the good news! God’s glory becomes everything when your self-righteous confidence becomes nothing.

Be able to say like Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a). With nowhere to turn for the solution to our corruption, we have no choice but to fall on our knees as beggars before the throne of our merciful and glorious God. We’re never more ready to come to grips with the glory of God than from this helpless state.

Adoring Jesus Christ

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the glory of God is found in Jesus Christ. He is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), the revelation of glory (John 1:14), and the One who will return in glory (Luke 21:27). A high view of the glory of God is founded in your adoration of Christ. To go even further, it is impossible to have a high view of the glory of God without a burning affection for Jesus. Why else would Paul say with resounding boldness in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”? Because he knew the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Philippians 3:8).

The faithful Bishop of Liverpool, J.C. Ryle, so beautifully pronounced what Paul did in saying “Christ is all” (Colossians 3:1) in his book, Holiness. He writes, “Christ is the mainspring both of doctrinal and practical Christianity. A right knowledge of Christ is essential to a right knowledge of sanctification as well as justification. He who follows after holiness will make no progress unless he gives to Christ His rightful place…let us understand that Christ is all.[2]

If you want to experience the fullness of the Christian faith, Christ is the key. Devote yourself to being hidden in the Rock of Ages; worshiping humbly as His feet.

There, as you bow low in His shadow, you will find the highest view of the glory of God.

______________________________________________

[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1:lxv-lxxiii, quoted in Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 147.

[2]J.C. Ryle, Holiness – Abridged, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010), 247-248.

Is the Old Testament Law Useful Today?

Few genres of Scripture cause more confusion in the church today than the Law. Perhaps one could reasonably argue that the book of Revelation outdoes the Law in crossing the Christian’s eyes, but beyond that, there isn’t much debate here. We’re left asking, “What is the role of the Old Testament Law in the life of the Church?” or “How in the world do we interpret passages from books like Deuteronomy or Leviticus?”

Consistent interpretive wisdom on this topic is in short supply. For example, read the following laws and notice the significant conundrum that arises if we try to apply them directly to our life in 2019:

  • A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean (Leviticus 13:40)
  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19)
  • Do not eat pigs or touch their carcasses (Deuteronomy 14:8)
  • Stand up in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32)
  • No tattoos allowed (Leviticus 19:28)
  • Lethal force is acceptable at night; not in the daytime (Exodus 22:2-3)

Unarmed with faithful methods of interpretation we’re left playing an unfortunate game of hermeneutical roulette. If we take several of these at face value, we’re in trouble. Apparently if you’ve ever eaten a Honey Baked Ham, worn a shirt with cotton and polyester, tattooed your favorite Bible verse or sports team on your bicep, or failed to stand next to grandmas chair all Christmas evening, you’ve sinned against God! But if you’re bald, you’re good. Based on that conclusion, you might say the role of the OT Law in the life of the Church today is to confuse us! But that’s not true.

Certain principles help us see the Law for what it is, and what it’s not. A resource will be recommended at the conclusion of this post for further study. To get you started, here are some basic principles that can help in a variety of ways including, protecting you from false teachers who twist the Old Testament, and helping with the difficulty of applying your morning reading from Exodus:

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s covenant with Israel

Israel receives the Law in the context of God’s covenant with them­­—usually called the “Mosaic Covenant.” He essentially says, “If you obey me and keep my commands, I will bless you.” This covenant was conditional, limited to Israel, and not something you or I should apply directly to ourselves today. It had a purpose.

  1. The Law teaches us about God’s nature—especially His holiness

Sometimes we miss one of the most important purposes of the Law in the Church today when we mistakenly attempt to read ourselves into aspects of the Old Testament Law. Often, the Law serves to point to a simple truth: God is holy and expects His people to be set apart. This timeless truth carries to the New Testament when Peter calls the Church to obedience and holiness under the New Covenant in Christ (1 Peter 1:14-16).

  1. The Law teaches us about man’s nature—especially his depravity

If you think humanity is intrinsically good, the Law can help shed light here. For example, Israel cycled through decades of crying out to God, receiving help from God, complaining again to God, sinning when they grew impatient with God, then crying out to God when their sin got them in trouble with God. Does this need further explanation? Just read 1 Corinthians 10. We aren’t literal “Israel” in the Church today, but we sure act like Israel don’t we? We need divine intervention in our lives. Thank God for Christ.

  1. The Law teaches us to appreciate what Christ has accomplished

Have you ever driven by someone renovating a terribly kept yard on your way home to your own freshly manicured lawn? Imagine yourself driving by for a moment. Picture the type of long grass that clogs a lawnmower, weeds that break through the concrete and break your back, mold growing up the siding, and bushes so overgrown you’d sooner sell the house than deal with them. When we look at Israel underthe Law compared to our lives inChrist, a deep appreciation develops; causing us to run into the arms of Christ like the undeserving leper crying, “Jesus, thank you.”

  1. The Law teaches us principles that can be applied today

Some schools of interpretive thought ignore the Law altogether—presuming it to be useless in light of Church-Age literature. This is a slippery slope—no actually, a dangerous cliff. Jesus Himself used the Law in many teaching moments, including with the Rich Young Ruler (Matt. 19:18-21). Furthermore, He escalates certain Laws like adultery from being committed through sinful actions to being committed through sinful thoughts (Matt. 5:27-28). Paul himself said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Even though we are not under the Law, it still proves useful in teaching us today.

Much more can be said on this topic but these principles can help you foster an ongoing appreciation for the role of the Old Testament Law in the Church today.

For further study, the following resource is excellent for lay ministers to seminary students:

Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).