There is an old song that says: “Everybody talking about Heaven ain’t Going!” The meaning behind the words of the song is that just because a person talks about Heaven or talks about going to Heaven, that doesn’t mean they will actually go! Well, the same is true for everyone who claims to be a Christian: Everyone who claims to be a Christian is not actually a Christian! And just because a person says that he or she is a Christian, that declaration does not make them one! I wanted to bring this out because there are many today who are calling themselves Christians, but their actions are so anti-Christian that their actions are causing those who are not Christians to despise the name of Christ! Now of course, this is nothing new: The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, cites Isaiah 52:5 in Romans 2:24: “ For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (ESV) The word ‘blasphemed’ means, ‘to be spoken evil of.’ There are many people in the world today who want nothing to do with Christianity or the God of Christianity because of the acts and attitudes of people who ‘say’ they are Christians! So, for the record, let’s find a simple answer to who and what is a Christian.
Simply put; a Christian is a person who follows (is committed to imitate) Christ. A Christian is a person who faithfully represents the beliefs, actions, and attitudes of Jesus Christ. A Christian is a person who does what Jesus would do! A Christian is a person who follows (obeys) the principles and teachings of Jesus by faithfully following and enacting those principles and teachings in his or her own life within their present cultural context. The term ‘Christian’ is not a political term in the sense of party affiliation or platform. Therefore, those who attempt to use the name; Christian to promote a political or social agenda other than righteousness and justice are illegitimate imitators of the faith!
Let me put it in the kitchen so you can cook it: The vast majority of people, making to the most noise in the name of Christianity on the political scene in America today ARE NOT true biblical Christians! They are merely using the name to promote their political agendas! The Jesus of the Bible would not be in agreement with the mean-spirited racist rhetoric that is coming out of the mouths of many who claim to be Christians in America today! The Jesus of the Bible would NOT endorse the KKK, DID NOT endorse American slavery, and is NOT please with many of the policies of the present administration in Washington! Now, this is not to say that Jesus was pleased with all of the actions of the past administration, but to highlight the fact that just because you hear people say they are acting in the name of Christ; that doesn’t mean they really are! The Jesus of the Bible IS NOT pleased with America’s systemic racist injustice system that is bias against the poor and people of color! The Jesus of the Bible IS NOT in favor of white privilege and the oppressive practices of the rich and well-to-do! The Jesus of the Bible would NOT rubber-stamp the actions of our current president the way many so-called evangelical Christians are doing! And speaking of the so-called evangelical Christians, I just read a report from Pew that asked Americans if the U. S. had a responsibility to accept refugees. No group – racial, by age, religious or political – was less supportive of the idea than white evangelical Protestants! The group least likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees is the group that claims to follow the ONE who would most likely think the U. S. has a responsibility!
The problem with so-called American Christianity is the fact that many of its followers tend to compartmentalize their faith. They have separated their faith from their politics and see no connection between one and the other. They espouse the possibility of being politically evil and morally good at the same time! But real biblical faith is not divorced from politics; real biblical faith shapes politics! Real biblical faith demands a political agenda that demands, letting justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)
The problem with so-called American Christianity is the fact that, for many of its proponents, faith is submissive to economic, politics and ethnicity. The ‘Jesus’ they serve is a reflection of them as opposed to them being a reflection of him. Hence, when one creates a ‘Jesus’ that reflects one’s own personal, political, and social beliefs, that ‘Jesus’ is an idol and NOT the Jesus of the Bible!
If you want to know what real Christianity looks like, don’t look at what you often see in America today; take a look in the BOOK! Now, we all sometimes fall short of the glory (the perfect idea) of God, but real Christians are honest about their short-comings, repent and strive to get better. Real Christians are submissive to the demands of Christ and seek to be molded into His image instead of seeking to making demands of a Christ they have made in their image!
Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) I was reminded of that verse as I was reading an article for a paper I am required to write for one of my D. Min., (Doctor of Ministry) classes. The article was about preaching, postmodernism and the New Homiletic. Without going into too much depth, postmodernism is a movement or a way of thinking that denies the objectivity of knowledge and truth. According to postmodernism, there is no objective truth, but rather truth is socially and culturally constructed. When you hear people saying such things as “my truth,” that is an indication that they have been influenced by postmodernism.
The author of the article, in describing the various elements of the New Homiletic (Homiletics is the art and craft of constructing sermons and preaching. Simply put; the New Homiletic advocates the construction and preaching of the sermon should start with the listener, whereas in traditional homiletics, the process begins with the biblical text) said, according to the New Homiletic, the purpose of the sermon is not to communicate information, but rather to evoke a communication event from the audience in which the audience, with the help of the preacher, creates or discovers the meaning of the text. In the New Homiletic, the most important thing is not what the text actually means or says, but rather the meaning the listener or reader gathers from the text or the preaching event. The article goes on, in much detail, to talk about this ‘new’ way of thinking, preaching, and listening to sermons. As I read the article, I said to myself: “This is nothing new; this is the same thing I did in Sunday School as a boy!”
When I was a youngster, my Sunday School teachers were not, by no stretch of the imagination, biblical scholars. Now, this is not to be disparaging, or disrespectful toward them because they, and the church, did the best they could with what they had! (The only qualification required to teach Sunday School back then was just the willingness to do it; not too much has changed in most churches I am familiar with today!) But, I thank God that they did know enough to light a fire within me to want to know more about the Word of God and the God of the word! Now, I mention them because, as we went over the lesson, each student had to read a verse. Then, after reading the verse, each student would stand up and explain what the particular verse they read meant to them. I didn’t know it then, but the most important thing in biblical study is NOT what the verse means to me, but rather, what the verse actually means! No! I didn’t know it then, (and my Sunday Schools teachers apparently didn’t know it either!) but you really can’t know what the verse means until you know what the verse meant! In other words, the primary thing is not so much what the verse is saying to me, but rather what was the original author’s intended meaning for his original audience. You can’t get the application right (what the verse means and how it applies to your life) until you first get the original meaning right! My New Testament Greek professor; Dr. G. Roger Greene, at Mississippi College (MC) always asked and challenged his students, when I was in his class: “How can you know what it means if you don’t know what it meant? As preachers and teachers of the Gospel: You can’t tell them what it means, if you don’t know what it meant!”
So, I guess what I’m saying is that postmodernism and the New Homiletic are not really “new” at all! The same thing was happening in my Sunday School class over fifty (50) years ago! But, we could go back, even farther than that! Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 are two verses that are identical in most English Bibles, the verses say: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (KJV) The New English Translation renders it: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.” (Jdg. 21:25 NET) Isn’t that where we are today, with people talking about ‘their truth’ and ‘my truth?’ Isn’t that the same thing postmodernism and practitioners of the New Homiletic are doing and saying when they say there is no objective truth and that truth is subjective and relative? It’s amazing to me, because it seems like the more modern man seeks to discredit the Bible as the Word of God, the more he actually proves it to be true!
If you are a preacher, a prophet, a teacher, or deal with the word in any kind of way, I admonish you to be careful to be faithful to the text. Please remember, we are not being faithful to our calling when we assign meaning without finding and understanding the original meaning. We must remember, the scriptures were not written specifically to us or for our modern frame of mind. They were written to ancient people, who processed things much differently from the way we do today. Therefore, to be honest in our exposition, we must first understand their position! Even in modern communication, the real meaning is not the meaning you, as a reader might assign, but rather the real meaning is the meaning the writer or author intends! For instance, if you assign a meaning to this blog post that I did not intend, there has been no communication; but rather there has been a miscommunication! Even in our daily conversations, we should make sure we are actually communicating instead of just merely saying words to each other. One of the main problems with communication today is with people are using the ‘same’ words, but those same words often having ‘different’ definitions! For example, when I tell you, “I’m cool.” Before the conversation is over, we both need to understand whether or not I’m talking about my discomfort with the temperature, or am I talking about what a great guy I am, or am I saying, I have no problems with our relationship or with something you might have said earlier that might have caused me to be upset!
Now, if we have those communication issues with just simple everyday conversations, and we are in the same culture, time, and place, then how much more do you think there are communications issues involved in properly reading and understanding the Bible, when we are dealing with communication issues with people from a different time, culture, language, and way of thinking? Imagine this scenario, if you will: Suppose, I write you a note and I tell you about this funny joke I heard. And in the note, I make the statement: “That joke was so funny, I died laughing!” Now, fast-forward several thousands of years and my note is found by people of a different culture, language and time. A people who no longer or never, used the expression; ‘died laughing’ to express how funny something is. There will be a distinct possibility that those people might mourn my untimely death because they will think I literally died from laughing so hard! And God forbid that my note should somehow be misconstrued as factual scientific data! Then they would be some sad people indeed, afraid to laugh, lest they were to ‘die’ from laughing! Now, as unlikely as that might sound to you, some of the things that people are so uptight today about what the Bible says were not meant to be doctrines, dogma, or deep truths, but actually were originally just hyperboles and figures of speech! But, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the deep stuff and the fluff, if you don’t dig for what it meant and just take someone’s word for what it means!
We live in an amazing time! On one hand, with the advent of biblical computer software programs such as Logos Bible Software, BibleWorks, BibleSoft, WordSearch, Sword, and many others (some of which are free), access to the Bible in the original languages and the tools for research and correct interpretation are just clicks of the mouse away! Yet, biblical illiteracy, even in the church is increasingly alarming! I remember one night, I was teaching a New Testament Survey class at a church I once served. One student asked me why I kept referring to some of the epistles as ‘Pauline.’ He thought ‘Pauline’ was the wife of Paul! (No joke; he was serious and he was a deacon!) He was almost as bad as the joke I heard about the kids who thought the ‘epistles’ were the wives of the apostles! Or even worst, I actually heard a person reviewing a Sunday School lesson say that he thought the ‘Gentiles’ were called that name because they were gentle!
God help us all! At a time when the need for biblical authority in preaching and teaching is so great, the airwaves are flooded with preaching and teaching that has no real depth or substance! There is an overwhelming number of preachers and teachers, with many followers and listeners; boldly, loudly, and authoritatively proclaiming nothing more than: “This is what the verse means to me!”
This, my 200th post, is a combination of a two-sermon-series preached at the New Hope Baptist Church in Covington, GA several years ago. Your comments are welcomed.
“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 1)
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.” II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV
Let me begin by saying that this sermon does not and will not have anything to do with nor will it in any way intentionally speak about the Mormon Church, which is officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No, I am not talking about nor am I referring to “those” latter-day saints. But, of all the times that I had previously looked at this text, it wasn’t until I was browsing through this neighborhood of the scriptures the other day that I made, what was for me, an alarming discovery! You see, all the other times that I read this text and heard it preached and expounded upon, I just assumed that this was a listing of the character traits of people in general in the last days. I mean after all, when you go through this list, it looks pretty grim and hopeless, therefore I assumed that it must be describing people, who obviously know nothing about God! But, the other day, when I looked at this text more closely, I was shocked to discover that Paul was not describing how the people of the world would be in the last days! No! This is a description of the people who will claim to know God in the last days! This is a description of church folks in the last days! Hence, this is how I arrived at my subject, for this is a listing of the character traits of the latter-day saints! It’s right there in the text in verse 5! Paul said that they would have a form of godliness. In other words, they will go through the motions of having church! They will be in regular attendance at the Divine Order of Service and Bible Class. They will claim and proudly wear the name: Christian! But Paul says that although they will have a form of godliness, they will deny the power thereof. In other words, they will pray prayers without believing in the power of prayer! They will be hearers of the word but will not be doers of the word. They will go to church and even support the church, but they will deny the power and purpose of the church. That is why Paul said that the times would be perilous! In the last days, the majority of those who will claim to be Christian will be Christian in name only!
Now, it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is the basis of the English word “perilous” is the same word that is used to describe the two men possessed with demons in Matthew 8:28. The word means, “dangerous, difficult the deal with.” In the last days, the times will be difficult to deal with and here’s the reason why! First, it will be difficult times because men will have misplaced affections. In this listing, the first two characteristics in verse 2 and the last two characteristics in verse 4 deal with what men will be loving. Jesus said of those days; “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Bobby Blue Bland said some years ago: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city! Ain’t no love in the heart of town! Ain’t no love, and you know it’s a pity! Ain’t no love cause you ain’t around! Yes! The last days will be fierce, dangerous and perilous because even those who will claim to be Christians will have mis-placed affections.
The first trait listed in the list of the characteristics of these latter-days saints is that they will be “self-lovers!” In the last days, there will be an obsessive preoccupation with the self! Although the greatest commandment is; to love LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. The worship of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost will be usurped with the worship of the unholy trinity of “Me, Myself and I!” In the last days, the affection and devotion due to God will be given to self. Therefore, “self” will be the “god” of those who will be lovers of self. Well, I think I ought to pause here and tell you that I believe the last days are upon us! Most of the problems that occur in the church today are rooted in selfishness! Everybody insists upon having their own way! Instead of praying and reasoning with one another for the good of the body, people try to tear up the church when they can’t get their own way! The root of most marital problems, problems in professional and personal relationships can be traced back to the domineering demands of self; the ego! That’s why the first requirement of true discipleship is the denial of self! When God is not properly worshiped, honored and given his rightful place in a person’s life, he is usually replaced with the self!
Now, in the KJV, the second characteristic on the list is “covetous.” However, this is really an incorrect translation of the word Greek behind the text. The Greek word is “philarguros” which literally means “silver-lover.” This is not the same word that is normally used for “covetous.” One can actually be covetous without loving money, they do not mean the exact same thing. Friberg defines the term as, “having a greedy disposition loving money, wanting to be rich.” The term is found in the NT, only in this text and in Luke 16:14. The latter-day saints will be “lovers of themselves,” and “lovers of money!” All one has to do is just flick though the channels of so-called Christian television or browse through the bookshelves of any secular or for that matter, Christian bookstore today and one will find that “self-development, “self-realization,” “money,” “wealth,” “prosperity,” and “financial blessings” are the buzz words of the day! In the last days, the latter-day saints will be obsessed with pleasing themselves and obtaining money and material wealth!
The next trait is that they will be “boasters.” The word literally means “empty pretender.” It is one whose mouth is bigger than his body. One who talks a big game, but is unable to back up his talk with supporting action. This is one who arrogantly presumes too much about himself. Akin to this is the next character trait. They will be proud with an overwhelming estimate of one’s means and merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt. Don’t you see this trait among the so called latter-day saints today? The spirit of humility is almost non-existent! Many church folks today are not bragging on Christ, but rather they are bragging on themselves! There are Pastors who are bragging about how many members they have and about how big their budgets and buildings are! However, while the emphasis is on building budgets and buildings, the ultimate calling of building people has been neglected and ignored! There is really no time and energy left to lift up Jesus because they are too busy lifting up themselves!
Well, I’m just about to run out of time, so I guess I will have to break this sermon up into parts and try to finish the list the next time! So, let me close today with the blasphemers. Please note that according to the Bible, to blaspheme is not just speaking against God, but to blaspheme is to speak against God, Jesus, and the things and/or the people of God! So, when church folks talk slanderously about one another that’s actually blasphemy! How can you speak against of the people and/or things of God and not be guilty of speaking against God? The Lord has always identified himself with his own! The Bible says that the king shall say in that day: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Well, I really need to leave you alone now, I’ll pick up here next time! But, you need to check yourself to see if you are one of these latter-day saints! As for me, I believe I’ll be like the song the old folks used to sing! Just give me that old time religion! It was good enough for the Hebrew children! It was good enough for old man Daniel! It was good enough for Paul and Silas! It was good enough for my mother and my father and it is good enough for me!
“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 2) II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV
Again, I would like to say that this sermon is, in no way, meant to cast any kind of negative light upon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. No! We’re not talking about those latter-day saints! But, as we look at this text, we discover that Paul is not listing the characteristics of the world, but rather of people who will claim to be saved! People who will be associated with the church and will wear the label; Christian! People who will have a form of godliness but will deny the power thereof. So, with that being said, let’s continue with the list.
We left off last time in the middle of verse 2 with blasphemers, so let’s begin today with the next characteristic. The text says that these latter-day saints will be disobedient to parents. In ancient society, respect for parental authority was extremely important, disrespect and disobedience to parents was not tolerated. Listen to how disobedient children were handled according to the Law in ancient Israel, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deut.21:18-21 KJV). In ancient times, there was zero tolerance for parental disrespect and disobedience, but these latter-day saints will be continually non-compliant and rebellious to parental authority. The next characteristic is that they will be unthankful! They will be ungrateful, unpleasing and ungracious. No matter what they received they will never be thankful. Next, it says that they will be unholy. According to the Analytical Lexicon of the NT, this speaks of those who reject religious obligations, having no regard of duty to God or man. The Greek word used here is only used here and in I Tim. 1:9 in the NT. Hence, in context, the verse speaks of the time when those who are supposedly Christian will make no distinction between that which is holy and that which is not. They will make no separation of holy things and will treat holy thing as common. Then the text says that they will be without natural affection. The NASB says that they will be unloving, the NRSV says that they will be inhuman. According to Louw-Nida, this word pertains to a lack of love and affection for close associates or family. They will be without family love! For the latter-days saints, blood will not be thicker than water! The KJV translation of the next term is really a bad translation. The word truce-breaker means one who makes a treaty and then breaks it. But the Greek term that is behind this translation denotes not those who make a truce or treaty and then break it, but rather those who refuse to make a treaty period! The modern translations render it as, irreconcilable, unforgiving, implacable. The Greek word literally means, “without libation or drink offering.” Hence, it is indicative of one who is strictly unwilling to make a treaty, hence irreconcilable and unforgiving. The absolutely irreconcilable person, who, being at war, refuses to lay aside his enmity or to listen to terms of reconciliation. This person is unwilling to be at peace with others. The latter-day saints will be false accusers or slanderers! The root of the Greek word is the same as the term for the devil. The term is used to describe those who are given to malicious gossip. They will be incontinent, which means they will be without self-control, lacking in moral restraint. They will be fierce, untamed, not gentle, brutal and salvage. And then they will be despisers of those that are good. Not only will they not want to do right, but they will hate those who will want to do right! I’m talking about the latter-days saints! They will be traitors, meaning they will deliver without justification a person into the control of someone else. They will be betrayers and will abandon in times of danger. They will be heady, which means that they will be rash, reckless and thoughtless. They will be high-minded, which means that they will be conceited, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought. And then the text says they will be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. Their main pursuit will be entertainment and relaxation, things that comfort and pleases the flesh, to the neglectful detriment of the spiritual and the things of God. The Louw-Nida Lexicon renders the definition as, “pertaining to being fond of pleasure and enjoyment – given over to pleasure.”
At this point in the text, the main list of the characteristics concludes. Note that the list began with the characteristic of being lovers of themselves and lovers of money and ends with the characteristic of them being lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God! Yes! The main problem with the latter-days saints will be that of misplaced affection! They will have a love for self, money and pleasures but have no love for family, others or God! Now, all the while they are doing this, Paul says that they will have a form of godliness! In other words, they will not quit coming to church! They will not stop offering up praises to God! They will go through the motions and the rituals of godliness. They will have a form of godliness, but it will just be a show! They will perform the rituals of the faith, but they will deny the power of the faith. Now, Paul warns Timothy to disassociate, to turn away, avoid, having nothing to do with such people. Those who are sincere are to withdraw themselves, as much as possible, from those who are hypocrites!
Now, I’m not going to deal with verses 6 and 8 because I really need to finish this today! So, let me comment on verse 7 and then I will conclude with verse 9. In reference to the women mentioned in verse 6, Paul describes them as, “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I believe that this is a description of the latter-day saints also! The latter-days saints will run from conference to conference, from workshop to workshop, from church to church, from this class to that class, always learning.But, because they will be determined to remain in their sins, they will not be able to come to a full, saving, knowledge of the truth. People often erroneous apply John 8:32 which says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But when you really look at that verse, the very first word is “And.” That means that it is connected and predicated on what precedes it. The quote is only part of what Jesus said. The whole of what Jesus said is this, he said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” You can only be free unless the truth makes you free! The truth will only make you free if you know the truth! And you will only know the truth if you continue (remain, abide and dwell) in his word, thereby proving yourself to really be his disciple!
Paul concludes by saying that these latter-days saints will only go so far because their folly will be exposed for all to see! It will not be difficult to tell who is saved and who is not because the Bible says that a tree is known by the fruit it bears! Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them!” Now, we don’t need to know them for the sake of judging them, we need to know them for the sake of knowing the real from the fake, the sheep from the wolves, the real saints from the latter-day saints!