Don’t Be a Radical

I don’t want you to be a radical.

Now, that may sound like a strange statement on a blog called “A Radical for Jesus”. Especially when I have no plans of changing the blog name anytime soon.

But I still don’t want you to be a radical, because it’s spiritually dangerous.

Radicalized Islam Christianity

At age 20, Jonathan Hollingsworth boarded a plane for Africa.

He had already given away his possessions, started sleeping on the floor, begun reaching out to the homeless, and taken a mission trip to Honduras. Jonathan had taken a path of radical Christianity. And now he was headed to be a missionary.

But six months later, he was back home, crushed, disillusioned, and questioning his faith. The mission agency had turned out to be a disreputable organization, and they had prevented Jonathan from ministering as he had desired to do. They controlled every aspect of his life, even what he wrote on his blog.

And then, when Jonathan came home, his church didn’t want him to share his story, and they forced him and his parents into silence.

That only made matters a lot worse.

In retrospect, Jonathan realized that his desire to be radical and do radical things had set him up for being used and abused. As he told Boz Tchividjian:

…the unfortunate paradox of spiritual abuse, I think, is that the more devout you are, the more susceptible you are to it. My church leaders knew me inside and out. They knew I would do anything to please God, help the church, support missions, etc. So when I made the incredibly difficult decision to end my mission in Africa, they knew exactly what to say to keep me quiet and ashamed. They used my own spiritual values to beat me into submission…

There are a lot of people out there willing to exploit those who give up their whole lives for a cause. For every radical who gets on a plane, there’s a con artist waiting for him on the other side. And sadly, sometimes that con artist is a church or a mission agency. Before I left for Africa, everyone told me to watch out for kidnappers and hustlers and pickpockets, when in reality, it was the people I least expected who posed the biggest threat.

The danger of being radical

I read about Jonathan’s story a few months ago, and it resonated with me. Fortunately, I never went as radical as he did, but I had certainly adopted some of the same “be a radical” mentality.

I was struck by his point that those who desire to be radical are more likely to be used and abused. Such people believe that obedience to Jesus means doing something radical, and they are willing to do crazy things because they think Jesus is leading them to do it. Or because someone put a guilt trip on them to do it.

So often, I think, we “radicals” have been driven by fear. We’re afraid that we’re uncaring, unloving, too rich, too happy, too fun-loving, whatever. We’re afraid that we aren’t making God happy enough. We’re afraid that, unless we act more radically, we don’t love God enough.

Or that God won’t love us enough.

And when we turn to the Bible, we find plenty of verses to back up our fears. “Take up your cross and deny yourself.” “Be not conformed to this world.” “Forsake everything you have.”

But as time has gone along, I’ve discovered that I didn’t really know God during those “radical” days. I have come to realize that, while God may call us to do radical things, He has not called us to be radicals.

Jesus calls us to follow Him

We need to look at the rest of the passage where Jesus said to take up our crosses:

He said to all, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus doesn’t just call us to take up our crosses. He calls us to follow Him.

We do have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses (in other words, present our bodies as living sacrifices [see Romans 12:2]) in order to follow Him. But that is the means to the end, not the end itself.

We can deny ourselves and take up our crosses all we want, and yet never follow Jesus. Unless we actually follow Him, we gain nothing from denying ourselves.

Led by the Spirit

More and more, I am convinced that what we lack the most in the church today is the working of the Holy Spirit.

We each need to be filled with the Spirit and be led by Him, because the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

And not only that, He is the antidote to our toxic, radicalizing fears.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15)

The Christian life is not merely a life of “not-doing”: not doing what we want to do. The Christian life is a life of doing: doing what God wants us to do.

But how do we know what God wants us to do? That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in.

For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)

A true radical for Jesus–the kind that God is looking for–is filled by the Holy Spirit and led by Him.

To those of you who are trying to be radical to please God and be good enough to make Him happy with you, I have a simple word for you:

Relax.

Get to know your Father and His great love for you.

Be filled by the Holy Spirit and ask God to teach you to know when he is leading. Because, in my experience, Satan loves to hijack our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams, and any other means by which we think we can hear God. And when we have been “radicalized”, we come to expect a different message from God than what He actually wants to give us.

Be radically devoted to Jesus.

But don’t be a radical.

Learning to Know Our Father, Part 5: Responding to God’s Love

In our study of God’s love so far, we’ve seen that God is love, and that He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him. We’ve seen that we need to understand His nature, including His love, in order to not be afraid of Him. We also need to glorify Him and seek His help, so that He has the opportunity to demonstrate His love for us. And when we don’t understand His love, we need to ask Him to show us what His love is really like.

As we learn to know our Father better, and His love fills our hearts and lives, how do we respond to that love? And how can we find others who truly love Him?

Since God is love, part of the evidence of His love in our lives is when we have love for each other.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

You would think, perhaps, that God would say, “Since I have loved you this much, you ought to love Me in return.” But instead He says, “Love one another.”

Jesus says, “Because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) When God adopts us into His family, we become brothers of Jesus. In fact, Jesus dwells with each of God’s children, and so, when we show love to one of God’s children, we are showing love to God!

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is loving God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)

I used to read these verses and believe that it was my job to keep God’s commands on my own, with His help. I thought that anyone who was saved got as much help from God to keep His commands as any other Christian. In other words, I believed that all Christians, including myself, were receiving God’s help to obey Him, and if I had trouble following Him, I needed to try harder.

Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t work that way, for two reasons. One is that some of us need more help than others, and some of us need help in different areas than others—for example, overcoming an addiction. The second reason is that God doesn’t help us unless we allow Him to do so.

God is not a control freak. He does not force us to do what He wants us to do. Nor does He force us to accept His help. He definitely gives us guidance, changes circumstances, and works all things together for good. But He knows that, if He were to control us into doing the right thing, it would not lead us to truly love Him. We would just be robots.

Forcing people to do the right thing can actually be detrimental. When a person has a personal drive to do something, they will work with a will and try to accomplish the task. However, if someone forces them to do it, or bribes them to do it with some sort of reward/punishment system, it kills the person’s inward drive. This, I believe, is one reason why some homeschool families have fallen apart, despite looking so good when the children were young. Because the well-meaning parents tried to control their teenagers into doing the right thing, it actually turned their children against the parents and against the “right thing”.

Spiritually abusive systems, which stress human effort to achieve a man-made standard, prevent us from receiving God’s love and help, while loading us down with guilt and shame over our inability to follow God (and the pile of human commands the system gives us). This is one reason why you may have to change your beliefs about God and His nature in order to receive His love. If you’re always trying to live the Christian life on your own, God never has a chance to demonstrate His love to you!

The truth is that, when we put our faith in God, realizing that on our own strength we will never measure up to His standards, He gives us the victory to overcome the world and keep His commandments.

Jesus said, “One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) In other words, when we love God, we will naturally want to keep His commands. I used to think this was run in reverse: you keep God’s commands, and then He loves you.

The truth is that we love God because He first loved us. If we don’t know the love of God, we will not love Him in return. If we think He is just a hard taskmaster who is burdening us down with a grievous load, we will never love Him, and we will despise the very commands we are endeavoring to keep.

What Jesus is saying is that, when we know God, receive His love in our hearts, and love Him in return, we will also love His words and keep them. This is not a “if you really loved me, you would do…” guilt trip.

God is love. Therefore, without God, we will never have true love. Moreover, since we cannot manufacture God, we also cannot manufacture love. If you find yourself unable to love others properly, don’t just “try harder” to love them. That will never work. Ask God to fill you with His love and give you love for others!

So what does that look like? What are loving actions, anyway? We already saw part of the answer to that question earlier: God’s commands explain what loving actions are. They were written in love, and they are our guidelines for walking in love. Someone who claims to love Jesus, yet fails to obey Him, does not love both Jesus and his fellow men.

Not only that, though, God shows us from day to day how to love one another:

But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that one write to you. For you yourselves are taught by God to love one another… (1 Thessalonians 4:9)

With God’s love ruling in our hearts, He will teach us how to love one another. He will guide us how to help one another in the most beneficial way. He will show us areas where we lack love for one another or are treating one another unlovingly.

Remember, love for one another is the result of God’s love first dwelling within our hearts, and then overflowing in love for others. It is not something that you can create on your own!

If you would like to study God’s love some more, I recommend the free e-book He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobsen. I do not endorse this book completely; I believe that Jacobsen downplays the fear of God too much. God does tell us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), and unless we recognize that He is also holy, just, righteous, and all-powerful, as well as loving, we will not serve Him or even love Him as we ought. However, I recommend this e-book for those who have heard much about the fear of God, yet do not understand the love of God. It will help to shift your thinking in the proper direction.

God’s blessings to you as you learn to know Him!

Photo © Can Stock Photo Inc. / grace1221

Learning to Know Our Father, Part 1

See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! For this cause the world doesn’t know us, because it didn’t know him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:1-2)

Do you live in fear of God? Are you are afraid of Him—afraid to die, afraid of His judgment, afraid that you’ll make a small mis-step and be brutally disciplined?

Let me assure you: God specifically says that He does not want you to live in fear of Him. There is no need for you to live in fear and turmoil, uncertain if you can trust Him!

In this love has been made perfect among us, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-18)

If you are born again through Jesus Christ, you are now a child of God. So what is your Father really like? Do you know? Are you sure that you know?

Our culture is a self-centered, narcissistic culture. The mantra is, “You are important! You are special! You can do anything you like!” Some churches have picked up on this attitude and emphasized certain attributes of God that can be made self-serving, such as love, grace and mercy.

This has resulted in a backlash from those who (rightfully) recognize that there is more to God than His love, grace and mercy. (This, by the way, is the camp that I grew up in.) Unfortunately, however, in my experience, God’s love, grace, and mercy are downplayed and ignored, and His anger, wrath, justice, and hatred of sin are emphasized.

In order to understand who God truly is, we must understand His entire nature, lest we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. The Pharisees failed to understand what God was really like. Because they recognized the side of His nature that hates sin and punishes those who disobey Him, they wanted to make sure that no one disobeyed Him. So they made many rules to prevent people from disobeying God, but this resulted in them rejecting God when He came in the flesh. Jesus had to sternly rebuke them:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, but you bypass justice and God’s love. You ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)

In the next several posts, we will examine the love of God and seek to learn what He is truly like. If you want a jumpstart, read 1 John 4, especially this passage:

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. (1 John 4:14-16)

Bill Gothard: the Saga Continues

Yesterday, Recovering Grace posted a letter from Dr. Samuel Schultz, a member of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) Board who had worked with the Institute since the 60’s. Schultz read the letter at a board meeting in 1980, and, after the discussion that followed it, resigned from the board.

Later, the Lord showed me a couple passages about Bill Gothard that I shared in a comment:

There are a couple passages that the Lord showed me yesterday that I think apply all too well to Bill.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 18 For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

Recently, I went through my mom’s archive of newsletters going back to the early 90’s. One consistent theme I noticed throughout was the steady drumbeat of “great things are happening!” Even as it moved into the 2000’s and we started noticing that ATI families were not turning out the way we thought they should, Bill kept up the steady stream of positive reports about how God was doing “great things!” It wasn’t until about 2005 or 2006 (as I recall) that he started hinting that things weren’t quite as great as he had reported.

The “Letter from Bill Gothard” (http://www.recoveringgrace.org/media/Letter-from-Bill-Gothard.pdf) shows that same pattern continuing–Bill talking about how “great things” happen and can happen through IBLP.

But God says that it is the ones HE approves of who are approved.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

I hesitate to share this, because it is so strong. Yet God warns us that Satan’s workers will sometimes appear to be ministers of righteousness. That is exactly what Bill appeared to be. Yet, his works show that he does not fear the Lord. Samuel Schultz warned about that in 1980, and Bill’s own words in 2011 indicate the same thing: “…if we are not leading others to Christ and discipling them, there is little or no motivation to be different than the world.” (see link above, bottom of page 1) In other words, according to Bill, there is no real reason to obey Jesus, other than to be an example of “higher standards” to others. Either that, or merely obeying Jesus will not make us different than the world (not true).

When we see a pattern of bad fruit and works, we must beware. He who DOES righteousness is righteous. He who lives in sin is of the Devil.

John 8:44-45 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. — Jesus

Elsewhere on the Web, former ATI student Jeff Gill posted a cartoon about the situation. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Ignore the Commands of Men

Titus 1:12-14 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; 14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is time to obey the verses above. It is time for the church to ignore the commands of men—totally disregard them, forget that they ever existed, leave them in the dust—and obey the commands of God. It is time to ignore the Jewish fables of commands dragged from the Old Covenant and burdened upon the members of the New Covenant. It is time to follow Christ.

I don’t know why these verses never struck home to me as they did a few days ago. All of a sudden, I realized that God had specifically told us to disregard the commands of men. This is very important. I grew up in the Mennonite Church until I was 14. I was homeschooled in Bill Gothard’s homeschool program and listened to his teachings. I have heard many preachers preach. Over the years, I have believed that certain things were necessary in order to be a good Christian—things that God has never told us to do.

Is this your story as well—or a variation of it? Then God has a message for you:

Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

God tells us that to be sound in the faith, we must not give heed to the commandments of men. We must evaluate what we believe and throw out the stupid commands that we have imbibed that never came from God. If God didn’t think it was important enough to command us about, it certainly isn’t something for us to make up a command about. It is very serious to add to God’s Words and require people to obey our words. That is setting up ourselves as God. God specifically tells us that we are all equals in the Kingdom of God:

Matthew 23:8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

God commanded us to “Be subject to the higher powers” (Romans 13:1) and “Children, obey your parents in all things” (Colossians 3:20), so parents and the government have the right to make rules and laws for those who are under them. Beyond that, however, no one has the authority to make commands for the rest of God’s children to keep. As followers of Jesus, we need to lay aside every weight:

Hebrews 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

If we are to run the race, we must lay aside the weights of man’s commands that burden us down, or else we will not have the strength to finish the race.

Let me give you an example from my own life. For most of my life, I never wore short pants for anything except pajamas. From about five years old, it was long pants, no matter how hot the day—the one exception being playing in the creek! Even after leaving the Mennonite Church, I dressed much the same as I always had. It wasn’t until about year ago that it finally dawned on me that there was absolutely no command in Scripture that forbids a man to wear shorts! My father had already started wearing shorts, and I had started wearing them occasionally, but suddenly, I realized that I didn’t need to worry about the twinges of a misguided conscience that said, “But Joel, don’t you know that men shouldn’t wear shorts?” No, I don’t know that anymore. There is nothing in the Bible that says it is a sin for a man’s lower leg to be visible. Forbidding shorts is merely a command of men that causes us to turn from the truth.

Jesus warns us:

Mark 7:6-7 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew 15:7-9 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Jesus tells us that the commandments of men actually cause our worship of God to be vain. That is incredible! The very thing that is supposed to keep us close to God actually makes our worship worthless! Do you want your worship to be worthless? I sure don’t.

Watch out for man’s teaching that pretends to be God’s teaching. Perhaps you have been dragged down by something like the modesty myth that I referenced above. The King James Bible actually says that women should adorn themselves in “modest apparel”. However, God never states what that “modest apparel” would look like. In the absence of a command from God, many people, such as myself, have added to God’s commands and come up with modesty rules that state how much of woman’s body must be covered in order to be “modest”. What a farce! Is it a sin for a woman’s upper arm to be visible? No! God could have stated as much if He had so desired. Yet, many women would feel guilty about wearing a sleeveless top because someone told them that it would be “immodest” and therefore disobedience to God. That is called bondage!

Are you ready to leave behind the commands of men and obey Jesus alone? Are you going to keep obeying the commands of your church, your favorite author, the radio preacher, the homeschool conference speaker or the friend who will look down on you if you don’t keep their pet command of men? Are you going to fear man more than you fear God? I beg you, don’t! “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

Drop the commands of men and run!

 

Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, and the Bigger Picture: A Must Read

In light of Doug Phillips’ resignation from Vision Forum Ministries and the closing of Vision Forum Ministries, I believe my Dad’s latest article at Biblical Research Reports is a “must read” for everyone. This is not merely about Doug Phillips. This is also about a failed ideology. Doug is the latest in a whole string of failures.

Doug Phillips, Vision Forum, and the Bigger Picture

 

 

The Terror of the Lord

Last night, I had my last Facebook fling. I was adding a few friends, despite a hesitation in my spirit: “Don’t do that.” As I left my computer to go to bed, I felt that something was not right, as though the Spirit of God had left me. As I crawled into bed, I could not go to sleep. I lay there, praying. Nothing happened. The empty feeling did not go away; I did not feel renewed. I prayed. Writhed on the bed. The agony as verses like Hebrew 10:26-27 went through my mind: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,  27  But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” I felt that fearfulness. Oh, it was awful. I knew that God had never wanted me to get on Facebook in the first place; and now, this. I wished that I had never signed up. I wondered what was next. What was life without my Savior? I prayed for a while. Paced the floor. Oh… I couldn’t stand it. Finally, about midnight, I went to my parents’ room and asked my father to pray for me. We all prayed together and I felt better enough to go to sleep.

But when I woke up this morning, the feeling had not gone away. Waves of fear came over me like the night before. Agony. I prayed. As I prayed, God brought to my mind a line from a song that He had given me recently: “You will never know the joy that can be yours today, If you never let the Savior in.” “Lord Jesus,” I prayed. “Please come in and fill me.” The presence of God entered my soul in sweet relief. I prayed on, asking Him to fill me and to abide in me. I prayed until my alarm clock went off at 6 o’clock. The morning was dawning, and as I opened my eyes and looked out the window at the new light of the morning, a verse came to me: “…walk in newness of life.” Yes, I had newness of life. Peace in my soul and joy in my heart. I dressed and headed out to start the day.

A verse that I remembered was: “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Cor 5:11). I knew that terror of the Lord. Terror. It had not been pleasant. Oh, the agony I had suffered. God’s peace was with me as I headed out, resolved to get rid of my Facebook account. The thing that had seemed so wonderful before was now awful to me. I wanted to live for God.

As I went through the day, something seemed to happen partway through. The peace of God seemed to leave and fear came in again. I prayed. The feeling was not as the night before, but not good. I could not shake the feeling that I had strayed away.

Finally, in the afternoon, I was in the house. I prayed, “Lord, give me a word from this book” as I held His Word in my hand. I opened it to the book of Psalms, chapter 37. I read down the page to verses that jumped out at me. Psalms 37:23-24  “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.  24  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” I saw that God delighted in my way and I would not be utterly cast down. Oh, the peace from God as I burst into tears! God’s peace is so wonderful.

Oh, my friends, don’t do what I did. Don’t do that which God’s Spirit warns you not to do, even faintly. Listen to Him and put Him first. As I read this morning in my devotions, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” Matthew 13:44  The kingdom of God is worth more than anything else. Don’t let other things crowd Him out. Oh, don’t tempt Him and grieve Him. Listen to Him and make His Kingdom first priority!