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.

The Most Important Thing for the Christian Life [Video]

Do you know what is most important in the Christian life?

Most people have their pet doctrine. They teach about divorce and remarriage; they stand up against human trafficking; they strongly oppose homosexuality; they picket abortion clinics and hold pro-life rallies.

But are those things the most important things to talk about?

You can read the transcript here.

Modesty: A Letter to Myself, 10 Years Later

Dear Joel,

I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.

However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about telling women to be more modest. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.

Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.

In recent years, God has been teaching me about these things. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.

So now I’d like to share with you some things that I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.

The Concept of Modesty is a Farce

Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible:  “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.

But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.

This is the only verse in the Bible where God commands women to dress in “modest” apparel. As I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.)

This verse is the only basis for requiring women to dress modestly or to cover a certain amount of their body. But the farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”, or for condemning women for wearing certain types of clothing.

In other words, there is only one verse in the entire Bible that commands “modesty”, but that command does not actually exist. There is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.

God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body

It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!

Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.

I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. While I would not recommend that women go around topless, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.

God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside

When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.

In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look, but what is in their heart. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.

Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. Since He has not commanded that any specific part of the body must be covered, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them, but I know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.

God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them

One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This is putting false blame and guilt upon the guiltless woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.

Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God has never said that women can cause men to lust after them by revealing their bodies. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:

  1. The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
  2. It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.

I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.

Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. I have seen a couple modesty surveys, and the only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others, and some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.

You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.

Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!

God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside

In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”

If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.

This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.

Modesty Isn’t Working

Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.

I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.

 

Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help someone else like you who believes in modesty.

You might be concerned that if women don’t dress modestly, you’re going to have problems with lust. I understand. God showed me some myths about lust—maybe I’ll share them another time. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this verse:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

With love,

Joel

Sexual Abuse Recovery: Why We Help the Abuser and Shoot the Victims

It was a meal together after a funeral. I was sitting at a table with a couple of my great-uncles, and the conversation turned to dealing with sexual abusers. As we talked, it became clear that their first priority was how to deal with the abuser and help him to be able to get back to a more-or-less normal life. For some reason, they didn’t have much to say about helping the victim(s) to find healing from their trauma.

Since then, I have observed this same phenomenon with others. They will talk about the dreadful effects that sexual abuse had in the life of the abuser, when they face the punishment for their acts, but fail to give equal thought to the effects on the victims. Why?

There are three reasons that I see:

Age

In the case of child sexual abuse, there is a good chance that the abuser is a grown man–or woman, for that matter. (Actually, there is also an excellent chance that the abuser is a teenager, but we will leave that age group for right now.) If the abuser is a church member, all the adults in the church are peers. The abuser may even be a leader of some sort in the church and well-respected. Contrary to what you might think, an abuser is often not someone who you would suspect as an abuser. They might be friendly, outgoing, respectable people–who do terrible things.

So when the well-respected peer is convicted of sexual abuse, the people around them are naturally going to think of their friend first. They may feel that he/she was unjustly accused or given too harsh of a sentence. They want the abuser to be able to come clean and return to normal life.

The child victim, on the other hand, may be someone they don’t even know. At the very least, they probably don’t know the child as well as the abuser, even if it is the abuser’s son or daughter. If they’ve never met the victim, but know the abuser well (or at least respect him/her), they can easily forget about the needs of the faceless victim.

Especially if they have…

Ignorance

Many people are unaware of the effects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. This includes many victims.

The trauma of abuse causes many effects on the victim, especially when it is repeated and comes from someone they trust, such as a family member. The victim may “shut down” emotionally or develop certain coping habits or thought patterns. They may blame themselves for the abuse. And they may “act out” in ways that appear rebellious, irresponsible, careless, or sinful. Those who don’t realize what is happening will react improperly and condemn the victim for their behavior, further traumatizing and alienating them.

The potential effects and results of sexual abuse include:

  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Anger
  • Loss of trust
  • Poor school performance
  • “Spacing out” and daydreaming to disassociate from the abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Running away
  • “Acting out”–rebellion, crime, cruelty to animals, sexual promiscuity, drug use/abuse, physical aggression to others
  • Self-destructive behaviors–cutting themselves, slitting wrists, burning themselves, suicide
  • Confusion about what is healthy sexuality
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Shame/shaming others
  • Over-responsibility and perfectionism
  • Promiscuous behavior

(Taken from Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse by Lynn Heitritter and Jeanette Vought)

It is important that we understand the true effects of abuse on its victims so that we are able to empathize with them, understand why they do what they do, and help them to find healing. They need safe people to talk to, people who will care about them, listen to them without condemnation, blaming, or shaming, and respect the privacy of the victim by not sharing the information with others. They need people who are filled with the Holy Spirit and can help them to find true healing through the power of Christ.

Some people, though, will still not care enough to help, because of a…

Lack of Christ-likeness

Jesus defined His ministry early on by reading in the synagogue of Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The Scriptures foretold:

“[Jesus] will not strive, nor shout; neither will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a smoking flax, until he leads justice to victory. In his name, the nations will hope.” (Matthew 12:19-21)

Jesus has a great heart of compassion for those who are hurting. He came to earth and gave His life for us because He cared so much for us.

Jesus also expects us to have the same heart for those around us. He tells us that in the judgment, He will separate those who serve others from those who don’t.

“Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Notice that this is not about preaching a gospel of good works. The righteous were not doing these things because they were trying to earn their salvation. They didn’t even realize that they were helping Jesus. It was just part of who they were as God’s children. They had compassion on their brothers in Christ (“the least of these My brothers“) and ministered to them.

Jesus wants us to reach out and help the hurting, especially those within the church. If we lack this desire and compassion within our hearts, could it be that we lack the love of God?

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does God’s love remain in him? My little children, let’s not love in word only, or with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

But Don’t Throw the Abusers Under the Bus

From what I’ve read, 40-50% of sexual abusers have been abused themselves. Their actions can be part of their “acting out” and trying to cope with their abuse.

This does not excuse their abusive actions, but it does bring something to the forefront: the abusers need help too!

Christians have something to offer that no one else has: the power of the Holy Spirit to enable people to lead holy, righteous lives, free from abuse and other sins. While the world can only offer prison and therapy, Christ has the power to actually change people from the inside out. He has the power to heal the hurts, the wounds, the pain, and to take away an abuser’s desire to abuse others.

However, there is one catch: it only works if the person actually wants to be helped. It only works if they are willing to repent and accept the working of Christ. Jesus does not force anyone to accept His forgiveness and cleansing.

As long as an abuser is unwilling to fully repent, be cleansed by Christ, take full responsibility for his/her actions, and pay any necessary criminal penalties, he or she will never find true freedom from their sin. There are many people, unfortunately, who will never experience true freedom in Christ because they are unwilling to do one or more of these things I just mentioned.

Before I wrap this up, one more important point: sexual abuse is a crime. It doesn’t matter whether it was full-blown rape or “just” some inappropriate touching. Both are traumatic to the victim, and both are criminal. Some people, such as pastors and counselors, are required by law to report sexual abuse to the authorities. If they do not, they themselves will be held accountable by the state.

We want people to find repentance and cleansing through the power of Christ. But the law has been broken, and the penalty must be paid. The church is not capable of handling abuse “in-house”.  It must be dealt with in a court of law.

And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall not do any more wickedness like this among you. (Deuteronomy 13:11)

 

Jesus is the God of justice,
And He wants us all to be made free.
Let us follow in His footsteps,
Bring the world His liberty!

Bind Up the Wounds

The Living Neighbor of the Zombie Church

As I pulled out of the zombie church and onto the main road a few weeks ago, grieving over what I had seen, I looked over and saw the neighboring church, Emmanuel Alliance Church, right next door. “That church is different,” God told me. “I want you to go there next, in two weeks.”

So accordingly, this past Sunday, I got in the car and headed for Emmanuel. When I checked their website before going, I saw that the pastor was preaching a series called “Miracle Grow” on the fruits of the Spirit. I groaned inwardly. It sounded so cheesy, especially after hearing most people teach the fruit of the Spirit as something that we work within ourselves—like ideals for a Christian to strive for.

I arrived at the church and was greeted warmly by various people. I sat down and began counting chairs to try to get an idea of the capacity of the sanctuary (I’m really horrible at estimating the size of a group). I never did finish the math. Please don’t ask me how many seats there are. I would say attendance ended up at 50-60 people.

The worship team—two vocalists, piano, and guitar—started in with “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, followed by some contemporary songs.

Friends, I grew up believing that contemporary Christian music was full of Satanic influences, and I never listened to it. Even today, when I flip on a Christian radio station, the music grates on my nerves and sensibilities. And contemporary praise-and-worship? My experience has been that it is a bunch of religious fluff, repeated ad nauseum.

But Sunday, from the first moment, I felt the Holy Spirit moving in the music. It was alive! Even the contemporary songs were pretty good. They had some substance!

Announcements came next. This probably ended up being the cheesiest part of the service, as the pastor and the worship leader engaged in some canned back-and-forth about upcoming events. Oh, well. Then they had a commissioning for a man who is leaving to take a pastoral position in Alberta, in the Fort McMurray area.

The pastor opened his sermon with prayer, asking God to fill him with the Holy Spirit and give him the words to speak. Great! We were starting out better than the zombie church. And then he said something I wasn’t expecting:

“If you are listening to these messages on the fruits of the Spirit, and you think it’s something that you’re going to make happen in your life, you’ve missed the point. The fruit of the Spirit is something God does in you. If you lack these characteristics, you need to ask God for them.” (I’m probably horribly paraphrasing.)

Wow. He got it! He wasn’t going to give me some fluff-and-nonsense sermon about working to try to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit! This was definitely a good start.

The fruit discussed this particular Sunday was gentleness. I think that God knew that I needed to hear about this fruit of the Spirit to help me develop it in my life.

The pastor shared, from Isaiah 42:1-4, three characteristic of gentleness as seen in the life of Christ:

  1. Gentleness in word. “He will not shout, nor raise his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2)
  2. Gentleness to those who are hurting and broken, instead of attacking and condemning them. “He won’t break a bruised reed. He won’t quench a dimly burning wick.” (Isaiah 42:3a)
  3. Bringing justice on earth. ““Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights— I have put my Spirit on him. He will bring justice to the nations… He will faithfully bring justice. He will not fail nor be discouraged, until he has set justice in the earth, and the islands will wait for his law.” (Isaiah 42:1, 3b-4)

I left the church, greatly encouraged in my walk with Christ, and also encouraged to find some spiritual life. As I headed home, I started thinking, “What if every sermon there is that good? That would be too good to be true!” I mean, most of the time, when I go somewhere for church, the sermon ranges somewhere from “zombie” to decent–like having a couple challenging points. This time, I really felt like I had been spiritually fed.

Will God lead me to continue going to Emmanuel Alliance Church? I don’t know. Would I even agree with them doctrinally? I don’t know. But this much I know: God was there.

The posts on the “zombie churches” painted a pretty bleak picture. Without retracting anything I said there, I do want to say that there is hope. God is not dead! And the church has not died out either. It is still alive.

Friends, let’s pray for revival.

Photo courtesy of Alejandro Rdguez/flickr

Of Zombies, Hearing God, Paul Emerson, and Anabaptist Eyeglasses

Last week, I wrote probably the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. I told the story of visiting a church, and realizing that the pastor was preaching a dead sermon. I said that he was a zombie—a walking dead man—and that his church was a zombie church. I also called Paul Emerson, a prominent preacher in the moderately-conservative Mennonite church, a zombie.

And now, I would like to tell all those who were offended by that post: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t share God’s words without offending you.

However, not in the least am I sorry that I called anyone a zombie.

The Problem in the Church Today

We have a problem today. If someone gets up and shares something that God has given them—a function that the Bible calls prophecy—and it doesn’t fit with what people want to believe, they shoot it down and ignore it.

I had people tell me that I shouldn’t talk about church leadership that way.

I had people question my ability to hear God’s voice.

I had people who didn’t think I knew what I was talking about.

I have been a Christian for over 20 years. I have seen a lot of things go on within the church in those 20+ years. Folks, the American church is dead.

You ask me: is my church dead? Worse yet, am I dead? Am I one of those zombies that you’re talking about?

I will put it bluntly. If you don’t know whether you are alive or dead, or if you don’t know whether your church is alive or dead, the answer is probably yes, you or your church are a zombie, or at least on the way to being dead unless you or your church make some changes.

Few people question if they are physically alive. The answer is obvious. You know if you are alive. You are walking around, breathing, carrying on conversations.

However, we do have a problem. There are many churches and people who think they are alive, but are not. They are the walking dead. They are zombies. And that’s where prophecy comes in.

Prophecy

Follow after love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)

But if all prophesy, and someone unbelieving or unlearned comes in, he is reproved by all, and he is judged by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. So he will fall down on his face and worship God, declaring that God is among you indeed. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification, exhortation, and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

When God wants to talk to someone, He will generally do it one of two ways. Either He will speak directly to that person, or He will send a prophet. He gives His words to the prophet, and sends the prophet to whoever needs to hear from Him.

This is exactly what God did with the Apostle John in Revelation 3. The church in the city of Sardis was dead. They were a zombie church, appearing to be alive, but actually dead. So Jesus wrote them a letter by the hand of His servant John, and sent it to them:

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars:

I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:1-6)

I don’t know what happened when the church of Sardis received their letter. Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus, telling you that your church was dead? I hope that they took heed and repented.

Likewise, today, God is still speaking through His prophets. He is sending His prophets to the dead church, telling them to repent. The door of repentance is still open, folks! This isn’t the end! On the contrary, if people will take heed to the prophets and repent, it will be the beginning of new life!

But many people are telling the prophets to shut up.

Hearing from God

One problem we have is that there are many false prophets in the world, and many people who have not heard from God, yet claim that they have. Therefore, many people are skeptical of those who claim to have heard God’s voice and received a message from Him.

Just because there are some false prophets, should we throw out all prophecy? No way! How absurd! Instead, we each need to be hearing God’s voice so that we can recognize when someone is a false prophet. Wait. Everybody needs to hear God’s voice?

Yes. Jesus said:

“Most certainly I tell you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and doesn’t come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Most certainly, I tell you, the hour comes, and now is, when the dead will hear the Son of God’s voice; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:24-25)

This does not mean that we hear Jesus’ word one time and come to life. We have to believe on God, not just once, but our entire Christian life. Likewise, “hears”, in the Greek, is in the present, active tense, indicating that it should be ongoing.

The Jews therefore came around him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:24-27)

When Jesus speaks, His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. They believe Him because they recognize His voice.

From Genesis to Revelation, we have record of God speaking to people and leading them, over and over again. Why would we think that He has stopped, or that the Bible is the only guide we need in life? Make no mistake: the Bible is God’s Word, wholly inspired by Him. It is infallible and inerrant. We can totally trust whatever we find in it.

But the Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry. Yet, marriage is a decision that can affect the course of history—literally. Imagine if George Washington’s dad had married someone else. Or if Adolph Hitler’s mom had married someone else. If it’s such an important decision, why would we rely on our own feelings and desires? I would sure like some help from the One who knows the future!

Will we make mistakes sometimes? Sure. Will we think that God is speaking when He is not, or miss His leading when He does speak? Sure. I have experienced these things myself. But that is okay! That is part of the learning process! All it means is that we need to continue asking God to teach us to know His voice.

If you would like more in-depth study on hearing God’s voice, I recommend that you read a series of blog posts by Rosina Schmucker at Arabah Rejoice.

Is There Something Wrong With an Academic Sermon?

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. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. (1 Corinthians 2:12-13)

God wants us to teach by His Spirit, in the words that He teaches us to say. He does not want us to use human wisdom to teach others. That is fleshly and does not profit. As Jesus said:

It is the spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life. (John 6:63)

An academic sermon is a fleshly, carnal sermon. It comes not from the spirit, but from the flesh. It is based on the fleshly wisdom of men instead of the spiritual wisdom of God. The words of the flesh do not profit us. The spiritual words of Jesus give life. Therefore, if we want to speak life-giving words to others, they must be the words of Jesus, not our own.

Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. (1 Corinthians 2:14-15)

Zombie preachers and teachers have told everyone that the only way to judge a message is academically. Don’t go by feelings or impressions. If you can’t find anything wrong with the message academically, then there’s nothing wrong with it.

However, God says that the things of His Spirit are spiritually discerned. We have to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our judgment of a message. A spiritual man discerns spiritually whether or not a message is coming from God.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He has taken the wise in their craftiness.” And again, “The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is worthless.” Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come. All are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)

This passage further explains why a zombie sermon is not only problematic, but disobedience to God. God tells us that this world’s wisdom is foolishness with Him, and that a worldly-wise person needs to become a fool so that he may become wise before God. A person can be highly educated, but lack God’s wisdom.

Paul Emerson

Paul-Emerson
Paul Emerson

In case you didn’t know, besides being a former pastor at Calvary Mennonite Fellowship near Harrisonburg, VA, Paul Emerson is also the former moderator of Biblical Mennonite Alliance (BMA), a group of Mennonite churches that I used to be part of. He currently is Principal at Elnora Bible Institute, the Bible school of BMA, as well as the editor of The Sword and Trumpet and The FCM Informer (the newsletter of the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites, of which he is also the Executive Director).

And I believe that God led me to write these words in the previous article: “Folks, I’m not going to ‘pretty it up’: Paul Emerson is a zombie preacher.”

How dare I say that!?

Over the last 15+ years, I have listened to Paul Emerson speak. I have read his writings in the Biblical Mennonite Alliance Newsletter. I have read the publications that he has edited. And I have been disturbed. Just yesterday, I read yet another article that he wrote, and I’m even more disturbed. You will read part of it later.

But first, I’d like to share a comment that my dad, who is personally acquainted with Emerson, wrote on the previous “Zombie Church” post:

I want to state that what Joel stated about Paul Emerson is true. I have known Mr. Emerson for many years.

George Brunk I handed his mantle and the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet to his son George Brunk II. George Brunk II handed his mantle to Paul Emerson – the pastorate at Calvary Mennonite, the editorship of the Sword and Trumpet, and leadership in the Fellowship of Concerned Mennonites.

The false teachings and false gospel of these men have negatively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of people. The failures and errors of their teachings are greater and broader in scope than what you have any idea is happening. Sin is running rampant in secret in pious “godly” Mennonite homes, even in the lives of men of renown in the church…

God has been revealing these things to me and I have been in shock that these things are true and that Mennonites are doing them. I will be sharing with you what God has been revealing to me in my book that hopefully will be coming out later this year titled – The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.

As an example of the sin that Dad is referring to, I bring up another piece of evidence: a survey from a Mennonite blog called Radi-Call.

In 2015, Radi-Call ran a survey about media usage, targeting young, conservative Anabaptist people. It was a voluntary online survey, taken by about 250 young people, pretty well evenly split between men and women. 56% were from BMA Mennonite churches.

Here are the results about porn usage:

MEN

WOMEN

SCMC-Men's-Chorus-2016Folks, this is the fruit of the teaching of Emerson and others like him. It isn’t working! To help you visualize these results, take a look at this picture from the Mennonite Shenandoah Christian Music Camp in Ohio, 2016.

It’s sobering to realize that of the 46 men you see in this picture, only 12 of them, statistically, have never been involved in habitual porn usage. It doesn’t mean that they don’t pick up porn once in a while or struggle with lust. It just means that they have not had a habitual problem. In fact, the true numbers are probably even worse, because this was a voluntary Web survey, not a random-sample phone survey. It’s amazing, in fact, that 74% percent of men were willing to admit that they had, or had had, a porn problem, including 4% who admitted to using porn that day!

Can we blame Paul Emerson for the porn usage of young men in a Mennonite conference that he helped to found, and headed up for 10 years? While he may not be directly responsible, it shows that his philosophies, doctrines, and principles have not helped give young men the victory over porn.

Training More Zombies

In a recent issue of Sword and Trumpet, Emerson wrote the following:

In order to properly practice Biblical nonconformity, it is probably best to imagine the putting on of a pair of eye glasses that filter everything through the Biblical Anabaptist perspective. This thought may aggravate some who are attempting to free themselves from what they call Anabaptist slavery. These are they who desire credibility within the larger evangelical community. The true disciple of Christ is exclusively desiring credibility with the Lord. Nothing else really matters. If, as we believe, Anabaptism is the correct perspective from which to see the world, said eye glasses are in order…

In direct proportion to the loss of practical nonconformity, the whole testimony of Anabaptism will be lost.

This is how error is perpetuated. Jesus has never called us to view the world through an Anabaptist lens! Instead, we are to be led by God in our interaction with the world.

Especially if you are an Anabaptist, this may seem like a small difference. But here’s the thing: even if the Anabaptist perspective is 100% correct, we must not seek to view the world from an Anabaptist perspective! Why? Because then, instead of following Jesus, we are following Anabaptism. In order to follow Jesus, we must listen to Him, not follow Anabaptism or any other denomination, group, or teacher:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Friends, the quote above from the Sword and Trumpet is the path to spiritual death and zombie-hood.

Jesus Speaks to the Zombie Churches Today

At the beginning, we read Jesus’ words to a zombie church. Let’s go back and review them for the answer of “So what do we do?”:

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee…

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:2-3, 6)

Warning: Your Misunderstanding of Grace is Killing You

Last week I wrote one of my longest posts ever, on the subject of grace. I also believe it is one of the most important posts I have ever made, because the Christian life revolves around God’s grace. Without His grace, Christianity is just another idealistic religion.

But maybe you don’t have time to read a 3,000+ word article. Maybe you missed an important point among all those words. So I want to emphasize something that I only briefly touched on in the middle of the article.

As we saw in “What is Grace?”, grace is much more than just “God’s unmerited favor”. Instead, it is the power of God working within us. But make no mistake: grace is not “the desire and power to do God’s will”, as Bill Gothard defined it. He was 90% correct. But the fatal error is the belief that God empowers me to do His will. On the contrary, grace is God working in me. In Bill’s definition, I do the work and get the credit. In God’s definition, He does the work and gets the credit. As Paul said:

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

As God says, “…not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9)

Since grace is the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, we can understand Romans 8:13: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Ignore this verse, and you will end up spiritually dead. Why? Because we are saved by God’s grace, and without His grace, we cannot and will not fulfill His will.

There are two ways that a misunderstanding of grace can kill you.

Misunderstanding #1: It doesn’t matter what I do

The first way is when you think that grace is “God’s unmerited favor” that saves you regardless of what you do. You “say the words” and go on your merry way, doing whatever you want. This is “living after the flesh”, as Romans 8:13 says. You are doing what your flesh wants to do, instead of what the Spirit of God wants you to do.

Jesus did not die on the cross merely to forgive your sins. He didn’t need to do that. In the Old Testament, God forgave people’s sins without Jesus’ death:

“Thou [God] hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.”(Psalms 85:2)

“For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalms 86:5)

Jesus came and shed His blood, died, and rose again, not just to forgive you, but to kill you—your sinful self with its sinful desires—and then raise you to life again as a new creature, purified from sin (singular, not plural). He wants you to be righteous and holy, just as He is, but He knew that the only way to truly conquer sin was for Him to put it to death—so He died for us.

Jesus didn’t come to hide your sin with a robe of righteousness. He came to take away your sin and replace it with righteousness—on the inside.

This is why you are saved by grace—because you are incapable of changing yourself on the inside and killing your sin. God’s grace is so much better than just allowing you to do what you want. He gives you the power to live a righteous life!

Misunderstanding #2: It really matters what I do, so I need to work really hard!

The flip side will also kill you. This is when you believe that God’s grace gets you Skull on Stonessaved, and then it’s up to you, with the help of God and your church/friends/parents/accountability group, to live a life of obedience to Christ. You implement various formulas and five-step plans to help you do what’s right. If you stumble and fall into sin, you pick yourself up and resolve to do better next time. Just like the person who doesn’t care what they do, you are walking in the flesh.

If we could implement Jesus’ commands on our own strength, He didn’t need to die. If the Bible is just a self-help book that gives us high ideals for how to live, God could have given these new ideals to His prophets—or just put them in the Law of Moses to begin with!

We all realize (I hope) that we need to be born again in order to obey Jesus. We need to also understand that it is only by the grace of God that we can live for Him on a daily basis. He is the One who enables us to live for Him, and manmade plans, formulas, and steps of action will not give us God’s grace. Instead, they give us pride—which causes God to withhold His grace. Oops!

When you realize that you are not living as God wants you to live, you need to humble yourself before God, repent, and ask Him to give you the grace to obey Him and be the person He wants you to be. Remember, grace only comes to the humble. “…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).

Sin in your life is a sign of a lack of God’s grace. Don’t become defensive and try to excuse or ignore the sin. Repent, and ask God for the grace to stop! It’s so much better to get rid of the sin instead of hiding it.


“Grace” photo © Can Stock Photo