Coming Out Of His Cave:

Bear’s Blog

I Kissed Jesus Goodbye: What To Think When A Christian Walks Away From Christ

The following article is shared from Pastor Bear’s website: trainyourselfministry.com
 
 
A few years ago, I watched a driver ahead of me lose control of his car and roll it on a Connecticut freeway. It’s disquieting to say the least to watch a car crash right before your eyes. In a spiritual sense, the evangelical world is watching it happen in the life of a well-loved and respected Christian voice and pastor.
 
I speak for many who were saddened by two recent announcements by Joshua Harris – a prominent Christian speaker and author for the last two decades – first, that he was divorcing his wife (here), then that he was jettisoning his Christian beliefs (here).
 
Harris catapulted on the scene at the age of 21 when he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye back in 1997, a book that went on the sell a million copies, and helped launch a purity movement in the evangelical world. The “purity culture” it helped spawn ended up creating more problems than it helped fix, for which Harris publicly apologized a year ago (here).
 
Though no one could see it at the time (maybe not even Harris), that first apology was part of a journey of what he now calls a “deconstruction” of his faith in Christ. Harris wrote in his recent Instagram confession: “The biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
 
 If the angels of heaven rejoice at the repentance of one sinner, then surely the loss of a soul from the company of the faithful should elicit mourning. (And no, this is not the time to debate whether or not he was “saved to begin with”. The fact of the matter is, there are people we all know who appeared to be going all-out for Christ, who later fell by the wayside. When Scripture describes such a disaster, its point is not to lead us into theological controversy, but to warn us: DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.)
 
Paul the apostle watched numerous ministry companions shipwreck their faith. He mentions a number by name in his letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim.1:15, 4:10). The book of Hebrews warns against drifting from our faith (2:1). Even one of the most vibrant churches of the first generation – Ephesus – lost its “first love” for Christ (Rev.2:4-5).
 
Why does this happen? Scripture gives numerous explanations.
 
Suffering can batter our faith.

I’m always amazed by the level of honesty we find in the Bible shared by God’s most faithful servants. David cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (a phrase Jesus would quote from the cross.) Asaph in Psalm 73 woke up one morning fed up with a world where the wicked “were always at ease”, while the righteous languished. “In vain I have kept my heart clean,” he spat, though as the psalm goes on, he works himself through it.
 
Many Christians have a very deficient “theology of suffering”. They’re just one diagnosis or job loss or death away from a crisis of faith.
 
 
God’s silence can dampen our spiritual fire.

Some act as if hearing God’s voice were the easiest of things, and experiencing his presence is like a trip to Disneyland. It’s one ride after another. But even the great Paul, who “experienced God” as few others have, confessed that in this life, “we see through the glass darkly” and we “walk by faith not by sight” (1 Cor.13:12, 2 Cor.5:7).
 
Sin is a sure-fire way to shut down the engines of faith.

Proverbs 19:3 says, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.”
 
On one hand, it doesn’t make sense. I sin, then blame God for it. But I understand the psychology behind it. It’s woven into my fallen nature. There have been many times over the years where I’ve gotten cranky with God for my own failures. I thought you would keep me from this! I thought you promised to be with me! You promised to provide escape ramps when I’m tempted!
 
Harris has spent the bulk of his life preaching and teaching marital fidelity. But his marriage crumbled. (And I say that, not as a judgment – there but for the grace of God go I, and my 30+ year marriage. As a pastor, I know that pastors and their families live under a fishbowl of scrutiny.  And that fishbowl for Harris – because of his audience – was megalodon-sized.) It would be shocking if he didn’t wrestle with the anger that Proverbs 19 describe.
 
If I could say anything to him – and I’m sure it has been said to him – it would be the reminder that there is an ocean of God’s grace yet available to him to encompass all the failures of his life lived in that fishbowl. Come home, Josh.
__________________________________________________________________ 
One thing that is certainly not to blame for a person abandoning their faith is the evidence for the truth of Christianity.
 
While it is heart-breaking to watch someone fall away, it is in no way devastating to the credibility of the Christian faith. Even if Harris decides to now take his speaking and writing skills and dedicate them to the destruction of Christianity, he’ll be nothing but a butterfly flapping its wings against stone.
 
Unbelievers and skeptics might jeer and laugh, point their fingers in derision, and say, “See! See! This proves your Christianity is an empty suit.”
 
It proves nothing of the sort. Yes, followers of Christ “walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor.5:7). But this is not “blind” faith. It’s very much “reasonable” faith. It’s the same faith we use each day when we eat our meals, without sending the food out to be tested. Or drive over a hill, without first getting out of the car to make sure no one is coming in our lane. It’s faith that’s built on experience, reason and testimony of others.
 
The evidence for why a person would fall in love with Jesus Christ, and choose to follow him as the “King of king and Lord of lords”, is overwhelming and abundant. No, it’s not irrefutable. People can still say, “Yes, but…”. But it’s substantial evidence nonetheless, so much so that a person can build his or her life upon it.
 
Which is why at the end of the day, it is belief that tips the scales either for or against faith. Joshua Harris reached a place where the scales of his belief tipped in the other direction. Perhaps in his own mind, he can summon reasons why he chose the denial of Christ – but it’s not the reasons in the end that drove his decision. Others have experienced and endured what he has, and far worse, yet have held the line of faith.
 
Ultimately, only Josh and his Maker can decide what’s going on inside of his heart. And it’s to his Maker that Josh will have to give an account (Romans 14:12).
 
Which is the ultimate lesson here for each of us – to guard our hearts. No one should ever say, “That won’t happen to me.” Instead, I should humbly say, “That must not happen to me.”
 
Then grab hold of the grace of God and declare with defiance, “As for me and my house, I will fear the Lord…Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you…Lord, where can I go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Joshua 24:15; Psalm 73:25; John 6:68)
 
 

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The Gospel According To The Lion King

“Faith without art is dead,” is a saying of mine. It reflects the fact that (for me, at least) art can be used by God to awaken faith in a person. It was a movie I watched at the age of 11 that helped me cross the line of faith in Christ, and another movie I watched as a freshman in college (the classic Ben-Hur) that sealed the deal.
 
Paul Gould, in his book Cultural Apologetics, writes, “One of the best ways to begin reawakening the religious impulse is through imagination. Art, music, poetry, and story can awaken a desire for transcendence by shocking people into engagement with reality.”
 
Not surprisingly then, throughout my life I have found illustrations of the gospel imbedded in books and movies. It should stand to reason that the best stories will always carry echoes in them of the Greatest Story.
 
So there I was the other day watching the original The Lion King, knowing that Disney was about to release a new “live-animation” version of it. And I fell on the floor laughing as there it was again – the Christian journey home retold in the story of Simba.
 
In case you’re one of the 17 Americans alive who still hasn’t seen The Lion King, Simba is the son of Mufasa, who is the king of the beasts, at Pride Rock. Simba idolizes his father, and early in the story, Simba, who is still a young cub, watches his father die, murdered by his wicked uncle Scar.
 
When Scar manages to convince Simba that he is the one responsible for the death of his father, in his shame Simba flees. Scar takes over the kingdom, and along with his companions, the evil hyenas, he soon turns the garden paradise of Pride Rock into a wasteland.
 
Meanwhile Simba grows up in the wild, haunted by his past. He befriends two harmless but lazy animals, a warthog named Pumba and a meerkat named Timon, who teach Simba to just take life as it comes. Akuna Matada. Even though he is the heir to the throne, and his calling is to be the king, Simba just sleepwalks through his life, not caring about anything.
 
Simba is a perfect picture of a person who lives outside of Christ, or a person who is in Christ, but is living a dull, apathetic spiritual life. You were made with a far greater destiny than what you are living. But how will you ever experience it?
 
The Lion King shows the way by outlining five steps to the revival of faith.
 
First, you must Wake Up.

The spiritual journey home always begins with grace. Here you are spiritually asleep. But that’s the problem. When you’re sound asleep, you can’t wake yourself up. Someone or something has to do it for you.
 
In the story, two messengers come to Simba in the wild to wake him up and call him home. First, his childhood friend Nala, who comes and shares with him the devastation Scar has brought to the kingdom. Then Rafiki, a mentor from his youth, attempts to wake him with a literal club to his head.
 
At first, Simba finds both of them annoying. Because this is usually how we are when the alarm clock first goes off, or we feel the tug on our shoulder. No one likes to be stirred from their slumber. The first few times you attempt to have a spiritual conversation with an unbeliever, they’ll likely find you annoying. But don’t stop trying! Chances are good that before you came to Christ, you rebuffed more than a few attempts people made to wake you up.
 
Once you stir to life though, the next step to spiritual revival is you Look Up.

Rafiki gets Simba’s attention when he tells him that he knows he is Mufasa’s boy, then runs off. Once Simba chases him down, Rafiki directs him to gaze at his reflection in a pool of water. At first he sees nothing. “It’s only me,” he says with disgust.
 
“Look harder,” Rafiki says. Simba looks at the water again, and as he peers down intently, he sees Mufasa in the reflection. Amazed, Simba looks up to the sky and sees his father-in-heaven looking down on him from above.
 
The image is not unlike that of us, when we first awaken to God’s reality. We look up.
 
Long before you do anything else, this is what you must do first: You must seek God. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. Then everything else will follow from there.
 
God through the prophet Jeremiah said, “You will seek me, and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer.29:13). That’s the key. With all your heart. The first time Simba looked, he saw nothing. He had to look harder, deeper, more intently.
 
You can’t just flip open the Bible, read for a few seconds, then say, “That’s dumb.” Or throw up a prayer, and listen for a second. “Nope. I knew it. Nothing there.”
 
I’ve usually found that those who are waking up spiritually suddenly can’t put the Bible down. They “binge watch” the Bible. What’s more, they suddenly love being in church. It was never like that before. They used to be so bored to be in church. But now they can’t wait to get there. That’s what it means to look up.
 
The next step to experiencing revival is we Look Back.

It’s the part of the movie that sends chills down my spine every time. In the vision, Mufasa tells his son, “You have forgotten me…You are more than you have become.” Then as the vision fades away, he summons Simba (as only James Earl Jones can do) to, “Remember who you are.”
 
Simba must look back honestly at the past he has spent his life trying to forget. And every child of God must teach themselves to look back at their past as well, and see it through the eyes of faith.
 
When Jesus speaks to the church in Ephesus, which had lost its ‘first love’ for him, he tells them: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first.” (Rev.2:5).
 
For a Christian or a church that has backslidden into apathy, the way forward begins by looking back, at what you were before, when you were at your best. And also remembering why you were like that. You were madly in love with Jesus Christ! Don’t you remember?
 
But you have forgotten. So look back and remember. Cry out to God with King David, “Restore to me the joy of salvation.” (Ps.51:12)
 
If you’re a new follower of Christ, then Jesus wants you to look back and take a hard look at what your life was like without him. Look at the wreckage, and the darkness, and the shame, and the confusion, and the emptiness. Look at it all. And never forget that this is what Jesus Christ wants to save you from.
 
Why remember that? Because the road ahead as a Christian, while glorious and good, will also be challenging and hard. It’s harder than anything you could imagine right now. If you go all in with Jesus, friends may forsake you. Culture will come after you. Your own body will file lawsuits against you, for trying to resist temptations you used to wilt before.
 
Wake up. Look up. Look back. Then comes the back half of revival. The best part of revival.
 
God has a high calling for your life. A holy purpose. A great mission. God wants to use you to increase his goodness, beauty and love on the earth.
 
For that to occur then you must take the fourth step:  Look Around You.

After we look back at all the pain that Christ has saved us from, or wants to save us from, we can’t help but see the world around us differently.
 
When Mufasa died, and Scar took over the kingdom, evil had its way. When Simba returns to Pride Rock, he can’t believe what his eyes see. The entire landscape of Pride Rock, which had once been like the Garden of Eden, is now a ruin. It’s a rule: Where Jesus Christ, the King of kings, is not permitted to rule, there will be an increase in darkness, in ugliness, in pain.
 
When you look around you today at our world, what do you feel? When you see all the broken homes, all the fatherless children, the tsunami of pornography, all the sexual confusion, the epidemic of opioids, skyrocketing rates of depression and a disturbing increase in suicide, what do you feel? Do you feel compassion? And do you have the thought deep in your bones that if only Jesus Christ could enter into these lives, and these situations, it could change things for the better?
 
What’s needed then? Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matt.9:37).
 
What’s missing is us: Christians who aren’t afraid to stand up for what’s good, true, right and just.
 
I’ve been watching it for 25 years as a pastor: Christians, churches, entire denominations, and Christian colleges, backpedaling before an arrogant, militant culture that demands that we change our values, views and morals, when it is precisely those values, views and morals that have been a blessing to this earth, and to the human race for thousands of years.
 
When Simba first takes in what’s happened to his homeland, his first expression is shock. Followed by sorrow. But then swiftly overtaken by anger. (The animation is brilliant.) Where’s the fire in our eyes? It’s time to stop apologizing that we follow Christ, and start defending his supremacy.
 
It’s time to stop feeling embarrassed that we use the Bible as our moral roadmap, and start defending its authority as the greatest book ever written.
 
It’s time to start pushing back at the pagan moralists of our time, and asking “And where are you coming up with these values and morals of yours? Sexuality is a spectrum?! Where did you come up with that? Abortion is fine all the way through birth now. Says who? What authority do you stand on in deciding what’s right and wrong? Well I’ve got an authority I’m standing on! Its time-tested. It’s prophecy-proven. It’s life-giving. It’s shaped the very foundation of our civilization. And until you show me something better, I’m standing on this!”
 
Look around you my friends. See your world through Jesus’ eyes. Let your awakened hearts be broken.
 
And then, take the fifth step: Look Within You, and hear God’s call to make a difference with your life. 

Timon comes up to Simba as he gazes across the lifeless, colorless land and says, “We’re going to fight your uncle for this?” But Timon got it right. He knew a fight was coming.
 
When Simba at last confronts Scar, his uncle sneers, “Must it always end in violence?”
 
Yes, Scar, it must end up in violence. Jesus said as much, when he said, “The kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt.11:21).
 
Since the beginning of this fallen order, there is a battle between good and evil in this world. And for the good to prevail, then those who are good must be prepared to fight. To sacrifice. To give their all. To push back the darkness.
 
Not the way most Muslims are taught to do it – with jihad. We can’t terrorize people into the kingdom of God. Not the way Antifa protestors do it – with mobs and vandalism and venomous screaming.
 
The weapons of our warfare are not worldly, the Bible says (2 Cor.10:4). We fight with the weapons of love, truth, grace, sacrifice, prayer, service. And our enemies are not people. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). We’re trying to rescue flesh and blood. But have no doubt, it’s a war, dear friends.
 
With real casualties. And real consequences to who wins the day. The man who chooses the affair and abandons his family leaves a trail of wreckage behind him in his sin. The woman who goes ahead with the abortion ends a life and damages her own. The confused teen who goes ahead and gives her body away to anyone who asks, thinking she’ll find love that way, only discovers more devastation.
 
It’s time to look within you my friend, and decide, do you want to be counted among those who will stand up, speak out, and push back. Forget Akuna Matada. If that’s your life philosophy, then you’re wasting your life. God put you on this earth to do more than just take up space. You are more than you have become!
 
Once the final battle occurs, it wasn’t just Simba who was doing the fighting either. Everyone was involved. On his own, mighty Simba would have been defeated. He needed each one of his friends to do their part.
 
It’s the same way in the kingdom of God. Everyone of you has been uniquely called and gifted by God to serve his kingdom by serving his church. But if you choose to sit on your hands, then we all suffer. And if we suffer, then the neighborhood and town around us suffers. Because whether they realize it or not, they need us to  be as strong as Christ made us to be. And to be as holy as Christ died for us to be.
 
The final scene of The Lion King tells us why it all matters. Simba fulfills his calling and takes the throne. As a result, order, peace and beauty is restored to Pride Rock. And new life is born, as Rafiki presents Simba and Nala’s new cub to all the animal kingdom.
 
So look within you my friend. Jesus has placed his gifts there. And his calling too. He’s promised to be with you to the end of the age. So be the son or daughter of the King which God has called you to be. And allow him to bring about peace, beauty and life…by working through you.  
 

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The Faith Of Our Founders

History is one of those things that people either love or hate. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.
 
But while you don’t have to like it, history is one of those things that you ought to know something about, because there are consequences if you don’t. If you’re married, remembering your anniversary is important (for your personal safety, if nothing else.)
 
As American citizens, there’s a part of our history that we are in the process of forgetting right now which concerns the history of the Christian faith and its role in shaping the founding of this great country. It’s a history that is seldom taught in schools today. In fact, it’s being systematically, relentlessly erased.
 
Increasingly, followers of Jesus Christ, and in fact people of faith in general, are being made to feel like they are second-class citizens of this country. The moment you mention God or the Bible or faith you are told, “Sorry! You’re disqualified. You’re just an unthinking Neanderthal. Separation of church and state, you know. Thanks for playing.”
 
It hasn’t always been this way though. When this nation was first founded, most of the people who built it from the soil up, who settled our first cities, who founded our first colleges, who fought for our freedom, who created from scratch the remarkable system of government that we enjoy that is the envy of the world – most of these men and women were people of robust faith, and most of these were hewn from the rock of Christianity.
 
In fact, the ones who were looked on as the unthinking, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals were any who said they didn’t believe in God. In some courts back in early America, your testimony was thrown out if you said you were an atheist because how can you possibly believe the word of someone who is accountable to no one but himself?
 
We’ve come a long way – or plummeted a long way – since then.

But faith in God matters. Many of the Founders of our Country believed this with all their hearts.
Take the Father of our Country himself, George Washington.
 
When he was eleven, his father died, and Washington was denied the opportunity to travel to London to receive a classical education as his older two brothers had. So at once he set out to read and study on his own as best he could, and in particular he focused not just on becoming an intelligent man, or a wealthy man, but also on becoming a good man. His family was active in the local Anglican church, and Washington would be faithful in supporting his church throughout his life.
 
At the age of sixteen, he copied out by hand a best-seller of his time: “110 Rules Of Civility and Decent Behavior” written by 16th-century Christian Jesuits. Rule #1 for example read: “Each action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present.”
 
Some are dated. Rule #13 – “Kill no vermin, fleas, lice or ticks in the sight of others.” (Don’t you hate it when someone does that in front of you?)
 
But I think every sixteen year old could use a little manners-training, and should be required to copy out these rules by hand. Washington did, and it did him no harm. Hundreds who knew him in his adulthood, marveled on what a man of honor and natural dignity he was. Thomas Jefferson said of him, “He was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man.”
 
He carried in his coat pocket a copy of the book of Psalms which he read from often. The psalms spoke of a God who acted in history on behalf of his people, an attribute of God known as ‘providence’, and it became Washington’s favorite way of referring to God in his speeches and writing. Why wouldn’t he speak this way of God when you consider all that he witnessed in his life?

It was to God that Washington and his friends appealed for help in their struggle. The Declaration of Independence began with God. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
 
And the Declaration ends with God. “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
 
A little over a month after these words were released to the nation and the world, Washington and his Continental army witnessed God’s protection first-hand.
 
Once the war began, the British evacuated Boston to establish a more central headquarters in New York City. Washington rushed his troops there to stop them, but he foolishly camped in Brooklyn, backing himself into a corner.
 
After regrouping, then doubling their forces, the British army sailed the bulk of its force to New York City, and before you could chant, “USA! USA!”, the colonial army found itself trapped.
 
All the British army had to do was sail a few ships into the harbor, position its armies, spring the trap, and the war would be over, before it had scarcely begun. The only thing that was preventing this was a stretch of nasty weather complete with a stiff northeast wind that kept the ships from sailing up the river.
 
Hopelessly outgunned and outmanned, Washington had only one chance: evacuate his army across the river and live to fight another day. But any attempt to escape would likely be seen by the British who would then launch their attack. Unless the British couldn’t see the Continental army escaping.
 
On the night of August 29th, 1776, Washington ordered a retreat across the Hudson. Despite the bad weather, Washington had no choice but to try and cross. In terms of the importance to the development of Western Civilization, it can be argued that the evacuation from Brooklyn was every bit as pivotal as Dunkirk would later be. 
 
Author David McCullough, in his best-seller, “1776” writes, “It was about 11:00 when, as if by design, the northeast wind died down.” From then on that night, boats began to cross and recross the Hudson, ferrying soldiers and supplies to the other side. But they couldn’t do it fast enough.
 
McCullough writes, “Though nearly morning, a large part of the army still waited to embark, and without the curtain of night to conceal them, their escape was doomed. Incredibly, yet again, circumstances – fate, luck, Providence, the hand of God, as would be said so often – intervened. Just at daybreak a heavy fog settled in over the whole of Brooklyn, concealing everything no less than had the night…Even with the sun up, the fog remained as dense as ever, while over on the British side of the river, there was no fog at all.”
 
9,000 soldiers came across the river that night, and the last one across according to a commander of the final regiment that escaped was George Washington. Disaster was averted, the army lived to fight another day. Coincidence? Or providence? We’ll never know for sure on this side of heaven, but Washington felt certain about what was happening.
 
In his first inaugural address as President, Washington said this: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to [becoming] an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
 
It is often said of our Founders that most of them, including Washington were ‘nothing more than deists’. A deist is someone who believes that God created the world, but then more or less left it to run on its own. A deist does not believe in the personal intervention of God in this world or in history. A deist does not talk about a personal God, or having a relationship with God at all.
 
Does George Washington sound like a deist to you?
 
Even for those among our Founders that clearly were deists, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, the idea of a passive, distant, uninvolved God was not a mindset they could consistently sustain in light of all that they experienced in those years.
 
Several years after the war was won, our young nation was about to come apart at the seams because of a weak form of government they had put in place. The Articles of Confederation had to be replaced or the country would fragment.
 
During a critical point in the Constitutional convention of 1787, when delegates’ tempers were starting to flare, and disagreements were rife, and it looked like at any moment the whole thing could collapse, wise old Ben Franklin, the deist, stood and called for the council to pray! Here’s what he said to the delegates:
 
“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection! Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that except the lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this…”
 
All this…from a Deist.
 
While his motion was more or less tabled – so frayed were the conditions in the room at that moment – his calming words helped the delegates to catch a second wind, and it wasn’t long after, that our nation’s remarkable Constitution was completed, ready to be sent to the states.
 
What about Jefferson? He of all the Founders was the most consistent in his ‘deism.’ He said of himself, “I am a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
 
Jefferson famously (or infamously) went through the New Testament with a pair of scissors and cut out everything in the gospels that he didn’t like. Jesus he admired. But he could not stomach the stories of Jesus’ miracles, or the parts that spoke of him as God in human flesh, and he hated the way different denominations would quarrel and fight about points of doctrine that he felt were trivial.
 
It was Jefferson who first coined the phrase we hear bantered about so often today: Separation of church and state. But what did he mean by it?
 
Today we are told by many politicians, judges and media representatives that separation of 
church and state means: You Christians, be quiet! Just stay inside your church buildings!
 
But this isn’t what the Founding Fathers intended at all! They were concerned with the government telling people how they ought to worship and practice their faith. They were concerned with government taking tax dollars and funding one denomination over another.
 
For centuries, government and churches had been joined at the hip. And it never, ever worked. It created misery. Why? Because you cannot force faith on a person, that’s why! A person must be free within their conscience to seek God and serve God in the way that seems right to them. God himself does not force faith on a person, how then can a government do so? (And every true follower of Jesus Christ can whisper a prayer of thanks that we live in a country like this, where religious liberty is guaranteed. So far.)
 
The Founding Fathers were not concerned with people of faith going out in public, a
nd teaching their morals, doctrines and beliefs to others. In fact, they wanted it to happen. 
 
 
They weren’t offended by the thought of prayers being offered in public schools, or the Bible being taught in public schools. In fact they wanted it to happen.
 
They recognized that the Bible is filled with essential history, that has shaped the very foundations of our culture. The Bible is filled with the most beautiful poetry that human language is capable of, and moral lessons and truth that will only make us better should we learn it.
 
Our Founding Fathers wanted witnesses at court hearings saying the words, “So help me God.” And they wanted federal property to be available to religious groups should they desire to rent the space. They would have no problem with a manger scene on display at Christmas in front of city hall. They wanted faith to be unleashed.
 
Their thinking was strategic. It was their belief that faith, by-in-large, makes us into better human beings. The belief in God is good for us, because, ordinarily, it brings good out of us.
 
A person who believes in God, and believes that one day he or she will stand before their Creator and give an account for their life, has an internal circuit breaker which puts a ch
eck on selfish and evil behavior.
 
Why did this matter? Because in a democracy where people are free to do what they want, who do you want more of: selfish people or generous people? Self-controlled people or violent people? Peaceful people or angry people? People who respect property or thieves?
 
Our Founding Fathers argued: Only if we remain a moral people will we remain a free people. And what is going to produce more moral people? The Founding Fathers unashamedly, publicly said: faith in God.
 
In his Farewell Address to the nation, Washington said these famous words: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
 
John Adams, our second president put it a little less delicately, “Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company.”
 
Publicly, our Founding Fathers pointed people to embrace faith in God. Privately they would say (and many of them did say it in their writings and journals): embrace faith in the God of the Bible, the religion of Jesus Christ. George Washington did not speak publicly the name of Jesus Christ much at all – he was very guarded in his language, respectful of the fact that he was leading a nation of many different faiths.
 
But he did say to a group of Delaware Indian chiefs on one occasion these words: “You would do well to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.” 
 
As a Christian pastor who has been striving to follow Jesus Christ for most of his fifty-plus years on this planet, I have learned that those who worship Jesus, and walk with him and serve him end up exactly as the Founding Father’s hoped – not perfect, only Jesus was that – but certainly a lot further along the road to freedom, virtue and happiness than they would have been without him. And I am absolutely convinced that what our nation needs now, and what you need now if you’re reading this, is to bow your knees and surrender your life to the one being in this universe who loves you more than anyone else. Don’t take my word for it. Take our Founding Fathers’.
 
 
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His latest book is, “Living Under The Cross: A 40-Day Devotional Journey”. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon. 

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I Believe In God The Father

For Christians, thinking of God as our “Father” is woven deeply into our DNA. Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to say, “Our Father who art in heaven”. When we recite the Apostles Creed we begin saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”. But what does it really mean – that God invites us to call him “Father”?
 
One thing is does not mean is that God is to be thought of as male in the sense of gender. God transcends sexuality. In creating us “in the image of God…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27), God encompasses all of humanity in his nature, so there’s no need to attempt to snatch a peak under his tunic.
 
Yet God in his revelation of Scripture and through Christ does not grant us permission to address him as “Our Mother who art in heaven”. Once we go there, then we would be introducing gender into the idea of God (and shortly after that be reverting back to pagan notions of sexualized deities.)
 
To call God “Father” is critical for other reasons entirely. Here’s an important one.
 
First, to call God ‘Father’ is to say that God has authority to lead.

There was a time, and not too long ago, when if you knocked on the front door of a house and asked for the head of household, a man came to the door. There was a time not too long ago when fathers were looked upon as leaders. They were to lead the way in providing for their family, and protecting their family, and teaching their family. It used to be that in dating relationships, men were supposed to lead the way in asking the woman out.
 
(And all the ladies reading this just laughed derisively. The other day I googled the words “Why Women Need To Stop Waiting On Men”, and my laptop grew white-hot in my hands, so many articles appeared.)
 
Where do we see in the Bible that God the Father has authority to lead? In the Trinity. In the relationships between God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Jesus said in John 5:19 – “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” When Jesus breathed his last, he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). To the very end, Jesus recognized the authority of the Father to lead his life.
 
And yet – notice this – the Father in leading shares all of his glory and honor with the Son. Philippians 2:9-11 say, “Therefore God [the Father] exalted him [God the Son] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
 
Do you see this? The Father leads, and Jesus becomes greater. The world says when you lead, you should become greater. But God says, when you lead, others around you should become greater.
 
In Olympic pairs skating, the man is stronger than the woman. (Can you picture the woman lifting up the man and twirling him over her head?) The man leads, the man lifts, the man directs – but the man is scarcely noticed because of the grace and beauty of the woman he leads. That’s what God the Father does with Jesus.
 
When a man leads as God the Father leads, the women in his life become more beautiful, more confident, more radiant, stronger, holier and happier, over time. But if you find a marriage where the man uses his power to crush the woman, or abuse the woman, or silence the woman (what would you think of a male skater who hurled the woman into the wall or who hoisted her up and then did a piledriver with her onto the ice?), that man is imitating the devil. The devil steals, kills and destroys. Jesus brings life.
 
Far too many people today hear the word “father” and at once call to mind a man whom they see maybe a couple of times of year, or a man who drifts from job to job, or one who drinks to oblivion, who can’t speak a sentence without swearing and cursing, and who roughs up their mother. And they’re supposed to call God that?
 
But the Bible’s solution for that sort of pain is not to run from the word that’s been contaminated. But get the contamination out of the word.
 
The people in Flint, Michigan can’t say to themselves, “I’m never drinking water again.” No, they need water. Desperately need water. But they have to get the contaminants out of their water.
 
And homes need fathers. Sons and daughters need fathers. Wives need husbands. Society needs men who know how to use their strength and authority to lead as God the Father leads. Who know how to use their strong muscles to protect. Who know how to use their strong voices to bless, not curse. Who know how to use their strong hearts to fulfill their responsibilities, and not run from them. Who know how to take the strong sexual energy inside of them and put down the porn and learn how to truly court and love a woman.
 
We’ve got to get the contaminants out of the idea of “manhood” and “fatherhood”. We need to rediscover what these words ought to mean.
 
This begins by looking straight and full at God the Father.

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No Sloppy Agape

Jesus didn’t save us so that we could sit in a pew the rest of our lives, sing songs, get our heads crammed full of Bible verses and doctrines, and then just hang on until he returns.
 
When Jesus first appeared to Paul, he said to him these words: “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness…I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them” (Acts 26:16-17).  Do you notice this?  “I have appeared to you to appoint you…”  “I will rescue you…to send you.”
 
That goes for us too.  Jesus appeared to us to then appoint us to a high calling. He rescued us to send us out to do good in his name. We are saved to serve. We are blessed to be a blessing.
 
Christianity gave this unique idea to the world: that every life matters, because every life has been shaped and gifted by God to make a difference in this world.
 
1 Peter 4:8-11 is a remarkable paragraph which functions as a sort of tutorial for Christian service. It answers at least 4 questions about serving Christ:
 
What’s the right motivation for serving?
Why should we serve?
Whom should we serve?
And who should do the serving?

Take the first question: what’s the right motivation for serving? Peter answers this question in the first phrase of verse 8: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.”
 
The Greek word used here for “love” is yet another idea that Christians gave the world: the word is “agape” (a-gop-ey), which refers to an unconditional love which sacrifices itself for another, regardless of whether its deserved or not. Agape is a word the Greeks and Romans didn’t use a lot, because this sort of love wasn’t practiced a lot.
 
Christianity gave this unique idea to the world: that every life matters, because every life has been shaped and gifted by God to make a difference in this world.

The world’s way of loving is a “because” sort of love. I love you because I feel love for you. I love you because of what I get out of it. I love you because you’re so loveable and beautiful, not to mention you’re nice to me.
 
But that’s not how God loves us. The apostle John said, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). God loved us first, even when that love wasn’t being returned. God’s love is not a “because” sort of love, but a “just because” sort of love. It’s who God is. “God is agape” John said (1 John 4:16). It’s the essence of his being.
 
Because of this, “agape” is self-giving, not self-serving. It doesn’t come with conditions attached to it. And it’s sacrificial in nature, because the one offering it gives, just because. Whether they get anything in return from it or not.
 
For this reason, Christ’s death on the cross for us is the highest expression of “agape” love that we can conceive of. It’s our model. John said, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [sacrifice] for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
 
Most Christians though understandably struggle with this. Most of us are guilty of what I might call sloppy agape.
 
There’s a reason for this. To love someone as God loves us requires the Lord’s helps. It’s not in us by nature. “For the love of Christ controls/compels us,” Paul wrote (2 Cor.5:14), “because we have concluded this: that one has died for all.”
 
And this is how we practice agape love. By asking the Lord to help control us with this love, and by reminding ourselves again and again, or how Jesus showed this same love for me by dying for me on the Cross.
 
The idea being: if my Lord did this for me – when I deserved something much worse – than how dare I not give this away to others.

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A Bible That’s Falling Apart Usually Belongs To Somebody That Isn’t

“Spiritual growth” is one of those fuzzy, nebulous things that many wish they could experience, but few are sure how it happens.
 
But it’s not really all that mysterious. Paul tells his young friend and apprentice Timothy, “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of” (2 Tim.3:14), and in that one sentence are three stepping stones to spiritual growth: First, you have learn spiritual truths, then you have to become convinced of their durability and solidity (i.e. that they are worth trusting), and finally you continue living them out.
 
When Paul refers to Timothy’s learning, the context of the verse makes it clear that what Timothy has learned is the Word of God. He was taught the “sacred writings” as a child (vs.15; cf. 1:5), then Paul reminds Timothy of the great value of “all scripture” (vs.16).
So the first stepping stone in growing up spiritually: You have to learn the Word of God.
 
The Book just won’t do any good sitting on your shelf.  It’s got to get in your head and in your heart.
 
It used to be, not all that long ago really, that the Bible was a prominent part of life in America. It was taught in all our schools. And everyone who went to church on Sunday also attended Sunday School classes before church to go deeper into learning about the Bible. Even those who didn’t go to church knew its stories and main teachings. The average child could have paired David with Goliath, and Jonah with the great fish, and Noah with the flood. Today they can’t.
Honestly, I don’t quite understand biblical illiteracy. People are strange. If someone claims they saw Mary appear on a mountainside in France, people by the thousands will flock there to get close to God. If someone sees Jesus in the clouds, like they did in Argentina recently, near revival breaks out. If someone sees Jesus in a piece of toast, the world will go nuts for awhile, thinking that God has spoken.
 
But  when God thought to give the world a gift to reveal himself to us and to show his great love for us, he didn’t leave us with a monument, or etch his face on a mountain (or a piece of toast), or shout at us from the heavens. It’s actually brilliant what he did. Because what he did is lasting, and is accessible to everyone, and can be understood by everyone who makes half an effort.
 
God put his words, his thoughts, and his ideas in a book, that anyone can hold in their hands. He wrote us a love-letter. But hardly anyone knows it, or cares to know it.
 
What’s interesting is that even secular observers have noticed this and many are alarmed by it. A few years ago, TIME magazine had a cover story which read: “Why We Should Teach The Bible In Public School (But Very, Very Carefully).” The article quoted a Boston University Religious Department chair who said: “Knowledge of the Bible is essential to being a full-fledged, well-rounded citizen…An entire generation of Americans is growing up almost entirely ignorant of the most influential book in world history, unable to understand the 1,300 biblical allusions in Shakespeare, the scriptural oratory of President Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. or even the prominence of the Bible in popular films such as “Pulp Fiction” and “The Matrix”.”
 
He’s right. How can schools ignore at least talking about this book – that remains the world’s #1 bestseller year after year – with its students? The Bible has had such a profound impact on our culture, and on the world, that to be ignorant of its contents, its stories, and its teaching automatically makes you a poorer, weaker human being.
 
If I were a teacher I’d want my students to know of Abraham and Sarah going in faith to a strange land, so my kids can learn that there is so much more to life than just being comfortable and secure. That good things happen when you stretch yourself and take leaps of faith.
 
If I were a teacher I’d want my students to hear the story of the Good Samaritan. If you want to put a dent in bullying, then put that story into kids’ heads.
 
I’d want them to hear the story of David and Goliath. Talk about your self-esteem booster. Here’s David, the runt of the litter, the smallest of his brothers, overlooked by everyone, who ends up showing courage that no one else will.
 
I’d want my kids to know the Ten Commandments, for them to become aware that they are not a law unto themselves, that they are accountable for how they live. To be ignorant of this information leaves you without a moral vocabulary that can help guide and protect your life.
 
“Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” ~ John Bunyan
 
Sadly, this ignorance doesn’t stop at the church doors though. Study after study of evangelical churches (the so-called “Bible-believing” ones) demonstrates an appalling lack of knowledge of what the Bible actually says.
 
Spiritual growth starts right here. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” Paul wrote to the Colossians. The Puritan author John Bunyan who wrote “Pilgrim’s Progress” said, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”
 
So what are you waiting for, my friend?. Get reading. And keep reading. You gotta walk before you can run. So learn, learn, and learn some more. The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to a person that isn’t.” May that be said of your Bible one day.
 
 
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. He’s just released his latest book, “Living Under The Cross: A 40-Day Devotional Journey”. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.

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Leaders Are Readers

It’s the first of the fundamentals that we learned in school.  (Reading, writing, texting…)
 
George Washington did not have access to a military academy growing up.  So he read the best military books available in his time and taught himself how to think with a strategic military mind.  Theodore Roosevelt, one of our greatest presidents, died in his sleep and was found with a book under his pillow.  Dr. Suess maybe said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you’ll know; the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
 
For a Christian in particular, the discipline of reading is one of the most soul-enriching practices to develop. By spending time with Christian authors from across the centuries, you will immeasurably deepen your faith, gain new perspectives, sharpen your thinking, learn new skills, be lifted out of ruts, and mobilized for serving your Lord more fruitfully.
 
I recommend that you read across several types of writing:
 
Read biographies. Get up close and personal with men and women of faith. Read biographies of great missionaries – like Hudson Taylor or William Carey. Or great men of faith like Martin Luther or John Wesley. From the 20th century, read “Just As I Am” by Billy Graham, and “The Shadow Of The Almighty”, the story of Jim Elliot written by his wife Elizabeth. A newer biography on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas will inspire you to stay close to Christ.
 
Read theology. Christianity is so broad and deep. Tell yourself, “This month, I’m going to read a book on prayer.” (I recommend any book by E.M. Bounds, or Philip Yancey’s best-seller, “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference.”) Or “I want to read a book on Jesus’ death.” (“The Cross of Christ” by John Stott.) Every Christian should have a volume of ‘systematic theology’ in their library which they ought to read from. I recommend Wayne Gruden’s massive “Systematic Theology”, perhaps the most readable, most thorough explanation of what classical Christians believe. Speaking of classics…
 
Read classics. You haven’t lived until you’ve journeyed with Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Or had tea with C.S. Lewis as he discusses “Mere Christianity”. Or take in Augustine’s “Confessions”. Or Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship”. Or Richard Fosters, “Celebration of Discipline.” Clifton’s “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey” is a real page-turner. 🙂
 
Read ‘saw-sharpening’ books. We’re reading “The Unstuck Church” this summer as a church. I believe that God will speak to our congregation through this book, and put us on a path of growth. If you want to overcome your doubts, read any of Lee Strobel’s “Case For _____” books. If you want to know why Jesus is better than anything this culture has to offer, read books by Chuck Colson, or Francis Schaeffer.
 
The point is, life’s too short and following Jesus too amazing to pass on this incredible ‘habit of the heart’. Don’t say, “Well, I’m not a reader.” If you’re reading this, you’re a reader. Get a move-on.
 

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Oh Just Grow Up! Are You A Spiritual Baby?

Reach, teach and unleash is my pastoral motto, and teaching is a critical link in the chain.
 
Why do we need to be taught? And why does a healthy church insist on providing learning opportunities?
           
One answer the Bible is clear about: Because we all enter the kingdom of God as spiritual babies.
 
Scripture insists that anyone who enters God’s kingdom is, spiritually speaking, a baby. 1 Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up onto salvation.”  
 
There was a group of American tourists vacationing in England, who were walking through a village one day. They passed an old man sitting on a park bench, and one of the tourists, being a wise guy, called out in a fake English accident, “Old chap, were any great men born in this village?” The old man replied, “Nope, only babies.”
  
Sometimes we look in our Bibles and we see Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Elijah taking on the prophets of Baal, Mary and the great courage she showed in being the mother of Jesus, and rather than be inspired by them, we’re intimidated. They’re so far above us, we think. But that’s not true. Each one of them started off as babies.
 
And you my brother, my sister, have that same opportunity in front of you. The opportunity of growing. Of growing in faith. Of growing in love. Of growing in purity. Of growing in fruitfulness. What will release this growth in your life? One thing – will you or will you not commit to learning, then living out the Lord’s teaching? That’s it. It’s no mystery.
 
How do you know if you’re a spiritual baby or not? Is a person who has been a Christian for ten years more spiritual and mature than one who has been a Christian for five years? Many think that’s how it works. Musicians are always asking each other: How long have you been playing? I can impress people by saying, “I’ve been playing guitar for 40 years. Aren’t you impressed?” But I stopped taking lessons 30 years ago. And since then, the only times I have improved as a guitar is whenever I have dedicated myself to learning.
 
In the kingdom of God, you could be a Christian for 20 or 30 years and still be a baby. Because there are two things that mark out spiritual infancy:
 
First, a lack of biblical knowledge.
 
The author of Hebrews said this to a group of Christians who had stopped growing. “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again…You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12-13).
  
If you don’t know a lot about the Bible yet, or you still haven’t mastered the habit of seeking God every day through Bible reading and prayer, or if you don’t know and understand the core doctrines of the faith, then you’re still a spiritual baby, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian.
 
But knowledge alone doesn’t prove maturity.  You could win every Bible sword drill, and score a 100 on any Bible quiz that gets thrown at you, you still might be a spiritual infant.
 
Because secondly, spiritual infancy is shown by lack of biblical behavior.
 
Paul said to the Corinthians, “If I have all knowledge and understand all mysteries but have not love I am nothing.” (1 Cor.13:2).
 
We find out in reading Corinthians that the folks in this church were bickering amongst themselves who their favorite preacher was. One group said, “We like Paul!” Another group said, “But we like Apollos!” Paul had to tell them to grow up. He had to give them a timeout, and send them to their naughty chair.
 
He tells them in 1 Corinthians 3:1,4, “But I could not address you as spiritual…but as infants in Christ,” he said.
 
A lack of holiness, a lack of showing the love and grace of Christ in your life is proof positive that you’re still in spiritual diapers and need to grow up.
 
Pastor Bear

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