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The Local Church and Personal Ministry I

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Question #1:  If someone is going to plant a church. How would it be done? Some basic parameters. You have NOTHING where you are going. No building, no connections, no friends, etc. It's just like you are a missionary overseas in some aspects but you do have some tools and advantages, you have a church that is sending you out that will come over at the beginning of the church plant (drive 4 hours) and help canvas the area. You have a friend who is a director for a ministry that is well known and has well know people on his board of directors, who has offered to come during your "grand opening" and sing/preach, help out. The area is economically depressed and many of the people are on government support. Many of the people have religion, but no relationship with Christ... Some believe in being "saved" but have different beliefs. The call is sure, you are seeking the Spirit and His will. So given some of those basics, what PRACTICAL things would you be doing, planning, or trying.

Example: Start a door to door program to see people saved (if that's what you would do... and then how you would do it and how you would follow it up and what step you would make next).

Thanks in advance!

Response #1:   

On this one, I am afraid you have hit on an area where I am not much good: being practical. Seriously, I have mixed feelings about all of these sorts of activities. But in any case, they fall, as you rightly discern, into the area of practical application rather than biblical direction. This is, to say the least, not my forte (I'm a Bible teacher, not an evangelist).

Were I to find myself called to something of this sort, I am completely at a loss to tell you what I would do. One thing I hope that I would do would be to rely on the Lord and to rely on the truth rather than to put my faith or my emphasis in false approaches. If a person is teaching the truth in the right way, I have every confidence in the Lord's ability to direct those who are open to it to the place where the truth is being taught. On the other hand, if we rely on method rather than content, on style and approach rather than substance, we are not going to be happy with the result (that is assuming that we do indeed have the correct motivation in the first place). For there are all manner of very highly successful churches out there with shiny new buildings, lots of money, and people galore . . . . . which are not teaching the Bible (or are doing so on such a low level that it almost amounts to the same thing). Teaching, really teaching the Bible is very off-putting for most Christians because by its very nature it demands a measure of humility, patience, effort, consistency, and commitment that are difficult to come by in the first place and difficult to sustain in the second. Also, it is not "church" in the sense that people have come to expect it. What I have a problem with in such situations as you describe is anything that smacks of "bait and switch"; that is to say, through a variety of mass-marketing and grass-roots politicking getting people to come, get interested, and tentatively commit, then at that point trying to switch over to a Bible teaching ministry. For one thing, it is dishonest; for another, it will almost surely back-fire.

But if we are talking here about just another contemporary evangelical feel-good and work out your salvation super-church in the making, then I must confess I would have no enthusiasm for the project in any case.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Dear Robert,

It's nice to have an online pastor that actually takes the time to write back! Believe me my friend in Christ, it is not all that common for these folks to write. A site (which I will not name) that I used to follow on a regular basis, was like your site, very interesting and Bible-based, discussing end times and how they relate to the modern geopolitical events. Unfortunately, the gentleman who ran that site never wrote back, not once. Since I am a weather buff of sorts, I even gave him some modern weather data (which I believe is another sign from God) that he used in his monthly letter, word for word! He writes credits on the bottom of the page (mostly newspapers and other media outlets.) I didn't expect him to put my name there, that didn't bother me, but the least he could have done is wrote back and answered the questions I asked. A "thank you" would have been nice but again, it's the lack of interest in his own readers that's disconcerting. Perhaps I am a hard marker though, maybe the guy really was just too busy, who knows. I still read his site from time to time but don't send contributions.

Getting on to my next question....I don't belong to a church, I don't go to church on a regular basis but yet, are we Christians supposed to be giving money to the church? Does it actually say that in the Bible, a tithe, or whatever the term is. If we choose not to go to church and worship Christ right here, in our own homes, not giving money to a church, I wonder if that's wrong in God's eyes. I asked you about donations once; I wanted to donate to your site but you said that you didn't take donations, which says a lot about your character and your dedication. Not that asking for money is bad but for a man to spend his spare time, spreading the word of Christ without asking for money is somewhat unusual but commendable. I would love to give to a Christian-based organization if nothing else like "The Christian Children's Fund" but my fear is that my money will not be used properly. It's very hard to know who is true and who is false at times. Do you know of any Churches or organizations in need? If so, please let me know!

I will send the link to your site to my mother, I think it would do her a power of good to read some of what you have to say. I see her (all my family) caught up in worldly things, like the Olympics, sports, music and even television (most of which is garbage.) My mother is a Christian and a very good person but we can always improve, I certainly have! I used to live and die by my football team, slamming things against the ground if they didn't win. Crazy if you think about it, not only do we have no control over how a team performs, are they cheering for us, are they Christians themselves? Some might be but the fact is, there are a lot of people who really do worship their team (or their favorite band) and still call themselves Christians. It pretty much says that this is a black or white issue in the Bible. If it's of the world, it doesn't come from Christ, right?


Response #2: 

Always a pleasure to hear from you. It would be great if I could give you a pat answer on where to go to church, what to do as a ministry, how and where to give your money, etc., etc. However, this is precisely the sort of thing in my reading of the Bible that I ought not to do. That is, my job as a Bible teacher as I see it outlined in scripture is to help people understand the truth of the Word of God. Once they do, if they believe it, concentrate on it, start applying it to their lives conscientiously, and thereby growing spiritually, using this true knowledge and their good consciences they will be effectively led by the Spirit into every good thing, and helped to avoid every bad thing. In other words, when we were children, others led us around. Now that we are adults, we make our own decisions for better or for worse. The same is true in the (genuine) Christian way of life. If we are spiritually mature – or close enough to start making our own good decisions based on the truth of the Word of God in our hearts understood and believed – we can tell very well for ourselves whether or not going to a particular church or becoming involved in a particular Christian organization is worthwhile, pointless, or even dangerous (at least after a while if not at first). Giving up our free will and discernment to others is the worst thing we can do. Given that during the Tribulation many if not most of our fellow brothers and sisters and all really only "pretend" Christians will be sucked into antichrist's pseudo-Christian movement, developing a good sense of Christian discrimination right here and now is doubly important. But as things stand, those who like yourself are intent upon doing the hard work of true spiritual growth are rare.

We have much to say about this [subject of Christ's priesthood], but it is difficult to communicate [such advanced things to you] because your ears have become lazy. And although by this time you ought to be [capable of] teaching [such things], you need someone to teach you what the basic principles of God's truth are again! You have turned [back] into [spiritual infants] who need milk and [can] not [yet tolerate] solid food! For everyone who partakes of [such] milk is ignorant of the teaching of righteousness (i.e., how to live righteously). Solid [spiritual] food is for the [spiritually] mature, those who by [diligent] practice have trained their [moral] perceptive faculties to [properly] distinguish between good and evil.
Hebrews 5:11-14

As a result, those places where the Word is readily available are equally rare. As I usually say at times like this, finding a good church where the teaching of the Word of God in an orthodox and substantive way is the primary mission, effectively carried out, is extremely unusual. The lack of responsiveness on the part of most our fellow Christians today makes such an attempt a very dicey prospect (as many of my seminary friends who had this passion can attest). A good rule of thumb is that if the church is large or if you have heard of the group before, it is probably not going to do you any good. Any pastor-teacher who dedicates himself to putting the truth first is going to find that very few are willing to follow, and that will mean a microscopic church most likely not in a dedicated building. As to giving money, it is certainly true that this is a part of our Christian application. However, tithing went out with the Law, and groups that push it are inevitably more interested in the money than the Lord (please see the link [with further sub-links]: Is Tithing net or gross?). Further, when the Lord leads you to the particular ministry He has for you – and He has a ministry for every one of us – then this may turn out to be the place where your monetary outlays for the Lord are best applied. In the meantime, what I have said for churches applies for charities: the larger, more famous, more national and international in scope they are, the better chance that you will be wasting your money (whereas the small, nondescript and local charities are more likely to be actually doing something good). Of course our Lord honors what is in the heart, but you are most correct in your caution – and that is a measure of growth as well.

Thanks much for your continued interest and encouraging words – and most of all for your commitment to Jesus Christ and His Word.

In our dear Lord Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:  


I remember you wrote in an email to me quite a while back about music. I had asked you if you listen to much music and you replied that it causes too many emotions, for lack of a better term. I didn't really understand at the time but I think I do now. It seems very likely that Satan has used the music industry to corrupt youth and even adults. I stopped listening to bands like Led Zeppelin (who I grew up with) and the likes a long time ago, especially after I found out that Jimmy Page (a band member) was into Crowley and the Satanic Bible, he even went so far as to buy his old home in Scotland. Of course, I never knew any of this growing up, after investigating further, I believe their lyrics are designed to suck people into Satanic thinking. The music industry seems, like Hollywood itself, to belong to Satan. I also stay away from watching from watching the Olympics as it seems like more idol worshiping, it seems to be more of a Satanic ritual when you look at the whole picture.

Thanks for the link and may the Lord bless you and keep you,

Response #3:    

Thanks much for the very interesting personal testimony. Given the contents of much contemporary music, it's not hard to see how it could influence people into all sorts of bad behavior. People like to think they are above such emotional manipulation, but none of us is entirely superior to our emotions at all times, and especially not if we have a particular weakness then listen to music (or watch movies/TV/websites, read books/art etc.) that pushes us in that bad direction. In fact, the more we think we are in control, the more vulnerable we are making ourselves in truth. I also agree with your take on the Olympics. After all, it started as a Greek festival with serious pagan religious aspects, and the universalism of the present "Olympic movement" (as they like to call it) certainly has some disturbing aspects to it. Even though this is something most of us do to some degree (I have watched my share of sporting events, that's for sure), glorification of human athletic achievement is in any case a waste of time at best (God "takes no pleasure in the legs of a man" Ps.147:10), and something as you point out approaching idolatry at its worst.

Keep fighting the good fight of faith in Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #4:  


God is teaching me so many things, and He sent an understanding to my heart about what is going on. I got a picture of being just like a root-bound houseplant. My growth is being stunted by my limited environment. I have always believed in the idiom "grow where you are planted"….now I'm going to add "…until you need to be transplanted!" He is also teaching me to remain true to my inner beliefs and convictions regardless of surrounding opinions from leaders. This is a hard one for me. He is also teaching me to be able to stand strong when people dislike me or my ideas. I was a natural people-pleaser, so this has been a hard and sometimes hurtful lesson to learn. I just have to remember to trust that God knows what he is doing. Plus, I think He will honor my heart's desires about where I give my money, because I believe he put the specific areas of compassion in my heart in the first place! I am sorry for complaining so much in my previous email. My life is so blessed, and I have no reason to let the little things frustrate me so much. Forgive the outburst, please. As always, I pray for your ministry, I pray for your physical, emotional, spiritual health, and encouragement enough to keep you going. You are a great role model in the way you just continue to do your work, and continue to bless people, regardless of the state of the formal church. I admire your creativity in finding a way to eloquently express the wisdom you have learned through all your years of study. I will take that as a personal challenge….I too will search for a way to creatively allow the part of myself that needs expression through service to find the perfect niche.

Be blessed Bob, and Happy New Year to you as well! In Jesus' name.

Response #4:     

You've got absolutely nothing to apologize for. Any Christian group would be very blessed to have the benefit of your gifts, efforts, and sacrifice. There is almost always a certain amount of tension in the Christian life as far as being content with the status quo on the one hand and being willing to change for the better on the other. It is important to think things out very carefully before making major changes, just as it is important not to ignore the prompting of the Spirit when change is called for. These are very important but also very personal sorts of decisions. Most people tend to lean one way or another, and changing when one should stick or sticking when one should change are equally problematic behaviors. It is good to know one's own tendencies and develop a bit of a prejudice in the opposite direction. However, it is also important not to allow a known proclivity to generate an inappropriate response. To put it another way, there is a trend in the community of the church visible especially in evangelicalism to prod people into doing things by denouncing the tendency to want to stay in one's "comfort zone". But while it is certainly very true that if we are unproductive like the fig tree the owner wanted to cut down, we had better get fertilized and get producing. On the other hand if we really are moving forward spiritually and producing through our gifts and ministries, then responding to guilt appeals of this sort are most likely to be extremely counter or even anti-productive – especially if the "getting out of the comfort zone" these people have in mind is to begin doing things they want you to do instead of doing what you have been led to do by the Spirit. If, for example, a person is gifted at comfort and counseling, to put off people who need this help in order to help a crew re-pave a parking lot is, to my mind, not only a waste of time but actually an abuse of grace. And once we start doing things (or not doing them) really out of a response to group pressure instead of a heart-felt personal desire to respond to the Lord, well, we have begun to sail our ship of salvation among the rocks and shoals. Manipulating people is really a pretty easy thing to do, especially when the people in question have good hearts but find themselves amongst the ranks of the spiritually immature who follow first and ask questions only later (if ever). It takes a lot of maturity and spiritual background to resist what everyone else is doing, especially when the "everyone else" is one's primary Christian group.

With the hope and prayer that you find peace in all of this through God's guidance.

In our Rock, Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #5:  

Hi Bob, and Happy New Year!

I hope you enjoyed your Christmas with your mother. It is so nice when we know our family members will spend eternity with us. I am still praying for a few, and praying for the fruit to show in another's life. Over Christmas, one of them told me he believed in Jesus (Yes!) and God (Amen) and UFO's (uh oh…) and 4 more layers on top of that (huh?). Sigh. So, I found out why my church leaders won't let me sign on the worship team anymore….I don't tithe to the church. I give them some money, but only what I am led to give, not a straight 10%. Since I don't, I can't act in any leadership capacity, which precludes my service to the church in any but the most limited capacity. I am allowed to clean, or watch children. I can only sing if there is no one else available; because I guess exceptions are made based on necessity, not on professed belief. Even before reading what you've written on your sight regarding tithing, I had very strong feelings that I should follow God's leading about where my disposable income should go. A good deal of it goes to help family members and friends who need the support, and also to a number of specific charities. Lately, God has really put the homeless on my heart, telling me not to try to change them but to simply love them. Just talk with them, accept them, and attend to practical needs such as showering, laundry and groceries. He has also been warming my heart toward renegade teenagers. I am so frustrated. The church will take my money forever, and not care if I do a single thing (even though faith w/o works is dead), but If I want to serve our group 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, I am not allowed, because if I can't even tithe, obviously I am not qualified to do anything else. I do still feel edified by the sermons, but am starting to have a hard time holding my tongue. I want to scream, "Are you crazy? You keep talking about how you want to serve people, but you have someone right here, right in front of you, that does it every day, and will do it through the church, and you say no thank you?" Bob, I'm going crazy. Are there no practical Christians anymore? People that just want to live, love, learn and share? I know you are one, but I haven't found many. For the most part, I see people who are floundering, just attempting to take care of their own personal lives. I have friends who can't even pay their bills on time, or keep their own houses clean and in good repair, but they can be in leadership because they have set up an automatic payment from their checking account right into the church's account. Everyday I pray, "Lord, let me see through your eyes. Give me eyes of compassion. Keep me from judgment and lead me toward love and assistance toward those that need it. Help me teach those who are wasting so many gifts by their dogmatism that they can grow so much stronger and help so many more if everyone worked together".

Do you get together with others who believe as you do? How/where did you find them? I am almost out of patience with the church proper, but want and need to edify and be edified, to encourage and to be encouraged. I want to be with people who find it a normal and regular expression of their Christianity to follow Jesus' example of servanthood. I want to study and learn with people who really want to study and learn. Help! Am I missing something?

Response #5:   

You certainly are a trooper! I very much admire your instructive and inspiring Christian witness. As you know I find the whole idea of mandatory tithing for Christians today offensive, not just because it is not biblical, but because it puts money over everything else. I pray that you may find a place where things operate on a more biblical basis and where you are appreciated for your considerable gifts and willing spirit. In the meantime, it certainly seems that your present situation is developing your patience and perseverance to a high level indeed.

Family is a tough nut if only because such familiarity breeds intense contempt. Jesus' brothers were the first who should have appreciated Him but among the last to do so – so it's not merely a matter of approach. The best we can do is to love and appreciate them and continue to witness with the life and the well-placed word as the Lord gives us the opportunities. Just as James and Jude did come around in the end, you never know what the grace and power of God might accomplish.

Finding a place where you can receive substantive, orthodox Bible teaching face-to-face has become extremely problematic as we approach the "end of days". When I went off to seminary many years ago it was most certainly my intention to be serve the Lord in such a capacity, but this ministry is what grew up instead. I think the fact that ministries like Ichthys are online instead of in churches says something about the state of the church-visible in our Laodicean age. So while I can't recommend a church in your area, please know that this ministry is available for you and will continue to be so as long as the Lord wills.

And a happy new year to you and yours too!

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #6:  

I had discussed this with a church friend and he wrote something similar and different from what you wrote. I wanted to know where he might be wrong. He said:

"Revival of a church is not a reality. Revival has nothing to do with churches, and everything to do with individuals. Before people start jumping to conclusions - I am not saying that churches are unimportant - I believe quite to the contrary. BUT - Revival of a church is simply where you have the revival of several individuals. You CAN NOT have revival without individuals being moved by the Holy Spirit. What can happen I guess is that the revival that happens in a single heart, dedicated and prepared to truly hear the Word of God, can influence others to seek out the power they see in that one. But this is "revival" of individuals. Even in the best of "Revival meetings" there will be at least a number of people who are just going along for the ride. Revival happens when a person allows the Lord to touch them and lead them. And I am a real expert in this - Our church has never seen "revival", although I have seen hearts touched on a few occasions. Revival is a personal thing, not a corporate thing, although it can seem corporate when the influence of the few spreads to a few more. One thing I know is that I need it right now, and I seem to only be hindered in my pursuit of it."

Do you agree? thanks in advance!

Response #6:    

I think it is very pertinent to discussions of this sort to note that as far as I am aware the word "revival" doesn't occur in the Bible. Now you may find it in some English version or other, but not in the sense used here. Therefore it would be helpful to consider what people mean when they use the word. Historically, this word has been used in evangelical circles in this country for periods of large-scale conversions of unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ. This term was chosen, I suppose, because from the beginning this country was "Christian" to a comparatively large degree (although in my own personal estimate of such things I dare say the number of true followers of Jesus Christ has never come close to approaching anything like 50%). Therefore in periods where there was much less interest in the Word, phenomena like the two Great Awakenings wherein large numbers of people ostensibly came to Christ who were otherwise unsaved (and presumably in at least some cases stayed faithful until death) have been called "revivals". The word then downsized to include evangelizing meetings where it was hoped that what had, again ostensibly, happened on a large scale in the past would now happen on a small scale in individual meetings. To what degree this has actually happened or is happening, I have my doubts. For one thing, I would imagine that it is difficult to find a person in this country who has never heard of Jesus Christ. It maybe somewhat easier to find those who don't understand that salvation is a matter of faith responding to grace (indeed, there are many who call themselves Christians who don't seem to have proper grasp of that truth). Making these sort of circus effort to get this hypothetical target population into any closed venue is unlikely to produce success, and, in my opinion, unnecessary, since it is a sad and sorry local Christian church where an unbeliever could attend and even after a single visit not understand the issue of salvation (or at least not have the main issues addressed in the process of teaching the scriptures so that he/she wasn't being led in the right direction if so inclined). So if the church is doing it's job, then the gospel is being proclaimed as a part of its regular function. If it is not, then it is unlikely that any sort of "revival" it might sponsor would have much hope of success, let alone do any new convert any good after salvation by providing for their spiritual growth (and that is the place where the church-visible today is so sadly deficient).

From the quotations you include, I get the impression that the person feels revival has little to do with unbelievers, and more to do with the proper motivation of believers, stirring up the lukewarm to proper motivation and proper Christian function, so to speak. What this person says about such "revival" being a personal thing is certainly correct, but then all Christianity is personal and individual, working itself out in collective results. Why such "revival" is needed in the first place is a fascinating question. The Word of God properly taught, lovingly cherished, and enthusiastically applied is a motivator like no other in the world; so if the Word were being taught and responded to in the manner scripture envisions, then how are all these Christians getting into such a state that they need some kind of infusion of spiritual adrenaline in the first place? I can only conclude that the reason the congregation is spiritually dead is because the Word of God is not being taught (either because the pastor can't/won't do it or the congregation doesn't want it – or both). In any case, generating displays of emotion – which is what most organized "revivals" are concerned with doing – is no substitute for true spiritual growth. Such "revival" is inevitably only a flash in the pan, and usually does more harm than good once the glow fades, so that in spite of the "experience" nothing really changes in the end. The only thing that really changes a person for the good, the only thing that really sustains a person through tribulation, the only thing that produces genuine spiritual growth and the resultant production that truly glorifies God is the truth: the Word of God understood, believed, and applied. Everything else is mere distraction. As your friend suggests, the desire for this has to come from the heart of the person in question – it can't be infused from outside.

In Him who is the Word of God, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

This concerns a church I visited. The thing is, the pastor preaches about sinners needing to be saved, which is fine, but all he does is condemn, and never does he preach on forgiveness. He says things which are questionable such as, "I saw a story in the news where 2 ___s killed each other in a 'lovers' spat...well, I say if they want to, let them." (This was in a sermon he had preached on the sin of homosexuality.) Homosexuality is obviously a sin, but so is stealing, killing, killing, lusting, etc. Well, my point is that we are all made in God's image. This being, we ought to show love towards all people, and in a loving manner show why and how someone is sinning and why and how they need to come to Christ. So my question would be, should I go to this church? Some of my friends refer to this as a "fake church", but to me, this is a church that doesn't actually teach the truth of God's word. They use stories of their own opinion in use things such as The Purpose Driven Life and such mess. So should I go to hateful church, fake church, or no church and study God's word on my own?

Response #7:   

The problem of "what church?" to attend is a hard one in our day and age. It is extremely difficult, in my experience and observation, to find a place where the teaching of the Word of God is the top priority (especially where the pastor/teacher is actually prepared to do it and doing it well). That sad fact is the primary rationale for this internet ministry. As I have had occasion to say before, I have a number of friends from seminary who have had similar experiences and observe the same sorts of things out there in the "church visible". All of this certainly squares with the prophecies about this final Church era, the era of Laodicea (please see the link). I would certainly find it difficult to become too close to any church where the doctrine is clearly faulty. As members of the Body of Christ, we have a natural and godly desire to fellowship with other believers and to enjoy the mutual encouragement and help of the Body. Ideally this would happen in a regular group which, for want of a better name, would be a "church". But given all of the problems that many churches have today, as I say, while I might attend some, there are few to whom I would give more than a passing and generic loyalty. Certainly, some of the symptoms you report on this particular church are problematic indeed. It may actually be a blessing of sorts to find obvious indications early on that this is the wrong place – some places are wrong but the symptoms not so immediately obvious.

You are certainly very welcome at this ministry, and I am confident that the Lord is able to provide what you require in terms of face-to-face fellowship as well, whether that be a "church" which is traditional in every respect or a church which is less obvious and recognizable as such, and whether that provision is instantaneous or requires quite a bit of time and searching on your part. As in all things, if you seek, you will find what God has for you – in His way and in His timing.

That is certainly my prayer for you for your spiritual growth in all respects.

In our dear Lord Jesus, the Chief Shepherd of the Church.

Bob L.

Question #8:  

What should we use as the "measuring rod" of our own spirituality? I've heard people say that they feel backslidden when they're sick and can't do their weekly ministry. But if the weekly ministry is what makes us feel spiritual, then doesn't that make those who perhaps are handicapped or sick or elderly and can't do much of any sort of "ministry" in perpetual backslidden-ness? What brings a person to judge their spirituality this way? (what teaching?) And what is the right way to view our own spirituality?

Response #8:    

As human beings, we are very emotional creatures. However, our emotions are a very poor guide to where we are spiritually (or to just about anything else for that matter). We can be "up" for no particularly good reason, and get unreasonably "down" way out of proportion to some setback or disappointment. Indeed, there is good scriptural evidence to suppose that instead of using our emotions as a guide we ought to ignore them entirely and instead rely on what we know from scripture to be true (compare Paul's synopsis of the Exodus generation in 1Cor.10 – they continually forgot everything they should have learned and reacted to the pressures of the moment). For if we are feeling pretty good about ourselves but in reality are neglecting things that are important or, worse yet, slipping into chronic sinful behavior, the fact that we don't "feel" bad about it right away is a terrible guide to the spiritual reality. On the other hand, if we are doing what we ought to be doing and walking the straight and narrow by and large, some small assault by the devil, some minor disappointment, some small set-back real or perceived may set us off or cause us to become frustrated or get us down. In times of intense testing and personal tribulation this is particularly true, and it is a particular point of emphasis in this ministry that those who are indeed advancing in the Christian life are indeed doing useful service for the Lord (as opposed to merely "looking good" and engaging in pointless self-congratulation over nothing) are also the most likely to come under fire and the concomitant danger of fainting in testing.

It is a very common situation for a positive believer to "hit" or experiences minor failure in an otherwise extremely positive walk. During such times there is a great temptation to over-react in an active way (as when Moses struck the rock in anger and frustration) or to over-react passively (as when Elijah retreated to the cave in fear and frustration). If these men, two of the greatest believers who have ever lived, found themselves reacting emotionally (and very incorrectly) to resistance they encountered, we who are not on their spiritual level should take that lesson to heart and do everything we can to remove emotion from the mix as any sort of means of evaluation. Emotion should respond to the truth, not take precedence over it. What we should do whenever we feel emotional pressure is settle down, focus on what we know by faith, remember and recall all that the Lord has done for us, consider where we are in the accomplishment of the ministries He has given us (as well as how far we have to go), and hold on to the truth we know about all these things from scripture. If we do, in my observation, experience, and evaluation of scripture, the result will be that our emotions will come around, if not immediately, certainly after a little while – if we only hold course and concentrate on the truth. So emotional upheaval is a sort of test and a type of resistance to be overcome on our way to spiritual maturity, production, and the passing of extraordinary tests (rather than a measuring rod of progress or failure).

We will never be able to pass these emotional tests as long as we "think more highly of ourselves than we ought" (Rom.12:3). In other words, excessive, obsessive, and morose concentration on how we "feel" is actually a form of arrogance. True humility sees the plan of God more clearly and realizes that we are not that special, that the plan of God is more important than we are, that it is not "all about us", and that just settling down and doing the job we have been called to do is what we should be about, not over-analyzing "how we feel". When the devil can get us to start taking things personally, he is half way to getting us where he wants us (please see the link: in SR 4, "The Battlefield"). On the great day of days, we will be rewarded for all our efforts (see the link: The Judgment of the Church), and from that day forward there will be no more tears (Rev.7:17; 21:4); this world is the only place of sorrow for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal life, and it doesn't last forever – it will be over in the blink of an eye. In this race in which we find ourselves, we have to control our bodies in order to run well and win, ignoring the emotional and physical pain and pressing forward to the goal of great reward, pleasing to our Master Jesus Christ.

In our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #9: 

There are a lot of people in the church who say "The Holy Spirit" told me this, but then there are those who say the same and yet what they say differ from each other. How do we know who is telling the truth? and how do we know if it is the Holy Spirit since so many people say the HS told them that but disagree with each other. I've heard too many people tell me that they are 100% sure that what they have learned concerning biblical doctrines are correct, and yet when compared with what we have been taught and what we believe to be 100% correct is different. Someone has to be wrong, so how do we determine who is correct on this matter. There are too many people who won't accept correction because they believe they are 100% correct. This all seems confusing to me. How do I know what I have learned to be 100% correct concerning doctrine if others say the same and tell me to trust THEM? Thanks in advance!

Response #9:   

A very good question. The man of God from Judah charged to prophesy to Jeroboam about the future destruction of his line for his unfaithfulness to God when returning home and contrary to the Lord's direct command went in to eat and drink with a "prophet" who insisted that "an angel" had told him to do so. This was a lie, and the man of God from Judah was killed by lion "for defying the Word of the Lord" (1Ki.13:11-26). The fact that he had been deceived by a person claiming to have a direct line from God did not excuse his violation of what he knew had come from God. Paul makes a similar point when he says at Galatians 1:8 that the Galatians should not trust anyone, even an angel, who proclaimed "a different gospel" other the one he had shared with them: eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. So how do we come to know the truth? Simply put, the whole truth is in the Bible, the Word of God. If we want that truth, then we need to do all we can do personally in terms of reading and studying our Bibles, and, additionally, we need to find a good source of teaching.

So as to your question, "how do/can I know" whether or not a teacher is telling you the truth, I think the answer lies in a relationship of trust which has been built up over time and is based upon verifiable experience of orthodox teaching, vetted by you in your personal Bible reading and the guidance of the Spirit. One thing every Christian should consider when evaluating a prospective teacher is the question of adequate preparation. The founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, is famously reported as saying that it would not be unreasonable for a young man to spend ten years preparing for the ministry even if he knew he would only be able to spend one year in it. Along with the Presbyterian Church (mainly through my father), Chafer (mainly through one of his students, Col. R.B. Thieme) was one of the biggest influences on me. Neither strain of teaching has all the answers in my view, so a long time ago I came to rely on scripture as my guide, not upon any preconceived system. However, both the Presbyterians and Dallas have this part right: preparation is key to correct biblical interpretation. It is certainly not the case that massive academic preparation automatically equates to correct theological positions – far from it. But without adequate preparation, it is unquestionably the case that the interpreter will be limited in just how far he can go. For example, almost everything I have learned independently, confirmed from what I was originally taught, or changed based upon scripture, has been guided by what I consider to be the sine qua non of biblical interpretation: a deep and careful preparation in the original languages of the Bible: Greek and Hebrew (and, to a lesser degree, Aramaic). You can't interpret the Bible if you don't know what the Bible really says. What most people are doing out there in the church visible is interpreting other people's English translations.

C.I. Scofield, for example, shows that diligent work in the English Bible alone can yield results – but his work also shows the definite limitations of "English only" interpretation. An adjunct of this is textual criticism: a person has to have a high degree of confidence as to what the text actually reads in the Greek and Hebrew before translating, and there are times when even small differences in the manuscripts can make a big difference in the meaning of individual passages. Add to this the fact that many of the issues a person bumps into in theological disputations have been fought out many times before in Church history, and for that reason alone a basic knowledge of Church history, as well as a solid grounding in traditional systematic theology are also important (for this and other reasons). And it is also important to know something about the nature and the histories of the civilizations within which the scriptures were written (Greece and Rome, and the ancient Middle East generally). Not that a person absolutely has to have an extensive seminary education or the equivalent to know what they are talking about or that if a person spends years in such things that they necessarily do know what they are talking about. But it does stand to reason that proper preparation is helpful to good interpretation, whereas lack of preparation is detrimental to it. In my own view, if someone really wants to honor the Lord as a Bible teacher, the best way to do that is to be a good one (one who knows and tells the truth), and I can't see how you do that without working hard at it both in preparation and in execution.

In addition to proper preparation, there is also the critical question of spiritual gifts, ministries and effects, all of which are given by God (1Cor.12:4-11). Not that a person who has not been given the gift of teaching can't say anything about the Bible or that a person who has the gift automatically knows what they are talking about (that is still a question of preparation, hard work and execution), but it stands to reason that those members placed by God in the Church for this purpose are the ones we should primarily rely upon for our spiritual food. Choosing the right "cook" is not the easiest thing in the world. First, a person has to check out the menu and the city license (i.e., check credentials), then the proof is in the pudding – not only good taste, but also 1) healthiness (the "food" doesn't make you "sick") and 2) nutrition (the "food" actually helps you grow: see the link: "Phase One of Spiritual Growth: Listening"). Clearly, we rely heavily on our own spiritual common sense to make these decisions and distinctions, based upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our personal study of scripture.

I think it is really not too difficult to come to the correct conclusion overall as to whether or not a person really is getting "the truth" from a particular source. Moreover, if a Christian is genuinely seeking the truth, studying the truth, praying and walking in the truth and in the Spirit, not only will God provide a good source, but He will also provide confidence that the source is good. This will occur by repeated testing over time. No source is perfect since all human beings are fallible, but there is a big difference between many erstwhile Bible ministries where the teaching is essentially being made up out of whole cloth, and those, on the other hand, which are genuinely based upon scripture. In my view, a discerning Christian of even moderate spiritual growth and experience can tell the difference (and also, quite importantly, whether the particular ministry is "for them" or not – we are all different, and we need some one who "speaks to us" as well).

That brings me to the last part of your question. Anybody can say "God told me x/y/z". You wouldn't believe some of the e-mails I get along these lines. Although I have my suspicions, of course I cannot tell whether or not God has spoken to a particular person or not. But I know two very relevant things on that score: 1) in the history of the world, to judge from the Bible, the number of people to whom God has spoken in an audible way in a genuine conversation is incredibly small (maybe a few dozen – even great believers like Isaac and Joseph received dreams, but as I recall no direct communications); and 2) even if God has directly spoken to person "X", you can be sure that He would never have told person "X" something that contradicts the Bible. What that means is that if person "X" has an interpretation, and if that interpretation is correct, then the scriptures should bear it out, regardless of whether or not they've had a conversation with God. It should be possible to see from scripture whether or not the teaching the person claims from God is really true. Unwillingness to explain "where it comes from" and "how I got it" is a very dangerous sign. For we are supposed to read and rely on the scriptures. We may not all be experts in fields listed above, but we are all capable of using our spiritual common sense, personal knowledge of scripture, and personal indwelling ministry of the Spirit to "test the spirits to see if they are of God" (1Jn.4:1). And we are not supposed to allow ourselves to be "tossed to and fro" by every wind and wave of false teaching (Eph.4:14-16). Indeed, there is no necessity that we be. For while the different teachings out there are myriad as you point out, yet the Bible is wonderfully uniform in its texture of truth. It has a consistency that is so marvelously homogeneous that it is very easy for a discerning Christian to pick out the "rough spots" in anyone's teaching. Like knowledgeable spectators at a baseball game, we might never be able to even think about playing shortstop ourselves, but it is very easy for us to recognize "an error" when we see one. The Bereans "searched the scriptures to see if [what Paul was teaching] was so", and that remains the standard today (see the link: "Read your Bible, Protection against Cults"). If we take this approach, it will be very easy for us to discern whether or not a person who claims direct authority from God is giving us the truth or a lie.

The most efficient thing to do is to find a good source of truth, one you have vetted very carefully and upon which you can rely, and stick with it, not allowing yourself to be "tossed to and fro" by the loose opinions of every Tom, Dick and Harry. If the source, church, denomination, teacher, ministry you go with is "off" or ever gets "off", your own personal study, reading of scripture, and prayer with the help of the Spirit will be well able to detect this and well able to lead you wherever you ought to go next.

In our Lord Jesus who is the only truth.

Bob L.

Question #10:  

Hi Bob!

I forwarded your reply to a brother in Christ, and he said that if I believe such and not what he said then he'll just ignore me because I'll "never get it." Now this really bothers me. He doesn't even know who you are and has the audacity to say that you're wrong. Should I just ignore him? Need some advice.

Response #10:    

My own rule of thumb is ignore slights as much as possible. I don't let direct contradictions of the truth go unanswered, but discretion and discernment are appropriate here too. If people are willing to be instructed, willing at least to engage in honest dialogue, well and good. But if they've already made up their minds and are unwilling even to discuss things, well, there's not much point in beating one's head against a brick wall. In such cases, my advice is to keep your pearls to yourself.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #11:  

Would you please comment on this email I recently received:

"I have seen some people who seem to equate deferment to the pastors standards at church as somehow the same as the pastor "lording" it over the congregation, or the people "surrendering" free will. It is not the same. If the church has no unified standards that they follow you may well end up with half the church using different "versions" of the bible, some members dressing very immodestly, etc. because they don't "feel" that there is anything wrong with those things. That sort of thing is unhealthy for the church. Now of course you can't "force" standards on people, but if the members usually defer to the pastors leading on standards even if they don't completely agree, it is a lot healthier for the church. I stress though that this has NOTHING to do with "surrendering" free will. Indeed deferment to proper authority is an exercise in free will. If an individual chooses not to defer, that is also an exercise in free will, but know failure to defer to leadership makes it very easy to "sow discord among the brethren", and we all know what God thinks of that."

Do you agree?

Response #11: 

In some respects, this statement sets up a false opposition. There are two variables here not one, yielding four possible scenarios not two. Only the last of these is biblical and avoids spiritual danger:

1. Pastor sets false standards, then micro-manages the lives of individuals in the congregation.

2. Pastor sets true standards, then micro-manages the lives of individuals in the congregation.

3. Pastor sets false standards, but does not micro-manage the lives of individuals in the congregation.

*4. Pastor sets true standards, and does not micro-manage the lives of individuals in the congregation.

A pastor should set standards, and should do so through his teaching of the scriptures where the true standards reside. Making up things which are not in the Bible (and all sermonizing leads to this of necessity it seems) and preaching false standards from the pulpit (or false emphasis, like being hyper-compulsive about dress, diet, and marital status to the exclusion of everything else in the Bible) is wrong and spiritual dangerous, but it is not as bad as then getting involved in the details of everyone's life for the sake of "accountability". We are accountable to the Lord, not to human beings. This is the "freedom" we have in Christ, and it is a wonderful thing as long as we use it for the Lord and not, as Peter and Paul say, as a shield for bad behavior (Gal.5:13; 1Pet.2:16). We have been given this freedom, given a conscience, given the guiding ministry of the Holy Spirit in order to make our own good decisions for the Lord – not to hand our free will over to someone else who cannot have a true clue as to what God has for us individually (and so will of necessity make the wrong decisions for us).

Even if a pastor is really teaching the Bible and doing so in the correct manner, putting out true standards from the "rightly divided" Word of truth, it is still a big mistake for him to attempt to micro-manage the lives of congregants. That is of course because we are here in this life to make our own decisions for Jesus Christ. Even if we do "good things" – but only because we are being manipulated into them or coerced into them or out of guilt and pressure from oversight – it is not going to do anything positive for us spiritually but it most definitely WILL make us weaker spiritually. Just as children have to be expelled from the nest at some point and begin to make their own decisions, so it is with all Christians. We will never grow and accomplish what the Lord wants us to do if we are essentially handing over our free will to somebody else.

In Jesus, whom we are here to follow individually as well as collectively,

Bob L.

Question #12:  

A sister in Christ sent me a letter and wanted some advice, but I am definitely not the person to give any. So I wanted to know what advice would you give her. Here is her letter.

"So my husband has a friend from childhood and he has always been very "wild" i guess you could say. Well we occasionally will invite him and his Girlfriend over to our house for dinner or to watch a movie. Well he and this girlfriend decided to get married, and started coming to our church occasionally. They both claim to be saved...although my husband and I are not sure about it...we dont know their hearts and it is not for us to say. Anyway, our pastor offered to marry them. They are living as a married couple and I guess the pastor thinks it is better to get them married to kinda "right" that wrong situation. So they jump all over his offer, and decide to get married in the church. Right away I sat down with The girlfriend to ask her if she had plans to have alcohol at her wedding reception and she said yes. I told her that would not go over well with the pastor and the best way I could explained it. Well her answer to all her sinful ways is "well its a good thing I am saved, that way I can still do wrong and just ask for forgiveness later" (direct quote from her mouth) She doesnt hear anything I say...and lately I have distanced myself from them because I dont want my family around the kind of people they are, drink on saturday, come to church sunday, and at 12:30 in the afternoon on Sunday use the Lord's name in vain 30 times....I dont know how many times I have told them that God's Last name is not Damn. Anyway, Tuesday afternoon we got the wedding invitation. It states Ceremony to be held at "Enter Our Church Name here" Reception following at "enter their address here". Then there is the Reply RSVP card that at the bottom states "bring your own beer" We have a small church and last night the pastor had to make an announcement about it to warn the members they may be getting these invites. We are upset, and embarrassed that they would put our church name, and Bring your own beer all in the same envelope. Our pastor said that he sent the reply back with "we will attend the wedding but do not support the alcohol at the reception so we will not be attending" my husband wants to talk to his friend about this because he feels "obligated" maybe to say more than just we wont come to your reception...he is actually supposed to be the best man, but doesnt even want to do that. I dont know if I should say anything to the girl or not. I am just upset...does anyone have any advice for what my husband or I should say?"

What advice would you give her?

Response #12: 

Well that is a corker. I make it a policy seldom violated not to give specific advice about specific situations for two major reasons 1) the Christian life is all about free will; people need to learn to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them and not lean on other people as a crutch – it's very spiritually debilitating to get into this habit; 2) only the person in question can make the right application in such "disputable situations" because no matter how well informed a third party may think he/she is, there are always critically important details they don't know and the decision inevitably seems to turn on one of these.

I'm always happy to do my best to explain what the Bible says about specific principles, but application of them to one's own life is the responsibility of the individual believer.

I have been castigated many times for telling people "read scripture, study the Bible, listen to substantive teaching and learn, believe the truth you've learned, apply it to your life, and help other people do likewise" – but that is why we are here, and the free-will element is the critical part. God is more than capable of talking to us audibly and telling us in voluminous detail exactly what we should and shouldn't do on any given day and when and how and why. Strange He doesn't do this – and rarely ever has even in part. In my view, that is largely because it is only in the crucible of life where we face questionable situations every day that our true heart and true spiritual status come out and are made clear. God could have stopped Balaam from coming to Balak, but instead gave him a lot of latitude to figure it out for himself. And, truth be told, Balaam knew he shouldn't go, but was determined to get the money regardless of what God thought about it – and we see the end of this behavior very clearly. Generally speaking, when we find ourselves in situations where we are very spiritually uncomfortable, it is because we know very well what we should or shouldn't do, but are reluctant to follow the Lord either because 1) we really want to do/not to do what we really know we should not / should do, or 2) have put ourselves in a pickle by previous spiritual compromises to the point where doing the right thing now is very difficult indeed.

At such times, it is very tempting to find someone else to "give us advice". That way, if we like the advice, we can take it and feel exempt from the guilt of doing the wrong thing; whereas if we don't like the advice, we don't have to take it (read Jeremiah chapters 42-43 for a good lesson in what this attitude produces). Indeed, in such cases, there are some people who ask and ask until they get the advice they wanted in the first place.

This is a really good reason not to give advice. Because if you give good advice, people won't take it (if they would, they would have taken the action in the first place without your intervention); all you have done in such cases is incur the wrath and resentment of people you were trying to help. But if you give bad advice – easy enough to do since as I say there is no way you know all the critical details even if you think you do – then they are likely to take it and blame you later when things explode.

In hopes you can draw some advice from the above.

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.


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