Category Archives: Apologetics

A Few Thoughts on Steven Furtick’s Pillow & Promise Sermon

I recently tweeted a critique of Steven Furtick’s promo video for his current sermon series Gates of Change. Here’s what I said:

 

Someone asked me if I’d listened to the whole sermon for context. I explained that I’ve listened to enough of his sermons to feel justified in the critique. They challenged me to reconsider, so I decided to watch the entire “Pillow and the Promise” sermon with my wife.

I rarely do this kind of evaluation, but since I publicly critiqued his 30 second promo, I think it is worth sharing my thoughts on the entire sermon.

I plan to offer both encouragement and criticism of his sermon. This is similar to the weekly feedback I receive when our staff and interns meet every Tuesday to pray, plan, and reflect on the previous Sunday’s service and sermon. Each time, I’m helped towards growth as brothers and sisters give positive and challenging feedback to my sermon. I’ll treat this reflection as we’d handle our Tuesday review.

 

General Comments—Personal Preferences

  1. Steven is a compelling communicator.

His speaking gifts are evident and it makes sense that he’d draw a sizeable crowd. His rugged style attracts people who are fed up with traditional church. This could be a useful tool if submitted to the Lord.

  1. He got in the way.

I would have a challenging time sitting under his teaching for several reasons, one of which is the lack of humility I sense from him. This is subjective, but he seems to be very aware of himself when he preaches which is distracting for people who desire to see God.

  1. His theatrical style.

His theatrics will either be endearing or off-putting, depending on your preference. I’ll let you make your own call on that, but he certainly wins the “Most Time a Pastor Spends Preaching While Laying Down” award. I didn’t clock it, but he must have preached at least ¼ of his sermon horizontally.

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  1. Throw Pillow Rant.

Finally, I’m in total agreement with him that throw pillows are a useless invention. My wife and I have at least a dozen on our bed and I have no idea why.

 

Encouragements—Areas of Agreement

  1. God’s determined purposes give purpose to every moment.

Steven’s point that God’s purposes are determined and that our mistakes can never thwart His purposes was encouraging. This is a wonderful truth. We have a sovereign God who works in the mist of all our messes.

  1. Keep your eyes open.

He taught that God has determined purposes that He is always working out in our lives. Every situation and circumstance serves as an opportunity to see Him as active in teaching us something. This overarching theme was faithful and should serve us to remain attentive at all times to God’s work.

 

Considerations—Areas of Concern or Disagreement

  1. Not an expositional sermon.

He preached from the Bible, even giving some faithful historical context at times. But the point of the passage was not the point of his sermon. Not every sermon must be expositional, but a preacher’s job is to say what God has said in a way that is clear, compelling, applicable, and honoring to His intent.

Steven captured elements of the text well, but missed the main point. His main point seemed to be something like: If we claim the promise that God has a determined purpose in every situation, it opens gateways for us to see God working in our lives. This is not only very me-centric, but just not what the text is about. If you care to, you can hear how I preached the same text a couple years ago.

  1. This was a gospel-less sermon.

This sermon was not even slightly affected by the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus was mentioned, but if a non-Christian were to listen to this message, they would have no idea that they are as sinner, who Jesus is, what He did for sinners, or how they could be forgiven and reconciled to God. They would simply think they need to get in tune with God, whoever that God may be. I think a Muslim or Jewish person could have said “amen” to most of the sermon.

For the Christian, there was no instruction of how to depend upon the grace of God in their failures and struggles with sin. Instead, the believer was charged to be alert and declare situations as being places God is working for their benefit. This too is true, but what happens when we do this poorly? What strength do we do this in? This Gospel-lessness seems to characterize most of the sermons I’ve heard from him. 

  1. Where do I get God’s promises?

There was much talk about resting in God’s promises, but no talk about where to get them. We were not directed to the Scriptures as God’s all-sufficient source of promises. Yes, he grabbed his bible and used it as a pillow, and yes he quoted a few verses, but he was unclear on where we get promises from God.

 

This is important because Steven presented a mystical approach to hearing from God. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that God speaks promises to us in all sorts of different ways. Steven never cautioned his hearers about the danger of Satan’s deception and counterfeiting tactics. I know you can’t say everything in every sermon, but his handling of this seemed careless at best.

  1. Echoes of Word of Faith foolishness.

I’ll say this sermon had less word of faith theology than some of his other sermons, but you can still hear it come through. At 22:55 he starts the nonsense we saw in the promo video about us having the ability to declare things to be what we want them to be. You can hear more of it at 25:09 and 28:50 among other places.

Now, to be fair, I completely agree that God is always acting and that we need to wake up to it. But his language is very word of faith-like and explains life in a me-centric way. God seems to be on the outside of the situation either crossing His fingers hoping we’ll realize things or being at our beckon call to act when we declare something.

The problem is that Steven is not teaching the church to submit themselves to God’s purposes in their trials, but rather to speak purpose into their situations. There is a great difference. In one theology God is big and glorious and we are to trust Him. In the other we are the determiners of destiny and speak things into existence. In some ways he’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but his teaching is confusing at best and downright errant at worst.

 

Conclusion

After watching the whole sermon, I stand by my statement. This sermon was something, but it was not Christian. It was an amalgamation of Christian ideas mixed in with word of faith prosperity Gospel.

I am not in any way saying he is not a Christian. But in my opinion, Steven Furtick is on a dangerous trajectory. He desires to be edgy which is always dangerous because eventually most edgy pastors fall off the cliff.

My hope for Steven is that he will spend time considering the gifts that God has given him and use them to make much of God. He is young, famous, and flourishing, which are all great dangers for pastors.

Pray for him to be humbled and see himself primarily as a servant of the text. Pray also for him to develop good friendships with faithful mentors if he does not already have them. If he does, pray they would have courage to speak truth to him about his dangerous trajectory. Pray also that he would be humble enough to receive them.

And may we all be ever cautious of our own propensities toward error. Lord help us.

 

 

How Christians Can Pray for Muslims During Ramadan

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Friday, May 26, 2017, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Sunday, June 25th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

If you’d like ideas for daily prayer during Ramadan, you may want to consider this resource.

What Happens To Our Pet When It Dies?

buddies

 

This morning, we were awakened by the tears of one of our children. They had found our dog, Nellie, dead on the floor.

Nellie was a cross-eye Chihuahua who was relatively new to our family, but she had already brought us much joy. She was about as good a dog as a Chihuahua can be.

As the tears flowed, the questions began to flow as well.

 

“Why did Nellie have to die?” 

“Why did God take Nellie so soon?”

“Will we see Nellie in heaven?”

 

While some may think these questions are silly, I do not.

The longer we live on this fallen planet, the more sorrow we face. Some suffering is small, and other is great; but it all hurts. Some families experience tragedy early and often. Ours has been spared significant tragedy, but times like these leave their mark.

After a little while, we were able to talk about what we were feeling and what questions we were processing. Here are a few highlights.

 

  1. We know why our pets die.

Death is one of the saddest and most certain realities of this life. There are few things like death to sober us—whether it be a pet or a fellow image bearer. A cold, stiff body that lacks the life it once supported is a heavy reminder that something is wrong with our world.

So why does death happen? The Bible tells us plainly that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, a curse was put not just on humanity, but on all creation (Genesis 3:14, 19). Because of this, death comes for all of us; people and animals alike.

Some may want to shield their children from discussions of death, but we do not.

In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Israel with His commands and then gives parents this charge, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Discipleship in the home happens as we live life together, and as we bury pets together. We tell our children that death is in the world because of the curse of sin. All of us will die, and days like these remind us that even our beloved pets are not exempt.

 

  1. We don’t know why our pets die when they die. 

Death comes for all of us in a time and in a way that is most normally unexpected. Nellie was, as far as we could tell, a healthy little dog. She seemed to go peacefully in her sleep. I have also lost other pets in much more traumatic ways. When my daughter looked at me and said, “Why did she have to die now?” I simply held her and said, “I don’t know.”

God never tells any of us when our time is up. When we love someone, it always seems like our time with them was too short. I encouraged her that our family loved Nellie well, and she loved us in like measure. I also reminded her that we need not be afraid of losing those we love, but we must love them as well as we are able while they are with us.

 

  1. God is not cruel, He is caring. 

The God of the Bible is not a cruel, distant, absentee father who simply calls His suffering children to “suck it up.” Rather, He gives us precious promises.

One we talked about is from Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

When pets die, it is a fine time to grab a promise from the Lord and allow it to bring you comfort. Again, for some this may seem like a petty thing to bother God with. But I want to assure you it is not. In fact, if your god doesn’t care about the tears of a child who has lost their beloved pet, then your god is too distant. The God of the Bible does not scold us for the kinds of sorrows we have. He meets us in them, whatever they may be, and points us to Himself as our only sure comfort.

 

  1. God doesn’t tell us what happens to our pets when they die, but we can trust Him.

Anyone who has ever had a pet die has asked, “will I see them again?” Some give hearty assurances based merely on what they hope will come to pass. But hope is far too precious to cast it on what we desire to be true. It is safer to base our beliefs on what God says is true. And on this issue, He just doesn’t say.

Animals do not have the same hope humans do, because humans are distinctly differently. We are created in God’s image; animals (and angels) are not (Genesis 1:26-27). People have a unique ability to reason among living beings (Psalm 32:9). Jesus came as a man to save mankind, not animals.

Yet the Bible does speak about the presence of animals in the life to come. Isaiah 11:6-8 and Isaiah 65:25 list numerous animals as they describe the eternal kingdom of God. God’s promises of the world to come portray a world in which animals will know the peace they too have longed for (Romans 8:18-25).

I think this gives us good reason to assume that God will fill the New Heavens and New Earth with redeemed image bearers, elect angels, and all sorts of animals. Beyond this, we do not know much.

Will our animals be in heaven? It is best to be honest and say we do not know. I would not be surprised if God, in His generous wisdom, chose to allow us to enjoy the company of familiar animals in glory. But we can be certain of two things.

First, we can be certain that if it will bring God more glory and it will help us to enjoy Him forever, then God will reunite us with our pets. God knows what good gifts to give us, now and for eternity (Luke 11:13). As Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God knows what is good for us to have, so we can trust Him.

Second, we must guard our hearts and not allow love for pets or animals to diminish or love and trust in God. No matter how good any gift God gives us, we must remember that He is the One worthy of our devotion, not the gift itself. Pets included.

So how did I answer my children?

I told them that we don’t know exactly what happens to our pets when they die. But we do know God is good, we can trust Him, He will do what is best, and that I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we saw our pets again in glory. If I’m wrong, that’s fine, there is no serious doctrine in danger, nor are my children’s hopes tied to anything other than God’s wisdom in dealing with His children.

 

To read more perspectives on this topic, consider these articles by John Piper, Randy Alcorn, Jim Daly, and Christianity Today.

 

 

Rebel Roll Call – Should We Publicly Call Out False Teachers?

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingJoel Osteen. Creflo Dollar. Benny Hinn. T.D. Jakes. Joyce Meyer. Paula White. Fred Price. Kenneth Copeland. Robert Tilton. Eddie Long. Juanita Bynum. Paul Crouch.

“I know they popular but don’t let them deceive ya” – Shai Linne

Track 10 on Shai Linne’s album Lyrical Theology has drawn much attention over the past year because in it he publicly calls out some household names as being false teachers. Shai also put out a brief video explaining why he chose to write the song and how he prepared to write it. I encourage you to check out the song and the video if you haven’t already.

I am currently preaching through 2 Peter 2 and have chosen to publicly mention the names of people our elders feel could be dangerous influences on our flock.

What I’d like us to consider is should I, should Shai Linne, or should any of us, ever publicly point out someone we believe to be a “false teacher?” To help us answer this, let’s consider a few questions about Model, Method, Motive, and Message.

Is There a Biblical Model for Name Dropping?

Yes. In the Old Testament God regularly warns Israel that the lies of false teachers defame His name and defile His people (Num. 12:6; Deut.18; Jeremiah 23:18-22; Lam. 2:14-15; etc.). Though there aren’t many false teachers listed by name in the Old Testament Scriptures, Jannes and Jambres (Exod. 7:11; 2 Tim. 3:7) and Baalam are later exposed as being deceivers (Num. 22-23, 31:16; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).

In the New Testament, name dropping becomes a bit more regular. Jesus called out the Pharisees and Sadducees throughout His ministry (Matt. 5:20, 16:6, etc.) as well as other false teachers when He speaks to John about the 7 churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3). Paul publicly named Hymenaeus twice (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20), Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17), and the formerly faithful Demas (Col. 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:10) as having abandoned the truth. The Apostle John also mentions Diotrephes (3 John 9). This brief survey shows that there certainly is a biblical model of outing false teachers by publicly stating their names.

Is Our Method Dignified?

Though there is a biblical model for name dropping, we should make sure that if we choose to call people out, that we have a dignified method in doing so. Because we are each made in God’s image, we must strive to aim attacks at what people say rather than how they say it, what they look like, or anything else we might be tempted to focus on. We want to guard against mocking people or using them as props to make a point. Our goal must always be to make the Gospel clear, not make ourselves look good at the cost of others.

I have been a poor model of this at times in my own ministry. I once imitated Joel Osteen in a sermon and another time poked fun at Mormon missionaries’ bikes and badges during a seminar on the Gospel. These were ungodly and unloving decisions of which I’ve repented. I was helped in seeing my sin by a gracious couple who told me that they had almost brought a Mormon friend to the seminar I was teaching and were thankful they hadn’t because I might have driven them further from Christ because of my mocking. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m eternally grateful for the couple who pointed out my sin.

When we name drop, we must strive to uphold the dignity of those we publicly expose. So if you name names, keep the focus on the teaching as much as possible and treat them as you’d want to be treated if you were being called out (Matt. 7:12). One way of doing this is being slow to speak about people’s motives. God certainly knows the motive of false teachers (Mic. 3:11; Ezek. 22:25; Titus 1:10-11; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2:2-14) but we should be slow to speak about people’s motives because, in the end, only the Lord knows the heart (Jer. 17:10; 1 Cor. 4:3-5).

What Are Our Motives?

As with anything we do, we must always examine our motives (Matt. 5:28; Acts 8:22; Heb. 4:12). If we’re going to publicly accuse someone of being a false teacher, we should ask some close friends to help us examine our heart by asking questions like:

Is it necessary to expose this person?

Am I sure that they are a false teacher?

What am I hoping to gain from doing this?

Is there a chance I can speak with them personally first?

Do my fellow pastors think I should do this?

These are good questions to ask as we pray the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

If after prayer and wise counsel we trust that our motive is to uphold the truth of the Gospel (Jude 3) and to make sure that people are not led astray into error (James 5:19-20), then we should feel free to name drop for the glory of God and the good of His people. If you need help discerning whether someone is indeed a false teacher, Colin Smith’s article (here) is a great read.

What is the True Message?

Calling out false teachers is certainly necessary to guard the flock from following after their teachings. It is even more necessary for us to make the true Gospel clear. Tearing down false gospels is only good if people are able to see the true Gospel for what it is.

This is clear throughout the New Testament and, I am thankful to say, is abundantly clear in the music ministry of Shai Linne. We must first and foremost be people who are about the Gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, even those who were once formerly false teachers.

So if we are going to call out people who teach falsely, we must make sure to clearly show what it means to trust in the true Christ. Show clearly where the false teachers are wrong and display clearly how much infinitely greater the true Christ is. May we be a people who love Christ publicly with both grace and truth  that,  as Shai says “Jesus is not a means to an end, [but] the Gospel is He came to redeem us from sin.” Amen and Amen.

Photo courtesy of: Ex-Charisma.com

 

The Biblical Adam: Man or Myth?

Creation-of-AdamGrowing up I believed in myths. On Christmas Eve, our family huddled up in front of the evening news to see how Santa’s trip from North Pole was going. The radar’s flashing reindeer got us excited to set out milk and cookies as we awaited the arrival of jolly Old Saint Nick.

On Easter morning, my sister and I hustled to the window to see if we could find paw prints from the Easter Bunny so we could know which way he hopped after filling our baskets with candy. And a loose tooth was always followed by hopes that the Tooth Fairy would leave a stack cash in the middle of the night.

Most children believe in some type of myths. And most of us, as we grow up, learn to leave our myths behind. We get smarter. We become more educated. We see behind the curtain, as it were. It is a mark of maturity to discern between what is true and what is merely a story.

There are some things however that are not myth, even if they are a bit mysterious. One of these is what the Bible teaches about the first man, Adam. The Bible presents Adam as a real, historical, man from whom all other people descended. In Acts 17:26 Paul said “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.”

There are many other places in the Bible that present Adam as a historical person including Genesis 1-3, 5; 1 Chronicles 1:1; Hosea 6:7; , Luke 3:38, Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49; 1 Timothy 2:13-14; Jude 4.

Holding to Adam’s historicity is essential for many reasons. For instance, it means that all people, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, have the same nature and dignity. We’re all made in God’s image and we all have the same problem of sin. There may be many reasons we divide, but we all find unity in the same family, descended from Adam.

If this isn’t true then the door is wide open for certain groups to justify racism or elitism of one culture or ethnicity over another. Now, most people who deny Adam’s historicity wouldn’t advocate racism, but they undermine the foundational Biblical teaching that guards against it.

But affirming Adam’s historical existence isn’t just a historical, scientific, or anthropological issue, it’s a Gospel issue. Romans 5:12-21 clearly portrays Adam as the representative head of natural man in whom all people are condemned because of his sin.

If Adam is made out to be a myth, then the analogy of Christ’s work breaks down and we are left with Adam merely being an example to avoid and Jesus being an example to emulate. This is a far cry from what the Bible teaches. As Dr. Albert Mohler says, “Jesus didn’t come to improve our evolutionary line, He came to redeem sinners.”

The Bible begins with the account of God creating the world which is followed by a fall that came through the sin of Adam (Gen. 1-3; Rom. 5:12). If we dismiss that event as myth, then the dominoes of what the Scriptures teach us about God, His revelation to us, our sin nature, redemption in Christ, and the resurrection from the dead begin to tumble as well.

The doctrine of a historical Adam is an extraordinarily important issue that demands our attention. As I prepared to teach Romans 5:12-21 (which might be one of the toughest and amazing texts in the Bible) I spent some extra time revisiting the historical Adam debate. Below are some of the resources that a few friends helped me compile. I commend this study to you as a means of not only believing in the first Adam, but even more importantly, the second Adam, Jesus Christ who died and rose to give life for all those who will believe.

 

Articles

Was Adam a Historical Person by Guy Walters (Ligoneer)

“The Search for the Historical Adam” by Richard Ostling (June, 2011)

Christianity Today’s cover story that details some of the modern thinking on the issue.

 

“Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ” by Tim Keller (June, 2011)

Part of an interview in which Keller discusses the implications of believing in a literal Adam.

 

“10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam” by Kevin DeYoung (February, 2012)

Short, punchy, and sets the stage well for the traditional view.

 

“Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung’s Restless Comments on the Historical Adam” by Peter Enns (February, 2012)

A well argued, but not convincing rebuttal to Kevin’s 10 Reasons article. His conclusions are concerning to me.

 

“Adam in the Epistles of Paul” by D. A. Carson (1980’s)

He’s basically the Yoda of all Christian thinkers, so it’s deep and wide and good stuff.

 

“If the Apostle Paul Believed in the Historical Adam, Must We.”  by John Starke (February, 2012)

A good summary of DeYoung, Enns, and Carson’s work.

 

Books

“Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care” by John Collins (May, 2011)

 

Audio / Video

“Adam and the Gospel: Is a Historical Adam Necessary?” an excellent discussion at Southern Seminary with Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Jim Hamilton, Dr, Stephen Wellum, and Dr. Thomas Schreiner (Fall, 2011)

 

“Historical Adam Discussion” a good podcast with Dr. Darrell Bock (DTS) and Dr. Richard Averbeck discussing the necessity of the historical view. (May, 2013)

 

“The Historical Adam” another podcast discussing the traditional Reformed perspective of the issue with Rick Phillips, Nick Batzig, and Kenneth Kang-Hui.

 

“Christians Divided Over Sciene of Human Origins” an interview on NPR in which Dr. Albert Mohler defends the historical teaching of Adam and Eve. (September, 2011)