CHRISTIANS DENYING THE FAITH (Apostasy 2019 – 1)
Christianity has taken some hits recently. Josh Harris, a well-known pastor and home school advocate rescinded his books, left his church and wife, apologized to LGBT people for his previous stand and said he has “fallen away” from the faith and “I am no longer a Christian.” Then Marty Sampson, worship leader and song writer for Hillsong (“Mighty to Save,” etc.), published a Facebook post in July in which, among many other things, he said the Christian faith is not working and is not for him. He found fault with pastors, the Bible, Christians and God Himself.
When someone well known becomes a Christian we make a big deal of them. We feel affirmed in our faith. How are we to respond when one (or two or three) of our heroes publically deny the faith and turn from it? How are we to respond? I have been learning what I can about the reason these men, and others, have left the faith. Here’s my opinion.
The common denominator I find in these, and others like them, is that they no longer feel what they once felt. Their faith isn’t working for them anymore, meaning it doesn’t answer their questions or give them the motivation they need to keep believing. It seems to me they are relying too much on their feelings to make decisions that should be made with their mind.
Feelings are great – God made them and has them himself. But they aren’t to be the final determining factor in how we make decisions. Barbara Mandrell and David Houston sang “How Can It Be Wrong When It Feels So Right.” Bono said, “Feelings are much stronger than thoughts. We are all led by instinct, and our intellect catches up later.” Disney teaches children to “follow your heart.” With no absolutes everything becomes relative, up to the individual to determine for themselves.
Unfortunately many in the church also believe that. As a pastor, I must say that I think that too many churches follow the same philosophy. Too often worship services and sermons are about making people feel good about God, life and themselves. Churches need to attract and keep people coming, so it can be tempting to avoid controversial topics and give motivational sermons without a lot of Biblical teaching. Christians today seem more ignorant of the Bible than in past years. Too often people choose a church by how they feel during the worship. To them, what the church believes isn’t as important as how people feel about the service. Music is more important than Bible teaching. People often get their doctrine from the songs sung in church, and songs focus on positive feelings more than teaching God’s truth. Jesus says worship must be done in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Knowing and following the Bible must be our priority. (More about this in the next 3 blogs.)
Romans 10:17 Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.
Honestly think about how much your faith depends on your feelings. Are you faithful even when you don’t feel like it? Do you worship even when you don’t feel grateful? Think about that during the week. Learn to separate your emotions from the facts of God’s Word.
HANDLING DOUBTS ABOUT THE FAITH (Apostasy 2019 – 2)
In my previous blog I wrote about why well-known Christians like Josh Harris and Marty Sampson are leaving the faith. I think the emphasis today on valuing feelings more than facts has spilled over to the church and influences those who don’t keep their eyes on Jesus and God’s Word. These men, and others, have expressed doubts about the validity of Christianity and the truth of the Bible in today’s world.
God gave us minds and wants us to use them. He gives us facts in the Bible to base our faith on. Truth, not emotions, is to be the basis of our faith. The church must refocus on God’s Word and emphasize preaching and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2; John 21:15-17; Ephesians 4:12). John Cooper from the Christian band Skillet wrote a lengthy Facebook post responding to Marty Sampson’s criticism of Christianity. Among other things, he said, “It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. … Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers…I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)”
Yes, Christians have to deal with hard questions about suffering in the lives of innocent people, the reality of hell for those who reject God’s free gift of salvation, scientists who (falsely) claim science conflicts with the Bible and the issue of same-sex marriage. There are plenty of good web sites to help you understand these things. Or you can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll gladly talk about them with you. (more about this in the next 2 blogs)
Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
How do you handle your doubts? Do you ignore them, go by how you feel at the moment or turn to the truth of God’s Word instead?
WHEN ‘FAITH’ ISN’T WORKING FOR YOU (Apostasy 2019 – 3)
In the last two blogs we talked about some of the issues Josh Harris and Marty Sampson brought up when they recently criticized and denied the faith they once held. I shared my opinion that today many people, including Christians, base their beliefs and actions on their feelings. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t make you feel better, don’t do it. But as Christians we must base all we believe and do on God’s Word, not our feelings. Doubts are normal, and God’s Word gives us enough information to deal with them. As Christians we need to know God’s Word and teach it to others.
Many people who are not Christians go by their feelings. They “follow your heart.” What does the Bible say about that? Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
Emotions have their place, but basing beliefs and decisions on them is not why God created them. Eve felt right about giving the fruit to Adam, but she was wrong. Abraham felt afraid so he lied to Pharaoh, but he was wrong. Sarah felt desperate when she told Abraham to have a son with Sarah, but she was wrong. Moses felt indignant so he killed an Egyptian, but he was wrong. James 1:22-27 and Proverbs 14:12 tell us we can deceive ourselves.
Think of a train. “Fact” should be the engine pulling behind it “faith” and “feelings.” Too many today make “feelings” the engine and base their faith on that no matter what the facts say.
What do you think when someone says that Christianity just isn’t working for them? First of all, think about that statement. What is the purpose of Christianity? Is it to make us feel good? Our entitlement mentality says everything gets evaluated by the standard of “What do I get out of it?” Our culture teaches its children that it’s all about them: what they want and what makes them feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, forget it. That’s how many evaluate jobs, friends and even their marriages.
The truth of the matter is it isn’t all about me – it’s all about Jesus. Worship, too, must be all about Jesus, not about how it makes me feel or what I get out of it. When Abraham offered Isaac on the altar, thinking he would kill him, and he called that “worship” (Genesis 22:5). That wasn’t based on how he felt emotionally. When Job stood at the fresh graves of his dead children he worshipped (Job 1:20). That wasn’t based on how he felt, either. (The next blog will be about how we can keep our faith strong when doubts hit.)
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death
I asked you to be alert to the role feelings play in your faith. What have you learned about yourself during the past week? What must you do to focus on the truth of God’s Word and not be misled by your feelings?
KEEPING YOUR FAITH STRONG (Apostasy 2019 – 4)
It’s not uncommon to hear of those who leave the faith because they no longer believe. That can be upsetting, even shake our own faith. How are we to respond?
- Don’t be surprised. Falling away from the faith, “apostasy” in the Greek, is something we know will be happening more and more as Jesus’ return gets closer (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 1-4). So don’t be surprised. Unfortunately, there will be causalities in our battle with Satan and his forces. Jesus knew it would happen.
- Focus on the Word. Absolute truth is contained in God’s Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It never changes and will be true forever (Isaiah 40:8). All things must be evaluated by God’s Word, not by how we feel. Read the Bible daily, study and memorize it.
- Persevere in faith. C. S. Lewis said, “Faith is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Faith focuses on the truth of God’s promises in His Word (Hebrews 11:1-3), not in how we feel. God never said believing would be easy, that’s why He commands us to persevere (Hebrews 10:35-36; 12:1)
- Keep your eyes on Jesus. When we read what Josh Harris and Marty Sampson say about their reasons for leaving the faith, neither of them talk about Jesus. Yet He is central to our faith. If He is God come to earth to pay for our sins then we must follow Him. That has nothing to do with how we feel about life or what Christianity does for us. Life is not about what Jesus can do for us, but about what we can do for Him (Jeremiah 29:13). So keep your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). When you have doubts or your faith wavers, think about Jesus. If you believe He is God then look to Him, no matter what else is going on.
It’s sad to hear of those who deny the faith, but it shouldn’t surprise us. It should remind us to focus on the Word of God and His promises. Following Jesus takes perseverance and that only happens when we keep our eyes on Jesus and not on our feelings. Unfortunately there will be more who fall away from the truth – just make sure you aren’t one of them!
Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever.”
What circumstances are most apt to take your eyes off Jesus? When does this usually happen? What should you do at the start of each day to make sure you keep Jesus first?
IMPACTING SAND AND SOULS
We love sitting on the beach watching the waves come in. We live close enough to the ocean that we can go weekly. We sit at the high tide mark and spend the day thinking, talking, reading, etc. Recently I noticed the foot prints of people walking on the beach. Their feet would make a deep impression in the wet sand, but sooner or later a wave would come and wipe away all trace of their being there.
I thought about my ancestors: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. They have lived their lives and left their footprints, but time has washed all but a faint memory of them inside of me (and a box of pictures in the garage). Soon my walk will be over and my footprints washed away by time. That’s the way life is.
However I realized something else as I sat there. While those ancestors of mine are gone and mainly forgotten, the values and impact of their lives still carries on in me. The love they showed me, the things they taught me and the life lessons learned from them have helped form and shape the person I am. I, in turn, pass that on to my children and grandchildren. I have added a love for Jesus that now gets passed on as well.
It isn’t my money they inherit, the photo albums that get passed down, or even the ‘family heirlooms’ that really matter. It’s what I pass of myself and my beliefs that carry on long after I’m gone, even after my name is forgotten by future generations. I find that very comforting. I also find it encouraging me to keep building into my children and grandchildren because it will last. Our footprints will one day be gone, but what we stand for will live forever in those who are touched by our lives. The Bible says so (read below)
Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Exodus 20:5-6 I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Who has God put in your life to influence? Are you using the opportunities you have to build into the lives of family and friends? When you feel discouraged or that you aren’t making any difference, think of all the people your life touches and remember you are impacting them as others have affected you.