There is nothing my dog won’t do for food. There is no command she won’t obey when we are looking, and no rule she won’t break when we are looking away, if only she can get a bit of food in her belly. I guess it is hard to fault her since, as a Lab, every gene in her body drives her to gorge herself. It’s like Paul was writing about her and her breed when he said, ” Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Food is her idol, her god, the thing that will motivate her to do anything or everything.

I am no dog, but I, too, am hard-wired for something—for validation. Just as a dog will lie down or roll over or beg or bark on command to get a snausage—doesn’t she realize how pathetic she looks?—, there is not much I won’t do to receive validation, to have others affirm my self-worth according to my criteria. I want to feel special about myself, I want to feel big and important. And when I look for what makes me feel good about myself, I inevitably find my idols. The thing that validates me is the thing I worship, the thing that momentarily takes the place of God in my life.

Lately I have been pondering and listing those things—those things that make me feel so special that I will do irrational things and make poor decisions in order to have them or achieve them. It makes for a pretty ugly and embarrassing little note. I think most of them are best kept between myself and the Lord, but I will give you a couple of examples.

Distant travel validates me. I receive invitations to do a fair number of conferences or speaking engagements over the course of a year, and I make it a point to prayerfully consider each one of them, knowing that I can accept only a few. But I have learned that the farther away the destination, the better it makes me feel about myself. I don’t even know why it works this way, but I suppose I like the idea that people far away are interested in hearing me speak. It feeds my ego. This makes me tempted to accept speaking engagements that will come at the expense of my church and family, even if I can really make no unique contribution to the event, and even if it makes very little sense for me to be involved. I am tempted to accept the event for the worst of motives: for how it makes me feel about myself.

Big audiences at big conferences validate me. I hate to own this one, but it is true: A bigger audience makes me feel more important than a smaller audience. A big audience at a big conference makes me feel awfully good about myself while a small audience at a small conference (or, even worse, a small audience at a big conference) is the kind of thing that can cast me into self-doubt or even despair. Again, there is a temptation to accept an invitation on the basis of how many people will be at the event rather than on any better or more noble criteria.

The irony in these two examples is that I am the ultimate homebody—I find it difficult to be away from home for more than very short stints—, and I am intimidated by large crowds—I find it extremely stressful to be in front of people. Somehow the things that validate me are the things I naturally run away from. I love them and hate them all at once.

I should note that neither of these things is wrong. Traveling distances to preach or to encourage others can be good and noble. Turning down a small event to speak at a large event can be good and God-honoring. But it can also be pure idolatry, a way I look for others to receive what only God is meant to give.

I need to be aware of these things—each of those ugly things on my ugly list. And most of all, I need to remember what is mostly deeply true. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to have the approval of others, and especially to receive the affirmation of God. But the crucial fact is, I already have it through Christ. I am already accepted by God because of what Christ has done, and this acceptance is all I need. When I am at my best it means everything to me. But when I am at my worst, it means nothing.

Image credit: Shutterstock

A short time ago I learned of a church building in our neighborhood that was for sale. For years now Grace Fellowship Church has been looking for a building of our own, so we thought we should go and give it a look. This had once been a thriving congregation. Faithful Christians had given sacrificially to construct that building. They had consecrated it to the Lord and had worshiped there for many years. Yet now that building was deserted, decaying, and up for sale.

What happened? How did that church go from thriving to dying? How did it slide from healthy to sick to dead? I think I know. I think Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy, the letter he wrote just days or weeks before his death. There, in chapter 4, he looks into the future, he sees a church being destroyed, and he warns us how it happens. It’s as straightforward as four simple steps.

Before we get to those four steps we need to see one critical piece of information: this church self-destructs. The church is not closed down through government persecution; it is not afflicted by cultural pressure and does not succumb to the attacks of another religion. This church is eroded from the inside, from within the membership. This church is destroyed by people claiming to act in the name of Jesus.

Here are those four simple steps that lead to a church’s self-destruction.

Step 1: Reject Truth

Paul warns Timothy that “They will turn away from listening to the truth.” The first step in destroying a church is turning away from what is true, losing interest in the truth as God reveals it, growing weary of what God says is true and lovely. What was once a love of truth becomes a dislike and then disgust toward truth; what was once a hatred of error becomes an intrigue and interest in error. Hearts begin to harden.

Step 2: Reject Truth-Tellers

As they turn away from the truth, they necessarily turn against the truth-tellers. So Paul tells Timothy that in that day to come, “They will not endure sound teaching.” It’s not that people won’t know what is true, but that they won’t endure what is true. Because they have come to hate the truth, they will now hate those who proclaim the truth. The very teachers that once drew them will now repulse them.

Step 3: Embrace False Teachers

This church has rejected the truth and those who teach the truth. Now what? It is obvious and inevitable: They will embrace false teachers. “Having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” As these people become hardened in sin, as they grow in their rebellion, they will want to be led by people who tell them those things they want to hear. Paul uses a great word-picture to describe this: itching ears. These are ears that want to be tickled by novelty, by something that will be respectable to society and palatable to a godless world. They will soon find this kind of teacher who will justify their turning away from truth and who will validate them in their rebellion.

Step Four: Embrace False Doctrine

Once they have rejected truth and truth-tellers, and once they have found teachers who will tickle their itching ears, “They will wander off into myths.” They will now embrace full-out error, full out heresy. They will become hardened in their sin so they will now believe error is good and true. They will become so deluded and rebellious that they will celebrate what God hates and do it all in the name of God. They will wander off, just like dumb sheep wandering away from their good shepherd. The narrow road to salvation has no room to wander, but that broad road to destruction has all the room they need to wander this way and that.

And they will die. In the end, those who claim to have acted in the name of Christ will be shown to hate Christ. That church, that congregation, will die.

What happened to the church that once worshiped in the building we visited and wanted to buy? The people developed itching ears. They would no longer endure sound teaching, and accumulated for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. They turned away from listening to the truth and wandered off into myths.

The evidence of those myths was plain to see. Their hymn book had songs like “Mother and God” which says, “Mother and God, to you we sing: wide is your womb, warm is your wing.” Their web site featured a video about a pastor undergoing gender reassignment with the full support of his church. Their literature explicitly denied that Christ is the only way to God, saying “God works in our world by a mysterious Spirit that knows no distinction at the doorway of a Christian chapel; Buddhist, Hindu, or Sikh temple; Aboriginal sweat lodge, Muslim mosque, or Jewish synagogue.”

We did not get that building. That building was sold and, if I understand correctly, will soon be torn down. In the end the denominational leaders charged with selling it did not want the gospel in that building, they wanted money out of that building. They needed the money to help support two more of their floundering congregations that will inevitably soon be gone as well.

Two thousand years ago Paul wrote to young Timothy and told him exactly how this church, and so many like it, would die. He also gave Timothy a charge that would keep his own church from experiencing similar destruction and from wavering through the time of itching ears. But I will save that for another day.

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Frank back in June 2010. Frank reminded us of some unpleasant truths regarding how we view others versus how we view ourselves.

As usual, the comments are closed.

We want our heroes to be just like us, and our perceived enemies to be completely unlike us, with nothing in common as if we are not all of Adam’s race, and as if the sin which cannot be forgiven is only possible in someone else’s bailiwick.

That’s the elephant in the room, btw: the way we toss people out of our circle of church with complete regard for their faults and no regard for their merit in Christ.

Let’s face it: we say we believe this —

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Rom 5]

I mean: that’s straight up-the-middle Book of Romans. It’s the Reformed Home Court. This is the promise those who have faith and have repented, and if you’re really ready to go for the gusto, those who have been baptized for the sake of faith and repentance, ought to all share.

Paul says in this we ought to rejoice — so all the smart remarks about the Apostle John and John the Baptist being a real gas at parties and whatnot ought to take its snark to Paul and see what he has to say about that.

See: for all the assurance we can derive from Rom 5, and all the exhortations of Paul to be unified under Christ and to let Christ be the basis for unity and fellowship, we also have James telling us this explicitly:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [James 5]

One simple sentence, but I think we lose the force of it often. Here’s what I think we should read when we see this:

Some people – like you — will from time to time wander away into sin.

Wandering people who have turned away from the truth can be turned back.

When these people turn back, they turn from death to life.

Other people are the instruments of turning the wanderers back to Christ.

James has the audacity to call both the wanderers and those who turn them back “My brothers”.

Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that point us exactly to the same place Paul points us to – which is a refuge in Christ when we are confronting people who we believe are turned away from Christ and toward sin? James says that our approach to them, and our reproaches to them, ought to be as brothers and not as toward lawless men or people who are not in our own family.


 

Josh HamiltonAnyone who knows me for more than a day or two knows that after my relationship with the Lord and my family, one of my great passions is for Major League Baseball, especially my beleaguered Detroit Tigers. While the Tigers season this year was one of the biggest disappointments I had in the last few years (only exceeded by their awful 2003 season when they lost 119 games, but even that was not totally unexpected), here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex we witnessed of the greatest sports stories of the last 10 years or so. It is a story that began with such promise back in 1999.

Josh Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 Major League Baseball Draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Josh was named as North Carolina High School Player Of The Year twice, High School Player Of The Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player Of The Year by USA Baseball. After receiving a $3.96 million dollar signing bonus, it appeared that Josh was well on his way to a long productive career in baseball. Then the wheels fell off.

Prior to the 2001 season, he was involved in an automobile accident where he and his mother were injured. Suffering a lower back injury, Josh found himself with way too much free time and way too much pain. Josh began experimenting with drugs which was escalated by various back and shoulder injuries. After an injury-shortened 2002 season in the Devil Rays organization, he showed up late several times during spring training in 2003 and was reassigned to minor league camp. Due to his substance abuse, Josh was suspended several times by Major League Baseball eventually banning him from the game and he did not play for about three years.

Josh tells the story of walking down the middle of the road on the double yellow line in a drug-induced stupor after running out of gas on the way to his dealer's place and describes it as the point where he was pushed over the edge. He literally was a dead man walking. He describes his lowest point in the summer of 2005 when he woke up after a crack binge in a trailer full of people he did not even know. But like the prodigal son who came to himself, Josh went to his grandmother’s house and began the long process of rehabilitation.

It was then that God began an incredible work of grace. Just like the father in that classic parable of the prodigal son, God has restored Josh and given him such a unique platform to exhibit His forgiveness and restoration.

Today, Josh is the new reigning RBI champ of the American League. He rocked the Home Derby before the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium and had even die-hard Yankee fans on their feet, screaming his name as he blasted 35 total home runs. But even through all of this, Josh understands where he came from and where God is leading him.

What a unique platform to display the amazing grace of God! Josh is quick to give God the praise for the work He has done and wants nothing more than to be an example of hope to those who are enslaved by their addictions.

Whenever Josh comes to the plate at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, over the PA system played loud and clear is Phillips, Craig and Dean’s song “Saved The Day,” which is a perfect soundtrack to a life that God has supernaturally changed.

The darkest day in history was over
All was lost on the cross
Beaten, battered, bruised beyond description
You gave it all, what went wrong?

This couldn't be the end of Heaven's story
‘Cause You came to save, to beat the grave
Three days and now they're looking for Your body
But You were gone, and now I know

You saved the day
The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Rescued from the shackles of my failure
In the dead of night, You shined Your light
Your gift of love is hope that springs eternal
And because of You, all things are new

You saved the day
The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Oh God, You rescued me
From my iniquities

Your gift of love is hope that springs eternal
And because of You, all things are new

You saved the day

The day You rolled the stone away
The empty grave is there to say
You reign
You saved the day
You tore the holy veil away
You opened wide the prison gates
You saved the day

Thank you, Lord for your amazing gift of grace and for every example that you give to us. May our lives shine as beacons of your loving-kindness in a dark and dying world.

For more on Josh Hamilton, here are two news stories: