The Alarming Level of Biblical Illiteracy: Who Jesus Was, and Was Not

I teach and speak on this topic often. Sure, non-believers don’t know a lot about the Bible.

But, truth be told, neither do the majority of believers. It’s heart-breaking.

While the cursory reader of scripture envisions Jesus merely as a meek guy with great hair tenderly holding a lamb and visiting with children, the gospels tell a story of someone quite different.

In addition to the gospels, themselves, I would urge all to read Philip Yancey’s award-winning book, The Jesus I Never Knew (published 1995). Yancey writes,

“The Jesus I got to know in writing this book is very different from the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School. In some ways he is more comforting; in some ways more terrifying.”

And one more solid quote on this topic I thought you might enjoy:

“In an age in which biblical literacy continues to be on the wane, and there is an almost complete ignorance of Jesus’ words and deeds amongst unbelievers (as well as believers), my experience is that many are often surprised and amazed that Jesus actually said or did the things recorded of him. Now—as then—these stories bring us face-to-face with Jesus,…”

Quote by Paul Weston, “Preaching the Gospel from the Gospels” in Preaching the New Testament (IVP Academic, 2013), eds. Ian Paul and David Wenham, pg. 245

Norman Geisler: He Didn’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Apologist Norman Geisler:  The Man Who Didn’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Died: Apologist Norman Geisler, Who Didn’t Have ‘Enough Faith to Be an Atheist’

Just two months after his retirement from public ministry, evangelical theologian Norman Geisler died Monday at age 86. He had been hospitalized over the weekend after suffering a blood clot in his brain.

Described as “a cross between Thomas Aquinas and Billy Graham,” Geisler was a prolific author, apologist, and professor, as well as the co-founder and former president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) in North Carolina and co-founder of Veritas International University in California.

Many evangelical leaders consider Geisler among the top Christian thinkers in recent decades, with pastor Derwin Gray calling him “one of Christianity’s greatest philosophers, apologists, & theologians” and Colson Center president John Stonestreet remembering him as “a towering figure in Christian apologetics and philosophy.”

Geisler was respected for the breadth and depth of his career of over 70 years, and his model of defending the faith and the Bible through classical apologetics.

“When Geisler began, there were few philosophers who embraced evangelicalism. Even more rare was a trained philosopher who was committed to helping ordinary believers in the defense of the gospel,” said Gregory E. Ganssle, philosophy professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. “Geisler paved the way for the kind of sophisticated apologetics we enjoy today,” by combining scholarly rigor with a desire to equip the church and writing books that “could be read and used by believers in all walks of life.”

Current SES president Richard Land described him as a powerfully refreshing voice that inspired conservative scholars, ministers, and fellow apologists.

“For us, Dr. Geisler’s latest defense of the faith was like a long drink of cold water in the midst of what was too often an arid and sterile theological landscape,” Land wrote. “Dr. Geisler has been the ‘go to’ authority for more than two generations of evangelical seminary students who were looking for a bold, erudite, and uncompromisingly faithful defense of the inerrant, infallible Word of God and the historical doctrines of the Christian faith.”

He was on the team of theologians that wrote the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and co-wrote the popular book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist in 2004.

“Norman Geisler was one of the four to five most influential people in my life. It was meeting Norm and reading his works that first drew my interest to philosophy and the rest is history,” Talbot Seminary philosophy professor J. P. Moreland told CT. “He was a tireless worker for the Kingdom and a brother who was faithful to the end. We have lost a giant and the world is worse off for his departure.”

In addition to his scholarship and teaching, Geisler participated in theological debates with fellow scholars, including a 2011 dispute with Michael Licona around the bodily resurrection of the saints, which was covered by Christianity Today.

He is the author, co-author, or editor of 127 titles, including a book on transhumanism due out next year. His book The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics was named by CT among the top religion reference books by living theologians in 2002.

Geisler’s works had been translated into more than a dozen languages, and online tributes for spanned the globe, from Kenya to Brazil. Brazilian theologian Roney Cozzer wrote, “I often say that Geisler was ‘a source from which I drank too much’” and praised God for his legacy.

The Michigan-born scholar received degrees from Wheaton College, William Tyndale College, and Loyola University.

William C. Roach, president of the International Society of Apologetics (which Geisler founded in 2007), was mentored by Geisler and shared details in a tribute today:

Both of us were raised in non-Christian homes, our mother’s would not allow us to play football as kids, we both had alcoholic parents, struggled significantly in school, and most importantly—after our conversion to Christ we both had to face objections to the Christian faith.

Dr. Geisler used to say he got into apologetics because he was stumped by a drunk on the streets of Detroit…” Dr. Geisler knew that he either had to find answers to people’s objections or he must stop sharing his faith. Since the latter is not an option, Dr. Geisler dedicated his life to defending the historic Christian faith.

Following the news of his passing, his ministry posted 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV), one of his favorite passages to quote when he learned of a death in the body of Christ: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Geisler’s memorial service will be held in Charlote, North Carolina, on Saturday, July 6. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Barbara Jean, their six children, 15 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

 

NOTE: the above article is from Christianity Today Magazine; July 2019

Chosen But Free – The Biblical Doctrine of Election

NOTE: The issue of “election vs. free will” will forever be debated.  What is critical, though, is that a believer leans fully on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, without adding to, or taking away.  Conjecture, speculation and theory are good for earthly debate.  But, when all the dust settles, there is only one authority: the Word of God.  “Your word is truth,” Jesus said to the Father.[1]   Even the most intelligent of biblical scholars will never fully understand all the mysteries of the Bible.   But, that’s why it’s “by faith we are saved,”[2] and not by mere human intellect, logic & reason.  Volumes have been written on this topic.  I am merely sharing a few thoughts in this blog.  It would be impossible to write all I would like.

 Here’s the question I was asked recently:

If God, being fully sovereign, has already pre-ordained all past, present & future events how can I believe that I can choose anything of my own free will?  And, if God is fully sovereign, what about the atrocities of the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, crimes again children, etc?  Did God preordain these events?  If you say He didn’t, then are you telling me He was “caught off guard”[3] by them?  Tell me, is God totally in charge or partially in charge?  It can’t be both.

Oh, the tangled and exhausting mess we find ourselves in when we begin to assign to God what He can and cannot do, or what He can and cannot be.  Not to mention that it angers God:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.[4]

God continued….

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.[5]

Clearly, the Bible says that we – not God – will be the ones answering the questions, not him. (Unless he chooses to do so.)

 

That said, how would you have answered the question posed above?

 

Here’s how I responded:

Chosen But Free [6] – that’s the title of theologian/apologist, Norman Geisler’s, book on this white-hot topic among evangelicals.   Geisler, as well as Spurgeon, Packer, MacArthur, and other respected biblical scholars, affirms what simply doesn’t make sense to us. He affirms both the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God and the human responsibility to either receive or reject Him.

Why should we even want to sort through this controversial of a topic?  I like the way A.W. Tozer answers this question:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[7]

So, which is it?  Are we all robots that God has wound up, setting us on our way to live a pre-programmed set of life-long thoughts and actions?  Or, are we free to make our own choices?

Again, are we, as human beings, merely following a program, of sorts, that’s been downloaded into our psyche by God before we existed?  Are we mindless slaves who, unbeknownst to us, have no real choice in anything we say or do?   If that’s so, why would Jesus say things like, “Whosoever will…?[8]

Because by saying, “whosoever” it sounds a whole lot like Jesus is saying, “you have a choice: accept me or reject me.”  The first Bible verse almost everyone on planet earth learns is “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him…”  (John 3:16)

On the other hand, what is God talking about when the Bible over and over again speaks of His “elect” i.e. “chosen ones?”[9]  Has He already made up His mind as to who will go to heaven and who will go to hell? i.e. “who’s in, and who’s out?”   Wayne Grudem asserts,

“Several passages in the New Testament seem to affirm quite clearly that God ordained beforehand those who would be saved.”[10]  In John 17, verses 2, 6, and 24, Jesus seems to be praying for only those the Father “has given Him” and, in verse 12, acknowledges that one has already been “doomed for destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.”?

Biblical passages like the following appear to make it clear it doesn’t matter what we think or do:

  • It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.[11]
  • But [God] stands alone, and who can oppose Him?  He does whatever He pleases.[12]

 

Again, which is it?  Robots?  Or, free to choose?

 

Simply put, this is one of those doctrines that will forever cause our human intellect to short-circuit.  Consider the following humorous illustration:

“There was a group of theologians discussing the doctrines of predestination and free will. When the argument became heated, the dissidents split into two groups. One man, unable to make up his mind which group to join, slipped into the predestination crowd.  Challenged as to why he was there, he replied, ‘I came of my own free will.’ The group retorted, ‘Free will! You don’t belong here!’ So he retreated to the opposing group and, when asked why he switched, responded, ‘I was sent here.’ ‘Get out,’ they stormed.  ‘You can’t join us unless you come of your own free will!” The confused man was left out in the cold.”[13]

 

A little History:  Calvinism

  • The debate regarding “Predestination (God’s already predestined every human thought and action) and Free Will (we have the freedom to make our own choices)” is nothing new.  It’s been a source of major theological difference since Augustine and Pelagius argued about it in the early fifth century.  In Erwin Lutzer’s, Doctrines That Divide, this topic, alone, occupies a third of its pages.  Healthy debate is actually a very good thing, though.  It teaches us to think deeply.  And having our convictions challenged only makes us stronger in knowing why we belive what we believe.  Problems develop as a result of the reckless, uneducated comments that fly out of the mouths of “self-appointed authorities” on both sides.
  • In 1538, the reformer/theologian, John Calvin, wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which, for centuries, served as the basic textbook of theology for most Protestants.  Later, in 1618-1619, the Synod of Dort convened in the Netherlands to defend Calvin’s “Institutes” against contrary teachings and came up with what is today commonly known as “Five Point Calvinism,” often identified by the acrostic: “TULIP”: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the Saints.  “Limited Atonement” is the point that conveys the message that Christ died for “the elect” only. (Or, more pointedly, that God has predestined some for heaven and some for hell. This ideal is commonly known as “double predestination.”)
  • As stated earlier, history proves that godly men have fiercely debated this doctrine.  The great 18th century preacher, George Whitefield, agreed with this doctrine and taught that any contrary teaching was blasphemy.  But,… the great preacher and hymn-writer, John Wesley, argued that limited atonement “made God a devil.”  For 17 centuries, the debate has raged on.  Today, we have very godly, educated scholars still disagreeing…still debating…and they always will.

 

Familiarize Yourself with the Word “Antimony.”

  • “Antimony,” by definition, is: “an apparent contradiction between valid principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable.”
  • The first chapter of Ephesians, Paul addresses our being predestined for salvation.  Pastor/Teacher, John MacArthur, does a masterful job of explaining this element in his commentary on Ephesians:
  • “God’s sovereign election and man’s exercise of responsibility in choosing Jesus Christ seem opposite and irreconcilable truths – and from our limited human perspective they are opposite and irreconcilable. That is why so many earnest, well-meaning Christians throughout the history of the church have floundered trying to reconcile them. Since the problem cannot be resolved by our finite minds, the result is always to compromise one truth in favor of the other or to weaken both by trying to take a position somewhere between them. We should let the antimony remain, believing both truths completely and leaving the harmonizing of them to God…..It is not that God’s sovereign election, or predestination, eliminates man’s choice in faith. Divine sovereignty and human response are integral and inseparable parts of salvation – though exactly how they operate together only the infinite mind of God knows.”[14]

  • A perfect example of antimony is: “Was Judas ‘predestined’ to betray Jesus Christ? If so, what kind of God would do such a thing?!”  True: Judas was predestined.  Also true: Judas had choice in the matter.[15]  So, which was it?  Both.  But it contradicts human logic, reason and intellect.  I agree with former Houston Baptist University professor, Robert Creech, Ph.d, who said, “Anything that undermines the love of God is rightly suspect.”[16]  The problem of Judas is simply antimony.
  • In Romans 9:15, God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  What part of that verse is hard to understand?  Bottom line: God has the last word.  And He basis His will on His wisdom, not ours.  Archbishop, William Temple, once said, “One of the things believers are most fond of doing is thinking they’re more spiritual than God.”   In Romans 11:33-34, Paul wrote: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
  • Finally, God said through the prophet, Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

 

“Which is right? ‘Predestination’ or ‘Free Will?” The answer is: “Yes.”

  • As one friend once told me, “We were predestined to have free will.”
  • John MacArthur writes, The Bible is clear that “no person receives Jesus Christ as Savior who has not been chosen by God:”[17] John 6:44; Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:11, 14-15; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Peter 1:2.
  • But,.. equally clear in Scripture, MacArthur continues: “The frequent commands to the unsaved to respond to the Lord clearly indicate the responsibility of man to exercise his own will.”[18]  Matt. 3:1-2; Matt. 4:17; Matt. 11:28-30; John 3:16; John 5:40; John 6:37; John 7:37-39; John 11:26; Rev. 22:17. Interestingly, Luke 2:10, records the angel, Gabriel, proclaiming, “I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.”….not “some” people.
  • Again – and I can’t emphasize this enough – the Bible clearly teaches that God is 100% sovereign.  But, the Bible also teaches that of mankind’s responsibility, or freedom to choose.  The New Testament is replete with Jesus’ invitation to all mankind, the dozens of “whosoever will’s”.  Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”  Then Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  (Hyper-Calvinists will jump through all kinds of theological hoops trying desperately to dismiss these passages as in support of the free will of man.)
  • One of my college professors, paraphrasing Charles Spurgeon, explained it to me this way: Throughout Scripture two abiding truths are told time and again: 1) God is in absolute and complete control (He is sovereign), and 2) people are responsible for their choices (humans have free will).  In high level human logic, those two truths are incompatible – sort of like a “married bachelor” – it is completely contradictory.  But, in God’s economy, it works.  As Spurgeon stated, those truths are like the two rails on a railroad track. They are parallel and never touch, but you have to have both for the train to go anywhere.[19]

 

Accept the Fact That Some People Just Enjoy Arguing.

  • Know that this conclusion will only frustrate some.  But, typically, these are folks who, for whatever reason, just enjoy arguing.  It frustrates them that they can’t wrap their mind around God. They are foolish to ever think they could. They can’t stand it when things like this don’t “add up.”  But, neither do talking donkeys, huge bodies of water parting, or virgin births, all of which are in our Bible.  You can’t cherry-pick which miracles you’re going to allow to be inexplicable.
  • Author & theologian, J.I. Packer:  There is among Christians “the reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men.” He goes onto write that some people simply “are not content to let [predestination and free will] live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures…..The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it..”[20] 
  • Unfortunately, people still enjoy throwing the body of Christ “into confusion”[21] with rhetoric that is just plain irresponsible. God’s already told us that He’s “not a God of disorder, but of peace.” (1 Cor. 14:33)  So avoid combative, argumentative dialogue on this topic.  If you find someone that refuses to validate your position simply leave or talk about something else. Because whether they want to admit it or not, this issue will not be settled in this life.
  • And, speaking of arguing…

 

A Warning:  Hyper-Calvinists

  • A person would be categorized as a hyper-calvinist if the following applies:  they are not satisfied with simply holding to a strict argument for the Five Points of Calvinism.  They want you to believe it too.  All of it.  They argue their case self-righteously, almost angrily, giving little or no respect for opposing arguments and opinions.
  • Jesus never imposed his convictions on anyone.  But this person has absolutely no interest in civil discourse.  Rather, they want to bully their interlocutor into aligning their conviction with theirs.
  • As a result, the hyper-calvinist, like the ancient Pharisees, foolishly believes they’re on a level with the mind of God as they laughably attempt to mold God into their own little theological box created by their mere human logic, reason and intellect.
  • Should you ever encounter a person who fits this profile, simply smile and walk away.  This person loves to argue.  Any attempt to have an adult conversation with them will suck the very life out of you while their rambling, arrogant logic takes you with them down the proverbial rabbit hole. 🙂

 

 Final Thoughts:

  • Holding to the Bible teaching that God is 100% sovereign (I do believe this) means God is responsible for all the blessings in my life.  But he’s also responsible for my son taking his life.  (He could’ve stopped it.)  It’s either all on God, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways.  But, like Job’s terrifying experience meeting God that day beginning in Job 38, I’ve also made a choice not to question God’s fathomless wisdom.  In my cognitive dissonance – rather than futilely attempt to spend my life trying to figure God out, I’ve chosen to focus on the cross.  Why? Because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb my son is more alive than he’s ever been.  And a reunion is coming. There are simply some mysteries that won’t be revealed until we reach heaven.  Paul told the Corinthians: “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now.”[22]
  • Let me finish with a quote from the great 19th century, British preacher/ theologian, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once…..I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free will. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into antimonianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other…..They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”[23]

 

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 End Notes

[1] John 17:17, NIV; See also Isaiah 40:8

[2] Ephesians 2:8, NIV

[3] The term used to describe God as One who can be “caught off guard” or not completely certain of what happens next is:  “Open Theism.”

[4] Job 38:1-4, NIV

[5] Job 40:1-7, NIV

[6] Norman Geisler.  Chosen But Free, 2001.

[7] A.W. Tozer.  The Knowledge of the Holy, 1978.  Quoted by Norman Geisler in Chosen But Free.

[8] Matthew 10:32; 12:50; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:24; John 3:16

[9] Matthew 24:22, 24; Romans 8:33; In Colossians 3:12, the Amplified describes “chosen ones” as “His own picked representatives.”

[10] Wayne Grudem, Ph.D.  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 1994.

[11] Romans 9:16-18, NIV

[12] Job 23:13, NIV

[13] Edwin Lutzer. Doctrines That Divide. 1998.

[14] John MacArthur.  MacArthur Commentary on Ephesians, 1986.

[15] For an excellent commentary on Judas, see John MacArthur’s, Twelve Ordinary Men, 2002.

[16] Robert Creech, Ph.D.  Quote included in a personal e-mail from Dr. Creech.  2000

[17] MacArthur.  Ephesians.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Larry McGraw, Ph.D. Professor of Theology. Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene, TX.

[20] J.I. Packer. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. 1991

[21] Galatians 1:7, NIV

[22] 1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT

[23] Charles Spurgeon.  A Defense of Calvinism, 1897.  Included in “A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching,” 1996.

Why Pray? (Does it really make any difference?)

I want to thank everyone for your kind and encouraging words regarding the message I preached on June 16th about the mystery of prayer and why God, through human eyes, seems so capricious i.e. why does he answer some prayers and not others?

My daughter, Macy Watts, listened to it yesterday and told me should couldn’t stop crying. (Most of the time that’s what happens when they find out I’m that day’s preacher. )

Why pray? Because Jesus did.

Why flood heaven with requests? Because Jesus did.

I shared the following with Macy. Perhaps, for those who are wrestling with this spiritual disciple called prayer, my response to Macy may be of some encouragement. love to you all. nw

“Macy, the topic (of why God answers some prayers and not others) has always been problematic for me. Way before Jordan died I would hear testimonies of people talking about how their loved one had stopped drinking or using drugs. I begged God to heal my dad and sister. They died anyway. Or about someone who had been reconciled with their dad or mom. And I would ask God, “Why them and not me??” But, at some point, you just have to strip away the veneer and ask the question behind it all: “can I trust God, or not?” It’s a hard question sometimes. In Daniel 9:23 the angel, Gabriel, came in “swift flight” to tell Daniel, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given.” If I am going to believe John 3:16 I have to believe Dan. 9:23 right? I can’t cherry-pick which scriptures I’m going to believe and which ones I’m not. At some point in one’s life you have to drive a stake in the ground and, with your Bible in your hand, say to God, “Life is hard. I don’t understand most of it. But I’m going to believe this book, by faith alone, in Christ alone.” And then walk away with the issue once and for all settled. As my brother/friend, Joe Price, told me after Jordan Blake Watts took his life, “If faith was easy, it wouldn’t be called faith.”

When Macy texted me after listening to the message she included my closing quote:

“It appears to me that God has decided that he can use me better in my pain than with my son still here. I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t have the answers that I need. But I’ve chosen to believe that God is still God. And that God is still good.”

For Narnia, nw

Satan’s Relentless Pursuit to Take Us Out

I had been in full-time, vocational ministry for just over 30 years when, for the first time in my life, I gained new insight into the depth of the evil Satan possesses.

After my son, Jordan, took his life I was crippled in every way, en route to being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts myself.

As you can imagine, during that first year, I, numerous times, broke down into screaming madness on the floor.

Later, as I reflected back on those moments of unspeakable pain, I recalled how intense the battle was for my mind. I remember distinctly a voice in my head telling me to “finish the job. Go see your son. Your family will be much better off without your broken mind. Finish the job.”

Logic says that, at that point in my life, being 100% useless to the kingdom of heaven here on planet earth, Satan would’ve moved on to someone else.

But he didn’t.

Satan didn’t care that I was beat down.

His goal? Finish the job. Take me out. Hurt my family deeper.

I learned from a counselor once, “You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.”

According to the Bible, the devil exists. And he hates everything about you.

If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you are an active threat to his plans.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, you potentially could do that one day. That makes you a potential threat.

He. Hates. You. And won’t stop attempting to take you out.

Marriage in shambles? Just lost a loved one? Just diagnosed with cancer? Suffering from crippling depression? Facing unanticipated financial crisis? Been recently betrayed. Wrestling with addiction? Lost your job? (Insert here your most recent crushing life event.) The list goes on…

Satan doesn’t care how hard life is for you. He’s coming after you to finish the job.

Two gospel writers, Matthew & Luke, record the temptation narratives (the “showdown in the desert” between Christ and Satan), recorded in chapter 4 of each gospel.

There are a dozen sermons in those passages. Mine here is just one:

After failing to get Jesus to sin the first time, Matthew records, “Then the devil..” (4:5)

Satan wasn’t going to give up.

After failing yet a second time, Matthew records in verse 8, “Again, the devil…”

He still wasn’t going to give up.

**While the Cross offers us mercy, the devils offers us none.**

Finally, Jesus ordered Satan, “Away from me, Satan!” And Satan had no choice but to leave.

But Luke adds this ominous warning: the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” (4:13)

Paul reminds believers that, because of Christ, “we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The disciple, John, put it this way: “Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

This biblical truth is catastrophic to the work of Satan.  So, naturally, he works tirelessly to get us to forget it.

This way he can continue his relentless, systematic, and methodical strategy to take out families and individuals. Once and for all.

You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.

My objective here is to remind you we have an enemy.

But, he is no match for the risen King, Jesus Christ, at whose presence the devil cowers in terror.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” an imprisoned Paul wrote, “that you may be able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

For Narnia, Nick

Toxic Leadership

Jesus warned his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Translation:  Be kind & respectful.  But, being kind & respectful doesn’t mean being a naive idiot.

These examples from Psychology Today and Forbes are a hint of the myriad of resources out there should you Google “toxic leadership.”

We’d all like to to believe everyone we hire and/or work alongside is a solid, honest individual with a healthy work ethic. I think I speak for everyone on planet earth when I say – nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently, I read a pamphlet titled, Toxic Leadership, by Tobin Perry, where he cites five toxic personalities within the context of leadership. I’ve included four of them here (the fifth one was similar to the others).  Although Perry writes from a vocational ministry perspective, the principles pertaining to each personality translate across all vocations.

Additionally, I added two “toxic personalities” I strongly believe need to be included in the list. Each includes a brief description of the personality listed.

NOTE:  It’s important to know that many toxic personalities come with a remarkable ability to use passive-aggression as an art form.  At its root, toxic personalities are, on various levels, abusive.  If you work alongside one or more of these personalities, hopefully you have a supervisor who will validate your concerns, and then has the courage to address it.  If the personality is your supervisor, this list should at least give you insight into his/her behavior, help you engage in further research about said personality and, hence, help you learn how to coexist with them.

Ever met, or worked with, these people?

  1. The Blamer – This is the person who habitually plays the “victim card.” One thing you’ll never hear from this person is, “Sorry – it was my fault,” since this would force them to take responsibility for whatever went wrong. It would be a miracle of biblical proportions for this person to ever “own” a mistake/bad decision, apologize for it, and learn from their mistake. On the contrary, their objective is to pass the blame. This person needs to be taught to own their mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them.
  2. The Old-Schooler – “there’s no school like the old school.” While we should be extremely cautious about always believing “newer is better simply because it’s newer”, this person is almost hostile to newer, more effective methods, even attempting to sabotage progress in this area. This person not only “doesn’t get it,” they don’t want to “get it.” Rather than offer healthy debate when faced with a newer way of doing things (healthy debate is vital to making certain a new method has “checks & balances”), this person has no interest in discussing it at all. Like dead weight, they drag progress to a crawl, having nothing but negative, discouraging things to say. Always talking about the “good ol’ days”, he/she chooses to forget that not everything about the good ol’ days was good. This person needs to be taught that “newer is not always a threat to older, but an improvement upon said older methods.” As a friend of mine joked once, “The pony express used to deliver the mail.” 🙂 Glad we’ve seen progress in mail delivery.
  3. The Do-It-All – This personality basically comes down to pride, arrogance and a zero understanding of teamwork. This person is the consummate “Lone Ranger.” Worse, they not only don’t need “Tonto’s” help, they don’t want Tonto’s help. “I can do it all myself. And, for that matter, I can do it better than anyone else,” they convince themselves. This person (1) stunts the growth of those with whom they work because they’re stepping all over them, attempting to do their job, and (2) because they’re trying to do everything, absolutely nothing gets done well. Ironically, while this person wants to “help” everyone else with their job, they want no help with theirs. This person needs to be taught to “stay in their own lane” and to focus on doing their own job well. Additionally, it would help for someone to introduce them to the word “synergy”, the principle that states: together, we can accomplish far more than on our own.
  4. The Ivory Tower – I see this a lot in pastoral ministry and it never ceases to make me shake my head. “I”m not a people person,” they say. In fact, they almost come across as bragging about it. This begs the question: in what universe would a church search team call a person to be a pastor in their church who isn’t a “people person?” (Aren’t you glad Jesus was a people person?)  While some personalities are clearly introverted, and all of us require private time for various aspects of our job, this person has no interest in “being among the people.” Most tragic is that he/she robs themselves of the wealth of blessings received from relationships with coworkers.  If serving in a supervisory role, this person is rarely – if ever – seen “among the troops.” This person, if a supervisor, is a leader in title only. Anyone with half a leadership brain knows that if your employees are valued, coached, led by example and set up for success they’ll work harder and more passionately. Sadly, this person comes across as not only uncaring, but downright lazy. Engaging with people, getting to know them, learning how to work effectively together is hard work. This person needs to be taught that “leader” is a verb, not a title.

 

Here are the two I would add to the list:

  1. The Martyr – I had a pastor friend who had been in ministry for quite a while. He met himself coming and going, never able to catch their breath and, as a result, never really getting anything done well in their ministry.  I could see they were dying a slow death so I offered them some unsolicited advice, “As you mature and age, you’ve got to learn to work smarter, not harder.” In other words, take careful inventory of those around you who are gifted in areas you’re not. These people are just waiting to be asked to serve. Basically, I was ignored. This type of person would rather play the “martyr card”, desperately vying for attention and sympathy “due to how hard they work”, than learn how to delegate tasks to gifted, capable people. He/she perpetually complains about not having enough time or help to get everything done, trying with all their might to appear as the hardest-working – and most unappreciated – person in the office. But when offered help, the result is always the same: they simply reject it. If they received help, they would not receive the “payoff” they crave: having everyone feel sorry for them. Of course, over time, no one feels sorry for them. This person needs to be taught that they are actually moving backward in work and life by not being willing to swallow their pride and allow others to help them succeed.
  2. Narcissist/Sociopaththis person is, by far, the most dangerously toxic. A person can be a narcissist without being a sociopath. But a sociopath will always be narcissistic. This person has a grandiose, inflated view of themselves, becoming quickly defensive if questioned. At the deepest level of the narcissist is an acute insecurity starving for their “payoff”: obsequious adulation & admiration, confirming to them what they tell themselves everyday:  they are superior to anyone else on the planet. I commented on a FB post recently on this topic.  I wrote:  There’s a fine line between a narcissist and a sociopath. That said, both can be equally charming, winning over an immediate following of the unsuspecting.  But, the moment you see through their facade and question their motives you become Public Enemy No. 1 as they frantically scramble to prevent you from exposing their true self to others. They are adept at deception and diversion, having no ethical problem with denying statements they’ve openly made to others. (There is a line from the 1996 movie, The Preacher’s Wife, where a comment is made about a narcissistic character in the movie:  “That man’s so oily you can fry chicken on him.” Such is the narcissist.) Should the narcissist suspect you see through their carefully crafted facade, they will methodically attempt to assassinate your character in order to minimize your credibility, getting even your trusted friends to side with them and question your integrity. While a narcissist may potentially realize down deep they are a pathological liar, a sociopath actually believes their own lies. Both personalities are delusional. Further, it’s never the narcissist’s fault. As master manipulators, they are often able to convince you you’re the “crazy one,” that you’re the problem, and the one who needs to be fired (if they are the supervisor) or reprimanded (if they are a coworker).  This diabolical talent of theirs often successfully deflects all attention away from their deceit onto the person who is threatening to expose them as the liar and manipulator they truly are.

 

Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick