Cults

How Have You Been? (Radical Honesty During Difficult Times)

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How have you been this week? I know asking that right now is weird. I’m standing alone in a room full of empty pews, addressing myself to an iPhone strapped to a camera – you’re sitting at home in front of a laptop or tablet or tv watching this. You can’t respond and I can’t hear you.

But still – I ask the question: “How have you been this week?” Take a minute to think about it. If I were in the same room as you, what would you say? Would you smile and tell me how wonderfully you’ve been doing, recounting a story from this week of how you’ve seen blessing? Would you give me a quick “I’m fine.” and then ask how I am? Would you sigh and say it’s been a little difficult, but then quickly change the subject in hopes I don’t pry further?

So, how have you been?

I’ll be honest with you; this has been a really tough week for me. Now, I know that some of you have told me that you don’t want to hear stuff like this on a Sunday morning. Some of you have told me that I’m not supposed to talk about having a rough week, that I’m supposed to keep things positive and upbeat on Sunday mornings, that me sharing my more difficult feelings makes you uncomfortable – and you think it makes everyone else uncomfortable – and you warn me that if I don’t stay positive and upbeat, that people won’t listen to the sermons, people will stop coming to church, and that you, yourself, will stop – because – as you’ve told me – when you come to church you want to hear “things that inspire you”, that give you a “positive worship experience”, that make you “feel better when you leave”.

Well, I might not be able to do that today, because, honestly – I had a really rough week. I was emotionally depressed, spiritually dry, mentally wiped-out, and physically exhausted. Most of the days this week I felt like a worthless pile of junk and everything I did took 10-times the effort it should have. It was, by almost all accounts, a bad week.

I had a Psalm 6 type week. Turn there if you want. It begins,

“O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD—how long?

Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.”

It was a rough week. How was your week? Honestly, how was it?

From my limited perspective, I felt like a lot of people turned an emotional corner this week and were down in the dumps. We’ve been doing this social isolation thing for a while now, and it’s not really good for us. But what makes it worse is the constant stream of news and policies and updates that keep coming all the time. I don’t know about you, but it sometimes feels like we’re all locked in our rooms on a boat being bashed by an unpredictable storm. Our room doesn’t have a window, the wind and waves keep changing direction, and the command crew – the people in charge – seem to have a lot more confidence than they have skill at sailing.

And I think that the emotional toll of being stuck in our little windowless cabins is catching up to more and more people. I know it caught up to me this week.

The Danger of Echo Chambers

I guess one advantage of doing this as a livestream over social media, isn’t that you can just turn me off, right? If you’re one of the people that just can’t handle hearing lament, you can just search up whatever message or song or speaker you want.

What a dangerous temptation that is. To just turn off people and messages that don’t tell you what you want to hear the way you want to hear it. To be able to ignore voices in your life that don’t tell you what you think you want to hear.

While I love how amazing it is to be able to google whatever we want and YouTube up some of the greatest Christian speakers in the world at any time – it is also very spiritually dangerous. Sure, we can learn about a topic of interest, but it can also cause us to live in an echo chamber. This sort of technology allows us to disconnect ourselves from the reality around us, the people nearest to us, the church family around us, to exit our own context and only hear what we want to hear, from the people we want to hear it from, in the style we prefer best. It’s a wonderful gift – but it’s also dangerous too. It’s dangerous to think we are the ones best able to decide what we need. It’s arrogant, self-deceiving, and only serves to make the blind-spots in our lives more pronounced.

And when we live in that echo chamber, one of the temptations that comes along with it is to lie when we are asked “How have you been?” In the first, you lie to yourself – in the second, you lie to others. But that lie usually comes from the same place. Fear.

Consider: When I or someone else asks you, “How have you been?” some of you are and become immediately flooded with fear, and to deal with that fear, you lie. And I’m not just talking about when we’re at church. This happens in marriage. It happens between parents and children. It happens at work and among your friends. Many people, maybe most people, live in fear of honestly answering the question “How have you been?”

Be honest. How many of you have someone in your life that you can tell anything – literally anything to – and you know for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they will not only listen to you but that there is a zero percent chance they will ever use it against you? Not many of us have that sort of person in our life. Many of you don’t have that even among members of your family. Not with your spouse, parents, or even friends. Some of you see professional counsellors – and pay good money to talk to them – but you still lie to them.

Why? Because you are too afraid to even attempt that sort of relationship. You have already decided in your heart, with no one around, in the silence of your mind, that there are some things that are just no-go-zones for any conversation.

There’s a thought that rumbles through your head, a temptation that is always at hand – but no one will ever know – no one. Do you do that? Do you have scary, or disturbing, or violent, or intensely sad thought, that you have decided in advance that no one will ever know about? Not your spouse, your friend, your mentor, your pastor, not even God? Thoughts you won’t even give voice to in your secret prayer place, not in your journal or even allow to form as a full thought in your mind, because you don’t know what will happen if you do?

What are you afraid of? You are afraid that if you do let that thought out – you’ll collapse. You spend so much time ignoring the difficult things inside you that you are basically a façade. Or, you’re afraid that if you actually tell someone what’s really going on in your life, how you really feel, what you’ve really been doing with your time, the sorts of thoughts that pervade your mind whenever the TV stops or as you lie in your bed before falling to sleep – that they will hate you, reject you, judge you, get angry with you, call you faithless, give some trite answer, compete with you, or even punish you. And that’s the last thing you want. You don’t feel good, and you figure the last thing you need is to tell someone what’s going on and have them make you feel worse.

What a terrible thing it is to have these two temptations dominating your life. On one hand you have yourself as master with no room for anyone else’s teaching, opinions, direction, guidance, or conviction – which leaves you alone, stuck in the muck and mire, unable to grow beyond yourself. And on the other hand, whenever someone tries to break through that armour, to dip their hand into the muck to help you, to take a peek behind your well-manufactured curtain, to shed light in your dark places, you are suddenly full of fear and end up lying to them – which only reinforces the wall between you and the truth. That’s fear and it’s keeping you trapped in a cycle of misery.

Before any conversation is ever had – whether it’s your spouse, parent, friend, pastor, counsellor, or God – you’ve already pre-decided that the person will hurt you – or at least that there’s a chance they might hurt you so it’s not worth the risk. All they’re going to do is dredge up things a bunch of things you don’t want to deal with, give you zero answers, and then pat you on the back, tell you “it’ll be ok” and then leave – so you put up another layer of brick between you and them, you and the world, you and God. Then because that interaction caused discomfort, because you were forced just by the words “How are you doing?” to look at the lockbox full of scary stuff you keep in your heart, you run back to the people and voices that you like to hear, that reinforce what you already think, believe, that makes you feel how you want to feel. Your self-deception reinforced by your echo chamber.

Manipulated by Agreement

Can you see the danger in that?

It’s a risk, isn’t it? Telling the truth, sharing your feelings, opening your heart to someone else and letting them see what’s really going on in there is a terrible risk, isn’t it? Sitting through a sermon or talk, or reading a book, or sitting with a person, that forces you to examine yourself, your beliefs, your preconceptions, your worldview, is dangerous and uncomfortable. That’s why a lot of people avoid it. And when you avoid it – you open yourself up to all kinds of dangers. For example, tribalism.

I’m going to describe something and I want you to consider if you have ever experienced this or watched someone else go through this.

It begins on a successful social media site. You’re not feeling very good about yourself, you don’t like something about yourself, and you want some distraction, something to make you feel better – so you log in to see what’s going on.

The first things you see make you feel more miserable because it’s just a stream of people that are smarter, better looking, more successful, more clever, more popular, more talented, with cleaner homes, nicer stuff, happier relationships, and greener grass than you. And you think, “Wow, that’s not me. Now I feel bad. But wait… I have an idea. I’ll find people like me – same age, same thoughts, same interests, same problems. People who like what I like, who don’t care about what I don’t care about, who have the same quality of life as me…” And when you find this group you feel better. “Ah… my people.”, you think. And it’s nice.

But then, in a short period of time, the posts go from championing how great you and “your people” are to talking about how bad the “other people” are.

You joined the “I like green grass” group, and half the posts are about how lazy and stupid people are who don’t have green grass. Or you joined the “I don’t care about my grass” group and half the posts are about how pretentious the green grass people are, how bad their marriages are, how broke they must be…

You joined the “diet and exercise” group, and half the posts are mocking overweight people and people who don’t know how to use gym equipment. Or, you joined the “body positive” group and half the posts are about how shallow and stupid people who go to the gym are.

It doesn’t matter what group you join. Seniors are pit against teens, teens against seniors. Moms against professional women. Men against women. Sports fans against book readers.

Then come the posts about how no one understands except the people in your echo chamber. No one except you and them knows where to get the good stuff. No one except you and they know the truth. No one except you and they knows what’s funny or smart or accurate. And anyone who isn’t following what your tribe is following, saying what they’re saying, doing what they’re doing… isn’t just wrong… their evil.

It’s not just “pro us”, it’s “anti-them”. You’re good they’re bad. You’re smart they’re dumb. Your appetites are good and right and anyone who says differently is wrong and bad. Your opinions are good and right and everyone else is stupid and wrong.

Then comes the pressure from within the group to not only conform further – and to hate the other guys more – but to believe that every other opinion outside that group is not only wrong but dangerous.

Introverts can’t learn anything from extroverts. Baptists can’t learn anything from Pentecostals. Homeschoolers can’t learn anything from formal education. Christians can’t learn anything from evolutionists. Everyone else is bad and wrong and evil except us – and if you even think of listening any other group, you run the risk of your own people turning on you.

Congratulations, you just joined a cult. Does it sound like I’m exaggerating? Maybe a bit, but that’s how cults work. It’s also how social media echo chambers and tribalism works.

Those echo chambers – which can be found all sorts of places – from who you follow on Instagram, to your favourite e-mail chain, to the TV shows, podcasts and videos you subscribe to – have the danger of reinforcing the barriers between you and what you actually need to hear, what you actually need to experience, what you actually need to feel, what you actually need to share, what you actually need to experience.

Truth Sets You Free

I want you to turn with me to James 1:19-26. This passage speaks a lot about self-deception and the danger of avoiding the truth by surrounding yourself with voices that only tell you what you want to hear.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

This passage is speaking to the one that God is trying to break through to, who needs to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, needs to humble themselves to the voice of God, but can’t because they are so constantly deceiving themselves. It’s about breaking down those self-imposed walls that keep us from experiencing what God wants us to experience, from hearing what God wants us to hear.

These are words that I need to hear as much as you do.

It begins in verse 19 telling you to close your mouth and open your ears. To stop letting your emotions drive your decisions, but to just listen.

When someone asks, “How have you been?” our emotions flare-up. Fear, anger, sadness, whatever – and that emotion says, “Shut it down. Lie. If you don’t there will be trouble.” This passage says that listening to that emotion, acting on that emotion, is not going to produce what God wants. What will… engaging in that moment with what God is doing. Stop, listen to what the other person is saying, is asking, is wanting from you, is trying to do for you… and then speak slowly and carefully and honestly.

In your relationship with others, maybe that means you need to not throw out the “I’m fine” so fast without actually listening. Sometimes that person is offering an olive branch. They’re trying to comfort you, to get to know you, to show you love – but you are so used to letting the emotions rule and speaking quickly that you don’t even see how sincere they are. Slowing down and listening to what they’re saying will help. “What do you mean? Do you really want to know? Are you serious? Do you want me to share with you? I’ve got a lot going on… do you really want to know?”

This goes for your relationship with God too. It means that you don’t just jump into the bible verse, prayer book, prayer list, or whatever. Stop. Listen. Wait. Be slow to speak. “God, do you want to say something? Do you really want to listen to me? I know you see what’s going on inside – will you help me get it out? I’m not sure I can… can you give me the words? Let me hear what you want to say about what’s going on inside me.”

Next, in verse 21 we see the importance of repentance. It says, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls”. In other words, God has already planted a seed in you… but your filthiness and wickedness, your sin… has made it so that the seed won’t grow. You are dry, your soil is polluted, and you need purity. First, you wait, listening to God – then God always follows it up with, “Ok, now repent. See your sin. Acknowledge your sin. Hate your sin. Give your sin to Jesus. Let Jesus die for that sin. Accept forgiveness.” As long as you continue in your sin, you will never be able to hear what God wants to say, because the sin won’t let the implanted seed of God’s word grow!

Next, verses 22-25 speak of ridding yourself of your self-deception. You stop and listen, asking God to speak. God says, “Repent from your sin.”. Then, immediately, fear rises up. “Ok… I’m going to confess some of them – but there’s some stuff in the basement I’m not bringing up.”

These verses say, “You’re not fooling God, you’re only deceiving yourself! God already knows what’s in the basement! You’re the one who denies what they really look like. You’re the one who sees their deepest sins reflected back by the scriptures and then choose to pretend like they don’t exist. God already knows! So He invites you to tell the truth, live in the truth, and to persevere through that truth.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. It happens in mere moments, microseconds even. God, either in your spirit or through another person says, “How are you doing? Let’s talk. I need to do some heart-work in you”. You want to speak quickly and lie. But this time you don’t. You listen, accept their love and desire to help, and are ready to speak.

But then, before your mouth opens, you realize what you are about to say. It’s not going to be “nice”. It’s going to be “real” and that scares you. What does God say in that moment? “It’s ok. Tell me. We’ll get rid of the garbage together. Just tell me all of it. Share it all. Let me see everything. Then I can make that seed grow.”

But you’re so used to pretending that it’s almost habit to make yourself forget. You want to say how you’re doing, and you’re ready to repent, but you’re afraid and you want to turn away and pretend the conversation isn’t even happening. Shut it down. Walk away.

What does God say? “Look in the mirror. I see you and I want you to know that I see you too — and I want you to see what I see. This is the only way you’re going to be free. I need you to look at my word, listen to my Spirit, and have the courage to say outloud the things that you are too afraid to admit — and then see that I love you. Tell me the sins I already know you commit. Tell me the terrible thoughts I already know you have. Tell me about the fear I already know that dwells within you. I can handle it because I already see it. But I need you to see it, you to acknowledge it, you to drag it into the light, and give it to me so that I can finally let you be free of it. Don’t just say you want my help – actually accept it. I’m standing right here. I see everything. Just be honest.”

This can happen in prayer – or it can happen when you’re talking to a fellow Christian. Remember, James 5:16 says,

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

The healing comes by Christians confessing and praying together.

Finally, look at verse 26. I think this is written to the religious hypocrites who think that they need to pretend for the sake of looking like a good Christian, or to not bring shame to Jesus, or because it might make them or the church look bad. I think it says here, in effect, “The religion that makes you pretend to be good and deny reality is fake – real religion is the one that tells the truth to God, others, and themselves – regardless of how it makes them look.” Because if you lie with your tongue and lie to your own heart – God says your religion is worthless.

Conclusion

What’s my conclusion today? Well, this little series here is about “Building Faith in Difficult Times” and I think the foundation of that is going to be honesty with yourself and with others.

This week, I was not “fine”. I was sad, tired, and made some bad decisions. It does me absolutely no good to hide that from you. Likewise, it doesn’t do any of you any good to hide what’s really going on inside you from God or the people that love you.

Am I saying you should dump your emotional truck on the next cashier who asks you “How are you doing today?” No. What I am saying is that the only way you are going to be able to grow into an emotionally and spiritually strong person, with a robust faith that can withstand difficult times like these – is to be honest with yourself and with others, even if it is risky.

Will everyone react perfectly? No.

But the benefit of living an honest and open life far outweighs the dangers of living in an echo chamber of self-denial and dishonesty.

So, what I want you to do this week is to commit twofold:

First, tell God what’s really going on inside you. Use words you’ve never used before. Say the things you’ve been refusing to say, that you’ve been pretending aren’t inside you, that you are too afraid to voice to even God. Dump it all on Jesus – and then accept that not only can He handle it, but that He still loves you, still forgives you, and will never leave you.

Second, after you’ve talked to God, I want you to commit to finding and telling one person who you trust, someone who you already have a relationship with, what’s really going on in your heart. Whether it’s your sibling, your parent, your Christian friend, your spouse, or your counsellor – tell yourself that, in obedience to God, you are going to confess all the horrible stuff, the scary stuff, the dangerous stuff, the stuff that you never wanted to voice, but that bounces around like a ping-pong ball in your head.

And to those who are about to have this person open up to them – James 1:19–20, “…be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Shut up and listen. Don’t judge. Just listen. Don’t give advice. Just listen. Don’t try to solve the problem. Just listen. “I hear you. I love you. I’ll pray for you. I’m here for you.” That’s it.

How To Pray Better (Carnivore Theology Season 3 Begins!!! – Ep.71)

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Why is prayer so difficult sometimes and what are some practical ways to become better at it? Our first episode of Season 3 kicks off with one of the most important topics we could think of: prayer.

Podcast Audio:

Book Recommendations: 

The Hour that Changes the World – Dick Eastman

The Book of Common Prayer – Thomas Cranmer

Spiritual Journalling Using Scripture as Your Guide – Al Descheneau

 

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

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3. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (We love this the most!)

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We Place Ourselves Under The Bible

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Big Words

From the genetic to the apocalyptic, whether allegorical or apologetic, poetic or prosaic, decalogical or doxological, hyperbolical or historical, evangelical or epistological, from the exodus to the exile, the consistent view of theologians which drives our piety, expository hermeneutics, and doctrinal declarations (from justification to sanctification to redemption to regeneration to sacramental to soteriological and more) has been the belief in the transcendent inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration of the original autographs in the canon of scriptures.

Did you get all that? Put more simply says “God wrote the Bible”. It took me almost half an hour to craft that sentence – and would probably take me three hours to even start to explain it. I didn’t write that to impress you, nor to somehow elevate myself above you with all my jargon. I wrote that for fun and to make a point: Christianity has a lot of big words associated with it – and that we don’t need to be afraid of them.

Last week we I said I wanted to incorporate some of the older hymns into our music, and it had a mixed effect. Some folks really liked, while others were merely confused. I was on both sides of the fence myself. I enjoy singing some of the songs from my youth but got a little whiplash as I tried to sing the words while figuring out what a “royal diadem”, the “chosen seed of Israel’s race”, the “sacred throng” and the “terrestrial ball” was.

It started an interesting conversation in Overtime about whether we should push through and try to learn these songs and the meanings behind them, or whether we should simply realize that our society has changed and those songs don’t have the same meaning or weight as they used to. I think both points have some validity.

Personally (keeping in mind that I like big, complicated, theological words and scriptural allusions in the songs) I would much rather we keep singing these hymns and educate ourselves to the meaning, rather than relegate them to the past and opt to only use simpler music. I’d rather take the time to study the lyrics, plumb the depths of the language, and incorporate the concepts into my understanding of God, than give them up in favour of simpler songs.

Not that there’s anything wrong with simple songs! Don’t get me wrong! I’ve been brought to tears singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” What I’m advocating for our church is a mix – which will hopefully mean the best of both worlds.

But back to my complicated, little sentence full of big, Christian words. Here’s my take on it: I know that if I wrote a whole sermon using only that kind of language, never explaining what I meant, I’m not sure how much longer any of you would keep coming.

However, I’m also a big believer in making sure we know what we’re saying and use the right words when we’re talking about God. People have been studying the Bible and writing about God for thousands of years and if there’s one thing that the Christian church wants to make sure of, it’s that we are accurately representing God, His Son, His Spirit, His Will, His Plan, and His Word. We don’t want to leave room for errors or misunderstandings because that’s how people get themselves in trouble. Making up things about God, or simply being inaccurate or uncareful with our language is where blasphemers, heretics, and apostates and come from.

(A blasphemer is someone who says or does something that disrespects or shows lack of reverence for God. A heretic is someone who holds to different beliefs than have been established by the church. An apostate is someone who totally renounces and abandons their religion.)

God warns us over and over in the Bible that people are going to come up with all kinds of crazy, and yet right sounding things about Him, the Bible, and Salvation – and that those things are dangerous. He says flat out that false prophets and false teachers will rise up in the church and try to steer the faithful away from Him and the truth and toward sin and error (2 Peter 2:1).

When Jude writes his letter to the church he says in verses 3-4,

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

He’s talking about sneaky and deceptive false teachers that come into a church and spread wrong things about God. See how it says they “crept in unnoticed”. 2 Peter 2:1 says something similar when it warns, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”. It’s going to happen, and God wants us to be ready for it.

And we also know that there are demons out there that are constantly at work trying to tempt us to sin and get us to believe lies, and therefore we are told in 1 John 4:1,

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

One Reason Why Christianity Is Not A Cult

This is one reason that we are not a cult. Have you ever heard that word used to describe the church? Some people start going to a Christian church and their family and friends start throwing around the word “cult”. That’s confused thinking. One of the signs of being a cult is that they tell you not to question what is being taught, that you have to stop studying outside sources, and that the only friends you’re allowed to have are within the group.

Christians don’t do that. We certainly believe that the Bible is the highest source of authority in this world, but we don’t teach that you can’t ask questions! God says, “test the spirits” and what all the teachers are saying. In Acts 17:11 it commends one group of people because they were doing that very thing. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Paul would preach and they wouldn’t just take whatever he said as the truth because he said he was an apostle. No, they went back and studied to make sure that what he said lined up with what God had already said in the Bible. That’s what we encourage here too.

A cult will tell you to trust them for all truth, isolate you from other voices, and give you trouble for questioning authority. The Christian church tells you to study the Bible for yourself, talk to God yourself and have the Holy Spirit confirm what is said, seek good counsellors and teachers, read lots of books, and even challenge the local authority if they stray from what the Bible says!

If I start teaching things that aren’t in the Bible, or start doing things that don’t fit what a preacher is supposed to be doing, this church has a responsibility to hold me accountable, correct me, or even dismiss me. The one, most important thing here, is that the bible is taught fully and faithfully. Because once error and heresy starts to creep in, we lose God’s blessing and set ourselves up for trouble.

Jesus said it this way in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We want to “abide”, or accept and remain in the words of Jesus, because they bring freedom. Other words that don’t agree with Jesus’, no matter now nicely they are said or how helpful they are meant to be, bring bondage.

This is why men and women of God have spent their entire lives studying the Bible and making sure we get it right. They dedicate their lives to prayer, study and teaching so that the people of God will know the truth and remain free.

The Danger of Dumbing It Down

Lies and false teachers are sneaky and deceptive and secretive, and worm their way into the church in surprising ways – and one way they do that is through language.

As our temptation to simplify and abridge biblical preaching and teaching in the church grows, so grows the opportunity for error. The more we dumb it down, the more chance there is for people to misunderstand. It used to be that a preacher had an hour or more on Sunday morning, another hour on Sunday Evening, Sunday school and a mid-week study to teach his church about the faith. They would work through catechisms together – which is a series of fixed questions and answers about what Christians believe – and would cover the basics of what they needed to know.

Today it’s different. Today preachers are told that their congregations can’t be expected to hold their attention for more than 22 minutes and that most of that needs to be entertaining stories and life-application. Sunday evening and mid-week bible studies are all but gone – and the ones that remain spend most of their time on “felt needs” like “building friendships”, “marriage class”, “singles ministry”, “youth group”, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – but if the only biblical teaching that a church gets is the 10 minutes on Sunday morning served between funny stories and application, then the church can’t help but breed heretics. People won’t know any better and they’ll fill in their knowledge gaps with whatever sounds good to them.

And this oversimplification, lack of personal study, and concentration of “felt needs” ministries, creates a group of Christians who don’t know or care about their Bibles. Sure, they’ll say that they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but most don’t know what’s in it. They’ll grab a couple of verses they like and live off of those. The souls of these Christians will be starving to death even if they come to church every week.

Not only will they be starving, but they are left wide open to believe those “false teachers… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies”. When someone does get curious about something about God, the church or the Bible, today they can simply go to Google and punch it in the search bar. The problem with that is that most folks don’t know the Bible well enough to discern if what they are reading is right or wrong, so they do what Jude says and “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”.

Can you see how dangerous that is? Instead of reading and studying the book that God wrote to explain everything we need to know, they get their knowledge from someone else – which means they are forming their beliefs about God not from God, but from man. In other words, they are no longer even worshipping the same God, but a human creation that is named God. They are no longer following the Jesus of the Bible, but a Jesus they have created in their own mind. They open themselves to becoming heretics who don’t believe what God says, blasphemers who disrespect what God has revealed about Himself, and apostates who are no longer part of the Christian church. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?

Ignorance in the Church

And I’m not talking about diverse opinions about the things that God hasn’t given us clarity on, or silly things like how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I’m talking about the basics! In 2014 Lifeway Research did a study of Christians and it showed that there is a lot of theological confusion out there.

A significant number of people in Christian churches said they believed that Jesus isn’t equal with God, but was the first created being. Over half believed that the Holy Spirit is like the Force from Star Wars, and not a person you can talk to. A huge percentage thought they save themselves by seeking God, and too many believe they can lose their salvation.

Where do they come up with that stuff? Not from the Bible. They either heard it from a false teacher or made it up themselves based on what they thought sounded good to them.

I don’t want that for any of you. I don’t want you to go home full of platitudes and funny stories, but left wide open to believe lies that wreak havoc on your soul. I don’t want you to spend your life wondering if you are even saved, or if you can lose your salvation. I don’t want you to go home thinking that God doesn’t care about your day to day life and that the only connection you can have to Him is by singing and sitting in rows on Sunday. Above all I don’t want you to go home ignorant of the amazing grace and love that can be found in Jesus Christ, how to discover the mission He has for your life, and the peace that comes when you are in a right relationship with Him.

And the way I do that is by preaching the Bible. And when I preach the Bible, I think it’s important that I use the right words and then explain them – and then later, maybe even sing them together!

The Corinthians

“But what does this have to do with 1st Corinthians, Pastor Al?”, some of you may be thinking. Everything. As I said before, life in Corinth was a lot like life today. Religious opinions and teachers everywhere, rampant sexual temptation, and a church full of people who didn’t know their Bibles very well who were being led astray by false teachers. Same deal.

These people had some huge issues in their life and their church, were falling into theological traps and sinful temptations and Paul needed to steer them back to God. After he left, some people started coming up with different ways to worship God, different ways of understanding salvation, different ways of doing the Lord’s Supper, different beliefs about who the apostles are, and different beliefs about what God expects from them. And Paul needed to correct them.

Let’s open up and read the first three verses together and see how Paul introduces this book, because he uses some very specific language:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

By The Will of God

Now at first glance that seems like a very flowery way to kick off a letter – like he’s buttering them up so he can make them feel good about themselves. But that’s not what he’s doing. Remember, every single word of this letter isn’t just something written by the Apostle Paul, but are also the words of God, written to give the Christian church something to guide them until He comes back again. This isn’t some ancient letter to a bygone church, but the Word of God that stands forever – and every single word is important.

Notice that he uses the term “of God” a couple times. The letter starts with who it’s from, Paul and Sosthenes. Sosthenes is likely the same person we met in Acts 18, the former ruler of the synagogue who was beaten by his own people in front of Gallio. It’s thought that he became a Christian and then was sent along with the delegation from Corinth to find Paul in Ephesus, tell him what’s going on, and give him the list of questions that sparked the writing of this letter.

But look how Paul addresses himself, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ…” and then look how he addresses the church: “To the church of God that is in Corinth…” What’s he doing? He’s setting aside his own authority and picking up one that is higher than his own. He’s saying, “Listen, you know who I am. I’m not just some guy. I’m someone who was hand-picked by God to tell you about Jesus and explain the Bible to you.”

You remember Paul’s story, right? He wasn’t on the path to apostleship; he hated Jesus! But Jesus had saved him anyway and showed him so much love and grace that Paul couldn’t help but sharing about him! And more than that, Jesus didn’t just save him, but made him His premier missionary to spread the gospel throughout the Roman world.

Paul was reminding them about what we’ve been talking about. He’s saying, “Guys, you’re getting some things wrong and you need to come back to the right. I’m about to write a whole bunch of things, and they’re not opinions. You need to read them, study them, pray about them and obey them. I’m an apostle by ‘the will of God’ and you are ‘the church of God that is in Corinth’. You are saved because God willed to save you! You’re not yours anymore. [Later, in chapter 6 Paul will say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19-20)] Neither one of us gets a choice about this. I’m obligated to tell you, you’re obligated to listen. I’m not allowed to make stuff up. I just get to write down what God wants me to say. And you don’t get to make stuff up either. You can’t just import new ideas from the temple down the street. You can’t just cut out parts you don’t like. You can’t do whatever you want.  You can’t just decide to believe whatever is easiest. I’m an Apostle of God, you’re the Church of God, we are all accountable to Jesus, so let’s get back on track here.”

We Are Under God’s Word

That’s what we’re doing here too, and this must be the heart behind this entire study of Corinthians. As Hebrews 4:12-13 says,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Our study of 1st Corinthians isn’t just meant to be interesting, but life-changing. We, as we embark on our study of this book, are setting ourselves beneath the Bible. We are asking ourselves what God wants to say to us, teach us, encourage us, convict us with.

That’s why a lot of people don’t want to read the Bible – because it cuts them deeply, and they feel naked and exposed when they read it, and that’s uncomfortable. But I challenge you as we study 1st Corinthians to stand naked and exposed before God and allow Him to wield His sword in whatever way He deems fit.

God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

That means that when we come before God’s word – whether on Sunday or in our private study – we come humbly, ready to gain something from reading and studying it. When we open this book, we are asking God’s Holy Spirit to teach us, admitting we lack knowledge. We are asking Him to reproof us (meaning show us where we’ve gone wrong) because we believe we are sinners. We are asking Him to correct us and tell us the way to live. And we are asking Him to train us in the right way to live life, because we believe that when we take control of our own life, we just mess it up. When we open up God’s Word, we are asking His Holy Spirit to speak to us through it because our thoughts are not enough. We are incomplete and He must complete us. We admit that we do not have everything we need to live in this world and require that He equip us for whatever good work He has planned in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

When we come to God’s Word, whether it’s here or at home, we place ourselves under that Word. We are saying, “God, speak to me, tell me what I need to know, inform me of what I am ignorant, show me where I’m wrong, tell me how to do right, guide me and teach me. Use your Word, that double-edged sword, to split me in half and expose the darkness within me, and then put me back together so I can have your light inside me. I’m reading the words of your prophets and apostles, and I am your follower. Speak to me and I’ll do what you say.” Doing that requires humility, obedience and perseverance. My question today is, will you do that?

There are going to be some hard teachings in this book, and we need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to commit to ourselves that we are going to accept what God says here, and not dismiss it because we don’t like it. We need to commit that we are going to obey it even when it is difficult, and make the changes we need to make because God has said to do so. Are you prepared to do that? I am, and I hope you are too.

Divisions and Disorder

Next week I want to get into some of those important words in the address; words like “called, sanctified, saints, grace and peace”, but this week I want to simply show you an outline of the book so that when you read it again this week you can see the kinds of topics Paul is going to cover and prepare your heart for it.

This book is broken into two parts and they could easily be titled: Divisions and Disorder. The whole first part of the book is Paul telling the church they need to start working together because God desires unity among them. They figured out a bunch of ways to fight with one another because they had forgot the most important thing – the love of God found in Jesus Christ that they are supposed to be sharing together! Paul takes four chapters to try to explain how they need to come back together under the authority of the word of God and because of the love of Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes from Divisions to Disorder and gets into some of the ways that this church has gone sideways. He confronts their acceptance of sexual immorality in the church and the fact that a bunch of Christians were suing one another. He then talks about marriage, singleness, lust, divorce and how to live with an unbelieving spouse. He makes a call for people to be content with their place in life and to keep God’s mission at the forefront of their plans. He then talks about how Christians can have differences of opinion but still honour one another, and how to enjoy living in God’s world without becoming attached to it.

Then he covers some key teachings about how we are to conduct ourselves during our worship gatherings including how we should dress, pray, preach, talk, eat, participate in communion, serve, and get along even when we are so diverse in our outlook and abilities. Then, in one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, Paul explains love itself. He covers prophesying, speaking in tongues. And then, at the very end, he wraps it all up in a reminder about what our faith rests on: the destruction of death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future hope of being with Him forever!

As I said, we are going to cover a lot of ground as we study 1st Corinthians, but my hope, as I said before, is that as we study God’s Word together we will fulfill what God said in Ephesians 4:12-16: That His word will

“equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”