Never Give Up

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
Hebrews 10:35, 36
The power of persistence accomplishes great things. I witnessed this in my fourteen-year-old granddaughter Miriam.
For Christmas she had been given a jigsaw puzzle. It had come to her home in Africa in a plastic bag without the box and without a picture. As she dumped 1,000 pieces onto a card table, I wondered how long she was going to keep at it. No picture to copy. No pattern to follow. Just a pile of pieces looking surprisingly similar.
As I watched my granddaughter bent over the pieces, sorting, grouping, and turning each piece over for a possible fit, I marveled at her persistence. And her faith. She believed that this jumble would make sense in the end; a picture would emerge. And buoyed by that knowledge, she kept at it day after day. Because Miriam persisted, she was rewarded with a beautiful Victorian Painting.
Is your life like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle? You’ve been told that God has a wonderful plan for your life, but right now, all you see is broken pieces—broken dreams, broken health, broken relationships. A pattern? No, it looks more like a mess.
Perhaps you’re tired and discouraged. Come to God in your weakness and tell Him, “I depend on you to see me through this.” God is with you to be your strength. He knows the pattern and will guide you to it. However, you must also do your part.
You need to persevere in faith and in obedience to God’s Word. Keep depending on Him to give you daily strength. He has a good plan for your life and one day you will see what He was doing.
Successful people are people who have known their share of brokenness but they’ve refused to give up. They’ve not thrown away their confidence but have kept on believing that, in time, their faith in God’s goodness will be rewarded.
Father, even though I don’t understand, I trust you to give me daily strength to keep on believing until I finish.
by Helen Grace Lescheid

Obedience Leads to Peace

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT).
If you feel overwhelmed or confused about a decision that you’re trying to make, you’re probably caught up in yourself and not listening for God’s voice. The Bible says, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33 NIV). He is not the author of confusion. So if you’re feeling confused, guess what? It’s not God’s voice speaking in your life.
If you’re a parent, do you want your kids to feel pressured or confused when you ask them to do something? No. You want them to understand what to do and then respond in obedience. God the Father wants the same thing for and from us.
The only time pressure could be legitimate is if God’s told you to do something, and you keep saying “no.” Then the pressure does build. But there’s always peace when you say “yes” to what God’s asking you to do.
Satan wants to drive us compulsively, but God wants to draw us compassionately. Satan wants to take advantage of our compulsions and use them to drive our lives. But God is our Good Shepherd. He wants to draw us in toward himself and peace.
Peter Lord, a pastor I deeply respect, used to say, “Ninety percent of what God wants to say to you is encouragement.” If negative messages are all you ever hear from God, something’s wrong. The wires have been crossed.
If you feel like God’s told you to do something but you’re increasingly anxious because of it, then the wires are crossed. Something’s not right.
The Bible tells us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT).
Think It Over – What decision do you feel troubled or anxious or worried about? Do you believe this is something God told you to do? – Think about a decision you’re facing right now. What part of Philippians 4:6-7 are you already doing, and what part do you need to start doing? – What has God told you to do that you haven’t obeyed? What has been the effect?
By Rick Warren


Thoughts about God

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
Psalm 147:10-11
Our culture loves sports. We cheer for those who can run the fastest, jump the longest, or catch a ball with skill. We honor athletes who make difficult feats look easy. We erect statues to them. We have halls of fame to honor their accomplishments. Many pay lots of money each year on merchandise representing their favorite team and player.
What about those of us who are not as skilled in sports? Does that make us less worthy? I dream about crossing the finish line in an Ironman competition. Chances are I’ll never have the time to train or the mental stamina to complete that massive goal.
Athletic goals are wonderful, but God values something more deeply. As great as it is to train, compete, and to honor those who accomplish great goals in the sports realm, I’m comforted that He primarily looks at the heart.
God created our physical bodies to run and play and do the work He has given us to do. I believe God enjoys seeing us use our bodies the way He made them to function. But He delights in a heart that is devoted to Him. He exalts those who humble themselves and yield to His plans. He honors those who spend time with Him in order to just get to know Him. Life is a marathon, but with God we can finish the race (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Lord, help me grasp the truth that your greatest delight is not in what I can do, but in my devotion to you. Amen.
Thought – Our culture is not so different from Biblical times. The people of the Bible were often guilty of overlooking the qualities of a person’s heart and seeing only the physical appearance or abilities. Read 1 Samuel 16 and see how God chose a king based on the heart, not on appearances.
By Debbie West



God Uses Our Suffering

Hebrews 12:10-11
Joseph’s life involved much suffering. The young man was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, unjustly imprisoned, and forgotten. But when God’s plan was revealed, Joseph declared that it was good (Genesis. 45:7-8).
Scripture tells us that the Lord has many purposes for the pain we experience. One is to develop personal righteousness in us. Desiring that we walk in holiness before Him, God utilizes discipline to direct us away from ungodliness and to increase our fruitfulness. He will use difficult people and circumstances to prune away any “deadwood”—attitudes, behaviors, and relationships that do not fit a child of God (Ephesians. 4:25;. 4:29, 4:31). While such pruning is not a pleasant experience, it can effectively train us to lead a godly life.
God also uses suffering to manifest the life of Christ in us. For that to happen, we must learn to depend on Him for both our work and our words. If circumstances did not press in upon us, we would probably go our own way. But we are to be like Jesus, who relied on His Father no matter how easy or hard the situation became. As Christ’s ambassadors, we are to be living examples of His character. This may mean forgiving our enemies, bearing our burdens with patience, or finding joy in the midst of sorrow, just as He did. Our witness will not be a perfect one, but we should display a growing “family resemblance” to the Lord.
Life is full of trouble. But in the hands of a loving God, our suffering is being used for eternal purposes.
By Dr. Charles Stanley


Christians Should Care About Human Dignity

Instinctively we all feel that human life matters. We cringe when we hear of a new act of violence. We are horrified when we read of crippling poverty. We want to help the least fortunate. But why? What is it about humanity that matters?
I believe the Christian story gives us the richest, fullest expression of what it means to be human. This is especially important in an age when people are asking what this means and, in an age, when human dignity is assaulted through war, famine, violence, abortion, racism and other sins. Christians should care about human dignity. Here are five reasons why:
The Bible gives a rich description of what it means to be human. The opening pages of Scripture make the radical declaration that, of all of God’s beautiful creation, we are his most prized creation. Moses takes great care to describe the way God crafted humans from the dust of the ground and breathed into humans the breath of life. And David, in Psalm 139, describes the intricate way in which God’s crafts every human life in the womb.
God has created each human in his image for his glory. Genesis tells us that humans reflect God. We were created after his image. This means humans have intrinsic value and worth. Humans were made by God with purpose, to both imitate him by ruling over creation and filling the earth with his glory.
God loved humans so much he sent Jesus to rescue us from sin, death, and Satan. When Adam and Eve, the first humans, rejected God’s rule and listened to the serpent, sin corrupted our humanity and caused humans to turn violently against each other and against God. But God sent Jesus as the Second Adam to redeem our humanity and restore us to our image-bearing purposes.
Jesus came to earth as a human, in the most vulnerable way possible, showing us that being human is good. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. His incarnation tells us that God’s creation of humans was good. In his life, he showed us what it means to be fully human. In his death, he exemplified sacrifice and surrender, and in his resurrection he defeated, sin, death and the grave.
God calls his redeemed image-bearers to glorify him by standing up for the dignity of the most vulnerable. If we are to obey Jesus, who call us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must speak up for our neighbors whose dignity and humanity is often violently assaulted. Every generation faces attacks on dignity and this time is no different, from abortion to euthanasia to the way in which we dehumanize immigrants and refugees.
Daniel Darling is the author of the new book, The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God’s Rich Vision for Humanity.

Discernment in an Age of Overload

In our age of information overload, Christians must learn to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsity. The need for discernment becomes particularly pressing in the face of sharp disagreement on critical issues among leading Christian apologists.  Using the acronym D-I-S-C-E-R-N, I sort out the matter at hand and codify principles formatted as a memorable tool through which believers can, in general, separate wheat and chaff for themselves.

“The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion.”
-Proverbs 1:1-4 NASB

For me, the words discern and Solomon are virtually synonymous. Whenever I hear the word discern (or discernment), Solomon immediately flashes through my mind. The Creator of heaven and earth gave Solomon the opportunity to ask for whatever he wished. Solomon’s response is forever imprinted on the canvas of my consciousness. He did not ask for wealth or honor. Instead, he asked for the ability to discern between good and evil. So pleased was the Sovereign with Solomon’s choice that He granted him a wise and discerning heart-and He granted him riches and honor as well.1
Like Solomon, we would do well to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsity. Indeed, we should so steep ourselves in his Proverbs that we, like he, may be able “to discern the sayings of understanding” (Prov. 1:2 NASB, emphasis added). Likewise, with Paul, we must pray that our “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” so that we “may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-10, emphasis added).2
Without the ability to discern, we stand impotent in an age of information overload. A glance back to 1999 may be instructive. Formidable intellects across the Christian landscape were busily propagating reckless rumors, spurious statistics, and anecdotal arguments respecting a bug that portended the demise of Western civilization. Although painful, the January 1999 issue of Esquire gave us a glimpse of the world’s perspective on the lack of discernment among Christians. Leaders were castigated for “mining the subjunctive, cultivating the seed of the threat buried inside each unrealized instance.”3 Not knowing how to discern between wheat and chaff, heat and light, followers were resigned to stalking up on freeze-dried food and generators. What was really in short supply, of course, was the ability to discern. As evidenced by my article in a 1999 edition of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, a modicum of discernment would have been sufficient to debug the millennium bug.4
Today we face another situation requiring the ability to discern. In January we published a special edition of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL featuring the culmination of a six-year primary research project respecting a movement originally founded by a Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee.5 Primary research was conducted not only in the U.S. but in such far-away places as China, Taiwan, South Korea, and England. It involved careful evaluation of literally hundreds of books, papers, church documents, and audio and video recordings. Even court documents. The result of our primary research is encapsulated in three words splashed across the front cover of our flagship magazine: “We Were Wrong.”
Shortly after publication, Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes issued a response expressing surprise at our conclusions: “Not only does CRI no longer believe the [‘Local Church’ Movement (LC)] is a cult, as they once did, but they do not even believe they are an ‘aberrant Christian group’ (47). They now call the LC ‘a solidly orthodox group of believers’ (47, emphasis added). Moreover, they say, members of the LC are in many ways ‘an exemplary group of Christians’ (29). All this has come as a great surprise to the majority of countercult ministries and apologists who have studied the matter and have come to the opposite conclusion.”6
For concerned Christians, this poses a significant dilemma. Are the primary research findings of the Christian Research Institute correct? Or are seventy-plus evangelical scholars from seven nations who “call on ‘local churches’ to renounce doctrines, legal attacks” on target?7 My purpose here is not merely to sort out the matter at hand, but to provide a memorable discernment tool through which you can separate wheat and chaff throughout the remainder of your Christian walk. As we think through this issue, bear in mind that we are not engaged in a mere ivory tower debate. Ideas have consequences. To unjustly label a brother or sister a cultist, or worse, may well lead to public humiliation and disgrace in the West-in the East it can lead to prison and death.
To discern between right and wrong, we must ever be wary of applying a “double standard.”8 In the present matter, the “local churches” (LC) are reproached for making unorthodox statements with respect to deification. As such, seventy-plus scholars from seven nations have called on the LC “to disavow and cease to publish”9 the following declaration: “We the believers are begotten of God. What is begotten of man is man, and what is begotten of God must be God. We are born of God; hence, in this sense, we are God.”10
What is neglected is the following qualifying sentence: “Nevertheless, we must know that we do not share God’s Person and cannot be worshiped by others. Only God Himself has the Person of God and can be worshiped by man.”11 Not only so, but as the author makes clear elsewhere, “It is a great heresy to say that we are made like God in His Godhead.”12 Or, as he writes, “From eternity to eternity He [God] remains the same in His essence. But in His economy the Triune God has changed in the sense of being processed.”13 As such, believers are infused with the life of God-and thus deified-through a “process involving regeneration, sanctification, renewing, transformation, conformation, and glorification.”14
Apart from a double standard, Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373), widely regarded as the greatest theologian of his time, would likewise be accused of heresy for suggesting that “[the Word] was made man that we might be made God.”15 Not only so, but the apostle Peter would be suspect for stating that we are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4 NASB). Of course, in context, Peter is not suggesting that mere humans may be deified as gods, but he is speaking of believers undergoing a moral transformation from one that expresses the corruption of the world to one that reflects the character of God.
In initially viewing the list of people who allegedly signed the “Open Letter,”16 I was surprised-dare I say, shocked-at some of the names I encountered. My initial reaction was hardly in keeping with the maxim, Innocent until proven guilty. The first two scholars I called told me they were not aware of the Open Letter, did not endorse its conclusions, and never knowingly lent their names to it.17
Furthermore, when leaders in the LC testified to their belief in one God, revealed in three Persons who are eternally distinct; to the reality that human beings can never ontologically attain Godhood; and to the fact that they are “only the church” as opposed to being “the only church,” Christian charity alone compelled me to give them the benefit of the doubt. After a six-year primary research process, I am fully persuaded that the LC is innocent-rather than guilty-of compromising essential Christian doctrine. Moreover, it has become apparent that the Holy Spirit has moved in their midst to recover New Testament principles and practices widely neglected in the modern church.
Finally, what is true from a theological perspective is true sociologically as well. After meeting thousands of LC adherents and personally interacting with hundreds, I am not only convinced that they are innocent of the charge of cultism from a sociological perspective, but I can testify that they are among the finest Christians I have encountered in life and ministry. Even respecting litigation, every evidence points to the reality that the LC first tried diligently to reconcile libelous claims through peaceful fellowship as the Bible instructs in Matthew 18 and 2 Timothy 2. In three extreme cases in which the LC was accused of criminal behavior, the LC pursued requisite vindication through secular courts because Christian authors and publishers outright rejected their efforts to attain a Christ-honoring rapprochement.
Sophistry might best be defined as subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation. At first blush the argument appears airtight, but on closer examination its flaws are exposed. An apt illustration was a video series by Chuck Missler and John Ankerberg titled, Will America Survive the Y2K Crisis?18 The series presented elaborate arguments designed to demonstrate just how vulnerable embedded chips made our banking system during the alleged Y2K crisis. Unless one is aware of the facts, the subtly deceptive reasoning appears to have real substance. The video, for example, contends that because January 1, 2000, was a Saturday, bank vaults would snap open making their contents accessible to crooks and making them inaccessible the following Monday to customers. This sophistry sounds persuasive until one realizes that the opening and closing of bank vaults is not regulated by embedded chips to begin with. Rather they are regulated by triply redundant, hand-wound mechanical timers set each evening by bank personnel. What was truly regrettable is that credible Christian leaders were soon parroting information garnered from the series.19
Sophistry with respect to the matter at hand is likewise troubling. Indeed, the Open Letter in question is a veritable case study in sophistry. Consider, for example, the matter of lawsuits. The LC is painted as a victimizer, despite the fact that Harvest House published a book by John Ankerberg and John Weldon that identifies the LC as a cult and defines a cult in terms of immoral and criminal behaviors, including murder, rape, prostitution, and child molestation.20 As Elliot Miller commented, convincing a worldly court to hold Christians to a lower standard than it holds the world is hardly a cause for celebration.21
Furthermore, Harvest House, not the LC, initiated litigation. Harvest House has in fact engaged in more litigation against Christians than has the LC.22 Although the LC engaged in two other suits, they did so only after exhausting all other options. In both cases, the court concluded that distortions were deliberate and intentional. Not only was Witness Lee identified as the leader of a cult, but false statements conveyed that the LC engaged in deceptive recruiting practices in order to bring the weak and vulnerable into total subjugation.
Finally, as eminent social scientist Dr. Rodney Stark testified in court, charges of sexual and financial hanky-panky and quoting Lee’s theological statements so as to be diametrically opposed to what he was saying are not only libelous, but patently unfair.23
As frequently noted in Christian circles, a text without a context is a pretext. The same principle applies to broad-ranging matters of discernment. It particularly applies to present considerations. J. Gordon Melton, founder of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, testified that his examination of the research used by the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in their book on the LC (The God-Men) was among the more painful experiences of his Christian life. Not because he found the LC to be a cult, but because as he began to check quotes used against the LC he discovered time and time again that they were placed “in a foreign context” and made “to say just the opposite” of what was intended. Says Melton, “This was done while ignoring the plain teachings and affirmations concerning the great truths of the Christian faith found throughout Lee’s writings.”24 Furthermore, although the Open Letter seeks to impugn Witness Lee and the LC with the heresy of modalism, the facts clearly point in another direction. Indeed, Lee clearly emphasized that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct centers of consciousness and volition, or three I’s eternally united in subject/object relationships. In commenting on John 10:30 (“I and the Father are one”) he wrote, “Although the Father and the Son are one, between them there is still a distinction of I and the Father. We must not disregard this point, because if we do we would become modalists.“25 Finally, if Lee is read in context, it is readily apparent that he makes a distinction between the essential and economic Trinity. As such, he stressed that from an outward objective aspect, Christ and the Spirit are two. However, from an inward subjective aspect, Christ and Spirit are one. Put another way, the Persons are never identical, but their manifest presence from a personal experiential perspective in the life of the believer is indistinguishable. Whether one agrees or disagrees, this is hardly a matter of heresy.
As I frequently communicate on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, words are not univocal, they are equivocal. Thus, their meanings are determined in large part by the context in which they are used. When I say that I hold to one God, revealed in three Persons, eternally distinct, I am clearly equivocating on the word Person. As such, I do not use Person in the sense of common parlance, but rather in the sense of “identity formed and completed on the basis of relationships” within the Godhead. To discern what someone means by what they say, we must carefully consider the principle of equivocation.26 As a case in point, the LC is often unjustly criticized for their practice of prophesying. This despite the fact that they do not prophesy in the sense of foretelling the future but rather in the 1 Corinthians 14 sense of forthtelling-of strengthening the faithful through encouragement, exhortation, edification, and equipping. The LC, likewise, equivocates on words such as “Christendom” and Babylon.” Properly understood, such words are not used to castigate Christians within denominations but rather denominationalism itself. As Lee makes abundantly clear in his writings, regardless of denominational background, if “we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who was incarnated as a man, died on the cross for our sins, and resurrected from the dead, we are all redeemed, justified, regenerated and saved. And we all have the divine life within us. Therefore, we are all of one Body.”27 Lest we become self-righteous in regard to some of the harsher equivocations used by Lee, we would do well to humbly remember our own sins. Many within evangelicalism have dubbed denominations who believe that God has only always had one congruent covenant community connected by the cross as replacement theologians guilty of spreading the message of anti-Semitism. In their own replacement ideology (to coin another equivocation), God has two people and one of those people (Israel) will replace the other (church) as the focus of God’s plans during the Tribulation. Despite the harshness of the rhetoric between these groups, they are yet of one body through faith in our resurrected redeemer.28
As J. Gordon Melton discovered with respect to the LC, to rightly discern between heat and light requires first-rate primary research. In working on his Encyclopedia of American Religions, he took note of “the ludicrous attempt to equate the Local Church’s practice of pray-reading with the use of mantras in Eastern religions.” As his research rightly revealed, “They bear no resemblance whatsoever.”29 As I have personally discerned, Melton is right. While countercult authorities attempted to convince me that the LC used pray-reading to work devotees into an altered state of consciousness, primary research revealed precisely the opposite. Not only is pray-reading a means by which LC members memorize Scripture, it is also a meaningful link between their intake of Scripture and effective prayer. I fear that lack of primary research is at the root of much of the misinformation that continues to be communicated in evangelical circles. Shortly after publication of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL featuring the culmination of our six-year primary research project, Geisler and Rhodes issued the aforementioned response expressing surprise at our conclusions: “All of this has come as a great surprise to the majority of countercult ministries and apologists who have studied the matter and have come to the opposite conclusion.” Question is: Have they really studied the matter? Or has rhetoric replaced research?30 Had Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) genuinely applied proper research principles to their God-Men project, they would not have based the substance of their libelous charges on the unconfirmed account of a single hostile ex-member.31 As Melton rightly observed,
I was genuinely shaken as my research proceeded. I was concerned that such a parody on the life of a group of fellow Christians had been written, that it had been sponsored by such an organization as SCP, and then published by such a reputable publisher as InterVarsity Press. I was more shaken, however, by the obvious implications of the ethics involved in the production of such a book. The mistakes and misrepresentations in the book are so frequent and so consistent that it strains credulity to suggest that The God-Men is merely the product of poor scholarship.32
My research into present accusations by the countercult community has left me similarly troubled and shaken. Perhaps it is the countercult community who need reformation.
Last but not least is the matter of nitpicking. Jesus’ warnings in this regard are as instructive as they are sobering. Speaking to the Pharisees, He said, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24). While our Lord counseled followers to make judgments based on right standards (John 7:24), He cautioned followers not to judge hypocritically (Matt. 7:1-5). Unnecessary and unjustified fault-finding does not undergird the kingdom of God-it ultimately undermines it. We all make mistakes. In his Systematic Theology, Geisler wrongly brands Dr. Kenneth Gentry a full preterist while rightly branding full preterism a heresy.33 In truth, Dr. Gentry is anything but a heretic. Indeed, like me, he has spent a good portion of his life and ministry debunking full preterism. While the cost to Dr. Gentry is not insignificant, it would be less than charitable to dismiss Geisler’s prodigious volume on the basis of such imprecisions. In their response to the JOURNAL’S reassessment of the LC, Geisler and Rhodes imprecisely communicate that the Son proceeds from the Father.34 At the risk of getting stuck in a psycho-epistemological cocoon or linguistic hall of mirrors, I much prefer classical creedal verbiage. The Son does not proceed, but is begotten of the Father; it is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father. As Dr. Robert Letham explains, “The Father is not begotten nor does he proceed; the Son does not beget, nor does he proceed; the Spirit neither begets nor spirates.”35 Geisler and Rhodes, likewise, seem confused with respect to CRI’s former position regarding the LC. At the beginning of their article they incorrectly assert that CRI once held that the LC was a cult; at a later stage they correctly note that CRI did not label the LC a cult.36 Whatever they really believe in this regard is largely irrelevant. To waste precious time and effort nitpicking such matters is in the words of Solomon, “Meaningless! Meaningless!…Utterly meaningless!” (Eccl. 1:2). What is meaningful is this: through game-changing primary research, we have discerned that We Were Wrong! Uttering those three words is never easy. From a personal and ministry standpoint, the cost has been enormous. In the end, however, the goal is not to be politically correct or to gain a larger platform; the goal is to hear our Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21). We live in an age in which Internet fabrications “travel half-way around the world before truth has had a chance to put its boots on.” Thus Paul’s words ring through the centuries with added urgency: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Eph. 6:14). Without the ability to discern between truth and falsity, the covering that protects us from the Devil’s schemes simply crumbles to the ground, leaving us naked and vulnerable.

Hank Hanegraaff

Soul Singer Aretha Franklin Passes Away at Age 76

After falling gravely ill earlier this week, soul singer and sensation Aretha Franklin has passed away this morning.
Franklin, who was 76-years-old was put in hospice care at the beginning of the week, her family hopeful that she would pull through. NME reports that the official cause of death was advanced pancreatic cancer, which reports have confirmed Franklin was been battling since 2011.
The powerful soul singer will undoubtedly go down in music history. Influenced and inspired by gospel music, Franklin grew up in church.
Franklin’s father was the minster at New Bethel Baptist Church earlier in her life. New Bethel Baptist Church, CBS reports, was where Franklin found her God given gift of singing. This was very important to Franklin so even as she began to develop as an artist, she maintained her gospel roots and influence and never forgot her faith.
Franklin released her first album, “Songs of Faith,” in 1956. In her 62 year career Franklin earned an incredible 10 top 10 singles, including “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Respect.”
Acccording to Business Insiders Franklin was one of the best-selling female artists in history with 75 million records sold worldwide.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris

Things You Should Know about the Movie “An Interview with God”

Paul Asher is a talented reporter who is having a crisis of faith. He once believed in God, but a visit to war-torn Afghanistan changed all that. He now questions everything he was taught about religion.
He also has a crumbling marriage. And he’s battling emotions and thoughts from seeing soldiers die.
What will it take to rescue him? Perhaps an interview with the Almighty would help.
That’s exactly what Paul gets: three sit-down interviews with God, 30 minutes apiece. Will it help?
An Interview With God (unrated) debuts in theaters for three nights only: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday August 20-22 (click for tickets and showtimes in your area).
Here’s what you need to know:
1. It’s very well done. That’s not surprising, considering it features two top actors: Academy Award nominee David Strathairn (Darkest Hour, Good Night and Good Luck) as God/the Man and Brenton Thwaites (Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) as Paul. Their back-and-forth discussion – fascinating and entertaining — takes up more than half the film. The rest of the movie involves Paul talking to his wife, his newspaper boss, and a mistress. Perry Lang, who has more than 48 mainstream titles to his credit, directed it.
2. It was made by Giving Films. That’s the same company that was behind 90 Minutes In Heaven and Paul, Apostle of Christ. The company donates all proceeds to charities and will focus on foster care for An Interview With God. The company’s mission is to fund films that will “entertain and spark conversations around life, faith and relationships,” according to a press release.
3. It gets a lot of the theology correct… We learn God always has existed. His word is the Bible. He expects us to obey His commandments. There’s nothing we can do to escape His love. He takes salvation very seriously. From a Christian perspective, it succeeds in some areas where The Shack movie failed. Paul tells God: “Jesus was super clear in John 14:6: ‘I am the way, no one comes to the Father but through me.'” God responds: “Seems very clear to me.” Later, God adds, “Everyone has their own journey but there is only one path.”
4. …but it has a few head-scratchers, too. Paul asks God, “If we’re saved through faith and faith alone, why would anyone follow all the other rules?” God responds: “But is faith all it takes? …I think you have a misunderstanding about the nature of faith.” Is this a reference to faith without works being dead (James 2:20)? Perhaps. Asked if the Torah and the New Testament are the Word of God, God says, “Of course. But as understood by man and as translated by man.” Many Christians will be troubled by God referencing the times of Noah and saying, “Was I too vengeful back then? Maybe.” (When quoting God, it’s best to stick to the Bible.) Hell is never discussed – Paul doesn’t ask about it – although God does say that Satan is “real” but “overrated.” Satan, we’re told, only has the power that is given to him.
5. It tackles the free will debate. Is there free will? “Of course,” we’re told. But God also is sovereign. “You have to understand that my will and human free will are not contradictory because they are not two versions of the same thing, but they do fit perfectly together. I designed it that way,” God says.
6. It’s convicting. Paul wants to talk to God, but only on his own terms. He doesn’t want to discuss his crumbling marriage. Finally, God forces the issue. “You have no secrets from me,” God says, to which Paul retorts, “Yeah, I do! …My personal life is off-limits.” God then tells Paul, “I would like to help you if you would let me.” How many times throughout the week are we like Paul?
7. It may not be for small kids. There’s only a couple of “craps” and a misuse of “God,” but the film also contains discussion of an affair by Paul’s wife. Paul himself also has a romantic interest (sex is never mentioned).

To Be Plucked by a Strange or Timid Hand

Hold On
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not…
gather the gleanings of your harvest.…
Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.
Leviticus 19:9 – 10
This grip of patience, after the scythe
cuts in. Most have dropped – relieved –
into gathering arms – brusque, adequate,
but this foolish remnant holds their roots.
Perhaps they have made this calculation:
on the one hand, to become a clean-scrubbed
loaf on the landowner’s table, surrounded
by his ruddy children and their stout grins
On the other to be plucked by a strange
or timid hand, rolled right there for all
to start at their plump kernels shed
by unfluent palms, and the perfect snap
of a willing seed between hungry teeth.
For the meek inherit a happy earth.
To Sing
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs … of joy.
Psalm 137:1–3
Every harp hung on a poplar
left a mute slew of fingers.
There was still the bread-making, the
laundry, the struggle with the tongue –
twisted rope of the well. Later infernal
socks to darn; still later typewriter keys.
Those, of all, came close to singing.
But even now, if you hold out your hands –
nails up – you will see them tremble,
ever so slightly. Like a tuning fork or
vibratoed note, remembering, trying.

Suleiman Mansour, Quiet Morning

Haters Gona’ Hate

A Liberating Truth for People Pleasers

Word on the street was that Greg started a cult.
The rumor began with someone I thought was a friend. A big name on the university football team, a go-to on the field — a hater behind my back.
When I heard what he was saying, my first response was frustration. If the natural response is fight or flight, I found myself gravitating toward the former. But God was gracious, and soon I calmed down.
The emotion that took its place next, however, caught me off guard: regret. Had I said something too extreme? Had I been a little too vocal? Should I have lingered a little more at their parties and laughed a little more at their jokes? I failed to win him. And now, how many others would stay away from our Bible study because of his slander?
From there, the descent was gradual. I started to be invited out less and less. I saw pictures of different parties and cabin getaways on Facebook. Lines began to be drawn, and I was on the other side. Wallowing in self-pity and shame, wishing I had been a cooler Christian, Jesus confronted me one night through his word.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20)
Maybe I was excluded and lied about, not because I failed as an evangelist, but instead because King Jesus had chosen me. Maybe Christ was the cause. Maybe I was not of this world. If I was of this world, Jesus had said, the world would love me as its own. But if I was his own, the world would persecute me.
That night in God’s word, my weaning from people pleasing began. One of the most liberating, expectation-changing, Jesus-endorsed truths that set me free was the tried and true statement, Haters gon’ hate.
Before that night, I had sinful expectations. Secretly, I was hoping to be loved by God and the world. Secretly, I wanted God to change my life but not my reputation. I didn’t want to be a Ned Flanders. I wanted to be liked — for Christ or otherwise. I, the servant, had expected to be treated more favorably than my Master — and the world chose a murderer over him.
But I was not greater than my Master. I would not — and should not — be liked by everyone. Jesus wasn’t. I should be thought well of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) — many should see a good lifestyle and approve of it — but Jesus’s word to every follower of his would come to pass: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22).
Through my teammate’s slander, some at the university were defriending me. Instead of this being an embarrassment or a failure, it was the natural consequence of being Christ’s. I was a citizen of another realm, no longer who I used to be. And as E.T. illustrated way back in the 80s, people often dislike what they do not understand.
Do you expect to be liked by everyone?
Paul taught that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). He did not say, “Just the awkward, hyper-spiritual, loud-mouthed-and-lacking-love believer.” He said all. And to help us, God gave us a book full of godly, yet hated men and women pursuing righteousness.
Are you more well-liked than your Master?
No amount of winsomeness or political correctness will make us loveable to a world that crucified our Jesus, if he really is our Lord. And we shouldn’t seek to be the world’s friend: “Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). What will it take to make the world love us as its own? Compromise.
Proclaim Christ a little less; indulge a little more. Hide your light under a basket. Become less salty. Keep your faith to yourself. Warm yourself at the fires of this world, and keep it low-key. But Jesus offers a warning and a blessing to pierce the temptation to people please through compromise:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22)
Beware when all speak well of you. Be surprised if no one despises your faith, your zeal, your singular devotion to Christ. Examine yourself if you never give offense to anyone. You may be seeking to receive your glory from men instead of God (John 5:44). You may be striving to please man in a way that disqualifies you from serving Christ (Galatians 1:10).
But blessed are you when they hate and exclude you for his name’s sake. Blessed are you when haters hate, for it is evidence that you are his (John 15:19). “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13), but rejoice. For “it has been granted [literally, “graced”] to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Endure, and you will be sons of the Most High, and your treasure will be great in heaven (Luke 6:23).
Expecting the antagonism of our neighbors, co-workers, and family members is one of the first steps to actually loving them. If we never expect enemies, we might spend our lives trying to make sure we don’t have enemies instead of accepting it and doing good to them anyways. But Jesus assumes the world’s hostility and commands,
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35–36)
The world loves those who love them back. But when our enemies hate us — and some will — we return them good. As Charles Spurgeon quipped, kindness is our revenge. Goodness heaps hot coals on their heads (Romans 12:20), and finds a way to do it in love.
But it is hard to avenge ourselves with love when we are frantically trying to get everyone to like us. We can spend so much time trying to avoid being disliked that we never give much thought to how to respond when hate inevitably comes. We double down on our efforts to win them over, often by concealing our love for Jesus, instead of being who he has made us while doing good. God says that some will never be our friends, and he instructs us on how to respond to them: with love.
Carl Trueman observes, “A man without enemies is a man without honor.” Jesus says that a Christian without enemies is a servant unlike his Lord. And a man unlike Christ is not truly wise or happy.
Yet Jesus says,
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23)
What the world excludes, God calls blessed. The one spurned, reviled, rejected, for Christ’s name, is called child. Haters are gonna hate us because they hated him first (John 15:18). But when they do, our response is not fear, sorrow, anger, or regret. It is a joy that leaps at being associated with Christ and a love that avenges their hate with kindness.