Wednesday, February 22, 2017

7 Ways to Practice Faithful Christian Discipleship

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

The path of Christian discipleship is not an easy one; Jesus made that clear to the multitudes and His disciples. He did teach, however, that the reward of Eternal Life in the presence of God the Father made the cost worthwhile.

As you prepare to pursue your own path - as one who disciples, or one who is being discipled – there are steps you can take to overcome many common obstacles you’ll encounter during the journey. These seven practices apply to all Christian disciples, in any capacity they serve.

1. Share the Gospel at every opportunity: Sharing the Gospel of Christ is the hallmark of making disciples, being a disciple, and attracting potential disciples. It fulfills the command of Scripture, increase the faith of those sharing the message, and shows by example your willingness to be a leader in your faith.

Preach the word; be ready in season and
out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort,
with great patience and instruction.

~ 2 Timothy 4:2 ~

2. Practice radical obedience to Christ: The Scripture is your instruction manual to a life centered around Christ; read it, use it, and follow it. A disciple isn’t a believer who shows up to church once a week and puts faith on like a sweater when it’s needed. Radical obedience to Christ guides your actions from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed for the evening. It shows God you take Him as seriously as He takes Himself.

Let your light shine before men in such a
way that they may see your good works,
and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

~ Matthew 5:16 ~

3. Live like Christ in word and deed: Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him meant to practice radical purity, love, sacrifice and obedience. That’s not something a disciple can fake; it requires an inner change, a change of the heart. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit works in the believer as a progressive process of Sanctification, but actively imitating Christ – as did the apostle Paul – helps to guide and shape the transformation.

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now
I praise you, brethren, that you remember
me in all things and keep the traditions
just as I delivered them to you.

~ 1 Corinthians 11:1-2 ~

4. Practice spiritual disciplines daily: Nothing in the human experience is accomplished without training and practice. The same holds true for spiritual disciplines. They help to develop the believer’s new inner being, and support the transformation that accompanies Salvation in Christ. Each of these disciplines – such as Abstinence, Confession, Fasting, Fellowship, Prayer, Sacrifice, Service, Study, and Worship – are found in Scripture, and were practiced by Jesus and His disciples.

For the Spirit God gave us does
not make us timid, but gives us
power, love and self-discipline.

~ 2 Timothy 1:7 ~

5. Serve as the standard, model, and example: Credible testimony happens when a believers words of faith match their deeds in the world. Excellent leaders and teachers like Jesus lead from the front; they set the standard, model the action, and serve as an example to those who follow. By the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus’ disciples trusted that He was the Christ, and therefore believed in Him. That level of trust – the type of trust for which a person would give their life – doesn’t come from words or doctrine. It comes from showing and doing. Rule #1: set the standard even when no one is watching. Rule #2: someone is always watching – see Rule #1.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word
of God to you. Consider the outcome of
their way of life and imitate their faith.

~ Hebrews 13:7 ~

6. Be a humble servant, prepared to serve: Jesus made His mission clear to His disciples: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In any field, the best leaders began as excellent followers; their leadership style reflects their commitment to serve. Jesus gave God the Father glory for everything, and kept no glory for Himself. A faithful disciple of Christ does the same.

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who
do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility;
perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.

~ Zephaniah 2:3 ~

7. Practice full transparency and accountability: During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He had nothing to hide, nothing to hold back, from His disciples. A faithful disciple of Christ cannot be double-minded, engaged in sin in the darkness, while practicing faith in the light. That type of duality leads to fear, guilt and weakness. Every believer will sin; that’s a certainty. Once those sins are confessed they are removed, the slate is wiped clean, and a clear conscious is left in its place. Habitual and intentional sin, however, cannot be hidden forever, nor should it be. Transparency and accountability builds the level of trust needed for others to believe in the Gospel of Christ, and to follow it as Jesus’ disciples did: without questioning, wavering or quitting under pressure.

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and
will not come into the light for fear that their
deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by
the truth comes into the light, so that it may
be seen plainly that what they have done
has been done in the sight of God.

~ John 3:20-21 ~

I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Be Blessed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jesus Always Protects His Disciples from Hell

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

Jesus gave all who heard His voice a clear understanding of the risks, costs, and rewards of following Him. During His earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled the mission given by God the Father: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Many modern churches focus on Eternal Life without ever discussing the penalty for rejecting Christ. Many Christians joyfully discuss the Good News of the Gospel, without ever warning others of the bad news for making the wrong choice. Although the topic may be difficult to discuss, disciples of Christ must be willing to bring the truth to a world of non-believers.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as
a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and
cast them into the fire and they are burned.

~ John 15:6 ~

From the Gospel of Matthew (5:22) to Revelation (20:14), Scripture reveals Hell as a physical place with real consequences. In the King James Bible (KJV), the word “hell” appears 31 times in the Old Testament, and 23 times in the New Testament. When Jesus taught about Hell – a burning lake of unquenchable fire – what were the images in His disciple’s minds? The Old Testament gives a horrifying description of the image of Hell.

In fact, Hell is much worse than the description.

In the original language of the New Testament, the word “Hell” (γέεννα / GEH-eh-nah) means “lake of fire.” The visual imagery originates from the Old Testament, in a valley found south and west of Jerusalem: The Valley of Hinnom
Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north” (Joshua 5:8).
King Ahaz, a leader of the Jewish people, turned his back on God the Father and worshiped the evil god, Molech. His occult practices included idol worship and sacrificing human children.
Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel” (2 Chronicles 28:3).
King Ahaz died, and was eventually replaced by King Manasseh, whose evil rivaled that of Ahaz. His practices were equally horrific; the phrase “pass through fire” is a delicate way of saying “burning children alive.”
He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:6).
King Manasseh’s practices were so evil before God, the Lord told Jeremiah He was changing the name of the valley from Ben-Hinnom to the Valley of Slaughter.
Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the Valley of Slaughter” (Jeremiah 19:16).
In the middle of this succession of evil leaders, one righteous man before God took charge: King Josiah. By the Josiah began his rule of the Jewish people, the Valley of Slaughter became known as the Valley of the Drum. History records a time when so many infants and children were being sacrificed to the evil god Molech, drums were beaten 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, to drown out the sound of their screams.

The righteous King Josiah brought an end to this practice, and restored religious order for the Jewish people.
He also defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech” (2 Kings 23:10).
King Josiah converted this deep valley into a refuse and sewage dump for human waste, spoiled food and dead bodies. The rotting flesh and food couldn’t be buried; they had to be burned. The decomposing flesh produced methane gas that burned 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. The Valley of Slaughter became, quite literally, a burning lake of unquenchable fire.

Imagine the combined, documented history of these three kings, and the images it evoked in the minds of Jewish disciples that lived in the region and knew Jerusalem’s history:

1. Worship of the evil deity, Molech;
2. Witchcraft and sorcery;
3. Divination and evil spirits;
4. Human sacrifice;
5. Babies and children burned alive, 24/7;
6. Screaming and agony, 24/7;
7. The smell of rotting flesh, 24/7;
8. Thick, black clouds of putrid smoke, 24/7;
9. Methane gas fires with flames hundreds of feet high, 24/7;
10. An angry God punishing the Jewish people for turning their backs on Him, 24/7;

That’s a real scene from documented history; temporary, and happening in the world. Most Christians wouldn’t want to live near that type of place.

Now imagine the same scene, albeit indescribably worse. This time, you’re not living near it; you’re living in it. This time, it’s not temporal (your body), it’s spiritual (your soul). This time, it’s not temporary (a few hundred years), it’s eternal (hundreds of billions of years … and more). 

However, this time there’s one thing noticeably missing: God. There are no appeals, no petitions and no one to answer your prayers. The judgment is final and you’re on your own.

This is the imagery Jesus and His disciples had in mind when they preached the kingdom of Heaven, and the message of Salvation. This is the reason Jesus died for our sins, and took our place in Judgment. 

This is the reason faithful disciples of Christ sleep well at night: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Be Blessed.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Jesus' Approach to Making Disciples vs. Congregants

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

In modern Christianity, the success of a pastor is often based on the size of the church. Popular opinion holds that a church with 20,000 members is more successful than one with twenty members. Is that the vision Jesus had in mind for His followers? The Bible tells us accounts of multitudes, in the thousands, following Jesus to hear His teaching. He fed them, healed them, and preached to them. After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the number of adherents to the new faith of Christianity increased exponentially.

Many Christians believe Jesus wanted the multitudes to follow Him. They also believe He wanted to convert as many people as possible during His earthly ministry – the mission of most modern churches in society today. However, Scripture reveals that to be a myth, and nothing could be farther from the truth.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus divided the people He interacted with into two categories: disciples, and everyone else. The Bible refers to those who fall into the second category as “crowds” or “multitudes.” In Jesus’ mind, they are very different categories.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples,and said
to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must
deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

~ Mark 8:34 ~

When he had left the crowd and entered the house,
His disciples questioned Him about the parable.

~ Mark 7:17 ~

In both examples above, the Scripture clearly defines the two groups as individual categories. Why is this important? His disciples viewed the world through the same lens Jesus did; the multitudes did not. This fact eludes many modern Christians.

To illustrate this point, consider the following passages from Chapter 8 in the Gospel of Luke, the Parable of the Sower.

When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable: “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Luke 8:4-8).

In this parable, Jesus explains there are four types of people that hear His Gospel (the seeds sown). The first is the one who hears, ignores the Word, and belongs to Satan. The second hears the word, and has a shallow faith that disappears under pressure. The third hears the Word, but makes worldly concerns a priority, thereby negating the faith. The fourth type hears the Word, believes it, and follows it. Those seeds of faith multiply in the fertile soil of a disciple’s heart.

Based on the Scripture, Jesus finds only one of the four categories valuable: those who hear the Word, believe it, and follow it. That’s the only type that survives and multiplies. What about the second and third types? Where do they fit into the equation? For the answer, consider the next two sentences in the same passage of Scripture.

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand (Luke 8:9-10).

Q: Does the Scripture mean Jesus was using parables to conceal His message from the crowds?
A: Yes.
Q: Why would He do that?
A: Jesus only wanted His disciples to understand His message.
Q: Who were His disciples?
A: Those who took the time to question Him, asking Him what the parables meant.
Q: What about everyone else?
A: Jesus didn’t worry about crowds of admirers, only disciples.

The time of Jesus’ earthly ministry was only 3-1/2 years. He had much to do in little time, and He knew that. He didn’t care about drawing large crowds, or measuring the success of His movement on the number of “registered congregants.” Jesus dedicated His attention to His disciples, and only His disciples.

Jesus had compassion for the multitudes; He fed them, healed them, and He preached to them. Those who listened to His message received His compassion. However, God sent His only begotten Son as part of the redemptive plan for all of humanity, and only those who followed – the disciples – got His attention.

Those who heard the Word, believed it, but were shallow in their faith – they liked the message, but wouldn’t fully commit – didn’t get His attention. Scripture makes that perfectly clear. Those who heard the Word, believed it, but were more concerned with wealth and possessions – they liked the message, but wouldn’t fully commit – didn’t get His attention. Scripture makes that perfectly clear.

A combination of modern culture, false teaching and biblical illiteracy have combined to portray Jesus’ earthly ministry as a “come one, come all” event. Scripture makes it clear Jesus was not going to waste any time fertilizing rocky soil and thorns. Many Christians at this point may ask, “If Jesus wasn’t concerned about crowds, where did His thousands of disciples come from?” That’s a great question; Scripture reveals the answer:

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst
of the disciples (altogether the number of
names was about a hundred and twenty);

~ Acts 1:15 ~

After 3-1/2 years, Jesus had about 120 disciples at the time of His Ascension: 11 primary, and the rest in supporting roles. That’s all He needed to launch His divine mission.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate
and broad is the way that leads to destruction,
and there are many who go in by it. Because
narrow is the gate and difficult is the
way which leads to life, and
there are few who find it.

~ Matthew 7:14 ~

The reward of God's promise to us, co-reigning with Christ in Heaven and spending an eternity in the presence of God the Father, is far greater than the cost we pay in the world for true discipleship. I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Have a Blessed day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Christian Apologetics: Creating Stronger Unity in Fellowship

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

The discipline of Apologetics requires a Christian to dive deeply into the Scripture, searching God’s Word for revealed truth. Every time the Bible is read, a new truth is revealed. Once the truth of Christian doctrine becomes visible, new details begin to emerge on how to apply these truths to one’s life.

Many Christians are surprised to learn the biblical truth regarding fellowship. The surprise doesn’t stem from what the Word of God says it is but, once known, how it’s currently practiced “in the church.” Christian fellowship tends to be casual, and based around events such as a worship service or church dinner. God’s Word reveals a startling truth: it was never meant to be that way.

They were continually devoting themselves
to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

~ Acts 2:42 ~

One would expect to see Christians devoted to teaching and prayer, but devoted to fellowship? This wasn’t an activity to be causally enjoyed for one hour each week; it was a discipline that was passionately pursued and enthusiastically embraced. Per God’s Word, it still is that discipline, even though the diluted brand of Christian faith experienced by most believers doesn’t meet the standard. 

The Bible is very clear on the topic: being devoted to fellowship is commanded due to its critical role in maintaining unity in the Christian faith.

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel
of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain
absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one
spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
in no way alarmed by your opponents — which is a sign of destruction
for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.

~ Philippians 1:27-28 ~

Paul was telling the church at Philippi that unity in fellowship – one mind, one spirit, standing together – was a sign of Salvation to the Body of Christ. Equally important, it was a sign from God Himself to the opponents of Christianity of their guaranteed destruction. How can that be possible? The Scripture reveals Christ gave believers the answer when He prayed for His faithful elect in the Gospel of John.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will
believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one,
as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may
be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them,
that they may be one just as We are one:

~ John 17:20-22 ~

Don’t miss the two critical truths revealed in Scripture. First, the relationship Christians have with the Triune God isn’t proximal; there’s no distance, no “God up there.” Those who profess faith in Christ are one in Them, just as Christ was one with God the Father.

Second, the unity of Christian fellowship is such that we are to be one with each other, just as Christ and God the Father are one. Why? So that Christian unity in fellowship would make the world believe that God had sent His only begotten Son.

The biblical truth of God’s Word is clear. The unity of fellowship among believers is:

1.  A commanded discipline to which we are to be devoted;
2.  A sign from God of Salvation for believers;
3.  A sign from God of destruction for opponents;
4.  The same level of unity that Christ has with God the Father.

It’s at this point that Christians look up from their Bibles, take a mental inventory of the fellowship practiced at church, and realize something isn’t right. What Christians grounded in biblical truth discover is what they’re seeing doesn’t match what they’re reading in the Bible. When Scripture – the divinely-inspired, inerrant, infallible, timeless Word of God – is in conflict with the practices of modern Christianity, it’s not the Bible that’s wrong.

How does modern Christianity find its way back to biblical truth and standards? By reading and understanding God’s Word, and redefining false perceptions commonly held by believers. In many gatherings, the pastor will say a prayer before having fellowship with a cup of coffee and a donut. However, the Bible says an aspect of fellowship is being devoted to prayer, to God and for each other.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would
grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might
through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through
faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend
with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height
—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge;
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

~ Ephesians 3:14-19 ~

Be honest: when was the last time someone prayed a prayer like this for their Brothers and Sisters in Christ? When Paul prayed for the Body of Christ in Ephesus, he was devoted and intent. A devotion to this level of prayer for each other is what a true reading of Scripture demands. Modern society may make it difficult to attend special church functions, but it can’t inhibit our praise for God, or prayers for each other.

Military veterans that experience combat know their experience creates a sense of unity and loyalty rarely matched by other circumstances. They would sacrifice their lives for each other, but would we do the same for the Body of Christ, in the version of modern Christianity practiced today?

This is My commandment, that you love one another as
I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to
lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My
friends if you do whatever I command you.

~ John 15:12-14 ~

In the light of biblical truth, what can be said for attending a worship service for one hour per week, feeling uncomfortable about being “surrounded by people we don’t know”? Given that mindset, following God’s Word as outlined in John 15:12-14 isn’t likely to happen. While that might seem a tad extreme, following God’s Word and devoting oneself to fellowship will produce less dramatic, albeit equally important, results.

1.  Christ’s love becomes more visible to the world;
2.  Devotion demonstrates a reverence for Christ;
3.  Experience mutual support and encouragement;
4.  Benefit from the prayers of other believers;
5.  Apply the Grace of Salvation in service to others;
6.  The shared experience of Christ in a diverse group;
7.  Building a strong and mature Christian faith.

That list represents only a few of the infinite number of benefits afforded the Body of Christ engaging in faithful service to God. When one understands the depth of the truth in God’s Word, perspectives change. We come to understand that if “church” is a building – offering a variety of programs designed to attract members and build a congregation – Christians are simply consumers in search of the most appealing brand.

We come to understand that if “church” is a business – a marketing and messaging machine designed to increase our equity position in Christian marketshare – Christians are simply competitors in a field with numerous players that must be defeated in order to allow the church to “win.”

We come to understand that if “church” actually means the Body of Christ – our Brothers and Sisters with whom we are stongly united in biblical fellowship – Christians are a community of believers, and members of the same Body of which Christ is the Head. That’s what Scripture, God’s Word, is calling for all Christians to understand. It will be  accomplished when believers become convicted, but before that happens, they need to be convinced. That requires reading and understanding the Bible.

From whom the whole body, joined and knit together
by what every joint supplies, according to the effective
working by which every part does its share, causes
growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

~ Ephesians 4:16 ~

I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Have a blessed day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

7 Scriptural Truths that Reveal God’s Nature

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

As modern Christianity has moved away from its biblical roots – softening its message for broader appeal, and diluting God’s Word to appease church members – the respect afforded to the Creator has diminished proportionally. Despite proclaimed reverence for God the Father, the actions and attitudes displayed by much of believers suggest they have a much different view of God than the image of Him portrayed in the Bible. 

Sermons preached from pulpits across America resonate with the message of God’s love, mercy, and grace for mankind – an unquestionable, absolute truth – but neglect the attributes that cause us to fear and revere Him.

Contemporary art and culture portrays Jesus as meek and emaciated, with effeminate features, and a passion for hugging cuddly sheep. Christians that profess faith in Christ as Lord and Savior have a disturbing tendency to view Him as a genie in a bottle, and fashioned in an image suitable to the individual needs of the believer. 

A comparison between Scripture and the views held by believers regarding Christ reveals a startling fact: God takes Himself much more seriously than many Christians take Him.

That proves to be problematic for several reasons. In the following pages, it will be clear that God’s active role in the Christian’s life, as it is throughout all of Scripture, is conditional and fluid. Nothing happens apart from God. Purposeful prayer appeals to God’s Will to act, and prayer with the power to inspire God rests on a foundation of unshakable faith. 

That level of faith – which manifests supernatural and miraculous intervention – can only be achieved through fear and reverence of the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Creator of everything: Almighty and Holy God.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who
abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me you can do nothing.

~ John 15:5 ~

Christians sleep well at night in the knowledge that God, who loved us so much He gave His only begotten Son to pay the debt for our sin, is listening to our prayers. Proverbs 9:10 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” In prayer, we have God’s attention; take that seriously. Our God that forgives sin, gives Salvation, defeats Satan and creates everything is a God to be feared, and always respected.

1.  God dwells in unapproachable light. Walking into a nuclear blast would instantly disintegrate a human body; the light, heat, wind, and power is unimaginable. Imagine the same experience in God’s presence, but infinitely more powerful. A Christian’s glorified body will reign with Christ in this Light. Being in the presence of God is no less serious to Him than the gift of Salvation is to you.

He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings
and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in
unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see,
to whom be honor and everlasting power.

~ 1 Timothy 6:15-16 ~

2.  God’s presence overwhelms the human mind. Coming in the presence of a spiritual being, such as an angel, is a terrifying experience that overwhelms the finite human mind. When studying the Bible, one discovers many instances in which an angel encounters man, and the angel’s first words are the same: “Don’t be afraid!” How much more so the experience would be when it’s God the Father.

His head and His hair were white like white wool,
like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.
His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been
made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the
sound of many waters. In His right hand He held
seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp
two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun
shining in its strength. When I saw Him,
I fell at His feet like a dead man.

~ Revelation 1:14-17 ~

3.  The angels that terrify Man tremble before God. When angels come into the presence of God’s Light, it so overwhelms them they must cover their body and face with their wings, turn their head away and proclaim, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” in fear and reverence. The fact that Christians will talk about “Guardian Angels” with honor and reverence, while at the same time taking the Lord’s name in vain, is inexcusable. 

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high
and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled
the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each
one had six wings: with two he covered his face,
with two he covered his feet, and with
two he flew. And one cried to another and
said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!

~ Isaiah 6:1-3 ~

4.  God’s power extends throughout Heaven. When Christ revealed Himself to John in the Book of Revelation, there was much activity in Heaven. One can sense the energy in the text: everything was pulsating with the power of God. Even the spot where God sits – the White Throne of Judgment – emits lightening, thunder, and a host of heavenly voices. In front of the throne are seven lamps burning with pillars of flame. The unimaginable power of our omniscient God extends everywhere.

And from the throne proceeded lightnings,
thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of
fire were burning before the throne,
which are the seven Spirits of God.

~ Revelation 4:5 ~

5.  God’s presence demands that you think before you speak. In ancient times, a King’s son had access to the royal court and could speak freely with his father. Even so, hasty speech – such as insubordination, inappropriate demands, insults, and rebellious remarks – met with severe consequences. A son could face banishment from the kingdom, or face execution. In God’s Kingdom, the first (banishment) results at once in the second (eternal death). Choose your words wisely in the presence of your Creator.

Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought
to bring up a matter in the presence of God.
For God is in heaven and you are on the
earth; therefore let your words be few.

~ Ecclesiastes 5:2 ~

6.  God demands full payment for promises. When Man violates worldly vows, God’s redemptive plan allows Christ to intercede on Man’s behalf to God the Father. When Man violates vows to God the Father and Christ, who can stand in defense? God takes promises seriously – He never goes back on His Word – and He demands we honor promises made to Him. When Christians foolishly say, “God, I promise I’ll do __ if You do __,” then don’t keep their word once the trouble passes, rest assured He doesn’t take that lightly. The trouble that prompts the impulse to make a hollow promise to God is temporary. The penalty for making an empty promise to God lasts infinitely longer.

When you make a vow to God, do not be late
in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools.
Pay what you vow! It is better that you should
not vow than that you should vow and not pay.

~ Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 ~

7.  God makes the choice between Heaven and Hell. In the Roman Empire, an accused person facing judgment would stand in the Colosseum, surrounded by thousands of spectators waiting for Caesar to rule on their fate. If the Emperor gave a “thumbs up,” the accused would live. If the Emperor gave a “thumbs down,” the accused would be put to death. In both cases, the verdict and sentence would be swift and carried out at once. The accused had no power or control over their fate, and were at the mercy of Caesar. If that scenario sounds unnerving, consider standing before a Holy God in front of the White Throne of Judgment. Unlike Caesar, God the Father is just, merciful, and loving. Unlike Caesar’s court, accused are provided representation – Christ Jesus – to act as an intercessor with God the Father. Despite that assurance, be mindful of these truths. First, the verdict and sentence will be swift, and carried out at once. Second, you have no power or control over your fate. Only a fear and respect for God the Father, and a profession of faith in His Son, Christ Jesus, offer any hope on the Day of Judgment.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are
unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him
who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

~ Matthew 10:28 ~

Understanding the true nature of God doesn’t change His relationship with us; His love, promises and gift of Salvation continues to be eternal and unchanging. However, it should change the relationship we have with Him.

In our worldly environment, the way we perceive those around us dictates the way we interact with them. If one wants to stay employed, it’s wise not to curse at the CEO of the company. If one wants to stay married, it’s wise not to lie to the spouse. If one wants to make friends, it’s wise not to be insulting when first introduced to people.

If one wants a good relationship with the Creator, and keep communion with Him through purposeful prayer, it’s wise to approach and treat Him in a manner worthy of His title: GOD.  I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Have a blessed day.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Defending Christianity in Modern America

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

Faithful Christians are under spiritual and physical assault in our modern world, and their challenges are greater than at any other time in recent history. 

Hostile religions, anti-faith ideology and politically correct governments are literally trying to destroy Christianity at its core. Concurrently, activists pursuing an anti-God agenda are attempting to rewrite the moral and ethical systems of our Western culture.

The doctrine of the “separation of Church and State” has evolved into “Suppression of Church and Secularism of State,” and contemporary Christians in the Body of Christ appear unprepared to stop the momentum of this movement.

If you were of the world, the world would love its own.
Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you
out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

~ John 15:19 ~

The external challenges faced by Christians aren’t limited to threats outside the faith; factions within the Body of Christ are having negative impacts as well. In a May 2016 interview with the Vatican’s official news publication, La Croix, Pope Francis made the following statement in response to the reporter’s question regarding Islamic terrorism:

Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest (emphasis added).

The Pope, whether intentionally or unintentionally, claims a moral equivalency exists between Christ’s Great Commission and the Islamic Terrorist’s goals of conquering Western culture and establishing an Islamic Caliphate. According to those words, a group of students sharing the Gospel at a university is similar to radicalized men in black hoods, beheading non-believers on international television. 

One of the solutions to this dilemma is training Christians in the art and skill of Apologetics. Christian Apologetics (ἀπολογία / apologesia) is a discipline of Christian theology that presents reasoned and evidential arguments for Christianity, defending it against objections. Why should Christians have an interest in this discipline? Because God’s Word, the Bible, commands it.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,
and always be ready to give a defense to
everyone who asks you a reason for the hope
that is in you, with meekness and fear;

~ 1 Peter 3:15 ~

The modern culture in which Christians live is a product of Enlightenment philosophies that qualify reason and evidence-based knowledge as rational, and faith as irrational. This thought has been elevated to such a position of primacy that Christian doctrines and beliefs have been barred from “rational discourse.” 

From a strategic perspective, it’s the task of Christian Apologetics to develop and sustain a cultural environment in which the Gospel can be heard as a viable option, that can be intellectually reconciled, for rational men and women everywhere.

This reality is further complicated when well-meaning Christian leaders make statements such as, “No person has ever come to faith in Christ using intellectual arguments,” as an argument against the need for Apologetics programs in all but Seminary programs.

That rationale is shortsighted, as it fails to consider the real condition of modern Christians, and ignores the difference between necessity and utility. While not necessary for the Gift of Salvation through faith in Christ – that’s the sole responsibility and providence of the Holy Spirit – Apologetics is a powerful asset for demonstrating the need to have faith in Christ, and therefore provides substantial benefit.

The defense of Christianity is a responsibility shared by everyone professing faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior. I pray that the Holy Spirit guides you in your studies, and brings you to a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.  Be Blessed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Combating the Teaching of False Doctrine in America's Churches

Reversing the trend of apostasy in the church is preventing believers from leaving the church completely because of “tares among the wheat.” The task of combating false teaching requires the Christian believer to engage the source of the threat itself. 

This is done directly by identifying and revealing false teachers, and indirectly by equipping Christians to avoid the environments in which these teachers flourish. The willingness to obey God, a thorough understanding of Scripture and a strong faith are the non-negotiable and critical components of a successful defense strategy.

But false prophets also arose among the people,
just as there will also be false teachers among you,
who will secretly introduce destructive heresies,
even denying the Master who bought them,
bringing swift destruction upon themselves.

~ 2 Peter 2:1 ~

Two truths regarding the presence of false teachers are revealed immediately through God’s Word. First, their existence is absolute; there will be false teachers, who will introduce destructive heresies. Second, they’re not outsiders; they’re already among you, in the church. God knew humans would be no match for Satan on any level, so He gave us His divine protection through Christ, and a look into Satan’s game plan through His Scripture as well. 

The strategy is rather straightforward: the one in control, implementing the plan, is Satan, a master of deception.

No wonder, for even Satan disguises
himself as an angel of light.

~ 2 Corinthians 11:14 ~

Satan is also a counterfeiter. He can’t create anything, so he copies God to create a counterfeit gospel and false teachings.

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called
you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really
not another; only there are some who are disturbing you
and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

~ Galatians 1:6-7 ~

Satan then plants the counterfeit gospel in the minds of his false teachers. These false teachers will insert themselves in church congregations – or lead congregations – and intentionally deceive Christians with Satan’s false gospel.

I know that after my departure savage wolves
will come in among you, not sparing the flock;

~ Acts 20:29 ~

If the false teachers are successful, their false gospel will create a new generation of false Christians. These deceived souls will be biblically illiterate, challenge the authority of Scripture, and reject the core beliefs of the Gospel of Christ.

They profess to know God, but by their deeds
they deny Him, being detestable and
disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

~ Titus 1:16 ~

The false Christians then send their children into the world, to receive further false teachings from a secularist perspective (God doesn’t exist, immoral behavior is OK, pride is required, etc.). The false secular message, mirroring the beliefs of false Christians, remains unchallenged and continues. This isn’t a situation in which a fellow Christian disagrees with a non-essential aspect of theological doctrine. 

This is a situation in which deceived souls believe they are Christian (they’re not), believe they’re saved (they’re not), and believe they will stand righteous in judgment before God (they won’t).

And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you;
depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!

~ Matthew 7:23 ~

How is it possible that well-meaning Christians, seeking a relationship with God, end up in this position? The answer is simple: people don’t read God’s Word. The deception remains because the culture doesn’t know otherwise, and eventually it replaces God’s Word as truth. 

Consider the following anti-Gospel deceptions many self-professed Christians believe to be true.

1. God won’t give you more than you can handle. Of course He’ll give you more than you can handle; life is more than we can handle. If we could handle life on our own, we wouldn’t need Christ. We can’t handle it by ourselves, which is why God the Father sent Christ to an unsaved world – to allow us to have a relationship with God in which He handles it for us. This statement is false teaching and undermines God’s Word.

2. Bad things happen to good people. Two issues arise immediately with this false teaching. First, Jesus Himself taught us there are no “good” people: And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone" (Luke 18:19). Second, to label something as “bad” – even if it appears to our finite minds to be so – is imposing our judgment on God’s Will. 

3. God helps those who help themselves. This false teaching is so anti-Gospel, it rises to the level of heresy. Christ taught us to die to ourselves, and Salvation was a gift of Grace from faith alone. Every Christian has been blessed with gifts and talents, but they are to be used for His Glory, not ours. This message – you start working first, and God will jump in when He thinks you’ve worked hard enough – should never come out of a Christian’s mouth.

4. We are ALL God’s children. We were all created by God; that fact is undisputed. However, our relationship with God the Father is not by virtue of our existence. Our relationship with the Father is a result of our relationship with His Son: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). When Christians make this statement, they are rejecting the necessity of the Cross. 

These teachings aren’t harmless; they’re anti-Scripture. If you didn’t know that, you now know how Satan deceives us.

There are a number of strategies Christians can employ to combat false teaching and teach others in the Body of Christ how to avoid this deception. It should come as no surprise that every strategy begins with the Bible.

1. Study God’s Word in the Bible. Don’t just read the Bible, study it. The Internet allows easy access to the writings, books and sermons of well-established Christians who are strong in their faith. Nothing replaces the study of God’s Word, but access to credible leaders with the proper interpretation of biblical truth provides a significant asset to those who are serious about learning sound doctrine.

2. Share God’s Word with your family daily. Parents whose faith is grounded in doctrine raise children whose faith is grounded in sound doctrine. Daily prayer, Bible study and devotionals strengthen the entire family, and allow the family’s faith to mature together. If you don’t have a worldly family with which to study the Bible, seek out your spiritual family instead: your Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

3. Reveal false teaching to your family. As knowledge and understanding of God’s Word becomes established, expose others to false teachings that are commonly held by the culture. Stand ready to prove your message with Scripture, and guide them through the process of how false doctrine enters Christian minds unknowingly. 

4. Devote yourself to fellowship in church. Armed with the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, find a church that teaches biblical truth. Once found, immerse yourself (and your family) in fellowship with the Body of Christ. Being engaged with a church not only surrounds your family with support and collective strength, it offers the opportunity to help others as well. When parents are “doers of the Word and not just hearers,” children see the example and are less likely to succumb to false teaching.

None of these strategies, practiced in isolation, will ensure no exposure to false teaching is experienced. When combined, however, they contribute to a solid foundation of sound doctrine and biblical truth. Regardless of the strategies employed, the best defense against false teaching is understanding God’s Word.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Objections to God: Atheists or Antichrists?

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

In the words of Sun Tzu, Chinese general and philosopher, “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.” The Apologist preparing to boldly proclaim and defend the Christian faith would do well to heed this sage advice.

The Oxford Dictionary defines an atheist as “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” To an atheist, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – along with fairies, leprechauns, and ghosts – don’t exist. They aren’t real. If silly “Bible Thumpers” want to waste their time in some fantasy land, let them. Who cares; just leave me alone.

Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus
is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one
who denies the Father and the Son.

~ 1 John 2:22 ~

Atheists don’t hate God. They dislike God being “imposed” on them, but they can’t hate something that doesn’t exist. This is important for Christians to know as they use the word “atheist” in their conversations. A new movement is emerging that hates God and all He represents. They want Him removed from collective consciousness, sanctioned in public discourse, and banished from progressive society. 

Supporters of this movement aren’t atheists, they’re antichrists, and Scripture gives us a clear warning.   

For many deceivers have gone out into the world
who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in
the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

~ 2 John 1:7 ~

If you’re a general maneuvering military forces through a country, it helps to know if that country is friendly, neutral, or hostile. If you expect a neutral environment, and unexpectedly encounter hostile forces instead, it won’t end well. The Oxford Dictionary defines an antichrist as “a person or force seen as opposing Christ.” Atheists are neutral; the enemy, antichrists, are not. Know the difference and prepare accordingly.

An enemy that can't be defined, can't be defeated.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Reversing the Trend of Apostasy in the Christian Faith

By:  Michael Kaplan, author of "7 Pillars of an Unshakable Christian Faith"

Christians who believe they are living in the biblical End Times are watching for signs, such as the Antichrist, the “Mark of the Beast,” and various signs revealed in Scripture. Is it possible that believers might be missing the most obvious (but least promoted) sign? It’s apostasy, and the creation of the Apostate Church. 

A person is an apostate when – with full knowledge of the Gospel, and a full understanding of God’s Word – they turn against Christ in a final act of rejection. Disturbing statistics were presented earlier in this section about the percentage of Christian youth walking away from church. 

Even more disturbing are the number of Christians that reject God’s Word and stay in the church. In many cases, they’re not congregants: they’re pastors. God revealed to Christians this would happen – it’s an absolute requirement for End Times.

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy
comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction;

~ 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ~

How can Christian Apologetics be employed to combat this problem? A believer who studies and understands God’s Word, and who’s committed to obeying God’s Word, is well-prepared to identify the signs of a person sliding into apostasy. The most obvious sign is rendering judgment on Scripture, independent from biblical history, historical theology, and Christian tradition. 

Left unnoticed and unaddressed, those who don’t walk away from their church completely will infect the Body of Christ, like tares sown among the wheat.

And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate
one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

~ Matthew 24:10-12 ~

The Antichrist can’t operate freely in a world that’s obeying the Gospel, and destroying the Christian faith directly isn’t an option. Satan has a plan to deal with this situation: dilute the faith of individual believers into a state of apostasy, infect the Body of Christ, and establish apostate churches with biblically illiterate members who remain unknowingly deceived. The only defense against this strategy is a knowledge of sound doctrine and a biblical interpretation of Scripture.

Given the apostasy evident in many pastor’s teachings, Satan would likely enjoy seeing an increase in Christian attendance at these churches. What are some characteristics of an apostate church?

  1. Pastors are more concerned with a beautiful building and increasing church membership than teaching God’s Word.
  2. Pastors deny established Christian doctrine: the deity of Christ, sufficiency of Scripture, authority of Scripture, etc.
  3. Pastors accommodating requests from the church while knowingly violating God’s Word in the process.
  4. Pastors supporting the ordination and marriage of homosexuals.
  5. Pastors not teaching why the Gospel is Good News: the bad news of sin, hell, judgment and eternal damnation.

A true believer in Christ would be repulsed by these teachings and walk away from the church. An apostate would stay in the church and make more apostates. In the hands of faithful Christians who are true to God’s Word, Apologetics is an effective tool to combat the infection of apostasy in the faith.

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