Errors of Bethel & Jesus Culture

DEFINING DECEPTION

I am approached often regarding the ministry of Bethel Church in Redding, California (and subsequently, music that outflows through their musicians Jesus Culture). For weeks, I’ve prayed about how best to respond, not desiring to present a statement out of context, gossip, assault the true body of Christ, nor give any further attention to a ministry that is frighteningly far from biblical truth. An opportunity presented itself recently when a friend provided me with a Bethel post “God, Bad, & the Ugly” from Kris Vallotton who is considered, along with Bill Johnson, the chief leader/prophet for Bethel Church in Redding. So, instead of providing thoughts out of context, I will simply provide biblical response to his publicly made statements regarding Bethel’s ministry philosophy.


Author’s Note: After reading over his comments, I did not laugh nor mock, but more than anything shed tears. It appears that Bethel desperately desires to “mainstream” their church but cannot synthesize…

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What about when I really mess things up?

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“Why did I do that?”
You ask yourself, as you hold your head in your hands. You go through what you did/said/thought and find yourself in even more disbelief at what has happened.
Now you have face the question:
‘’What do I do now?’

The reality is that as Christians we will go wrong, we will find ourselves saying, doing and acting in ways that are so far removed, so different, from what we know to be right.
One of the most common thoughts of new Christians is that they will never sin again, that now they have seen the wonderful saving power of our God, they will never again fall into sin.
Let me assure you, as someone that has been a Christian for ~11 years; this is something that you soon realise is not possible.

As Christians we are saved by the life, death and resurrection of our perfect Lord and Saviour.
We are covered by his righteousness, so why then do we still so often find ourselves getting things so wrong?
The simple answer is we are still human, not that this is any sort of excuse, but it is our reality. We are saved, our salvation is secure, but we still live our lives in this sinful world, our flesh, sin is still in our lives (although we are no longer controlled by it).
Paul often talks about the Old Man and the New Man, these two warring forces, our sinful human nature and our new nature in Christ [Romans 7:24-25]


So what do we do when we mess things up, when we have sinned?

For some help let’s look at some of Psalm 51, written by David after he had been confronted with his awful sin with Bathsheba. [2 Samuel 11]

v.3 ‘For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.’

We know that the Holy Spirit living in us and our own conscience convicts us of our sin, we can’t seem to stop thinking about it, no-matter how often we try and distract ourselves it just keeps appearing in front of us. David, in Psalm 32 mentions what happens if we try and put our sin to one side, if we try and just ignore it:
“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
Pretty vivid and clear images used by David to describe the reality of trying t hide our sins from God, it never works out well for us.

 

V.4 ‘Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge’

See, the reality is that no matter who else our sin may affect, we only ever sin against God. We do wrong to others, hurt them, offend them etc. But we only ever sin against God. And that’s why sin is so very serious, we are doing wrong against God and his law. We are going against the commands of the ruler of creation, against the one who controls and sustains all things. Sin is serious.
The Shorter Catechism describes sin like this:
“Q:What is sin? 
A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”
Even though David wronged Bathseba and her husband, even though he had ruined their lives, he still acknowledged  that his sin was against God.

Before we seek forgiveness from anyone we may have hurt in our actions, we have to turn first to God and recognise, like David, that it is against God we have sinned. Only then can we go on to seek to repair the damage we have done to others.

v.7-9 ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow … And blot out all my iniquities’

David cries out that God would cleanse him, Hyssop was a herb used in the ceremonial cleansing ceremonies as well as in medinces to clean wounds etc.
David lived in the time before Christ, although he was close to God he still did not have the access to God that we have today through Jesus.
We don’t need to use any sort of ceremonies to be forgiven from our sin, we must just come before God and repent, cry out that he would forgive us our sin against him.

It’s when we know we should come to God in prayer that it’s often the hardest to do, we find ourselves doing any & everything to avoid coming to God in prayer and in reading scripture. My friend, I know it’s hard – but if you do nothing the pain will only grow worse, and you will only become more cold and distant.

v.11 ‘Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.’

Once we are saved the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, and He will never leave us [Ephesians 1:13-14,  Acts 2].
But our sin, if we do not repent of it, will badly affect our relationship with God. The work of the Spirit in our lives will be stopped for a while, we will ‘grieve the Holy Spirit’ [Eph4:30], in that happening we will begin to feel from God.
To feel far from God is not a good palce to be it is cold and it is lonely, our salvation will never be taken away from us. But, for a time, God will remove from us the sense of His presence.
Sin is horrible, it is disgusting, and if we leave it unconfessed it will take a real toll on our walk with our God and Saviour. Our salvation is secure in the finished work of Jesus, but as long as we try and hide our sin, and ‘carry on as normal’ we will feel cold, distant, and miserable in our walk.

My friend don’t let sin sit in your heart, turn first to God, confess and repent. He will hear you, he will respond, he will forgive you.

In his hymn “From the Depths of Woe”, Martin Luther wrote these wonderful words:

‘Though great our sins and sore our woes,
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free.
From all their sin and sorrow.’

 

Hope, On Even The Darkest Of Days (Psalm 88)

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The sun rises behind the dark cloud, you’ve been waiting all night just to watch the dawn; hoping it will somehow lighten your hopelessness.

You feel like you cannot cry anymore, no-one cares, no-one listens, no-one understands.

Worries, questions, depression, doubts, and anxiety weigh in on you.

And, after a night of pain, searching, and sobbing prayers, you feel as if even heaven has shut it’s doors to you; your feeble words not even passing past the walls.

My friend, can you relate to this, do you know this place?
Perhaps you find yourself here even as you read this. If this is you, keep reading, you are not alone.

First, take a few minutes and read Psalm 88

This Psalm has often been dubbed as being the ‘darkest passage of Scripture’, and you can immediately see why. The writer jumps straight into the reality of their situation:

O Lord, God of my salvation, 
I cry out day and night before you. 
Let my prayer come before you; 
incline your ear to my cry! 
For my soul is full of troubles, 
and my life draws near to Sheol”

There’s no doubt they are in a bad place, so bad in fact that they feel as if they are close to death itself:

“[I am] like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, 
like those whom you remember no more
for they are cut off from your hand”

Not only close to death, but as if God has cut them off from himself, as if they have been left completely on their own.
And rather than turn the corner, rather than the Psalmist being relieved from his pain and misery, it appears to only deepen, I think verses 6-7 really summarise the situation:

You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. 
Your wrath lies heavy upon me, 
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah”

As you read to the end of the Psalm, you will see that his situation does not improve, in fact his complaints grow and it only seems to get worse and worse.
So the question has to be asked, where is the hope in this Psalm?!

Let me offer 3 glimmers of hope from the Psalm:

  1. Honesty
    This Psalm plainly reminds us that believers will, and do, face times of great pain, sadness, and trial.
    We live in a sin-broken world, a world that has been marred with evil. And that will be felt in the life of the Christian, just as much as in that of the non-believer.
    The only difference is that the Christian is held secure by the eternal promise keeping creator of the universe – that’s not to say we will always ‘feel’ this, but it is a reality nonetheless.
    I know of a believer that has suffered deep depression for ~10 years, they said that this Psalm and it’s honesty was a great help to them, in the midst of the darkness it helped them put words to what they were going through.
  2. Sovereignty
    On first reading it does sound as if he is blaming God for all that is happening to him, ‘You have caused..’,’You have put..’ etc. (See also Psalm 42)
    Rather than blame, this appears to be recognition of the sovereignty of God.
    He is King, He rules and, He reigns. And He is allowing these things to take place in the life of the man, now this might sound like a strange comfort, but we have to ask ourselves what’s the alternative?
    Well, a God that is not in control, that is not Sovereign, that can do nothing about a situation, not a God worthy of any worship
    Instead we see in this Psalm, as we do throughout all of Scripture our God reigns supreme. And all is done according to His perfect will and plan, which ultimately will lead to His name being glorified and for the eventual good of his beloved people (Romans 8).
  3. Prayer
    As we read this Psalm, we are reading a real prayer of a real person, who really suffered and felt what they then wrote down.
    Even though the Psalmist declares God had ‘hidden his face’ from him. He still carries on the rest of the Psalm, he still offers his prayer up to God.
    Because Jesus is our intercessor, because He alone carries our prayers to the Father, because He himself continually offers up prayers on our behalf, we can have the confidence to carry on praying – even in the midst of darkness.  (Hebrews 7:25)
    Knowing, not only, that our prayers are heard, but also that our Saviour knows exactly and intimately the pain and trial we are facing:“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
    Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16
    &
    “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
    For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:7-18

This is not a sermon, not a complete look at the Psalm, but just a few thoughts for any echoing similar thoughts as expressed in the Psalm.
Don’t suffer alone, read the Word,pray, pray, and keep praying.
I’d also encourage you to share your struggles with a brother/sister, ask them to pray with you and for you.

Before Light

Before the first race was run,
Before you spoke into existence galaxies, and a million suns
Before the first battle was ever fought and won
You Knew me.

Before the first darkening of night,
Before the universe blazed into light,
Before mortal man ever realised his plight
You knew me

Before the first babe cried,
Before the first man tried,
Before that man sinned and died,
You knew me

Before I ever knew your name
Before I ever understood your pain
Before my sin appeared like a crimson stain
You knew me.

 

4 Quick Tips for Christians on Social Media

 

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A terribly uninteresting look at some of my Twitter likes: Good Art, Cheesy Jokes, and Quotes that I will use and forget who said them first…

As if a growing bald spot along with greying hair wasn’t a bad enough combo, some recent convos with ‘young folk’ (I cringed writing that), has left no doubt in my increasingly shiny head; at the grand old age of 23, I am now in fact old.
So allow me in my old age to reflect on Social Media.

One thing that is clear is that social media will only continue to grow in its reach, effect, and in its uses. So, what should we (in particular younger Christians) be thinking about when we post and share online?

BeFoRe yOu aLL StArt ShoUTiNG At mE – this whole post, as most of them are, was written to myself, 4 things I have to often remind myself about.


1. This is your Mission Field
Our online presence is part of our sphere of influence, it’s part of our mission-field, just as much as our jobs, school, uni, and our homes should be. This first point will influence all the rest of our thinking. Even in the world of selfies, videos, tweets, and updates – we are still called to set apart and Holy, still called to be careful and vigilant servants of Jesus. How we present our selves on SM, how we interact with people on these sites,
these things matter to the sharing and spread of the Gospel.



2. Relax but be Ready

SM is used as the place to relax, I doubt there are many of us that have not in the past week watched all a few shows of our fave Netflix series, or caught up on the latest videos of cats/dogs/fails/ etc.
There is nothing wrong with taking time to relax and rest, and to do so on SM is fine, but we must be ready. In nearly 11 years of being a Christian the lesson I keep having to re-learn is the fact it is when I’m most relaxed that the enemy will attack.
Even when relaxing, we must remember that we are in the midst of a very real warfare, one in which we are active participants.



3. Be Careful What You Show / Like/ Share
It can be all too easy to dissociate the online world with the real, and in doing so we may perhaps sometimes be less than careful in what we are showing the watching world.
I have a face and body that I don’t want to see, never mind anyone else – but we have to be mindful that what we are showing of ourselves (including in a physical way) does not harm or effect our witness, are we doing this out of pure pride, or for other similar reasons?
Sometimes it’s not even as obvious as sharing that revealing selfie, we also have to be careful what we ‘like’ and share.
I’ve done it myself so often, I’ll like that friend’s photo – one where they are living and showing of a lifestyle that is in direct rebellion to their creator, is my like then showing support to their lifestyle?
One recent example is a Christian going out with  a non Christian, I automatically liked the photos of my friend, but then later thought I don’t ‘like’ this, it goes against what the Scripture so clearly states.
Enjoy SM, but as in real life, be careful that what you share and show does no harm to your Gospel witness.


4. Be Yourself!
For long enough all I liked and shared were sermon links, Bible quotes etc.
Now, do not get me wrong – I would never discourage that in any way, our pages and profiles should clearly reflect where we stand in relation to God.
But for me personally, I was showing myself in a way that I’m not in real life. My Saviour encompasses all of my life, but He has also granted me to have many other interests and opportunities, as He does all of his children; Christians are not one sided, our faith should influence and encourage us in all the areas of out life.
I was helping out at a camp once, one the other leaders let me know that they were glad I was nothing like the “dour and eternally serious” person I appeared to be online, during their pre-camp ‘research’.
Don’t be afraid in showing your interests and your talents – write the blogs, share the art and the poems, but as always – do so in a way that magnifies and glorifies your God and Saviour.


It does require extra work, it requires thinking through constantly what we are seeing, liking , sharing and showing. But if we are to be faithful servants its vital that we do so.

Although this is  possibly the least definitive list ever complied, hopefully it’ll help us to think these things through, as we seek to live out our lives as servants and as Salt and Light, in an increasingly dark world, both here and in the world online.
Some good resources from actual writers:
– one-voice-on-christian-social-media
– a-social-media-heart-check
– six-ways-your-phone-is-changing-you

The Unstoppable Gospel!

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Whilst flying out from Edinburgh earlier today, as the morning sun gently illuminated small towns and villages below, I found myself despairing.

As I looked down on these tilt-shifted, miniature streets and houses, the question entered my mind – just how many of those people were waking up today in the knowledge and fellowship of their God and Saviour?

How many had rejected Him?

How many had never even heard the Gospel?

All of a sudden I felt very small as I was forcibly reminded of the vastness of the task, of our mission to share the live giving Gospel in this our beautiful country.

My worry and thoughts were self-centred and self reliant, the task is incredible, and the opposition and darkness does grow day by day. The first verse of Psalm 97 came to my mind:
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad;
    let the distant shores rejoice.

Our sovereign, ever reigning, never failing God has called us to follow and to serve, and He alone will give us the means and opportunities to share the Gospel, all for His Glory.

In Church History classes we looked at the early church, a small assortment of believers, no visible attributes, by all human reckoning they should have gotten nowhere with their ‘new religion’, some words from Plinius Caecilius the Roman governor of Bithynia, as he faced a new problem:

Meantime this is the course I have taken with those who are accused before me as Christians. I asked them at their own lips whether they were Christians, and if they confessed, I asked them a second and third time with threats of punishment. If they kept to it, I ordered them for execution.

The matter seemed to me worth deliberation especially on account of the number of those in danger; for many of all ages and every rank, and even of both sexes are brought into present or future danger.

The contagion of that superstition has penetrated not the cities only, but the villages and country: yet it seems possible to stop it and set it right.

He, evidently, did not manage to contain and stop the ‘contagion’!

Here we are, 2000 years and many more miles away, and the Gospel has not, and will never be stopped.
The task is indeed massive and our calling to serve is serious, but the power of the Word of God remains the same.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
–  Romans 1:16

 

Uber to the Airport

I’m writing this, coffee in hand, from a dark corner of Glasgow airport. This will be a short one just a few thoughts – mostly because my battery is almost out and the charger is hopefully making it’s way to the correct plane, along with the rest of my luggage…

We have the instruction to be ready in and out of season. Well I’ll be honest, at 6/7am I am the most ‘out of season’ that you’ll find me.
For a wee treat to myself this morning I thought I’d get an Uber, Mohammed picked me up – a pretty cool looking guy in his mid 20’s, he had been up and working a long time before my alarm went off this morning.
We got chatting, covered the usual topics-  however, my answer of “Oh, I’m a student” didn’t satisfy him, he dug a bit deeper, so I explained that I was attempting to study to eventually become a minister.

Learning from previous previous experience, I sat back a bit and awaited the awkward silence, it didn’t come. Mohammed had plenty more questions and by the end of the relatively short journey we had covered large swathes of Christian and Islamic teachings.

So why do you care about my Uber journeys?

It dawned on me that we were able to have much of that conversation because we had both read some of the content on the other side of the fence. He was able to reference Scripture, I could bring to memory some badly mangled passages form the Qur’an.

I wan’t to make clear that this advice is not for new or even for younger Christians, the day will come, but not yet.
But if you’ve been on the walk for a while now, I would advise at least having a basic knowledge of the main differing viewpoints you will face as you go out with the Gospel.
It helps when talking to a Muslim or a J.W or a Mormon, that when they talk about Jesus, salvation, redemption, forgiveness etc. that they mean something totally different to you and I.

Study Scripture first, make sure you have a good working grasp of the theology and doctrines, always make sure that you read far more Scripture than you do any other text.

I’l be honest, once I began to look into the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon, my heart broke – its quickly apparent that these are nothing but man-made documents, written  for the benefit of the original authors, and not as the Word of God.

I know some of my dearly beloved family in Christ disagree with this method, but I fully believe that having even a basic working knowledge of the beliefs of those you talk to can enable you to share the Gospel in a more pointed and beneficial way.

[Of course, this is all humanely speaking, as with all out witnessing it is the Spirit that convicts and converts, God deserves all the praise and glory! But He does choose, in His perfect plan, to make use of us weak jars of clay]

If you want to get an insight in to basic JW/ Mormon/ Muslim teaching, Rev. Dr. James White is my go-to guy: