My wife and I often send one another links to sermons we like. Yeah, I know, romantic, huh? But, as disciples of Jesus first and everything else second, we are committed to growing individually and together in our faith walk, and listening to messages from various people helps in that walk.
We were driving back from a luncheon with my sisters and had about an hour of windshield time so once Lisa figured out how to get my car’s blue tooth to work, she fired up a Francis Chan sermon that she had sent me a few days earlier. I like Chan – I find him refreshingly honest, blunt, and challenging. This message did not disappoint!
Chan was speaking to a group of pastors from the Alliance denomination. That in itself was intriguing to me. Not so much the denomination – I think the Alliance folks are great – but that he was speaking to pastors. Knowing Chan as I do, I knew he wouldn’t pull any punches holding his fellow pastors accountable! This was going to be good!
Chan told the group that while he’s not a prophet of any sort, there are signs IN THE CHURCH of the ends times coming. Then he hit them with this verse:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)
He drove home the point that Paul was teaching Timothy what would happen in the church not outside the church and from Chan’s perspective, it clearly is happening. To paraphrase him (probably badly), he basically said that if you want to hear someone tell you that you can “Name It and Claim It” there’s a PhD out there for you. If you want to hear that gay marriage and LGBT is biblical, there’s a PhD out there who will tell you that, too! If you want to hear that you don’t have to give up your sin life because Jesus loves you unconditionally, there’s a PhD waiting for you. In fact, Chan pressed, you can find in the Christian church someone to tell you anything you want to hear.
Then he hit them: But that’s not what the Bible says.
Chan’s point to the group was that Pastors were being swayed by the culture, by the desires of the congregation, and by their own lack of faith to leave sound doctrine and preach a gospel that is more socially acceptable than the one Jesus preached.
Amen, brother – Preach It!
Every week I meet with an accountability partner and we talk about everything – our marriages, our faith walks, politics, the world, and especially our ministries. We both have felt God calling us to clear our lives of worldly things and focus more intensely on our ministries. We both have seen how other men are feeling the same way. Just the other day I had lunch with a pastor from Cape Town South Africa who is in town and we probably annoyed the entire restaurant with our conversation confirming that he, too, is feeling God’s pull. As is another pastor buddy of mine from Beirut, Lebanon with whom I met.
Clearly, Chan is feeling it as well, as other national speakers we see.
What’s going on?
One possibility that we’ve discussed is that God is really separating the wheat from the chaff in the church. There are those who are sticking to sound doctrine – that preached first by Jesus and then confirmed by Paul and the other disciples – and there are those churches that are giving the crowd what their itching ears want to hear. Notice in that verse it says there will be a “great number of teachers” not just a few. In fact, it feels at times that those bending to the desires of men far outnumber those maintaining sound doctrine.
Chan mentioned it in his address, but I can’t remember his exact phrasing so I’ll take it from here! If you look at the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, there is a clue. Certainly, those churches represent real churches in that day and age. But they also represented the Church (big C) meaning the entire church. The concept is called dual prophecy. Let’s take a look:
The first church – Ephesus – lost its first love. It forgot in all its work to focus on Jesus.
The second church – Smyrna – is doing a good job and commended for standing firm under hardship and persecution
The third church – Pergamos – is idol worshipping and putting false gods ahead of Jesus
The fourth church – Thyatira – is being seduced in some way by a false teacher
The fifth church – Sardis – appears alive but is dead, meaning it seems to be following but really is not
The sixth church – Philadelphia – is doing a good job like Smyrna
The seventh church – Laodicea – is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm and is going to be spit out of the Lord’s mouth.
So, of the seven churches, five are failing and Jesus says of the five that they need to repent or face the consequences. These are our churches today! Only two of seven churches are commended by the Lord for doing as He says. Folks, that’s only 30 percent of our churches. YIKES!
There was a great sermon by Andy Stanley (son of Charles Stanley) where he noted that Christians are always looking for the loophole. They read scripture and try to find a way out of the things they don’t like about it. One loophole is just believing the parts of the Bible you like and saying the rest is not actually God’s word. Another loophole is what is called “proof texting” where you find the verse that supports your position and ignore the rest of what the Bible says. Then there is the loophole of saying the Bible isn’t really God’s word at all but a guide book written by men to give us a moral compass, that way you don’t really have to believe any of it. Yet another loophole is claiming that God is love and ignore his holiness, righteousness and justice; OR claim God is truth and ignore His love, grace, and mercy. You see, it works both ways!
I loved that sermon because what Andy did was show how Jesus was both Truth and Grace at the same time, unlike we fallen men and women who gravitate one way or another. This is why Jesus could tell the adulterous woman He didn’t condemn her but commanded her also to sin no more! (John 8:1-11) and why Jesus could heal a man, but warn him not to keep sinning or his condition would return worse than it had been. (John 5:14) Jesus didn’t mess around; Certainly, He loves you and just as certainly he abhors sin and disobedience and commands holiness – “If you love me you’ll do what I command.” (John 14:15)
So, what does all this mean? I know for me, I get extremely frustrated with my fellow believers – including pastors and whole denominations – when they abandon our doctrine. To me, it’s apostasy and violates Paul’s command to defend the faith and not preach any other gospel than the one Jesus gives us – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8)
But I have to remember what scripture says. Jesus Himself warned that this day would come, a day when those in the church would leave sound doctrine and search out something easier. A day when teachers would teach a brand of Christianity that meets the worldly desires of the sheep instead of their spiritual needs. A day when those in the church will abandon Jesus because His way is just too hard, much like many followers did in John 6:53-66, or when Peter did because associating with Jesus was socially unacceptable (John 18:15-27)
I also have to remember that Jesus told us that we should not be surprised that the world will hate us for sticking by Him (Matthew 10:17-23), that we will be persecuted for sticking by Him (John 16:2), and yet we are to proclaim Him from the rooftops, not being afraid of any man! (Matthew 10:27-28).
The other night I was with my small group and I told them that I’m just feeling even more emboldened than before – if you can believe that – to share the truth of Jesus not just boldly but bluntly. As Christians, we spend an awful lot of time dancing around to try to make people feel comfortable with Jesus. But when I read scripture, I don’t see Jesus spending time trying to make people comfortable with Him. I see Him telling it like it is – lovingly, but truthfully. And let’s be honest, he wasn’t liked by the religious establishment, the government, the powers that be, or anyone else that found Jesus’ message conflicting with their own personal views. Sounds a lot like today!
We live in a so-called “Post-Christian” era in America where people Don’t like a God whose moral laws, decrees, and ways conflict with their own personal views. As a nation, we have become so narcissistic that we actually believe we know better than God, or as Chan once put it, we find God unreasonable, so we dismiss Him because His ways are not our ways!
We have a wood carving above our entertainment center in our living room that quotes Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” I get that in doing so we are becoming culturally unacceptable. I know that our views are no longer the mainstream and seriously conflict with those around me. But I also know that when I die I am not going to be standing before any of you; I will be standing before my Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ who is going to judge me on how I kept the faith, used my gifts, and did His will.
So, who do I follow, man or God? I will follow Jesus knowing full well it will cost me friends, family, reputation, opportunities, finances, and more. I will follow Jesus no matter the cost because He is God and I am not. My ears will not itch for new doctrines to satisfy me when I am uncomfortable with God’s ways. I will not seek out new teachers to give me permission to leave Jesus’ teachings. And I most certainly will not betray my Savior who has called me to serve Him in this ministry. I will continue to preach the Good News of a risen Savior who has given salvation to those who receive grace through faith!
I pray for our churches but am discouraged as I see more and more of them falling away. Yet, I find hope in Jesus, as always, because while this world may seem to be changing at a rate I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, Jesus has overcome the world and it is in Him we put our trust.