The Church of the Future

2 Thessalonians 2:3, Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (ESV).

1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (ESV).”

The apostle Paul provided us an insight into what the future would hold for the church. His warnings were not written because he had nothing better to do than to try and scare the believers of the 1st century. The church was in its infancy, yet the problems were already present. Just about every book revealed another aspect of what they faced, and the issues were real.

For example, in Romans, he reveals a great deal of doctrine, but he also pointed out the reality that sin in the life of the believer was real. It would not be eradicated in this life but we could be thankful that we, as believers, would not be found to be under any condemnation. Nothing would separate us from the love of God, who had adopted us into His everlasting family.

Could anything have prepared the early church for the events that transpired in Corinth? Despite the debauchery that was a part of the Roman Empire being found in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul had to remind these precious believers that although many had participated in various sins, they were now clean. They had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified. Their accounts had been settled and they were no longer enslaved to the slimepits of the world in which they once loved to wallow.

The problems that were addressed were game-changers. As each scroll must have been unrolled, read, and shared, each local body of believers had to have rejoiced that their names were truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Paul picked up his quill though and continued to warn each group.

persecution-1stcentury

To the believers in Thessalonica, he lovingly encourages them by pointing out that the Lord had not yet returned. In fact, one of his greatest joys was the testimony that this local assembly had before the inhabitants of the city, and yes, even beyond the region in which they lived. This was a group that did not allow their testimony to wane. Were they perfect? Were they super pious? Did they live on some spiritual plateau where they had become free from the ensnarements of sin? No, no, and no! The Thessalonians were real people facing real threats from an empire that hated the God of the Bible first.

However, Paul then gets another parchment and writes to a young pastor named Timothy. This letter is different. He gives pastoral counsel and godly wisdom for how this young man can shepherd the flock of God carefully, biblically, prayerfully, and lovingly.

In the middle of this epistle though, Paul uses a phrase to show the importance of what he is about to share. “The Spirit expressly says…” We understand the inspiration of the entire Word of God, yet, under that inspiration, his words point out a solemn truth that was meant to be a word of warning to Timothy.

When I began teaching in a ministry capacity over 25 years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that the blood-bought church would be where it is at today. Were there cults to deal with? Yes, of course. Were books being written based on, at best, shady theology? Again, we affirm that there were such books.

However, had you told me that so many churches and even entire denominations would depart from the faith in such record numbers, I would have struggled to believe such a thing to be possible.

To have been told that the proliferation of local assemblies would involve being willing for many ministers to become a Judas and sell-out their testimony and the Word of God for the purposes of entertainment or for profit, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Believers have gone from a hunger for the Word of God to having itching ears. They want to hear nice platitudes that make them feel good about themselves. Churches no longer want to hear about sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. Padded pews keep people comfortable while they learn how to have a higher level of self-esteem. We are now so full of ourselves in many churches today that there seems to be a self-imposed moratorium on the Holy Spirit’s working in our midst.

Today, an overwhelming number of pastors and churches are more interested in hearing “Judge not!” from each other than they are interested in hearing God say, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Judgment is coming!”

Above all else, we have smoothed sin over to the point where churches are looking for ways to embrace it, instead of calling sinners to repentance. Step on board a blogsite, Facebook post, Twitter feed, or whatever medium you choose and dare to speak out and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It won’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes before people who have never spoken to you before arise from the dark mists of the internet to shout you down. “How dare you judge?” “Who do you think you are? God?” “We are called to just LURVE everybody without question!” Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

And the words of the Spirit to the church at Ephesus rings out saying, “You have left your first love. You no longer hold Christ preeminent over all others and to the exclusion of all others.”

Sadly, the clarion call to repentance has mostly fallen on deaf ears and now we have truly become closer to the model of the Laodicean church, “You are neither cold, nor hot, but you are lukewarm. I will vomit you out of my mouth.” There is not one good word that is ever said about the church at Laodicea. They had passed the point where there was no turning back. The writing was on the wall.

21stcentury

Today, I look at the 21st century church and realize that the 1st century church would not recognize us today. They would probably wail with despair realizing that we are not prepared for persecution. From the pulpit to the pew has capitulated to the world so much that some may well be willing to sit in the arena looking down on those being sacrificed to the lions.

It is heart-breaking to realize that if and when persecution comes the words of warning will fall on mostly deaf ears. Brother will turn against brother, children against parents, parents against children, and so-called believers against true believers as they ignore the reality of the dangers that were there all along.

Dear believers, if you are not willing to stand for something, then you will fall for anything. We must seek forgiveness from our Lord and with humility dust off our armor. We need to prepare for the fight of our lives and become like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress when he was willing to face the dangers of Vanity Fair.

The world mocks our “standards” when they look just like the standards to which the world adheres. Why should they want what we claim to have that makes us special if we look the same on Sunday as we did while partying with the world on the Saturday before? If our music, words, actions, and attitudes look no different week after week, month after month, and year after years, then we cannot claim to worship and adore the only One Who has the power to make us a NEW creation in Christ.

God does not save us to leave us wallowing in our sins. That simply means that the world can change to accept all the wickedness it wants. Even, the so-called church can accept all the evils of the world and call evil to be good or good to be evil. However, the day will never come when it is acceptable to God.

To conclude, the 21st century church of the future is failing as the church for the present, and they are a far cry from the church of the past. Are there any who will mourn when our children reject biblical Christianity because of the hypocrisy they see from parents? Will any be willing to weep as did Nehemiah over the sin that surrounded him? Will those who are true believers recognize that while Paul recognized the sin within his own life that grace abounds so that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin anymore than he did?

My prayer remains that God will begin a work of revival within my own life and heart so that I will be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Then, I want to see the Holy Spirit move in a way that helps other true believers realize that there are still 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The end result is that when those who come after us look back, I want them to say with full confidence that the church of the past left a testimony for the true Church of the Future!

Growing Old With Grace

When I was young, old age never bothered me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to even remember a time when I wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to grow old. It was other people that grew old – like grandparents. However, it is amazing what almost five decades will do to one’s perspective.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of the passing of years as someone I really did not know passed away and went to be with the Lord they loved. This individual was quite elderly and known to others I love. This brother in Christ had spent years sharing and teaching the Word of God. Despite being racked at times with pain, the main diseases that was eating him away was not what ultimately took him from this life of toil and pain. He closed his eyes in sleep as his heart gave out and woke up in a place where he would never sleep or be in pain again.

When I heard the news, I was reminded again that time is creeping up on us and flies back so quickly. James put it so succinctly when he said in James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

vapor

As I write this, it is a special day for another reason. Forty-four years ago today, in the cold, wind-swept, bone-chilling landscape of the country of Iceland, a healthy young boy was born. Almost from the first day my brother was brought home from the hospital, he was happy. He was the life of the party and often the clown. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but John David made the most of whatever oppositions got in his way.

In late 1995, John had just left the USAF with an honorable discharge and was making a home for himself in North Carolina. He had found a body of believers that he dearly loved and he had spent time with the men on a retreat where his heart was stirred to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, all of that changed when he went to work one cold November morning. I received a call that I should meet at the hospital. Arriving, I found out that my brother, who was less than 5 years younger than me had passed away at the young age of 22. He had acquired an infection in his heart and when his heart exploded, he was gone before he hit the floor.

That was 21 years ago. There are still times the pain and loneliness of not hearing his voice or the endless jokes is emotionally difficult. Even back then, we spoke of him lovingly at the funeral and afterwards, but old age was still a long ways off. I didn’t really dwell on the reality that it was still going to come for all who are left to face the world.

Far from this maddening world, my brother no longer has to walk the dark paths of these Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called them. John’s path led him to a promotion that is far better than anything he could have experienced in this life. In fact, the moment he crossed from death into life, the joys he would have known would have been crowned by meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. That is not something that any true believer would want to take away from another believer. Yes, we miss those who have gone before us, and we can hope that others will miss us when it comes time for us to depart this life.

However, until it is time for us to close our eyes to sin, death, and the grave, we must focus on living our lives in such a way that we will hear, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!” We have no reason to fear the door of death. For the believer, the door is only the opening to the wonders of what eternity holds and the half can never be told this side of heaven.

To me, this world is not really my home. I grow tired of the pain and the struggles that assail the flesh and the heart. If I should be left another 10, 20, or 30 years, I struggle to accept that more illnesses and heartache may well be my lot in life as it has been for much of my life.

inheaven

Each year that passes, I strangely find that growing old is something that did not really sneak up on me. Each year was filled with memories that resonate in my mind and heart. Each memory, whether good or bad or indifferent or sad or happy, was created as I lived the path that God had ordained for me to walk. One day, those memories may be forgotten as I get even older, but it will not diminish what I have been allowed to do by a gracious God who has been more merciful and gracious to me than I have or will ever deserve.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and year to year. The time is precious and should be spent without regrets before the Lord. I do not fear the age I have become, but I welcome it because it puts me closer to the day when I will see the saints who have gone before me. I will see my grandparents, my brother, and friends who loved the Lord as well.

Growing older does have both advantages and disadvantages, but knowing what comes next makes the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As believers, we are called to endure this race. Whether we are called to go at a young age or at an elderly age, our race is being encouraged on the sidelines of heaven by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Therefore, it behooves us to run the race while looking to Jesus Christ alone!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1, 2

Moving Forward

Hello Brothers and Sisters,

Of recent times, I have been doing much soul-searching in particular as it applies to Defending Contending. I have seriously considering everything from closing it down to transferring ownership to another person. However, the more I have considered this, the more tense I became. This was not because it has been mine for so long, but because this has been an opportunity that the Lord has used to help me to grow and to be able to share with others. I have been writing at Defending Contending for 9 years come the end of January 2017.

During that time, there have been things I have both read and written that I have cringed. There are posts written that have caused my heart to break before the Lord and I have had to seek repentance for my own stubbornness and lack of Christ-likeness. We have gained many viewers and lost more than we have gained. I believe that we are in a state of flux within evangelical Christianity and my heart has long been to reach out to our readers in a way that still point out the truth without being hateful, spiteful, or vitriolic in any manner even when we disagree with others.

With that in mind, I believe for the time being that a change in direction will be a profitable move. I want to lay these out just briefly.

climateoftruth

1. A new name – Truth In Grace — Reason is simply because we are truly called to preach and teach truth, but I believe we are called to do so with grace. The new picture on the website says, “Truth without grace is a prison; Grace without truth is chaos.”
2. A new tagline – “Sharing truth and faith in a spirit of love and grace.”
3. A new direction with posts
4. Additional contributors — I have just this evening reached out to two people that I believe could be a blessing to our readers.

I believe that this new direction, name change, and tagline are still very much in line with where The Pilgrim was going with the blog when he started it. Yes, we have all had to learn and I pray this will continue to reach others with a gracious spirit years in to the future.

However, I know that with the additions and changes, there will be other differences to deal with which is another reason for writing. Not all of us, even now, are in full agreement on every aspect of doctrine. I have no doubt that our differences are not salvific in nature, but I also understand that can be debated by some if they choose a hard line on some points.

For example, through the ages, men like Spurgeon, Sproul, MacArthur, Wilkerson, Conway, Baucham, Lloyd-Jones, etc. would have all agreed on many points of foundational truths that are unassailable, but they would have disagreed on some doctrines that, in my humble opinion, do not make a difference in whether a person is a true believer or not. Another example would be where Lloyd-Jones stood on the work and role of the Holy Spirit as compared to say Sproul or MacArthur. Yet, I have no doubt that they would have been gracious to each other and would have learned from each other.

Many of you know that I hold to the doctrines of grace, but it is not a drum that I have ever made a point of beating others up on. I can respectfully agree to disagree with another and still call them my brother or sister in Christ. I can disagree on things like family integrated or Sunday school, or in the style and meaning of missions, or in the version or music styles I choose to use and still call the other side of the coin a brother or sister in Christ.

Not everybody who has or who will write at DefCon are staunch Calvinists. Each of us are at different points in our Christian walk, and even one who is mature in the faith in many areas can still have much to learn as though they were a new believer. Brothers and sisters, as I get older, my heart’s desire is that my mind would be brought into closer communion with the Lord of glory. We will not be found in glory based on or divided into groups according to what we believed on certain issues. We will be in glory because of what Christ alone has done for us.

I know that each of you will have to make decisions as to what direction you will go into the future. As for me, this is where I believe the Lord would have me to walk. My issue will be that every post provides encouragement, edification, or exhortation according to the principles of God’s Word. Simply put, my intention is not to linger on one issue, one doctrine, or even appear as though we are nothing but a discernment blog. The new blog will be so much more, as the Lord blesses and is glorified.

If you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns, please feel free to reach back out to me.

I am so thankful for all we have been through down through each season that you have been part of our readership. My prayer is that this will continue for a long time, but it needs to move in a new direction effective immediately. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ even if we do not ultimately agree in the end. Thank you for your understanding.

In Christian love and grace,

Mark Anthony

No Disappointment

Disappointment is defined as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”

There are many things in life that can and do cause disappointment. Disappointments are like storms that can threaten to overwhelm your heart and soul. It could be the loss of a promotion when you feel that you were qualified for the position that was given to another person. Maybe the disappointment brings sadness when holiday times do not measure up to your hopes or expectations.

What about when your children do not follow your commands? We say that they have disappointed us. Simply put, our minds and hearts are sad or displeased because our children failed to live up to our hopes or expectations.

As we grow older in life, we find that our hopes or expectations of a good long life free of health issues produces disappointments. We realize that life is not easy and that our hopes continue to be dashed with each advancing year and trip to the doctor. One day they take tests and reveal a life-threatening illness, or maybe they are just not able to determine what is causing the severe pain. Either way, we have feelings of sadness because this is not what we could have imagined when we were young and in excellent health.

calmstorm

Life is full of times that cause sadness and displeasure. Life is full of sadness because we are fallen creatures. Sin has caused our minds and hearts to run from what is perfect or ideal in each situation. Our chosen paths do not reflect the image in which we were created and thus we end up with more sadness and displeasure.

Our hopes and expectations do not come to fruition and then we try to make sense of the aftermath. What do we do with that disappointment? Do we allow it to overwhelm us or do we strive to rise above the clouds of despair and set new goals?

The Scriptures are full of times when disappointment was the order of the day throughout different periods of history. Adam and Eve must have been disappointed when they learned the news of Cain killing his own brother. Despite having prepared for 120 years, Noah must have felt a keen disappointment that there were only seven other people in the boat with him while the remainder of the world perished.

Surely, Joseph was disappointed when he was sold into slavery by his brothers and realized that he would probably never see them again. Yet, there was a ray of hope, grace, and redemption at the end of the account. Joseph and his brothers were ultimately reconciled and Joseph revealed the answer to life’s most poignant disappointments.

Are you ready for this? In this answer, you too can understand what many cannot or will not grasp. The answer to all the disappointments is a full recognition of who is in charge of every aspect of your life. Without taking full knowledge of this answer, you and I will long struggle with what happens to us from day to day. We will continue to be filled with sadness and displeasure when our hopes and expectations flee from us like dew before the morning sun. As James 4:14 puts it so eloquently, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Joseph had to go through a great deal of disappointments in order for him to finally learn the truth. Life was not about him. It was not about his brothers. In fact, life was not even about the hardships that he had endured. Was his life full of various disappointments? Yes, of course, but those disappointments are not ultimately what made Joseph such a wise person.

His point of wisdom is found in Genesis 50:20.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

The Hebrew word for evil is also translated in other verses as wickedness, mischief, hurt, trouble, affliction, adversity, harm, or sad. In other words, it is not just the evil out of the heart of man that God means for good to us. There is a reason why you are going through the disappointments of life.

To take the cue from Joseph, maybe we should memorize this verse in Genesis 50. When the disappointments of life come, then we should be learning to say:

“As for you, you meant hurt or trouble or affliction or adversity or disappointment to or against me, BUT God meant it for good.”

joseph

Understanding this will enable us to put aside feelings of sadness and displeasure when it seems like our lives are falling apart. Instead of allowing disappointment to overwhelm us like shadows in the valleys of life, we can appreciate verses like James 4:15 where the apostle continues by sharing with true believers, “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

Or, we can even appreciate opening up the wonderful passage in Romans 8 where we learn that all the things that God is working together in our lives is for the express purpose of making us more like His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the total sovereignty of God in action. Our biggest problem as true believers is that we fail to note this every day. Disappointments come and go, yet one thing remains sure –

There’s no disappointment in Jesus!

*****

There was a hymn written before World War 2 that is rarely heard anymore, but I leave the words for you to consider. May they be an encouragement to your heart and mind.

There’s No Disappointment in Jesus

1) There’s no disappointment in Jesus,
He’s more than my tongue can tell;
His love is so sure
And so steadfast,
His friendship divine will not fail.

Chorus
There’s no disappointment in Jesus,
He’s all that He promised to be;
His love and His care
Comfort me everywhere;
He is no disappointment to me.

2) There’s no disappointment in Jesus,
Tho’ sorrows may press me sore.
He comforts with tender compassion,
His love cheers my heart evermore.

3) There’s no disappointment in Jesus,
He satisfies me alway;
So strong and so willing to help me,
In Him I find comfort each day,

John C. Hallett © 1940 Renewal 1968 Word Music, LLC

An Encouraging Thanksgiving

Dear Reader,

With all the hubbub about the recent US Presidential election still not over, I felt it would be appropriate to go a different direction with this post. May it be an encouragement to you as we enter a very special season.

In the UK, a special day reminds us to be thankful and is often called Harvest Sunday or Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday. Many churches gather together and have a large display of crops from the surrounding farming lands. They give thanks to God that stomachs are not empty, pantries are stocked, and another year of working in the fields has come to a productive end.

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In the USA, schoolchildren are taught that Thanksgiving came about as a way to thank the Lord for bringing the Pilgrims through a bleak winter where many of them died. Proclamations were made for a Thanksgiving remembrance by various officials until,

“As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, ‘as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.’”

Oh, how is it that we have fallen so far from such a proclamation about what we should be doing. This year though there will be no prayer to Almighty God. Our nation has become a nation where the vast majority prefers to live in a way that emulates the Book of Judges. “Every man (and woman) does that which is right in their own eyes.”

The apostle Paul could have easily been seeing the future when he wrote Romans 3:18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This once great nation, established as one nation under God, has crumbled. It has gone from being a moral and upright democracy to a nation that has no morals. We are not an immoral society but have gone far beyond that point.

Even a vast majority of those who claim the name of Christ have determined that, in the words of Doris Day, “Que sera, sera.” Whatever will be, will be. The world and the church glibly sings, “The future is not ours to see. Live for the moment. Eat, drink, and be merry.”

Yet, the future is there to behold to the eye of the saint who is watching, waiting, and working for the return of her Beloved Bridegroom. The future holds so much hope and promise knowing that one day we will no longer have to remain living in a human shell that still craves at times what was paid for on the Cross of Calvary.

One day, we will no longer have to deal with even a single vestige of the old man. We will no longer have to cry bitterly with Paul as we both proclaim, “O wretched man, who will deliver us from the body of this death?”

This last week, I read more than one person who thinks a large percentage of Americans are true Christians. Several have expressed hope in the new US President-Elect, yet within days of having won the election is already waffling on his promises.

Many think that we should just wear safety pins to show everybody they are loved and accepted just as they are with no change required. What a travesty that all of this has so permeated the church to the point that believers look almost identical to the world.

The church-at-large has failed. Let me reiterate that – THE CHURCH-AT-LARGE HAS FAILED. Miserably. Conclusively. Totally.

However….

Elijah was reminded that there were 7,000 who had still not bowed the knee to Baal. In like manner, I want to remind those who are true believers that there are others who have not bowed their knees to the Baals of this world. My hope is not found in politics. It is not found in a bank account. It is not built on failed promises that will never be kept by mortal men.

This Thanksgiving season is one that I choose to remember the glory of the Risen Christ. It is a season that I choose to remember the price that was paid so that I can reign with Him on high. This year, I will again bow the knee and heart and give thanks with a grateful heart. A true heart of Thanksgiving will not be destroyed by the depravity of the world around us. We will and MUST remain grateful and keep our eyes looking up to the prize that is set before us.

Our Lord went to the cross and despised the shame. It is from that Cross that He calls us to TAKE UP our cross and follow Him. As strangers and pilgrims, we are not called to bind ourselves to this world that C.S. Lewis rightly called, “The Shadowlands.”

Lord willing, a few of us will be writing and sharing words of Biblical encouragement during this season. Yes, there will still be a depraved world to live in, but we can encourage one other with these words as Paul was eager to remind the Thessalonian believers.

My desire is not to point out the fallacy of all that is transpiring in the world. I do not want to get to the point where I say, “See, I told you so.” My heart is to share with you and encourage you to such a point of thankfulness that when we close our eyes on this earth and wake up in the arms of our Blessed Redeemer that we will be able to say, “The half has never been told!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just to Clarify

Just to clarify if there are any questions, Defending Contending will NOT endorse any candidate in this election. Both candidates hold positions that defy the laws of God. This is not about the economy, Benghazi, lies, treason, their lack of theology, or anything apart from following the Scriptures when it comes to making decisions that will impact our lives as we stand before God.