A Sidekick's Blog

A True Church is More

January 30, 2017
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According to Ligonier, the marks of the true church are:

Pure preaching of the gospel,
Pure administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and
Church discipline.

But of course, a true church ought to be more than just these. It is a place where disciples are made. It is a place where the people become a family and friendships are forged that make discipleship – and pure gospel preaching, pure sacraments, and church discipline possible.

Friendship is absolutely vital. One can belong to any church with these three marks and still never become a disciple if he or she is not open to the risk and joy of forging real friendships. We can call each other “brothers and sisters in Christ” without ever learning the real meaning of the common bond we share under our Father God and Elder Brother Jesus Christ.

That’s the hard part. In every church I have ever been a part of, with the exception of two in my childhood, I have forged no friendships at all. Lots of acquaintances, lots of people that I shared a lot in common with (music ministry, youth trips, mission trips, etc), but no friendships that fostered real discipleship to Christ. I’m lonely as can be, surrounded by people who call me “brother” but with whom I share nothing but handshakes and casual conversation once or twice a week.

I can’t say I ever really learned how to make friends, or even to be a friend.

At my age I wonder if it’s too late now.


Holy Spirit Baptism – Part Three

April 15, 2014
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This is Part Three of a four-part series on Holy Spirit baptism. Please read Parts One and Two before jumping into the middle of the story here!

Part Two ended where the great experiment – “the Church in Fort Lauderdale” – began. A link at the end of Part Two describes the experiment and it’s tragic results which linger even today. The principle founders of the movement have expressed regret for the damage, at least as far as to say, “we did a right thing a wrong way.” I am here to bear witness that they did a wrong thing, period. They failed to clearly distinguish spiritual authority from other forms of authority; most notably domestic authority, the authority of conscience, and the priestly authority that belongs to every believer in “a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6).” It was wrongly assumed that disciples were under obligation to their master until released by him. That was never so, even in bible times. Jesus’ disciples were free to walk away at any time, and in fact, many did. In this tyrannical experiment, the “penalty” for departure was condemnation – equivalent to excommunication, “let him be to you as a tax collector (Matthew 18:17).” Entire churches that saw this scheme for what it was were labeled as being “in deception,” and members of those churches who followed the movement were called upon to renounce their churches and be assigned to a new “shepherd.”

My church was soon to become one of them. My old middle school crush didn’t even know that I existed, and her dad’s preaching didn’t make sense to me anyway. So when some of the other kids from the Monday night teaching time who sat on the floor with me, literally at Bob Mumford’s feet, invited me to their church, I was anxious to go. It was a Southern Baptist church, traditional, with a piano, organ, and choir just like a “real” church was supposed to have. And it had a supercharged youth group that was oh-so-Spirit-filled, just like the few kids from my first church! It would be almost like going back to my first church, except with no danger of being kicked out for speaking in tongues! Andy, the youth pastor, was dynamic and “wise in the things of the Spirit,” and the youth group under his leadership grew large and dynamic as well. One of the church buildings was designated “The Cup,” and Friday night meetings there took the form of youth-led rock ‘n’ roll Charismatic bliss where “the gifts of the Spirit” flowed freely. Manifestations of tongues, interpretation, prophecy, and knowledge ran almost amok. It was so very different from the Sunday services, which were more traditional, but peppered with more modest “manifestations” during the song and prayer times before the sermon. The Cup was dark, crowded, and exuberant with runaway Charismatic indulgence that reminded me of my first visit to a Pentecostal church, but less put-on and artificial. I had met Andy and some of the other kids before at the Monday night “Mumford meetings,” but Friday nights at The Cup were wild and wonderfully “anointed.” I didn’t find out until later that Andy was among those being trained as a “shepherd” for the new Church in Fort Lauderdale, nor did I have any hint of the heartbreak that was soon to follow.

Before I get to that part of the story I want to convey what we kids meant when we talked about “the anointing,” or about so-and-so being “a really anointed teacher,” or “that song is really anointed.” For us, a person or event that was “anointed” was one that had a special spiritual power. “Wow couldn’t you just feel the anointing Friday night!” Anointing imparted a kind of righteous ecstasy that was palpable. The thrill of a teaching with implications we hadn’t considered before, or a song that made us feel especially intimate with God, or a teacher whose presentations prompted intense feelings of unqualified weal and delight – this was “the anointing.” It was a sure indication to us that God had empowered and approved the person or thing that was taking place. If one could feel the anointing, one accepted it as having been God-sent and God-empowered.

The Scriptures, however, hold no such definition of the term. Most often the words anoint and anointing in the both Testaments refer to the physical application of medicine, balm, water, or oil to an injured part or a sick person. Sometimes it means “mingled” or “mixed,” as in unleavened cakes “anointed” with oil in Exodus 29:2. In a more spiritual sense, anointing was done to designate people or things as set apart, or holy to the Lord, as in the ordination of Levitical priests (Exodus 29:29) or Samuel anointing Saul and David as kings of Israel (1 Samuel 10:1 and 16:12-13 – and note in the account of Saul’s anointing that he prophesied!). In the New Testament, other than its primary meaning of applying or mixing, it is similarly used to represent ordination or setting apart for God (Luke 4:18, Acts 4:27, 2 Corinthians 1:21). We find it applied generally to all who are in Christ, representative of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, applying God’s word to our hearts, bringing it to remembrance in time of need. As oil is applied to outward things, so the word of God is applied to the inner man by the Holy Spirit. Through the Apostle John, the Holy Spirit writes,

These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him (1st John 2:27, NASB).

The way we know whether a thing is approved by God is not from the giddy feeling we get from having our ears tickled with seductive words. We know God’s approval because of the application of the written and infallible word of God by the Holy Spirit! The anointing, as it applies in believers, is upon their ears and feet, so to say:

…he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth his own, he goes ahead of them and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:3-5, NASB).

So how is it that so many of the Lord’s sheep follow false teachers? One would have to ignore and suppress the anointing that John described above in order to do so! But tickle their ears a bit, and many will do just that:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2nd Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

The genuine anointing of God in every believer is what keeps calling them back to the truth, enabling them to walk away from myths and fables to dine in the fields of lush grass that our true Shepherd leads us to. To many Charismatics, “anointing” only means having their ears tickled! But they would rarely admit it.

When all of the “shepherds” in “the Church at Fort Lauderdale” were trained and established in little flocks of their own, all accountable to the three “Apostles” of the church, the call went out from the “Apostles of the Church at Fort Lauderdale” that any church that was not “in submission” to the larger Church at Fort Lauderdale was “in deception,” and those who were truly following the will of God would come out from those churches and take their place under an approved “undershepherd.” My church did not play along. Andy left West Lauderdale Baptist Church, and took most of the Friday night “Cup kids” with him and formed a commune under “the Church at Fort Lauderdale.” While I must confess that I immensely enjoyed having my ears tickled, even at age 14 I knew the voice of my true Shepherd and refused to follow Andy – and almost all of my friends with him – any further. Besides, there was plenty of ear tickling to be enjoyed right where I was. I stayed put, but was lonelier than ever. I watched from a distance as old friends from the Cup were exploited, abused, and abandoned when they broke. The great guitar player I always tried to emulate had gone with Andy. And in less than a year’s time, had entered into a homosexual relationship with another member of “the Church at Fort Lauderdale.”

The youth group at West Lauderdale Baptist had to rebuild, almost from scratch. Very few of the youth had remained, not wanting to miss out on the Grand Anointed Plan that was unfolding. Of those who stayed behind, I was the youngest, I think, and the loneliest of them. The loss of those friendships left me in profound danger of further exploitation, yet God had spared me from the fate of those who left, which was far worse.

In Part Four I will finally get to a scriptural analysis of the doctrine of Holy Spirit baptism, and the role of the spiritual gifts according to scripture. Stay tuned!

The Morning Watch

February 21, 2014
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Originally written for my kids when they were teens, and published elsewhere on the web and in print, I wanted to share this with a few new readers of a Sidekick’s Blog, and any who might be having secret struggles with their “daily devotions” or “quiet time.”  It’s not some sort of religious duty for goodnessakes! It should be a wonderful, intimate time with one’s heavenly Father, however short or long, that guides the whole rest of the day!

The Morning Watch

There are two sorts of bible reading. There’s bible study, and then there’s the daily devotional reading that every follower of Christ needs and should strive for. In today’s post I just want to write about the daily devotional time in God’s word that we all need, along with the other daily discipline of prayer,

I call it “the morning watch” because that’s what the Bible calls it:

“O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch.” (Psalm 5:3)

“But unto thee, O Jehovah, have I cried; And in the morning shall my prayer come before thee.” (Psalm 88:13)

“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; For in thee do I trust: Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; For I lift up my soul unto thee.” (Psalm 143:8)

It is at the beginning of the day, first thing, before the business of work and school that we need to listen to the Lord and set our hearts upon Him and His purpose for the day. Not at the end of the day when we’re tired or when we have already made plans for the evening or at night when we’re too sleepy to do anything but collapse into slumber.

This is a little “how-to” for daily quiet time (or devotions, as a lot of people call it). Before we jump right in, let me emphasize two things:

First, daily devotional time is not the same thing as Bible study, nor is it a substitute for Bible study. But it is absolutely vital to spiritual health and practical godly living. It should be a daily thing, eagerly anticipated.

Second, daily quiet time is not a religious duty. If merely reading the Bible every day is a duty to be kept, then one has “done his duty” merely by reading it. But the Apostle James describes it as a lifestyle rather than a religious rite:

But prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and having looked and gone on his way, immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, will be blessed in whatever he does (James 1:22-25).

It’s not as though God will be mad at me because I skipped my quiet time today. It’s about seeing myself as God sees me, in the mirror of His word, and using that knowledge to improve what I saw in the mirror this morning. We wouldn’t think of going off to work or school without stopping in front of the mirror first – if only for a few seconds – to make sure we look okay. We still have all our teeth and no big ol’ zits have erupted on our face overnight. We’re also concerned about what others will see when they look at us. It is exactly the same way in which we are to use God’s word as our spiritual mirror. But how do we make the most of our morning quiet time? Let’s have a look at the practical side of daily devotions:

Things you need to make the most of your morning quiet time:

Your Bible – God’s own infallible Word, interpreted foremost by a desire to do whatever it says, and illuminated in your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.

A notebook – Use this for writing down the things that God seems to tell you through His Word, and for keeping a journal of prayer requests and answers to prayer; questions to ask God, and as a way to organize your reading.

Time – Allow at least enough time to pray through your list and read a paragraph or two. As time goes on, you’ll want to devote a lot more time to the morning watch.

But how do I decide what to read? How far to read? How to determine what it means?

Deciding what to read

I recommend taking the Bible the way it was written – a book at a time. That doesn’t mean you read an entire book of the Bible in a single sitting! It means only that you would read through one book instead of choosing randomly selected passages from any of the 66 books. If you’re new at this, start with the most straightforward of books, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the Epistles (letters to the churches and individuals written by the Apostles).

In most Bibles, paragraphs are indicated by a symbol that looks like a backwards P “¶”, or by having the number of the first verse in a new paragraph in bold numbers. Understand that the original writers did not write in chapters, nor indicate paragraphs where our English translators and editors have placed them in your Bible. That is just where someone thinks they belong. You can make use of them or skip them if an idea doesn’t seem complete in the parameters they set. Read until you have a sense that one or two ideas have been expressed fully, then stop.

Putting Wheels on the Cart

Now if you had to come up with a title for the passage you just read, what would it be? Think of a title for the passage. In Bible study, you’ll consider not just the passage but the entire book, its author, all that author’s other books, and the context in which the passage you’re studying fits into the whole rest of the Bible. In daily devotions, though, you’re generally just considering the passage you’ve read by itself. Though very often it will remind you of another passage that expresses or contrasts the same idea. If it does, read the other passage and consider it along with the first one. Think of a title. That sort of forces your mind to focus on the “gist” of a passage.

Now choose one verse or one sentence from the passage that best supports the title you have chosen for that passage. This might be the verse you’ll carry around in your heart for that whole day. You might even memorize it.

Now think of how this title, the supporting verse, and the full idea might apply to your day and throughout your day. How will you put the idea to work? How can you bring it from the page and “put flesh on it” so to speak, to demonstrate it and prove the truth and value of it? Write down the passage, the title, the verse, and the application in your journal next to the date.

Journaling is Super Helpful!

My journal encourages me when I have completely failed, or fallen to temptation, or am otherwise feeling low and wondering if I should even bother following Christ any further, And yes, this sort of discouragement happens to lots of perfectly normal Christians, including some of the bible’s greatest heroes and history’s greatest preachers and evangelists.  The great Charles Spurgeon battled depression all his life.  The mighty prophet Elijiah prayed for death after his victory over the prophets of Baal.  Looking through the pages of my journal – with it’s record of answered prayers, joyfully received insights, and my loving Father’s discipline – proves that God hasn’t given up on me over the years, and encourages me to trust Him instead of “trying to be a great Christian” all on my own.

So why put the date on your journal entries? Because as you look back through that journal later on in the future (and you will, next time you’re reading the same book in your devotions), you’ll remember what was going on in your life at the time God was saying that particular thing through that passage. And you’ll be absolutely amazed at how that was just exactly what you needed, right then – and how different it might be from the way the passage seems to apply in your life now. Your previous journals are a compelling record of God’s faithfulness, comfort, wisdom, and providence. By chronicling your journey and keeping track of answers to prayer and lessons gleaned from God’s word, you will accumulate a vast treasure of precious pearls to share with others. Especially your own children someday!

Below is an example of how you might want to organize your own notebook. The format works for me, but you may choose to adapt your own to serve you better.  Enjoy these wonderful intimate times at the beginning of the day that help equip you for what your Father has planned.

___/___/___ (today’s date) I’m reading the Book of _________________.
Today’s passage: Chapter(s), verses – , which I have entitled, “_________________________________________.”
Best supporting verse is __:___ because