Archive for April, 2015

Jesus Is Hollywood’s New Homeboy

A.D. The Bible Continues: The TV Guide Cover

Hollywood Continues to Get It Wrong

What is the good of an army without an objective? What good is an eye if it is not attached to the optic nerve? Can anyone play basketball with a deflated ball? In order for any of these things to function properly they all must have present some specific essential elements. An army either defends a position, attacks the enemy, or provides support for an ally. An army with no objective is a complete waste of time and resources. An eye must be attached to the optic nerve if the body is to receive any benefit from it. One can have an eye that has healthy blood flow and looks normal, but if it is not connected to the optic nerve then the eye is completely useless. And a basketball without air, well you get the picture.

That’s pretty much how I felt about the mini-drama series “AD, the Bible Continues” after episode 3. I must say until the end of the 3rd episode I was pretty impressed with the series. Many of the actors and actresses played their roles very well. The actor who portrays Pilate plays a pretty near perfect Roman Prefect (excuse the alliteration, I just couldn’t resist). And some of the portrayals of specific historical events are spot on. Jesus really does die, an angel really comes and rolls away the stone, Jesus really physically rises from the dead and later ascends to heaven. I found myself being drawn into the show and started thinking that maybe Hollywood might actually get it right this time.

Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that Hollywood would get everything right. And I understand that the writers would take some liberties in order to have the story of Christianity’s origin fit neatly into 1-hour episodes, so I understand that at times they needed to condense or telescope some events so that the stories would flow neatly as a TV mini series. I could even tolerate some things that were done in order to make the show more appealing to a modern audience, such as the ethnic diversity of the Jewish apostles (a few of which are “African-Semitic”). But I didn’t expect them to void Christianity of its essential message. I didn’t expect them to suck the air out of the gospel.

The gutting of the gospel became obvious in their account of Pentecost. I must admit they did a marvelous job of depicting of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire, they even had the apostles speak in tongues, but regrettably they were only allowed to do so in the upper room—in private if you will. Incredulously when apostles emerged from the upper room and went into the streets where all the people had gathered and were waiting to hear about this strange thing that had occurred there was no preaching, just happy smiling faces glowing from their personal experiences. There was no proclamation of the real gospel, there wasn’t any call “to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2.38). Actually the series writers never had Peter utter a single word to anyone concerning turning from away from sin and receiving Jesus as their personal savior. The truly ironic part is that the only mentioning of the importance of atonement for sin actually came from the lying lips of the hypocritical, self-righteous, politically corrupt High Priest Caiaphas. Incredulously the writers had him talk about the need for atonement while he was deceiving the crowd into thinking that Pilate was visiting the temple to worship their God. Don’t waste your time thumbing through your Bibles looking for this event, it never happened, it’s just example of “artistic liberality.”

Not long after Pilate’s departure, however, Peter and the apostles arrive and begin proclaiming that Jesus is “Lord and Messiah.” They even proclaim that Jesus has been raised from the dead by God. But again, there is no call to repentance and forgiveness of sin in Jesus’ name. And just as Peter begins to tell the crowd to be “saved from this world” he is beaten by the temple guards. But that is not what Peter proclaimed at Pentecost. Acts 2.40 records that Peter “kept on exhorting them ‘Be saved from this perverse generation” (NASB). My point is that throughout Acts chapters 2 and 3 Peter and the rest of the apostles repeatedly preached to the crowds that Jesus was both Savior and Lord. They didn’t promote Jesus as some model for us to begin emulating as we reject the powerful who oppress the peoples. The apostles preached that Jesus is the universal sacrifice for sin that everyone must accept for the payment of their own moral failures.

Now some might say, “aren’t you making a mountain out of a molehill? Shouldn’t we just be happy that Hollywood has even made a TV series with Jesus in it?” No, not in the least. A fake Jesus is just as spiritually lethal as no Jesus at all. Moreover, the essential purpose for Jesus’ sacrifice of blood and life is not my issue—it’s his issue! Jesus himself emphatically made this very point to his apostles after his resurrection, explaining that the singular purpose for his coming was to pay for the sins of the world (Lk 24.46-48). This was the sole reason for Jesus’ coming in the first place. Even John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1.29). If you take the sacrifice for sins out of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection then you have taken away the central message of the church’s mission, you have blinded the world to the purpose of his coming, and you have taken the life giving oxygen out of the gospel.

Once again the liberal unbelieving world is promoting a Jesus that is only a liberator of the oppressed instead of the sacrifice for the world’s sin and the exclusive name given to humanity “by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). Hollywood is making Jesus out to be just another “homeboy” for the People Without Borders and Occupy Wall Street movements. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived into thinking that the world is getting it right, it’s not. It’s deceptively promoting a Jesus that it wants you to believe in, which is a Jesus that is not concerned with personal sin, accountability for personal choices, eternal life, and the inevitable final judgment. The world finds that kind of Jesus and that kind of message offensive. Once again Hollywood is saying “Don’t tell me I can’t sleep around, or lie, or that I can’t have all the stuff I want, or get high, or that I should make Jesus Lord of my life. Just use Jesus to tell “The Man” to get off my back, provide for me, make my life easy, and let me do whatever I want.” Nevertheless, Peter himself wrote that Jesus is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” for those who choose not to repent and believe. But for us that throw ourselves at the foot of Jesus’ cross we are promised that we will never “be disappointed” (1 Pet 2.6-8).

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2015


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Did God Speak to Katy Perry?

Katy Perry and Spiritual Warfare


There are not many events larger than the NFL Super Bowl. Even some who don’t follow football watch the game in order to see the commercials, the performances, and the entire spectacle that surrounds the game. The reality is that the game has become overshadowed by the very events promoting it. For some, the halftime performance is all that they want to see. It has become a platform for cultural superstars to promote themselves to 100s of millions all over the globe. Many people want to see the elaborate productions, and maybe even witness the next major “malfunction” that everyone will be talking about the next day. This year’s main performer was super pop star Katy Perry. Days after the Super Bowl a “twitter war” erupted between Christians over Katy Perry’s halftime performance. In a later interview Katy claimed that she was nervous just before halftime, but “thankfully” she gained the encouragement that she needed to perform from the following Bible verse: “This is the day that the Lord has made, and I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118.24). The war largely centered over those that were offended that Katy might think that she received a word from God, while other Christians were offended that some would find it hard to believe that God would want to reach out and encourage “sinners.” Their point was that if God stopped speaking to sinners, then we would all be in trouble. My goodness that does sounds pretty spiritual doesn’t it!

The problem with this entire dialogue is that it shows a complete lack of understanding of spiritual warfare and tactics that Satan employs to entice anyone—both believers and unbelievers—to disobey God and achieve Satan’s own hellish desires. For a clearer understanding of the lengths that Satan will go one only needs to look at his temptation of Jesus found Mathew 4.1-11. The account document’s Satan’s attack upon Jesus in the wilderness in which on three different occasions Satan tempted Jesus to disobey God and submit to his wishes. What is especially startling concerning this encounter is that during the second attempt Satan correctly interpreted Psalm 91.11-12 as referring to Jesus and then he used that scripture to suggest that Jesus rely upon God’s promise of preservation and jump off of the Temple’s pinnacle and miraculously return safely to earth. That is right, Satan correctly understood biblical prophecy in the Bible concerning Jesus, and he correctly interpreted its implications, and then he used God’s Word to tempt Jesus to disobey God and submit to his devilish plan. The point is that Satan is not concerned that people know and understand the Bible so long he can use it to entice them to disobey God and deny the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s right, Satan doesn’t care if you know a lot about the Bible. Some might say “prove it!” Gladly, for I know of dozens scholars of the Bible who have forgotten more than I will ever learn, and yet not a word of it has any impact upon their personal lives—from Genesis to maps, they don’t believe a word of it.

So knowledge about the scriptures and correctly understanding them is no protection against becoming a pawn of Satan. Only believing they are true and correctly obeying the word of God in your personal life makes one a child of God and guarantees divine power and protection against satanic temptations. Jesus put it this way, “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on a rock. . . [But] everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the wind blew and slammed against his house; and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matt 7.24 -27, NASB).

So, did God give to Katy Perry the encouragement she needed just before her halftime performance, or did some Bible verse that she heard long ago during vacation Bible school just pop into her mind right before she went on, or did Satan use a biblical passage to encourage her to serve his wishes? While you consider the question remember this, Katy went on and sang the following song:

“This was never the way I planned, not my intention.
I got so brave, drink in hand, lost my discretion
It’s not what I’m used to, just wanna try you on.
I’m curious for you, caught my attention.

I kissed a girl and I liked it,
The taste of her cherry chapstick.
I kissed a girl just to try it,
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.
It felt so wrong,
It felt so right.
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight.
I kissed a girl and I liked it (I liked it).

No, I don’t even know your name, it doesn’t matter.
You’re my experimental game, just human nature.
It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave.
My head gets so confused, hard to obey.”

That Katy felt encouraged by “something” that helped her to go on and sing those lyrics may be true, but these lyrics make it pretty obvious that God was not the one empowering Katy to sing about lesbian experimentation. Moreover, anyone that would suggest so simply does not understand spiritual warfare or the lengths Satan will go to ensure that everyone embraces sin and rejects the godliness that is provided through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does God love sinners? Absolutely! Is he actively pursuing and wooing them to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be reconciled back to him and enjoy everlasting life? Without question! Nevertheless, the proof of God’s presence and “encouragement” in one’s life is the rejection of sinful fleshly passions rather than the celebration of them.

Copyright @ 2015 Monte Shanks

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 Back scratchers

One Christmas I got the best backscratcher ever! It is made of aluminum, it has a rubber handle, and best of all it is retractable! Consequently, it takes up very little space in my desk, which is a big draw back with a lot of other backscratchers. Most backscratchers are long and awkward, so people inevitably put them in out of the way places where they are usually forgotten and lost. Consequently, many backs go unscratched, which is a real problem since people love to have their backs scratched. A lot of today’s pastors are in the business of back scratching. Pastors are called to be heart surgeons, but regrettably, a lot of us have turned into backscratchers. There are several reasons why pastors become backscratchers. One of the main reasons is that some congregations won’t tolerate a pastor who is passionate and has conviction, so over time some pastors learn that they better start scratching backs or lose their “jobs.” When this realization occurs some pastors simply keep their cushy jobs, while the good ones leave and find real ministries. Some pastors are backscratchers because they like being liked, so it comes naturally to them. Others are backscratchers because they think it’s their job to mesmerize and entertain their congregations. These pastors are essentially showmen. They aren’t really backscratchers per se, but rather they are ear ticklers. Nevertheless, the impact of their sermons is functionally the same, hearts are not renewed and spiritual arteries remain clogged.

Many backscratchers appear to be very successful because their churches are often filled with a lot of “listeners.” So the question is this: how can you tell the difference between a backscratcher and a pastor who knows God, understands His word, and applies it to our modern lives? A good test is to look at their impact on the hearts of those who hear them. In other words, are people convicted and are lives changed. We can see this kind of impact from the messages of great preachers in the Bible. Look at Jesus, he once preached a message that caused so much consternation that the audience in the synagogue grabbed him and led him to a cliff in order to demonstrate the effects of gravity (Luke 4.28-29). Luke actually documented that Jesus’ audience was “filled with rage” by the things Jesus said. In full disclosure I must confess that I’ve never preached a message that had that kind of impact, so I’m preaching to myself here as well. I guess you can say that Jesus wasn’t much of a backscratcher. Then there is Stephen, in his very last message he gave an exceptional survey of the entire Old Testament that ended with him proclaiming the truth that his very audience had crucified the very Messiah that they confessed to be waiting for. And what did they do? The promptly carried him out of that same meeting and stoned him. I guess you could conclude that he didn’t tickle many ears. The passage actually describes their dispositions as being “cut to the quick” (Acts 7.54).   A lot of people, however, don’t really know what that means; in today’s vernacular it would be like saying that they were “shot through the heart.” And then there is Paul, he once gave a message where the audience was quiet and listened intently, they were intently hanging on his every word you could say—that is until he spoke of God’s mandate to share the gospel with everyone, it was at that point that a riot broke out (Acts 22.22-25). The text states that after Paul told them about the great commission that they literally threw their coats down and started throwing dirt in the air. Now I’ve preached people into comas, but I’ve never started a riot. But not Paul, what he said pricked their hearts so much that they began acting like a bunch of crazed chimpanzees. The Roman soldiers present were so stunned that they immediately began preparing Paul for a scourging. I’m not convinced that they even fully understood why they were about to scourge Paul, they only knew that something bad had just happened and something had to be done about it. So in typical Roman fashion someone had to be beaten, and everyone knows that scourging a single person is a lot easier than beating an entire mob. Again, I’ve never been threatened with a whipping for anything I have said in a pulpit. Someone may have wanted to punch me, but I never knew about it, so who knows. The point is that Paul wasn’t in the ministry so that he could scratch backs and tickle ears; he was gunning for hearts.

I mention these events not because they are good examples of well-groomed “sermons,” but because they are excellent models of impactful “messages.” And there is a difference between the two. The difference is the same as the difference between Cicero and Demosthenes. There is a famous quote concerning these two great ancient speakers, which loosely goes like this: “When Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke.’ But when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, ‘Let us march!’” And that is the point, isn’t it? Are we supposed to be about sermons or messages? A sermon is what a pastor prepares and then speaks to a listening audience. A message is when spiritual shepherds have the guts to proclaim the truth about what the Lord desires to do in the hearts of those who are actually “hearing” the word of God. And if people hear God speaking to their hearts through your message, then people will be brought to a point of decision. Sometimes they will weep, or repent, or worship, or be strengthened, and then they will serve; and if not, then they will begin picking up stones. Either way, they will not have had their backs scratched or their ears tickled. And isn’t that what the church needs? The church doesn’t need more backscratchers, it needs more heart surgeons.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2014

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By Monte Shanks, Ph.D.

Monte Shanks is an Asst. Professor of NT at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary


Good Reasons for a Black Eye

I love cowboy movies, they are just plain fun to watch.  Westerns always have a few necessary components.  Obviously there is the climatic gunfight.  There usually is a break-neck horse chase.  There should always be a heroine or women worth fighting for.  And generally there needs to be a barroom brawl in which the hero gets beat up.  One of the best lines I ever heard in a movie occurred when a kid asked the hero “Hey, who gave you that black eye?”  The hero stared at the boy with an unflinching gaze and forcefully said, “No one gave it to me, I earned it!”  I guess one of the reasons to like western movies is that the line between right and wrong is clearly drawn in the sand, and when it’s crossed then the time has come to take a stand and let the chips fall where they may.  Regrettably churches today are losing their capacity to not only draw lines in the sand on moral issues in society, but to even take stands for doctrinal issues within the church.  Many seem to believe that “tolerance” and “peace” are the most important things for a church to hold to, and under no circumstances should anyone endanger them.  Well, there are times when we should take public stands in our churches—even at the expense of unity and peace, and below is a list of some non-negotiables.

*    The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Paul said that if Jesus has not risen from the dead then Christianity is a vain faith and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15.12-19).  The doors of every church should be locked if Jesus has not bodily risen from the dead.  But he has risen, and he now sits at the Father’s right hand mediating on our behalf.  The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead is a non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves a Christian.

*    The divinity and incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The apostle John stated that anyone who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh was of the spirit of anti-Christ (1 Jn 4.1-3).  The scriptures are clear; Jesus is literally the incarnation of God in the created realm (Jn 1.1-18; Col 1.15, 19; 2.9; Phil 2.5-11; Heb 1.1-3).  The confession that Jesus is fully man and fully God is a non-negotiable for any claiming to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

*    The Trinity.  If you review the doctrines of any major historical denomination of Christianity you will notice that they all have a Trinitarian declaration.  Christianity confesses and proclaims that there is one God who has revealed himself in 3 persons who are united essence, nature, and being.  This unity and diversity within the Godhead is a mystery that is hard to fathom, but there are other complex truths that are also hard to fathom but they exist nonetheless.  For example, take “love” and “justice”; we know that they exist, but can you explain how they exist?  You cannot, and so it is with the Trinity.  Christians do not profess that God is one person who reveals himself in 3 different ways at different times, but that God is one who co-exists in 3 persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—all are equally divine and perfectly one while sharing the same essence and purpose (Matt 28.19).  Although each member in the Godhead simultaneously functions differently in the created order, they all are nonetheless equally divine.  True believers can accept no less; consequently, neither should they tolerate any fellowship that would promote anything contrary to this essential truth.

*    That Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone.  Salvation is not received or earned by humanly participating in the ordinance of a church (i.e., baptism or communion); neither is it the reward of human effort or endurance. It is only received after one repents from his or her sin and personally entrusts themselves and their sin debt to the Lord Jesus Christ through his substitutionary death on the cross. This redemption is a gift that God freely offers to all who would receive it, and his offer is completely a gift of his grace.  In other words, it is a gift that is completely undeserved, and its reception by the desperate sinner can in no way be perceived as a meritorious act (Eph 2.8-10).

The above 4 are non-negotiable for anyone who would call themselves Christian.  There are others, such as that God exists, that there is an afterlife, a final judgment, etc., etc.  But these confessions are so fundamental self-evident that to mention them would be elementary.  Indeed, even these listed above are elementary, but the fact is that some churches and denominations are beginning losing sight of their significance.  Consequently, below are 3 more items that I would argue are doctrines worth fighting for; regrettably there are some that are not sure that these are also worth defending publically.

 *   The exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus claimed to be the only person through which anyone could be reconciled to God (John 14.6).  Paul wrote that if there was another way to God then Jesus died needlessly (Gal 2.21).  And John wrote that if anyone does not confess personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ then they do not know the Father (1 Jn 4.1-6).  If someone professes that there are ways to be saved other than placing one’s personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ then he or she is misguided and needs to be discipled into the truth, or they are false believers and should be avoided.

*    The inspiration and authority of the Gods word, which is the Bible.  The division of the Christian church between Protestantism and Catholicism largely rests on this one issue.  It is ironic that the Roman Catholic Sir Thomas Moore once said “I never intend, God being my good Lord, to pin my soul to another man’s back, not even the best man that I know this day living: for I know not where he may happen to carry it.”  Believers must not abdicate their consciences to the decisions of others no matter what positions they may hold in a church.  Our sole authority for the rightful belief and practice of the Christian faith is the Bible and not submission to the offices of man-made religious institutions, whether they are local churches or worldwide denominations. The freedom of conscience to follow God’s word is a doctrine referred to as “the priesthood of the believer.”  It simply means that each believer has the capacity through the indwelling Holy Spirit to rightly discern God’s will for himself or herself, so long as their decisions do not contravene God’s written word.  Consequently, if someone demands that you submit to any doctrine, profession, or behavior contrary to God’s word then it is your duty to respectfully rebuke them irrespective of what office they may hold.

*    The security of the believer.  I hold this doctrine as something worth fighting and possibly “loosing” for because to proclaim otherwise is to rob the gospel of its glory and to suggest that human will is greater than the power of God.  Jesus himself said that anyone who has received eternal life through faith in him will never again suffer the threat of eternal damnation (John 5.24).  Paul clearly promised that there is no longer any condemnation for those who have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 5.1, 8.1).  And Peter wrote that we have received by God’s power an imperishable promise of eternal life through Christ (1 Pet 1.3-5).  If salvation can be lost by an act of human volition then it cannot under any pretense be described as “imperishable,” “eternal,” or under the control of the “power of God.”  Consequently, this is a doctrine worth taking a public stand for against those who would declare otherwise.

This is my list and I’m sure there are others that I have failed to consider.  Nevertheless, it is time to take a public stand for these fundamental truths when confronted in our churches by others advocating contrary doctrines.  Some may ask is this really necessary?  Yes it is!  One of the least known scriptures is 1 Corinthians 11.19, where Paul wrote by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “For their must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”  Paul said that conflicts within congregations are a necessary part of protecting the flock and identifying those who are truly in the faith.  Did Paul want the body of Christ to experience harmony and unity? Of course he did—but never at the expense of the truths concerning Christ and his promises.  Just a word of warning, don’t be surprised when after taking a public stand for the true faith that at time you “lose.”  It will happen and it will bother you, but don’t let it do so for long.  Jesus took your lashes and your nails in order to hang on your cross and save you from your sins; consequently, the very least you can do is to earn a black eye for him.

Copyright @ by Monte Shanks, 2015

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