The Worst (and most popular) Basketball Player in the World

Here’s an illustration I’d like to spin today.. it’s a bit unusual, but stay with me.  There once was a basketball player (Who we’ll call Kenny).  Kenny had every trait you would want in an elite-level basketball player; He was fast, could shoot, handled the ball well, and could jump “out of the gym.”  But when Kenny took the floor for his first professional game, well, something odd happened.

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Kenny didn’t dribble, he simply ran as fast as he could with the ball, knocking over several defenders as he unleashed an epic dunk.  The entire auditorium was silent, except for the sound of whistles indicating his violations (and flagrant fouls).  After a moment, the fans went absolutely wild. It was shocking, it was unexpected, it was athletic.. they had never seen such a thing.  Both coaches were shocked, and the officials were bewildered that such an odd thing had taken place. The other team was awarded the ball, and quickly scored.  As Kenny’s team received the ball again, there was a sense of tension as the ball was passed to Kenny. As soon as Kenny had the ball, he did it AGAIN! Full speed, monstrous dunk, raucous cheers from the crowd.  Before the officials could repsond, the opposing team inbounded the ball, ran the length of the court like Kenny, and dunked too.  Now the crowd was delirious, and the officials could only blow whistles and try to tell the coaches that this game would be declared a forfeit.  This mattered little to both teams now, who had completely jettisoned the rules and were now actually tackling each other as they ran full-court to dunk again.

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There were the obligatory meetings of the referees, coaches, and league officials. They were in complete agreement that what had happened was both bizarre and unacceptable.  The problem?  The players preferred this new style of play, and the fans couldn’t get enough of it.  It was “new”, “fresh”, and “exciting”!  Not only was it shown repeatedly on ESPN, but it was impossible to turn on any TV station without seeing the clip.

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The next scheduled game played out the same way. Tip off, player taking the ball the length of the court and attempting to dunk before he was absolutely leveled by an unknown player.  The crowd went crazy, and the media were quick to jump on this unknown player; who as it turns out, was 24 year old Brent Bednarik, who had never played basketball before that game, but had played middle linebacker for The University of Indiana.  This set off an avalanche of trades and new signings.  Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks hired former NFL head coach John Gruden, “effective immediately.”  “I think John is just what we need”, said Cuban. “The league has changed and we have to change with it. We need a new skillset and the old school basketball coaches just aren’t cutting it. John brings with him a great defensive coordinator which will allow us to be the hardest hitting team in the NBA! The fans are gonna love it!”

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And for the remainder of the season, the game got more physical. The hits were bigger. Teams found that they needed bigger runners and that their former All-Stars weren’t built for this new brand of basketball.  The referees? They blew whistles frantically, calling every foul as it happened.. but in time, the crowd didn’t even notice the whistles, which had become nothing more than background noise.  The league responded as best it could, but ultimately gave in as ratings, attendance, and sales skyrocketed to unimaginable levels.  New stadiums were constructed in nearly every city to house the overflow crowds. New television deals were made with stations dedicated to 24/7 broadcasts of this “new basketball.”

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Kenny became a legend, and was soon everywhere on TV and making hundreds of millions of dollars from book deals, and from sponsors. A shoe company has ensured that every kid in American now dares to “Innovate Your Game!”

In an interview, Kenny shared the genius that started this global juggernaut:  “You know, basketball was just getting boring to me.  Same old same old. Man, i’d been playing the game the same way since I was a kid.. but I thought, Hey, people like dunks, so I’m just going to go for it.. and i’m fast without dribbling, so, you know…”  When asked about ongoing protests from the NBA Referee’s Union, Kenny responded “I don’t know, man. I mean, nobody comes to see those guys blow their whistles,  you know? The fans love it, we love it.. they just need to change. I don’t mean to hate, but those guys are straight up haters. They just judge everybody. I know they say ‘that ain’t basketball’, ‘it ain’t what Michael Jordan or some other old dude did’. Whatever, court, players, ball. Man, I play for the Lakers, how are you going to tell me that’s not basketball? The fans love this basketball!”

And, the game continued. It was wildly popular and it was…. what? Basketball?

That story may seem a bit long, but I think it encapsulates nearly everything that has led us to where we find ourselves in American evangelicalism in 2013.

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1. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because it’s become SUBJECTIVE instead of OBJECTIVE.  The point where Kenny decided to just listen to his heart and what it lead him to do, he got away from actual basketball pretty quickly! It’s based nearly entirely on what we feel. Some sort of cloudy view of a “Jesus” who we talk about hugging, holding, talking to our hearts, “feeling” leading us… instead of a real, defined, historic event which happened in history (that whole “under Pontius Pilate” thing in the creeds? Yeah, it actually happened.)  We teach our kids to listen to their hearts and that still small voice instead of teaching them the actual tenants of the faith. No longer seeing a need to catechise, we’re just happy that kids have a big warm felling and “love” Jesus.  But what “Jesus” is that? The historical Jesus who came to earth to be crucified under Pontius Pilate to save us from the impending wrath of God?  Seriously, when was the last time your kids heard that truth? God has NOT given us a subjective faith, but an objective, historical faith.

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2. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because it’s PRAGMATIC.  I believe most American evangelicals swallow the poison of pragmatism because it fits so perfectly with the “American Dream” that we are sold on every day through TV, Movies, and Music.  In a nutshell, something is true and has value if it works.  If it meets the goal.  Kenny’s “New Basketball” was, pragmatically speaking, a huge success.  Giant arenas were packed with fans, players enjoyed the new game, huge TV contracts were signed. What more could you want?  Never mind that it had, by definition, become something completely OTHER than basketball, they kept the language and kept right on going. The requirement of a Pastor is no longer the biblical requirement to preach the WORD, and administer the sacrements. No, like Mark Cuban in the example above, we’ve changed what we’re looking for in a preacher on our new requirements. He’s got to be funny, presentable, inspiring, be business and leadership savvy (which means he attended the seminar of the latest fad-leadership guru) and a great speaker. Throw in a book deal and you’ve got you “John Gruden”. How do you know if he’s successful, by how faithfully he exegetes scripture or the quality of disciples? No, by the size of his arena, the number of fans, and the TV deal.  Sound familiar?

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3. American evangelicalism has spun out of control because of it’s obsession with RELEVANCE.  The NBA has a great history and a great parade of great players throughout the ages. The sublime beauty of a George Gervin finger roll,  the precision of a Larry Bird three-pointer, or the finesse of Magin Johnson running the floor are all lost if we subjectively, pragmatically change the rules. Once we see the rules as changeable based upon our redefinition of the game, those guys aren’t admirable, they’re “old school”, “boring”, “dead”.   No longer judging the success of a church by the biblical standard of preaching the scriptures, from the bible, in context, we judge the success of a church by size, “relevance” (whatever that means), national exposure, and innovation.  Ask yourself an honest question, who is more successful, Joel Osteen or Brent Kuhlman?  According to American evangelism, it would have to be Joel Osteen. I mean, Brent who? Brent Kuhlman pastors Trinity Lutheran Church in Murdock, Nebraska (population 235).  Treat yourself to one of Pastor Kuhlman’s sermons online and ask yourself who is handling God’s word properly.

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This article is already long past the “recommended” word count for successful (pragmatism rears it’s head again!) blogging. But these concepts are important. If you don’t understand the subtle deception *ingrained* in our sinful nature, you won’t see the slight change in course of your faith until you are in a mega-arena, built by pragmatism, cheering on something called basketball which Larry Bird and Dr. J wouldn’t even recognize.  (And they’d probably just be the “old guys hatin’ on everybody” in the new league anyway.)

In this example the league caved in to the style, the new direction.  God? Never.  We have been given a faith “once for all delivered to the saints”.  While we may ignore the blowing whistles, when the game ends we don’t get the game ball if we’ve made our own game out of what we were delivered.

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To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Jude 1:1-4 ESV)

So how do you know the real from the fake?  Easy, the real is, well, simple:

1. You are born in sin and an object of God’s wrath.

2. Jesus came in the flesh and lived a sinless life and atoning death to satisfy God’s wrath.

3. Those who repent of their sin and believe in Christ’s atoning work for the forgiveness of sin will be saved.

4. We are called to receive the sacrements of communion, baptism, and preaching of the word in the same passive manner we were made righteous.

The hammer of the law and the balm of the gospel.  If what you are hearing each Sunday isn’t THAT, then you’ve got an arena, a ball, and a court.. you’ve got a coach and a crowd, but the whistles are blowing “Foul!”.  Call it basketball, call it “church”, but it’s something entirely different. “It is what it is, but church it ain’t.”  Instead, the overwhelming majority of American evangelicalism has created it’s own gospel;

1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

2. Become a Christ Follower and discover that purpose.

3. God’s plan is bigger than your plan! Dream audaciously!

4. Begin to; Believe, Speak, and Step out in faith to “birth” this dream that God has for your life.

No wrath, no repentance, no atonement. In short, you don’t need a bloody cross for that; that’s nothing more than subjective, pragmatic, narcissism.  And look around, it sells! (which, according to pragmatism, makes it both true and successful, right?)

Keep your eyes, ears, and minds alert. Listen for the subtle perversions.  Listen to your preacher, does he sound like a man proclaiming a historic fact (news anchor) or does he sound like someone trying to sell you his pragmatic vision (sham-wow-guy)?  What would our brothers and sisters in the early church have thought of “God has a wonderful purpose for your life” mantra as they were fed to lions?  Does your “best life now” sound anything like the earthly ministry of Jesus? Or, are they simply using “church language” to sell the American dream? Kenny continued to use “basketball terms” and call it basketball long after it had been replaced with a different game. All the “new” players would tell you they love basketball and play basketball, but look at what they are doing and promoting. Is it, in fact basketball?!?!?

Think about it.


Just in Time for Halloween: Children of the Corn at Your Church!

Something horrifying is happening in local churches.  Pastors are taking the pulpit and doing their best “Isaac” impressions from the movie “Children of the Corn”.

Am I exaggerating?  Let’s take a look.

What made Isaac so creepy? (Apart from the whole spooky demeanor and, well, killing people?)

For one, what he was saying was just close enough to being a “preacher” to fool his followers and make it creepy for the moviegoer.

Secondly, he was given direct revelation (and marching orders) from a god. His orders were not the orders we are given in scripture.

Thirdly, He was above being questioned in this role. (After all, who would argue with “He who walks behind the rows?”)

And yet this very horror story is playing out in some of the largest, highest-profile churches in our country.


How?  A charismatic leader stands before a group of people and charges his followers with the mission he was given, through direct revelation.  These followers now believe that what they have been saddled with is their responsibility.. not only to the leader, but to god himself.  The problem?  The problem is that even with the lingo and trappings of a church, if this mission they are being charged with is not the BIBLICAL mission, it’s a false message.  And what would you make of a “christian” leader who replaces the biblical mission with  their own “direct revelation”from god?

How do you know if you’re on mission?

Well, the bible is pretty clear about what your PASTOR should be doing as well as what YOU are called to do.

Your Pastor’s marching orders?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

(2 Timothy 3:14–4:4) – ESV

If your “Pastor” is doing something else, he’s off mission! And who is to blame for the off-mission pastor? Well, he is certainly to blame for being off-mission and not preaching the gospel of repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins.. but who is to blame for him being a pastor?  His congregation!  Isn’t that a bit harsh?  Nope.. look at that verse again:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

People get the Pastor they want.  Those who will not endure sound teaching will accumulate to themselves teachers to suit their own passions (“relevant” “life purpose” to “impact the world”) and will turn away from the simple foolishness of the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, into myth/pop-psychology and off-mision vision casting nonsense.  Take a cold, hard look at your heart for a minute; Do you feel great hearing your pastor’s “pep talk” sermons and then have little interest in reading the actual Bible?  Be careful, you might just enjoy having your ears tickled.


These “Pastors” aren’t only failing their calling to “feed the sheep”, but failing their mission as christians..

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

So, how do you know if your “Pastor” is an Isaac?

1. He “preaches” without an open Bible.  I’m not talking about him throwing a single verse or two on the screen and then talking about himself, politics, or pop-psychology for 30 minutes; I’m talking about opening the bible, teaching the entire text in context and then explaining what it means.

2. He has “direct revelation” from God about what WE are supposed to do.  Whether God still speaks to people is not the point. The point is that if your Pastor has a vision for Christ’s church that involves something other than preaching the gospel of repentance and faith?  I can assure you, with the full backing of God’s inspired word, that his “vision” isn’t from God.

3. He talks more about himself than about Jesus.  Listen closely as he preaches. Sure it’s entertaining, but at the end of the sermon, do you know more about your pastor and his ministry than you do about Jesus?

Who is the hero in these stories, him or Jesus?  Is he like Isaac in Children of the Corn, wrapping his own goals and mission in church-garb and christianese-lingo?


4. He’s above question.  “Question me not, Malachi!”  Is your church built around the pastor’s vision? Is anyone who questions it seen as questioning God?  First of all, it’s Christ’s church and He’s laid out the mission pretty clearly: Preach the gospel. Feed the sheep the full counsel of God’s word.  Administer the sacrements.  If your pastor’s vision is something different? Well, you’d better obey him in his church, because it’s clearly not Christ’s church.  You can wrap it up in whatever lingo, music, and style you want… “it ain’t a church”.

5.  He tells you God has given him a vision for you to “Do church a new way!” Ugh. Let me guess, it involves building a gigantic, multi-site campus and doing “relationship evangelism” and “serving your community” with “cell groups”.  How original. I’m guessing you’ll get to that whole “gospel thing” later.. after you fulfill your Pastor’s mission, huh? (Actually you might give Jesus a guest appearance as you have an altar call following your pop-psychology “self-help” sermon and ask them to “make a decision to become a Christ follower”.. of course, no mention of sin, wrath, or atonement, so I’m not sure WHY they would need Jesus, other than his being some kind of power source to plug into to get all the happy family, good kids, successful business stuff you promised them in your “sermon”. Sorry. Ranting here.)

So don’t be afraid of ghosts and goblins this Halloween. Don’t be afraid of things that go bump in the night…

[28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28 ESV)

To paraphrase a fried of mine who has gone to be with the Lord:

Ghosts and goblins aren’t real. They can’t hurt you.  False teachers tickling your ears?  That’s real. They can kill the soul.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Note: Chris Rosebrough from “Fighting for the Faith” has done some TREMENDOUS work in this area.  If you aren’t already listening to his podcast and reading him, you’re missing out on a phenomenal resource.  Resources on todays subject can be found here:

“My Mommy Said!”

Having 3 kids of my own, and working and coaching kids for more than 20 years, there’s one scene that seems to play itself out with great frequency:

“My Mommy Said!”

It usually involves a kid trying to get their way.  As most of you have probably experienced, in many cases, it’s also a lie.

“One piece of cake, girls.”

“My Mommy said I could have as much as I wanted!”

Or, it’s also used to impress people or state something they wish were true:

“Oh look, what a beautiful horse!”

“My Mommy said she is going to buy me 10 horses!”

While the goal may be to get their way, to impress people, or to talk about things they wish were true (in spite of reality), In the end, it’s a lie.  Logically, it’s an appeal to authority. However, the word of the kid is only as valid as what “Mommy” has actually said.  When kids do this, it might be a bit bratty, and it’s technically a lie, but we’re pretty patient with our kids as we teach them.

For adults, it’s a bit more serious:

“The boss said you need to….”  Hmm. That’s a bit more serious. Why? Because the stakes are raised as the authority being appealed to is greater.  Mommy said you could have a second piece of cake? Sorry, you only get one piece. Mommy will understand.  The boss said I need to work this weekend? Well, I’ll work this weekend or risk being fired, I guess.

The risk increases, so I’m likely going to verify or accept it as true rather than get fired.  The downside is if the boss catches you using his authority and making things up, you’re liable to the extent of his power.  People don’t misquote the boss often because it’s so easy to verify what he actually said.  How about an even more serious example..

The King’s messenger:  Messengers have been used for centuries to relay the pronouncements (or commands) of a sovereign to his subjects.  What sane messenger would ever consider changing the message, inserting his own, or outright lying about what the King had said?  The penalty would surely be death.  The message is serious because the authority of the one who sent it is serious, and the power of the one who is being misquoted is great.

Yet, there is one greater than any King.  He has made a pronouncement and commanded his messengers to take that news to all His subjects.  Who would dare change or corrupt that message? Who would ignore the clear qualifications of a messenger and appoint themselves to deliver a message of their own?  What impudence! What infidelity!

The King?  The Lord:

For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; he will save us.
(Isaiah 33:22 ESV)

The pronouncement? The Gospel:

[5:1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
[12] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
[15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
[18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Romans 5 ESV)

Instructions to the Messengers?

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Priority of the Message? First

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)

What about Messengers bringing other messages?

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

(Galatians 1:6-10 ESV)

So when your pastor speaks on behalf of God, “God says!” or “God wants you to know..” he’d better do so with an open bible, quoting chapter and verse.  To do anything less, to say “God wants” without scriptural support, to put words in God’s mouth is the very definition of taking the Lord’s name in vain.  (And you always thought it was about cussing?)  What impudent, unfaithful messenger would hijack the King’s message and replace it with his own!  And you? Why would you allow someone to give you commands “from the King” without verifying what He has recorded in His word?

And your Pastor, why would the change the message?

1. They aren’t messengers of the King.  If you don’t believe there are very gifted speakers/entertainers/stand up comedians who can borrow the language of the christian faith, hijack the message,  and draw a large crowd you’re naive.  In the end, you’ve been entertained, he’s been well paid, and the gospel has been abandoned.  Your church is huge? Your pastor writes books and teaches seminars? The band rocks? If you are hearing something other than the gospel, it’s not a church and your messenger is accursed according to God the Holy Spirit as recorded by the Apostle Paul.  That’s pretty serious.

2. He’s like the kid who says “My Mommy Said!” when she said no such thing. Maybe it’s an appeal to what the crowds want to hear. I can guarantee that if you’re getting 1 or 2 verses, not read in their context, it’s so he can hijack the narrative and make it say whatever he wants. I can assure you that Paul never wrote about how to pray audaciously.  Jesus never stood at the door of your heart knocking to come in, and God has not commanded you to speak things into existence. Don’t believe me? Take the verse your pastor just preached, write it down, and go back and read the CHAPTER.  Does it have anything to do with what you were told God said? Be honest, there’s a great deal at stake here!

(See the difference? The quote on the left? God didn’t say that. Ever. It’s not in scripture. In fact, what God has actually revealed about how to pray stands in polar opposite. Audacious? Intimidating? Give us our bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation. Not so audacious is it? But we buy into it because it appeals to our pride. The hardest thing in the world for us as humans is to simply repent and receive.)

An example of this that I’ll never forget is my young nephew, walking into the dining room and announcing “My Mom said I could go!”  What he didn’t know is that his mother was around the corner in the kitchen.  His mother responded, “I said WHAT?!?” My nephew burst into tears. He knew he had lied, he knew his mother had heard him, and he knew he would be held accountable.

Someday these messengers will stand before the King, accountable to one whose authority they have misused. It’s bad enough that they have not taught the full council of God’s word and have intermixed pop-psychology, moralism, and politics.. but to actually attribute words, and commands “God wants you to…” to God which are not in His word?  They should tremble at the thought.

So, the next time you hear “God said”, make sure it’s legit.  Here’s a good start: If you hear the phrases “I believe” at the beginning of your pastor’s sentence, pay attention. “I believe God wants…” be very, very vigilant here. Open your bible, see if scripture says this IN CONTEXT.  Read the CHAPTER!  And if it’s “God wants you to _____ so he can begin to _____.” Run.  Your “messenger” has hijacked the mission.

Would love to hear your feedback!