Is the Reformation Over?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

ReformationThis Sunday is Reformation Sunday. It commemorates and celebrates the Reformation that was started by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517, when he posted the "Ninety-Five Theses" on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was deeply concerned about the collapse and corruption of Biblical doctrine by the professing Church. The Church had been selling salvation to the masses for centuries through something called "Indulgences," a practice in which a person paid to have their sins forgiven. It was a very lucrative practice and brought enormous amounts of money to the Church. Luther came to a place where he felt it was time to speak up about this and return the Church to a Biblical foundation of grace alone. Suffice it to say the Reformation changed Western Civilization as we know it. It was responsible for the founding of America by Christian pilgrims and the eventual birth of our Nation in 1776. Simply put, without the Reformation America would not exist.

The lessons of the Reformation are many, but like most things, they tend to be forgotten and lost over the last 500 years. That is true because human nature is the same and so people tend to make the same mistakes and history repeats itself. As a result, the American Church is in a crisis that is very similar to the condition of the Church in pre-Reformation Europe. And while many people may not see it, the Church has subtly started to sell and market salvation to their audience. People are less likely to come to the Church today for salvation in Christ alone because they are not even sure what that is all about. The reason we know this is happening is because we are seeing a dramatic loss of basic, Christian doctrine about the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, people are coming to the Church for their own fleshly reasons that are being reinforced by a Church world that is willing to cater to them. But when the Church doesn't clearly understand and proclaim the real Lord and what the Bible teaches about Him, the Church isn't the Church.

Is the Pope Catholic?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Pope FrancisIf you really want to know what is going on today, as it relates to the future, keep your eyes on the visible Church and its leadership. The Bible is very clear that a major sign of the Lord's return is connected to the apostasy or departure from the historic Faith. After all, if the Church rejects the true Faith and embraces a false one, you have the seeds of deception and a willingness to embrace a false Christ or anti-Christ. This was the pattern in place during our Lord's 1st coming when our Lord was rejected and killed by the visible Church at the time. Surely, we are seeing that same pattern unfolding today through the Biblical confusion and movement away from the Christian Faith by growing elements within professing Christendom. One of the places where we are currently watching this unfold is in the ministry of Pope Francis. Since Pope Francis was elected to his office on March 13, 2013, the Pope has been at the center of regular controversy. From the beginning of his papacy, the Pope has made numerous statements that have left many Catholics and other Christians completely shocked and uncertain about the Pope's orthodoxy.

As an example, in the last few weeks the Pope has made a variety of public statements that have left people wondering if he even believes in basic Catholic doctrine like the existence of Hell or most recently that homosexuality is sinful. These doctrinal issues represent foundational Catholic and Christian beliefs that have defined orthodoxy for the last 2000 years. Those beliefs are found throughout Catholic statements of faith as found in the Council of Trent and the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. Regarding the reality of Hell, the Catechism states in Section IV-1035,
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire". The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

Can the Church Make God Relevant?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

I Will Build My ChurchIf you want to really grow in your faith ask yourself this question, "Can the Church Make God Relevant?" The answer to this question will make you think and lead you to understand the Lord in new ways. Our hope on the Carlson Report is to bring thoughtful articles to the Christian world that make people do a little critical thinking. We are immersed in a "touchy, feely" world of cultural images, technology and sound bites that does just the opposite. Getting people to stop and really think is not easy, but our goal here is not success but faithfulness to the Lord.

If there was ever an area that has captivated the Church world today it is the issue of "relevance." You hear that word used frequently these days. You hear it at conferences for Church leaders and in just about any place where ministry is going on today. Of course, the main reason people are talking about "relevance" is because people are worried that God and/or the Church is becoming "irrelevant." People seem to be deeply concerned that we are losing our young people and that the Christian Faith is just hanging on in a seductive and antagonistic world. People are feeling increasing desperate on how to reach people with the Gospel and make the Lord, the Church and the Faith relevant for the next generation.

Fake News Versus the Good News

Written by Dianne Carlson on .

FakeAs the dust finally begins to settle from our recent Presidential election, a fairly scary phenomenon has emerged.....Fake News. This is a term that we are just beginning to hear about more and more every day. While campaigning in the recent election for Hillary Clinton here in Michigan, President Obama said,
"And people, if they just repeat attacks enough and outright lies over and over again, as long as it's on Facebook and people can see it, as long as it's on social media, people start believing it. And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense."
It appears that this recent election has truly brought out the worst in our media and public in general. Few people seem to know whether anything they hear anymore is true. The pubic is increasingly being left with a nagging feeling that everything they hear might really end up being "Fake." And this Fake News is not just coming from our major media outlets; it is also coming from just about everyone. You see through the explosion of technology, the average person is a media outlet themselves because of social media, blogs, emails, texting, Twitter and just about every other possible way to pass on information to others electronically.

The Last Pilgrims

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Pilgrims Plymouth RockThe original Thanksgiving holiday we are celebrating this Thursday had its roots with 90 Indians and 53 Pilgrims at a meal in the fall of 1621 on the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. This thanking of the Lord for His many blessings was continued by Presidents Washington and Lincoln in national proclamations after great battles that helped to keep the Nation free. Eventually, the idea of a national thanksgiving was fixed on the calendar to the last Thursday of November by President Lincoln on October 3, 1863.

Many today have lost sight of who the Pilgrims were and what their lives were all about. The Pilgrims stood for much more than saying grace at a big meal. The Pilgrims were a group of people that believed their lives totally belonged to the Lord. They were a group of people that were willing to make any sacrifice for their faith. No price was too big to pay, including crossing an ocean and starting over. The Pilgrims never had any idea of living the good life, remodeling their kitchen or enjoying the American Dream. The Pilgrims were not looking for anything this world had to offer. Deep down inside of them was a desire for the Lord and the great future that the Lord alone would give them one day. As the writer of Hebrews said,

"Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:16

The Pilgrims were on a journey to the Promised Land. And like the Lord's people throughout history, they knew the Lord has saved the best for last. Heaven was not something that was going to be fully realized in this life. The real joy and meaning of life was yet to come in a heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.

Was Jesus Successful?

Written by Dianne Carlson on .

Success FailureWhether we fully understand it or not, America stands at a crossroads like no other time since 1776. Perhaps that crossroads is best seen in the current political battle underway as the Presidential elections draw near this fall. Both candidates offer a radically different view of reality and the future that will forever change America and the world. 

But in a way, an even bigger crossroads is being faced by the Church today. That crossroads has everything to do with how we define the Church and its' ministry. You see at the heart of America's political chaos is an unseen spiritual battle going on in every congregation in America. You can't explain one without the other. Ultimately, that crossroads has everything to do with how the Church understands Jesus and what the Lord is calling His Church to be and do. If we get that wrong nothing else will be right, no matter how things look on the outside.

Are You Hungry to Hear from God?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Hungry BirdsIf there is one cry that comes from the heart of every true believer, it is to hear from the Lord. Such a cry is the desire to have a real and powerful opportunity to hear from Heaven and know what the Lord is saying to us. Such a desire comes from deep within our souls and is very much like a child crying for their father and saying, "Abba! Father!" as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 4:6. Only the Lord Himself can meet the deepest need of being our Father, Lord and Savior by speaking tenderly and directly to His people through His Word.

The problem we are facing in this hour is that hearing from the Lord is not a very common thing today. We are living in a period of history that is very similar to the days of the Judges about 3000 years ago. Back in those days, the culture was preoccupied with a focus on the "self" where everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). The people did not have spiritually mature leadership, so they were not hearing from the Lord.  When the young boy Samuel was finally born, we are told that hearing the "Word of the Lord" was rare (I Samuel 3:1). Samuel's birth was meant to be a sign that the Lord was going to speak to the people again through him because his name in Hebrew means, "to hear." Real leaders must first hear from the Lord themselves, before they can share what the Lord is saying to the people. It is not enough to just be religious or even be in religious leadership. 

Post Christian America and the Great Apostasy

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Apostasy-2While much of the Nation seems to be preoccupied with the "mud wrestling" going on today with the race for President, the story of greatest importance is being overlooked. Our current political chaos is only a symptom of a much deeper cause. The story everyone should be concerned with right now is the rapid secularization of the Nation and departure from the historic Christian Faith that helped to create it. This is the hidden story behind ever other story. It is THE story being suppressed by the media and largely ignored by many pastors and churches.

According to a growing number of studies, statistics and expert analysis, America is rapidly becoming a post Christian Nation. Leading Christian pollster George Barna, at Barna.org, recently reported that the number of people labelled "post Christian" has risen from 37% in 2013 to 44% in 2015. That is an increase of almost 20% in just two years. To be labelled as a "post Christian," according to Barna, you have to be almost antagonistic to the Lord and the Christian Faith. These growing and alarming statistics are telling us that America is undergoing a radical spiritual transformation before our eyes that needs to be understood as we face the future.

Can Anyone Find 100% Certainty in a 63% World?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Authority ParchmentAccording to a just published religious poll from the Pew Research Center, people in the USA are becoming “less religious”….whatever that means. The article stated the number of people that are absolutely certain God exists fell to only 63%. This same article went on to say that only about 50% of kids born from 1990 to 1996 are absolutely sure that God even exists. That statistic is as shocking as it is sad.

While I am not a big person on polls, few people would disagree that the Christian Faith is being challenged in America. Our Faith has been attacked on every possible level from colleges, universities, public schools, media and politicians of every stripe. As a matter of fact, I am not aware of one area of our society that is NOT trying to move the Lord from being at the center of our lives to something more “manageable.” Sadly, that is even happening in the Church world, where Christians are tending to not be so dogmatic anymore about the Faith in a culture of “tolerance” and “dialogue.”

Luther or Halloween? Does It Really Matter?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Martin Luther Here I Stand“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  Romans 1:17
 
About a month ago, I was surprised to find that one of my neighbors had totally decorated their yard to get ready for Halloween. Mind you, this was not just some sort of simple pumpkin on the porch, but an entire Hollywood transformation. Maybe it is just me, but it seems like Halloween is becoming a bigger holiday each year.  

If you study your calendar for the month of October, you can’t help but notice that “Reformation Day” is on October 31, the same day as Halloween. Scholars are not entirely agreed on how the two days connected in history. However, I do believe it points to some important issues for us to consider about our faith and changes going on in American society and the Church today.

Have You Heard of the Gospel of Judas?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

30 PiecesIf there is one name that is universally recognized for betrayal and evil it is Judas Iscariot. The name of Judas is infamous in the minds of people around the world and throughout history.

Something went wrong with Judas and his understanding of Jesus and why He came into the world. Judas wanted another Jesus. He didn’t value and love the real Jesus. Judas wanted Jesus to fulfill his ideas of ministry, so when the Cross came near, Judas sold our Lord over for 30 pieces of silver to the religious leaders. Many books have been written and sermons given on why Judas betrayed our Lord. While we may never know the real reason with precision, an excellent case can be made for what Judas was thinking. The reason I say that is because the same thinking is going on today in the Church world.

You see, Judas’s real focus was on this life. Like many of the Jews of his day, he looked for an earthly salvation. He wanted a conquering king like David of old, who could empower Israel and restore her to greatness over enemies like the Romans. Judas did not want the Cross. He wasn’t concerned about sin or the spiritual solution to that problem. He was more interested in earthly solutions that met his needs.  In the end, Judas created his own “gospel.”

Welcome to Starbucks Community Church

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Coffee-creamDuring my past 30 years or so of ministry I have watched a growing phenomenon emerging in the Church world that has shaped American Christianity like nothing else. It is the rise of the Mega Church. It kind of started with Pastor Bill Hybels doing market research in the Chicago area about what people liked and didn’t like about a typical church. That market research birthed what became the Willow Creek Association and a new way of doing church. Many others have joined this movement. Some of these leaders have become celebrities that are widely known around the world. While I am not sure Bill Hybels or anyone in this movement would agree, the movement seemed to move the Church more toward the audience’s wants and less toward God’s Word and will…..at least at first glance. It was and is assumed by the architects of this movement, that the Lord would still be there, whatever was done in His Name. The message of this movement came down to almost a simple slogan that went something like this, “same message different methods.”

What started as a more audience driven ministry has really blossomed. As an example, I recently read about a large church in Texas and its ministry to over 24,000 members that continues to rapidly grow. Their 140 acre campus has a health club, game arcade, sports field and a food court with a series of restaurants including a Starbucks. Kids love to go, and why not? Everyone is having fun and getting their needs met. It surely seems to beat “boring old church.” The pastor gives an altar call every week and it seems things just couldn’t be better, almost a heaven on earth. As a matter of fact, there really isn’t a Country Club in the area that could beat it. It finally appears the Church has beaten the world at attracting people. Who wouldn’t want to belong to such a place or go forward and accept Christ? After all, you get the best of this life and a trip to Heaven when your fun is over. Sign me up, right?  You can find a version of the above in almost every city in the Country and it shows no sign of stopping. Some of these mega churches are becoming larger than an average size town or small city. Things are so good, you might even wonder if the Lord has returned.

Knowing the Lord

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Knowing Christ LakeJust the other day, a person sent me a devotional from a local mega church that said the goal of the Great Commission is to be more like Jesus. The devotional read:

Today, as you open your hands and welcome God into your day, think of a significant relationship and one thing you can do (in the next few days) to encourage that person to be more like the Christ. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something big or dramatic, but think of something you can continually do as you help them become more like Jesus.
 
While the sentiments of the above devotional sound good on the surface, they reveal a very serious problem going on in the Church world today. Huge numbers of churches are sharing a message that has nothing to do with the Gospel or the Lord’s goal in redemptive history. Many people have come to believe that the Lord’s main goal for us is to be like Jesus, follow His example, be a good person and live a moral life of love and service to others. Millions of people are reading devotionals like the one above and hearing messages in their churches that we need to help others “become more like Jesus.” Somehow the salvation and Savior part of the Great Commission and resulting fruit of real discipleship is being confused or lost altogether. If we are not careful, people will be led into self-improvement through their good works and human efforts and the finished work of the Cross will not even be in focus.

The Runaway Bride

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

Running BrideFor many Christians, one of the hardest things to do is to see oneself as part of the Bride of Christ.   Some have never even heard of the Church being a Bride.  Perhaps it is too personal, too close, to see the Lord as the Bridegroom and us as the Bride.  Maybe it’s uncomfortable to think of God living with us day to day like a spouse.  After all, do we really want that kind of accountability in our lives with the Lord? Isn’t the Lord just for Sundays, funerals, baptisms, weddings, and when we need help?  And then there are the sexual identity problems.  How do Christian men see themselves as a “Bride”?

The problem, however, with all of these struggles is that if we don’t see the Lord as a Bridegroom and the Church as a Bride, then we can’t understand life and the Institution of Marriage between a man and a woman. 
The world performs millions of marriages every year and in every faith. And yet people remain, for the most part, clueless to the meaning of the event they’re celebrating as a high point in their lives. We all need to stop and ask ourselves, “What is this ceremony or institution all about?” Surely, we didn’t invent things like men, women, virginity, sex, honeymoons, wedding receptions, unity candles, the father giving away the bride, the best man, white dresses for the bride, resulting children, families...  I could go on. No, all of these things are not just religious or cultural traditions invented by us. The Lord created marriage, and all the items mentioned above, to be a sermon series about His love for us.

The Incredible, Shrinking Jesus

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

church8For many years I used to read church ads in the Saturday religion section of our local Grand Rapids paper. I was curious to see what people would say about their churches. Most churches advertised they were “friendly,” “welcomed visitors,” had a “great nursery,” as well as telling us the pastor’s sermon title for Sunday and their denominational affiliation, if they had one.

The one thing I never heard people say in the paper was, "THE REAL JESUS IS HERE!” The reason we don’t hear that is because everybody assumes the real Jesus is at their church. After all, it is a church, isn’t it? But what if a church doesn’t preach/teach about the real Jesus and the real Gospel?The Apostle Paul told the Galatians that there were many false “gospels” in the church world (Galatians 1:6-7). After all, aren’t there as many views and ideas about Jesus today as there were in our Lord’s Day? What if a church isn’t clear about our Lord as fully God and fully Man, the only Savior of the world? What if a church doesn’t believe in a Jesus that teaches marriage is only between a man and a woman as a wonderful and exclusive picture of Jesus’ love for the Church?

Why History Repeats Itself

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

newspapermanAs I survey the news today, I was struck by the profound ignorance and confusion going on in the world today at the hands of our leaders. It seems as if everyone has totally forgotten what happened in the past and has learned nothing from history or previous disasters. The philosopher George Santayana was famously quoted as saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I am sure most, if not all, of our leaders today have heard that line at one time or another. The problem is that most just don’t believe it applies to them. According to them, ours is a new time, things are much different now.

Of course long before Santayana was born, the Bible said the same thing in Ecclesiastes 1:9 where it states, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The Bible is quite clear that history repeats itself because humanity has never changed.

When the Church Isn’t the Church

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

churchWhy is America falling apart when we have a church on almost every street corner?  America has the most churches per capita of any nation in the world. The Gallup organization tells us that over 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christians.  And yet, our nation is morally and spiritually crumbling before our eyes and most people see it. What happened? How do you explain this shocking reality going on today?

The Bible is quite clear that just before the Lord Jesus’ return the professing Church will have a “form of godliness without any power” (II Timothy 3:5). It will be a time of apostasy or a turning away from the historic faith into a counterfeit one that people will accept as the real one.  In other words, the Church will be a place where people have a religious belief, form, and practice, but it will be empty from the Lord’s perspective.

From Tolerance to Takeover

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

stonewallI have been a Christian pastor for over 30 years now and I have never met a “homophobic pastor” in my life. I have met a lot of pastors that think homosexual behavior is not the Lord’s plan and not in the best interest of those involved. But I have never personally talked with or met a single pastor who used hateful language or talked about violence against anyone in the gay community for their beliefs and political activism. I am sure those pastors are out there, but I just haven’t met them. This fact may come as a shock to some folks who are coming to believe that traditional Christians are a group of intolerant, hate-filled folks trying to hurt a minority of people with their distorted and mean spirited Biblical beliefs.

If you go back into the history of the struggles of the gay community in this country, a lot of things started to change on the morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. This date marked the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in the world, after the New York Police unfairly treated the patrons of this now famous nightclub and bar.

What about the Media?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

tvWhen I was kid growing up in the 1960s, we had a TV and a radio and that was it. We waited all year to watch the “The Wizard of Oz” on network TV and got to skip dinner to see it. We normally spent time eating family dinners, doing chores and homework, and living life with family and friends. I miss those days. Since that time the media has become so pervasive in our lives that people literally cannot go to the bathroom without someone trying to tell them what to think or what to believe through their smart phone or some other electronic toy. This loss of personal boundaries and freedom is shocking, but we seem to be adjusting...I guess. The greatest casualties of this media world are the children because this is all they know and it seems “normal” to them.

Reaching the Nations

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

The-Christ-on-a-background-of-Earth"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matthew 24:14

If there is one thing we all should know about the Lord, it is that the Lord really loves this world and its people. When you study the history of missions you see that truth in all its glory. The history of the world is really the history of missions. The Lord has planned out a wonderful plan to share His love with this world that will continue right to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is drawing near.

The Lord Jesus in His "Olivet Discourse" in Matthew 24:14 tells the disciples that He would not return until the whole world had heard the gospel message. Isn't that an amazing truth? In other words, the Lord is carefully waiting to close this present age out until the gospel has been shared with everyone. That is the single reason why our Lord has not come back yet. People need to be saved, redeemed, and restored.