The Pastor’s Pen

Stewardship Principles – “Nine Concerns About Withholding Financial Giving”

Once again, I apologize for not posting here for a while. Ministry is such a whirlwind experience, and time flies by like never before. As I sit here studying for and preparing sermons for my annual Stewardship series – this year (2018) titled “Faithfulness in Giving” – I am so overwhelmed and motivated by what I’m studying that I felt compelled to post an excerpt of an article I found on the Thom S. Ranier website ( I don’t know Mr. Rainer or his ministry, but this article contains some great wisdom that ties into Scripture.
First, how did this come about? I felt prompted by the Lord to research why church attendees stop giving, and a big reason outside of economical pressures (not a good excuse, FYI) is protest of the leadership and/or vision of a particular church. I asked myself, “Is that biblical? Is it ever OK to stop giving out of sheer protest of a particular vision or leadership team?”
Before I post the excerpt and give my opinion on the matter of ceasing giving out of disagreement, I must first say that churches who abandon the Word of God for expediency or comfort should be challenged from the leadership on down. In fact, I believe that is one of the primary reasons that someone may be released from a church by the Holy Spirit. Notice I said may be released. As with biblical grounds for divorce, even if those requirements are met, does that mean a divorce is the desired outcome by God? By no means! As with any breach of covenant or commitment, restoration is always an outcome…or more than that, the desired outcome. As God reconciles people to Himself through Jesus Christ, so we are to make every effort to be reconciled one to another. There’s a great ministry in a church who understands imperfection in leadership and vision, and offers forgiveness rather than revenge. What am I saying?
Even if your church has gone off the rails, you may be part of God’s solution to restore said church. Leaving may not be the action He wants you to take. It might be, sure, but it may not, and we need to seek His leading in these matters soberly and submissively.
And so, with that out of the way, here is the excerpt from Nine Concerns about Church Members Who Withhold Their Financial Gifts:

“Almost every pastor and church leader has some story about members withholding their financial gifts as an act of protest about the direction of the church and its leadership. I have never known such a situation that had any positive effect. Such is the reason I offer nine concerns about this practice.

  1. It assumes that we are the actual owners of our finances. That is unbiblical thinking. God gives to us everything we have. We are the stewards of these gifts. Such is the reason we use the word “stewardship.”
  2. No church is perfect. If every member protested about an imperfection in a local congregation, no church would ever receive funds. This selfish act is not the way to resolve concerns.
  3. This practice is divisive. One of the most precious resources of any congregation is unity. The withholding of financial gifts is an act of disunity and divisiveness.
  4. It is controlling. The church member who withholds financial gifts seeks to get his or her way. Such is not the spirit of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”
  5. It is self-serving. When Paul penned 1 Corinthians 12, he emphasized how we are to function in the body of Christ. Our motive for serving is for Christ and others before ourselves.
  6. It is demoralizing. Paul wrote in Romans 14:19, “So we must pursue what promotes peace and builds up one another.” This practice has the opposite effect.
  7. It backs church leaders into a corner. Leaders have one of two options. They can yield to the church member and thus affirm a sinful practice. Or they can refuse to yield and continue the conflict that was started by the member. It is a lose-lose situation.
  8. If the church member truly has serious disagreements with the direction of the church, he or she should pursue other paths. They can address their concerns with leaders in the church directly. If members still have serious concerns and no resolution seems possible, it may be best to go to another church. It is much healthier to give to another church than to withhold from your present church.
  9. This practice never has a positive outcome. Even if the member gets his or her way, unity and trust are broken at many levels. The body of Christ is always wounded by this practice.”
Personally, I could add several more reasons that this is a selfish and poor practice in the church. This is challenging to our thinking in a country that is moving like a speeding bullet train toward a Godless and entitled society. We complain about our children today having an “entitlement” mentality (e.g. this is owed to me just because I want it), but I wonder how many adults withhold giving to their local church because they’re throwing a passive-aggressive entitlement tantrum for not getting their way? You may have heard people say this in your church and give all sorts of justifications for it. It’s time we challenged this selfish thinking with God’s truth. Would you like it if someone withheld forgiveness and love from you because you made a mistake? For certain, no!! So why do we think this is OK in God’s house? What are we teaching our children about giving to the church? “Give only when they’re doing everything with which you 100% agree.”
Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I believe – even as a pastor – that people have legitimate grounds for “divorcing” a local church for unbiblical practices and behavior by the leadership. But as Jesus outlines in Matthew 18, there’s a biblical process for conflict resolution. Maybe we should try that instead of causing more division and conflict in the Church of God.
In love and unity,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

The Root of Faith series starting New Year’s Eve 2017

I’ve been thinking a lot about the root of my faith in Jesus Christ as a self-professing Christ-follower. I’ve said it before: faith in faith is cultish. In other words, faith in faith itself produces a type of religiosity that hangs on prosperity non-gospel beliefs and other outlandish molestations of Christianity. No, the root of my faith is not faith itself, the root of my faith is God, His promises, and ultimately His Word. His Word contains His promises, His special revelation to mankind, and even contains the prophecies and stories about His Son, Jesus the Messiah. For me to reject the Bible would be to reject Christianity as a whole, as the Bible is a core essential of what it means to be a Christian. Sadly, in today’s Church the Bible is being undermined and marginalized at best, or outright rejected and tossed aside at worst. Pastors are teaching that Jesus merely swooned on the Cross in order to deny the supernatural resurrection from the dead because almighty (not!) science tells us that resurrection after death is “impossible.” And these are PASTORS doing this! Men and women bound to teach and preach God’s Word unapologetically. Maybe it’s a minority of cases, sure, I’ll give you that, but even ONE case of this kind of false teaching is to be rejected and decried. Again, sadly, the Church seems to be unwilling to remove false teaching because of our cultural milieu.
As I leave 2017 – my first full year of biblical church ministry (I became a full-time pastor in July 2016) – I began thinking about where God wanted me to go in my teaching/preaching. It’s always a bit daunting this time of year. How do I make Christmas and New Year’s messages fresh for a congregation who, quite literally, could be hearing them for the 50th time or more? This and other questions plague my mind, and so I go to God when that happens and ask Him for guidance…
While driving in the car several weeks ago by myself, God gave me the message: His Word. Teach and preach from His Word, yes – I always do that – but teach and preach about His Word. Give hearers another series on the foundational piece of our faith, the “root” of it. Answer some tough questions that challenge Christians today. Give reasons why I – Branden – believe the Bible. I’ve never done this before in this manner from the pulpit. Pastors for centuries have been doing this, and of course I’ve studied many pastors in preparation for this series. In some ways, it feels like I’ve been studying for this my whole life! I want to thank these men for pouring their hearts and souls into their own teachings about the Word of God. They may not know it, but it’s had a profound impact on me, and motivated me to be diligent in my own research and ask tough questions.
And so, fellow Christians, 2018 will be ushered in tonight – barring God sending Jesus in the next 12 hours back to earth to claim His Bride – on the wings of a new series about God’s Word. I’m asking you who are part of Cove Run to pray for me as I preach through all this material. It’s overwhelming and I needed to pick and choose which pieces fit into a 45-minute sermon. And challenge yourself this year. Resolve to do the little things that motivate you (diet, new job, etc.), as those can be healthy and important, but resolve to make the Word of God of utmost priority in 2018. Start small if need be, but make it a priority, one that will be sustained not for 30, 60, 90, 120 or so days, but throughout the entire year. I’m praying for all of you as well, that God will guide and teach you as you engage His Word and research material.
May God bless you all with a joy-filled new year!
In Christ,
Pastor Branden

Should We Have A Baby?

Well, should we? Maybe this is a strange question for a pastor to ask in a blog? Of course, this is the title of the new series starting this coming Sunday, November 5, 2017. It’s an important question, and here’s why…
Many pastors have used the illustration of a baby to make good points about spiritual growth and maturity. I couldn’t find the exact illustration I had told to me a few weeks ago, but I did find one from David B. Smith in his eight-part series on
When we have babies and they drool and coo, we’re perfectly pleased with them. They crawl around on the rug and fill up diapers. It’s absolutely wonderful. We take pictures of it and e-mail them to the whole world. But twenty years from now, if that same kid now has a beard and body hair, and is still cooing and dribbling and going “blither, blither” as they watch Sesame Street, we’re going to be a little bit concerned. Why? Because it’s our goal to have our children grow up. We pray to the Lord that they will become mature, be fulfilled, that they will grow into all that He intended for them when He destinedthousands of years agothat they should come into being.
The thrust of this new series is exactly that: is our church ready to accept babies in our midst for the purpose of helping them when they’re in need; guiding them when they’re lost; catching them when they stumble; or, God-forbid, put up with them when they keep making a mess everywhere?
We need to understand that it’s the mature people in the home who takes care of the messy, whining, helpless babies. In fact, the truly mature parent will selflessly get up with the baby every two hours during the night to feed them or to hold them when they’re sick. Babies test the mettle of the mature parent, and helps them grow in knowledge and wisdom in how to parent. It’s not that the mature parent never makes mistakes – we’re human – but a child could never survive for even one day without the strength and maturity of the adult(s).
In the same way, the Church should be filled with healthy, growing, mature/maturing believers who are willing to take the new, baby Christians under their wing. New Christians struggle with all sorts of things: fleshly behavior, immature behavior and/or decisions, an underdeveloped understanding of the Scriptures (since they may have only discovered the Word of God recently and aren’t sure how to study it), etc. Paul tells us that these types of Christians actually exist and are something the Church must recognize and help with:

But I, brothers and sisters, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
So you see, baby Christians, Paul says, are “still of the flesh.” Now we know that when we become regenerated by Jesus Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, we are a new creature. The old things pass away and all things have become new. But friends, understand that even a butterfly (new creature) contains the DNA of the caterpillar (old nature)!! We still hold the sin nature within us, but now it struggles for control against the Holy Spirit living within us! We’re only a new creature because of Him, not ourselves. We don’t become something autonomous, we’re dependent upon the Spirit. New believers may still hold worldviews that aren’t yet squared with Scripture. That’s the point and importance of discipleship, of the Word of God, of deep, inductive Bible study, of Christian fellowship, of mortification of sin in our lives, etc, etc, etc!
Those of us who have been through the lifelong process of sanctification a lot longer than baby Christians should be growing up!! Isn’t that what parents want for their children? Isn’t that, then, what God wants for His children? Of course! We absolutely, positively should have a baby in our churches! We should welcome them, love them, and, when necessary, “put up with them” because we’re their new family, with Christ our Savior as our model and example of selfless sacrifice and grace.
Love someone at church this weekend. Welcome them. Let them know that we’re there for them. In Jesus’ Name, amen!
In Christ,
Pastor Branden

Divine Contrasts: Grace vs. Works

While I was away on vacation, I couldn’t help but feeling that I needed more of a rest than what I was being granted. Going to the beach in September is not the best of choices, but we didn’t have a choice since we were traveling with others. I got sick the first day there and ended up in the urgent care center only to discover I had a common cold. Problem with me is what starts out as a common cold ends up as walking pneumonia! I was concerned, so I rested by sitting in the hotel room feeling sorry for myself. But once I submitted that attitude to the Lord, I opened my Bible and started reading Jeremiah. I shared this in service this past Sunday, but Jeremiah 20:7-11 says,
O Lord, You have deceived me, and I was deceived; You are stronger than I, and You have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. “Terror is on every side! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” But God is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten (emphasis mine).
Verse 11 is where the divine contrast takes place. Verses 7-10 is the crux of Jeremiah’s complaint against God’s decision to send him to an idolatrous and disobedient people and proclaim “Thus says the Lord.” But verse 11 is Jeremiah’s acknowledgement of God’s abundant grace and mercy, but here specifically His justice. Everyone is against Jeremiah, even his so-called friends…but, God is with him as a Warrior,
the greatest warrior one could have on their side. I’ve often said it: God plus me is a majority, and it doesn’t matter what others do or, in many sad cases, don’t do.
Last week, the divine contrast took place in Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul contrasts our complete deadness in sin with the life that is only found in Christ Jesus. This coming week, I’m going to stay in that same theme by looking at Romans 3:9-26 and the contrast between Man’s self-righteousness and God’s righteousness. Look at this passage and how rich it is in theology and practical application. I know I’m ahead of myself but I wanted to give the few who read this blog something to study in advance of Sunday:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
 Beloved, this is the Bible. Grace through faith in Christ alone is the way to salvation and it’s also the way to sanctification and a healthy, joyful Christian life and worldview. The problem is we leave grace at the alter where we submitted to Jesus, and yet grace is supposed to stay with us constantly throughout our whole lives! How do we extend grace to others when we’ve forgotten the grace that saved wretches like us? We can’t leave grace for the conversion of our hearts and then forget about it when it comes to sanctification. Sanctification is a lifelong journey, not a one-time work of grace. I’m sorry, but I disagree with that doctrine. Sanctification is a process, not a destination. We will never be sinless and therefore there will always be a need for the sanctifying work of grace in our lives. It’s a molestation of the beauty of grace that leads entire churches and even denominations into great error and legalism. This free gift of salvation is delivered through the vehicle of grace, NOT WORKS, so no one can boast. And once you know grace, you will know mercy and love for others who struggle in this world with the veil of sin. Remember, church, where you’ve come from. If you’re reading this and you’re a child of God, you should be – without question or compromise – a student of grace, and all the gifts that spring from it.
Do you love mercy and grace? Ask yourself and be honest. Repent if necessary for the wrong worldview; celebrate if you know full well the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks for reading, and God bless you.
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

Core Values…Why?

It’s been a while since I blogged on the site. Call it whatever you like, but there have been several times I’ve wanted to compose one and just didn’t have the strength to do it (or the inspiration, desire, time, etc.). So here it goes, months later, and the topic is what I’ve been preaching on the past four of five Sundays. Four of five? My wife and I were in Chicago for the Vertical Conference at Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, Ill. (Pastor James MacDonald’s church) for an amazing time of learning, worshiping, and soul-searching. Needless to say, it was awesome and we came away refreshed, if even in our own souls (which is all that truly counts, right?).
Anyway, I’m preaching a series on our Core Values. I did some Google searching on Core Values and this is definitely not a new thing. I’m always interested in what the Bible has to say about two main things: God’s identity (as much as we can know in our limited capacity as humans) and Christian identity. When I’m “on the ropes” in the boxing ring of life, I can often times boil down the issue to a confusion or misunderstanding of one or both of those identities. I’m either confused about who God is and what He’s doing, or I’m confused about who He says I am in Christ Jesus. When I’m prideful, I know it’s a messed up view of who God is and who I am in Christ (double-whammy there if ever there was one). I could go on and on here, but suffice to say that these two issues concern me deeply as I survey the landscape of Church history up to and including 2017.
Part of the issue in America, at least, today is one of confused identity. The series that preceded this one in late Spring 2017 was about the broader topic of Christian identity; who does God say that I am as a true follower and imitator of Jesus Christ? That’s important to know. But this new series on DNA and Core Values, I’m getting down to the local body level at Cove Run Church in southwestern PA where I am the sole and senior pastor only one year into full-time ministry. To know why we’re here in this part of our small community and the surrounding communities at large is so vital in our understanding of God’s plan moving into the future! So many churches get stuck in the past, and I don’t understand why. You can’t go back. You can’t relive the so-called “glory days” of the Church (when I use “Church” as a proper name here I mean the universal Church big “C”, not the local “church” little “c”). You can’t be stuck in nostalgia. You can’t wish for a retired pastor from yesteryear to come back. And the list goes on and on. I don’t have a bone to pick here with the past or tradition; both of those elements are crucial to understand where we’ve come from, but the past is there only to inform us of how to proceed into the future!!
DNA is the basic building block of all life and it was discovered in the not-so-distant past (1953). It changed the landscape of science and our understanding of how life originated. DNA is a language, a God-given language, mind you. I find God’s use of language so fascinating, and it takes so many forms. There’s the unspoken yet very understandable “body” language; there’s myriad spoken languages using syntax and rules to shape words into sentences that forms (we hope) intelligible discourse; there’s art, another unspoken language; there’s mathematics, the “universal” language; and again, the list goes on and on. DNA makes us unique, is the point, and every local church has a unique personality formed by God’s blessings and gifts in people at that time in history. That’s why churches change…because people and cultures change, sometimes slowly, sometimes very fast.
Core Values emerge as we study who we are. At Cove Run, I have a leadership team (formerly known as the “Bored of Administr-…I mean Board of Administration), and I’ve gone through a lengthy and personally challenging process of interviewing each of them by way of published surveys, spiritual gifting tests, and other evaluation tools for churches. Is the process perfect? Well, this is my first time through it (yes, I went through it with them every step), and I can say for sure no church evaluation system will ever be perfect. No multiple choice survey can possibly nail down everyone’s view of a given topic. But it’s a starting point and the goal is to get us to look at the glaring problems that may be evident in our Christian worldview. It also teaches teach-ability, something NO leader can lead without. Anyway, through that process that took months to complete, our Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Values have been revealed, at least on paper. How we hold to these elements, of course, is the final measure of the words on the paper.
But again, we have a starting point. Can Core Values change as people change? Sure. But make no mistake of my words here: the core essentials of what it means to be a Christian (lit. “little Christ”) never, ever should change at a church professing to be legitimately Christian. For example, Biblical Instruction is a core value at Cove Run. This absolutely and unapologetically is a core essential of the Christian faith at ANY Bible-believing church, and if it’s not, then that church has compromised on the faith. Even if it were only me, Pastor Branden, who held this value at Cove Run – and I’m not, by the way, thank Jesus – it would still be a core value here. Make sense?
Look, we’re all in this together. I don’t have all the answers. These blog posts aren’t my way of saying I know all the answers. I don’t. Plain and simple, I need the same grace, the same mercy, the same forgiveness, the same love, the same Savior Jesus Christ each and every single day of my life to even make it through life. It’s only by those attributes and more that I’m here today writing to you these things, sharing my thoughts and feelings straight from my heart and mind. To God be praised alone. He gives grace upon grace. At the end of my life, all I want to know is that I gave God my all and everything, and the suffering and pain that comes along with sticking as close to Him as possible will all be worth it in the end. If you’re reading this and you’ve never made the decision to follow Jesus, contact me, I’ll share my story with you. That’s all. I won’t preach at you, I just want to share the hope that is within me. Thank you, God bless, and to Him alone be praised.
Serving faithfully,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

God’s Preferred Future

God’s preferred future”…what does that even mean? According to Andy Haskins, it’s the defining phrase of a church seeking a vision, but not just any vision, God’s vision…His preferred future for each individual church as they seek to align with His plan for their lives and community. Cove Run is seeking God’s preferred future, and it can be a bumpy, yet thrilling ride. Who doesn’t want to know God’s plan for their lives and church? Most Christians would admit that one of the most difficult issues they face is knowing God’s will for their lives. Most don’t even realize that God has a vision for their church, too! And it’s not just the pastor who needs to know it!
A.W. Tozer – a man I often quote in my sermons and blog posts – once said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.” And he was exactly right. This is a statement of vision, but in a negative sense. A church without a vision, who doesn’t understand God’s preferred future, is dead. That’s right, dead! And the statistics don’t lie. As I move through the Recalibrate initiative in our denomination, a staggering set of numbers have emerged. Somewhere between 80%-85% of Christian churches in America today are either dead or plateaued (a word that means “near death if something doesn’t change” in this context). Some denominations are affected more than others. The Free Methodist denomination in America is enjoying a mere 51% decline (note the intense sarcasm please), but the Body of Christ should be concerned for all denominations who belong to the pale of orthodoxy. Any decline is cause for reanalysis of what we’re doing, and clearly catering to the Millennial generation isn’t improving these numbers! Church growth movements being what they are – and I’m very cynical and suspicious in general about the secular motivations behind church growth – we’re in trouble, plain and simple.
Vision casting isn’t easy. As I write this, I am not wired to be a re-envisioning pastor. My temperament and personality, though given by God and He doesn’t make “mistakes”, don’t constitute the mix that the statisticians believe are the best for vision casting. And I’ll grant them that argument. But God does the impossible, does He not? With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible, right? I believe I read that somewhere once. God is also omniscient, meaning He knows not only what is our actual future, but also any number of possible futures that could occur provided our freewill choice in the matter. That’s why I love the phrase “preferred future.” God has a future that He would prefer, but being the loving God He is, He will never force or coerce us to follow that plan. However, His preferred future is absolutely the best possible future we could have, if we’re willing to shed our selfishness, our ideas, our numbers, and our desires to align with His future, not only for our lives but our church’s life as well!
Friends, beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe with all my heart and soul that we’re on the precipice of a great awakening, possibly the greatest awakening ever seen in human history. Whether or not we’re in the end of the end time period or not, we’ve been living in the “end times” since Christ ascended to heaven over 2,000 years ago! If we truly believe that He can come back at any time, what would you rather be doing? Sulking in pity? Delving into despair? Or would you rather get up off your backside, stop deceiving yourselves by only hearing the Word, and get out there and do something for lost souls? That’s who the church is, what the church does, and what Jesus gave the church to be – a church with a vision, but not just any vision, not a human vision, but GOD’S PREFERRED FUTURE!
In Christ,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

The Perfect Atonement

A. W. Tozer once wrote, “The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is perfect as God is perfect.” That is a true statement, but many people are wondering: “What is ‘atonement’?” In the next few weeks I’m going to be preaching on the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross and what that concept relays to the unrepentant sinner and to reconciled believers.
Before we can understand the Christian orthodox view of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we have to understand that there are several competing theories – some historic, some modern – of the atonement:
  1. The Ransom Theory: This earliest theory, originating with the Early Church Fathers, claims that Christ offered himself as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Where it was not clear was in its understanding of exactly to whom the ransom was paid! Many early church fathers viewed the ransom as paid to Satan, which I think is patently absurd.
  2. The Recapitulation Theory: Originated with Irenaeus (125-202 AD). He saw Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did. Thus, where Adam was disobedient concerning God’s command concerning the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. Irenaeus is the first to draw comparisons between Eve and Mary, contrasting the faithlessness of the former with the faithfulness of the latter. In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as “recapitulating” or “summing up” human life. I don’t think this theory says anything about the need of Man for redemption or God’s holiness and justice to demand Christ die on the tree.
  3. The Satisfaction Theory: The formulator of this theory was the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1034-1109), in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. Why the God Man). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. The problem with this theory is that it speaks of God’s honor and dignity being somehow in need of satisfying rather than His holiness and justice being satisfied. This view undermines the need of Man’s redemption and reconciliation to God.
  4. The Moral-Example Theory (or Moral-Influence Theory): Christ died to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice, but teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance. Thus, the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining His justice, but towards man with the purpose of persuading him to right action. This theory is insufficient.
  5. The Governmental Theory: God made Christ an example of suffering to exhibit to erring man that sin is displeasing to him. God’s moral government of the world made it necessary for Him to evince His wrath against sin in Christ. Christ died as a token of God’s displeasure toward sin and it was accepted by God as sufficient; but actually God does not exact strict justice. This theory is insufficient.
  6. The Penal-Substitution Theory: This view was formulated by the 16th century Reformers as an extension of Anselm’s Satisfaction theory. Anselm’s theory was correct in introducing the satisfaction aspect of Christ’s work and its necessity, however the Reformers saw it as insufficient because it was referenced to God’s honor rather than his justice and holiness and was couched more in terms of a commercial transaction than a penal substitution. This view says simply that Christ died for man, in man’s place, taking his sins and bearing them for him. The bearing of man’s sins takes the punishment for them and sets the believer free from the penal demands of the law: The righteousness of the law and the holiness of God are satisfied by this substitution.
The Penal-Substitution Theory is the one I find most sufficient to explain our Holy Father’s demands for justice based upon His very nature of complete holiness. This view also takes into account the idea of Propitiation, that Christ stepped between God the Father and Mankind to take the punishment rightly due us. Of course, this then introduces another question: how limited or unlimited is Christ’s atonement? Is it sufficient to cover all of Mankind regardless of the fact that many, if not most, will reject Him? Or is His atonement limited, meaning only those chosen by God in advance can receive this atoning work?
Well, I don’t plan on convincing diehard Calvinists of my position, but suffice to say that the Bible has ample evidence that Christ’s atoning work on the cross is absolutely and completely unlimited in potentiality, but limited in actuality. In other words, God “so loved the world” in total that He sent His Son. The verse doesn’t say, “For God so loved the elect…” Elsewhere in Scripture it’s clear that God does not desire ANY man or woman to be apart from Him, but fortunately He didn’t create automatons, He is sovereign enough to allow free agents limited freewill to choose Him. So Christ’s atonement is potentially unlimited because His death and resurrection are sufficient to cover a multitude of sins for all Mankind, but in actuality only applies to those who choose to believe in and receive His gift of eternal life.
Don’t get hung up on this. The unlimited/limited aspect of the atonement has been and will be debated until Christ returns! It’s a non-essential belief in the pale of orthodoxy. Note that I’m not saying that atonement is non-essential, I’m saying the aspect of limited/unlimited is non-essential. And that’s not to say it’s unimportant; I’m saying it’s non-essential for salvation, but still important enough for us to discuss and debate in the spirit of Christian brotherhood. However God woos, draws, and brings us unto Himself is completely an act of sovereign grace, so if you feel His presence today, understand that He’s drawing you close, but you must choose. Choose Jesus Christ today, and allow His atoning work on the cross be actualized in your life today. Amen.
In Christ,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

Judge Not…Really?

Judgment…judgmental…”don’t judge me”…all of these words and catch phrases are plenty popular in American culture and around the world. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you be not judged.” Christians are often accused of being two things: hypocritical and judgmental. Now what does that mean to be both hypocritical and judgmental? It means that we turn the sharp edge of the sword to others – judgmental behavior in a condemning manner – and we turn the blunt edge toward ourselves – hypocrisy. We love it when others get the strong hand of justice applied to their necks, but grimace, complain, hide, and/or deny when it comes knocking at our door.
For the next three weeks I’ll be serving up a healthy dose of judgment talk from the seventh chapter of Matthew. Part one is titled, “Kingly Advice on True Judgment: Judging Ourselves.” We must, must, must as believers in Christ begin any judgment inside of our hearts. There’s no other way around it and that’s where Jesus started. Jesus didn’t say we can’t be discerning, wise, or judgmental about behavior, sin, etc. That’s not what He meant and there’s ample evidence. He uses the word “judge” in Matthew 7 in a “once-and-for-all condemning” style of judgment, which Christians are absolutely NOT supposed to do. That’s reserved for the King of kings and Lord of lords alone. But we are absolutely called to judge behavior in ourselves, and inside and outside the church.
It’s been said that once you cut off a person’s nose, don’t give them a rose to smell. If we’re going to present the rose of Christ and Him crucified to this world, we cannot then lop off the noses of those who need this good news. Too often we’re over eager in judging and condemning others while being timid and dishonest with cutting the chains that bind us! And we’ve all made mistakes in this arena, myself included…too many times if I’m being equally honest. But we don’t stop trying because we serve a mighty and loving God who will judge each one of us one day.
I pray that this series will serve as a reminder that we are to judge, but with “righteous judgment” (not by outward appearances) as John 7:24 states. It’s become a sport to hammer Christians over the head with cries of “don’t judge me.” And yet, if we first judge ourselves and humble ourselves before our holy Lord Jesus Christ, we can, with tenderness and love, reach a world who needs righteous judgment.
Prayerfully in Christ,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

Eternity: Not a Game of Chance

As I was reading my daily devotion for today (July 30, 2016) in the “Light from the Word” devotional titled “Eternal Effects,” I realized that the only real motive and mission I’m supposed to have – not just as a minister in the Church but also as a Christian period – is to keep eternity in focus! That may sound like a gross understatement because we assume that the Church always has eternity in mind when we do anything related to ministry, preaching, serving, financial, etc., etc., etc. But today, we don’t have an eternally-minded Church in America, not as a general rule. Eternally-minded churches are the exception rather than the norm.
The writer of this devotion entry, Julie Cosgrove, mentions a Facebook post she came across that read: “I’d rather believe in God and be wrong than not believe and find I was wrong.” This quote was made famous by Albert Camus but has its roots with Blaise Pascal’s “wager” argument in his book titled “Thoughts” (Pensées). He said, “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”
Now what do I think about this sort of reasoning? Well, I’m certainly not trying to go toe-to-toe with Blaise Pascal, a philosopher and mathematician who lived during the 1600s. But I don’t like this argument for belief in God and I’ll tell you why: there’s absolutely no motivation for this belief other than a simple “wager”, a bet, if you will, like someone putting a coin into a slot machine in Vegas and hoping against all odds that it will be a winner. I think this presents a person with a false choice: either one must believe in God or not by sheer happenstance of winning or losing a bet at a gaming table with no evidence that either choice is better than the other.
Holes have been punched – rightfully so – into Pascal’s Wager logic, and I’m not going to attempt to do that here. What I want to assert is that eternity is not a game where the outcome isn’t certain. Eternity is not a game of chance or wishful thinking where we close our eyes, cross our fingers, and hope against hope that all of this God talk is true. No, that is not correct, and Pascal’s assumption that God is completely unknowable negates the entire testimony of Scripture, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the testimony of history, and many other avenues of compelling evidence for God (the intelligent design theory, the cosmological argument, etc.). Faith is NOT believing where there is no evidence! It’s not wishful thinking! That fact alone destroys this Wager argument. Faith is not taking a gamble that God is real and if He is then you’ll go to heaven. Many people will believe in God like this, and find out that they will be lost to Hell’s fire for all eternity anyway. Why? Because belief in God is NOT what gets someone into heaven! I’ve quoted James 2:19 multiple times from the pulpit: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” So I say congratulations to those who believe there is one God – you have something in common with the demonic horde! Belief in God alone is clearly not the only requirement for salvation. What is? Believing in and upon Jesus Christ as Lord and receiving Him in humility and submission as Savior of your life. That’s eternal, that’s the main thing, that’s the mission of the Church: to “preach Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
I pray that you’re not wagering your eternal destiny on a bet, a whim, wishful thinking, or blind faith. Those things cannot and will not save you. This is not a game of chance, it’s a real thing with real evidence and real truth to be found. Receive Jesus Christ today, for “today is the day of salvation.”
Prayerfully in Christ,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson

God, Give Us Justice!

The book of Ecclesiastes isn’t an optimistic book, but it is in our canon of Holy Scripture. Regardless of what we may emotionally feel about a given topic – death, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, etc. – we must examine it carefully and see what God wants us to know and apply in our lives. This coming Sunday, July 17, 2016, I will be preaching on the topic of justice, more specifically the idea of INjustice present in this world. Qohelet – the self-identified author of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament – writes, “In the place of judgement – wickedness was there, in the place of justice – wickedness was there” (3:19). Given the obvious injustice in our world, we are tempted to cry out “God, give us justice!” We demand much of God, and when He doesn’t respond the way we want, we turn our backs on Him.
I want to pose a question: What kind of world does a perfect world look like to you? When someone cuts you off on the highway, wouldn’t it be great if five minutes later their car was broken down on the side of the road? When someone hurts you verbally, wouldn’t it be great if their tongue and teeth fell out that night? Fleshly speaking, that all sounds good and the examples could go on and on. But here’s the problem: you and I would have to live in this perfect world, too. When we gossip about someone, our tongue would fall out. When we lust after someone, our eyeballs would grow dark. When we wrong someone, the punishment would also fit the crime.
We tend to have a twisted, warped sense of justice. I spoke of this a couple of weeks ago. We look at justice like a single-edged sword, with its sharpened edge ready to lop the head off the opposition while keeping the blunt edge turned toward ourselves. In other words, human selfishness wishes absolute justice for everyone else, but leniency for ourselves.
But in this world there is injustice. Why is it…how is it that God allowed this lost soul – because that’s what he was and now is forever, lost – to go on a 30-minute rampage in a box truck through a crowded street in Nice, France, killing 84 people including 10 children and wounding dozens more? Isn’t this the very definition of injustice?? Sure the man was shot and killed and maybe deep down we feel a sense of justice that he was taken out. But what about this man’s soul? Where is it now? Only God knows, but I can honestly say my feeling is that he is in a place of utter torment. He bought the lie of Satan and paid for it with eternity.
In his stellar book, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel tells of a cartoon that Peter Kreeft had hanging on his office door. It depicts two turtles in the midst of a conversation. One says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why He allows poverty, famine, and injustice when He could do something about it.” The other turtle says, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”
Beloved, Jesus Christ didn’t come into this world to make bad people good; He came to make dead people live. This man needed Jesus. Let the evil and injustice in this world remind us that God will one day exact final justice and final judgment on sin, death, Satan, and all those who reject Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives. We are not promised temporal relief from injustice and opposition. But through Jesus Christ we who call upon His name have the hope of eternal life. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” wrote Paul from his prison cell to the Philippian church. May this be our prayer to heaven as we walk in this dark, unjust world.
In Christ,
Pastor Branden T. Robertson