The Kingdom Of Heaven

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The Kingdom Of Heaven

Truly answer me… In judgment and in dream.

Nebuchadnezzar, “Ancient Babylonian inscription” (6th century BC)

 

Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princess shall rule in judgment.

Isaiah the prophet (8th century BC)

 

The Terror of Dreams

An image, great and terrible, bright in glistening metals.  A head of gold, breast of silver, belly of brass, and legs of iron.  Stuff worthy of a nightmare, and that’s exactly where the king of Babylon met it.  But there was more.  As the king watched, a stone, untouched by human hands, was cut from a mountain and hurled at the image’s feet.  The image shattered and became as “the chaff of the summer threshing floors,” and the winds carried the residue away.  Then the stone grew and grew until it became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.  Quite a big dream, even for a king.

King Nebuchadnezzar knew that what he had seen in his nightmare was a revelation, a divine message, of immense importance.  He had to know what it all meant.  So he called the wise men of Babylon … the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers … and demanded of them the meaning of the dream (Dan. 2:2).  They gladly agreed to supply answers. They just needed to hear the details of the dream first.  And there Nebuchadnezzar balked.  “The thing is gone from me,” he said.  As wise men and “diviners,” surely they could supply the details.  And if they could, the king could trust their interpretation.

The wise men were horrified.  It wasn’t possible.  Only the gods could do such a thing.  If only the king would. . . .  But the king wouldn’t budge.  Instead, he ordered all the wise men of Babylon destroyed.  Ouch!  If they couldn’t help at such a cosmically critical moment, what good were they?

The king’s soldiers began to collect all of Babylon’s diviners and astrologers for execution.  And then they came to Daniel (v. 13).

The Interpreter of Dreams

Daniel was a young man, barely 20.  He was a Jewish captive, ripped away from his home and family by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.  Here, in Babylon, he had undergone a thorough program of indoctrination in the magic, idolatry, Statism, and the ethnocentrism that was the Babylonian world and life view.  But from the beginning of his training, Daniel had purposed that his loyalty to and fellowship with the God of Israel would take absolute precedence over every advantage, program, or lure that the golden city might offer (Dan. 1).

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And so, Daniel had listened to the lectures, memorized the information, and passed all the tests.  But he abhorred the magic of Babylon and despised her idols of silver and gold.  His wisdom came from faithful obedience to the word of God.  He knew Scripture thoroughly, and when soldiers came with news of the king’s dream, the whole thing started to sound very familiar (Gen. 41).  So, Daniel went before the king and asked for time.  The king, desperate for answers, was willing to grant it.

That night God showed Daniel the dream and revealed its meaning.  Daniel gave thanks.

The Kingdom Of HeavenThe next day, Daniel went before the most powerful man on the planet and told him God’s plan for the history of the world.  The four metals that made up the image were four kingdoms.  Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar in particular, was the head of gold.  But an inferior, silver kingdom would succeed Babylon.  There would follow a still “baser” brass kingdom.  And, finally, a fourth kingdom, strong and brutal like iron.

“In the days of these kings,” Daniel said, “shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed . . . it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever” (v. 44).

The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand!

“The kingdom of the God of heaven” or for short, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  This is the kingdom that John the Baptist proclaimed in the wilderness.  It is the same kingdom that Jesus spoke of in sermon and parable throughout the whole of His ministry.  Both John and Jesus said the kingdom was at hand, and that proclamation, to many, stirred excitement and speculation.  Anyone who really knew Israel’s history could see in it the unfolding of the Babylonian dream.  Golden Babylon, argent Persia, brazen Greece, and finally iron Rome.  The fourth kingdom now held center stage in God’s drama of history.  The final kingdom, God’s kingdom, couldn’t be far off.

What did surprise many was the “sudden” nature of this coming kingdom.  Probably because both John and Jesus were warning men to repent … here and now.  The King was coming with fire and judgment.  Those who would not repent of their sins would face His wrath.  The curse of fire or the blessing of God’s Spirit were Israel’s only choices.

A King Shall Reign in Righteousness

The laws of every kingdom are an expression of that kingdom’s religious priorities and practices.  And, of course, they’re based in its ultimate concerns.  All cultures walk in the name of some god, something they consider “ultimate.” (Mic. 4:5).  The effective reach of a culture’s laws then defines that culture’s laws and boundaries.  A king reigns only as far as he can enforce his laws.  Enemies and rebels have always rejected these various jurisdictions.  “We will not have this man to reign over us!” they cry (Luke 19:14).  Rebellion and civil wars always follow.  Human kingdoms rise and fall in terms of the king’s ability to enforce his laws effectively.  But since human kingdoms have no way to reach men’s hearts, no way to re-write the nature of hearts and no way to compel their inward loyalty … human kingdoms regularly fail.

The kingdom that John and Jesus announced is the righteous rule of God over earth and within history through His Messiah.  It differs markedly from the kingdoms of this world.  The kingdom of heaven has its origin in divine grace, working in and through the hearts of men.  It is characterized by true righteousness.  Its power is that of God’s own Spirit and it’s destined to overthrow and supplant all its rivals.

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First, God’s kingdom comes from outside man’s history.  It originates in divine grace.  God has come to us in the Person of the King, Jesus Christ.  Jesus established the kingdom in and through His atoning blood.  The glory of God is the kingdom’s chief end, but its historical goal is the salvation of the world (John 3:16-17).

Second, the kingdom is very clearly an earthly affair.  It operates in the hearts and lives of men and women on earth and within history.  The grace that God works in the hearts of His people they in turn work out in their commitments and choices every day (Phil. 2:12).  This reign of God in Christ is centralized in its heavenly King but decentralized in its earthly administration.  This kingdom has no room for tyrants and no room for anarchy.  Every citizen of the kingdom is both a king and priest in Christ.  Individual freedom, responsibility, and self-government are hallmarks of the kingdom.

Third, God’s kingdom is characterized by righteousness, judgment, and justice.  Unlike the politicians of our world, the heavenly King is just and righteous.  He loves righteousness and hates iniquity.  His integrity is beyond question.  He executes “judgment and righteousness in the earth” (Ps. 45:7; Zech. 9:9; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Isa. 9:7).  He will not ignore rebellion, but because of His own sacrifice, He can forgive it.  But He demands unconditional surrender from His enemies (Matt. 3:7-12).  Those who fear Him, those who trust Him, lay down their rebellion and embrace His mercy and salvation.  They receive pardon and forgiveness.

Fourth, the kingdom of heaven comes in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2).  By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has poured out the Holy Spirit into our world and history.  The Spirit transforms hearts and lives through the preaching of the Gospel.  He brings men to faith and repentance.  He grants the King’s people power for faithful obedience, and joy and peace within that obedience (Ezek. 36:25-27).

Fifth, God’s kingdom will destroy and supplant all its rivals.  The psalms promise that Messiah will reign from God’s right hand until all His enemies are His footstool and that He “shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath” (Ps. 110:1, 5; I Cor 15:25; Heb. 10:12-13).  He will dash His enemies in pieces (Ps. 2; Rev. 2:26-27).  Isaiah says that “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end” (Isa. 9:7; cf. Matt. 28:18-20).  As Nebuchadnezzar saw, the kingdom of heaven is destined to grow until it fills the whole earth.  The New Testament says nothing less of Christ’s redemptive kingdom.

Pagan Righteousness and Royalty

An ancient inscription shows us how Nebuchadnezzar understood the relationship between righteousness and royal authority. He wrote:

Adorn my kingdom

Forever

With a righteous sceptre,

With goodly rule, and

With a staff of justice,

For the welfare of my people!

Nebuchadnezzar wanted to rule righteously for the sake of his people.  He addressed this prayer to Shamash, the Babylonian sun god.

Even the pagans, at times, desired the State to be a tool to establish justice and even “righteousness.”  The problem lies in the definition of these ethically oriented nouns.  For Nebuchadnezzar, righteousness meant the establishment of a pluralistic world order mediated through his own person and office and powered by ritual magic and military power.  Today, righteousness often means legalized plunder in the name of social justice accompanied by a happy acceptance of degeneracy and pre-natal murder.  Politicians who best market this agenda dominate and win many elections.  Asking what moral standards are used to justify their agenda, is of course, off limits.

The kingdom of God, however, calls for a righteousness defined by God’s holy character and described in His holy law.  Because all of us, in our natural, unbelieving state, hate God and His law, God in Christ calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).  And He works through His Spirit to grant that repentance and with it … forgiveness through the blood of Christ.  We – through God’s grace — are given both justification and sanctification.  This is the good news of the kingdom of God and our present hope.

Water Into Wine

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Water Into WineI left the empty life behind. He turned the water into wine.

—Dave Stearman, “He Turned the Water into Wine” (1973)

 

He comes to make His blessings flow  Far as the curse is found.

— Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World” (1719)

 

A Jewish Wedding

They were getting married.  A young couple.  A simple celebration.  Their families weren’t rich.  Even scraping together enough money to pay for the food and wine had been difficult, but family and friends chipped in.

Organization was a headache, too, but the young couple had found a family friend to serve as coordinator.  Her name was Mary.  She was a widow from nearby Nazareth.  She was known for her godliness and good sense.  She had raised a large family and had lots of practical experience.  Perfect for a planner. There was more, though, something unusual.  Rumors had it that strange things happened when her first Son was born.  Angels.  Stars.  Prophecies. She and her family had spent time in Egypt, too, in Alexandria perhaps.  No doubt she had stories to tell, if only she would.

There was one more thing about the wedding.  Mary’s Son Jesus had recently taken up the calling of Rabbi, a teacher of the Law.  The desert prophet John had introduced Him to Israel, and thus He had already begun to attract a small following.  The families had invited Jesus to join the celebration and to bring His disciples.  More mouths to feed.  But rabbis were always well-received at Jewish weddings.

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The bridal procession itself had begun at dusk.  Covered with a veil and surrounded by her childhood friends, the young bride had left her father’s house and set out for her new home.  Before her went pipers.  Then came those who passed out oil and wine to the grownups, and nuts to the children.  Some carried torches or lamps on poles.  Those nearest the bride had myrtle branches or wore garlands of flowers.  Everyone rose to greet the procession and to pronounce blessings and praise.

Once the bride reached her new home, she was taken to her espoused husband.  Then came the official pronouncement:  “Take her according to the Law of Moses and of Israel.”  The groom signed the contract, the written vows in which he promised to care, keep, and provide for his wife.  Next came the ceremonial washings and their accompanying benediction.  Finally, there was the bridal cup and one more blessing.

Then came feasting.  There were many guests.  Perhaps more than the young groom had thought would come.  The wine began to run low.  In Jewish life and for a Jewish festival, this meant disaster.  Mary, always watchful, saw the problem.  There was no backup plan for wine.  But Mary had something else in mind.

Mary went to Jesus and said simply, “They have no wine.”

Mary and the Wine

We aren’t told exactly what Mary was thinking. We’re not sure if Mary completely understand who her Son really was.  Certainly, He had always been responsible and reliable as a young man.  And with Joseph gone, she had learned to trust Jesus with the ordinary affairs of money and family.  But given Jesus’ response, she may have actually been looking for a miracle.

John had baptized Jesus and hailed Him as the Lamb of God and as the One who would pour out the Holy Spirit.  And, in fact, the Spirit had descended upon Jesus, and a heavenly voice had pronounced Him the Son of God.  Surely Mary had heard of all this.  And just as surely it would have resonated with the old memories and meditations she had locked up in her heart.  What was in Mary’s heart?

Well, what had the angel said?  “He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David. … He shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:32, 35).  “Messiah the Lord.”  That’s what the angels had called Him to the shepherds.  “Born, King of the Jews,” the wise men had said.

Water Into WineHad the time finally come?  Was everything about to come together?  Did she need to give one little nudge?  Or maybe she simply needed help, and her observation veiled a motherly hint for action.

“They have no wine,” she said.

Jesus said, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?  My hour is not yet come.”

Whatever Mary may have had in mind, Jesus was now on His Father’s timetable.  His final revelation as Messiah lay three and half years in the future.  In the meantime, it wasn’t for Mary to dictate, however gently, how He should pursue His course to the cross and the throne.

In confidence, humility and meekness, Mary simply turned the matter over to Jesus and trusted Him for whatever resolution pleased God.  She told the servants, “Whatever He tells you to do, do it.”

Water Into Wine

Jesus directed the servants to six large stone water pots.  These contained the water that the faithful used for ritual purifications.  Each could hold 20 to 25 gallons.  But the crowd had already used up a lot of the water.  So Jesus told the servants to fill the water pots.  They did… up to the brim.  Jesus told them to carry some of what was in the jars to the table master, the one who oversaw the banquet.  They obeyed.

When the table master tasted what the servants brought him, he immediately called for the groom.  He said, “Every man sets out his good wine at the beginning of the feast; then, when everyone’s had plenty to drink, he puts out the worse.  But you’ve kept the best until now!”  The groom, unaware of the miracle, didn’t know what to say.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ miracles, His first manifestation of His power and glory (John 2:11).  Scripture simply says, “and His disciples believed on Him.”

A Feast of Wines

The prophets had described the coming of Messiah through a great many figures and metaphors:  water, wind, and fire were among their favorites.  But another prominent, recurring image was that of festival, of banqueting, and every good feast involved lots of good wine.  Here are a few of the prophecies that connect Messiah with the free gift of celebratory wine:

And in this mountain, shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined (Isa. 25:6).

Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isa. 55:1).

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt (Amos 9:13; cf. Joel 3:18).

It was no accident that Jesus began His ministry by providing an abundance of wine for a wedding.  The miracle was an open declaration that He was the Messiah and the divine Bridegroom. But not just that … also that the kingdom of God had come in power and that God was about to make all things new.  The sacrament He established just before His death said the same thing …  new and eternal life through the blood of the new covenant (Matt. 26:27-29).  But Jesus ordained wine for the sacrament (instead of blood) — wine for the celebration of victory.

As our Priest, Jesus has completed and perfected our atonement.  As our warrior King, He has defeated sin and death.  His work is done.  He has taken His throne (Heb. 10:11-14).  It is time to celebrate and rejoice.  He summons us to eat and drink with Him at His table in His kingdom (Luke 22:28-30; cf. Matt. 8:11).

The Lessons of the Miracle

Jesus’ first miracle displayed His power as Creator.  We aren’t told whether He called new carbon molecules into existence or merely restructured the protons of the existing hydrogen and oxygen molecules to make the water into wine.  It doesn’t matter.  This was a creative miracle.  Jesus is God.  Period.

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Jesus performed the miracle at a simple wedding, as the traditional wedding ceremonies remind us, saying of human marriage: “which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee.”  At the beginning of the world He ordained marriage and gave away the bride (Gen. 2:18-25).  Now as the Divine Bridegroom, He blessed marriage anew and revealed Himself in and through it.

Water Into WineIn the wine miracle, Jesus displayed the stark contrast between His own ministry and that of John the Baptist.  “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine” (Luke 7:33).  John majored in austerity and abstinence, traits appropriate for a nation that stood on the verge of destruction (Matt. 3).  But Jesus came to establish a kingdom whose marks are “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

To perform the miracle, Jesus used waters set aside for ritual purifications.  These were not washings that God had ordained, but ritual cleansings established by tradition (Mark 7:3-4).  Apparently unimpressed with Jewish tradition, Jesus swept it aside to rescue an ordinary wedding and ensure the happiness of two young lovers and their guests.

In this miracle, Jesus turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.  He could have left the wedding guests with water.  Certainly, water is life-sustaining.  He could have given them grape juice.  But He gave them wine.  He replaced the mundane with the extraordinary, the bland with celebration.  The good news is, He still does it with human lives today.

In the miracle, Jesus showed Himself the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and announced the advent of His kingdom.  He chose to work with images of joy, celebration, prosperity, and renewal.  This is not a Neo-Platonic kingdom locked up in our hearts, but a kingdom with real consequences in the real world.  “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

Conclusion

It has been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus turned the water into wine.  Very few of the wedding guests knew or understood what He had done.  Jesus wasn’t trying to prove His identity or start an advertising campaign.  Jesus Christ is the living God who does wonders.  He is Life:  He makes all things new.  Those with faith and “eyes to see” will take comfort in the water into wine miracle.  Those without faith will see nothing but myth and superstition.  But then againv… such will not believe “though one rose from the dead.”

Dedicated To Jared Brewer, Who Makes Great Wine

For Further Reading:

Alfred Edersheim, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” (New York:  Longmans, Green, and Co., 1904).

Does The Bible Really Say We Shouldn’t Judge?

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Does The Bible Really Say We Shouldn’t Judge?

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Visit Google and type in the phrase “The Bible says not to ….” What do you think pops up first? It is the essence of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1:

“Judge not, that you be not judged.”

This is no surprise to most of us. We live in a culture that believes religion should be kept private and that absolute truth is negotiable — depending, of course, on your preferences. Practically, since we have no standard for truth, one is prevented from telling others if he/she is right or wrong. Is that really what Jesus meant in Matthew 7:1?:

Notice that Jesus didn’t say that we shouldn’t ever tell anyone he or she is wrong. In fact, Jesus spent His time on earth doing this very thing!

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Later in the same passage, in Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus makes a distinction between the broad and narrow way. He doesn’t say, “Oh, golly gee, whatever you want to do in life is cool with me. I am not going to judge you!” Instead, he says:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

So, what is this the “judge not” verse of Matthew 7:1 saying?

First, you truly judge someone not when you analyze their position against truth, but when you reject them as human, made in God’s image.

Isn’t this what John 3:17 characterizes?:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

While Jesus made abundantly clear that He alone was the narrow gate to heaven, he still didn’t “condemn the world.” You see, not condemning the world doesn’t mean you don’t forthrightly speak the truth. Instead, what you do after stating the truth determines whether you are judging.

Think about it: After telling us the truth of the kingdom of God, Jesus didn’t cast us off or dismiss us. No, he drew us closer and closer and made us — the sinners — his friends.

Perhaps the most famous Bible verse — John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world …) — precedes John 3:17. Jesus not only told us the truth, but He laid down His life for salvation!

Second, judging mirrors excessive obliviousness of our own immorality.

Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:5 about taking “the log” out of our own eye before addressing others. That is, we shouldn’t criticize others for the exact same things we are guilty of doing.

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Jesus’ words here assume that there is a perpetual “log” lodged in our eyes as Christians. We might learn to lessen or downplay these “logs” by social and cultural domestication and rules, but the fact remains that the sinful depravity still lingers.

What has God given me in Christ? Grace, mercy and forgiveness. Doesn’t that change how I treat and speak to people? It should.

So, when Jesus said “judge not,” he was telling us to review the situation without rejecting the person. As Christians, we are called to speak with grace and truth (1 Peter 3:15).

Again, this doesn’t mean we can’t engage someone with truth. Rather, we have in Matthew 7:1-6 specific instructions about how to engage anyone we may meet who we may never agree with.

How do we make this practical?

  1. Make sure private prayer is your main arsenal. We can’t change someone’s heart — only the Holy Spirit of God can do that work.
  2. Seek for someone to come to Christ before chasing secondary issues. You may want to really make sure your co-workers know your sports team is the best in the world. But what does that have to do with eternity?
  3. Make sure you are “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19b). Be careful to protect your pastors, staff and church by heading off gossip and slander. Be slow to speak and quick to pray.
  4. Make sure you are patient with the speed of how God is working in someone’s life. Change is a process, not an event. We need to be patient with people as they struggle with sin. God’s timetable isn’t ours. His sovereign will is perfect, and we can trust Him.
  5. Learn to speak to different people differently, as God leads. Jesus didn’t speak to Herod or Pilate in the same way He spoke to others. Paul didn’t talk to the Gentiles and Jews in the same way. Yet, it was the same message — the Gospel message.

Remember, we set standards that we use to judge, not realizing that we will fail our own criteria. Most judgments, accusations and verdicts don’t even need to be rendered (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). In heaven, there’ll be no judging motives, no racial profiling, no injustice, no theft, no vengeance, no hate, and nothing but love — eternal and free from the one true God of the Bible. The only fully competent Judge is coming.

In a world gone mad, only one hope remains: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). Do you trust Him today?

The First Temptation of Christ

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The First Temptation of Christ

Want. Take. Have.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Bad Girls” (1999)

. . . Miracle, mystery, and authority.  Thou hast rejected all three and hast set the example for doing so.

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1879)

In the Wilderness

After the Spirit descended upon Him, Jesus went immediately into the wilderness.  He was there, fasting, for 40 days and 40 nights.  All the while, Satan tempted Him to abandon His mission (Luke 4:2).  He tempted Him to trade obedience to His Father for the glories of self-will and self-affirmation.  As the days wore on and the trial drew to an end, Jesus’ health and strength began to fail.  Satan then appeared to Him in visible form and made three last assaults on His ultimate trust in His Father.

Scripture insists that these temptations were real and that there was, in each of them, something that would appeal to Jesus’ human nature (Heb. 4:15).  It’s important to understand that Jesus was truly human.  Huge deal.  In addition, He is also eternal deity.  Huge deal, too.  The truth is, the psychology of all this is tough for mortals to process.  As the Son of God, Jesus was both omniscient and omnipotent.  He upheld creation and decreed its end from its beginning.  As a true man, He grew, learned, and suffered.  So, as days of temptation turned into weeks, He could feel the full effects of hunger, exposure, and exhaustion.  And so, in His humanity, Jesus felt the full force of Satan’s arguments.  He really was tempted in all points like we are, and yet He never yielded to the temptation.  He did what His mission required, never turning away from His Father’s will.

Satan’s Attacks

Satan struck first at Jesus’ very real need to survive.  “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  The force of this temptation was simple enough …  if you die here and now, it’s all for nothing and your whole mission goes south.  Fail in your mission and you fail your Father and your people.  That said, survival becomes job No. 1, right? If you are who you claim to be, accomplish phase one of your mission by living to fight another day.  Make bread out of these stones.  Use your miraculous powers to save your life and the lives of those who will follow after you. Focus on the ends, not the means.

Satan struck next at the path to the cross.  In a moment of time he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  All these, he said, I’ll turn over to you if you fall down and worship me (Rev. 13:4).  In other words, Satan was offering to withdraw all opposition to Jesus’ mission.  Fascinating.  There would be no resistance, no sufferings, no cross.  But not just that, there would be no persecution for His followers, either.  No lions, no stakes, no martyrdom.  Satan would support Jesus’ claims to sovereignty, and no Christian would ever have to suffer for his faith.  Jesus could have it all simply by admitting that Satan’s perspective made pragmatic and existential sense.

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Finally, Satan struck at the actual definition of the mission.  People, he implied, are a tough sell.  They’re not going to buy in to your mission on your word alone.  They need real reasons to believe.  They need evidence.  Give them some.  Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple.  The God you call your Father won’t let you die.  He’ll send angels to catch you, land you and get you safely among “credible” witnesses … the Pharisees and Sadducees.  With those kinds of witnesses and that kind of buzz, everyone in the Temple precincts will know beyond a doubt that you are the Messiah!  And to punctuate this third argument, the devil quoted Scripture: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.  They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (Ps. 91:11-12).  In this version of Satan’s plan, the Temple and the scriptural promise of the supernatural “safety net” were to launch the ministry in a big new way. It would be the “P.T. Barnum” way.

What Would Jesus Say?

The First Temptation of ChristJesus had walked His prescribed path all His life.  He knew His Father’s word.  It was indelibly stamped on His heart (Ps. 40:8).  When He responded to each of Satan’s attacks with Scripture, He didn’t speak like a child who, from a memory that has been crammed with Bible verses simply spits out the necessary, parent-pleasing responses.  He spoke from a firm, heart-felt commitment to the power of God’s Spirit.  And He spoke as the eternal Son of God.  There was no word-magic here, only a firm and full commitment to God the Father.

Satan’s first temptation was addressed to the desires and needs of the physical body.  Satan had tried to place these bodily needs above the very word of God.  But in words borrowed from Deuteronomy (8:3), Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).  Jesus didn’t deny that man needs bread and food to live, but He insisted that obedience to the words of God was a far greater need.  Man doesn’t need to merely live … man needs … first and foremost … to obey God.

Satan’s second temptation appealed to man’s desire for possessing the big, the shiny and the beautiful.  Man sees, wants, and takes often without any regard to God’s law.  Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the world immediately, Satan said.  No delayed gratification necessary.  No killing the will to self. All He had to do was admit Satan’s underlying and most fundamental premise …

The right to challenge divine authority. Simply stated… men can be as gods.  But Jesus responded with: “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10).  The universe functions in terms of God’s law and His decree.  There are no other gods, no other sovereigns.  Man must acknowledge God as the only true source of legitimate authority.  His Word alone is the only legitimate explanation of reality.  And with respect to man’s place in all of this … true authority comes from submission to God and His law.

Satan’s third temptation aimed at human pride.  Man wants celebrity status.  He wants attention, acclaim, admiration … and he wants it now.  Just like Veruca Salt in the original Willy Wonka movie, who wanted to be the first to find the golden ticket and wanted an Oompa Loompa pretty quick, too. But that was mild compared to vanity and pride offered in the place of worshiping God.  Again, Jesus answered Satan with Scripture: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matt. 4:7).  God’s promises are not to be a launching pad for our own private plans and pleasures, our own pursuits of glory.  Man’s chief end is the glory of God.  And we are created for precisely that.

Three Deceptive Hooks

The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  This is how John sums up the lifestyle of the world apart from God (1 Jn. 2:16).  These were the three hooks with which Satan tried to deceive Jesus and if “sold separately and without responsibility” are the ones he throws at us.  These were also the big three hooks that Satan used in the Garden against Eve:

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Gen. 3:6).

Here’s what’s important:

This threefold hook is directed at man’s threefold office, that of prophet, king, and priest.  Satan would have man put his bodily needs and desires over the (prophetic) Word of God.  He would have him seize (kingly) power and dominion without regard to the law of God.  He also would have mankind seduce and abuse others in an anti-priestly bid for prominence and pride.

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The First Temptation of ChristBut since man is always prophet, king, and priest … every temptation appeals in a greater or lesser degree to all of these at once.  In other words, every temptation appeals in some measure to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  And every sin is a surrender of our hearts and souls … to the power of Satan and self.

Victory Over Satan

All of Satan’s temptations implied a kind of soft-and-easy-to-digest “marketing message” for Jesus and those who would follow Him.  He encouraged Jesus to use miracles to save life, power to establish His kingdom, and mystery to gather a following.  Miracle, authority, and mystery.   These are exactly the words Fyodor Dostoevsky uses in “The Grand Inquisitor” section of The Brothers Karamazov (1879).  In this parable, the Grand Inquisitor, like Satan before him, berates Jesus for failing His people, for not loving them enough.  Of course, Satan and his messengers regularly pose as angels of light.

But Satan’s worldview assumes that man’s biggest problem lies in his current situation or condition. This could be found either in the outside world around him or even in his own current physical or psychological status.  But how can we turn the misuse of miracle, authority, and mystery into something we can use?

Here’s the thing that should immediately grab us and is the very bottom line:

Our true problems are NOT environmental or psychological.  Our real problems are ethical and judicial.  Our natural, unbridled impulses push us to be ethical rebels against God’s law and we then find ourselves under His temporal curse.  The truth is, no miracles, no heavy-handed tyrannical power, no slick and seductive mysticism carry any real meaning and authority.  They’re only the devil’s lies.  Jesus knew this, and He rejected every and all options except a very painful but obedient walk toward Calvary.  He set His face toward the cross.  He trusted His Heavenly Father.  He obeyed the Word of God, and Satan fled. That’s the only formula that makes Satan flee.

Then God intervened.  Angels came and ministered to Jesus.  He was in the wilderness with the wild beasts, and for a moment Paradise was restored (Mark 1:13).  It was Jesus’ ethical obedience that won this battle.  But the war had only begun.  There would be fierce, future engagements.

Worshiping The False God Of Football

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super bowl 3 -- wikipediaPicture this: People gathered together each week for one cause — clapping, singing, worshiping. They donate their hard-earned money, and their time, too, knowing they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Heaven, they believe, surely will be something like this.

Were you picturing a church? It’s actually a football stadium – and it happens each fall and winter in cities across America.

What happened that caused us to misplace our worship? We go to church and sing a few songs, check our watches waiting for the preacher to be done, and then rush home and cheer on our favorite team. And if our team loses, our world is shattered. Sadly, for so many Americans, football has become an idol.

The most-watched television event in U.S. history is … a football game. When Seattle defeated Denver to win the 2014 Super Bowl, 111.5 million Americans watched, placing it at No. 1. Second place on the list? A football game. Third place? A football game. In fact, Super Bowls account for the 21 most-watched events in American television history.

So, what about cable television? After all, Super Bowls are only on broadcast TV. Well, the most-watched event in cable TV history, too, is a football game. When Ohio State triumphed over Oregon this year in the college football national championship, 33.3 million Americans watched – a cable record. The semifinal games drew an average of 28 million.

And we didn’t even mention television contract rights. ESPN pays $1.9 billion each year to televise NFL games, FOX $1.1 billion and CBS $1.0 billion.

How did we get here?

There is nothing wrong with football, but we somehow have shifted from enjoyment of a good thing to the making of a false god. We now derive our joy and value from whether our team wins or loses – and not from the God of the Bible.

In a word, we now commit idolatry in the name of fandom. That’s what sin does; it takes something good and distorts it into something else, drawing our eyes off of God. It is the very thing Satan did in the garden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-5).

Cotton Mather once said, “Faithfulness begets prosperity, and the daughter devours the mother.” What did he mean? Faithfulness can lead to prosperity, but prosperity will cause us to become complacent and to replace a desire for faithfulness with a desire for more prosperity — and we will sacrifice faithfulness in the name of prosperity.

Image source: Forbes

Image source: Forbes

Football is a child of American prosperity. Billions are paid in advertising, each team builds a new stadium in an attempt to out-do the last team that built a new stadium, and player contracts are astronomical for the sake of entertaining the fan and winning games. This is all possible because football is extremely profitable.

Where it gets personal, however, is when we realize football’s prosperity is due to us. Football makes billions because we have elevated it to a God-like status.

The first commandment God gave Moses read, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). When we elevate something to a level that it receives the affection that only God deserves, the praise that only God deserves, and the attention that only God deserves, we break the first commandment and sin. When we allow a game and our team’s performance to affect our mood while being indifferent toward the work of God in our lives and the lives of others, we break the first commandment. When we neglect our time with God and His people for the sake of something temporal, we break the first commandment. When we care more about the advancement of our team than the advancement of the Kingdom of God, we break the first commandment.

It would be bad enough if it ended there. But there is a more insidious thing that happens when we establish a lifestyle of obsession over something other than God: We teach others to do the same thing.

Truth is, you are always preaching – whether it is with your words or your actions. There are always eyes on you and ears listening to you … and sometimes those eyes and ears are very impressionable. Perhaps they are your own children.

Moses told the Israelites, “You shall teach [God’s law] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). When we obsess over football, we are doing just the opposite, teaching our children that idolatry is an acceptable way of life.

Please understand: Watching football does not equal idolatry. However, when football (or any sport for that matter) becomes something that defines you, affects you, consumes your thoughts, and controls your wallet – then it is bordering on idolatry.

What if we cared as much about the advancement of the Kingdom of God as we do about our team advancing the football down the field? What if we showed the same heartfelt elation over the worship of God as we do cheering for our team?

As the Super Bowl approaches, consider putting football in its rightful place: a good thing to be enjoyed, but not a god thing to be worshiped. We were made to worship. The question is: What will you worship?

Why Are There Hypocrites In The Church?

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Why Are There Hypocrites In The Church?Mahatma Gandhi, India’s famous leader of the early 20th century, once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

No doubt, there are dark spots in Christian history. Words such as the Crusades and the witch trials, among others, come to mind. But for many reading this, hypocrisy in the church is more of a personal thing. Perhaps you have experienced some sort of judgment or had a terrible experience by a pastor, teacher or church member over the years. Maybe you felt you weren’t accepted. Or perhaps you have witnessed how some Christian leaders used their church position and influence to collect power and money. In short, sometimes, it seems, the best argument against Christians are Christians themselves.

These objections are very real for this author, and Jesus dealt with them famously in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Notice Luke 10:30-32 (ESV):

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

What is Jesus doing here? He’s admitting the truth of hypocrisy among very religious people. Each of the characters in this story was off to do something religious—“I have to get to the church to do my duties.” And in the line with their duty, they step over someone who is truly hurting and in need.

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You know, occasionally I gaze at the conduct of many Christians in our culture and I really wonder if we care more about being right factually than we do about people. Yes, proper theology is needed and can’t be dumped. Correct Orthodoxy equals correct orthopraxy.

church 1But if we are against something biblically (as we ought to), it should only be because we are for the people that are hurting, and that should come through in how we dialog about it. Remember: Jesus taught about trying to eliminate a crumb of dust from our brother’s eye when we have a plank in our own (Matthew 7:3-5).

In Luke 10:33-35, the Jews had the correct theology. Yet, the Samaritan acted more God-focused than the Jews, and God used this Samaritan to correct the Jewish people.

As Christians, we have to be meek enough to receive correction from any person—even if we think they are wrong biblically and even if it’s not done in a loving way. Honestly, many times in my life I have had people who weren’t Christians point out contradictions in my life. And, while I never liked it one bit, I’m grateful. We must accept truth in whatever way it comes to us.

But what do you do the next time someone tells you, “The church is full of hypocrites”? You can simply say, “You don’t even how much!” The greatest enemies of the church aren’t agnostics, scientists, atheists, Muslims or cultists, but pharisaical and nominal “Christians” who acknowledge Jesus with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle. True Christians aren’t hypocrites; they’re repentant sinners—big difference (2 Cor. 7:6-10). Hypocrites are those who pretend to be what they never intend to be. Hypocrites love what God can do for them, but true Christians love God for who He is. The hypocrite asks, “How little can I give and still be noticed?” The truly saved Christian asks, “How much can I give without being noticed?”

You may have been hurt by church people, but you should only give up on the local church when Jesus does (which is never) and not a second sooner.

Do you want to honor Jesus in the way you engage others? Don’t be easily offended. Be gracious. Give others the benefit of the doubt. And know God can work through all sinners—including yourself—for His glory.

Big Daddy Weave The Lion and the Lamb

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Big Daddy Weave The Lion and the Lamb

Another beautiful one that God has made! Today let us rejoice in the fresh white coating on the ground and Big Daddy Weave with the Lion and the Lamb. For some of us we know it is all about the relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you are a believer then you know one day he will return. Every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb. He will not come like a thief in the night. Instead all will know when he returns.

If you are not already a believer then perhaps it is time to turn your heart over to God. Let him handle your burdens and worry. Break the chains and live for a greater cause.

He’s coming on the clouds, kings and kingdoms will bow down
And every chain will break, as broken hearts declare His praise
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before You
Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain
For the sin of the world, His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Oh every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb

So open up the gates, make way before the King of kings
Our God who calls the saved is here to set the captives free
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before You
Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain
For the sin of the world, His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Oh every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb

Who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

Oh who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Oh who can stop the Lord Almighty?
Who can stop the Lord?

Our God is the Lion, the Lion of Judah
He’s roaring with power and fighting our battles
And every knee will bow before You
Our God is the Lamb, the Lamb that was slain
For the sin of the world, His blood breaks the chains
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Oh every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
And every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb
Every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb

Wise Men From The East

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Wise Men From The East

And lo, to their great surprise, the star which they saw in the east then appeared . . ..

—John Gill, Exposition of the New Testament (1746-8)

Nothing will awaken those that are resolved to be regardless.

—Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (1712)

Where Is He . . .?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, there came Magi, stargazers, from the East to Jerusalem.  These wise men weren’t from the Orient.  They most likely came from Persia.  They weren’t kings, and Scripture doesn’t say how many of them there actually were.  But certainly, their arrival was enough to get Jerusalem all wound up and draw the attention of the whole city to their one question:  “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?”

There was no ambiguity in the question.  The wise men weren’t asking after recently born “princelings” in general.  They weren’t asking about a child who would one day become a king.  They were looking for the One whose very birth made Him the King of Israel by divine right.  They were looking for the Messiah.

Everyone who heard their question understood its significance.  These wise men claimed that the Messiah had already been born.  They further claimed to have astral evidence:  “We have seen His star in the East and are come to worship Him.”  We don’t know exactly what they saw, but the few details given in Scripture are only beginning to match up with the conjunctions, comets, and super novae that we’re familiar with.  Whatever the nature of the star, these wise men were sure that it was a sign from the God of heaven.

The Magi came to the court of Herod the Great.  It was the obvious place to begin.  Herod, after all, was king of Judea.  If the newborn Child wasn’t his, he would certainly know where to find it.

But Herod didn’t know.  Aside from some itinerant shepherds, no one with first-hand knowledge had made any announcements.  The Magi’s star had gone unnoticed or at least unappreciated.  Still, Herod believed the Magi.  For political reasons, Herod had converted to Judaism and learned its rhythms.  He knew its structure and basic theology.  He knew the prophecies and understood the hope of Israel.  And one thing was certain beyond doubt … he wasn’t about to let it interfere with his reign.  While politely putting the wise men on hold, he summoned the chief priests and scribes (the authorities on Jewish Scripture) and demanded of them where the Messiah would be born.

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They knew, of course.  All Jews knew.  The prophet Micah had given the location 700 years earlier.  “In Bethlehem of Judea,” the priests said, and they paraphrased his prophecy:

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel (Matt. 2:6; cf. Mic. 5:2).

Herod went back to the wise men and enquired about elapsed time.  When had they first seen the star?  Then he pointed the wise men toward Bethlehem, a small village about six miles south of Jerusalem.

“Go and search diligently for the child,” Herod said, “and when you have found Him, bring me word again that I may come and worship Him also.”

The wise men were completely taken in.  But at this moment Herod’s much-vaunted political acumen wholly failed him.  He offered the Magi no guide, sent no escort, ordered no spies or surveillance teams.  He sent the wise men off on their own and trusted these strangers to be his eyes and ears.  No doubt, he commended himself for his cunning and craftiness.  The wise men set out.

And no one followed them.  No one at all.

Wise Men From The East

Image source: Pixabay.com

As the wise men journeyed south, the star they had seen in the East suddenly reappeared and led them through the dark night to Bethlehem.  There, it stopped and shed its light on one very specific house.  A house, not a stable.  Remember, months had passed since Jesus’ birth.  Joseph had found his family a real house and had probably picked up work of some kind.  He was away when the Magi first arrived, so when the wise men entered the small home, they found only the Child with Mary his mother.  Immediately, they fell to their knees and worshipped the infant King.  Then they unpacked their gifts and presented them:  gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Princely gifts, indeed.

The hour must have been very late because the wise men didn’t attempt the fairly short return journey to Jerusalem.  Instead, they found a place to unburden their camels and set up their tents for a quick night’s sleep.  But hardly had sleep fallen upon them before God’s word burst through into their dreams with a solemn warning …  they must not return to Herod.  Treachery and danger were the heavy implications.  The wise men rose, packed up their things, and fled from Bethlehem and Judea.

Then the angel of the Lord entered Joseph’s dreams with a more specific warning and admonition.  “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13).

And so, Joseph gathered his small family and immediately headed for Egypt.  The gifts of the Magi would fund the flight and their time away.

It didn’t take Herod too long to realize what was happening.  The wise men had betrayed him and he would entertain no more indirect approaches.  In a rage, he sent his soldiers with orders to kill all the children under two near Bethlehem.  The soldiers obeyed zealously.  And Bethlehem wept as the prophets had foretold.  Another night, not so silent, not so calm.

Only The Wise Men Went

Herod was a cagey political realist.  He understood the political implications of Jewish theology as well as anyone in the kingdom.  Before a divine King, all earthly kings would have to bow.  To a divine King, all temporal rulers must pay homage.  If the infant Messiah lived, Herod would be obligated, sooner or later, to conform to his policies, laws and prescribed way of life.  Herod would rather murder a bunch of babies than accept such terms.

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The priests and scribes, on the other hand, lived in a dichotomy of practical occupation. That, versus a vague fairytale religion of “Bible people, Bible stories, Bible times.”  Oh yes, they knew the prophecies.  They knew the promises.  They knew the theology, all too well.  But it never occurred to them that the implications of this theology would radically uproot their own world in the blink of an eye and set them on a collision course with some pretty big players. And that it would begin with their own personal agendas and turf battles.

You see, the priests were in bed with Rome.  In fact, they worked hard to maintain their position, power and wealth all while balancing a necessary allegiance to Rome.  The scribes, mostly Pharisees, majored in secular moralism and religious manipulation.  They strained at theological gnats while swallowing moral camels, all the while basking in the admiration of God’s poor.

Here’s what’s so often overlooked:

Despite their knowledge of Scripture, neither the priests nor the scribes made the obvious connection from “Messiah is born” to “Let us go and worship Him also.”  When the wise men set out for Bethlehem, not a single Jewish theologian went with them. Interesting.

Then there was the city itself.  When the Magi’s question was made public, the populace fell into confusion, fear and tumult.  What did it all mean?  What would Herod do?  What would this mean for relations with Roman?  For religious coexistence?  For market prices?  No doubt, this created a great deal of buzz on the streets. But not one of God’s covenant people came to the wise men and said, “Look, I’m in, wherever you guys go, I’m going.”

The wise men, of course, had come a long way.  They brought expensive gifts.  They crossed a desert.  They advanced into a strange culture, into a political situation full of intrigue and treachery.  All to ask one, very important question.  They risked everything to see the culmination of 4,000 years of prophecy and hope.  They risked everything for a few brief, if expensive, moments of worship.  And then they went home.  Fascinating.

One More Thing

We’ve all sung the carol called “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  But few people realize that the Twelve Days of Christmas doesn’t end with December 25.  That’s where it begins.  It ends on January 5 Twelfth Night. The next day is Epiphany, a feast that celebrates the revelation of God in human flesh and, more particularly … the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.  The focus of which, at least for Western churches, is the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus.   The Book of Common Prayer gives us this prayer for the day:

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles:  Mercifully grant, that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Think about this: How much will we give up, how far will we journey, how much will we risk, what crazy culturally driven thoughts and misconceptions will we abandon in order to see God made flesh in Jesus Christ? And then if we find Him, will we worship Him?  After that …. how, then shall we live?

Is Your New Year’s Resolution Logical?

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Is Your New Year’s Resolution Logical?Wherefore our wills also have just so much power as God willed and foreknew that they should have. . .

—Augustine of Hippo, The City of God (5th century)

 

For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin. . .

 —John Calvin, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will (1543)

 

Making Changes, Making Choices

As we enter the New Year, we think about resolutions, changes, new beginnings.  We think about making better choices.  A new diet.  More exercise.  Picking up a new hobby.  Sending timely reports to your boss. Finishing that book we’ve started a dozen times.  Choose.  Resolve.  Do.  It should be that easy, right?

Then why do we fail so often?  And why do our resolutions accomplish so little?  Why can’t we live out our choices?

Making Ourselves By Our Choices

Barack Obama wrote in his book, The Audacity of Hope, that American values “are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”  His claim echoes a long American religious and literary tradition that says that we have no fixed nature and that we create and define ourselves moment by moment by our choices, with our sin nature never getting in the way.

Charles Finney

Charles Finney

American roots run deep here.  Before Thoreau and Emerson there was Charles Finney.  Before there were public schools, there were McGuffey’s Readers.  Before Netflix spies and superheroes, there was Hemingway.  All have preached the American gospel of the self-made man, the man who creates himself good, on his own with never a mention of a dark or fallen side.  It’s a Pelagian gospel, to be sure, and its definition of “good” has become increasingly vague with the passing decades.  But not just that. Very few have even challenged the basic assumption that people can make and remake themselves by raw choice and willpower alone.

The Freedom To Choose

So, let’s examine this assumption closely. First, Scripture affirms human responsibility and the reality and significance of our choices.  But it also teaches our fallen nature.  Key point, often overlooked: Our choices flow from a heart corrupted by sin.  In other words, fallen man is free to choose (our will is uncoerced; our actions are self-determined), but we will always choose, in some form, rebellion against God … until God changes our hearts.

The natural man finds this doctrine offensive and asserts his own freedom, his own autonomy.  He doesn’t need God. But he can find no solid ground for this assertion.  To see this more clearly, let’s go back to the extremes of materialism and pantheism discussed at Christmas.

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The materialist reduces all to atoms.  Reality is matter in motion.  Everything is reduced to cause and effect.  Like billiard balls scattering on the table after the break, energy particles generated in the Big Bang scatter, collide, and rebound … “off the glass” … exchanging momentum and transferring energy.  Only this.  Nothing else.  Consciousness, volition, and choice are mere molecular interactions within the brain.  After all, that’s all they can be.  There is nothing else according to the consistent-thinking materialist.  Appeals to quantum theory may seem to open a door to pure contingency, to pure chance, but pure chance isn’t free will.  The concept of randomness isn’t consistent with the concept of a free choice. Think of it this way:  Can you make a real choice if the concept of logic no longer exists?

religion-1225383_640The pantheist sees all temporal differences, all individual choices, as passing manifestations of the all-encompassing One.  The individual soul is the cosmic soul and you can’t separate the two. The Hindu says “atman is Brahman.”  But stop and think this through. To say “I like the Bulls but not the Cavs,” or that “Usain Bolt came in first and Bill Heid last,” or “let’s have lunch now rather than later” are all just illusions to the pantheist.  Differences can’t be real if they are going to be consistent thinkers. Individual choice is irrelevant in this worldview.  He who steals and he who thinks he’s been stolen from … are both confused.  Not just that … even killing and dying are the same, both valid expressions of impersonal, divine reality.  If “All” is one, you can’t make distinctions. If you can’t make distinctions, all choices are imaginary.  Cosmic jokes.

The Gospel And Its Implications

Over against all of this, Scripture proclaims the reality of human choice and the power of God to liberate and transform the human heart.

First, the claims of Scripture are important. Scripture teaches the absolute reality of both Creator and creation. They are distinct. God exists eternally and necessarily as the Source and Ground of all created reality.  (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1.)

In God, unity and diversity are equally ultimate.  God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God is therefore absolute life and absolute personality.  He is communion, love, and choice.  This God created heaven and earth, not out of His own essence, but out of nothing.  This means that the universe is wholly God’s.  His deal.  It exists at His pleasure and for His purposes, the terms of which are spelled out in His eternal decrees.

Second, Scripture tells us that man’s freedom is the freedom of a creature.  Man can’t bend reality to his will.  He can’t become a zebra or pass back and forth through time simply because he wants to.  (“Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” Jeremiah 13:23.)

He functions as a creature within a broader creation.  And at every point, every moment, his freedom and choices are, in some way … checked, restricted, and given form by the rest of creation which itself moves at God’s sovereign command.  Nobody is autonomous.  Our choices are real, but not absolute.  Man is, therefore, responsible for his actions and accountable to God.  (Note to self: God will judge the world.)

jesusThird, Scripture tells us that our main problem isn’t that we are creatures or that we lack total autonomy … our big problem is our ethical rebellion against God.  Since the historical Fall of Adam in Paradise, we’re all sinners.  (“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12.)

We are still free, within the limits of our creaturehood.  And we can make choices, to be sure.  But (and this is a big but) because our hearts are twisted and messed up by sin, our “gravitational pull” is toward bad choices.  Granted, our bad choices aren’t always as bad as they can be … but apart from Christ “bad choices” serve the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  And because our hearts are “bent” this way … our nature is to not seek God, let alone serve Him.

Fourth, Scripture presents us with the Gospel:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He gave His life as an atoning sacrifice wholly propitious (paid in full) to reconcile a holy God to unholy sinners.  (Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10.)

He died and rose again to offer His righteousness to those who will receive Him by faith.  And by His Spirit, He transforms human hearts and so grants the very faith He requires.  This is called regeneration, or new birth.

The man who has been born again is free to love and serve God.  He is free to make good choices, albeit ones that often fall short.  Since the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t complete in this life, we will continue to struggle with our choices.  But the indwelling reality of the Spirit’s presence and power make growth in grace, love, and holiness real possibilities.  The one who is born of God can overcome sin, the world and the power of the devil.  All this means our wills are free from the bondage of sin … allowing for prayerful change and volitional choices in Christ.

What it all comes down to is this:  Unbelievers can make New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not saying they can’t. What I am saying is that they just can’t make sense of their resolutions or even their day-to-day choices if they consistently play out the full implications of their worldview.

The Gospel has enormous implications for all of life.

Happy New Year!

Is There Such A Thing As ‘Natural Law’?

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Is There Such A Thing As ‘Natural Law’?

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If you want my thesis of natural law theory in one graphic sentence, I will provide it: the most consistent defender of natural law theory was the Marquis de Sade. 

                    — Gary North, Westminster’s Confession (1991)

 

 The Fear Of The LORD Is . . .

Let’s talk about the right place to begin a discussion of natural law. What’s important to establish early on is that these rules are determined by the God who creates, who speaks and who decrees the end from the beginning.  The God who is Triune. The God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. The God who speaks infallibly in Scripture. The God who saves sinners through Jesus’ blood.

This God, and no other, is the only foundation for all intelligible thought, communication, and learning.  That said, this is what Scripture explicitly teaches about where to start: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).  Again, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

Unless the God who created the world tells us about Himself and creation, unless He opens our hearts to hear and believe that truth … we are left with foolishness and its attendant skepticism — cynicism and nihilism. There’s nothing we can truly know and we can be sure of nothing truly.  For that matter, we can’t even be sure there is something to be sure about.

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Is There Such A Thing As ‘Natural Law’?

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But the question of knowing something is only part of the discussion.  That’s because in Scripture, to know God and to fear God mean also to obey God.  Epistemology (study of knowledge) and ethics (rules for living) are rarely separate concepts in the Bible, but rather, are woven tightly together throughout Scripture:

Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding (Job 28:28).

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth forever (Ps. 111:10).

Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments (Ps. 112:1).

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl. 12:13).

God’s commandments are revealed in Scripture.  Knowledge and wisdom are inextricably “interwoven” with obedience to those commandments.  What’s more… these commandments, the laws revealed in Scripture… are alone authoritative and infallible.

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).

Biblical epistemology drives us necessarily to biblical law.

Total Depravity And Natural Law

But doesn’t Scripture allow for a divine law implicit in Nature, one accessible to unaided reason?  In my previous articles on epistemology, I’ve talked about general revelation, the revelation that exists in creation and in the hearts of men (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:18-20).  I’ve also tried to establish that the Apostle Paul argues that even the heathen have “the work of the law written in their hearts” and that they are, therefore, responsible for their actions (Rom. 2:14-15).

Is There Such A Thing As ‘Natural Law’?Certainly, Paul teaches us that general revelation is so clear that it leaves men without excuse for their sins (Rom. 1:20).  And He definitely declares that “the work of the law” is written in the hearts of those who have never heard the Gospel.  In fact, He goes on to emphasize the human conscience as being a very accurate testimony to man’s true moral nature. His conclusion? Unbelievers have a conscience, with concepts of right and wrong.  What Paul doesn’t say, though, is that this vague “conscience” is a substitute for the commandments of God revealed in Scripture.

Here’s the problem: The natural man’s conscience is sufficient to condemn him because he can’t and doesn’t live up to his own imperfect standard.  That’s because the natural man’s moral nature is thoroughly defiled and corrupt.  The Bible says his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).  The ways that seem right to him are the ways of death (Prov. 14:12).  Though he holds the truth, he suppresses it in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).  And until and unless he is born again, he will not come to the light lest that light should condemn his works (John 3:20).  In short, the man outside of Christ hates God’s commandments precisely because they are God’s commandments:

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God:  for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Rom. 8:7).

The truth is, the natural man wants nothing to do with what God commands.  Our current 24-hour news cycle as well as all recorded history bears witness to this.  When we look at the news or the law codes of the nations both ancient and modern, we do see echoes of biblical morality, particularly in the legal codes of the once Christian West, where the influence of Scripture has been strongest.  But none of these codes are consistent with what our Creator requires of us.

And many of the things that we find in these law codes are profoundly at odds with one another.  Further, much of what we find there is reprehensible and abominable.  We find polygamy, chattel slavery, pederasty, infanticide, and abortion enshrined and codified as integral parts of the cultures of whole peoples, nations, and empires.

Worse still, we know from Scripture that every sin, every moral perversity imaginable, has at some time or other been elevated by fallen man to the role of virtue or religious service (Deut. 12:31).  The ancient Canaanites practiced prostitution, self-mutilation, and child sacrifice in their worship of Baal.  The Thuggee of India strangled thousands of travelers in the name of the goddess Kali.  And the Sawi tribe of Netherlands New Guinea embraced any kind of treachery (including cannibalism) as the greatest of virtues and the highest good. (When missionaries first presented the Gospel story to this New Guinea tribe, they actually mistook Judas as the hero because of his great betrayal.)

What Does Natural Law Actually Say?

In the light of all of this, we shouldn’t be surprised that no one has ever published a written testimony or transcript of natural law.  Even though adherents have said for centuries that’s it’s supposed to be accessible to all thoughtful and rational men… no one has ever written down what’s actually accessible or even a summary of its principles.

But if anyone ever makes the attempt, here are some questions he should answer along the way:

  • Is this law compatible with the Trinitarian-based law found in Scripture, particularly in the Ten Commandments? Is it a shorter or foggier version of biblical law, or is it another law-code altogether?
  • Does natural law allow for oaths of office or the use of oaths in courts? If so, in whose name should they be sworn?  And is that name a valid name for the Christian God and no other, or is it the name of some other yet-to-be-named deity?  (The State, perhaps?)
  • What exactly is murder? That is, who are those we are not to kill?  Does the answer depend on the age, gender, ethnicity, or medical fitness of the victim?
  • What is the just penalty for murder? Execution, imprisonment, rehabilitation, or maybe some kind of a mind-wipe?
  • What exactly constitutes theft? Is it theft if a poor man takes the property of a rich man?  What if the State does it for him?  What if the State calls it taxation? Or “nationalizing foreign holdings”? (What happens when “laws of nations” collide?)
  • What is the just penalty for theft? Restitution, imprisonment, or amputation?
  • Can civil government consider any sexual acts as crimes? If so, which ones?  What are the corresponding penalties for each act?
  • Should having more children than two be a civil crime? If so, what’s the proper sanction for that crime?
  • If there is disagreement to the answers given to the questions above, can we safely assume that those answers are wrong?
  • How many people have to agree with a certain answer before we should take them seriously? Everyone?  A significant majority?  A slight majority? How does natural law communicate the exact percentage?
  • If the answers to these questions are at odds with the law revealed in Scripture, can we assume that the God of the Bible is at war with the answers? Or, could He simply be mildly annoyed with them?

The Rise And Decline Of Natural Law

Is There Such A Thing As ‘Natural Law’?

Marcus Aurelius.

Bottom Line: Natural law is a pagan invention.  The Stoics came up with the idea to provide a universal law-order for the cosmopolitan world created by Alexander’s conquests.  Natural law, the Stoics said, is found in the divine intelligence or logos inherent in the cosmos itself (accessible to all right-thinking human beings).

Roman intellectuals picked up on this idea next.  “For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth.” So wrote the philosopher Marcus Aurelius, the emperor whose “natural law” allowed for the persecution and murder of Christians.

Medieval theologians, philosophers, and legal experts brought natural law into Christian theology through a door marked “natural revelation.”  The muddy and confused concept of natural law, useful to kings and popes, continued through the Reformation and into the Enlightenment:  Greece to Rome to Aquinas to Locke.  But while some Christians today continue to profess natural law theory, most thinking atheists have given up on it altogether.  They usually cite Darwin.

Darwin’s doctrine of evolution completely rewrote man’s understanding of Nature.  Nature was no longer a given that could provide even a vague basis for law.  It was no longer a fixed metaphysical reality on which philosophers could hang any system.  Nature was process, always changing, always becoming.  No fixed laws.  Nature, then, is a perfect Hegelian synthesis … red in tooth and claw.  Laws like this, that move and change, are then laws of convention … the strongest kill the weakest.  This worked well for Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s death camps.  Think about it. If Nature is all there is, by what standard can you say Hitler, Stalin and Mao were wrong?

What standard would the Buddhist or Hindu use to condemn Hitler?

And so we come again to the absolute necessity of divine revelation.  We know right and wrong because God reveals it in Scripture.  There are no other standards.

Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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How has God been good to you today? This year? Ever?

Perhaps you recall specific blessings. Maybe no particular evidences of goodness come immediately to mind. Or perhaps you feel distracted by the cares of this life.

Today’s passage from Psalm 103 answers the questions:

Why should I praise God? Has He given me any reason to do so?

David repeatedly calls on and reminds himself to praise God. How often we have to encourage ourselves to praise God from the deepest place in our heart and soul, not out of mere ritual! Today we look at two important places to turn as sources of praise.

Thanksgiving isn’t “What are you thankful for?” but “Who are you thankful to?” Actually, thanksgiving is worship. And, if there is a deficiency in our praise and thanksgiving to God, the problem doesn’t lie in Him, but in us.

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Psalm 103 is 22 verses, and while we won’t re-post the entire passage, the first five verses read:

1. Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name!

2. Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

3. who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

4. who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5. who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.

(Read the full passage here.)

1. Praise God for what He has done.

“All His benefits” (v. 2) begin with the forgiveness of sins (v. 3). This is the foundation of God’s goodness to us. How can He bestow any blessing on us apart from His forgiveness?

“Heals all your diseases” (v. 3). Because of sin in this world, our bodies and hearts and minds are afflicted with diseases, fears, disabilities and shortcomings. No disease exists that God can’t heal, and one day, He will bring that work to completion.

Verse 4 turns to an image of coronation. We were condemned traitors headed for punishment, but the King has extended pardon and bestowed on us His very love and compassion. As our kind Father, He provides and sustains that we might be strengthened and satisfied in our hearts.

What does it say about God when we complain? That we are forgetting His benefits! One of the reasons we gather as a church is to stir one another up to remember what God has done and praise Him in response.

2. Praise God for who He is.

Praise God for His gracious love (vv. 6-10).

God chose the foolish, weak and despised things of this world to be His (1 Cor. 1:18-31). Just look at the history of Israel and the history of the church. Even when His people were unfaithful, God fulfilled every promise He ever made.

We have a hard time believing this love sometimes — either because we think God won’t forgive us this time, or that we have somehow earned His favor. If you are in Christ, neither is true. Though we deserve His eternal wrath, He turned it away. Be thankful that the three-in-one God is slow to anger, but abounding in love and mercy. How graciously God deals with us even now!

Praise God for His boundless love (vv. 11-13).

Why Should I Give Thanks When I Don’t Feel Blessed?

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These aren’t abstract descriptions of God’s love. No, these are specific examples of the love God demonstrates to those who are His.

Consider the vastness of the universe God has created. Neither science nor the human mind has been able to grasp it. As vast and numerous as our sins once were, God has removed them completely — in Christ alone.

God delights in you! He’s the perfect Father who never disappoints and whose love knows no limit.

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Understanding this love and its implications is no small task. Join Paul in praying that we will “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). This will guard you against temptation. After all, doubting God’s love was our first parents’ sin.

Praise God for His everlasting love (vv. 14-18).

The above descriptions of God’s love would lose meaning if they had an end point. But these verses highlight the reality that no such end point exists. This world will go on when we are gone just as it did before we ever got here.

But, even in our frailty, God is mindful of us. He’ll never be apathetic toward our existence. How foolish it is to treat this world as our home when it will forget us — while God will remember!

Praise God for His reign of love (vv. 19-22).

All those who enter this Kingdom and embrace the authority of this King will be eternally blessed. This is the Kingdom announced by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago. It is the Kingdom to which all believers belong already. In the next world, we’ll experience in full what we know now in part. The saving reign of Christ has begun and will soon be brought to completion.

God is calling everyone to lay down their arms of rebellion and embrace Him as Creator, Savior and Lord. But first, we must humble ourselves, repent and believe the Gospel – accepting the love of a kind, gracious and loving King.

We have rich cause to praise God.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all! May we fight against all the distractions that would turn us away from a Christ-centered Thanksgiving.

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Time For A New American Thanksgiving

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Time For A New American Thanksgiving

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With President Obama and the Clintons now dust in the wind, what do Americans need more than anything else to “reboot” this great nation? What’s the secret sauce that could get us going again and make the biggest difference at this time in our country’s history?

What all Americans need most right now is a self-conscious and continuing mindset of Thanksgiving. We need hearts thankful that we were born into the greatest nation in human history. Further, thankfulness that God used our Founding Fathers to bless this country with an amazing degree of freedom and for the first 200 years… the most remarkable standard of living ever known.

What we desperately need to get back to is a permanent sense of thanksgiving for the faith and courage of our unconquerable forebears who, with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other… crossed our untamed rivers and rugged mountains… farmed the land… developed the resources and built our industrial infrastructure… all to secure a place for themselves and for us. They were a special breed, tough and free, seeking not just a place to worship. Their desire was to build a “City on a Hill.”

In the beginning, they came from England. Persecuted by James I and his High-Church henchmen. Despite their hardships, they came with thankful hearts. But the humble Pilgrims were also strong, determined, and bold. They had to be. Future Plymouth Governor William Bradford describes their mindset: “What could they see when they came ashore but a hideous, dark and desolate wilderness?”

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“With little what could sustain them… but the spirit of God and his grace. May not and aught not the children of these fathers rightly say, ‘Our fathers were Englishmen and came over this great ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness. And they cried out to the Lord and he heard their voice and looked on their adversity. They praised the Lord because he is good and his mercies endure forever.’”

Our nation was founded and preserved by men and women who believed in individual freedom, in high biblical values, and in personal responsibility. But even that was not enough for them. No. They regularly got down on their knees and asked the assistance of an Almighty God. Not just out of weakness, though, but because, over and over, even their great strength and best efforts fell short at times.

Time For A New American Thanksgiving

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From the very start, prayer was an important part of our American tradition. Imagine seeing the great skeptic Benjamin Franklin calling for prayer at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that produced the remarkable document that is the Constitution of the United States. Imagine seeing a well-dressed foreign diplomat at the time, visiting the Continental Congress and asking a friend which of the delegates George Washington was… only to be told: “Mr. Washington is the man on his knees giving thanks to God.”

Let us be thankful for such heroes. For a George Washington, our nation’s “Indispensable Man” and Father of our Country… for the brilliant Patrick Henry… for the steadfast John Adams and for the great Christian general, Robert E. Lee. And let us thank God for the Pattons and MacArthurs. May the Lord again give us such heroes! As Tennyson wrote:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek to find, and not to yield.

That’s the greatness of America that President-elect Trump should return us to. He’s got his work cut out for him given the damage President Obama has done. Instead of being strong, confident and thankful, for the last eight years we’ve been weak, apologetic and guilt-ridden. We have let this President and his minions turn us into the most guilt-ridden people in all of recorded history. Think about it. Whatever bad happens anywhere in the world, it is somehow made out to be our fault. We send aid around the world and we’re called corrupt. After defeating Germany and Japan, we defended Korea and tried to help Vietnam only to be accused of imperialism. The president of Mexico insults our new President, suggesting that it’s because all Americans are guilty of exploitation.  The world spits in our face and we call it morning dew.

My guess is we still give away more goods, services, equipment, food, and money than all the nations in the history of the world combined. We hang our heads in shame as we discuss slavery and anti-Semitism — as though millions of Americans didn’t die to free slaves and destroy the Nazis. President Obama has dialed our national self-respect setting to “off” and we’re a sick nation because of it.

Meanwhile, teachers in our schools tell America’s youth that every virtue we possess has some secret agenda hidden behind it. George Washington was a thief with wooden teeth, Ben Franklin a con man, MacArthur, arrogant and shallow. Jefferson raped black slaves, and on and on. We have apparently forgotten that the world respects only those individuals and nations which respect themselves. Our kids must be taught this.

Time For A New American Thanksgiving

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Our schools teach that socialism is good while free enterprise is a sure road to ruin. Really? Is that really true? Much of the world is already living in socialist “hell,” after all. We know what it looks like. That said, Americans should realize and teach our children to be thankful that, despite Obama’s best efforts at socializing our country…  we’re in still in Heaven compared to most of the world. And we should teach our kids to be eternally thankful to God for it.

As I think more about it, America is probably the least guilty and perhaps the most altruistic of all the nations in all human history. In 1946 we could have conquered the world and created a Pax Americana.  Instead, we disarmed ourselves, paid reparations to our enemies and went on to build back up the nations we just defeated.

America is the most generous, most maligned, and least appreciated nation in the world.  As I said, America rehabilitated Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan after World War II, pouring in billions of dollars, providing equipment, machinery, workers, and know-how that we alone possessed.

Germany and Japan today seem to have forgotten this, even as we continue to pay for their defense. To the critics who claim we only did it in self-interest, let me respond by saying how happy I am that our space exploration has found Mars uninhabited so we won’t be expected to supply Martians with foreign aid and make new enemies in space.

When people anywhere in the world are hit by earthquakes or other natural catastrophes, who sends the help? The United States. When American cities are flattened by hurricanes or tornadoes, who helps? Nobody.

So now with the socialist “putter” out of office, let’s quit apologizing to a world we’ve fed, built up and protected. Let’s quit placating, buying, and bribing our enemies. America has been the light of the world, the hope of the world, the envy of the world and has no need for any sort of inferiority complex… let alone making it a required subject in school. Seriously, can a nation that trains its youth to be guilty of everything under the sun even survive?

How ironic that we should be told we must feel guilty about our guilt, arrogance, and materialism, and yet we are the only nation on the face of the earth where most of the world’s people still want in and no one wants out except liberal celebrities. We Americans have a great deal for which to be thankful.

Of course, we’ll always have problems. We’re sinners, after all. But we can gain perspective on them with a little humorous optimism.  For instance, we can be thankful it costs less per paycheck to feed a child than it did his father. We can be thankful America still has an almost unlimited faith in our young people; even Obama wanted to prove this by the size of the debt he expects them to pay off.

We can also be thankful a new Republicans Congress is finally forced to face an urgent unsolved problem: how to get the people to pay the taxes they can’t afford for services they don’t need. And let’s be thankful we’ve still got more free speech in this country than anywhere else — though we do need a great deal more of it that’s worth listening to.

Being forever thankful, you see, doesn’t mean we should be perennial Pollyannas. We ought to have some worries. A reasonable number of fleas keeps a dog scratching, after all. If we do the best we can, where we are, with what we’ve got, that will be more than enough to preserve our country. We can’t all do great things — but we can all do small things in a great way.

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Time For A New American Thanksgiving

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I’m thankful I have an assistant who’s more organized and smarter than I am. She knows when I want to be forced to do something against my will. I’m also thankful that I went in business for myself at an early age, so I never had to get through a job interview. I’m thankful that I love my work, although sometimes I feel like an overworked coal mine — cracked, polluted, and full of noxious gas. I guess we all feel like that sometime. But I know and am thankful to God that He gave us plenty of coal, if we’ll just mine it.

You know, years ago a theologian named Greg Bahnsen taught me that “ingratitude” is the worst sin of all. Also many years ago, my wife’s grandfather told about a time during the Depression of the Thirties when he was complaining with his friends how hopeless everything was.  Hunger, mass unemployment, banks closed, ruined men jumping out of windows. “There’s just not much to be thankful for,” one of his friends remarked.

My wife’s grandpa replied: “Well, I for one am grateful to Mrs. Collins.” She was a schoolteacher who a decade before had gone out of her way to encourage him in his studies. “Did you ever thank her?” one of his friends asked. He hadn’t. But that night he wrote to her.

In a week or so this answer came, written in a shaky older hand: “My dear Warren:  I want you to know what your note meant to me. I am an old lady in my eighties living alone in a small, lonely room.

“You will be interested to know, Warren, that I taught school for fifty years; and, in all that time, yours is the first letter of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a cold January morning and it warmed and cheered my lonely old heart as nothing has cheered me in many years.”

One of the many regrets of my own life is my failure to express gratitude enough. Not only to those who have meant so much to me but also to those folks I didn’t even know, folks who sacrificially gave of themselves to make this a better nation and a better world.

Thanksgiving is definitely a time that we, as a nation, have set aside to express our gratitude to our Heavenly Father, from whom all blessings flow.  It is also a time, if we will make it so, to remember to express our appreciation to our family, friends, educators, employees, pastors, and courageous patriots that aren’t afraid to stick their necks out.

God has blessed America! Be thankful for it. Pray daily that He will continue to do so. And work your hardest to preserve the liberty of this great and blessed land.

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The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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It is no secret that people are getting married—if they’re getting married at all—later in life than in generations past.

Why do you think it is? Are they waiting because they feel they can be better prepared for marriage? Perhaps during those extra years they’re memorizing Bible verses, applying biblical wisdom, and studying under long-married couples?

Not quite.

Many, especially those who profess the name of Jesus Christ, are breaking the seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 22:14). They don’t want to commit to marriage, and thus they feel freer to have sex on their own terms.

In fact, a 2013 government study found that 48 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 had moved in with a man to whom they were not married. The study covered the years between 2006 and 2010 and discovered that cohabitation was on the rise. In 2002, it was 43 percent, and in 1995, 34 percent.

This Commandment Is for Our Blessing

There’s a universal notion in our nation that rules are bad—really bad. We love freedom in America, which is good thing, and we reason that actual freedom is essential to any pleasure. And true freedom, we imagine, comes from chucking any outside restrictions and following only the orders of our own hearts.

Two myths emerge from this line of thought:

1. “I am most free when I am liberated from all rules.” John said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Real freedom is found not in existing by our desires, but by our design in God.

2. “My desires are the top track to knowing what’s best for me.” Have you ever had a time in your life that you followed your heart and it got you into trouble (Jer. 17:9)? God’s laws are beneficial. They flow out of the intention of a good and loving God for us, not the random orders of a controlling and distant tyrant. The commandments lead to our blessing, not our unhappiness.

What Are the Restrictions of This Commandment?

The fundamental focus of the Seventh Commandment isn’t on what is banned, but what is supported. This commandment is a protection of God’s view of sex and should be ours as well.

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Why? Because God created the pleasure of sex and knows how it works best!

In the New Testament, any type of sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is known in the Greek as “porneia.” This is, of course, where the current words “porn” or “pornography” originate.

(Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 that even lusting is breaking this commandment.)

Several cultural responses arise from this restriction of sex outside of one man and one woman in marriage:

  • “But we love one another.” Great! Have you united in marriage? If not, it’s porneia.
  • “We are engaged and are waiting to get married.” Engagement is different in the Lord’s eyes than marriage. It’s porneia any other way.
  • What about “friends with benefits”? What harm can come?” Everything—it’s considered porneia.
  • “What about homosexual marriage?” If it isn’t between one man and one woman in marriage, it’s porneia. And it is often said, “Jesus never denounced homosexuality.” Yet 11 times in His ministry he affirmed the Old Testament’s understanding of blessed sex between a man and woman in marriage. Anything outside of that was breaking this commandment.

Okay, But Why Is Sex Outside of Traditional Marriage Bad?

According to Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33, sex is more than just biology. Since we are created in God’s image, marriage and sex are to point to something divine and eternal beyond us. Earthly marriages are given to us as a depiction of God’s relationship to us.

The 7th Commandment: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?

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In marriage, there’s a complete union of two persons. It’s total oneness. What’s more, there is exclusiveness in marriage. Even if you’re not married, when you’re having sex with somebody, you don’t want them out “playing the field” on you, do you? Marriage confirms there is no other person but your spouse. And, finally, in marriage there’s total acceptance. The goal is to see your spouse for who he or she is and love him or her no matter what.

Likewise, in our relationship to God, it ties Himself to us when we become Christians through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15). Second, just like the earthly picture of marriage, we have no other gods but Him and Him alone. And, finally, God unconditionally accepts us in Jesus Christ and the Gospel. He sees us for all that we were (sinners by nature and action), in all our shame, and loves us just as we are in His Son.

Where Does This Leave You?

Sex is an echo of God’s love for all humanity. When you take it simply as a “good time,” you downplay the mystery and glory God put into us.

Throughout the Bible, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the people of God is that they view sex differently. God guards sex for our good. When adultery was rampant among God’s people, God saw it as an offense against Himself, as if He were the injured one (Jer. 5:8-9). Satan’s plan for sex is to have as much of it as possible before marriage, and as little as possible within marriage. One of the many wonderful things about the Song of Solomon is that it says sex inside the marriage covenant is supposed to be sexy.

The Bible has an extremely high view of sex. It is a part of the most intimate, vulnerable and personal parts of our body. There’re so many who resist this commandment because they are afraid of missing out on something. The Bible tells you to keep sex in marriage precisely because it doesn’t want you to miss out on something.

So, ask yourself honestly, what is your God? What commands your obedience? Is it sex? Pornography? Lust?

What you really need to do is return to the First Commandment—“no other gods before me.” Your soul isn’t right with God and so you crave all these things in sex. Remind yourself that sex is a picture. Yes, it is wonderful, but it points beyond itself to the love of God given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God values our sexuality, more than we do. Does your view of sex line up with God’s?

The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible To Us?

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The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”

Where the first four commandments deal, primarily, with our relationship to God, the final six commandments deal primarily with our relationship to one another. In other words, the first four commandments are vertical and the final ones are horizontal.

But in what group should the fifth commandment about honoring your parents really be listed? It can be seen as a segue bridge between the first four and the final commandments.

On one hand, the fifth commandment deals with a human relationship—child to parent. Conversely, there’s nothing comparable that shapes and influences our relationship to this God more than our relationship to our parents. Our parents, Lord willing, are there to teach us submission to authority, right from wrong, responsibility, and what it means to be truly loved without exception in God’s eyes.

Worldliness encourages the reversal of the fifth commandment—parents obeying their children instead of the other way around.

Did you know that the some of the most well-known atheists in the last century (Freud, Marx, O’Hare, etc.) all had a severely dysfunctional or damaged relationship with their biological father? Most of the world’s most famous atheists started out as believers in some form of organized religion and became disenfranchised about why God (or a god) would do and not do certain things.

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The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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If your father cheated on your mother, then you may struggle believing that God works out all things for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). You may not trust God. Or, if your father was never really happy with anything you did, thought or produced, then God may become, in your opinion, one that can never be satisfied, either.

The bottom line is that many of us have come from messed-up homes. Any current or future family you may have is affected. Your marriage is affected. Your career is affected. And, ultimately, your relationship with God.

So, what can we learn from this verse – not only those who grew up in good homes but those who did not? Let’s take a look.

1. Command: In sum, to honor means to cherish your parents as the substitutes for God that they are and admire and respect them for the fact that they embody that standard. Parents are to be the primary teacher of God’s Word, authority and disciplinarian—among other duties.

Biblically, to honor your parents means to distinguish the establishment of parenthood as the short-term replacement for God that it is and value it fittingly. So, when you live at home as a kid, you obey your parents. After you’re out of the house, for all of your life you are to respect them and take care of them when they are older.

What if your parents did something horrible to you that leads you not to respect them? You can still demonstrate a certain degree of respect to the office they embrace. When you honor your parents in this way, you are honoring the one true God behind the commandment.

If your parents did unspeakable things to you, how do you live out this commandment? You must understand that the injuries they’ve caused to you aren’t lethal. In the God-man, Jesus Christ, you can find absolute freedom from that injury by finding the kindness and support you desired from them in Him alone.

Then and only then can you say, “You hurt me, and it really hurt, but it wasn’t lethal. I once needed your approval but I don’t need it any more. I used to cry all the time over your lack of love for me but no more. In Jesus Christ and His Gospel, I found what I most desired—what you were supposed to represent. I found in Christ the kindness that I desired. And now that I have His, I can forgive you for not giving me yours.”

2. Promise: The second half of Exodus 20:12 affirms the fact that the entire nation of Israel, should they honor their parents, will flourish and their nation will thrive. You see, God uses the family as the basic element of all society. If the family is healthy, then the community, state and nation will be, as well.

The 5th Commandment: Must We Honor Our Parents If They Were Horrible?

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In Exodus 21:17, Moses repeats the command of the Lord that revolt and deep impudence for your parents should lead to death. Most of us wouldn’t have made it out of middle school!

But the severity of this truth is before us—this wasn’t just a private matter between parents and children. No, the community saw an attack on the family as an attack on the public good. If you untangle the family, you untangle society.

1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

Friend, your parents have and will disappoint you, just as you will disappoint your own family, friends and co-workers. But our all-faithful, all-knowing and all-loving God won’t. Remind yourself today that you’re made to live for God and His glory. Even if you don’t really believe this, there is a longing for an eternal Father innate to all of us.

Parents, Satan wants to shrink your whole world to the size of the latest trial with your child. Let’s show forth our love for our kids out of pure hearts, not merely so that they would obey us. But know you will fail. When your kids see your sins, let them see your repentance as well. If we were perfect parents, our kids wouldn’t need Christ. How grateful we parents must be whenever we witness the mercies of God manifest in our children. We are so undeserving. God is so gracious!

Have you submitted your past, your parents, your children and your life wholly to the Lord?

The 4th Commandment: Are We Still Required To Keep The Sabbath?

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If we’re honest, breaking the Fourth Commandment is one we might be not feel as bad about as breaking the other nine. Certainly, if you kill, commit adultery, or make a carved image, you should and usually do feel guilty. But, at least by today’s standards, breaking the Fourth Commandment — keeping the Sabbath — doesn’t usually require a trip to your local psychologist.

Yet breaking this commandment does produce stress in your life, because the whole commandment relates to our work. Work is stressful; we absolutely lean on work to provide for our needs. For some of us, we find our identity and pride in work alone. Thus, work remains one of the highest stressors in the average person’s life.

The Fourth Commandment provides a “why” and a “what” to those who fear God. The “why” is practical because we all need physical rest. The why is also practical because we need to refocus on the God of the Bible — the one true God. We need to reset and refocus because we, indeed, have short-term memories to the things of God. In the midst of family, work and life, we forget what God has called us to do (glorify Him), what our mission is (become more like Christ and share the Gospel with others), and what the point of it all is (to bring praise to God’s name).

The First Commandment (“have no other gods before Me”) sets up the rest of the commandments. The Fourth Commandment is given to us to help us make sure that our work (which we do for dozens of hours a week) doesn’t overtake Almighty God as our primary means of sustenance, security and identity. In other words, God wants us to make sure that it is His nature and character, not our work, that remains our rifle-like focus, source of trust for the future, and source of our identity now.

Friend, your work isn’t your identity. Being changed by the power of the Gospel means the “here’s your identity” comes before the “here’s what you do.” Obedience is rooted in a biblical understanding of your identity in Christ. As a believer, you will struggle and suffer many failures, yet your identity and the direction of your life will reveal Christ’s mastery over you (read 1 John)!

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And, remember, too, that the more you work, the easier it is to trust your ability to provide over God’s ability to supply all things. If God is our patron, He will provide. If He does not, we should not exist. He has never failed. You can trust this omnipotent God to provide everything you need (Psalm 68:19; Phil. 4:19), and you can trust Him enough to rest.

But Are We Still Obligated to Keep the Sabbath Today?

The 4th Commandment: Are We Still Required To Keep The Sabbath? The New Testament teaches that Christ freed us from the demands of the Law because He has completely fulfilled it (Matt. 5:16; Rom 10:4, etc.). All of the laws of Israel were given to point us to a greater reality that has come in the God-man, Jesus Christ. Ceremonies, special days, and dress codes of the Old Testament all pointed forward to His coming.  When Jesus literally and bodily resurrected three days after His death (1 Cor. 15), He fulfilled the Sabbath law. Thus, Christians changed their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday. In short, the point is that Christ is Himself the Sabbath (Heb. 4) and, if we are resting and rejoicing in His resurrection, we have fulfilled this commandment

You may say, “Okay, that’s great. But you still haven’t answered the question. Am I still required to keep the Sabbath?”

Friend, you should still keep the standard of the Sabbath. While we are freed from the technical law-keeping of the Sabbath itself, we are still sinners just like the Israelites were. This means that we should take the Lord’s Day (Sunday) to do a few things.

First, we should, literally, rest. No, this doesn’t mean you sleep all day. Be active in your local church on the Lord’s Day. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Avoid the trap of playing “catch-up” on your school work, laundry and house work.

Second, we should remember the mighty work of God in the Gospel. Why? Because, ultimately, the Gospel is our identity in what Jesus Christ has done for us. In Jesus, we’re totally loved and totally established by the only God whose opinion really matters. The self-improve and self-justification project many call their Christian life is quicksand.

What’s more, the Gospel is our security. I know that if God saved me, He’ll take care of me. If God gave up His Son to rescue you from slavery, do you really think He won’t help you to pay the light bill? Finally, the Gospel reminds us of our God-given purpose. When you look through the Gospel lens, everything starts to look different — your job, the people around you, your family.

Finally, take time to recalibrate your focus on God Himself. As humans, though created in God’s image, we are like a car out of alignment or a battery that must be recharged. You need — you must! — take one day to truly refocus your heart. God gave us His church to do that! It’s not about you. There’s only one glory and audience to live for — and that is God!

What do you trust in for your identity, security and provision? If you truly trust God, it will be shown if you obey Him (1 John 5:2-3). If you really trust Him, you obey Him knowing that He is responsible to meet your needs. Resting on His day is proof of this, too.

And what do you delight in? What do you rest in? What one thing are you most excited about? What does your heart most naturally gravitate toward?

If it isn’t resting in the all-providing God, you may be breaking this commandment.

Will you trust Him alone today?

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

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The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?

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It always amazes me how young our children are when we see rebellion in them. I recall that our toddler daughter didn’t want to submit to my authority – or her mom’s authority. If she didn’t want to eat her veggies, she’d try to throw the jar across the kitchen or knock the spoon from my hand. If she didn’t want to be held and if she wanted to walk—never mind the fact it was 100 degrees outside—she’d try to hurl herself out of our arms.

But we always had her best interests in mind.

Likewise, many believe the Ten Commandments to be limiting instructions given by a far-off God who doesn’t want you to “live a full life.” He’s seen as a “cosmic killjoy.”

But, truth be told, the commandments provide us a look into the character of God, a look into our own sinful heart, and — rather than restrict, they give us a way to be free. The commandments were given to the Israelites after coming out of Egyptian slavery, and given as a way to live free.  Thus, it’s for our good—indeed, our eternal perspective—that the commandments were given.

From Exodus 20:7, the Third Commandment reads:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

So, what does this mean? Literally, this means to falsify who God is and what He stands for. Indeed, each person should actively reflect God’s nature in actions, speech, thoughts, plans, etc.—all of life! Taking God’s name in vain, then, is to reflect His nature in an erroneous way.

The character and names of God speak to His nature and person (Ps. 20:1), His teaching (John 17:26), His saving work (John 1:12; Acts 4:12), and His power (Acts 3:6). In this way, it’s impossible to disconnect God from His name.

Are You Guilty of Breaking This Commandment?

If you are a Christian, the name “Christian” means “little Christ.” And, as such, when we take on the name of Christ by repenting and believing the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8), and then misrepresent God in our sin, we’ve broken this commandment.

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Here are some common ways we break this commandment:

1. We swear by God’s name and character when a promise won’t be fulfilled.

Simply put, we use our language carelessly. How often do we say, “I swear to God” as if it means zilch? In truth, we’re vowing by the name of a God that can’t lie and whose word can never be broken. Jesus said to let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no” (Matt. 5:37).

2. We try to make our name more famous God’s.

Even after being saved from all of our sin, we’re unenthusiastic to lay down the desire to make our name great. Though it is Christ’s name that should be propagated among the nations, many times we want our name, our talents and our personality to ring out to the world. We reverse the words of John the Baptist (John 3:30) and say, “I must increase, and God you must decrease.”

3. We link God’s name with ideas it should not be associated with.

The 3rd Commandment: What Does It Mean To Take God’s Name In Vain?Think of the Crusades from the Dark Ages. People were rallied around “God’s will,” and this led to a complete abandonment of biblical principles in just war and the sanctity of life. And today we do this by attaching God’s name to political parties and ideologies.

4. We don’t worship in a manner that uplifts God’s name.

You have been there, right? Our minds wonder during church, we come in late, we’re texting or checking our e-mail, as if nothing has been done for us, at all. And our lack of excitement and enthusiasm in worship misrepresents God’s name.

5. We employ God’s name lightly.

Let’s be honest: People stub their toe on a table and blurt out a curse word related to God’s name. You aren’t asking God to eternally judge the table, are you?

Surely as Christians who bear His name, we’ve broken this commandment. But, if you’re a non-Christian reading this, you were created to display His image. You were created by God and for God. And, therefore, you take the name of God in vain also when you twist who God is.

Can Jesus Save Us From Our Guilt?

Jesus did justice to God’s name because He never took the name of His Father in vain. Even in His final hours on the cross, the question was still churning of what name should be attached to Jesus. He was asked in Mathew 26:64, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” And Jesus retained that name, and lived up to it perfectly to the point of death.

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A guiltless man—Jesus Christ, the God-man—was seized guilty so that you, being guilty, could be avowed guiltless. Paul speaks of these commandments as a mirror into our sinful hearts (Galatians 3:19-29). The commandments were given by His grace so that we would see our need. We don’t live up to God’s standard and, therefore, we need a Savior. Not one drop of the blood of Christ was shed in vain. None for whom He died will ever perish.

We must recognize the greatness that is in the name of God. In this name is salvation, love, mercy and grace. The psalmist said, “Great is His name and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). Knowing, seeing, meditating and living this out puts you on the path of sanctification in not taking His name in vain, but, rather, living in reverence and honor to it in all you say, think, plan and do.

And, finally, Christian, let me say something about your work for God. It is not a vain thing to serve the living God. If you are doing the work God called you to, it can’t be in vain, whatever the apparent outcomes (1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:10). Don’t be discouraged today, wondering if it’s worth it. It’s impossible for anything you ever do in God’s name to be in vain. Just when we think that all of our ministry and work efforts have been in vain, we see that God has been working above and beyond our greatest hopes (Eph. 3:13-17).

Are you trusting your vain efforts — or the great God today

The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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Imagine someone coming up to you and saying, “I want to write a memoir about your life. In my biography of you, you are an Olympic athlete, you’re terrible at personal relationships, and you live with 25 birds and 10 fish.”

You respond, “Well, that’s interesting. But I’m not an athlete, I love being around people, and I’m more of a dog person.”

The man, though, won’t budge: “But this is how I desire to see you! You’re much more fascinating like this.”

How would you feel? You’d be offended.

It’s the same way with the God of the Bible. We can’t just remake Him into what we want Him to be. God is who He is, and is this why the Second Commandment is so important:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:4-5).

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The truth is this: It doesn’t matter how we “want or like to see God,” God is who He is, and He gets to define Himself to us as shown in the Bible. Our job is to conform our preconceptions of God to His reality, and not vice versa. How we “want or like to see God” and how “we believe God should be” is utterly irrelevant. All that matters is what He’s really like.

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People say that “their” God wouldn’t:

  • Punish sinners in hell (Rev 20:11-15).
  • Claim Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6).

We make God into what we want Him to be, rather than just believing Him for who He is. When we do this, not only do we get angry and disappointed, but we also rob ourselves of the joy of really knowing God.

From the Second Commandment, we learn at least three things about idols and false views of God:

1. Carved images spring from idolization.

The Israelites created carved images because they were scared. Frankly, they didn’t trust God, weren’t satisfied with Him, and felt like they needed something besides Him (or something more) to protect them.

Certainly, they made an image that mirrored God on some level. However, the whole attempt was to guarantee God’s protection. Their real idol was a need for guaranteed protection, and they thought they needed that more than they needed God.

That is the textbook answer for idolatry. You “carve out” an idol out of anything whenever you believe it so central to your life that you couldn’t be content and safe without it. So, you prioritize it or hold on to it over God and His Word.

Here are some common “carved idolatries” in America today:

  • We must have more money and wealth to be happy, so we invent a “god” that will guarantee that to us.
  • We want to understand ourselves as “decent people,” so we invent a “god” who is madder at other’s evils than He is at ours.
  • We need to see punishment on our enemies, so we invent a “god” who dislikes our enemies and prefers us and our philosophy best.
  • We really need domestic steadiness to be happy, so we invent a “god” who guarantees it!

2. Carved images misrepresent the actual biblical God.

In not seeing God for who He is, we end up seeing Him as our idolatrous, dysfunctional messed-up heart wants Him to be. God just becomes a reflection of ourselves and a reflection of our idolatry. Truthfully, your God may have elements of reality in it, but you’re not seeing the true picture.

The 2nd Commandment: No, We Don’t Get To Define God

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Yet, the biblical God can’t ever be reduced to a stone figure or a single attribute. No, He is a being complete in all of His holiness, perfections, almighty in strength, fully just and infinitely loving, transcendent above the heavens, and also close and intimate in our hearts.

Friend, that’s the problem with a carved image of God. It shows you only one dimension of God—never all of Him—and that ends up distorting who God actually is.

For example, imagine you sketched an image of God. Would you draw Him laughing or scowling? If you drew Him laughing, you might capture His goodness but not His wrath and judgment against sin. But if you drew Him scowling, you might capture His wrath against sin, but you wouldn’t show His grace, love and forgiveness.

Christianity was unique among religions in the ancient world in that it was a religion of Word—the Bible. The secular world of the time was filled with big, impressive statues of gods.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His apostles didn’t run around the world building big glorious statues of Jesus or cathedrals that boasted His size. No, what the first Christians did is they went around preaching, because Christianity is a religion of Word—the preached word.

God discloses Himself in words because images and pictures can never contain Him.

At our church, now and then, someone will say, “Well, the pictures honestly help me worship God. In fact, they bring to mind God for me.” That’s because human nature loves to break the Second Commandment and twist God down into something you can manage, handle and control.

But, friend, if you want to know God, then you should think on Scripture, memorize Scripture, and meditate on Scripture. Even our worship is built around the Word.

3. Carved images create tainted behavior in our lives.

Authentic, strong spiritual growth comes from seeing and knowing God as He is. All of Him, not part of Him. If you only focus on one dimension of God, then you’ll grow in a deformed way.

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For example, if your god is divine and just but not compassionate and gracious, then you are probably judgmental.

If your god is kind but not just and holy, then you tend to treat casually things that He abhors.

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Image source: Pixabay.com

If your god is sovereign but not affectionate and concerned, then you become an angry Christian who argues continually about theology but rarely tells anyone about Jesus.

If your god is not fully sovereign (which means that He’s in control of even the miniscule details of your life), then you tend to get worried and stressed out when something goes wrong.

If your god is a god of uprightness but not the God who gave Himself for you on the cross, then when things go wrong in your life, you think that He’s angry at you.

If your god is not stunning and all-satisfying, you’ll find you serve Him lukewarmly (so you won’t go to hell). But you won’t desire Him with all your heart, and you’ll fight a lure to the sin of this world and its pleasures.

If your god is a god that promises wealth, then when things go wrong in your life, you’ll lose your faith.

What does this mean for you?

First, quit trying to playing the umpire on God and just let God be Himself. Indeed, you’ll find it is hugely satisfying,

Second, remember that we want clarification but God gives us revelation. If you would ever quit trying to control God like He’s a lucky talisman in your pocket, you’d find it would fill your life with so much more comfort!

Do you follow God for who He is in the Bible — or follow one of your own making?

The 1st Commandment: What Does It Mean To Love God?

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The 1st Commandment: What Does It Mean To Love God?

Stop reading this for a moment, and try to say the Ten Commandments from memory. Do you know them? Many people may have heard about them on the news, but they have never read them.

Exodus 20:7 lists the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

A world of good flows from this confession: There is one God, and I am not Him!

Salvation, love and who God is are all tied together in what Jesus taught as being most important. From Mark 12:28-34 and Exodus 20:7, we see elements that help us understand and apply the first commandment.

1. Who is God?

This God is the only God, and He is one. A.W. Tozer said:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

The Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 declares: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is one.” Have you considered the importance of this truth? Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Is Christ divided?” Paul recognized that the unity of the church reflected the unity of God.

God isn’t only one; He is the only one. The entire religious world goes along just fine until Christians show up and declare that there is only one God and one Savior: Jesus Christ. We see this idea throughout the Old Testament. Only God can make himself really God to us. There is one God, one mediator, one sacrifice and one way. The true God is unique (Isa. 45:5).

Jesus said in Mark 12:29: “Hear, O Israel, ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’”

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What threatens the exclusive place of God in your life? Comfort, job, getting ahead, reputation with family?  What vies with God for your chief reason for existence?

No one other than this God is to be worshiped. Since He is the only one, we give ourselves only to Him. Every day should be lived for Him, and every step should lead us closer to him.

2. What does God most want us to do?

God wants us to love Him exclusively, uniquely and totally. Jesus teaches that all of our passion, our wit, our intelligence and our enthusiasm is owed to God. There’s no part we can leave to the side—He wants it all.

ten-commandments-wikipediaHave you had some lesser notion of Christian discipleship? Jesus teaches that the greatest command is to love this God with all that we have. Jesus defines Christianity as a religion of love. And He exemplified that in His own life and death. If we claim to follow Him, then this is how we are to live. All of us belongs to Him—we are totally His.

Many people say “only God can judge me” – and they live like He won’t. Yet, there’s two betrayals: to worship a false god, or to worship the true God falsely (Deut. 12). Our idols promise life but always lead to death. It’s the difference between the true God and a false god.

Our heart’s inclination is to be to God, not evil. All of our soul means we’re to love Him even at the cost of our life. All our strength means even at cost of all we own.

3. What must accompany love for God?

This love that we claim to have for God must be accompanied by love for others made in His image. Did you realize that loving your neighbor was so important?

In 1 John 4, we understand if anyone claims to love God while hating his brother, he is a liar. If a love for God isn’t matched with love for others, it isn’t true love for God.

Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18 here. Moses teaches that as God is loving, we are to be loving.

Jesus, in Mark 12:28-34, summarizes the law and His teaching, which He is about to exemplify in His death. It is important that both these commands are given here together. We cannot claim to truly love man without love for God, and vice versa. Jesus was only asked for one command, but gives two. He knew that to omit the second would risk misunderstanding the first.

This is a warning against any privatized idea of Christianity.  There are no “lone-ranger” Christians before this one God. Love for God necessarily involves you in love for others and not just your friends. Love those who you may find inconvenient to love.

We can’t know how to love one another apart from having love for this one true God. Is your relationship with your fellow church members and Christian friends—or the person who irritates you at work—described by 1 Corinthians 13?

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If we claim to love God, that love must be linked with love for one another. What does it mean to have all kinds of knowledge about God and have it not affect your life in love for others?

4. What does it mean to be in God’s Kingdom?

This exchange is so different from the earlier verbal duels in which Jesus engaged. This lawyer notices that Jesus answers well. He then asks about the most important commandment. Notice Jesus’ compassion. Even with one who came to test Him, Jesus answers with grace. The lawyer seemed to understand what Jesus had been saying. Jesus, upon hearing him, responded wisely: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Jesus let us know how to get into the Kingdom of God. Can we enter the kingdom of God by loving perfectly? No! He gave us this command to exhaust us, and to show us that we cannot come close. He gives us this law to lead us to Himself, who perfectly fulfilled this law. He loved God perfectly. He has loved others as Himself.

He also gives us this law to instruct us. Some may think that because God saved us by grace, any command we find in Scripture is only to show that we cannot do it, that we must rely on His grace. Of course, we can’t do it, as we must rely on grace. But we must also learn from these commands. We are to love God fully and to love others as ourselves.

One can only be in the kingdom of God if one confesses his lack of love for God and others. We have known God’s rich blessings. He calls on us to love with our hearts, souls, and minds and strength. Love this God and so be under his reign.

Is your life being spent for that which is truly important? Love this one and only God with all your heart, soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. These are more important than all else.

Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?

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Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?

We live in a world of constant change. Knowledge is changing so much that we can’t keep up. Technology changes so quickly that the time a new product hits the store, it’s nearly outdated. And the world’s morals are supposedly changing, too. What used to be unlawful and unthinkable is commonplace. Nothing shocks us anymore.

What about God? Does He change? And if He doesn’t change, how do we explain the so-called “angry” God of the Old Testament and the “loving” God of the New Testament? Is this, in fact, the same God?

I have good news: God hasn’t changed (Mal. 3:6). He can’t change because He can’t improve on absolute perfection (Heb. 13:8). He can’t decline, increase or improve. Why is this? It’s because God Himself stands forever (Psalm 90:2). God doesn’t react; rather, He acts with unchangeable purpose.

The Bible makes four major points about God’s unchanging character:

1. Unchanging in His character (Ex. 3:14; Jam. 1:17)

God isn’t the “I will be who I will be” in a metamorphosis-type God or “I was who I once was.” No, He is the “I am who I am” – one altogether uninfluenced by the flight of time, with no wrinkle on the brow of eternity.

2. Unchanging in His purpose (1 Sam. 15:29)

We change our plans because we lack something that may pass. God perfectly knows the future. We change plans because we can’t select the best plan. We change our plans because we lack the power to execute. But not God. He’s omnipotent, and nothing is impossible. He carries out all the pleasures of His heart.

3. Unchangeable in His Word (Num. 23:19)

God can’t lie. Everything He has spoken and commanded, He stands behind it with all of His power and sovereignty.

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Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?In Luke 16:17, Jesus says that it would be easier for the sun to go away and for all the planets to no longer rotate and for the world to evaporate and to go away, then for the slightest part of God’s Word to come to pass.

4. Unchangeable in His salvation (Romans 8:28-29)

We’ve given God countless reasons not to love us, but none of them has been strong enough to change Him. What God has purposed in eternity past is unchangeable within time and eternity future. God’s saving enterprise by sovereign grace will never be changed or altered.

In short, the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. His character, ways and judgments haven’t changed. In fact, God’s love and mercy is seen throughout the Old Testament.

The story of Noah is an example of God’s grace. The beginning of Genesis 8 marks the center point, the hinge of the story. God remembered Noah. During a flood of unimaginable scale—like a cork on the ocean—we see the ark a symbol of God’s grace and mercy.

We see four aspects of God’s mercy in the Old and New Testaments in the midst of judgment:

1. Saving mercy. The ark floated safe on the surface of the waters. It was a picture of God’s grace. The ark was preserved by God’s own plan. The ark is a symbol of the church. We, the church, are the ark going through the judgment of God.

2. Distinguishing mercy. God had given Noah mercy to distinguish himself from others in the way he lived. He could look around and see that it was to Noah and his family to whom God was showing mercy to. God owes mercy to no one, yet, He bestows mercy to all. He gives distinguishing mercy to some.

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3. Unilateral mercy. God’s covenant with Noah was unilateral. Here we see the covenant established by God, unilaterally. He gives instructions to Noah and his descendants – but the covenant is not conditional. The rainbow is a sign of His covenant, to remind us of it that we may not forget. Thank God that He unilaterally acts to save us. Wonder at the mercy of God, putting Christ in our place.

Is The God Of The Old Testament The Same As The God Of The New Testament?4. Contrary mercy. Consider Noah’s and his sons’ sins (9:18-29). This mercy was given despite sin that cried out for judgment. If there is any doubt that God’s saving of Noah was gracious – consider this account. Noah’s sin of drunkenness is shown in verse 21. No sooner does Noah receive the command to subdue the earth that he submits himself to the control of a product of the earth. Ham’s sin was dishonoring his father – exposing his father to ridicule rather than protecting his father’s honor.

Noah was a sinner. Any good he received was by God’s mercy. Think about what you deserve and what you have been given. You and I have been given far more than we deserve. God shows us His goodness by showing mercy to Noah and does the same for us today.

God shows His goodness to us in both His justice and in His mercy. His justice we admire. His mercy we require, if we are to be saved. Both are seen most clearly on the cross of Christ. We see His mercy and His judgment. The penalty justice demands was satisfied. God Himself satisfied that justice.

God’s grace to Noah, through Shem, points forward to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our world today—with this same unchanging, perfectly balanced God of justice, mercy and love—surely deserves the judgment Noah’s world got. Yet in His mercy and patience, He delays the judgment that we might partake of His mercy.

Do you know this God today?

Flee The Cities: The Biblical Case For Bugging Out

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Flee The Cities: The Biblical Case For Bugging OutMany survival writers and instructors have tackled the problematic question of bugging out versus bugging in. For the most part, we all say that the average person is better off bugging in, than they are bugging out. I’ve taken that stand myself on more than one occasion, but I’m not so sure that the Lord agrees with me.

Jesus Himself actually addressed this issue in the Gospel of Matthew, saying:

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) 16 Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains. 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. (Matthew 24:15-18)

This is about as clear a description of bugging out as you can ask for, taking into account biblical language, as compared to today’s language. The term “bugging out” wasn’t part of the ancient Hebrew language, nor was it part of their culture. Nevertheless, we find Jesus admonishing those who were listening to Him to flee when the abomination of desolation should appear.

The first question that this section of Scripture begs is: What is this abomination of desolation? There are many ways that that phrase can be understood, both in a cultural context of that day, as well as taking it to be in reference to End Time theology. The fact that reference is made to Daniel’s prophecy makes us quickly jump to thinking of End Time theology, but Daniel’s prophecies actually started being fulfilled long ago. So, it could refer to events in Jesus’ time.

If you look at most commentaries, you’ll find that this abomination of desolation refers to the Roman army and their destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. That would tend to close the story, showing us that prophecy had been fulfilled and we need not concern ourselves with this verse — except for one thing … the context.

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When we talk about context, we are asking ourselves two things: Who was he talking to and in regards to what? This is extremely important, especially when we are talking about biblical prophecy. It is always imperative in biblical interpretation to take context into account. Most false doctrine comes about from failure to obey this one precept.

Earlier in the chapter we find the answer to those questions. It says in verse three that “…the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’”

This then answers the question of who Jesus was talking to and in what context. He was talking to His disciples, in private, responding to a question about His return and the End Times. This is important, because even though He hid many things from the crowds who gathered to hear Him speak, Jesus was always honest in answering His chosen disciples.

Flee The Cities: The Biblical Case For Bugging OutSo, while Jesus might have made reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in this passage, we also know that He was talking to His disciples about His return and the End Times. That puts the verse into a totally different timeframe. This is no longer something that just referred to the Jews or to His disciples, but it is something that applies to every believer from the time of Christ up until the End Times have been completed. Since that hasn’t happened yet, that includes us as well.

Before giving this instruction, Jesus gives His disciples a number of “signs” that the end is coming:

For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows. Matthew 24:5-8

These signs have been used throughout the ages to say that the time of the Lord’s return is near. But tell me, when in the history of the world have there not been wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes? There always have been and there always will be. That isn’t the answer. In fact, right in the middle of all that, Jesus said, “all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”

Jesus refers to those times as “the beginning of sorrows.” What an apt name. Whenever any of those events happen, they bring sorrow, regardless of whether they are connected to the End Time prophecy or not. No, they aren’t portents of the End Times; they are just the problems of life.

So, what is the sign of the end coming, then? If we go back to verse 15, we see it; the “abomination of desolation.” Jesus is clear. He says that when we see that sign, then we are to flee; then we are to “bug out.” But what is the abomination of desolation?

That we don’t know. If we were to take it as the Roman Army, as many have, then we could say that UN troops rolling down the road would be that sign. But UN troops have rolled down many roads around the world in the last 50 years, without the end coming. So, I would have to say that this would be a false sign, nothing more.

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In reality, we don’t know what this name refers to. We just know that it is associated with End Time prophecy and that when it comes, it’s time to flee.

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Image source: dailyedify.com

Historically, mankind has been very poor at interpreting prophecy before it happens. Perhaps that’s because we’re not supposed to be able to identify it before it happens, but rather, as it’s happening. We can look back and see prophecy fulfilled, but when we look forward to see it coming, we tend to misinterpret it. Even our greatest End Times theologians are probably making mistakes in their interpretation. We will never know until those events come to pass.

We do know the end is coming. We also know that it will be a worldwide event. We also know, from what Jesus said in these verses, that when it comes, we’d better get out of town. So I would say prudence is our best course of action. When a worldwide catastrophe comes, it’s time to grab out survival kits or bug-out bags, and head for the hills. For that matter, we’d better have our bags with us, because Jesus warns us not to go into our homes to grab them.

Why would Jesus say this? Clearly He knows things that we don’t. He has already foreseen these events and knows exactly what is going to happen. In the light of this, He is giving us a warning: Get out.

So, I don’t know about you, but if I see a worldwide event unfolding around us, I’m fleeing. I’ll figure out if I’m right or wrong later.

In the larger sense, there is some wisdom in bugging out. In almost any disaster scenario you can imagine, city dwellers will have a harder time than those in the suburbs, and those in the suburbs will have a harder time than those in rural areas. So, maybe it’s time to rethink our philosophy. If the Lord says it’s better to flee than to be caught in the city, who are we to argue?

Obviously, that means having a plan, a destination and the proper preparations in place to survive, once we bug out. While Jesus may say run, without returning to the house to grab your coat, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared. Yes, we must put our trust in Him, but we are responsible for doing our own part as well.

Do you agree or disagree with the writer? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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“Will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). Or, said another way, “Is this Jesus really the only way to heaven?”

That was a big question in Jesus’ day, and it’s a big question in our day, too. Jewish rabbis were kicking this question around a lot in the first century, and it was widely believed that every Israelite would somehow have a share in eternal salvation—except the really bad ones, of course.

But Jesus upsets the apple cart, because up to this point in Luke, His teaching has ruled out the very people everyone thought had it made easy—moral people, rich people and religious people.

And in our day, the question is just as relevant, but for different reasons. The reason many people ask this question, both Christians and non-Christians, is that we think God should be an equal-opportunity redeemer. We judge God by our standard of fairness, and we assume humanity’s moral innocence. So, when we’re confronted with the reality of hell, or the idea that Jesus is the only way (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), or the cost of following Jesus (Luke 9:23-27), or the fact that our morality isn’t good enough for God (Rom. 3:10-18), then we come out asking, “Will those who are saved be few?”

And we ask it with a chip on our shoulder. We’re dubious about it.

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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We say, “If the God of the Bible is worth His salt, then surely those who are saved will not be few, because the God I believe in wouldn’t do X, Y or Z; or He wouldn’t require this or that of people.”

It’s a challenging question, but how does Jesus respond?

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Jesus doesn’t answer the question as it was asked. He actually poses and then answers a different question. He says, in effect, “You’re asking the wrong question.” He answers a question about the few in 13:23 with a statement about the many in 13:24:

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

Jesus answers a question about the passive idea of being saved, with a command about the active idea of striving. And he answers an impersonal question about others with a personal question of His own.

It’s not about the few, but the many. It’s not about passively being saved, but actively striving to enter. And it’s not about them; it’s about you.

Someone asks, “Will it be few?” Jesus asks, “Will it be you?”

Asking “will those who are saved be few?” or, “how can there be only one way?” is a smokescreen. It makes us appear humanitarian, but it only serves to hold Jesus at arm’s length.

The right question is, “Am I entering, am I striving to enter, through the narrow door?” Jesus is saying we should be, in some sense, be narrow-minded. We should agonize to enter God’s kingdom through repentant faith in Jesus Christ alone.

How we answer the question, “Aren’t Christians just narrow-minded, bigots? Wasn’t Jesus?” is telling. Here are a few key answers that will help us understand the answer.

1. It’s no narrower to claim that one religion is right than to claim that your way to think about all religions is right.

Logic cuts both ways. Every faith is “narrow.” Even the faith that says all faiths are equal excludes those who disagree.

Yet, at His birth, Jesus was unlike any baby ever born—eternal Deity joined to sinless humanity, the Infinite Infant. The God revealed in the Bible is no local deity, one of many. He speaks as the King of the whole earth (Jeremiah 46-51). One would have to read their Bible upside down, in a dark room, with their eyes closed not to see the deity of Jesus Christ and His superiority over all and the only way.

2. No Christian struts through the narrow gate of Jesus—we’re sheep, not peacocks.

True Christians realize that the irony of Jesus’ Gospel is that the only way to be worthy of the Gospel is to confess you’re utterly unworthy of it. Neither does anyone who truly understands the biblical truth strut through the narrow gate, but all enter with lowly humility. No one snickers through the narrow gate, but all who enter come mourning over their sin. The narrow path is difficult, demanding and less traveled, but is paved with blessing, and it only leads to life. Better to travel on the narrow path with the few than on the broad path with the many.

This is why all Christians are called to be “fishers of men.” We understand that before the thrice-holy God of the Bible that we are simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. We are to tell of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—who He is and what He can do—not just in deeds, but we are to speak of the Gospel in words.

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Are we willing to risk being misunderstood and maligned in order that the truth of the Gospel might be told and men might be saved? Yes, as Christians, we are to share this eternal message.

3. Christianity is radical inclusion, yes, but through the narrow gate.

Are Christians Narrow-Minded Bigots For Believing Jesus Is The Only Way?

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Our culture’s madness rests on the assumption that the gate is wide and the way is easy. Jesus said otherwise in John 14:6:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Unabashed critics of Christianity demand a false inclusion; they want not the word that their sins are forgiven but that their sins aren’t sins. The Bible doesn’t say that as we know God more, we are more comfortable with God. As we draw near, we are more mindful of our own sins and God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Jesus gives inclusion to the disqualified. He never sells it, especially to those who think they deserve it (Romans 9:30-33). The command to believe in Jesus Christ can only be obeyed to the exclusion of all other objects of faith.

Those of us who have passed through the “small gate” must walk in the narrow way — the way marked out by Scripture. Which one are you on?

Understanding Biblical Storytelling

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Understanding Biblical Storytelling

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Man is the image of God.  He necessarily creates stories and enjoys them.

 —Greg Uttinger, “The Lord of the Rings: A Good Story” (2012)

Deep comedy is a product of Christianity, a mark of resurrection life on the pages of Western literature.

—Peter Leithart, “Deep Comedy” (2006)

 

Introduction

I’ve discussed in broad terms the biblical foundations for many areas of life and thought, including the arts in general.  Now let’s look at the narrower “art” of storytelling.  As with all things we start with God … not just God as Creator, but in God as a personality and who He truly is.  So we begin with the ontological and then the economic Trinity.

Sounds complicated, but all I’m saying is that from eternity God is a self-communicating God.  The Father begets the Son.  The Father and Son breathe forth the Holy Spirit to one another.  You see this over and over in the Bible. That said, let’s look at the doctrine of the Son’s “eternal generation” a bit more closely.

Great Stories and The Ontological Trinity

The Son is the glow of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person (Heb. 1:3).  The Father looks upon His Son, and He is well pleased (Matt. 3:17; 12:18; Prov.  8:30).  In other words, the Father communicates to the Son and Spirit without any loss in the communication itself.  And … the Son doesn’t compromise the Father’s image or muddy up His glory in any way.

To understand the literary significance of this doctrine, we can contrast Christ the Son with the pagan deities … with Cronos who castrates his father or Zeus who does the same.  With Isis who poisons her ancestor Ra and grabs his power.  Or with Loki who raises the forces of chaos and death against Odin and his allies at Ragnarok.  The pagan myths show us that the gods beget troubled children much to their sorrow.  More broadly, these myths regard any move beyond the beginning as a misstep, a corruption of the ideal, a fall of sorts.

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Mysticism in general echoes this thought stream.  That’s why any frameworks that move away from original divinity always lead to distortion and loss.  Only true, Trinitarian balance and harmony provide conceptualization for story.  This understanding of deity creates a backdrop for “the happy ending” so crucial to traditional storytelling.  Meaning … any move from the origin results in catastrophe and tragedy.

The biblical doctrine of the Trinity rejects the tragic endings implicit in pagan ontology.  God’s self-communication does not end in failure but in glory.  The Origin finds full and glorious expression in His complete Revelation.  The Father is glorified in His well-beloved Son, and the Son rejoices in His Father (John 17).

The Covenant of Redemption:  God as Storyteller

Understanding Biblical Storytelling

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Just how the Son glorifies the Father, and the Father the Son, is the story of the Gospel.  But that Gospel story has its origin in the eternal counsels of the Godhead.

Here’s what I mean by that:  Scripture tells us of God’s eternal decrees.  It places these decrees in the context of the eternal fellowship that is the Trinity.  Before the world began, the Persons of the Godhead made promises to one another (Titus 1:2).  They assumed obligations (John 14:31; 17:2).  They took on roles.  The Father gave the Son a people and instructions concerning them (John 17).  The Son became the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; cf. 1 Pet. 1:19-20).  The Holy Spirit agreed to wait on the earthly work of the Son and to come in His name (John 16:7-15; cf. 7:39).  In eternity they agreed upon all this and much more.

In other words, before the world began, the Persons of the Trinity communicated to one another the nature of the history they would create.  They communicated all that they would do, all that would happen, down to the smallest detail (Isa. 46:10; Acts 15:18).  Not just that … they rejoiced in their plan.  This is where Storytelling begins, but it isn’t where it ends.  God made His story real:  He created heaven and earth.

God’s Story:  Setting, Conflict and Characters

Every story needs a setting.  God set His story (primarily) on Earth.  The story starts “in the beginning” and carries on to the Last Day, to the Resurrection and Final Judgment.

Now, stories as we understand them on this side of the Fall arise out of conflict.  Guides to good reading usually list the more common conflicts:  man v. man, man v. woman, man v. nature, man v. God or the gods, man v. himself, and so on.  But all of these conflicts are the result of the Fall.  In any given story, the specific conflicts either arise out of the sins of the characters or out of the common curse that afflicts men because of sin.  Examples are legion but include battles with disease, wild beasts or natural disasters.

Conflict, of course, presupposes actors … heroes, villains, and victims (protagonists and antagonists).  In God’s story, God Himself is the Hero.  The apparent conflict He must resolve for us rises out of God’s justice and our sin.  It is simply this:  How can God be just and yet forgive rebellious sinners?  God answers this question through the Gospel story as Christ battles Satan (the Dragon) for the life of world.  This story unfolds through 4,000 years of redemptive history.

It is of course “a thriller” of a story and mystery as well.  Only God in His infinite wisdom knew its solution, and He revealed it in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:7-9; Rom. 16:25-26).  It’s also an action/adventure story.  The Son of God came into the world to wage war against the Dragon and to destroy his works (Matt. 4; Rev. 19).  I suppose on some level it’s even a romance.  The resolution of the story required the eternal Bridegroom to lay down His life for the Bride He loved (Eph. 5:28).  Jesus Christ, then, is the archetypical Hero, who really does save the world (John 3:16-17).

God’s Story:  Big Plotlines

God’s story begins with the creation of the world and man’s fall into sin.  Here the conflict within history begins.  But at the garden gate, God promises to rescue His people (the Bride), but He does not explain in any detail how He will manage it.  He speaks obscurely of “the Seed of the Woman” and institutes sacrifice (a foreshadowing of the Cross).  As redemptive history unfolds, we see the life-and-death struggle between the Woman and her seed and the Dragon and his seed.  The Dragon tries again and again to seize the Bride and bring forth his own seed through her or to destroy her and her seed. Sometimes he nearly succeeds.  Yikes!  These attempts are all plot complications.  They introduce tension and we experience suspense as we wait to see what God will do.  And, of course, God always maintains His promise and rescues the seed … usually in some creative, unexpected, even humorous way.

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As the story reaches its climax, God steps into the story as a true man (the Incarnation).  But His identity is concealed (the prince-in-disguise, nice!).  He comes with an incredible plan, divine power and self-sacrificing love.  He is the Prophet, King, and Priest of redemption.  He dies for His Bride (the ultimate plot complication) and rises from the dead to save her (the ultimate plot reversal).  The Hero ascends His throne, and the story rushes quickly to its dénouement (last bits of business and final expla­nations) in the book of Acts and the Epistles.  As Revelation shows us, the King and His Bride live happily ever after (final resolution).  God’s story is very deep comedy and about as far away from pagan tragedy as you can get.

Humans As Storytellers

God’s story is reality.  Most of ours are not.  But because we are made in God’s image, we are by nature … image bearers and sub-creators.  We imitate our heavenly Father in devising sequenced events that always stay in our limited sphere.  We do so to probe the nature of God’s world as well as our own hearts.  We invent stories for wonder, for relaxation and escape. We also create stories that inspire growth in understanding and wisdom.  And here’s the thing … the better our stories conform to God’s template … the more powerful and impactful they will be.

Obviously, not every story can imitate the archetype in all its dimensions.  This is normal, proper and just makes good sense.  After all, even Scripture contains stories within stories.  And though the doctrine of the Trinity guarantees that the Gospel story ends in glory … it contains many stories of sadness and defeat.  Why?  Well, sin and death are real problems in this crazy temporal world of ours.  But not forever.  The literary universe in which the Christian writes is one of love, truth, and hope.   It is one that allows our imaginations to soar beyond the stars … but keeps our hearts grounded in the holiness and love of the Triune God.

For Further Reading:

Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (N. p.:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976).

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House Co., 1972).

Gene Edward Veith, Reading between the Lines, A Christian Guide to Literature (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1990).

Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times, A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1994).

Leland Ryken, The Christian Imagination (Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1981).

Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination, Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wheaton, IL:  Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989).

Leland Ryken, Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective (Wheaton, IL:  Harold Shaw Publishers, 1991).

Greg Uttinger, “The Trinity and Storytelling,” Chalcedon Report, Oct 2003, no. 456, Vallecito, CA.

Peter Leithart, Deep Comedy:  Trinity, Tragedy, and Hope in Western Literature (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 2006).

Richard Purtill, Lord of the Elves and Eldils:  Fantasy and Philosophy in C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1974).

Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Have you ever forgiven someone who didn’t deserve it? Or, do you find it hard to forgive?

Regardless of which category you fall into, this post is for you.

In many respects, our culture has come to reject the idea of forgiveness. According to the Bible, however, man is in great need of forgiveness.

Philemon was written by Paul during his imprisonment, and it is a book that focuses on the gift of God’s forgiveness and our corresponding responsibility to forgive others.

In these verses, Paul is laying the groundwork before asking Philemon to exercise forgiveness. Paul cites five “building blocks” for forgiveness that apply to us just as much as Philemon.

1. The foundation of the Gospel (Philemon 1:3-4).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers …

Grace—that is, the mercy of God—enables us to have peace with God. “Grace” is the traditional Greek greeting, and “peace” (shalom) is the traditional Hebrew greeting; combined, it is a thoroughly and uniquely Christian concept.

The Gospel alone brings grace and peace. God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, came to earth and lived a perfect life, which He then laid down as a sacrifice for our sins. God vindicated Jesus and demonstrated His acceptance of that sacrifice by raising Him from the dead.

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Christians know a great unity in being able to call God “my God” and “our God.” Refusing to forgive others shows a lack of belief in the Gospel. Unforgiveness is not an obedience issue—it’s a belief issue. Reflect on the beauty of these statements and the unique nature of our claim to know God personally.

2. The context of the church (1:1-2).

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house …

These are members of the church in Colossi. Overlapping names lead many to believe this letter was sent along with what we know as Colossians.

The church is more than a building or location—it’s the believers who gather together. It is those who congregate to worship, to read God’s Word and pray.

This letter opens to the church generally. Paul then speaks to Philemon specifically, but Paul has already invited the church to listen in on his message. Paul is wise here; he’s encouraging accountability so the church can watchfully care for one another’s souls.

Godly relationships help you prepare for the trials you don’t know are coming. This is why intentional membership in a local church is so important. Failure to participate in these relationships hurts you and prevents you from being an encouragement and help in others’ lives.

3. The practice of prayer (1:4-5).

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints …

Regular practice of intercessory prayer—asking God for things on others’ behalf—is a necessary step for Christians. We’re often tempted to only pray for ourselves or those who are just like us.

Thanksgiving is an important part of praying for others. It characterizes Paul’s prayers. Does it mark your prayers? Do you thank God for what He has done in your life and in the lives of others? Thanks to God acknowledges Him as the author of good, in both the world generally and in specifics. Are you better at asking God for things or thanking Him?

Do You Find It Hard To Forgive Others?

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Every prayer of forgiveness is immediately followed by our prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Christ. Thankfulness helps change our attitude by recognizing how much we have received.

4. The necessity of love (1:5-7).

Because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Faith without love is dead (1 Cor. 13). Faith appears to us as love. Paul is talking about sharing faith and love with fellow Christians. As we act in faith, we come to understand it more. The experience of the Christian encounter with God’s love changes the way we respond to others. As many examples of love and forgiveness as we can point to, none surpasses what God has done for us in Christ.

Paul is refreshed just by knowing of Philemon’s love for his fellow believers. Christians around the world share stronger bonds than physical families or countrymen, because the same spirit dwells in us and will do so for eternity.

As Francis Schaeffer once said, “If a Christian doesn’t show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he is not a Christian.”

5. The example of an elder.

If elders and other ministers of the Word don’t practice forgiveness, they shouldn’t hold that position. This is the only time Paul introduces himself as a “prisoner of Christ.” Paul is setting an example: humble, joyful, thankful and full of praise even in extremely difficult circumstances. This character should be mirrored in every father in every family and in every elder of every church.

Can you forgive? Do you know yourself to be forgiven by God? If you can’t forgive, then perhaps you have not experienced God’s forgiveness. Have you taken forgiveness for granted, or thought too little of it? Come to Christ.

What more significant thing can be said of us that that we are forgiven by God? Those who know themselves to be forgiven forgive others.

How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?

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How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?Think about the last time you felt different. You know, when you were on the outside of something wanting to be on the inside? We all deal with the desire to fit in.

When it comes to matters of right and wrong, this herd-mentality is perilous. How do we know what is right and wrong? How do we spot false teachers? Second Peter 2:1-9 helps us answer three questions to know what truth is and what is not.

1. What do false teachers do (2:1-3)?

These false teachers betray and injure Christians. They claim to have a “word” from God when they really don’t. Indeed, they may be heartfelt, but, really, they are an instrument of the evil one. They succeed for a time (2:2).

Surface-level Christianity will always be popular, but extremely dangerous. So much of false teaching comes down to the same thing: Final authority becomes something other than the objective standard of God’s Word.

Christians understand that some of those who say they are “Christians,” well, really aren’t. Indeed, the Scripture doesn’t state Christians are the greatest people. It’s those who grasp their lack of virtue and find their only confidence in the God-man, Jesus Christ—in the perfect life that He lived and the death He died on the cross, receiving the punishment of God for sins of ours and for all of those who turn from their sins and trust in Him.  A true Jesus-follower is someone who repents of their sins, very unlike the false teachers in 2 Peter.

Don’t be duped, but be alert. Ponder cautiously how well-equipped you are to watch yourself against false teaching and teachers.

How do you recognize a false teacher? Or, how do you tell “bad sheep” from “good sheep”? Bad sheep:

  • Have bad fruit. We will never have the luxury of laying discernment aside.
  • Exhibit greed. Often, they minister only for monetary gain.
  • Lead depraved lives. Teachers should strive to live up to what they preach.

False doctrine will always be good-looking to some. If you’re frequently giving into greed and sin, you’re arranging your mind to want false teaching that will bless you in your sin. You want it to be true. You don’t need to read a doctrine or theology book that is wrong to prepare your mind and heart to desire what is wrong. You simply need to be unconcerned about your sin, content and developing in your waywardness, all the while appearing to follow Christ. This is how heresy (false teaching) grows in a church.

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This is why fellowship is so important—because it leaks our lives to others. Drive yourself to that uncomfortable area to let others know you well—spiritually, above all—in your local church.

How Do You Spot A False Teacher Within The Church?We’re aware that there’ll be frauds in the church. We are all guilty of sin (Rom. 3:10-23), but hypocrites are committed to remaining in sin. Don’t think that because there are so many hypocrites or fakes that real, genuine Christians don’t exist. You don’t stop shopping at the grocery store because there are hypocrites there, do you? Then don’t draw false conclusions that all Christians are fake. Scrutinize Christianity by getting to know a Christian.

As Christians, the decisive reference for all our actions is the three-in-one God. What would your friends and family say about the God that you say you serve based on your actions this week? What can we do to bring Christ honor? We want our lives not to be distractions, but to be attractive for Christ’s sake (2 Cor. 2:15). We want our standing in the community to be a good example of Christ. The battle against false teaching is won not just by decrying false religion, but by practicing true religion.

2. What will be done to these teachers (2:4-6)?

They’ll be punished. God will judge sinners.

So who’s to say what’s right and wrong? Were the Nazis or slave-owners right just because designated officials were in charge? Only God can say what is ultimately right and wrong, for He is perfectly holy and good.

Because God is good, there’ll be condemnation for sin. Judgment may not be instant—many in the Bible existed for a time prior to being judged (Sodom and Gomorrah—Genesis 19). A postponement in sentence is part of God’s grace, but a delay in judgment is not a denial of judgment. Do you really think you’ve seen all of God’s judgment on your sin?

3. What happens to those who truly know Christ (2:7-9)?

Christianity teaches that we don’t have our best life now. Actual, real Christianity doesn’t disguise problems, but challenges, and acknowledges, rejects and heals. Don’t be discouraged because of trials. God will continue to be kind through them. We will be rescued (2:9). Christians have hope of eternal fellowship with Christ; He made us for Himself. When we’re in the closest communion with Him, we are most satisfied.

In another letter, Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim. 4:1-6) to detach himself from false teachers who define their own gospel and surround themselves with false teachers. As a result, Timothy was told to preach the truth at all times.

This is why churches can’t be built on popular fads or pastoral personalities. The church must be based on the truth of God’s Word. Has the world ever wanted to sit and listen to be rebuked by God’s Word? No! Discomfort with God’s truth in the world isn’t a new spectacle. We know that speaking Christ crucified is a stumbling block—it has been since the start of time—but it is the truth and wisdom of God, and must, therefore, be proclaimed.

Scripture contains all that a Christian needs to preserve the church from false teaching (2 Tim. 3:16). Are you building the Bible into your life in every conceivable way, Christian? Does the account of Scripture have a place in your mind and heart?

The Scriptures are all-sufficient and they won’t disappoint, especially when knowing biblical truth from falsehood.

When It’s Morality Vs. Money, What Should The Government Do?

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When It's Morality Vs. Money, What Should The Government Do?

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How far is too far? That is the question that Governor Pat McCrory and North Carolina lawmakers will have to answer in the coming weeks.

Back in March the conservative governor signed a bill into law requiring all citizens who identify as transgender to use public bathrooms that correspond with their anatomical gender – thus overturning a Charlotte law that had required businesses to allow transgendered people to use the restroom of their choice.

The state immediately was met with great hostility from the media, the entertainment industry, corporate America and the LGBT community. Several months later, the onslaught hasn’t stopped. That is to be expected, but the shrewdness with which dissenters have made their opinions known has become the ultimate test in morality vs. economics.

Proving once again that money is the greatest idol in our nation, conservatives have begun to grow weary of the effects the law has had on the state.

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Almost immediately after passing the bill into law — a bold measure to say the least – rock star Bruce Springsteen cancelled his performance in the state, citing the law as reason enough to boycott his own fan base. But he wasn’t alone. Pop singer Nick Jonas jumped on board the same train. It wasn’t long before liberal New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive action prohibiting travel of state employees to North Carolina on official business, which ultimately caused the most recent bout of drama to break headlines: the cancellation of Albany’s game at Duke University, nestled right inside Durham.

Corporate powerhouses such as PayPal have expressed refusal to open facilities and do business in North Carolina due to the legislative measure, costing hundreds or thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. One after the other, dominoes keep falling in the fight for progressive power in the Republican-controlled state, and the pressure keeps mounting. As business after business and celebrity after celebrity keeps boycotting McCrory, the lines between morality and money are getting very, very blurry.

Donald Trump brought slight criticism to the law, citing its potential economic fallout. The question that McCrory will have to answer in coming months is one of virtue: Is money more important? Or is morality more important?

When It's Morality Vs. Money, What Should The Government Do?

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Certainly, money would be the easy way out and is the norm nowadays. When the question of legalizing marijuana comes about, potential profit is always heavily considered in the discussion. States institute government-controlled lotteries in an effort to rack up large swaths of funding – lest people drive across the border to a neighboring state. The list goes on and on. In a world run by currency, an ethics play is a powerfully divergent move against the grain, but could it be that McCrory’s law is indeed a step in the right direction?

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Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Governor McCrory took the same stance the apostles did in Acts 5:29, when they boldly proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men!” It’s sad that the question of ethics always comes down to the question of money. Christians are very quick to sacrifice fundamental truths – even truths about our design and anatomy – in a cheap effort to appease the masses, only to find that the masses always want to take more. At some point the buck has to stop, and those left with a conscience have to take the fight right to an unrighteous society.

The same business big-wigs that demand a bow and conformance to their beliefs are the same businesses that would trade all of their thousands of employees for cheaper manufacturing rates, overseas, in a heartbeat. To bow down to the big guys in such a time as this would be to admit defeat and willfully give the keys of policy and ultimately power to corporate America, snuffing out the grassroots efforts and freedoms of private citizens and small businesses – who opposed the Charlotte policy — once and for all.

This is the time, now more than ever, for truth to prevail and for North Carolina to act as a state government should: as an independent state, conducting affairs as it legislates best on behalf of its private citizens and small-business owners from a place of conviction and truth.

Many professing Christians would tell you that blessing follows morality, but as we’ve seen and will continue to see, when the pressure’s on you, you never know what decision will be made. I, for one, hope McCrory stays the course. But one thing is for sure: America is watching, and the heat is on.

Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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With today’s ever-changing political environment, it is very easy to complain and not pray for our leaders. And, yes, many are deserving, sadly, of the comments they receive. Yet, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

God calls us to pray for everyone. The verses above reveal that prayer for all people (and especially those in civil authority) is:

  • A priority – “First of all.”
  • Wide-ranging – “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.”
  • Inclusive: “All men.”
  • Specific: “Kings and all who are in high positions.”
  • Focused: “That we may lead a peaceful and quite life, godly and dignified in every way.”

But, what specifically should we pray for those in authority? Here are six ideas from selected Bible verses:

1. Pray for leaders to come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Like everyone else, those in civil authority and politics need the forgiveness only offered by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. In fact, Paul says that praying for our leaders to know Christ personally is a top prayer (1 Tim. 2:1-4). An elected official living a Gospel-centered life is a win-win for everyone.

2. Pray for leaders to have God-given discernment & wisdom.

Those in governmental authority are daily charged with making tough decisions that affect living, breathing people such as you and me—and millions at that! Pray that they have the wisdom that James 3:13-17 mentions:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

3. Pray for leaders to have boldness & courage to stand on God’s truth.

Those in politics are often pressured to make compromises. Not doing so can cost them their careers. Pray God would give them the conviction and firmness to stand on truth that is eternal and not man-made.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

4. Pray for leaders to have Christ-Like humbleness.

Have you ever really considered the amount of power, people, places and personalities to which government leaders have access? To say that a politician can quickly get a “big head of pride” is the century’s understatement!

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In God’s providence, pray that leaders remember that it is only on their knees before a thrice holy God that they truly stand the tallest.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

5. Pray for leaders to have supernatural strength.

How many leaders in government have been involved in scandals surrounding money, sex, alcohol and drug abuse, and power-grabbing? Pray for them to grow in their knowledge of the triune God so they can thwart temptation and have the necessary, God-ordained strength to avoid traps that destroy not only their careers, but their families and ideals.

And [Jesus] said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:46)

Do I REALLY Have To Pray For Politicians I Oppose?

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6. Pray for leaders to be convicted of sin & seek God’s forgiveness.

Scripture leads to consideration of how we measure up to God’s Word. Do you pray for God to convict you through His Word? Do you pray this for your leaders? Pray that the Lord would uncover sin so that you can confess and turn away.

David’s inclination was not to flee from God, but to go to God.  He fears God because of what the Scriptures say about Him and about man’s sin – then he goes to God in humble trust. He asks for forgiveness and help. Pray this for your leaders.

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14)

Final Thoughts

Paul is enlisting the prayers of Christians for the salvation of the countries and those who lead those nations. Remember, the emperor was Nero. You know, the king who burned Christians on stakes at his garden parties and threw them to the lions.

Friend, it doesn’t matter who our leaders are or in what country we are. We are to pray for them. We are to pray for our nation and every nation, our culture and every other culture, our leaders and every other leader. Famed preacher Charles Spurgeon said:

“We do not know what God may do for us if we would but pray.”

It was part of Daniel’s government job to pray to King Darius (Daniel 6). If we want our prayers to do the most good for the largest number of people, we must include those in our prayers whose decisions create the circumstances in which the purposes of the Gospel prosper. It is important to pray for governmental leaders because the circumstances they create either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.

Now is the time to pray for those who were elected and for the government they will serve. Will you?

God’s Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Americans have lost their way on right and wrong. According to a recent poll by Gallup, about half or more of all Americans believe that abortion, homosexuality and sex outside of marriage are not sinful.

Even in early Christianity, there was confusion over marriage. Marriage was said to have stemmed from a concession to human weakness. But a closer look at Scripture tells a different story.

1. The Biblical Basis for Marriage

In Genesis 1, God was creating and declaring everything He made to be good. In Genesis 2, we see the first thing that wasn’t good: verse 18 says it isn’t good for man to be alone. God brought all the animals to Adam for him to name, but no suitable helper was found for him. So God created woman (2:20-24).

God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Biblical theology talks about the four states of man: created, fallen, redeemed and glorified. And in creation we see God’s plan for marriage through these four states (2:20-24).

  • Marriage is rooted in our inadequacy. This isn’t to suggest that single people aren’t fully human. We all, however, are made to desire another. In verses 19-20, God prepares Adam for Eve by exhausting other possibilities. He doesn’t just give man the woman straight away. God is teaching Adam to trust Him and teach the man the value of the woman. Humans are no mere animals, but being made in the image of God sets us apart.
  • Marriage is of God’s design. Verse 21 especially shows this by the way God makes the woman … while Adam was sleeping. It was all God’s work, making it clear she is in no way inferior to man, she, too, was divinely created.
  • Marriage is a relationship of companionship. Man was alone and needed a suitable helper. The woman was taken from his side to show she is a suitable companion. She wasn’t taken from his head to rule over him or his feet to be trampled under him.
  • Marriage is a relationship of attraction. Gen. 2:23 reveals to us the only pre-Fall statement of man. Adam is clearly excited here. “At last! A suitable helper!”
  • Marriage is a relationship of authority. Hierarchy isn’t the result of the curse; authority is inherent in the world’s design before the Fall (Gen. 3). Adam named her woman before the Fall. The man being created first implied authority. After the first sin, in Genesis 3:9, God calls out to the man — implying his responsibility in the situation.
  • Marriage is a particular union. God calls man and woman to be together; it is the first and most basic of all institutions. There is covenant language of being united. Sexual pleasure shouldn’t be isolated; it is a part of marriage. God’s design isn’t Adam with another man. It is the union of one man with one woman where they become interdependent and complementary to each other.
  • Marriage is a public covenant. Note the official language in verse 22 — God brought and presented her to man as a kind of marriage ceremony. Verse 24 shows a change in priorities from parents to spouse. A new family is established. God didn’t put a parent and a child in the garden. He is emphasizing the importance of this relationship.
  • Marriage is a lifelong relationship. It is intended to be permanent (Mal. 2). Jesus references Genesis 2 in exhorting us not to divorce.

Effects of the Fall on Marriage

After the Fall, the marriage relationship became distorted. Strife was caused by a desire for dominance, and Adam and Eve being alienated from God. Adam acted for us (Romans 5:19), making God our enemy. The whole context for marriage has been changed by sin.

Marriage’s continuation is part of God’s kindness to us. Marriage is under assault in this sinful world. We are taught to be ashamed of this need and told it is just a social contract. The world devalues spouses, seeks lust that is impossible to fulfill, abuses or abdicates authority, and engages in homosexuality and polygamy.

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Marriage is publicly trivialized. Man’s law pronounces divorces that God doesn’t recognize.

Yet, marriage survives! It is necessary for a nation’s survival; it is society’s infrastructure.

Marriage and Redemption

Marriage predates sin — it is part of God’s good gift in creation. It is in the context of marriage that we’re most our own gender yet displaying unity in diversity.

Perpetual adolescence is part of the spiritual battle in our culture. Christians see the need for marriage because we recognize our incompleteness. It’s not just for propagation of a family. It is about relationship. God delights to give us what we delight in.

2. Roles in Marriage

Husbands – Serve the Lord as is written in Joshua 24:15: “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The best way to love is by leading well. We should lay down our own comforts, preferences and even our lives (Ephesians 5). Love your wife like Christ loved the church.

Men read love as “don’t upset her.” This is a self-serving definition. Love is to risk upsetting; it’s an inevitable part of a loving leadership. Observe and lead in your wife’s relationship with the church. Lead in the way that Christ leads and cares for the church.

Do you know what your wife likes? Make her an object of your intent investigation. When giving advice, tell her how much you love her.

Wives, correct your husbands in a loving way if they are doing wrong. Husbands, love with a self-sacrifice. Resolve to grow in humility, be more sensitive, be a better communicator, and to love better.

Husbands, do you feel like a failure in this? The Gospel is for failures like us — man, woman, and child.

Wives — What’s so astounding about marriage isn’t the similarities between a husband and wife but the real unity amid a beautiful array of differences. In the teaching of the New Testament, wives are addressed first. Biblically, being a Christian wife means having a love for God and a love for others, obedience to God’s Word, helping her husband, being industrious, teaching younger women, loving her husband and children, being self-controlled. Ephesians 5:22 adds that a wife is to “submit” to her husband.

God's Plan For Marriage (And Why The Culture Has It All Wrong)

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Also, notice that Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:15, 1 Peter 3:1 and 5 all stress submission. Christians know all about submission. We are to submit to Christ, the governing authorities, leaders at church, parents, etc.

Submitting doesn’t imply being of lesser value. Christ submitted to the Father. Submission doesn’t imply inequality, but different roles. Submission does not mean that one is not to express thoughts or is to follow a husband into sin.

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1 Peter 3 gives Old Testament examples of how wives are to love, honor, respect and encourage husbands.

Here are more ideas: Give yourself to reading and knowing God’s Word better. Read Proverbs, a chapter a day, and apply it to your marriage. Pray God would make you an easier person to lead.  Encourage your children to honor their dad. Speak well of him to them.

What if your husband is a non-Christian? In 1 Peter 3, wives are told to submit to back up their evangelistic words. Wives, do you feel like a failure in this? The Gospel is for failures like us — man, woman, and child.

3. Theological Reflections

Why does the Bible teach this about marriage? The Lord reflects Himself in marriage. Christ is proclaimed through marriage. Marriage reflects Christ’s love for the church. Marriage is a picture of the Gospel.

Hosea is written in the context of marriage and depicts the theme of unfaithfulness and reconciliation. Genesis 2 is a foretaste of what we see at the end of Revelation 21, “the bride dressed for her husband.” Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Here’s What God Really Has To Say About ‘Gender’

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Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

What it means to be a man and a woman is increasingly referred to as “gender.” Today, perhaps unlike any time in history, there are fewer rights, privileges and expectations tied to our physical sex. Roles are said to be determined by our culture or religious beliefs, so they must constantly be explained and evaluated. What’s more, the academic world has sought to change our world by changing our words.

What has gone on in the West is so shocking that it could not have been imagined even 100 years ago.

While many developments have been positive, others have not been: Illegitimate births have increased, marriage has been and continues to be redefined, and divorce has skyrocketed, even among professing Christians.

The implications of these changes reach beyond the family and into our very understanding of God. And with such diverse and quickly changing views of gender in the world, we must turn to the Bible to see what God has to say on these issues.

The basic storyline of the Bible isn’t that everything is OK. No, it’s that God created us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), but we have rejected His authority in our lives, and, consequently, have sinned against Him (Rom. 3:23; Jam. 4:4). As a result, we are subject to God’s judgment.

But God provided His Son as a substitute. Jesus died to take the wrath for our sin and was raised back to life (Rom. 5:6-10). Forgiveness of your sins and reconciliation with God is possible.

In the following areas, we see that God has made His will on the issue of gender inherently obvious.

1. Creation

The loudest voice for the Christian in gender discussions is always God (Gen. 1:26-27). God specifically creates a worshipper in His image, who is special from the rest of creation—male and female He created them. This is the first chapter in the Bible, and it starts with God. God is the uncreated being in the universe; He is the One from which everything else has come.

What is God like? Look at people around you. Talk to them. While God is certainly not like us in every way, we learn something of Him by His creation of us. The ability to think, to know, to communicate, and to be in relationship is at the core of this description.

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Gender is no biological accident. God’s image is seen in male and female — individually and together. The mystery of marriage speaks to the love between the persons of the Trinity, and the perfect love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. The image of God

Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

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Being made in the image of God is what distinguishes us from animals. We see two creation acts in relation to mankind in Genesis: physical creation and a spirit breathed into man by God.

The doctrine of the image of God is what gives Christianity a reason to defend people of both genders and all races. It is our very belief in God that makes us an encouragement for the good of all (Gal. 6:10; Pro. 3:27).

The image of God in us can’t be abolished, and our innate knowledge of God can’t be totally eradicated. That’s why God’s purpose in your life isn’t comfort but conformity. In all things, He is making the Christian into the image of Christ. In issues of gender or otherwise, the pursuit of a trivial life isn’t befitting for creatures made in the image of a weighty God full of glory. God didn’t save you and me simply to take us to heaven. He saved us to conform us into the image of Jesus.

The image of God didn’t dissolve when Adam sinned. We can act contrary to the image of God, and it is diminished by sin. But man reflects God’s image as a spiritual and physical being with the capacity for relationship.

3. Masculinity

Biblically, men are to take responsibility and are called to initiate and protect (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 5:8, etc.). Men are to be the head of their families. Masculinity is to lead, not desert; to provide for, not take from; to protect, not kill. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, perfectly exemplifies this.

In the essence of biblical masculinity is a man understanding that authority is not authoritarian but humble, sacrificial responsibility. Biblical masculinity is meek. Not passive. But meek. At the heart of biblical masculinity is the taking of responsibility — period. Taking responsibility is true masculinity. Passivity is marital sabotage.

Too many people have a distorted sense of masculinity characterized by a lack of responsibility and a freedom from any obligation that might tie him down. This isn’t masculinity, but adolescence! Men are to cultivate self-sacrificial love as demonstrated by Jesus. The call to leadership is a call to repentance and risk-taking.

4. Femininity

Biblical femininity is a disposition of affirming, receiving and nurturing the strength and leadership of worthy men (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Col. 3:18, etc.). The Bible doesn’t teach that God created men and women as duplicates, but as complementary to one another (1 Tim. 2:8-15).

In fact, the cultivation of good male leadership benefits women. Women’s liberation has often turned into women’s domination, or a complete denial of any differences between men and women at all.

The vision of harmonious relationships between men and women isn’t possible when one or both parties aren’t pursuing God’s call for their particular role. True freedom comes in submission to God’s will and the affirmation of His wisdom.

5. Popular confusions

Here's What God Really Has To Say About 'Gender'

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When the authority of the Bible is rejected or distorted, the beautiful differences between men and women are deserted. As men try to put themselves first, or as women try to dominate, life becomes more like war. The evil one hates all that is good and is working hard to distort the truth and beauty of God’s creation.

Alternative understandings of gender are promoted in our culture — while more “flexible” norms are marketed.  Family units are now chosen instead of being biological in nature. And sex is divorced from the responsibility of reproduction.

What intimacy is there in non-monogamous relationships? Look at the drug use, depression and disease among those involved in sexual behavior outside the context of biblical marriage. Is this the “freedom” offered by the alternative?

6. The explanation of gender

Gender isn’t a “choose your own adventure story.” God didn’t make us gender-less.

God has included hierarchy in the fabric of creation. God creates mankind (people) to rule over creation in His stead. Whenever authority is correctly used, God’s own character is reflected. Good authority is fruitful in the lives of others; it creates stability and promotes good for all. This is why abuse of authority is so terrible, whether in marriage or the church or in a nation.

The issues of trust that crowd around this topic lie very near to the Gospel itself. Gender is now, in the culture at large, understood to be an expression of personal autonomy. Tolerance is not enough. The biblical Gospel calls us to strong love for others. The image of God is there. Christian eyes see it.

Can you see something of the way God structured this life to mirror how we are to approach Him? Yet we may rely on and submit to Him wholly, without any fear of failure or potential betrayal of trust.

The good news is that the grace of God isn’t bound by race, gender, age, social class, language, ethnicity, history or location. God offers grace to all. You can trust Him today!

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle,” said President George Washington in his farewell address.

But Washington’s words can be more broadly understood as a good representation of how many Americans view religion — useful, respectable, good and honorable — although most Americans are vague in what they exactly mean by that. President Washington mentioned “providence” many times in his speeches and addresses, but rarely if ever explicitly mentioned Jesus Christ.

Indeed, this fits well with many Americans’ view of democracy: tolerant, inclusive and expansive. We would think people undemocratic who are sectarian and narrow-minded.

So, does it matter what you believe? Beyond believing in a providential Being who may have wound up the universe and is somewhere out there in it, does it really matter what you believe? If you are a good person and believe in a god and live a good life, does the “fine print” really matter?

We know that the details of what you believe matter in concrete things like believing whether to add a teaspoon or a cup of baking powder to a recipe, or mixing concrete with 12 parts water instead of 2 parts water.

But in the metaphysical realm, does it really matter what you believe?

For the answer to that question, we turn to 1 John 4:1-6. We will see that the Apostle John addresses if it matters what you believe and how you know what to believe.

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1. It does matter what you believe (4:1)!

John says here to be careful what you believe. Christians believe there is an objective, real world besides this physical world — there a spiritual world. What John is saying here is that there are people who won’t tell you the truth about this spiritual world; they are misleading you and lying about the unseen world.

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Is John paranoid to warn against false prophets? No. Actually, Paul, Peter and Jesus all warned believers several different times to beware of false prophets and lying teachers (2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Peter 1:16; Matt. 7:15-17, etc.).

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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Christianity teaches that it matters greatly what you believe. What you believe isn’t simply on opinion for a nice, quaint discussion.  Rather, it is your belief about reality, the nature of man, the nature of God, the existence of sin and evil, and the purpose of life.

If you are irreligious, did you ever consider that what is true may not be obvious to you? Beware of a subtle arrogance that would tell you only your experience and perception and natural observations can tell you the truth about the world. Just because you don’t believe something is real or will happen doesn’t mean you are right. There can be many things that happen that you may believe shouldn’t happen or won’t happen, but do happen — illness, pregnancy or malnutrition.

As Christians, we must be aware and discerning, because it matters what we believe. Theology matters! What someone thinks about God affects how they respond to Him — either in repentance, trust and love, or in indifferent dismissal, ignorance and rebellion.

If you’re a Christian, you should be like the Bereans, searching the world of God to discern the truth (Acts 17:11). There are many, many false prophets in the world who aren’t your friend. These individuals speak falsely and don’t tell the truth.

We must be mature and test everything. Unbelief can be a mark of spirituality and Christian faith just as much as belief. We must test everything and be careful what we believe. Let us prove, test and validate ideas before we embrace them through the all-sufficient Bible. There are a lot of ideas that are dangerous.

Why should we work at better obeying what John is saying? So we can know God better through His Word and so we know God’s Word better and can more wholly follow Him.

Do you pursue this each day? Do you work to show your dependence on God and renew your mind (Rom. 12:1-2)?

2. How do we know what to test? (4:2-6) 

So we know we should test what people tell us to believe. But that begs a question: How do we test it?

How do we evaluate what we see and hear and are taught? What standards of judgment can a Christian use to examine teaching? How do we know who belongs to Christ?

ATTITUDE TOWARD CHRIST (4:3)

John says we can test a person’s attitude toward Christ. John says there are anti-Christs in the world — that is, people who teach false things about Christ.

There has always been popular debate over Jesus’ physical appearance, coming to earth, and the time of His return. But the fundamental and most important debate is over Jesus’ identity. Those who deny the Son have neither the Father nor the Spirit. Every person — teacher, businessman, scribe, churched person or otherwise — who doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as fully God and fully man doesn’t know Him. Anyone who denies that Jesus is fully God and fully man is against Christ, having the nature of an anti-Christ.

This can’t be minimized: Christ is at the heart of Christian faith, not just of Christianity. Understanding the identity and work of Jesus Christ isn’t a time for creativeness or cleverness — it is a time for clarity.

ATTITUDE TOWARD THE WORLD (4:5)

The world here is not the physical cosmos, the created earth, or the terrestrial ball hurtling through outer space. The world here that John refers to is the system of people and spirits in rebellion against God’s rule. The simple fact is that man is by nature, fallen. We are naturally rebels. John is saying that worldly people listen to the world and buy-in to its lies, lust and rebellion. There is always a bustling market for false teaching.

Can I Know God And Believe What I Want?

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This understanding of the antagonism between the world and the truth is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam. Christians don’t believe that any amount of physical coercion can bring about spiritual conversion. There is no political order that can bring us back to God.  No, we’re by nature rebels and our best efforts are fallen and sinful.

Friends, we should never be surprised that the world doesn’t like Jesus. We should never be surprised that unsaved people are comfortable being “religious” and “spiritual,” but don’t like talking about the truth claims of Jesus. The world has never been and never will be a fan of Jesus. We shouldn’t expect secular sources to understand sacred truths.

Remember: The cross is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:18-31). We shouldn’t expect authentic discipleship and worldly applause. We can’t follow Jesus and popularity. We follow a Savior who was killed because He was unpopular and controversial.

But John isn’t discouraged because of the world not liking Jesus. No, John is encouraged, saying that the believers to whom he is writing are of God and have overcome the system aligned against Christ.

How can John be so sure and hopeful, you ask? John was a monotheistic Jew who traveled with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and saw Jesus die. But most importantly, John saw this “Spirit in you,” the one “greater than the world,” raise Jesus from the dead. John already saw God’s Spirit overcome the death and the grave and wants his readers to understand that it is the same resurrection spirit who is at work in them.

Dear friend, what is your hope centered on? Is your hope centered on God’s Spirit alive and at work in your life? Is your hope centered on the church, victorious because of Christ’s work on the cross? Do you meditate on Christ being the Firstborn of the Dead, the first man to get up from the grave, and the forerunner of those to come?

As Christians, we have every reason to be hopeful because what we have before us is better than what we have behind us. This doesn’t mean that tomorrow will actually be a better day than some time last week. No, we look forward to the great day when we, too, will get up from the grave and know full, final victory over sin through Christ. The best of all is still to come. Our joy is built upon the rock of hope — Jesus — and what He has done on the cross. This is the truth John celebrates.

ATTITUDE TOWARD US (4:6)

John says that those who belong to God follow the faithful people of God. Worldly people don’t listen to, obey and follow the faithful people of God.

What does this mean for you? No true Christian can be indifferent about doctrine. The Gospel has always been the bedrock of the church. False teachers are not listening to the Gospel and those who articulate it; they are perverting it.

Don’t let your feelings inform your doctrine; let your doctrine inform your feelings. Doctrine in the mind should never be dry in the heart, but should ignite our souls for God.

We must follow men and women who have been faithful to God’s Word. How do you respond to God’s Word? Are you willing to change how you live based on it? We cannot pick what we want to obey. We must submit and follow.

“Doctrine is useless if it’s not accompanied by a holy life. It’s worse than useless — it does positive harm.”

–J.C. Ryle

Freedom Of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

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Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

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If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.       

— Justice William Brennan, Texas v. Johnson (1989)

What is the liberty of the press?

Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?

—Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, #84 (1788)

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.  It guarantees, among other things, freedom of speech.  The clause that contains the words “freedom of speech” also adds “or of the press.”  It recognizes that each in some measure is involved in the other.

The first clause protects the “free exercise” of religion, something that obviously includes the freedom to espouse ideas and doctrines that others in the community might find objectionable.  The last clause says the people have the right to assemble peaceably and “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  These, too, have implications for both speaking and writing.

The impetus for the First Amendment came from the Anti-Federalists, patriots who looked at the proposed Constitution with grave, even violent, suspicion.  These men, generally writing out of a true concern for civil liberty, were afraid that the Constitution would create a tyrannical central government and threaten the very liberties they had fought a war to reassert and defend.  Some of the Anti-Federalists were never reconciled to the new order, but others were willing to sign on if the Constitution was supplied with a bill of rights.  In the end, the Federalist agreed.

Hamilton’s Objections

Writing in a series of articles eventually collected as The Federalist (1788), Alexander Hamilton argued that a bill of rights was not only unnecessary, but also quite possibly dangerous.  He argued, for instance, that the “freedom of the press” was incapable of any clear definition.

Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?  I hold it to be impracticable; and from this, I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government.  And here, after all, as intimated upon another occasion, must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights (#84).

Hamilton distrusted what he saw as meaningless platitudes. He thought, rather, that the meaning and defense of “the freedom of the press” must rest with the character and conscience of the people and their elected officials.  By extension, the same would be true for that broader category: freedom of speech.

Liberty in France

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, France’s National Assembly was pounding out its own manifesto concerning human rights:  The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).  With regard to freedom of speech, the Declaration said this:

No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

The revolutionary government wanted to glory in freedom, but it inevitably had to recognize that the words “freedom of speech” needed context and qualification.  Public order required it.  Therefore the State would have to set limits on this hypothetical freedom.  But the National Assembly, beyond a general appeal to natural rights and a respect for the liberty of others, did not give specific standards or guidelines for the laws that might properly define and limit freedom of speech.

The Source of Liberty

Freedom of Speech: Can You Really Say Anything You Want?

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Freedom needs definition … it needs boundaries.  Absolute freedom, true anarchy, is simply chaos, and necessarily ends in the triumph and tyranny of the man with the most guns — or a controlling share in the media.  True freedom requires order, but an order that respects the image of God in man, that does not coerce private opinion, and that does not require a man to sin against his own conscience.  In other words, true freedom requires the boundaries of law.

But the question is:  Which law?  Or whose law?  By what standard should we or can we measure out and limit true freedom?  Which law-order, if any, is truly compatible with liberty?

Once again we return to the issue of ontology or “being.” If reality is at bottom undifferentiated spirit or impersonal atomistic matter, then any talk of right or of rights is meaningless.  What is, is right.  There is no transcendent standard by which right and wrong may be measured, no absolute beyond existence by which we might legitimately say, “This is right, and this is wrong.”  And in the absence of any applicable moral absolutes, the concept of human rights is dead in the water.  We may speak of “rights” granted by society or the State, but this is pure chimera.  Such “rights” are nothing but bare permission for the moment and can be taken away as easily as they were granted.  No harm, no foul.  What is … is “right.”

Only on the basis of a transcendent Absolute can there be any real talk of right and wrong or of human rights.  Liberty, to be anything more than bare, momentary permission from the existing social order, must be rooted in an Absolute that stands outside of and beyond all human social order and all created reality.  Liberty is meaningful only on the presupposition of the personal Creator God, who both transcends creation and is immanent within it, and who has spoken to man in words he can understand.  A meaningful concept of liberty presupposes the Triune God of Scripture.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

But it isn’t enough to say that liberty comes from God.  We must actually search God’s Word to see how His law provides for and limits freedom – in this case, freedom of speech.  We must especially note the difference God’s law makes in this area between sins and crimes.  Not every sin is a crime.  Not every lie or bit of gossip or angry exclamation is a crime as far as Scripture is concerned.  By principle and case law, Scripture tells us what limits civil law ought to place on speech and related forms of communication.

If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?

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“Why?” is a question we often ask about suffering. This question is so important because it directs people in one of two directions: toward God or away from God.

We ask this question for ourselves, and for others. Often our “why” is not just the inquisitive “why” of a child, but it is the angry, confident “WHY?” that is more an argument than a question. We act as if we know there is no good reason for what is occurring.

Have you come to a satisfactory solution to the question of why there is suffering? Is there an answer?

Suffering is an inescapable part of our world. It draws our attention completely inward. How do we deal with it? We want to make sense of it. We live in a cursed time. God made the world, but He allowed rebellion (sin), which affected creation and our lives. All of us rebelled against Him (Gen. 3; Rom. 3). Therefore, the world is marked by suffering.

And from the book of Job, we see three truths that will help answer even more.

1. The Plain Truth About God and Job

God is all-powerful; Job and his friends both agree on this (Job 26, 34, 36, 37:14, 23).

Non-Christian friend, what do you think about God and what He does? Is it evident to you that God is all-powerful?

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Job and friends agree that God is all-good. Elihu says it is unthinkable that God would do wrong or pervert justice (Job 34). They understood that God blesses those who are good. Bildad explains that God, because of His goodness, punishes the wicked (Job 8:3, 20).

This book clearly teaches us that God is omnipotent and all-good. He blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. And that is normally evident in this life because that testifies to what God is like.

If God Is Good, Why Is There Suffering?

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Job is suffering amazingly; his friends do not dispute this. His situation was more difficult than normal. Job had lost all 10 of his children in a single day just a week before this dialogue begins. He also lost all his possessions and his standing in the community. In chapter 29, Job has a nostalgic look back.

The Bible is very realistic about suffering. Christianity is centered on an all-good God who came as a man and suffered and experienced death. Jesus understands us. We are not to put our hope in this life or any good thing God gives us. God’s goodness and power and Job’s suffering fit together. That is what has brought people to the book of Job.

Much of your suffering has nothing to do with your sin. But mark it well, sin makes for the worst suffering. God warns us of suffering now so we don’t have to be afraid of it later. God may be giving you the biggest megaphone of your life in your suffering. And when your sin is deep, the suffering is strong, and your resolve is weak, remember: He gives more grace (James 4:6).

2. How Job Is a Puzzle

To his friends, Job’s guilt was so obvious that they can see his suffering from a distance. His guilt was clear to them from the magnitude of his suffering. But Job professed innocence to them (Job 13, 31).  Job was not maintaining sinlessness, but was saying he had not sinned in such a way as to bring this kind of severe suffering upon himself.

Job’s innocence is comparative only. None of us are as sinful as we could be, but our sin has affected every part of us. The Bible teaches clearly that everyone deserves hell as a punishment for our rebellion against God (Rev. 20:11-15; Luke 16:19-31, etc.).

Job was also puzzled himself. He was confused over why God would treat him like this if He were his friend? Job is confused as to why he is suffering so much if God is his God. An all-powerful God that is not all good would be a terrible monster to us.

What Job believed about God’s goodness seemed to be confuted by the prosperity of the wicked (Job 21). If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why has He allowed this to happen? We see injustices all throughout history.

The book of Job isn’t philosophical—why we suffer—but practical, that is, how to suffer—namely, by clinging to God. “If God loves me, why do I suffer so?” you may ask. God himself allows the suffering, to save me from a faith that doesn’t ask questions. If you are a sinner today, Jesus will be your sacrifice. If you suffer, He will be a sympathetic High Priest, too (Heb. 4:15)

It is not God’s kindness that allows sin and prosperity to continue together; that is a part of God’s judgment—to allow sin and prosperity together in our lives. It is God’s kindness when He wakes us up. If God allowed a perfect man, Jesus Christ, to suffer terribly, why should we think that something like that could never happen to us?

3. How God Is a Puzzle

We know why Job is suffering as he is. Without chapters 1-2, we wouldn’t know whether Job or his friends are correct.

Image source: Pixabay.comEliphaz presented a question as evidently false (“Of course, God doesn’t bring a charge against you for piety!”), but that is actually the key truth in unlocking the whole puzzle as to why Job is suffering! Eliphaz’s rhetorical question was in fact revealing the truth.

See the danger of truths misapplied. Their arguments imply Job’s friends thought themselves innocent because they weren’t suffering like Job. But the whole story turns precisely on the fact that they were not as good as Job. If they had been as good as Job, they could have been suffering like him. It was because of Job’s piety, not his sin, that God had allowed this suffering upon him. God knew this would bring Him praise, glory and honor.

The book of Job isn’t addressing a hypothetical question about why good people suffer but a very practical question instead: “How to suffer.” The book of Job tutors us in how to suffer when we don’t know why: accept it, keep trusting God, and hold on. When (not if) we suffer, it simplifies the only finally important question: “What does God think of me?”

When we suffer, the primary question is not, “Why is this happening to me?” but, “What does God have for me in this?”

“Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

Where Does This Leave Us?

God is mysterious by nature, but He has also revealed Himself to us in the Bible. We will not have all the answers to all the questions in this life. Suffering for the Christian is rarely about “learning a lesson.” It’s mostly about the cross. We need to realize this world is not mainly about us; it is about God. To solve the puzzle of God, we first need to realize that the difference between His nature and ours.

God is patient; full justice does not always come immediately. Our salvation hangs on that fact. Not all suffering in this life is punishment. God may teach through suffering (Job 33). Or, it could be discipline (Heb. 9-12).

But now God is about other things than merely punishing. We do reap what we sow, but we do not only reap what we sow. God uses suffering to teach us more about Himself, us and our need for Him. God is patient even sometimes when we wish He wasn’t. The Gospel gives suffering bearability, purpose and — best of all — an expiration date.

Furthermore, God is trustworthy. He has proven himself by His faithfulness. As bitter as Job’s complaints are, he seemed to know that God was trustworthy. The call to trust God is at the heart of Job and the call to us. Know the Redeemer lives — even in the midst of suffering by sin and God’s providential plan for His glory in our lives.

Big Daddy Weave Every Time I Breathe

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Time to get another Spring Sunday off to a great start! Big Daddy Weave Every Time I Breathe does that in a great way. What if every breathe we honored God. That is the right way and context we should think about.

I am sure all of heaven’s heard me cry
As I tell You all the reasons why this life is just too hard
But day by day, without fail I’m finding everything I need
In everything that You are to me

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never wanna leave I wanna stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face and
Every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it’s true, that You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You
Yeah, so in love with You

Now how could I, after knowing one so great
Respond to You in any way that’s less than all I have to give
But by Your grace, I wanna love You not with what I say but everyday
In the way that my life is lived

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never wanna leave I wanna stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face and
Every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it’s true, that You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You
Yeah, so in love with You

Wrapped in Your mercy I wanna live and never leave
I am held by how humble, yet overwhelmed by Your majesty
Captured by grace now I’m finding I am free
You are marvelous God and knowing You is everything

Earth Day: Why Should Christians Care For The Environment?

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Earth Day: Why Should Christians Care For The Environment?

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“God intends … our care of creation to reflect our love for the Creator.” -John R.W. Stott (1921- 2011).

While environmental stewardship has far too often been turned into a partisan political issue in our nation, God’s true desire for us as Christians is to care for His creation. This issue should not be one that divides us, but instead should unite us since environmental degradation impacts all of God’s creatures.

1. Upon the completion of His creation, God called His creation “good,” and He cares about it deeply. In Luke 12:24, Jesus said “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them….” Our Creator cares about every single one of His creatures. God created everything for His glory and for our enjoyment.

2. Creation care was the very first job that God assigned to humans on Earth. According to Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend it and to keep it.” These words refer to the idea of care, protection, and stewardship of the garden. It was clear that God wanted Adam involved in taking care of what He had created.

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3. Adam named the animals that God created. In Genesis 2:19, God created animals as Adam’s first companions on Earth (of course, He later created Eve because the animals were not the most suitable partners for the first man on Earth), and God had Adam name each of them. It seems that God believed that if you name something, you are much more likely to care about it and ensure that it is protected.

4. We are a part of God’s creation and are dependent upon it; we are not separated from it. God placed Adam and Eve directly inside the Garden of Eden, they received their daily sustenance from it, and they were called to care for it. They were an important part of the system of their garden home.

Earth Day: Why Should Christians Care For The Environment?

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With all of our human inventions and infrastructure, it is often easy to forget how much we are a part of nature and how dependent we are on it. We need nature for our food, water, and other resources. As we are now learning, even optimal childhood development and human health is dependent upon nature in many different ways.

Even today, many native people groups around the world are still entirely dependent on nature for their traditional ways of life.

5.For God so loved the world.” While God loves humans dearly, he also loves the rest of His creation.  And why not? He created everything, after all!

The presence of sin in our world has not only negatively impacted the human race but it has also impacted the rest of creation, including all of the creatures and the ecosystems on Earth. Jesus died on the cross not only to redeem and restore human souls, but also to redeem and restore His creation that has been so negatively impacted by the Fall of Man.

6. Environmental destruction negatively impacts all of us, including the “least of these” around the world that God loves so dearly. Environmental destruction leads to disease, poverty, conflict, and war around the world, and it is the world’s poor that are typically the most vulnerable to environmental problems, such as pollution and ecosystem degradation.

It is worth considering that our “neighbors” include not only those who are poor around the world, but also future generations that will live on our planet (including our children).

7. Christians should be the first and the best examples of how to care for God’s creation. Because “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1),” we recognize to Whom this world truly belongs. It certainly does not belong to humanity to do with whatever we please.

Sadly, much of the modern Body of Christ has given up the responsibility of creation stewardship to the World, and we have fallen far short on this important responsibility.

Earth Day: Why Should Christians Care For The Environment?

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8. God’s original intent was for His creation to work together in harmony. To the smallest detail, our Lord planned everything to play a role in nature for a purpose. When something gets removed (such as when a species goes extinct), or when things get out of balance (such as due to pollution or habitat destruction), our world’s ecosystems start to malfunction, and we humans are often negatively impacted as well.

9. In the Church, we often talk about being responsible with our financial resources, but how are we using our natural resources that God has also blessed us with? We are caretakers of what our God has entrusted to us during our time here on Earth.

10. Our Lord hates waste. In John 6:12, Jesus instructed His disciples not to waste any of the leftover food from the feeding of the 5,000. He would likely tell us today not to be wasteful in our own lives with the resources that He has blessed us with, whether it is with our finances, our time, how we use energy and water, or food.

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In nature, there is no “waste,” as everything gets reused and recycled within natural ecosystems.

11. According to Romans 8:18-23, all creation will be renewed, along with humanity. God desires and intends that human souls are saved and that His creation is renewed. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has made these things possible in a fallen world.

12. By taking care of God’s creation and interacting with it, we learn more about Him: His character, amazing beauty, love, provision, creativity, infinite intelligence, and even His humor (consider for a moment the duck-billed platypus!).

Thank you, Lord, for your beautiful creation that all works together in such wonderful ways. You are a great and loving Creator, and we love you!  Amen.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the section below:

‘If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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Some our deepest longings, played out in box office hits, call for swift justice against wrongdoing. Yet, our society is built on the foundation of the rule of law and justice for all — the very antithesis of this spirit of vigilantism. We go to great lengths to ensure even criminals receive equal protection. We settle for procedural justice, knowing it isn’t perfect, while longing for a primitive yet perfect justice, where the criminal meaningfully pays for the wrongs he committed.

Yet, who among us is capable of determining and executing this perfect justice? We reject vigilantism in real life because it is private, unaccountable and quickly corrupted. We fall back to a legal system built on procedure, and vicariously enjoy our desire for vengeance on the movie screen.

Must we always choose between the two? Is there any hope for real justice in the world?

God has revealed Himself as an avenging God (Nahum 1). We recoil at the thought, but the omniscient, holy God is the only one capable of dispensing perfect justice. We are conflicted, because we know this vengeful God can finally judge evil — but we also know that puts us in jeopardy, because we, too, have done evil. So we imagine that God is like us, that He hates the things we hate, and will put the Hilters and Stalins and serial killers of the world in hell … but not people like you and me.

But what kind of God is that? The sort of God who is partial and plays favorites isn’t one to trust.

Because God is perfectly and always good, He isn’t partial; He must put an end to sin, and all sinners, for His justice to be perfect. Therefore, a good God must be a God who judges all evil—including the evil in me. If real justice is what we seek from God, the irony is that very goodness is what we can least endure about Him in our own lives, because He demands perfection.

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And in Jesus Christ, the God of towering, unimpeachable and unbending justice shows mercy to any and all sinners who bow their head and put their faith in Him.

What is our situation (Romans 3:10-20)?

'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?In a word, bad. Everyone is in trouble—separated from God. We are spiritually condemned. We are characterized by faithlessness, unrighteousness, sin and rejection of God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans makes it clear that we’re depraved. We have rejected God.

You have a problem with justice—or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that justice has a problem with you. If you don’t understand this, you won’t understand Jesus’ claims.

Paul’s indictment is also aimed at you. People have two defenses they tend to make against the accusation that they are sinner—either: “I’m not that bad,” or “God isn’t really that good.” The Bible says you are, in fact, that bad. The human reaction to these truths might be a resolve to “do better,” but Paul sweeps that hope away. No one can make themselves righteous.

God is holy—He does not just fudge to get His children out of trouble. The perfect Judge will condemn sin, including yours and mine.

Where does that leave you?

How can we be saved from this Judge (Romans 3:21-26)?

Your greatest need is for God to declare you righteous, and Paul declares that need can be met. God’s throne is built on righteousness and justice; this demands our sin to be dealt with.

How can He show mercy to the guilty?

God showed mercy and provided Christ to prove His commitment to justice. We often act on a presupposition that we deserve to be forgiven. But if you understand who this God is, you know this isn’t the case. God owes you nothing.

Christ’s death was an atoning sacrifice. Jesus took God’s wrath on our behalf, and God punished all our iniquities. This means the justice that demanded our death now pleads our case. God’s sword is no longer raised to strike us, but rather, to defend us.

This salvation is for all who will come (Rom. 3:26). It’s not something you work for or earn; it is a free gift by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). You must reject any notion that you play a role in your salvation. It is all by faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone.

So, why would God send people to hell?

The world says, “How can God be love and send anyone to hell?” But heaven says, “How can God be just and allow anyone into heaven?”

The one who minimizes the gravity of hell minimizes the gravity of the cross. If hell isn’t real, Jesus was all bluster. If hell isn’t real, we ought to say, “Give it a rest, Jesus. We all know you’re just being metaphorical.” But not even one door in hell is found the word “exit.”

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The fact that God is love doesn’t mean there is no hell. It means that if God abides in you and you in Him, there will be no hell for you.

Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven during His three year ministry (Matthew 13:41-50; Mark 9:43-49; Luke 16:19-31, etc.).  And the Bible isn’t sentimental about heaven and hell—not hesitant, not mushy. The message is clear and alarming (Isaiah 65:13-15).

All sin costs. It is very easy to go to hell. Simply do nothing. Or lots of things. Either way. Part of our sin is that it blocks out a feeling of sin. The “little” sins of everyday life will send us to eternal hell. The Quran says that God sends bad people to hell. The Bible says that, at the cross, God went to hell for bad people (Galatians 3:13). If God let every person run head-long into hell, He would still be just, and His reputation would remain untarnished.

'If God Is Loving, Why Does He Send People To Hell?

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The wages of sin cost God His Son and Christ His life. It costs believers repentance and unbelievers hell. Sin always costs. The next time you think you’re a good person, remember that God had to kill His Son to keep you out of hell. God says the worst about me (I deserve hell) & the best (I am loved & justified), so what you say about me is held in this perspective.

There are many paths to hell, but only one way to heaven. If everyone escapes hell and goes to heaven without trusting Christ alone, then Jesus was just wasting his time. Salvation is not just getting man out of hell and into heaven, but getting God out of heaven and into man.

Why, then, is it that some people are more sad by how many people unfollowed them on Instagram and Twitter and unfriended them on Facebook than by how many unbelievers went to hell today?

And if, at your church, you never hear about the righteous wrath of God, unleashed either at the cross or in hell, run.

The word of Christ’s finished work changed me, rescuing me from sin, hell, shame, depression and suicide. No church marketing gimmick can do that.  If we really believed in hell, our teaching, preaching and evangelism would be far more convincing.

One of the most loving and merciful things Jesus did was preach about hell. Unless you believe in hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you. Hell is full of sincere, religious people, never born again, and heaven is full of immoral people who repented and believed in Christ.

Friend, if we didn’t wake up in hell today, we should be dancing. If we don’t know we deserve hell, we don’t know Christ.

This is why the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon said:

“When men talk of a little hell it’s because they think they have only a little sin and believe in a little Savior.”

God is good, and He’s a refuge to everyone who trusts in Him. But because He is good, He will also judge those who oppose Him to the bitter end. The cross is proof of that. On the day you appear before God, He will be good. The only question is what His verdict on you will be. Trust in God, trust in His goodness, and find Him to be good to you—all through Jesus Christ.

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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Many people don’t believe in a literal bodily resurrection of Christ; others don’t believe it matters. The Corinthians, too, were confused about the meaning of the resurrection, and so Paul wrote to dispel their confusion and to tell them the significance of Christ’s resurrection.

We need the same truths today. Here are four reasons why Easter is relevant from 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

1. Easter proclaims salvation (15:1-2).

The resurrection is the moment all heaven broke loose. It’s the eucatastrophe of the story of the universe. And because Jesus’ resurrection can’t be contravened or circumvented, it’s the well-spring and foundation of surest joy!

Paul reminds the Corinthians of what they have already received and what he has already taught them. It wasn’t something that he came up with, nor is it something that Christians throughout the ages have invented, created, or re-amalgamated.

Paul doesn’t say, “I submit this to you for your consideration, get back to me…”  Nor does the Gospel allow for individual customization. There is no right to private interpretation. This is the very essence of objective truth. It’s not subjective or relative. It’s a true truth that must be received “as is,” without editing it for aesthetics or softening it up to make it easier to swallow.

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That’s why I wish the American church would stop treating the resurrection like it’s the heartworm medicine you put in a hot dog to trick the dog. No gimmicks or gadgets will commend the death-proof king. His resurrection is awesome enough. It God’s power unto salvation.

We must come to terms with the truth of the Gospel, because it won’t be changed to come to terms with us. The most important issue is not interiority or the “inner you.” It’s not about what makes you comfortable, but what took place on the cross and at the empty tomb.

Our acknowledgement or lack of acknowledgement doesn’t change the facts of the Gospel or resurrection. There is one Gospel, one faith, one mediator, one death and one resurrection

2. Easter requires explanation (15:3-5).

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians because the church at Corinth had been experiencing moral compromise. The very Gospel itself had fallen into disrepute and the resurrection with it.

This isn’t uncommon even today. Many Christians today call for a doctrine-less Christianity — a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of belief. They feel that Christianity is more attractive if it’s non-literalistic and non-exclusivistic. However, there is no Christianity that is non-literalistic and non-exclusivistic. This form of post-modern Christianity isn’t Christianity at all. There’s no doctrine or truth to it.

Church leaders: Don’t metaphorize the resurrection into “new opportunities” or “starting over in life.” It’s literal death and life. Christianity is a religion of resurrection. Without the resurrection of Christ, the church local and the church universal are just a social club going to hell.

A criticism of Christianity is often that we care too much about the truth. This, however, is exactly what the apostle Paul sets out as our first priority in verse 3 of the passage, “as of first importance.” This wasn’t some “plan B.”  It was God’s original plan. He was going to glorify Himself though the cross and the resurrection from the start.

The apostolic authority is based upon the Gospel — the authority of the Bible and the Bible alone. Repeatedly, Paul emphasizes “according to the scriptures.” We can’t trust tradition, experience or reason. We could never “reason” our way from sin to the cross. Only revelation will get us there. This is why one can’t claim to be a Christian and yet deny the truths that exist in Scripture, because even Christ’s death, resurrection and the fulfillment of the prophecies was according to the scriptures.

This is how we are to live: according to the scriptures. Paul points this out plainly as he shows that our faith is in vain without this truth. There’s no Christianity without the empty tomb because the triumph is in the resurrection, and the resurrection points to an empty tomb. To edit this part of the Gospel is to remove the very basis of the faith.

3. Easter provides certainty (15:6-7).

The church didn’t create the resurrection accounts; the resurrection accounts created the church. And the resurrection gives certainty that the Gospel saves. God’s faithfulness is revealed by consistency in nature.

Many people were witness to Christ’s resurrection — over 500 people. The resurrection really happened. They didn’t have to take Paul’s word for it. There were literally hundreds of people who would attest to it. Jesus is alive.

You can be certain about the resurrection and must stake your life upon it. It should be our life project to continue to read the whole of Scripture, looking for what it teaches us about Christ, His resurrection and His Gospel. We receive the promises based upon our belief of this fact.

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The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I get up in the morning. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I can sleep at night. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is why I do what I do in the way that I do it every day.

Romans 10:9 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

4 Reasons Why Easter Is Still Relevant Today

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This is the Gospel, which can be reduced no further. The resurrection is the sum and substance of the Gospel of Christ. There are not two versions of Christianity; it’s an objective reality — a true truth for our salvation, not simply for our intellectual consideration. We receive the promises based upon our belief of this fact. If we are not raised, there IS no hope. If the Gospel is not true, and if we don’t believe, we are still dead in our sins.

4. Easter produces humility (15:8).

Profundity tops out at this: God saves sinners through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This kind of certainty causes humility.  Paul said he was “untimely born.” The Greek words here mean “born too young to survive.” This is a world that makes us cry out for the one to come. Paul saw Christ with his own eyes. Jesus’ life gives life, and Paul rejoices in this.

He was the last of the apostles. Paul was a demonstration of God’s grace to the world; this brought him humble joy as the last and least of the apostles. God takes those spiritually dead, resurrects their spirits, and will one day resurrect their bodies, as well.

The pain we experience leads us to hope in the resurrection. God loves you not because of anything in you. It’s a testament to God’s grace. We should be comforted by those named in Scripture here as witnesses: Peter denied the Lord, James scoffed at Him, and Paul persecuted Him. Those are the kinds of people Jesus saves.

There is joy in thinking little of ourselves and much of Christ. Humility is to lean on Christ alone, think less than nothing of ourselves, and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as our all in all. Your hope is not in what you wish Jesus would provide, but in what is yours already by means of His life, death and resurrection.

What are you trusting in this Easter season? The resurrected Christ, or yourself?

 

Sufficiency Of Scripture: The Bible’s Most Practical Teaching For People Today

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Sufficiency Of Scripture: The Bible’s Most Practical Teaching For People Today

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The backdrop of opinions on the Bible vary from contempt to celebration. Some are bothered by passages they don’t understand; others are troubled by the ones they do. Scripture is seen by some as a stumbling block in the path of progress, while others see its meaning widening and deepening over the years.

This is why many today will say, “What is right for you is right for you. But what is right for me is right for me.” According to this worldview, all universal moral absolutes lose all meaning. Everything becomes relative and up to the whims and fancies of the individual.

Yet, tragically, this worldview has also penetrated the local church. No longer is God’s Word — the Bible — considered the sufficient standard for all matters of faith and practice. Rather, our own existence and experience has become the standard. In many study groups, it seems that the most common question is, “What do you think about this verse?” The better biblical question, though, is: “What is the true meaning of this verse?”

Is the Bible our sufficient authority? Or, is our authority some arbitrary combination of the Bible and what we think and feel?

What is the Sufficiency of Scripture?

Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture means that what it says and what it doesn’t say matters. Both its commands and its silence speak. This is why 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness …

By the Scripture and Scripture alone is the only authority by which one can come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and continue in a life of obedience to the Lord’s will. A commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture is seen in what you find to be unimportant just as clearly as what you find important.

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Stop and think about this for a moment. There are many spiritual writings in this world, but only one reveals Jesus Christ. The primary point of the Bible is salvation — not where the world came from or how to live an ethical life. Those matters, while important, are tangential compared to matters of salvation and the God of it, which is the story of the Bible.

The Bible isn’t the product of human imagination. Timothy knew that Scripture alone is useful for the ministry to which he had been called. Scripture contains all that Timothy needed to preserve the church from false teaching. The Scriptures are all-sufficient and they won’t disappoint.

This doesn’t mean that the Scriptures alone contain all knowledge that exists. The Scriptures aren’t some secret agent decoder book where, if you have the right cipher, you can unlock all of the knowledge in the universe. Rather, the Scriptures alone are sufficient for salvation and knowing God personally (Rom. 10:13-17). Wherever the Bible does speak, whether it is in areas of history or science, for example, it speaks with infallible authority. It is sufficient.

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So, why is this the most practical teaching for the Christian and church today?

The sufficiency of Scripture is the most practical doctrine because it informs not only the ends but also the means of all ends. It helps us answer the following questions:

1. What should we do?

The answer is in the Bible. God made us. Look to His Word if you want to know how to live. God’s Word has to do with life. God’s Word tells us everything we need to know about every aspect of life and how to live as a Christian, either implicitly or explicitly.

2. What should we believe?

The answer is in the Bible. God has revealed the truth about Himself to us. Churches seek to do what God has told us. Our actions are based on our beliefs. Our doctrine comes from God’s Word. This is why we’re to add nothing to Scripture, for there is no new revelation. In 1 Cor. 15:1-8, Paul gives a summary on what early Christians believed for this very reason.

3. How should we worship?

The answer is in the Bible. God tells us how we are to approach Him. We read the Bible, sing the Bible, preach the Bible, and pray the Bible. Why? Because it is sufficient!

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We come together regularly to worship God (Heb. 10:24-25). Local church worship isn’t about creativity and sensitivity. Human inventions are idolatrous (Ex. 32). We don’t care if something is traditional; we care if it’s biblical. Look at God’s Word. Sin makes us all unreliable guides.

We sing hymns because we are commanded to (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). We read God’s Word to each other. Confess our sins (1 John 1:9). Give financially. Preach (2 Timothy 4:2).

4. How should we live together?

The answer is in the Bible. Some today may not accept that the Bible tells us how to live as a church. Why? Many say there’s no consistent pattern in the Bible. Scripture teaches us many things implicitly. It is sufficient for knowing what God would have us to do.

Scripture also frees us from the tyranny of human opinion. God gives us a picture of the church in the Bible, and we should value it. Our concern should be that the church display the glory of God. We are to show what God is about.

The function of our sufficient Scripture is to teach us our inadequacies, to strip us of our confidence and false assumption. We are condemned — that it something we hide ourselves from. When Scripture reveals these things, it transcends all the instincts of our nature and the prerogatives of our culture — an almost impossible task.

Has it performed this function in your life? Do you trust in Christ alone? Scripture should probe our consciences and lift false security not found outside of the Bible’s sufficiency.

What Does The Bible Say About Taking Care Of Our Bodies?

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What Does The Bible Say About Taking Care Of Our Bodies?

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While you may strive daily to look and feel your best, what really motivates you? Is it that size 4 dress you have been wanting to get into for years, your upcoming high school reunion, your brush with a weight-related medical condition or perhaps your desire to feel young again?

There are hundreds if not more reasons that could be noted for taking care of your body. How often, though, do you stop to think about the fact that you’re not your own? That your life was purchased with a price and you, if you are a professing Christian, are to glorify God in all you do – including what you do with your body?

May I suggest to you that before any other reason, this should be the first reason that you take the time and energy to care for your body …

Caring for your body glorifies God, it demonstrates a good testimony to others and it gives you the energy that you need to do God’s will, spreading the Gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we are told to do whatever we do to the glory of God. In Isaiah 43:7 we are reminded that we were made by God to glorify Him. That is our primary purpose in life — to glorify God. If you choose to not follow a healthy lifestyle, to not eat in a healthy manner, to not practice self-control, to not exercise, and to not care about your body, you are choosing to not honor God.

The Body Is a Temple

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

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When Christ went into heaven, He told us that He was leaving something very valuable for us: the Holy Spirit. The third Person of the Trinity resides within us. God’s Holy Spirit lives inside of every believer, making our body a temple. You wouldn’t walk into your church and dump trash all over the place, would you? Think about this as you choose how to eat and in what other ways you can honor the temple by how you live your life.

We Are Called to Do God’s Work

What Does The Bible Say About Taking Care Of Our Bodies?

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We are called to share the Gospel and to be the hands and feet of Christ. We can’t do this very effectively if we are burdened by lifestyle conditions. To be a willing vessel for God is one thing, but to be a healthy willing vessel that God can use is a totally different thing. You never know what God will call you to do and where He will call you to go. Being prepared physically and spiritually for any task the Lord gives you is always best.

We Are a Witness

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

In Acts, we are reminded that we are to be a witness to others. How we live our lives matters. We are called to be good representatives of the Christian faith. It is imperative that we be mindful of all aspects of our lives, including our health.

God Gives Us Help

Making your health a priority is sometimes difficult. God understands this, and provides us with many Scriptures of encouragement in His Word. Here are just a few:

Isaiah 58:11: “And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

2 Timothy 1:7: “For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all of your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

 

Does Prayer Really Change Things?

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Does Prayer Really Change Things?

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The front-page headline from the New York Daily News following a mass shooting in December screamed “God Isn’t Fixing This,” and various other outlets ran articles deriding people for offering “thoughts and prayers” to those involved.

It was an attack on Christianity and prayer, but it did raise several questions that deserve an answer: Why do we pray? Does prayer change anything? Are there any real benefits to prayer?

Of course, prayer has volumes of books written about it, so to stay within the confines of a single article I’ll have to summarize fairly succinctly. The big picture and bottom line for believers is twofold:

1. We are commanded to pray, and it is a daily reaffirmation that we are acknowledging that God is God, and we are not.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

2. We are to follow Jesus’ example.

He came for two reasons: To save us from our sins and to show us how we are to live our lives. Jesus prayed consistently in order to stay in the Father’s will. How can we think that we are in better spiritual shape than Him?

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

So, are prayers always answered? The answer is cliche, but true nonetheless: Yes, your prayers are always heard and answered, but sometimes God says “no.” This is really a simple thing to understand when you consider our relationship to God as His children.

God is omniscient and knows what is best for us. He wants us to live according to His will, so when we pray according to His will, the answer is always “yes.” Put another way, prayer is the “vehicle” through which God has chosen to work His will. So does prayer change things? Yes!

Does Prayer Really Change Things?

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“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

However, that doesn’t mean that the answer means right now, and this is where the Father-child relationship helps explain things. If your 5-year-old asks for a car, you would say “no.” Not because he or she shouldn’t ever have a car, but because the timing isn’t right. At 17 you might say “yes.” Same request, different circumstances. In the first case the answer is not yet, although the child may perceive it as a “no.”

Similarly, if your teenager asks to go on a trip to Mexico, by foot, on a path through Juarez, you’d say no. Not because you don’t want them to travel, but because that particular trip would quite dangerous. But they may not know or understand that. That particular “no” is for their own good, and not to deny them a vacation.

Final Thoughts

There actually have been studies that show prayer has a positive physical and psychological impact on people. One such study was highlighted in an article by NBC news, where doctors reported about the changes in brain chemistry during prayer by patients. Many other studies have also shown the medical benefits of prayer, and I would recommend studying the topic.

As far as whether God is “fixing this” or not, and whether the “thoughts and prayers” of others have any impact, the answer is this: God has a plan, and it will happen the way He wants. If our prayers line up with His plan, we’ll see the impact at the right time. So while our “thoughts” really do nothing more than make us feel good or express our sympathies, our prayers most definitely have an impact. Even if that impact isn’t immediately manifested.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your views in the section below:

10 New Year’s Resolutions That Will Change Your Spiritual Life

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10 New Year’s Resolutions That Will Change Your Spiritual Life

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According to Statistic Brain, the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 were: (1) lose weight, (2) get organized, (3) spend less and save more, (4) enjoy life to the fullest, (5) stay fit and healthy, (6) learn something exciting, (7) quit smoking, (8) help others in their dreams, (9) fall in love, and (10) spend more time with family.

Sadly, “pray,” “develop a closer relationship with God” and “read my Bible more” did not make the top 10 list last year.

We need to renew our minds and focus on the spiritual aspects of our lives. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12:2).

So, how can we make the renewing start to happen? We can start by changing the content of our New Year’s Resolutions to encourage transformation.

Here is a list of 10 spiritual resolutions that will change your life:

1. Pray every day to hear God’s will for my life and be obedient to it. “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut 4:7)

2. Read the Bible every day to understand God’s character and his ways. “For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

3. Encourage others to start or continue their journey of faith. “Finally brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:11).

4. Invite at least one person from my family or community to my church each week. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today”, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb 3:13).

10 New Year’s Resolutions That Will Change Your Spiritual Life

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5. Join a local year round Bible study. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11).

6. Commit to a community outreach for one season. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deut 10:18).

7. Volunteer at my church to teach Sunday School or provide nursery care. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

8. Open my home to times of fellowship and discipleship. “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2)

9. Commit to identifying the needs vs. wants in my budget and increasing my charitable giving. “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow? They do not labor or spin” (Matt 6:28).

10. Keep a journal to daily or weekly document the progress of my resolutions. “This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips” (Ex 13:9a).

These spiritual resolutions will only be transforming if you make them a lifetime commitment.

My friends, I encourage you, no matter whether you make or do not make any resolutions for the coming year, think about areas of your life in which renewing needs to take place. Is it in your marriage? Is it in your bank account? Is it in your attitude? Or is it in your thoughts which no one hears? Wherever it is, know that God will help you and there is no need for you to struggle. He will be beside you, walking with you, and carrying you if need be.

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

The ‘Off-The-Grid’ Christmas Story

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The 'Off-The-Grid' Christmas Story

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus / Born to set Thy people free.

– Charles Wesley, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” (1744)

 The Redeemer has broken every bond: / The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

– Placide Cappeau, O Holy Night, (1847)

 

In the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  Then God created man in His own image.  He gave us the world and promised us life and joy.  But we rebelled against God’s word.  Adam chose to place his own interpretation on reality, an interpretation shaped by his inward desire to be his own god.

God could have destroyed man and his world on that day.  But instead, He made a promise.  A Hero would come to reconcile God to man and man to God (Gen. 3:15).  And as a sign and seal of that promise, God sacrificed animals … probably lambs … and clothed our first parents with their skins.

As the faithful thought about that sacrifice, as they repeated it year after year, they should have seen that the sacrificial lamb died in the place of rebels.  The lamb was a representative, a substitute of sorts.  Through the sacrificial lamb, God was promising reconciliation and peace through a substitute.

But the lamb itself was not the substitute. After all, the slaughter of lambs and goats and bulls would go on for 4,000 years.  Every sacrifice pointed to the Substitute, but no animal sacrifice was the Substitute.  The faithful could have reasoned that the promised Hero would be the Substitute, but that would be an incredible conclusion, because the Substitute had to die.  But Heroes never die in a good story … do they?

Waiting for Messiah

The 'Off-The-Grid' Christmas StoryTwo thousand years after God gave His first promise, He called Abraham out of the city of Ur in Mesopotamia and led him to the land of Canaan — what we call Palestine.  God gave him a promise.  Abraham would become the channel through whom God would bless the whole world.  “In thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).  Abraham would be the ancestor of the great Hero who would restore the world to God’s blessing.

To confirm this promise, God swore an oath to Abraham.  In a terribly stark but powerful ceremony, God swore unilaterally that He would not let His promise fail … that He Himself would die rather than let His promise fail (Gen. 15).  There was a hint here.  Later, God imposed the bloody rite of circumcision on Abraham and his descendants.  Circumcision pointed to the necessity of God’s saving grace.  There could be no hope in natural generation.  The flesh could only produce the flesh.  The promised Seed, the Hero and Substitute, would be born through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Abraham, of course, was the ancestor of the Jewish people.  And for 2,000 years their prophets and seers drew word-pictures of the coming Hero:

He would be the Seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of David.  He would be born of a virgin, in Bethlehem of Judea (Isa. 7; Mic. 5).  He would appear 70 weeks of years after Cyrus ordered the Temple rebuilt (Dan. 9).  He would arrive in the days of the fourth great world empire, the one that succeeded Babylon, Persia, and Greece (Dan. 2).  He would come when Rome ruled the world.

The Hero, the Substitute, would be God’s Anointed, His Messiah.  He would be a Prophet like Moses, a Priest like Melchizedek, a King greater than David.  He would sit at God’s right hand, ruling in justice, wrath and mercy.  His government and peace would fill the earth (Isa. 9).  All kings would bring Him tribute; all nations would serve Him (Ps. 72).

And yet this great Hero, this Messiah, would be despised, rejected, afflicted — without comeliness, without beauty (Isa. 53).  His own people would conspire with the Gentiles to destroy Him (Ps. 2). He would be betrayed by His friend, deserted by His disciples, surrendered to the Gentiles, numbered with criminals, mocked by His enemies, pierced in His hands and feet, hung on a tree, slain and buried in a borrowed tomb.

And on the third day He would rise from the dead and take His seat at God’s right hand (Ps. 110).

With this picture of the Messiah fully drawn, the prophets fell silent, and 4,000 years passed.

The Child Is Born

The 'Off-The-Grid' Christmas Story

Image source: Pixabay.com

Finally … in the fullness of time … when Augustus was emperor, when Herod the Great was king of Judea … when pagan idolatry and Greek philosophy had not simply failed, but carried culture into the depths of depravity … the Messiah came (Matt. 1-2; Luke 1-2).  They called Him “Jesus.”  He was born by miracle, born of a virgin without the interference of a human male.  He was born in innocence and holiness.  He was born the incarnate Son of God.

Incarnation.  What a word.  And on it the whole promise of reconciliation turns.  God Himself becomes the Hero.  God became man.  He took to Himself a true human nature.  And yet He remained God, eternal deity:  one Person, two natures.  “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The creeds of the Church put it this way:

I believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man (Nicene Creed).

. . . [W]e teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. . . (Formula of Chalcedon).

This Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, the Hero.  No other.

Because Jesus was truly man, He could suffer and die in the place of men.  Because He was true God, His life was of infinite value, and He could bear all of God’s wrath against sinners.

The Belgic Confession (1561) summarizes the Gospel with these words:

We believe that God, who is perfectly merciful and just, sent his Son to assume that nature, in which the disobedience was committed, to make satisfaction in the same, and to bear the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death. God therefore manifested his justice against his Son, when he laid our iniquities upon him; and poured forth his mercy and goodness on us, who were guilty and worthy of damnation, out of mere and perfect love, giving his Son unto death for us, and raising him for our justification, that through him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.

Jesus died on the cross in the place of guilty sinners.  The third day He rose again.  He returned to life to give life to His people.  He ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand.  He is Lord of all, and He reigns with truth and grace. He forgives sins and changes lives. He frustrates and destroys His enemies. He directs history in all its details toward the peace and blessedness the prophets foretold.  Those who trust in Him have peace with God now and an eternal place in His kingdom.

This is the meaning of Christmas.

Putting The ‘Thanks’ Back Into ‘Thanksgiving’

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Putting The 'Thanks' Back Into 'Thanksgiving'In the U.S., we start at an early age learning about the Pilgrims crossing the sea to escape religious persecution and landing in what is now Massachusetts. We learn about their hardships and troubles and how the native Indians helped them survive. We read about the feast shared by these two people groups and thus, the “first” Thanksgiving was born.

Thanksgiving, like everything else, has evolved over time and has become something far different than that first meal. While there probably was wild turkey served, there were probably other wild game meats, too. The Pilgrims probably did not have access to mashed potatoes, yams, squash and other vegetables, since there was no way to keep them fresh or preserve them until late fall into winter.

And dessert? While today we all dream of pumpkin or pecan pie with mounds of whipped cream, the Pilgrims themselves were running low on lots of staples including sugar, so there may have been no dessert to finish the meal.

But it wasn’t about the meal. It was about the sincere offering of two people groups — the symbol of sharing and of coming together, peaceably, with joyful hearts that was the focus.

Today, we find ourselves not celebrating surviving another year and being thankful for the harvest and blessings before us, but we find ourselves in panic over finding a turkey that is “big” enough (Phil 4:6), wondering who will start the first argument (Eph 5:4) as we gather together. And will my boss be generous enough to give us the Friday after Thanksgiving off as well?

So what happened to the “giving thanks” for what we already have? Like many other holidays in the U.S., this one changed dramatically over time.

Some people, though, are standing up for the holiday.

Image source: FaithAndHumanRights

Image source: FaithAndHumanRights

For example, there is a Facebook poll and banner going around to boycott shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Many Facebook friends are also participating in “30 days of being thankful,” where they start their day by posting things for which they are thankful. Admittedly, lots of them are struggling in coming up with 30 items or ideas.

I can remember a time, not so long ago, when stores and even gas stations were closed on Sundays and all major holidays. Banks were never open on Saturdays, and people were expected to stay home, all day, and enjoy the company of their loved ones!

What happened? Why has this become so difficult for us? We got distracted. We forgot what we are supposed to be thinking about. “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col 4:2). We put the “things” first and have made it more of a “Things-giving Day.” So what’s a family to do? I know in my family we make a concentrated effort each year to start with focusing on gathering people together first. The meal is second. This year, we are planning family photos and pictures of the grown grandkids with the grandparents, and grown children with their parents.

This is a time for us to reflect on what we truly are thankful for. Not the “things,” but the people.

The Bible speaks of being thankful, and it represents what the Pilgrims expressed so long ago. “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col 3:14-15).

Starting today, and each and every day forward, let’s remember those items that we are truly, truly thankful for and move from the “30 days of being thankful” to the “365 days of being thankful.” Let us never run out of things to be thankful for, even in suffering, because each day brings us closer to being with our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:15).

The Thanksgiving Blessing Almost Everyone Forgets

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You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake.
If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon

How Do We Know Anything?

The Thanksgiving Blessing Almost Everyone ForgetsEpistemology is the study or philosophy of knowledge.  It answers the questions, “How do we know?” and, “How do we know that we know?”  These questions aren’t simply about ways of teaching and learning or about accuracy in media.  They’re about our deepest assumptions and presuppositions concerning life.  How is knowledge even possible… knowledge of yourself, knowledge of the world, and knowledge of God?

Epistemology may seem an odd topic for Thanksgiving.  And the connection between epistemology and Thanksgiving may not be immediately obvious.  Some quick Internet searches suggest that the only connection between epistemology and “thanksgiving” can be summed up in a question, one mostly asked by skeptics:  How do we know there’s a God to whom we ought to be thankful?

Great question. Onward.

Romans 1

First and foremost, Scripture insists that human knowledge rests completely upon God’s self-revelation.  God reveals Himself in creation generally, and then more specifically, in man’s nature.  Man is the very image of God.  Which means that we can know things with certainty.  That is, we are morally obligated to receive God’s self-revelation and to understand the whole universe in terms of it.  The problem is that we’re sinners.   And in our natural state … we’re not on good terms with God and for the most part we hate anything that even points to God … which means that we also hate real knowledge.

Paul describes this “biblical epistemology” in the first chapter of Romans.  There he argues for the clarity of a general revelation. Man, he says, is confronted with the knowledge of God, the true God, indelibly stamped in his own nature and written in a big, big way across the scope of all creation (v. 19).  It’s always been that way, Paul says.  God’s divine nature and sovereignty have been manifest in the things He has made from the beginning of creation (v. 20).  But men willfully and culpably suppress this knowledge in unbelief (v. 18-20).  So in one sense all humanity knows God, although apart from the grace of God … we suppress this knowledge.  Paul goes further and speaks of a time in history “when they knew God” but willfully rejected that knowledge out of ingratitude. Now we’re getting somewhere.

There were, in fact, two times in human history when all living humanity acknowledged the reality of the Creator God and the validity of His claims on mankind.  In Eden after the Fall, and on Ararat after the Flood (Gen. 3; 9).  Folks heard the promise of God and gave thanks for His mercy.  But that thankfulness was pretty much short-lived.

In each case, within a few generations, men became outright annoyed with God.  Yep, they knew God, but refused to give Him glory (v. 21).  They even grumbled about His laws and His providence.  They complained about His nature. They wanted Him to be more like them.  Paul describes this by simply saying that … they weren’t thankful.

So, since they didn’t like how God did things, they reinvented Him.  They imagined that God was like man … or like the birds of heaven, or the beasts of the earth, or the snakes and beetles that crawl in the dust (v. 23).  And they gave form to their imaginations and manufactured idols.  They worshiped the works of their own hands … manifestations of their own creative and reproductive energies.

Bottom line: They worshiped sex and power.  And God then seemed to let them have what they wanted most: their own way.

pilgrims 2Paul then says that God in judgment gave them over to “reprobate” minds, minds void of judgment (v. 28).  And if they wouldn’t make the logical distinction between God and beasts and bugs, He would abandon them to the full range of such craziness.  Paul describes in some detail the ethical degradation that came from this type of idolatry, but he begins with man’s intellectual inability to discern the true nature and proper use of human sexuality.

It’s not surprising, then, that men who put the transcendent God in the same category with a piece of wood or a rock eventually found that they could no longer think in clear sexual categories.  Ingratitude has both ethical and epistemological consequences.

God, Knowledge And Community

God’s self-revelation is tied to His total self-knowledge.  God fully understands, fully loves, and fully delights in His creation.  He is absolute love, goodness, and joy.  As eternal “Trinity-in-Unity,” the Father loves and delights in His Son (Matt. 17:5), the Son rejoices in His Father (Prov. 8:30-31), and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father as the living, divine bond of their love and delight (John 15:26; 16:7-15).  God, then … is overflowing joy and delight.

As far as we’re concerned, God is the Author of every good and perfect gift (Jas. 1:17).  There is nothing we can give Him that He has not first given us.  And yet in His absolute self-sufficiency, He calls us to find our joy in Him (Ps. 43:4).  He calls us to be thankful and to enjoy that thankfulness in Him.

pilgrims faithBut since the Fall, this is only possible when we come to Him through faith in Christ crucified and risen (Rom. 15:13).  Only those whose sins are forgiven have real cause to be thankful and rejoice in God.  Only those who have been born again by God’s Spirit can lift grateful hearts and voices to God in true thanksgiving.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge and the starting point of true joy and thanksgiving.

Summary

Ingratitude leads humanity to idolatry.  Thankless humanity then reinvents God to free themselves from His laws and ordinances.  But when they reject and replace the true God, they also reject the very basis of value and meaning.  They reject the living Truth and find their world devoid of any absolute.  For these folks … all things are relative.  Truth is meaningless.  Ethics are fleeting.  Claims to knowledge are merely power plays to control, enslave, and abuse.

Thankfulness, on the other hand, is really just submission to reality.  It’s not only a recognition that God exists but also a joyful understanding of who God is and what He’s done in time and space.  Thankfulness, then, is the natural response of true faith to the goodness and grace of God in creation and redemption.  So the human heart that’s truly thankful to God rejoices in all God’s works because it knows the world we live in for what it is … the creation of a loving and sovereign God who reveals Himself in plain sight.

Thanksgiving, then, becomes a great time not just to celebrate physical blessings. Despite liberal claims to the contrary, most Americans have plenty of these. But Thanksgiving is also a time to give thanks to God for the foundation of knowledge itself. What an amazing blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Physician-Assisted Suicide: What Does The Bible Say?

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Physician Assisted Suicide: What Does The Bible Say?

Image source: Flickr

Physician-assisted suicide is now legal in California. The recent story of Brittany Maynard, a young newlywed diagnosed with brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon so she could use that state’s system of legal suicide, prompted the California legislature to pass and Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill making it lawful in the Golden State.

This news brings to mind Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the controversy that surrounded his ideology and methods in the late 1990s. He was a man so adamant about the “right to die” that he claimed having helped assist more than 130 patients meet their death.

In these cases, both Maynard and Kevorkian were concerned about the pain and suffering of people who are dying. Opponents of the practice say there are adequate medications and programs available under hospice to treat the pain and suffering of patients, but for some, that’s not enough.

For Christians, what does the Bible say about physician-assisted suicide? To consider that, we must look at three issues:

  • What does the Bible say about life?
  • What does the Bible say about suffering?
  • What does the Bible say about God’s Sovereignty?

Life and Death

Scripture tells us repeatedly that God has given us life, that He created us, blessed us and gave us sacred life through His own breath, giving us “the breath of life” (Gen 1:27, Gen 2:7, Gen 5:2). And after that creation, He gave Adam the choice to choose life or death (Gen 2:9, 16-17). God also directly told Israel to choose life as He set before the people the same two choices as Adam: “I have set before you life and death … choose life” (Deut 30:19) and He continues to encourage us to take life and to make it meaningful while it lasts (Ecc. 12).

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said that when we consider the practice of medicine, we must realize it “cannot be both our healer and our killer.” He recognized that medicine could only be one or the other, but not both.

Suffering

It seems that the real issue when we discuss physician-assisted suicide is suffering. Supporters of the practice argue no person should suffer if he or she would rather die.

Physician Assisted Suicide: What Does The Bible Say?

Image source: Pixabay.com

An interesting side note is that we don’t seem to be concerned about suffering at the time of our birth! Women are encouraged to not use medications to ease their suffering and pain, as it might harm the baby. And babies even come out crying, struggling to adjust to their changing environment. So why so much concern over the suffering at the point of death?

Scripture is again very clear and straightforward: There will be suffering in this life (John 16:33). We are warned that we will face trials, trouble, tribulations and temptations. But Scripture also offers us encouragement regarding these troubles — that there is a purpose in our struggles. James reminds us that our trials and the testing of our faith brings perseverance and maturity (James 1:2-4). Peter tells us that our grief in trials only lasts “a little while” (1 Peter 1:6). He further asserts that trials have existed so that our faith in the Sovereign God would be proven genuine (1 Peter 1:7-9).

Sovereignty of God

As Christians, we serve a Sovereign God. That means that He is in control of everything that is happening to us. He knew us before we were born (Pr 8:23, Ps 139:13), He knows everything that will happen in our lives and He knows how we will die. He is in control of it all. The Bible reminds us that we still can choose whether to obey Him, but should we be so bold as to say to God, “My way is better?” It’s a proud and arrogant statement, yet we seem to do it a lot.

Scripture tells us that God’s ways are high above our ways (Is 55:8-9) and that “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Pr 14:12, Pr. 16:25). Why do we trust God in life, but not in death?

Conclusion

We will inevitably face suffering in our lives and witness suffering in the lives of those around us. As God’s people, we are to bear this suffering with one another. Suffering and death teach and cause us to focus on what is truly meaningful in life. It is a reminder of our need for a Sovereign Lord. We are called to suffering because of its benefit to us. When people say, “what is the point of this needless suffering?” we need to respond with a strong clear voice!

Our perseverance in the midst of suffering, whether death or persecution, leads to: character, hope, the evidence of God (2 Th 1:5, Rom 5:3-4), discipline, holiness (Heb 12:6, 10), righteousness, peace (Heb 12:11) and maturity (Jam 1:4). Suffering gives us an opportunity to seek His wisdom instead of our own.

Life is precious, no matter what stage, and it should be respected and preserved. I prayed every day for Brittany during her very public journey until her final breath, and it weighed heavy on my heart.

In the end her story drew me closer to my Savior, and it made me search His Word for meaning and understanding. It made me weep at His feet and cry out in my prayer. It made me more passionate in my work and prompted me to be more intentional about sharing Jesus and salvation with others. So in the end, death and suffering had great benefit. My heart and prayers continue to go out to the family of Brittany Maynard and to all those suffering with the end of life.

The ‘Slow Fade’ Of Compromising On Sin

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The 'Slow Fade' Of Compromising On Sin

Image source: Pixabay.com

Looking out the window at the world today, I have to wonder how we got here. Christians are promoting homosexuality as natural, supporting the transgender and gender neutral movements, accepting abortion as a viable choice, and siding with marriage infidelity as a means for necessary happiness.

None of this is biblical. Have Christians lost their backbone? Why do we tolerate what is clearly not godly or holy? There is a damper being put on the truth of sin and the consequences of it, and it hasn’t just occurred all at once.

Front man Mark Hall of the Christian group Casting Crowns describes this “slow fade” that happens in the life of Christians as “the regression that happens when Christians aren’t living intentionally.”

The group’s song “Slow Fade” is the inspiration for this article. The lyrics tell of the gradual turn of the Christian heart toward accepting what God has firmly said is unacceptable:

It’s a slow fade, when you give yourself away. It’s a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray, and thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid, when you give yourself away. People never crumble in a day. It’s a slow fade.

It begins when we ignore the truth about sin and continues as we slowly make one compromise after the other. The truth is that we have chosen to exchange the glory of an incorruptible God for the corruptible images and pleasures of man (Romans 1:23). Christians are choosing to remain silent and are siding with the creation (man’s ideals) rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

The journey from your mind into your hands is shorter than you’re thinking. Be careful if you think you stand, you just might be sinking. It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away.

The 'Slow Fade' Of Compromising On Sin

Image source: Pixabay.com

Christians are choosing to embrace sin because they fear they’ll offend others. Our churches are being filled with pastors who are afraid to teach the fullness and truth of God’s Word.

Christians are no longer speaking out about sex, nudity and profanity on television and at the movies. They are no longer speaking out about the depravity of homosexuality. They fear that people will say they are judgmental. Yet it’s not the Christians who are doing the judging. God has already set forth the truth in Scripture, in His Word.

And what is the result? God is choosing to give us over to the debauchery that we are choosing (Romans 1:24).

People never crumble in a day. Daddies never crumble in a day. Families never crumble in a day.

If you are finding yourself in a place you never thought you’d be, then you’ve probably engaged in the “slow fade.” You’ve made one choice that led to another and another, and pretty soon you look up and there you are. First you’re “walking, then standing, and eventually sitting, just slowly shutting down … [you] don’t crash suddenly … the crash is the fruit of the slow fade” (Mark Hall).

Whether we are engaged in or standing in support of or are silent about sin — “sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness” — we will be standing against God’s truth. We will be handed over to what we have chosen to engage in and approve of (Romans 1:32).

But there is a way to stop the fade! If you’re finding yourself in that place, on the slippery slope away from the truth of God’s Word, then dig in your heals! Confess it, acknowledge it as sin, ask for forgiveness and turn away from it, run away from it and don’t look back. Don’t be like Lot’s wife (Genesis 19).

If you find yourself approving of or supporting the ungodly, just stop. Stop the financial support, stop the social media posts and turn back to the truth! Turn back to the truth of God’s Word.

And most importantly, bring people with you! When Lot left Sodom and Gomorrah before the destruction, he took family with him, to save them from God’s wrath. When you turn from the slow fade, take someone with you! Reach out your hand to your husband, your wife, your children, your parents, your neighbor or your co-worker and take them with you and tell them the truth, save them from God’s wrath.

Lincoln Brewster There Is Power

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Lincoln Brewster There Is Power

What a great reminder today by Lincoln Brewster There is Power! Wherever you gather this morning make it in God’s name and he will be there. Oftentimes we just do not see it.

Where two or more are
Gathered in His name
He is there
For all who come
Who run to Him in faith
He is there, He is there

There is power
In the name of Jesus
There is power
Power in His name

No fear, no lie
Can stand against us now
He is here
The Word has come
To silence every doubt
He is here

One name, one name can save
One name breaks every chain
One name, always
One name, Jesus
One name, one name remains
One name, we will proclaim
One name, always
One name

The Greatest Survival Tip I Ever Discovered

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amber-fields-mountainWe all know it, don’t we? Something is terribly wrong with our world, and things could go downhill fast!  But there IS hope! Allow me to share the greatest survival tip I’ve ever discovered – with you.
Let’s get started…

What is THE Ultimate Survival Tip?

Over the years, I have passed on survival tips, tricks and training to help you and the others we serve. But I’ll be honest, I think I learn more from you guys than I share…

So I was curious what you, our fans, followers and friends, thought was the MOST important survival tip –  The “Ultimate” Survival Tip, if you will.

Here are a few of my favorites from the hundreds of responses we received:

– Stay Positive and Believe You Can Survive
– STOP = Stop, Think, Observe, Plan
– Never Give Up
– Become Friends with Bear Grylls
– Control Your Core Body Temperature… in Other Words… Stay Alive
– Always Have Toilet Paper
– Be Prepared – Because You Never Know…
– Avoid Situations Where Survival Tips May Come in Handy
– Pray. Then Act
– Don’t Die
– Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Which is your favorite?
Mine is, “Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best.”

You Are Part of the Ultimate Statistic?

Some of these tips are good advice. Some are just funny.  But NONE are THE greatest survival tip I’ve ever learned. So stand by, I’ll get to that in a minute…

The plain and simple fact is, that regardless of how many cool survival tips we know, no matter how much we train, how far underground we build our survival bunker or how many years of food we have stored up to prepare and position ourselves to outlast a WCS (Worst Case Scenario) we are still only delaying our participation in the Ultimate Statistic…

What is Ultimate Survival Statistic?

Doctors agree, 10 out of 10 people will one day die.

Whether it’s tomorrow, next week or in 80 years from now, every one of us will die. Regardless of our training, stockpiles, connections, wealth, health, wisdom or position.
And for some, maybe even you, death may come knocking at your door long before you’ll use a single #10 can of beans or bag of rice stored in your basement for survival.

After all, 154,000 people will die in the next 24 hours. And most will die unexpectedly.

Now, I’m not saying you are going to die today, but what I AM saying is that we are all taking great effort to prepare to survive a bit longer on this earth IF a disaster strikes – but we all KNOW for certain that one day death WILL come our way. We just don’t want to think about it. I know I don’t!

So, if you are preparing to survive a disaster that may or may not come – shouldn’t you have a plan to deal with death, since you KNOW that death WILL certainly come?

No, I’m not talking about a putting together a will and making sure you have enough life insurance for those you leave behind (although these are good things).

So I Feel Like I Need to Ask You This…

“Do you know where you are going, when your heart beats for the last time on this planet we call home?”

Why Do We Die?

Okay, now that we have established that death is inevitable for all of us, AND the fact that surviving a WCS is not… let me ask you,  
”Why do we die?”

There’s probably a million opinions as to why we die. I don’t know about you, but for me opinions don’t cut it with such serious and eternal matters.

So I went back to the book that I have grown to trust as my manual for life, the “Good Book,” the Bible, to search for some answers to share with you.

The biblical explanation as to why each of us will die is really quite fascinating.

It essentially says that we die because we have sinned and rebelled against God and His laws (Romans 5:12 and Genesis 2:17). And it boils down to “the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).

In short, we get paid our just wages for sinning against God. And those wages are death.

If that doesn’t slap you upside the head, I don’t know what will.

IS there Life after Death?

It’s one big question, “Is there life after death – and what does that look like?”

The answer to this question is fundamental in not only how you and I die but also how we live the rest of the days we have on the earth.

Exactly What Happens After We Die?

Do we simply cease to exist? Is life a revolving door of departing and returning to earth in order to eventually achieve personal greatness (which is reincarnation)?

Does everyone go to the same place, or do we go to different places?

Is there Really a Heaven and a Hell?

The Bible tells us that there is not only life after we die but two places we can go.

One place is called heaven (or paradise). It’s a perfect place that has NO sin, no suffering, no war, no disease, no death and no bad people.

It’s the place where those who have faith in Jesus get to live an eternal life so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

The bad news is that those who are bad people and don’t love God (or place their faith in Jesus) will live in a terrible place forever. This place is called hell. “Their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…”  (Revelation 21:8)

Are You Serious… Heaven and Hell? Come on David…

Now, just in case you are laughing, skeptical or even mad right now, and don’t believe there is a heaven and hell… let me ask you, “Where do YOU say that we go when we die?

Okay, got your answer?

Now, let me follow up with this question, “What if you are wrong?”

If I am Wrong, I have NO Regrets… How About You?

I have followed a path I believed was true. Along the way I have lived my life for others, been made a better person, lived according to good and right biblical principles that brought much love and fulfillment to my life.

I have a WONDERFUL wife of 26 years and 2 grown and married children, and two cool grandchildren. They all love Jesus and get to live the awesome legacy that my wife and I have enjoyed.

This life has not been perfect. We have suffered much, grown a ton and gone through hard times. But it’s been a good and blessed life. And through all of life’s joys and sorrows – we have had a keen sense of the Lord being right there with us – along the way.

So if I am right about heaven and hell, I am looking forward to hanging out with Jesus in a place beyond my wildest dreams – forever!!!

Either way, whether I am right (which I have pretty strong evidence that I am)… or wrong, I believe I’m the better man for it.

But if you don’t believe in a heaven or hell and are wrong, and you are not good enough to get to heaven – there IS hell to pay… and from what I have read, hell sucks!!! Big time!

Are You Good Enough to Go to Heaven?

So let me ask, “Are you good enough to go to heaven? Or asked a different way, “Do you think you are a good person?”  You probably do.

The most a common reaction to this question is, “Hey, I’m a pretty good person, and I’m certainly no Hitler or Osama Bin Laden… and I’m better than most.”

But the problem, according the the Bible is that being “good enough” is NOT “good enough” to get you into heaven (Romans 3:23, Romans 3:10-18)

You see, Heaven is a perfect place, and if you’ve sinned even one time in your whole life, you are disqualified.

Don’t get mad at me, I didn’t make the rules.

Here’s the problem.

The Fatal Mistake

In today’s culture we often make a HUGE mistake thinking that God’s standards are the same as ours. This is like saying that we should have no laws, and every person should just do whatever they please, according to what they believe is right.

The last time I checked…this is called anarchy. But this is often how we deal with God’s clear standards as recorded in the 10 Commandments.

Have You Sinned Against God?  

As we talked about earlier, each of us WILL die because we have sinned against God.

Let’s see if that’s true for you:

1) Have you ever lied (even once -this includes, white lies and half truths)?

2) Have you ever stolen (anything – no matter how small)?

3) Have you ever committed adultery? No!?

Jesus said, “Whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already with her in his heart.” That’s a tough one… and one that nailed me.

If you have said, “Yes” to any or all of these you are a liar, thief and an adulterer at heart.

And we’ve only take a look at 3 out of God’s 10 Commandments.

So, How Will You Do on Judgement Day?

Will you be innocent or guilty? Now tell the truth.

If you are honest with yourself, you know you will be found guilty. And when you are found guilty, you deserve hell not heaven!!!

…Long Silent Pause…

BUT, that’s not God’s will for you!

He provided a way for you to be forgiven.

He sent His Son, Jesus, to die in your place and take your punishment by being nailed to a cross for YOU!

“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”  (Romans 5:8).

THE Greatest Survival Tip I Ever Discovered!!!

Okay, here it is… If I ever give you a survival tip that you should seriously consider… this is THE one!

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to the earth to give us a gift of eternal life. “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Essentially, this means, Jesus was killed in your place.

Jesus took on the punishment that each and every one of us deserve because of our sins (Romans 3:23, Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23) and sacrificed His life to pay the penalty for our sins.

ONLY Jesus could take the punishment for your sin, and my sin, and every sin past present and future, because He was totally without sin himself and was the perfect sacrifice (the only sacrifice God the Father would accept) for us (1 Peter 2:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:19).

Three days later, He (Jesus) proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave. Something NO one else has ever done – ever!

He remained on the earth for forty days and was seen by more than 500 people before ascending to heaven (1 Corinthians 15:6).

Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” This means that he paid for our sins in full and was raised from the dead to prove that it was true. His bodily, visible, documented resurrection was the proof!

The resurrection of the Christ is a well-documented event and has never been disproved. We celebrate this every Easter.

This also means that Jesus is NOT in the grave. Every other religious leader is in the ground to this day. But NOT Jesus. Jesus is alive!

The apostle Paul challenged people to question eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection for its validity, and no one was able to contest its truth. The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can have faith that we, too, will be resurrected and live with Him in Heaven. And that’s pretty cool.

The Ultimate Proof of Life After Death

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof of life after death.

Christ was only the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again. Physical death came through one man, Adam (of Adam and Eve fame), to whom we are all related. But all who have been adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ will be given new life (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Just as God raised up Jesus’ body, so will our bodies be resurrected upon Jesus’ return (1 Corinthians 6:14).

The Choice is Yours

Although we will all be eventually resurrected, not everyone will go to heaven. You must make a choice, and this choice will determine your eternal destination.

The Bible says that it is appointed for us to die only once, and after that will come judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We will all be judged according to our works… and even one sin disqualifies us from heaven.

This means that without a ticket from Jesus, there’s NO way to work, earn or reincarnate your way to heaven (John 14:6).

Those who have been made righteous by and through faith in Christ will enjoy eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ as Savior will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46).

Hell, like heaven, is not simply a state of existence, but a literal place. It is a place where the unrighteous will experience never-ending, eternal wrath from God. Hell is described as a bottomless pit (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1) and a lake of fire, burning with sulfur, where the inhabitants will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

In hell, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, indicating intense grief and anger (Matthew 13:42).

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires them to turn from their wicked ways so that they can live (Ezekiel 33:11). Remember we are ALL in the “wicked” category without faith in Jesus Christ.

But God gives us the DIGNITY of Choice and will not force us into submission; if we choose to reject Him, He accepts our decision to live eternally apart from Him, cursed and in eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 21:8).

Life on earth is a test, a preparation for what is to come, if you will.

For believers in Jesus Christ, life after death is eternal life in heaven with God (Revelation 21:1-27, Luke 23:43).

For unbelievers, life after death is eternity in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). Ouch!

How to Receive Eternal Life – And Live Forever!

So, how can you receive eternal life after death and avoid an eternity in the lake of fire?

I’m glad you asked!!!

There is only one way— by acknowledging your sin, turning from it, asking forgiveness and having faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only ticket to heaven.

He’s the only parachute, He’s the only life raft. There is NO other way.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die…” (John 11:25-26).

The Free Gift of Eternal Life Is Available To All

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Just in case you are thinking you might just hold off on all this “Jesus stuff,” I hate to tell you that (according to the Bible) YOU will NOT be given the opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation after death.

And so, you are at risk every day of your life… It’s a bad gamble (at best) to put off Jesus.

Your eternal destination is determined in your earthly lifetime by your reception or rejection of Jesus Christ. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

When you trust the death of Jesus Christ as the full payment for the sin that you have committed against God, you are guaranteed not only a meaningful life on earth, but also eternal life after death, in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ.

I personally am looking forward to hanging out with Him! And I’d love to hang out with Him, with you!!!

Jesus is the BEST I have to Give You!  

There is NO other survival tip, no gold or gear that I can give you of greater value than  this loving recommendation:

“Turn from your sin, ask God for forgiveness, and trust Jesus for the rest of your life.”

I have been a believer in Jesus now since 1986. He has never let me down… although I have failed him many times.

Yet He remains faithful. And He has changed -and is changing- me, for the better. He has somehow changed my hard, selfish and rebellious heart. And He is making me more caring, and selfless, a better man, a better husband, a better father, and friend.

So THE Ultimate Survival Tip is… “Trust Jesus!”

If you want a pardon for all your sin, and a NEW start, you can talk to Jesus right now:

Lord Jesus, I believe You died on the cross for me and that You were penalized for my sins so I could be set free. I now turn away from evil and ask You to be my personal Savior and Lord. Please forgive me for my sins and make me a part of Your family forever. Thank you, Jesus!

Have you made a decision to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?

If so, please let me know. It would be my pleasure to pray with and for you and help point you in the right direction as you live out the rest of your life as a follower of Jesus.

NOW What?

If You Are Wondering What to Do NEXT in Your Journey with Jesus… Click Here to Save Yourself Some Pain – and Learn How to Grow as a Christian (from my friend Ray Comfort – at Living Waters)

Have a really blessed day!

~David

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