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).

Why Did Jesus Say He Didn’t When He Would Return?

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Why Did Jesus Say He Didn't When He Would Return?

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In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

But wait, isn’t this Jesus, the God-man? How does the very Son of God not know when He will return? Doesn’t this show He isn’t God?

Each of these, at first, are very valid questions. It’s also worth noting that his isn’t the first time Jesus is described with restrictions. Luke 2:52, for instance, says Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature.” The book of Hebrews says that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

Let’s be clear: Scripture teaches that Christ had to be fully God to represent God to men, and be fully man to represent man to God (Col. 2:9; John 1, etc.). He’s 100 percent God and 100 percent man!

To save us from the Father’s due wrath upon us, He had to be both. If He wasn’t a man, he couldn’t have died in our place as a substitute. If He was not God, He would have been just like you and me—that is, unable to defeat the power of sin and death and satisfy the Father’s wrath as a perfect sacrifice.

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Throughout His life, we see glimpses of both natures.  For instance:

  • Because He was human, He got thirsty (John 19:28). But because He was God’s Son, He could turn water into wine (John 2:1-13).
  • Because He was human, He got hungry (Mark 11:12). But because He was God’s Son, He could feed 5,000 hungry people (Mark 6:30-44).
  • Because He was human, He became weary (John 4:6). But because He was God’s Son, he was raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1-15).

Why Did Jesus Say He Didn't When He Would Return? And, to answer the question posed at the beginning, because He was human, He didn’t know the day or the hour of His return. But because He is God’s Son and fully divine, He promised He would return with great power and great glory.

In other words, while on this earth, Jesus willingly emptied Himself of many of His divine powers (Philippians 2:5-11). The Greek word is kenosis, which literally renders as “emptying.” In His human nature, Jesus has limitations like you and me.

In short, the reason Jesus doesn’t know is because, in His humanity, He “emptied himself” of all that knowledge and access to it.

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But here’s the bigger question: Are you ready for Jesus’ return?

Here are four questions to ask yourself.

  1. Are you spiritually alert? How would your life be different if you knew Jesus was coming back today? Wouldn’t it make you question, “Am I ready? Am I living to please him?” For many reading this, the ultimate question is, “Is your soul ready for Jesus to return? Have you repented and believed the Gospel (Mark 1:14-15)?”
  2. Are you urgently on a mission? If you knew the world would end, how would your priorities be rearranged? We are consumed by work, possessions, hobbies and bucket lists. And there’s nothing wrong with these things. We need rest and recovery and we have to work! But in the midst of these things, are we investing our life, time and resources to eternal matters?
  3. Do you find hope in your most intense suffering? Suffering is a reminder that this world is not the way it is supposed to be. The world is full of unfathomable evil and suffering. The Lord is full of unending love and comfort. If someone you loved died of cancer, if your closest relationship is severed, or if your body is full of pain, you can lift your eyes! Jesus is coming back. His return promises us that the things of this life are only temporary.
  4. Do you have an intense power to forgive? If you believe Jesus will return as He said He would, then you can forgive as He commanded. At the return of Christ, He’s going to set all things right, and we can endure until then because of that fact.

May we long daily for heaven, pray daily for Christ’s return, and live daily content and joyful as we rest daily in the sovereignty of God.

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.

How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

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How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

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One of the most notable hang-ups people have with the Bible is often the Bible itself. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Man is messed up and sinful. Man authored and wrote the Bible to suit his needs. How can it be trusted?”

How are we to respond? Second Peter 1:12-21 gives us the answer. Peter is answering objections that everything the apostles taught was simply made up.

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Notice what 2 Peter 1:16 says:

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Some modern-day critics such as Dan Brown (author of the “Da Vinci Code”) and Bart D. Ehrman insist that early Christians selected stories that, in essence, propped Jesus up to a supernatural level. And here are four quick reasons why that isn’t the case.

  • The date is too early for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to be simply fairytale. Most books were written some 20-30 years after Jesus’ death. Paul quotes a hymn in the book of Philippians 2, for instance, that sprung from the Gospels themselves. Further, the Gospel writers referred to current events of the first century in their writings (e.g., 1 Cor. 15, Luke 13-14, etc.).
  • The actual subject matter of the Gospels is too extreme to be a fairytale. Why would they include such claims as Jesus is God? Why would they include Jesus praying to His Father? And, in a first-century context where women were nothing more than property, why would they put them first at the tomb of Jesus? If you were simply writing a myth, you would never go that direction.
  • The Gospels are way too detailed to be a fairytale. From first-person narratives to historical dates, times and customs, the Gospels are richly laced with factual statements. Take Mark 14:52 as an example. In the throes of describing some of the most intense scenes so far of his book, Mark tells of someone (probably himself) who fled “naked” from the last night of Jesus’ life. That’s the kind of detail you put in when you’re writing a historical account. You don’t do that when you are merely making it up.
  • The meaning is too big to be a fairytale. What reward was there for telling the story as we have it today? All the writers and apostles, save John, died unnatural deaths for their faith – they were killed. You might say, “Well, don’t people die for lies all the time?” Yes, but people don’t die for something they know is a lie.
How Can The Bible Be Trusted?

Image source: Pixabay.com

Peter also argues that the author of the New Testament (and Bible at large) isn’t man but God.

2 Peter 1:19-21 says:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit

Christians have long believed that the Bible itself is written by God and man. It has a unique part of each author’s perspective, writing style and personality. Being from God, it is infallible and inerrant. Yes, the authors were very fallible, but it wasn’t the authors themselves that were flawless—it was God.

Someone may say, “Yes, but we don’t have the original letters.”

Did you know that in Britain the official measure of a yard is encased in a heavy metal of titanium? What if someone stole it? Would we have to development a new measurement? Not at all! We have copies—yardsticks. You can compare the copies and know within a millimeter how long a yard is. The vast number and availability of yardsticks makes the original all the more trustworthy.

Likewise, the fact we have thousands of biblical copies affirms that it’s the Word of God. It hasn’t changed.

The Bible offers the only practical explanation for mankind’s plight and the presence of evil. History affirms that what it says about man is true (we are sinners in need of divine grace alone for salvation).  Any subject on which the Bible speaks, the Bible must be our final authority. God’s Word gets the last word. Give the Bible a chance and see if it makes better sense out of your life than a secular worldview.

What’s the difference between the Bible and the Internet? The former deserves your unreserved trust and the latter deserves a good measure of suspicion. Choose wisely.

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?

The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

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The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Do you have a problem with lying?

Well, if you don’t, you’re among the 10 percent who don’t struggle with this!

A quick glance at research revealed that nine out of 10 people learn to lie—and lie well—by the time they are four. One study done by the University of Massachusetts in 2002 showed that nearly 60 percent of adults can’t go 10 minutes without lying. Crazy!

As we approach the Ninth Commandment — “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) — it is worth breaking down the various types of lies we participate in from time to time.

  • Straight-out lying: You know, the type of lie you tell to get yourself out of a messy situation.
  • Twisted-half-truth lying: You say something that’s mostly true but then clarify it in a way as to mislead.
  • Exaggerating-the-truth lying: You inflate your weaknesses, strengths, failures and successes to make yourself or your situation look or sound better.
  • Not-owning-the-truth lying: You “explain” why you didn’t get your job done at work, or why your homework wasn’t complete on time.
  • Avoiding-the-truth-or-confrontation lying: Maybe you don’t tell your employee why you’re really firing him or her. Basically, you deny or withhold the truth to someone who has the right or need to hear it.

A couple of observations…

First, it’s interesting that the Ninth Commandment comes one spot away from the end of the Ten Commandments.

Lying is the way that we go about breaking the other commandments. If you commit adultery, you attempt to lie about it. If you steal something, you attempt to change the facts about your part. Like a kind of superglue, lying brings together all other sin. Satan, who is the father of all lies (John 8:44), intertwines you in a mesh of lies and gets you in a situation where you feel like you literally can’t repent—so you lie.

Second, notice the commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

The prohibition is against misrepresenting the truth as to hurt your neighbor. One focus is on the truth and the other is on the good of your neighbor.

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Ask yourself, “Are my words true? Are my words a blessing to those around me?”

What does God say about lying?

It is worth quoting, at length, the verses below to answer this question.

Psalm 5:6: “You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”

Proverbs 12:2: “A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns.”

Revelation 21:8: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

God is truth (John 17:3). He is light (John 9:5). His entire universe, that He created, is founded upon truth. When we speak falsely, we contradict God’s nature and character, unraveling his whole creation which is built on divine integrity.

Why do we lie and what can we do about it?

The Ninth Commandment: Can You Handle The Truth?

Image source: Pixabay.com

Not telling the truth comes from a deep insecurity we all possess in this sin-filled life. Think of Adam and Eve who lied to God after eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3-4). Naked as they were, both felt they had lost the security and satisfaction of their relationship with God.

Or, what about Jacob? You may recall that he stole his brother Esau’s birthright by deceiving his father, Isaac, into believing that he was his brother.

Why did he do this? He didn’t believe God’s nature and promise! He didn’t believe in God’s blessing. He really just wanted his father’s blessings—not God’s. Jacob was so insecure before God that didn’t trust the goodness and sovereignty of God in his life. Thus, he doesn’t tell the truth to protect his own skin.

What do we do to overcome this insecurity in our hearts that leads to lying? We must, like the numerous honest confessions in the book of Psalms, restore a true sense of God’s security to our hearts (Psalm 16:9; 18:33, etc.).

And how do you do that? With the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-8)!

In the death-instrument that is the Roman cross, God the Father has the means of taking care of our greatest need—salvation in Christ alone—and the will to do it on all levels. Friend, the security we really, really need to overcome not telling the truth is believing what God has said about us (we are His alone!) and promised us (His Son, the God-man, Jesus Christ!).

Indeed, when you have found refuge only in Him, you won’t need to wear a mask before God or anyone.

How does this apply to you further?

There are certainly many avenues of application beyond the space of this article, but here are three fresh on this author’s mind.

First, we must always tell the truth, but that doesn’t mean we have to say everything all the time just because someone asks. Gossip is the chariot on which the devil rides. You should be more upset by your own gossip about another than you are about another’s gossip about you. Gossip is a sinister sin because it charades as “well-concern” and “truth-finding.” However, gossip is as evil as the sin it claims to snuff out (Romans 1:29-32).

Second, ask yourself: “Is your disgrace lying to you about God being the final judge?” Anyone who says, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” is either lying or crazy — and often both. Remind yourself that the most compelling people are those who’ve gotten past the need to be compelling. They just tell the (Gospel) truth with love and boldness, and that’s compelling. Remember that Galatians 4:16 reminds us that you can’t make everybody happy. But if you tell the truth, you especially won’t make everybody happy.

Third, thank the Lord if you have a pastor or spiritual leader who tells you biblical truth. The work of the pastor is to tell the truth and to expose the lies. The most loving thing we can do is tell the truth so people can be reconciled to God. Be slow to speak and quick to pray. And praise God for those in your life who do this!

Are you a pipeline or a lake? Are you just a channel of truth to others, or a Gospel pond, deep and overflowing?

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.

Crazy Voices Crying In The Wilderness

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Crazy Voices Crying In The Wilderness

For the herald’s voice is crying / in the desert far and near,

calling all to true repentance / since the kingdom now is here.

—Johann Olearius, “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” (1671)

 

Alone of all the prophets, John hailed the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

—The Church of England, Common Worship (2008)

 

The Voice

He came out of the wilderness.  His hair was long and caught up in seven braids.  He wore camel’s hair clothes, rough and not so fashionable.  He tied it together with a leather belt.  Locust was his superfood and he preferred wild honey to Stevia.  His name was John.

He cried with a loud voice.  Anywhere he could.  From a bluff.  From big rocks.  From a rise along the riverbank.  Wherever there was a makeshift camp, a passing caravan, a crowd gathering at a waterhole … suddenly he would appear, and he would lift up his voice and cry:

“Repent!  For the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Kingdom of God?  The people knew those words.  Daniel the prophet had spoken of a kingdom the God of heaven would set up in the latter days (Dan. 2:44).  Kingdom of God.  Kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of the coming Messiah.

The Messiah.  Could the Messiah be John himself?  Was he the promised King?  Or was he perhaps some other figure out of a distant prophecy?  Elijah was supposed to come as the Messiah’s herald (Mal. 4:5).  And, if anyone could pull off the look and feel of Elijah, it was John.

Then again, Moses had spoken of a great Prophet, the greatest Prophet, who would speak all of God’s words, do great signs and wonders, and know God face to face (Deut. 18:15-19 and 34:10).  Maybe this man was He.

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Whoever he was, his message bit the soul with great force.  He called the religious leaders “a generation of vipers” — “the seed of the Serpent.”  He called all of God’s people to turn from their sins, not in word only, but most especially in deed.  “Bring forth fruits appropriate for repentance,” he demanded.  And he did something else.  He summoned men and women alike to baptism, a cleansing rite that the prophets had associated with Messiah.

More and more people flocked to the wilderness to hear this man preach and — before long — he established himself on Jordan’s banks where Israel’s religious leaders could easily find him.  It was only a matter of time before they showed up.  Church police.  He was an outside voice in religious matters and a potential rival to their authority.  They came to examine his credentials, to see what he would have to say for himself.

“Who are you?” they demanded.  “The Messiah?”  Not that they would have believed him if he had said yes.  “Or are you Elijah?”

“Nope,” he answered to all three.

“Who are you, then?  We need to give an answer to those who sent us.”

And John said: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the LORD,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

“Then why are you baptizing if you’re not the Messiah or Elijah?”

Keep in mind … baptism was an Old Covenant concept and ordinance (Heb. 9:10; Num. 19).  That’s why the theological experts didn’t ask, “What are you doing?” but rather, “Why are you doing it?”  The baptisms they knew mostly pertained to certain Jewish sects in the area. But they knew there was another baptism, one that was both Messianic as well as eschatological (Isa. 52:12; Ezek. 36:25).  But who was John that he should offer it?

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance,” John said, “but He who comes after me is mightier than I whose sandals I am not worthy to bear.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit . . . and with fire.”

John’s Baptism

We’ve all heard it in Handel’s Messiah:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

The words come from Isaiah 40:1-5.  The voice is that of John the Baptist.  God was about to manifest His glory before all flesh, and He chose this particular man to serve as His voice.

John was the son of a priest and a Nazarite from birth, a birth that had been foretold in the Temple (Luke 1:5-22).  He came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” to prepare Israel for the Messiah’s coming (Luke 1:17).  His message was one of glory and judgment.  The kingdom of heaven, the redemptive rule of God through His Messiah, was about to explode into history with news of the King.  John’s message regarding the new King posed a challenge to all men, beginning with Israel:  Will you submit obey and be faithful or will you be a rebel?

Crazy Voices Crying In The WildernessJohn hit a nerve.  Submission requires repentance.  Men must acknowledge their transgressions of God’s law and turn away from them.  The King required action, visible fruit.  Mere “bloodline” descent from Abraham meant nothing: “God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham,” John said.  He pictured the King, the Messiah, standing at the threshing floor that was Israel with a winnowing fan already in His hand.  This Messiah would separate the chaff from the wheat:  He would gather the wheat into His barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  The Judge was knocking at the door.  Israel … each Israelite … must make a choice.  The consequences would be eternal.

Those who professed repentance, John marked with baptism.  Baptism pointed to cleansing, to new birth and resurrection (Ps. 51:7; Ezek. 36:26-27; Titus 3:6).  It was a sign and seal of the work of God’s Holy Spirit.  The Messiah was coming to baptize Israel with God’s Spirit or with the fires of God’s wrath.  There could be no neutral ground.  Those who would repent and receive their King would have the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).  Those who rejected repentance, who continued in their self-righteousness, would face temporal and eternal wrath.  (The destruction of Jerusalem, with all its horrors, was little more than 40 years away.)

Behold, The Lamb Of God!

John’s first work was to call Israel to epistemological self-awareness.  Each Israelite needed to know his own sin.  And each needed to repent.  John’s second work was to introduce the Messiah Himself.  And so one day, John saw his cousin Jesus coming to Jordan for baptism.  John knew Him for who He was, and he tried to put Him off, “hey wait a minute … I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

But Jesus insisted.  For though He had no sins, He needed to be identified with His people, and He needed to be set apart to His priesthood by one already a priest (Matt. 21:23-27).  And so John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.  As Jesus came up from the river, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God, dove-like, descended upon Him, and the Father in heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17).  And so, baptized and anointed, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, became the Christ, the Anointed One, the Prophet, King, and Priest of divine redemption.

It was about this same time that John pointed to Jesus and called out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”  And here is the last puzzle piece.  How can a sovereign and holy God forgive sinners?  Good works have no merit.  Repentance has no merit.   Man has broken God’s law, and God is rightly offended.  His wrath is just and inevitable.  Unless …

“The Lamb of God.”  A sacrifice.  A substitute.  One whose life is of infinite value.  One who in His own body and soul bears the wrath of God against sin in the place of His people.  To repent, then, means to embrace the Lamb, to trust His shed blood, to find in Him new life and the power for obedience.  Entry into God’s kingdom lies through the blood of the Lamb.

A Dying Voice

John died a martyr’s death for condemning King Herod’s marital sins (Matt. 14:3-12).  Jesus said he was the greatest of the Old Testament saints, the greatest of the prophets.  But John got to see Jesus, his Messiah.  He had the amazing privilege and responsibility of introducing Him to Israel.  And yet, Jesus said, “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11).  John still operated in the shadows of the Old Covenant.  He didn’t live to see the cross or the empty tomb.  He didn’t live to Pentecost.  The blessings of New Covenant life far surpass even the glories of John’s ministry … because the King has come.  The kingdom of heaven, then and now, is a reality.

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!

I Wrote Down One Blessing Each Day During 2016. Here’s What I Learned About Life.

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I Wrote Down One Blessing Each Day During 2016. Here’s What I Learned About Life.

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A social media post last December suggested writing down good things on slips of paper as they happen throughout the year, placing the slips in a jar, and then going through them when the next holiday season rolls around.

I decided to take it a step further. I pledged to write something good about every single day of the year – 365 blessings — instead of recording only intermittent positive events. Rather than wait for something good to rain down on me, I wanted to be proactive about gleaning goodness out of each day.

And besides, I know myself well enough to know that occasional notes would probably fade into the background quickly as my year filled up with inevitable busyness. I would have to make it a daily habit, like brushing my teeth and walking the dog, in order to stick with it.

My plan was simple. I would write a good thing every day on a little piece of paper, fold it up, and put it into a wicker basket I happened to have, which was about the size of a loaf of French bread. Every day, no matter what. And at the end of the year, my husband and I would open up all 365 pieces of paper and enjoy the happy memories.

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It was only a few weeks into the project when I found myself having to count up the already-folded papers in an attempt to determine if I had already written that day’s entry, or whether or not I remembered to do it yesterday. I knew that would very quickly become cumbersome, and I needed to create a sure-fire plan to make sure I didn’t skip a day.

The Trick To Remember Writing Something Each Day

Here is how I made it work: I cut up and dated the slips of paper ahead of time, and kept them in order in a magnetic clip. I know from experience that the easier I make a task and the more I set it up for myself ahead of time, the more likely I am to follow through.

There is always plenty of letter-sized paper printed on just one side in my recycle bin, and reusing that for my good things seemed like a sensible plan. It took very little effort to fold and tear a half sheet, or even a full one, at a time. I folded and tore them in half, then again, and again until the small slips of paper were each about 2 1/8 by 2 ¾ inches. Perfect.

Next, I took the time to write out the days and dates along the top of each one. Wednesday, March 2. Thursday, March 3. And so on. It was worth the extra few seconds it took to include the day of the week, because it is so easy to forget the date when one is caught up in a topsy-turvy day.

I kept these in a place where I was guaranteed to see them at least once a day, which for me was on my refrigerator door. Its prominent location mattered less after I developed the habit of filling out a slip of paper every day, but I did still need an occasional reminder throughout the year.

It was an easy task to sit down and prepare a few weeks’ worth at a time while waiting for the canner to process or listening to the radio, and having them done up ahead of time was the reason I stuck with it for the whole year. For me, that was the whole secret to making it work.

calendar-1022088_640Recording a year of good things has been a powerful experience. I have been amazed at and humbled by the volume of blessings that are heaped on my life, and frequently had to write really small and squeeze cryptic sentence fragments up and down the margins to fit it all in. If there were several good things that happened in one day—my husband got his annual raise at work and the first spinach came up in the garden and my cholesterol went down on my latest lab work—I did not limit myself to one good thing. It would have been reasonable to choose just one good thing per day, but I did not want to leave anything out.

I made up my own guidelines to this project. Did I cheat when it came to timeliness? Sure I did! I would sometimes notice on a Monday evening that we had never filled out Sunday’s good thing, and would do them both at the same time. Once in a great while I got as far as two days behind, but never more than that. As long as a slip of paper ended up in the basket for every single day of the year, I would consider it a win.

The only other real rule I set for myself was to never use a “backhanded” good thing. By that, I mean something that went on paper as good but was in fact simply a veneer on bad. For example, “I fell and scraped up my shin but did not hurt the other leg,” or “The dog was sick on the rug but at least it was not the new carpet in the study.” I made a point to write about something else entirely on days like that, something which was not tied to a negative event but instead stood alone as a good thing.

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The one exception I made to the stand-alone good thing rule was the day my husband was badly injured while using a circular saw. It was a traumatic day in our lives, to say the least. It would have felt disingenuous to write down something like “got the pole beans planted” on a day like that. What I did write was how glad we were that he was not hurt worse or that he did not suffer more loss than he did. After all we had been through in the past 24 hours, our good thing did not need to stand alone in order to be a sincere expression of gratitude for grace.

What I Learned

Some days were hard. Few people lead lives without challenges, and coming up with a good thing at the end of a rough day can tax even the most positive-minded among us. Sometimes I had to dig deep and came up with only bare basics—the sun shone, the unfriendly kitty suffered me to rub his ear, or a hen laid a perfectly shaped egg.

I learned to seek out the good things as I went about my day, making a mental note of my delight in finally laying eyes on the elusive pileated woodpecker who had been laughing at me from the opposite side of the tree trunk for days, or the way the aroma of lilacs swept me off my feet from across the lawn, or a loving comment in an email from a friend.

For much of the year, it was mundane stuff. Great checkup at the audiologist. Got a call from my sister. Did some work on the trails. Bought some yarn at half price.

In retrospect, it strikes me that most of life is mundane. While some years bring huge happy events such as weddings and births and travel and new homes, most of our lives set forth a lot of joy in tiny increments. It is those little things, scribbled on little slips of paper and folded up and tossed into a little wicker basket, that add up to the richness of a glorious year.

What do you think about this project – or about life in general? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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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.

Think Twice Before Saying ‘Merry Christmas’

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Think Twice Before Saying ‘Merry Christmas’

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“The joyful news of the birth of Christ is this restoration of man to his original calling with the assurance of victory.”

—Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973)

 

“He comes to make His blessings flow / far as the curse is found.”

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

 

The First Christmas

Jesus of Nazareth was born about 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, a small Judean village six miles south of Jerusalem.  At the time, Caesar Augustus was the emperor of the Roman world.  The king of Judea itself was Herod the Great, a master politician … cruel, insolent, and murderous.  Jerusalem, rich and cosmopolitan, was the pearl of Palestine.

The Jewish temple, which Herod had adorned, was magnificent beyond words, but its priestly rulers were apostate and worldly.  The Pharisees, who were the primary teachers of God’s word, were immersed in self-righteousness and legalism.  They strained at moral gnats and swallowed theological camels.  The faithful were few and mostly poor.  The age they lived in, both in Judea and beyond, was marked by disillusionment, despair and unbelief with spiritual leanings towards the mystical and irrational.  In many ways, Jerusalem at the time looked a lot like any big city in America today.

When Jesus was born, his mother and adoptive father were some 65 miles from their home in Nazareth, a backwater town in northern Galilee.  A Roman census had compelled Joseph to return to his family’s hometown to enroll himself for future taxation.  Mary, his espoused wife, went with him.  She was in her ninth month and “great with child.”  Apparently, the almost newlyweds didn’t want to be separated at this crucial time, and it is likely that Mary’s support network in Nazareth had unraveled.  Her friends and family would have judged her unchaste and either crazy or the queen of lies:  “Son of God, indeed!”

Crowds thronged the narrow streets of Bethlehem.  By the time Joseph and Mary reached the village, all the normal accommodations were taken … and there would have been few to begin with.  Finally, someone offered them a place in a stable.  Tradition says it was a cave.  The cramped area no doubt smelled of urine and dung.  The city streets were anything but silent.  The star that hung above the city went unnoticed.

Christian Heroes For Christian Kids: These Amazing Stories Are Putting God Back Into History!

Joseph most likely played midwife.  There was blood and screaming and placenta.  The baby cried.  There was no cradle.  Joseph cleaned out a manger, a feeding trough, to receive the baby.  Mary or Joseph wrapped the baby tightly in strips of linen cloth, “swaddling clothes,” and placed the newborn in the trough.  Mary tried to rest.

Think Twice Before Saying ‘Merry Christmas’

Image source: Pixabay.com

It would be a few hours later, perhaps, that a bunch of strange, tough-looking men would poke their heads into the stable and ask about a baby.  Joseph, at first defensive, would yield in wonder as these shepherds told of an angelic visitation announcing the birth of the Lord Messiah.  The shepherds had come to see the child.  Joseph let them pass.  The shepherds stared for a bit at what seemed a perfectly ordinary baby, and then they plunged back into the cold streets and told anyone they could about the angels and the baby.

So far, that’s the first Christmas.  The Magi or wise men (not kings) were still in the East (Persia, probably) planning their pilgrimage.  It would take them several months to reach Herod’s court in Jerusalem.  By then, Joseph had moved his family to a small house in Bethlehem and had found some type of daily work.  When the wise men arrived, slaughter came close on their heels, and the holy family fled into Egypt for sanctuary.  The gifts of the Magi funded their life in exile.

The Flight From History

Over the last hundred years the Church and the world have slowly but surely shoved the birth of Christ into a fairy tale world of “Bible stories, Bible people, Bible times.”  There is an incipient Gnosticism at work here and a strong contempt for real history.  The actual history of Christ’s birth has been ignored, adorned, and rewritten to give the whole thing a Romantic, otherworldly feel.  The “super-holiness” of sentimental awe has pushed aside the actual holiness of the holy God incarnate in the midst of His people.  What remains is a separation of the Gospel from historical reality, a separation of the religious and the real.

This disdain for history is nothing new.  It’s implicit or explicit in every form of unbelief known to man.  To see this more clearly, simply consider the consistent extremes of materialism and pantheism. Both streams of consciousness are alive and well, “worldviews” with us today.

The materialist reduces everything to atoms.  Reality is matter in motion.  Just that.  Nothing more.  Love, joy, hope … these are all just chemical reactions within other chemical reactions.  For folks who think consistently this way, there can be no such thing as history, let alone a meaning for history.  Energy particles explode in and out of chaos and eventually collapse in upon themselves again.  Or maybe they spread out beyond their own gravitational pull as the universe dies a cold death.  Who knows? And why should anyone care?  And what is “caring,” after all, but another meaningless chemical reaction?  Why should anyone care about anything?

The pantheist sees all historical and material things or “particulars” as illusions. To the pantheists, everything you see and touch in everyday life is simply a manifestation of an impersonal reality.  All is One.  John Lennon lived in this world and you probably remember the song … “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” So, to John Lennon and the folks that profess such things … “all that is” … is an equal expression of that One.  Master and slave, warmonger and peace child, rapist and victim, murderer and the murdered … not one of these distinctions are even real.  In this way of seeing the world, history doesn’t exist.  Neither does crime. There is only the One.  Meaning itself, as far as that goes, is a meaningless concept. Why? Because it suggests that there is something beyond the static reality of One.

The Word Was Made Flesh

Over against this nonsense, the biblical doctrine of the Incarnation establishes the reality of history and reveals its purpose and goal.

mary-josephFirst, the doctrine of the Incarnation presupposes the reality of Creator and creation.  God and His creation are real.  The Triune God exists eternally and necessarily as not only absolute personality but as the personal Source and Origin of all created reality, of all matter, space, and time.  God’s eternal decree and providence structure, determine, and define creation and its temporal flow.  History is what God decrees and is brought about by His providence.  It is … “His story.”

Second, the doctrine of the Incarnation highlights the central conflict within all history.  Humans are fallen.  We are in ethical rebellion against our Creator.  We have eternal punishment coming.  We are incapable of saving ourselves.  But God in His infinite mercy and grace has entered our history … has joined Himself to His creation … to save us from our sins through a death of penal substitution.  Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

Third, the doctrine of the Incarnation establishes the meaning and goal of history.  The eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, entered creation, became flesh, to undo the work of the Fall, to restore men to fellowship with God, and to establish His Kingdom in history and beyond history.  The Son of God came to save the world and to accomplish the restitution of all things to the glory of God.

Because Jesus Christ is eternal deity and because He has come in terms of God’s sovereign decree, He will accomplish His mission.  Jesus has redeemed the earth, and all history since the Resurrection is the outworking and application of that redemption.  History will see the full manifestation of His redeeming work.  He will reign until all enemies have been put under His feet.  But not just that … He will spread the blessings of His reign to the ends of the earth.

This is the message and reality of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)

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3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)

Artist: English School

The Christmas story is well-know, but many myths and misconceptions nevertheless abound.  Below are three of the most common myths:

1. Did the angels actually sing at the night of Christ’s birth?

Specifically, this deals with the angelic announcement to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth. A large number of Christian Christmas songs, old and new, indicate that the angels sang that night.

But did you know the Scripture doesn’t actually say this? Rather, the Bible says that they praised God and said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).

True, the angels may have really sung that night. The counter-argument is that the Bible often links singing and praising (Psalm 47:6-7; James 5:13). Yet, it doesn’t actually say the angels sang. The word used (legonton) in Luke 2:13 is often translated “saying” from the root word lego, which means to “say” most commonly.

This idea of the angels not actually singing may rub some the wrong way. But the Bible doesn’t explicitly say this.

Christian Heroes For Christian Kids: These Amazing Stories Are Putting God Back Into History!

What’s the takeaway? Simply that all traditional understandings are not inherently wrong in themselves. But, with all things, we must examine the Scripture (Acts 17:11) to see if these things are true. And, if they go against the Bible, we must reject them as such.

2. Didn’t the wise men see Jesus the same night he was born?

According to Hollywood and tradition, the wise men were present that first night Jesus was born. Again, though, what does the Bible say? In Matthew’s account (2:1), the magi traveled to Jerusalem and visited with King Herod after Jesus was born.

Remember that the angels came to the shepherds at night (Luke 2:8). We can infer, then, that Jesus himself was born at night. What’s more, recall that Luke 2:11 tells us that the shepherds were told at the announcement of the angels that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The translation of “this day” literally refers to the same day — today. Historically, the Jewish day started at sundown, which was about 6 in the evening. The angels’ use of “this day” (KJV) shows us that Christ was born during the night since the day would have begun at sundown.

3 Myths About The Christmas Story (That Most People Believe)Why is this so important? The possibility that the wise men came to Jerusalem the same night Christ was born and had an audience with Herod is highly unlikely. Matthew 2:4 tells us that Herod “gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together” to determine “where Christ should be born.” They responded with the prophecy of Micah 5:2, which indicated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. From Jerusalem, the distance is about six miles to Bethlehem. If the wise men did meet with Herod the following day after Jesus’ birth, the soonest they could have visited Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have been the second night after the birth.

So, who was present at Jesus’ birth? The shepherds, Joseph and Mary for sure. But most likely not the wise men. Matthew used the Greek word paidion to describe Jesus (Matthew 2:8-9, 11, 13-14, 20-21, etc.). This word can mean anything from an infant to a toddler. This variety of meanings would be on par with King Herod killing all the young Jewish boys ages two and under (Matthew 2:16-17). In short, Jesus was probably two years or younger when the wise men visited him.

3. Was Jesus born in a stable?

There’s no doubt that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-6). The question is: “Was Jesus born in a barn, a stable, a cave, or where?” It is clear from Luke 2:7 that there “was no room for them in the inn.”

Traditionally, Christians have made nativity scenes depicting Christ surrounded by animals. In fact, there are many books for children that give the biblical account through the eyes of the animals the night Christ was born. Yet, Luke’s account, coupled with historical consideration and knowledge, outlines the following events.

Joseph brought his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Luke 2:5). Since Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown (Luke 2:3) and in step with the marriage customs of the time, it is likely that they completed the marital process by bringing Mary into Joseph’s family home. Because he was newly married, he didn’t have to sleep in the main house any longer with his relatives.

Most likely, Joseph and Mary would have been in a marital chamber attached (or near) the house. They stayed in this smaller dwelling until she was ready to give birth (Luke 2:6) to Jesus in the main room of the house, which was larger. These ancient farmhouses included mangers (Luke 2:7) where she would have laid Jesus. And, finally, after residing there for roughly 40 days (Luke 2:22; Lev. 12:2-8), this young family moved to Nazareth to make their life together in her family’s hometown (Luke 2:39; 1:26-27).

Certainly, that isn’t your typical understanding of the Christmas narrative. There’s no innkeeper, inn or stable.  However, careful Bible study in the context is grounded in the above. The Greek word kataluma used in Luke 2:7 is, perhaps, best translated “because they had no space in their [place / home] to stay.”

This Christmas season, your house may be a mess, the kids and your in-laws may be nuts, laundry may be overdue, but Immanuel means “God is with us,” even in the midst of many misconceptions and myths. Praise God today that His Word is true and the eternal Word, the God-man, Jesus Christ, became flesh to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Advent In Space And Time

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Advent In Space And Time

“After all, nitpicking the timeline of Xena: Warrior Princess is the surest way to madness.”

Chris Sims on the Xena Christmas Special (2015)

 

“Chronological Bible teaching presents a foundation for understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection”              

New Tribes Mission (2016)

 

Bible Stories, Bible People, Bible Lands

Remember the TV series Xena, Princess Warrior?  Frankly, there’s no reason you should.  My daughters caught some of this show in the 90s. But this crazy sword-and-sorcery series did serve up a good lesson on how not to think about the Bible.  In one episode Xena meets Ulysses, the shepherd boy David, and Julius Caesar.  That same season featured a Christmas episode.  Officially, it’s a Winter Solstice episode, I guess, but in the last few minutes Xena meets a young Jewish couple and their newborn Child.  Xena and her young partner provide them with a donkey.  Why not?

Xena apparently lives in “ancient times” or “the mythic ages.”  These seem to include at least the whole 1,200 years that preceded the birth of Jesus Christ.  Every character … historical or mythical … lives in these “mythic ages” and thus could show up on Xena as the needs of each week’s script required.

Now, what has this to do with teaching the Bible?  Just this:  An awful lot of Bible teachers … especially those who teach children … treat the historical accounts contained in the Old and New Testaments as “Bible stories” about “Bible people” who lived in “Bible times.”  These teachers apparently have, for the most part, a lot in common with the script writers of Xena. No sense of chronological history and no sense of cultural and sociological change in history are required.  No attention whatsoever is paid to the “cause-and-effect” flow that moved ancient history toward the coming of Christ.  Particularly, no attention is paid to the progression and development in God’s covenant dealings with His people over the first 4,000 years of Earth’s history.

Christian Heroes For Christian Kids: These Amazing Stories Are Putting God Back Into History!

Advent In Space And TimeAnd so, children come to Sunday school or Bible class week after week and hear stories about David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Noah and the Flood, and Jesus walking on the water.  Children hear stories out of historical sequence and with all the important “connective tissue” missing.  Children are then left with the lasting impression that these characters lived in “Bible times,” an upper-story, otherworldly existence, a lot like Xena’s mythic ages.  For such children, biblical history has become mythology and real only in the sense that myths are “real.”  The result borders on the tragic:  Teachers tell the Bible story, tag a moralistic lesson to it and call it a day.

The Gospel In Space And Time

This problem isn’t limited to Sunday school.  Many foreign mission programs seem to suffer from a similar malady.  Missionaries come to previously unreached people and master their language. They then hurry to tell them of the Savior Jesus who was born long ago in a land far, far away.  While this approach is better than leaving these folks in total darkness, it does carry with it very real and long-term liabilities.

At least one missionary organization has taken on this potential pitfall head on.  New Tribes Mission sends their people into the mission field with a timeline in one hand and an inflatable globe in the other.  NTM missionaries don’t begin with an in-depth study of the gospels.  Rather, they teach the Bible in historical order and then place these “histories” within the context of Earth’s actual geography.

Unreached people groups have no concept of the God of the Bible. So, Bible teaching begins at the same place God began with His chosen people: at the beginning. Chronological Bible teaching presents a foundation for understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection (https://usa.ntm.org/about/).

NTM has found that this approach to evangelism leaves fewer holes in their hearers’ understanding and provides a better foundation for discipleship than the more traditional approach.

The Historicity Of The Gospels

The gospels stand firmly in chronological sequence with the writings of Moses and the prophets.  Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy that reaches from Abraham to Jesus.  This is Jesus’ legal genealogy through his foster-father Joseph and the kings of Judah.  Luke gives us a balancing genealogy.  This is Jesus’ genealogy through His mother Mary, and it reaches all the way back to Adam.  Together, these genealogies tie the biblical account of Jesus’ birth to all the rest of human history and help fill in the gap between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New.

Not just that, but both Matthew and Luke set Jesus’ birth during the reign of Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Judea.  Matthew also names Herod’s son and successor, Archelaus.  Secular history tells us a great deal about Herod the Great, and it all dovetails exactly with how the Bible describes him.

But the gospels’ historical context and accuracy doesn’t end there.  For example, when Luke begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, he sets up the political situation in and around Judea with precision:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness (Luke 3:1-2).

Luke also tells us that John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus (Luke 1:36) and that some six months into John’s ministry, Jesus came to him for baptism.  At that time “Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age” (v. 23).  Jesus was old enough to begin a priestly ministry lawfully (Num. 4:47 and Matt. 21:23-27).  Jesus’ submission to the Mosaic law at this point was key to the priestly dimension of His redemptive work.  Historical chronology matters to God and it should matter to us.

The Christmas Story

christmas-934177_640Of all “Bible stories,” the history of Jesus’ birth has probably suffered more than any other from an abstracted and Gnosticized disregard for history.  Nativity scenes and carols regularly ignore the historical facts of Christ’s birth and blur the harsh, down-to-earth realities described or implied in the gospel accounts.  The manger was a feeding trough for animals, not a sanitized cradle.  The Baby most certainly cried a lot and the night was most likely not particularly silent.  And unless the light from the Christmas star somehow poured through a hole in the stable roof … “round yon Mother and Child” wasn’t all that bright.  The Magi didn’t come to the manger that night, and the angels didn’t hover around the stable.  Not one participant wore a halo.  And let’s not forget the slaughter of the innocents by Herod’s soldiers in this story.  Yep, this is one huge epic drama full of terror, uncertainty and flight.

The truth of the Christmas story is this:  The Son of God came down into our history, in God’s perfect chronology and geography … for our salvation.  He came as a real man and lived among real men.  He was born a real baby with all that that means.  He humbled Himself for our salvation.  He carried our curse, all the way to the cross.  And then He rose from the dead victorious.

When we teach the “chronology of Christmas,” the gospel makes a lot more sense.

Getting Ready For The Messiah

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Getting Ready For The Messiah

The three centuries which followed the Macedonian conquest of Asia,
from the death of Alexander the Great 
to the fall of the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt,
are perhaps the most thrilling of all periods of ancient history.

              —Peter Thonemann, The Hellenistic Age (2016)

 

The Hellenistic Age

Alexander’s conquests had merged the Hellenic world with the decaying Persian Empire, expanding it and giving it new life.  The Greek language, Greek literature, philosophy, and Greek political order spread all over the known world.  Polis gave way to kosmospolis, a universal city-state or “empire” in terms of which all men could find definition and meaning.  But Alexander died at 33, and his generals ripped the empire into four parts.  The Hellenistic Age began.

Getting Ready For The Messiah

Alexander. Image source: Wikimedia

The intellectual hub of all of this was Alexandria in Egypt.  There, a fully staffed library and museum gave mathematicians and natural philosophers funding as well as room to record, expand, and apply the learning of the ancients.  Alexandria was also the birthplace of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

The philosophies that dominated this age quickly proved hopeless dead ends.  The Cynics spoke of virtue as mere self-sufficiency, possessions, and social ties.  The Epicureans sought comfort in inner serenity and turned their backs on whatever gods the others had.  The Skeptics completely gave up on epistemology.  They argued that we can’t know anything that lies behind sense experience.  The Stoics, a bit more hopeful, confessed a universe wholly determined by the Reason (Logos).  Here, at least, was some hope for a universal or natural law accessible to all reasonable men.  But in the end, it, too, proved hopeless, lacking clarity and codification.

The mindset and culture that existed within this political and philosophical framework struggled with both disillusionment and apathy, often veering wildly into the irrational.  Belief in an all-controlling Fortune was common.  So was belief in astrology.  Many turned to magic as if it were one of the more practical sciences. Finally, many sought salvation through the myriad of mystery cults.  Intellectually and spiritually, the Hellenistic Age was bankrupt … very much like our own.

Waiting For The Messiah

Throughout the Hellenistic world, however, there was a scattered people who were eagerly awaiting a whole new world.  The Jewish people were waiting for their Messiah.  They were waiting for the Kingdom of God and the outpouring of His Spirit.  As the years passed, they searched their sacred scrolls and watched the prophetic clock tick away its hours.  Isaiah had talked about a Persian named Cyrus 170 years before he conquered Babylon (Isa. 44:28; 45:1).  Zechariah had charted the course of Alexander’s conquests (Zech. 9).  And Daniel’s prophecies, though a bit fuzzy, were at least easy enough to follow in their broad outlines.

The prophecy of the “Metal Man” in Daniel 2 set the timeline for the Messiah in terms of the rise and fall of four world-kingdoms:  Golden Babylon, Argent Persian, Brazen Greece, and Iron Rome … followed at last by the Kingdom God.  The prophecy of the 70 Weeks in Daniel 9 marked out that same timeline in weeks of years:  70 “weeks” or 490 years from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  And the detailed prophecies of Daniel 11-12 spelled out the details of the political and military rivalries that would engulf Judea and Jerusalem, from Alexander’s death until the coming of Israel’s King.

Specifically, Daniel 11 describes the latter days of the Old Covenant in terms of the ongoing conflict between the kingdoms to the north and south of Judea. The Seleucid kingdom of Syria and Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt.  The kings of both dynasties are well-known to secular history, and over the centuries this familiarity has led unbelievers to condemn “Daniel” as a pseudo-prophet writing after the fact.  How else, they ask, could his descriptions of political and military history be so exact?  Such accuracy would require divine omniscience, after all!

The Abomination That Desolates

There are two periods within the Hellenistic Age to which Daniel’s prophecies give special attention.  The first is the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes and the second is the battle of Actium and rise of the Herodian dynasty.  Both culminated in times of great tribulation for the Jewish people.

Antiochus IV. Image source: Wikimedia

Antiochus IV. Image source: Wikimedia

Antiochus IV (215-164 BC) was the eighth of the Seleucid kings.  He called himself “Epiphanes”or “God manifest.”  His enemies called him “Epimanes” or “the Mad One.”

In 170 BC, after a successful campaign against Egypt, he seized Jerusalem, “made a great massacre,” and plundered the Temple of all its treasures.  Two years later, after Roman intervention prevented another move on Egypt, Antiochus turned his wrath more fully against the Jewish people (Daniel 11:29-30).  Again his armies occupied Jerusalem and slaughtered its inhabitants.  Antiochus even set up an idol-altar in the Temple and sacrificed to Zeus, the culmination of what Daniel calls “the abomination that makes desolate” (Daniel 11:31).  He put an end to the Temple ritual and forbade the Jews to observe the Mosaic Law.  He made circumcision and sabbath observance capital crimes.  He ordered the Jewish people to surrender all copies of Scripture to be burned.

Antiochus’s tyranny eventually provoked opposition.  Mattathias the priest and his sons, latter called the Maccabees, eventually led a successful revolt against Syria (Dan. 11:32-35).  This Maccabean Revolt recovered religious and civil liberty for the Jewish people, though in stages.  Judas Maccabeus recovered Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple (165 BC).  This rededication is still commemorated today in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.  Political independence came 23 years later, and the Jewish people were able to maintain it for some 70 years.

The Willful King

Getting Ready For The Messiah

Herod. Image source: Wikimedia

The secular histories tell us that Rome gained control of Judea when two feuding Maccabean princes, brothers, invited Pompey to settle their quarrel. The Roman armies came and stayed, and Judea became a Roman province. A few years later, the Roman Senate, at the insistence of Marc Antony, declared Herod (the son of Antipater the Idumean) king of Judea.  This is where Daniel’s prophecy picks up … with a king “who shall do according to his will” and “speak marvelous things against the God of gods” (Dan. 11:36).  Scholar Alfred Edersheim describes Herod with these words:

Cunning, ambitious, bold, and energetic, he was equally hated and feared by his subjects.  The two distinguishing features of his character and government were the most unrelenting cruelty, which sacrificed even those nearest to him to the slightest suspicion, and a magnificence which induced him everywhere to raise lasting monuments to himself.

The backdrop for Herod’s rise to power was the struggle for control of Rome that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Octavian and Marc Antony divided the emerging Roman Empire between themselves:  Octavian took the west, Antony the east.  Antony allied himself with Caesar’s former mistress, Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty.  What began as reciprocal distrust and a propaganda war quickly exploded into military conflict.  The key battle was fought off the coast of Actium (31 BC).  When things got hot, Cleopatra withdrew and Antony followed—all the way back to Egypt.  Octavian pursued, moving his forces by land through Palestine (Dan. 11:40-41).

Herod eventually met Octavian, even though he had originally sided with Marc Antony against Octavian.  But Herod, always the master politician, was able to ingratiate himself to Octavian and gain his political support depite the fact he was previously fighting against him.  Octavian continued into Egypt, only to find both Antony and Cleopatra already dead by their own hands (Dan. 11:42-43).  Octavian took control of Egypt, returned to Rome, and there declared himself Caesar Augustus.  The Roman Empire had come of age.  With Octavian’s blessing, Herod the Great was now on the throne of Judea (Dan. 11:45).

The advent of the Messiah was less than 30 years away.

Mary’s Song

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Mary’s Song

It is not the proud or the mighty or the rich who have the last word. 

Indeed, through his Messiah, God is about to over throw all these.

—Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Luke

 The Bible as History

When we say that the Bible is the Word of God, we mean that the Spirit of God breathed out His own words through human writers.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21), so that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).  The words of Scripture are in the most literal sense the words of God, infallible, inerrant, and authoritative.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the human writers had nothing to do with the process of composition.  The Spirit of God chose, prepared, and equipped the human authors and then made use of their personalities, intelligence, and gifts in the writing process.  They wrote, not as robotic software programs producing automatic writing, but as artists crafting profound and beautiful literature.

And so very little of Scripture comes to us as straight dictation from the mouth of God.  Only rarely did God completely override the intentions and actual will of His spokesmen.  (The wicked prophet Balaam is an example.)  Also rare were the occasions when the Spirit of God dumped a large amount of information into the mind of a previously ignorant writer.  God usually worked with what His servants knew or had learned.  For example, when God needed someone to write sacred history, He normally chose an educated man who had been an eyewitness to the events he was to describe.  In some cases, God moved the writers to interview eyewitnesses or to collect primary source documents.

Christian Heroes For Christian Kids: These Amazing Stories Are Putting God Back Into History!

Luke, for example, was a meticulous and careful historian.  Throughout his gospel and his history of the fledgling church — what we call the book of Acts — Luke cites documents, delivers direct quotations, and specifies geographical and political situations.  For example, in his gospel there are two occasions when he tells us what Jesus’ mother Mary was actually thinking:

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).

 And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart (Luke 2:51).

How did Luke know the thoughts of Mary’s heart?  My best guess is that she told him.  At some point, probably while the Apostle Paul was awaiting trial in Caesarea (Acts 24:27), Luke visited nearby Judea and did his research.  He most likely interviewed Mary.  He spoke with the available apostles and with some of the women who had accompanied Jesus.  He probably also visited the marketplaces and synagogues of the Judean countryside where he could still find some older residents who remembered the birth of John the Baptist.

In short, Luke, like all those who wrote holy Scripture, wrote with historical accuracy. That accuracy also bears authoritative witness to the words that Mary herself spoke under divine inspiration (Luke 1:35).  Those words, that song, we call the Magnificat (vv. 46-55).

The Magnificat

The inspired writers who composed poems and psalms wrote out of their own experience and with their own skill.  These were men — and in a few cases, women — who had read and studied Scripture, meditated upon it deeply, and made a great deal of applying it to life. Such a one was Mary of Nazareth.  When we read her song, we see her deep knowledge and understanding of the Old Covenant prophets.  We see also the fruit of her own study and meditation on the promises that God had made to His people.

Mary’s Song

Image source: Pixabay.com

At many points, Mary’s song parallels and expands on the song that Hannah had written centuries before to celebrate Samuel’s birth (1 Sam. 1:1-10).  Both songs begin with joy in God’s salvation.  Both celebrate a great reversal that God will accomplish in history:  He will bring down the proud and exalt the humble to positions of power.  But Hannah’s song begins with the work of her son Samuel and looks forward to the coming of Messiah, God’s anointed King.  Mary’s song begins with the work of her Son, which she sees (in principle at least) as already accomplished.

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For He hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:

for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For He that is mighty hath done to me great things;

and holy is his name.

And His mercy is on them that fear Him

from generation to generation.

He hath shewed strength with His arm;

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats,

and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;

and the rich He hath sent empty away.

He hath helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy;

As He spake to our fathers,

to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

Notice that Mary draws very little attention to herself.  She is God’s bondservant and in need of His salvation.  What God has done for her and will do through her is all of grace. Mary fully understood that God is a covenant-keeping God who shows mercy to those who fear Him to a thousand generations.  Now, with the advent of Messiah, God in flesh comes in to history personally to establish His kingdom as well as His righteous rule, in all of life and culture.

Mary goes on to describe the great upheaval that Messiah will bring about.  Through Messiah, God will scatter the proud through the very schemes they have devised against Him.  He will dethrone the mighty and raise the humble to positions of power.  He will strip the rich and fill the hungry with good things.  All of this, Mary says, will be the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises to Abraham and his seed.  God will bless all nations.

Conclusion: Taking Mary Seriously

Mary took God at His word.  The prophets had spoken at length of the historical, social, and political consequences of Messiah’s reign (Ps. 2; 72; 100; Isa. 2; 60; Dan. 2; 7).  They had no doubt that Messiah would change the world.  Mary’s song, in very simple terms, powerfully asserts the same.  There is nothing in this story of Gnostic fables or mystical experiences.  Mary isn’t playing with empty images.  She, like the prophets, is talking about the real world of politics, finance, intrigue, and power. She also knows her Son’s reign will eventually bring all life on this planet into conformity to God’s word.   She knows that her Son’s reign will change everything, forever and that every knee will bow.

Mary foresees the fruit of the Gospel in history and then lives her life in terms of this vision. This is our call as well — and knowing isn’t enough. We must live our lives in terms of the promised fruit of the Gospel.

The 8th Commandment: We’ve Got The Definition Of ‘Stealing’ All Wrong

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The 8th Commandment: We've Got The Definition Of 'Stealing' All Wrong

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As with all of the Ten Commandments, there’s a negative command in the Eighth Commandment (“you shall not steal” – Exodus 20:14), but there is a positive, too. That is, we are to be those who are known for our generosity and not our taking.

And, truthfully, most of us understand that we shouldn’t steal or take things that aren’t ours. But this commandment, properly understood and applied, refers to becoming the kind of person who is naturally giving and generous. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ said, as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, what is stealing, anyway?

According to the Bible, stealing is basically taking anything (or anyone) that isn’t yours. What does this look like? Here’s a list of many:

  • Robbing a bank.
  • Getting a soft drink when you ordered a water.
  • Breaking into property not your own.
  • Stealing your neighbor’s Internet signal with an open connection.
  • Pirating music by “ripping” CDs that you borrowed from a friend and didn’t pay for, etc.

But the biblical definition of stealing goes beyond the common definition.

James 5:1, generally speaking, reminds us that employers steal from employees when they fail to pay them properly for work done. Conversely, as an employee, you can steal time and true effort from your employer by surfing the Internet instead of, well, doing your actual job.

According to Jesus, you can steal from the government by not fully disclosing all of your earned income or paying taxes (Luke 20:25). You can also, aside from monetary items, steal the credit due to others for their work. As a student, you can steal the answers of other students.

You can steal from your family by staying late at work all the time. Men, you can steal from women by leading them on emotionally with no desire to commit beyond the feelings you get from her being around. And, finally, you can steal from God by not giving back through the local church in a tithe (Malachi 3).

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Do you see the point? We steal because there’s something that is bigger than God in our lives. We can’t live without whatever it is … so we go to steal.

How Do We Fight The Temptation?

Perhaps you steal because you feel like you have to have money, credit or emotions to be secure in the future. I had someone say to me one time, “How can I live without the money? If I am going to be giving so much away, how will I be taken care of?”

The 8th Commandment: We've Got The Definition Of 'Stealing' All WrongFriend, the only true way to change your heart is to thoroughly know, live out, experience, and pray through the Gospel. The God who saved you when you were His adversary will surely provide for you now that you are His child (Phil. 4:19).

Or, perhaps you steal for the reason that you need to raise your standard of living to “become happy.” For you, maybe joy and happiness includes a better sports package on cable, the high-status membership at the local athletic club, an HGTV-worthy house, and nicer vacations. Are you one of those people who always feel like “the good life” is making $40,000 more than what you’re making right now?

What should you do? Remind yourself of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This God of the Bible who took the wrath of God Himself for you is the God whose plan you get to be a part of on this earth. We are to strive toward God’s Kingdom – and not earthly possessions.

The Ultimate Question

When you truly experience the Spirit-transforming, life-changing Gospel of the Bible, it’s not a matter of must you give but what can you give. When you don’t trust in money as your god, you are free to give and not steal. When you don’t lust after other people’s things, you start to see the unsaved of the world—fellow image-bearers of God—as more valuable than anything you can possess When you see God and His Gospel as your ultimate treasure, you start to live life amply and give generously,

What we selfishly cling to, we lose. What we generously give away, we keep. It works every time. Almost no one will give faithfully and generously without planning to give faithfully and generously.

Have you ever said you’d be generous when you had more money? Be generous now. When you get more money, be more generous. God doesn’t necessarily want us to be rich (as some would have you believe); he wants us to be generous (2 Cor. 9).

So, where do you start? Don’t know how to be generous in a world of so much pain? Try praying: “God, what can I do to help my brother in need?”

For what great purpose will you give your life?

Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?

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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?During the Christmas season, people are absolutely fascinated by the extraordinary virgin birth described in the Bible (Matthew 1 & Luke 1). For many, Mary’s status as a virgin didn’t end once she gave birth to Jesus some 2,000 years ago. For others, Jesus was, indeed, born of a virgin, but Mary went on to have marital relations with her husband and bore other children.

It’s like a championship sports match – and one group has to be right and one group has to be wrong. So, what’s the correct answer?

The Backstory

The virgin Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph, living with her parents, still waiting for Joseph to prepare for their marriage. Mary is highly favored (Luke 1:28), not because of anything she had done, but because God chose her. Gabriel tells Mary who Jesus will be: God’s son and Mary’s son (1:32-33). This was prophesized in verse 35: “the most high will overshadow you,” or, as Gabriel says in verse 37, “nothing is impossible with God.”

That’s the point: God is omnipotent. The eternal Creator can take on the form of man and come down to live among His creation.

The cost for Mary was high. She was pregnant, and Joseph knew he wasn’t the father. Mary had a humble response when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Joseph could have believed Mary’s unique story, or he could have considered her to be an adulteress. Mary is a good example for us. Her faith was strong and she accepted the role that God wanted her to play (1:38). It was not an easy role. Under Old Testament law, she could have been stoned for being an adulteress.

And, yet, God Himself became a man and He suffered. That’s why we can trust Him with our lives on this earth.

Before we get to the question of whether Mary was a virgin the rest of her life, we should consider: Why was it significant that she was a virgin in the first place?

First, Christ’s birth represents the uniting of full humanity and divinity (John 1:14; Col. 2:9.  So, we can see that Christ was both fully man and fully God.

Second, the virgin birth enabled Jesus to be born human without inheriting our sinful nature.  Luke 1:35 says that the Christ child will be “holy.”

Third, the virgin birth reminds us that salvation is solely by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9).  Our human efforts can’t bring about our salvation—only God can. Our salvation is a miracle just like the virgin birth (John 3; Titus 3:5, etc.).

The Answer to the Question

Alright, but was Mary a virgin forever?

First, we must ask, “What biblical evidence there is stating she remained a virgin?” Simply put, there’s little biblical evidence that Mary remained a virgin. If we believe in sola scriptura (Scripture alone), then we must consider what the Bible does say and not trust tradition or mere human opinion.

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Was Mary A Virgin Her Entire Life?Second, we must ask “What does the Bible actually say?” The plain reading of Matthew 1:25 is that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. The word “know” in the Old and New Testaments is a word that, contextually, refers to the sexual union of two persons. If there were other Bible verses to mean something else, it would seem that Matthew or Luke would have given them. There’s no reason to reject the simple reading of Matthew 1:25 as stated.

Third, other verses suggest that Jesus had brothers and sisters.  Mark (3:31-32; 6:3), Luke (8:19-20), John (7:5), Paul (Gal. 1:19), and Matthew (12:47; 13:55-56) all record this. Since there are no other verses that state Mary remained a perpetual virgin, we shouldn’t take liberty to stretch the literal meaning of “brother” or “sister” in these passages.

One common objection to these verses about Mary’s other children is that Joseph might have been an elderly widower, not been interested in sexual relations with a younger Mary, and had previous children from his first (now deceased) wife that became step-brothers and sisters to Jesus. While this is an interesting theory, there’s no biblical or historical evidence to corroborate this.

Finally, we have to ask, “Honestly, were Joseph and Mary really married? Or, was it just a front?” Yes, the Bible says that Joseph took Mary as his wife (Matt. 1:24b). A marriage, much like it is today, was official by way of a verbal witness in front of family and friends, as well as the physical consummation in sex. Unless both the verbal and physical aspects are involved, no biblical marriage is maintained.

What’s more, according to the Lord’s command to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, one duty of every married person is to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouse. If Mary failed to do this, she would have been in sexual sin—as would have Joseph.

Conclusion

When we think of Mary, we should admire her humility and faith but not allow ourselves to idolize or worship her. Like every human, she was a sinner in need of saving grace found only in the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Remember, too, that in Luke 11, Jesus said it is not so much the one who bore Him who is blessed, but rather those who hear and obey the Word of God. Similarly, in Luke 8:19-21 when His mother and brothers came to Him, Jesus taught that those who hear and obey God’s Word are His true family.

The story of God being born of a virgin and killed by men is the most unbelievable story ever told, and one only God Himself could tell. And we’d do well to speak not only of the virgin birth of Jesus, but of his virgin conception.

In short, it’s essential that we stick to the Bible as our sole authority in matters of faith and life—including on this issue. When we cut ourselves from the moorings of Scripture, we are susceptible to any whim and idea.

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 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

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The 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

Cain Slaying Abel (Jacopo Palma, 1590)

 

Have you ever “lost” an argument?

If you’re like most people, you always replay the argument in your mind. Of course, in the replay you always win the argument! You always smash ’em down and put them in their place. You’re like, “They say that, but then I make this super-amazing argument. That would have been great!”

Indeed, we’ve all lots many arguments—but we’ve never lost a rerun. While our mental replay may not seem to have any harm in it, at its core is a murderous spirit, which is exactly what the Sixth Commandment prohibits:

Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.”

Observing the Sixth Commandment is more than just dealing with physical murder (though it does do that!). Essentially, this commandment is about valuing the lives of others and realizing that people are precious image-bearers of God Himself (Gen. 1:26). This commandment means that the most valuable things on Earth are others. And loving others and leveraging your life to protect and prosper them is of utmost importance.

Why Do People Murder?

First, let’s remember that the Bible says that sin extends to everyone and sinfulness is total. Read Romans 3:9-20. We are all sinful. There is not a culture, time or ethnic group that is not sinful. There are no excuses and no exceptions. Sinfulness is total. It affects every part of us—every thought, word and deed. NO ONE seeks God and no one fears God.

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Second, people murder due to greed (Esau tried to kill Jacob because he took the family birthright), jealousy (Cain murdered Abel because his sacrifice was better), fear (King David killed his faithful soldier Uriah because he was fearful of having his sin uncovered), and personal revenge (Absalom killed his brother for raping his step-sister).

The 6th Commandment: Why Everyone On Earth Is Guilty Of Murder

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What’s the common denominator here? Someone values a thing, idea, or power more than they value the life of someone else. Again, each commandment goes back to an idolatrous heart. To live in idolatry is to live in such a way that you can’t live without something. Like all sins, murder begins there. You’re not satisfied with something, and you take someone’s life into your own hands.

What Does the Bible Say?

  • Genesis 9:6: God says the price for taking a life … is life. If you take a life, you must pay with your life. There’s nothing on earth that you could use to pay for life. This is to say that human life is invaluable, irreplaceable and matchless. There’s no worldly equivalent to it. When you think of men and women as anything less than the image of God, you devalue life.
  • Matthew 5:21-22: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus “ups the ante” and equates having anger toward someone as a murderous spirit. And viewing people as anything less than the special image-bearer of God that they are is a type of murder.
  • James 2:1-11; 5:1, 5: From this passage, we understand that not to murder has all to do with how we regard the poor.

What About…?

  1. “What about self-defense?” In certain situations, the Bible allows for self-defense (Exo. 22:2).
  2. “What about capital punishment?” Deadly force by police and capital punishment aren’t essentially murder. Only the living God has the authority to take human life. But God has implemented that right through the power of the governing state (Exo. 22:3; Gen. 9:1-6; Rom. 13:1-4, etc.).
  3. “What about going to war?” Honestly, most wars are brutal and unjust—perhaps, even some of those fought by our country. On the flip side, some wars are meant to protect innocent life. And if battles, wars and such are carried out for that reason, then the Bible wouldn’t consider the actions of those fighting as “murder” by definition.
  4. “What about abortion?” The Sixth Commandment is denoting to an exact type of killing—the taking of innocent life. As Christians, we believe that, from conception, the baby in the womb is human life (Psalm 139). And contrary to cultural wisdom, human life in general doesn’t come in stages. Just as you’re not more of a human when you graduate from high school than when you graduate from third grade, you’re not more human when your head is fully developed than you were when it was smaller.

What’s the Practical Takeaway?

Perhaps you thought you had never broken the Sixth Commandment, but now you see the stains of breaking it on your hands.

So, what are you to do?

  • Put to death your anger. It is a sin of the heart that flows out of pride, self-centeredness (James 4:1-3) and fear. Don’t take you anger lightly—the Bible doesn’t! Don’t stuff or even ventilate your anger. Instead, pray about it and process it.
  • Value life of all kind. All heresy begins with a partial truth. Don’t believe the lie that the unborn, mentally challenged, physically challenged, a person of a different race or the elderly aren’t fellow image-bearers of God. Pray that each person of each background in each culture would come to know the living God through Jesus Christ the Son.

As the old Heidelberg Catechism says, “God requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy and kindness towards him, and to prevent his hurt as much as possible; also, to do good even unto our enemies.”

Friend, there is so much we could apply this to in life. But the bigger questions are: What are you pursuing? What are you leveraging your life for? Is your aim to glorify God with this commandment?

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.

Image source: Pixabay.com

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.

Image source: dailyedify.com

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.

Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag In The Sanctuary?

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Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag?

As we enter the most patriotic season in America, an annual debate rages in local churches.  Should a church have an American flag on display in the sanctuary? Or, how about the church in general? Can a church be pro-God and pro-America?

Below are crafted the major points of each position. What do you think? Please feel free to comment below.

Pro:

The American flag represents the nation we live in—the United States of America. Our nation was founded as a Christian nation in principle and practice. Other countries have long known and appreciated this fact. Displaying the American flag in all public places, including churches, reminds us why this country came, by God’s grace, into existence and who suffered for it. That is, because our ancestors wanted to be able to worship according to their conscience and not under the control of a state-run church.

It was this Judeo-Christian heritage that dictated much of what the Constitution entrails. Most, if not all, of the problems we face as a nation can be traced back to the fact that we’ve pulled away from our country’s original values and standards.

Perhaps this is why Psalm 60:4 says:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you.

In Old Testament times, a banner was a flag. God has given a flag to those who fear him and him alone. To “fear” isn’t some Casper-the-Ghost-type reaction, but rather to show reverence and to be in awe of someone or something—that is, God.

In the Lord’s gracious providence, He saw fit to give birth to the United States of America—a place to which people can flee from the bow, from oppression, from tyranny, from bondage, and from servitude.

Thus, to display the American flag in a church is to affirm our Christian heritage and pay homage to all of those who have sacrificed for it.

Pro And Con: Should Churches Display The American Flag?Let’s be reminded that it isn’t a small matter when a man or woman gives a part of their lives to our country. It truly is powerful to know that someone would pay the ultimate price of their life to defend what God has bestowed on us. In fact, Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

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The one sacrifice of our Savior is the ultimate sacrifice, to be sure. However, such words unify the military veteran, the average citizen, and the stark pacifist in our country under this banner.  And displaying the flag in a church upholds what a Christian holds true in salvation and in the nation.

We need to display the American flag in light of the truth of God’s Word, and not let anything or anyone force its removal from our land. If someone is offended by the flag in church, they have well-forgotten the prosperity that God has given us to make us the greatest nation on this earth.

In short, placing a flag on display in a church doesn’t mean the worshippers or leaders are bowing to the flag or the nation above God (such as in Nazi Germany in World War II). Church leaders should make this clear distinction. For if we do not display the flag or indulge ourselves in the freedoms that flag stands for, then what’s our faith really worth in and outside of the church (James 2:14)?

Con

In the local church, above any celebration of our nation is the correct and true worship of the triune God. His kingdom is one that can’t be shaken, and we are to offer to Him acceptable worship with “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28). Shouldn’t the physical elements of the service—such as displaying an American flag—reflect this very truth?

Although displaying a flag isn’t referred to in the Bible directly, when we gather in the local church, biblically, we’re more primarily Christian than American (or whatever nation’s flag is being displayed—Gal. 3:28). A Christian has more in common with the Pacific Islander who is born again in Christ than the non-Christian who lives on the block or shares a cubicle at work. A church should be a testimony and witness for the glory of God and His Gospel, not promoting a certain nation (Eph. 3:21).

Since the first church council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church has understood that any tradition or custom that interferes with multi-national worship in Christ’s name must go away (Acts 15:21; 21:25). When a church gathers to worship, the congregation doesn’t gather just in a certain country, but to “Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22-23).

Thus, a local church shouldn’t put any needless obstacle to the worship of those visiting from other countries (whether as citizens or immigrants).

What’s more, worship in the local church shouldn’t be the source of confusion of who or what we worship. The church is meant for the “mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19) and common good. So, if displaying the American flag causes believers of any nation to be confused or to stumble in worship, there should cause for concern. Christ has accomplished eternal salvation for every tribe, people, and nation—not just America (Rev. 5:9).

The critic will say, “Doesn’t removing the flag take away the sacrifice and affection we have for our country and those that gave their lives for it?” But does this justify presence in the sanctuary? Yes, Christians in America should honor those veterans who have served. They should remember and thank God for the tide-turning events that constitute the annals of American history, and use holidays to that end. These, however, have nothing with the true worship of God’s people in the church.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that schools, civic organizations and other similar venues shouldn’t display the flag. We expect—and cherish—such placement because we know the context. And let’s be clear: Being a Christian doesn’t mean you hate your country (1 Tim. 2:1-5; Rom. 13, etc.)! We just need to know how to organize our priorities and celebrate being Americans apart from displaying a flag in the sanctuary.

As with any decision in the Christian and church life, we must ask: “Is it scriptural? Is it Gospel-centered? Does it uplift man or God?” In this instance, it appears not be the case.

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.

Chick-fil-A, Bill De Blasio, And The Drive To Eliminate Christianity

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Chick-fil-A, Bill De Blasio, And The Drive To Eliminate Christianity

Who would have thought that a chicken restaurant could cause such a firestorm of strife?

Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio made headlines when he called for a controversial boycott of a Chick-fil-A that opened in the Queens Center Mall. De Blasio, a politician with very liberal-leaning policies, went as far as to say that the fast food restaurant’s leadership is “wrong” in regards to their beliefs and stance regarding traditional marriage.

Chick-fil-A has long been a standard-bearer in business when it comes to integrity, values and Christian beliefs. In fact, CEO Dan Cathy of Georgia hasn’t exactly been one to shy away from his Christian faith, professing a strict view of the biblical definition of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman. De Blasio, though, is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage.

The problem, though, isn’t the differences between Cathy and De Blasio over a significant issue. The problem is that De Blasio, a portrait of the liberal movement, epitomizes the supreme hypocrisy of the far-left wing in society. De Blasio’s blasting of Chick-fil-A comes due to his argument that the chicken restaurant is “intolerant” of other beliefs.

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“What the owner of Chick-fil-A has said is wrong,” De Blasio said “I’m certainly not going to patronize them and I wouldn’t urge any other New Yorker to patronize them.”

De Blasio’s subtle call for a boycott fell on seemingly deaf ears, as customers soon lined up for over an hour to eat. Meanwhile, multiple supporters spoke out against the New York City bully, voicing their frustration. One restaurant supporter even said: “If anyone is spreading a message of hate and intolerance, it’s De Blasio.”

What Is Right and Wrong?

Chick-fil-A, Bill De Blasio, And The Drive To Eliminate ChristianityNow, there’s two distinct issues with De Blasio’s call for a boycott. First, he called Cathy’s public stance on traditional marriage “wrong.” This means, of course, that he holds a standard of “right” and “wrong.” We all hold a moral standard of sorts, but without any grounding or unwavering basis, we have no reason to profess a strong belief in right and wrong. For instance, Christians have the Bible, which blatantly articulates the difference between what is right and what is wrong. It is clear from the Bible that gay marriage is wrong, and that traditional marriage is right. But in liberal land, where anything goes, there can’t possibly be any such thing as right and wrong, because right and wrong are made up by the culture and conform to our feelings. This is why gay marriage isn’t simply the end, but an open door to transgender bathrooms and anything else the Left decides to embrace.

For De Blasio to classify Cathy’s beliefs as “wrong” would entail that he is right, but it also brings into question the grounding of his moral judgment, if it’s not the law of God. Why is Cathy wrong? And why is De Blasio right? If there is no absolute moral standard, how do we know?

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The second issue with De Blasio boycott call is that it sends a very bold, intolerant message to our culture: We should tolerate everyone, so long as they’re not Christians. De Blasio’s call to boycott possibly the most classy, respectful, integrity-laced fast food chain in the world isn’t a reflection only on his character and poor judgment, but on the narrative of the nation in modern times. In today’s America, we accept everyone, so long as they agree with us. De Blasio’s message is tolerance and acceptance. Shouldn’t the standard bearer of cultural “tolerance” tolerate and accept the diversity of opinion that Chick-fil-A celebrates?

Sadly, the camp that preaches tolerance and acceptance of all things LGBT is also lining up to crucify and destroy anyone who doesn’t conform to their ideals. What De Blasio essentially said is that it’s wrong to be a Christian — or at least a serious, Bible-believing one.

Our Founding Fathers never imagined the day when governors would demand conformance to secularist principles, shunning any open practice of Christian beliefs. This fits the story well. We’ve seen Christian cake-bakers face $250,000 fines for peacefully refusing their services for a homosexual couple’s wedding. We’ve seen county clerks fired for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and now we’re seeing the mayor of one of the largest cities in the history of the world forcefully call a ceasing of patronization for one of the most successful companies in America. All because, in his mind, what they believe is “wrong.”

Wrong comes in all shapes and sizes these days. But one thing you can be sure of: Wrong will come in the shape and size that liberal leaders prefer at a moment’s notice.

 

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.

Bathrooms: Why N.C. Is Right, The Transgender Community Is Wrong, And Our Society Has Officially Gone Crazy

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Bathrooms: Why N.C. Is Right, The Transgender Community Is Wrong, And Our Society Has Officially Gone Crazy

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All eyes are on North Carolina. Several weeks before Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill in the face of mounting economic threats from corporate empires, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill into law prohibiting transgenders from using bathrooms that contradict their biological sex.

And exactly one month later, the media is still talking about it.

To clue you in on all that’s going on, Charlotte’s city council, which represents the 17th largest city in the United States and the biggest population in the state, joined the ranks with multiple other major metropolitan cities earlier this year when it voted, 7-4, for a widely controversial ordinance to allow people who identify as “transgender” to enter any bathroom of their preferred choice regardless of their anatomy.

Naturally, Charlotte’s decision drew national attention from all sides of the debate. The LGBT community cheered as another tower fell in its pursuit to conquer the country with an “openness” mindset that redefines traditional common-sense thinking. Meanwhile, the conservative wing protested with signs saying, “Don’t do it Charlotte,” and broadcasted their frustration on various media outlets for the world to read.

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The discussion goes something like this:

Opinion A: Transgenders should be allowed to choose a bathroom based on their preference, rather than their assigned sex at birth. This gives them the freedom to express themselves, and protects them from any discrimination or hateful bigoted rhetoric and activity that would stop them from that expression.

Opinion B: Transgenders should recognize that they are choosing to dress themselves their own way, and therefore should respect that men should use men’s bathrooms, and women should use women’s bathrooms. A ruling in the contrary would open the door for anyone to use any bathroom at any time with any motive possible, and result in physical violence or sexual aggression, particularly on little girls and women.

The Opinion A audience believes they are right and leaves little to no room for an opposing view without labeling it as bigoted and hateful, and the Opinion B camp is convinced of their own beliefs and isn’t budging, either.

Several weeks following the historic Charlotte vote, North Carolina legislators gathered to write and pass a bill that would overturn the city’s law. McCrory signed it, and that’s where the heat turned up.

Bathrooms: Why N.C. Is Right, The Transgender Community Is Wrong, And Our Society Has Officially Gone Crazy

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Rock star Bruce Springsteen protested by cancelling a fast-approaching show in the state to the dismay of many longtime fans, arguing that the fight to protect transgenders is more important than a rock concert. Shortly thereafter, PayPal, a global corporate powerhouse, cancelled plans to expand into the state, declaring their position loud for all to hear. Meanwhile, North Carolina resident and widely renowned evangelical voice Franklin Graham told his 3.5 million followers on Facebook that PayPal reached the height of hypocrisy in boycotting the state while they openly engage in business with Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Yemen and now Cuba – all of whom have been known to punish, torture or even execute homosexuals. One GOP representative defended the bill by arguing it was based on “common-sense.”

The Bible can help us on this issue, because it specifically teaches that God knew us before were formed (Jeremiah 1:5) and that God Himself created us. He knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:3). But Bible knowledge isn’t all that common nowadays.

It’s interesting to note that in Genesis, the Bible literally takes a poetic pause to demonstrate the need for the phrase “male and female.” It’s written like this:

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

It’s as if God knew the culture was headed in this direction, and that He needed to very carefully, specifically, make a defining statement that expressed the differences between genders. Amazingly, though, progressives who claim to be Christians reject this take. Some even affirm the LGBT lifestyle stating that, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

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Lady Gaga pushed this belief worldwide in her hit song, “Born this way.” The problem with this statement is that if God doesn’t make mistakes (and He doesn’t), then it wasn’t a mistake that you were born the gender that you were born with and are thereby governed by the complementary sexuality.

The conversation surrounding transgender bathroom choice has become a prominent discussion in the progressive movement and, therefore, the United States, which seems all the more to be carrying the progressive mantle to the nations.

Bathrooms: Why N.C. Is Right, The Transgender Community Is Wrong, And Our Society Has Officially Gone Crazy

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With so many opinions in the pot, there has to be some filter for the decision-making process, and that filter – we should agree — is safety. Safety for all should be our top priority. You can’t make everybody happy, but you can attempt to keep everybody safe.  We need look no further than the statistics to make a case for gender-exclusive bathrooms:

The facts show that as many as 1 out of 4 girls will be sexually abused during childhood. Stats also show that only 0.3 percent of Americans identify as transgender, rendering such a controversial ruling almost completely unnecessary. The majority of the population is frightened, and rightly so, that opening bathrooms up in a neutral sense would allow predators to peep, spy on, and possibly expose themselves to members of the opposite sex.  It’s simple. If curious boys, and depraved predators will go to great lengths to spy and abuse, why wouldn’t they walk through a literal open door to do so – especially if such an entrance into the bathroom is protected by law? 

This opinion has grounding with precedent: Just last year in Toronto, a college’s open-bathroom policy found itself against the wall after college girls were filmed showering by young males. The school quickly responded by changing the policy, providing the girls with female-only restrooms.

I’m no statistics professor, but I’d have to assume that while only 0.3 percent of Americans identify as “transgender,” there is a much higher percentage of curious straight males that have enough gaunt to satisfy their curiosity, using the bathroom ordinance as a legal means to do so.

The fine-line is getting less and less fine, and people are growing more and more in danger by the minute. While the liberals argue that North Carolina’s ruling fails to protect the transgender community’s ego, the law, in fact, protects girls and women from predation and sexual abuse. Common sense should demonstrate that the latter is more important. Sadly, however, much of mainstream society just isn’t in agreement.

 

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.

What Does The Bible Say About Worrying?

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What Does The Bible Say About Worrying?

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Anxiety. Worry. Fear. Whatever you call it, these three words describe the reality for millions and possibly even billions of people from every race, every walk, and every way of life. Worrying is like a growing cancer within both unbelievers — and believers in Christ. It starts small, but when fully grown, completely overtakes the weary soul and trains the mind to fear the outcomes of any given situation.

If you’re one of the desperate people mentioned above, or just know a friend who is seeking answers to this awful issue, you need not look any further than the Word of God.

The Bible is very clear and concise on the subject of worrying, just as it is with practically any given topic. After all, the words of the creator hold weight with the cares of His creation. So what does the Bible REALLY say about worrying? Glad you asked!

1. Worry is not of God.

We must first remember that worry is not of God. Jesus Christ Himself said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11: 28). God is always offering rest. From the beginning of creation, He even set apart the Sabbath day as a time of rest and resting Himself (Gen. 2:2), demonstrated the importance of taking it easy and enjoying the journey. Worry, essentially, is a lack of trust in God and His capability to handle our needs and desires.

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From Scripture, we can easily infer that God’s offer to His people is rest, and rest should be the constant state of each believer in Him. We should always be confident in this and seek to live in the fullness of this reality.

2. Opportunities for anxiety are real and WILL come.

There’s no way around this. Anxiety comes in all shapes and forms and sizes, but it WILL come. Life is tough, rough and unrelenting and at times, entirely overwhelming. I once heard a man, when asked how “life” was treating him, respond very plainly: “Awful. Life is treating me awful. But God is treating me wonderfully.” What an honest statement!

For some, it’s the mounting bills they owe. For another, it’s the woes of yet another marital fight. For the man around the corner, he’s not sure if his job will be there next month, and for the lady next door, she’s just simply trying to figure out how to keep her kids from rebelling.

What Does The Bible Say About Worrying?

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Even though God is a God of rest, the Bible teaches us that the devil is prowling around like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). If we’re to win the worry-war, we should recognize that Satan is ALWAYS crouching and waiting, seeking an opportunity to lead us into fear and doubt. As the old adage goes, admitting is the first step. We should admit that there is a real battle taking place, and that it’s our enemy’s goal that we lose confidence in the one we trust!

3. Worrying accomplishes nothing.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus taught very specifically on worry and anxiety, pointing to the birds as His prime illustration. “Look at the birds of the air,” He said, “They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt. 6:26). He goes on to explain that worrying is absolutely pointless, because it is not active and produces no fruit except more worry: “Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?” (Matt. 6:27).

When we truly believe that worrying is vain and pointless, we can begin to take our thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5) and CHOOSE to trust God.

4. When it comes to worry, someone has to own it: us, or God.

Someone is GOING to take the cares and the weight. The only question is, will it be us, or will it be Christ? Seeing as how Jesus died on the cross so that we could boldly approach God and make our requests known to Him, it’s pretty clear who the worries should be cast upon. In fact, the Bible teaches us to do just that!

“Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).

“Cast all your cares up on Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

We are instructed to come to God in prayer and lay our cares at His feet. Christ came to heal the broken-hearted, bring deliverance to those who are bound and pour His life into every person who calls on His name. Because we have the opportunity to talk to God in prayer, we should make a point DAILY to lay our cares at His feet. When we give our burdens to God, we receive peace and comfort and joy in return.

Georgia’s Religious Liberty Bill: Why The Governor Was Wrong — And Christians Are Now In Peril

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Georgia's Religious Liberty Bill: Why The Governor War Wrong -- And Christians Are Now In Peril

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Another one bites the dust.

Coming right on the heels of North Carolina’s bold stance for gender-exclusive bathrooms, Georgia governor Nathan Deal, facing immense pressure, made headlines last week when he caved and promised to veto what could have been a substantial stake in the fight to protect religious freedom.

House Bill 757, which has stirred up a firestorm of liberal criticism, would have protected pastors and expressly religious entities from being forced to perform same-sex marriages, hire gays and lesbians, and offer other services against their faith-based beliefs.

In other words, it’s a proposed measure to help Christians practice Christianity. That’s seriously it. But, of course, practicing Christianity is one of the staple sour subjects of the far-left media and all its supporters.

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We knew the war on Christendom was coming once the US Supreme Court redefined marriage last June, but what has become somewhat surprising and appalling to Christians and other faith-practicing citizens is the lack of fight demonstrated by their elected officials in the conservative wing.

Taking heated threats of boycott from such well-respected companies and entities as Time Warner, CBS, Viacom, Starz, and even AT&T, Governor Deal, a professing Baptist Christian, was forced in front of the entire nation to confront the act with no easy way out.

Georgia's Religious Liberty Bill: Why The Governor War Wrong -- And Christians Are Now In Peril

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Signing it into law would have inspired believers everywhere to stand for their faith, encouraged the ministers of Georgia in their calling to uphold the Bible’s teachings as the Word of God, and sent a clear message across the U.S. that faith comes first and whichever faith you’re practicing, you don’t have to violate your belief system.

However, this action would, of course, invoke the mass hatred and condemnation of Hollywood, the LGBT community and liberal companies who believe ministers and religious organizations should marry and hire anybody, even if it violates their conscience. The NFL threatened to revoke any possibility of Georgia hosting the Super Bowl in the future, and many mainstream film companies vowed a stoppage of on-location filming in Georgia, which is third in cinema business only to New York and California.

With all this action taking place, you’d think the bill called for barring gays and lesbians from drinking out of the same water fountains as straights and denying them equal-hire rights in the private sector. But it just wasn’t so. This bill was about religious organizations, churches and ministers not getting grilled by the government for saying no to same-sex marriages.

Governor Deal, a second-term elected official, finally broke silence and delivered a highly controversial press conference on Monday, saying, “I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.”

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And just like the, the domino fell.

Many in Georgia are grieving after the veto, and Christians, ministers, and people of all denominations were very outspoken, expressing explicit frustration with their governor’s decision.

Even though culture is waging an all-out war on the Christian faith, its primary argument is driven by a message of “tolerance,” which, of course, Christians favor. After all, the message of tolerance suggests that we can coexist, regardless of our beliefs and practices, as long as we’re not forced to adhere to another practice.

But once again, corporate America, the gay community and the far-left movement have made evident that “tolerance” is not at all what they are after, but rather conformance, adherence and ultimately, affirmation and approval.

Governor Deal could have stood hand in hand with the majority of Christians in Georgia and demonstrated that, to him, faith comes before business. But it doesn’t.

He could have been a forerunner in the conservative movement and sent a message loud and clear across the country and globe that Christians deserve equal protection and opportunity. But he wouldn’t.

Instead, like many before him, the pressure was too great and while faced with the overwhelming support of the bill from the grassroots he was sworn in to protect, he caved. He bowed. He let the left-wing agenda win, and he turned his back on the voters who trusted him. He bowed his knee to business and to religious discrimination in a panicked effort to avoid a culture of discrimination.

Now, the pastors of the Peach State are ripe for an all-out war on biblical values and with no shield or defense of any kind.

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?

 

What Does The Bible Say About Sex?

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What Does The Bible Say About Sex?

You likely have heard of one or more of these terms: “friends with benefits,” “open marriage” and “one night stand.”

According to a survey published by the National Center for Health Statistics of adults aged 20- 59, women have an average of four sex partners during their lifetime and men have an average of seven.

The culture has embraced an anything goes view of sex, but what does the Bible say about it? While the Bible may be vague on some topics, it is perfectly clear on this one. Men and women were created to complement and complete one another in a sacred bond, and that bond is marriage. It is to be one man and one woman, joined together to “become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).

Without debating every single discussion of sex in the Bible here, we can narrow the subject down to four main topics: sex within marriage, sex before marriage, adultery/fornication and homosexuality.

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If we start with Genesis, we see God creating a man, making the determination that the man needed a partner (woman) and then joining them together in a very special, sacred relationship that required no other human elements. As more and more people entered this world of sin, more and more problems arose around the subject of sex.

Sex within marriage. This is God’s design and has always been His plan for the sexual relationship. Think about it: God created sex. “Marriage should be honored and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb 13:4).

bibleSex before marriage (fornication). Today, people often give into temptation and change their sights from desiring an intimate sacred relationship with one person for life. They give into their physical passions and desires and refuse to exercise self-control, and they refuse to follow God’s plan – which was oneness and procreation. “Now to the unmarried … if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor 7:8-9).

Adultery. No longer are people satisfied and happy with the partner that they have made a commitment to for life; the sex act has now become an idol. They lack self- control. “But a man [or woman] who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot and his shame will never be wiped away” (Proverbs 6:32-33).

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Homosexuality. People have grown weary of the male-female relationship and yearn for more forbidden fruit – members of the same gender. “We also know that the law is not made for the righteous, but for law breakers and rebels, the ungodly and the sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexual immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders, liars, and perjurers — and for whatever else is sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God…” (I Tim 1:9-11).

Each of us was created and designed by God to live a life that is pleasing to Him. He has given us many gifts, and one of those is the gift of a sexual relationship to be shared with our spouse of the opposite sex. Our bodies are designed in such a way to be a complement to each other, a source of pleasure and procreation.

Jesus Himself, in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 7:20-23, defined marriage as between one man and one woman, saying it is a bond for life and that sex should only take place within that bond.

Pastor Ray Stedman put it this way:

“Sex is so designed that we have no control over it ourselves within marriage. We need each other to minister to us and that is designed of God in order to teach us how to relate…if you try to meet your own need, if you put that first in your life, saying ‘I am going to have my needs met,’ the result will be that you will lose the joy of life and you will lose everything you are trying to gain. Instead of finding fulfillment you will find emptiness…”

God has not changed His plan for man, but man has made the choice to change God’s plan. If you find yourself struggling with sexual sin, you are not alone. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind” (1 Cor 10:13). God is always ready to forgive. Go to Him now, repent, be forgiven and change your path to honor God. He will not turn his back on you, and you will be forgiven. He will restore you and give you a new life.

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 Forcing Women To Register For The Draft?

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What Does The Bible Say About Forcing Women To Register For The Draft?

OK, ladies, I need to preface everything I am about to say with this …

You are not the “weaker sex.” Any thoughts I have concerning women in combat have absolutely nothing to do with any thought that you, as a gender, are less capable of serving in the military. Women can, and have, performed admirably in military roles around the world.

But even though the military has opened these jobs to women, should we require women – as the top officers in the Army and Marine Corps believe — to register for Selective Service, potentially opening America’s daughters, sisters and even moms to a future draft?

My answer is a resounding NO!

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There are many that argue that if women want total equality, they should accept equality of risk, as well. I do not share this thought in the least. While I believe very strongly in equality of pay and opportunity, and a level playing field professionally, I also believe that the traditional gender roles are supported by common sense and Scripture. It is the duty of men to guard women, but not because they are “weaker.” Quite the contrary, because ladies are much stronger than us in certain areas. These are very important areas –and areas that should be guarded at all costs.

Let’s begin by looking at a passage out of Proverbs:

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” … Proverbs 31:25-30 (ESV)

What Does The Bible Say About Requiring Women To Sign Up For The Draft?Do we want to subject women — our repository of the teaching of kindness — to the possibility of being drafted into military service in a combat role? Do we wish to make women as base and war-like as men? If we allow equality to go this far, who will teach our children in the ways of kindness and godliness? In this, I feel that protecting women from this fate does not make them any less equal, but instead makes them more than equal. The world needs women of a Godly spirit to raise up future generations to expand the Kingdom of God on Earth, and this spirit is not fostered in a combat zone.

Let’s look at another passage:

For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of his body, the church; he gave his life to be her Savior. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives must submit to your husbands in everything.

And you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.  Ephesians 5:23-32 (NLT)

Here we see that the marriage relationship, the fundamental unit of the family and God’s plan for men and women, is likened to Christ’s relationship to the Church.

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Men are called upon to lay down everything, even our lives if needed, in caring for our wives. Again, not because women are weak or frail, but because they have strengths and virtues that are worthy of being preserved. By maintaining these strengths, men become better, families become better, children are made better, and God’s plan is furthered. Here, too, these strengths and virtues are not furthered in a combat zone.

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands, even those who refuse to accept the Good News. Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, Godly behavior.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty … You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God … In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat her with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. If you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not be heard. 1 Peter 3:1-5, 7 (NLT)

Despite how it first may appear, it is clear that subjugation of women is not God’s will. Once again, we see that women have been given the very important role of softening men to God’s intentions. Women have been gifted with Godly kindness, wisdom and giving hearts, and they have been tasked with instilling these virtues in their men. It is readily apparent that the role women play is arguably – in many areas of life — more important in many ways than the roles played by men. I will submit one more time that these virtues are not fostered in a combat zone.

Scripturally, it is clear that subjecting women to the potential of being drafted into military service is not in keeping with God’s design. Do we really want our precious daughters, sisters and moms drafted into combat? What type of society does that?

Should women be permitted to serve in the military? Yes. I think that they should, but only by choice. But Selective Service registration and a draft for women in general? Absolutely not.

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

Is Living Off The Grid Selfish?

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Is Living Off The Grid Selfish?

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When the managing director of an Australian power company last fall suggested that those who leave the electric grid and rely on solar power exclusively are “greedy and selfish,” a fair amount of off-the-grid enthusiasts balked.

Paul Adams, managing director of the Jemena power company, scolded those who said that they were tired of the company’s policies and charges and would leave the company once and for all. The customers, who already had home solar systems in place, had been relying on power from the company when it was too dark or dreary outside for solar power to be collected and used.

Is Living Off The Grid Selfish?

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“Why don’t you want to do something on a community and social basis, why are you so greedy and selfish?” said Adams, according to Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper. “The grid is of so much value here, why don’t you want to share your energy with your neighbors?”

On a bright, sunny day a solar panel system might collect more power from the sun’s rays than the home can use. Adams believes that electricity should be placed back into the grid.

If you are like me, Adams’ statement is indeed upsetting. From my perspective – which is that of someone trying to live a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle – disconnecting from the power company is anything but “greedy and selfish.”

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Here’s why: It is our desire not to rely on others for the things we need to live out our daily lives. In so doing, we free resources for those not pursuing this lifestyle. When we become “off-grid,” we no longer drain energy from the system. In an age of rolling brownouts, we do our part — and more — to relieve the strain on the electrical infrastructure. In general, we bear the cost of this transition, further belying the greed motivation. Besides, if we remain tied to the power grid when we have solar power, then when the grid does down, our power won’t work, either. That’s why so many users of solar energy cut ties completely from the power grid.

In a crisis, those of us with self-sufficient lifestyles will be of infinite value to our communities. I truly believe that the ability to lend assistance, to help rebuild, and to be a blessing to our neighbors is almost as important to most homesteaders, survivalists and preppers as being able to care for our own. If this doesn’t motivate you, you might want to dust off your Bible and re-evaluate your stance.

But, even if your only motivation is your own family, does this make you “greedy and selfish”? As is always the case, we can get some perspective on that matter from Scripture.

Is Living Off The Grid Selfish?

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“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Can it be said that living off-grid is in keeping with making provision for our households? I certainly think that it passes the test for that. Can anyone suggest that God’s Word encourages us to be “greedy and selfish”? I think the answer is a resounding NO! Making provision for our households is a mandate from our Creator — not just in good times but at all times.

First Timothy 5:8 is essentially the prepared household’s creed, and being off-grid allows us to live up to this mandate come what may. By ensuring the security of our own, we lift that burden from others.

Additionally, living off-grid is anything but easy. It can be downright difficult. It requires hard work to ensure the security of our families – and then of others! And that’s anything but selfish.

What we are really seeing in such statements from power companies and government entities is fear. We are approaching a pivotal point. We are reaching a level of technology that is making individual electrical generation and storage systems practical and affordable, and this is a threat to business as usual. It is a threat to the monopolistic hold that utilities have over profits from supplying electricity.

In fairness to Paul Adams, he retracted the statements rather quickly. What he showed, however, is the knee jerk reactions that independent-minded people are constantly facing. We are told that food storage is “hoarding” and that removing yourself from the grid is greedy. The truth, though, is that living off the grid is not selfish, but selfless. Of course, we already knew that.

Related:

Is Prepping Biblical?

Do you agree or disagree? What would you add to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Discover The Secret To Saving Thousands At The Grocery Store. Read More Here.

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.”

 

Essential Oils Of The Bible (That You Still Can Use Today)

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Essential Oils Of The Bible (That You Still Can Use Today)

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Long before pharmaceutical drugs existed, people used herbs and other natural substances to support their health and to heal from diseases.  Some of the most potent natural medicines that people have used for thousands of years are essential oils.

Below is a list of essential oils that were commonly used during biblical times and were referenced in Scripture. For information on many of the uses of Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils that were discussed in the Christmas story, see our previous article Frankincense and Myrrh: Modern-Days Uses for the Wise Men’s Gifts.

Spikenard (Nardostachys jutamansi)
Description Spikenard oil is steam distilled from the roots of the plant.Origin: India
Historical Uses Perfume. Medicine. Mood enhancerSkin tonic

Burial preparation

 

Biblical References Spikenard was highly revered in the Middle East during the time of Christ, and is mentioned in John 12:3 as the “nard” oil that Mary anoints Jesus with prior to His crucifixion.Biblical References: Song of Solomon 1:12, 4:13-14; Mark 14:3; and John 12:3.
Body Systems Affected Emotions, skin
Properties Antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory.
Modern Uses Allergy relief, cardiovascular health, emotional balance, migraines, nausea, allergic skin reactions, skin health, Candida, flatulence, indigestion, insomnia, menstrual difficulties, rashes, staph infections, stress, tachycardia, tension and wounds.

 

 

 

Sandalwood (Santalum album)
Description Sandalwood oil is produced through steam distillation from the wood of the plant. Origin: India and Indonesia.
Historical Uses Enhancing medication. Aphrodisiac. Embalming. Sandalwood is still considered to be sacred by many cultures even today. 

The French used sandalwood oil for chronic bronchitis, obstinate diarrhea, hemorrhoids and impotence.

 

Biblical References Biblical References: 1 Kings 10:11-12; 2 Chronicles 9:11
Body Systems Affected Emotional balance, muscles and bones, nervous system, and skin.
Properties Antidepressant, antiseptic, antitumor, aphrodisiac, astringent, calming, sedative and tonic.
Modern Uses Similar to the action of frankincense oil, sandalwood oil contains compounds called sequiterpenes that eliminate cellular misinformation and carry oxygen to the body’s cells.Other uses: Skin care, quality sleep, support female reproductive system, support endocrine system, urinary tract infections, Alzheimer’s Disease, back pain, coma, confusion, hemorrhoids, hiccups, laryngitis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, supporting the cardiovascular system, lumbago, sciatic nerve issues, acne, regenerate bone cartilage, catarrh, coughs, cystitis, depression, lymphatic system, oxygenating the pineal and pituitary glands, skin infections and tuberculosis.

 

 

 

Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
Description Closely related to cinnamon. Steam distilled from the bark of the plant.Origin: China
Historical Uses Domestic spice. Colds. Colic. Flatulent dyspepsia.Diarrhea

Nausea

Rheumatism

Kidney and reproductive issues

Biblical References and Uses Cassia likely was one of the oils used in Moses’ holy anointing oil.
Properties Antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral.  Supports the immune system. 

 

Modern Uses Support the immune system and to help the body fight off infections.  Colds, colic, flatulent dyspepsia, diarrhea, nausea, rheumatism and kidney and reproductive issues.
Body System(s) Affected Immune system

 

 

 

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Description Hyssop oil is steam distilled from the stems and the leaves. Originates from France and Hungary.
Historical Uses In biblical times, hyssop was used for cleansing and purging purposes.  It was also used in purification rituals and to drive away unwanted spirits.
Biblical References Exodus 12:22; Lev. 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Numbers 19:6,18; 1 Kings 4:33; and Psalms 51:7.
Body Systems Affected Cardiovascular, nervous, and respiratory systems.
Properties Anti-asthmatic, anti-catarrhal, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent, decongestant, diuretic and sedative.
Modern Uses Kidney stones, anxiety, restoring appetite, arthritis, asthma, bruises, cleansing and purifying, colds, concentration, coughs, cuts, dermatitis, digestion, fatigue, fever, gas in the intestines, gout, grief, regulating lipid metabolism, low blood pressure, clearing lungs, healthy menstrual flow, mucus, nervous tension, parasites, increasing perspiration, rheumatism, preventing scarring, scar tissue, sore throats, stress, tonsillitis, detoxification, viral infections, wounds, creativity and meditation.

 

 

 

 

 

Onycha (Styrax benzoin)
Description One of the most viscous essential oils (it is actually an “essence,” as it is an absolute extraction that comes directly from the tree resin and is not distilled like most essential oils are).  The onycha tree originates from India, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
Historical Uses Historically, onycha was used as both a resin and an absolute for thousands of years in the East for rituals, ceremonies and anointings.  The Chinese used onycha for healing and drying, and the West used it for respiratory conditions.Onycha was also used historically as a perfume, in anointing oils, for skin wounds, and emotional balance.
Biblical References Onycha oil is mentioned in the Bible as one of the ingredients for a “Holy Anointing Oil” in Exodus 30:34.
Body Systems Affected Cardiovascular system, emotional balance and skin.
Properties Anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, deodorant, diuretic, expectorant and sedative.
Modern Uses Renal output, colic, gas, constipation, blood sugar level balance, sinusitis, bronchitis, colds, coughs, sore throats, skin irritations and wounds, arthritis, asthma, bleeding, bronchitis, chills, poor circulation, colic, cuts flatulence, flu, gout, laryngitis, remove mucus, nervous tension, rheumatism, skin (lesions, chapped, inflamed, irritated conditions), stomach pains, stress, urinary tract infections, wounds, sadness, loneliness, depression and anxiety.

 

Sources:

Reference Guide for Essential Oils by Connie and Alan Higley

Healing Oils of the Bible by David Stewart

Essential Oils Desk Reference by Essential Science Publishing

Some words of caution: This information is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any particular health condition. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health practitioner to determine if these or other essential oils are right for you.

Is It Wrong To Be Angry With God?

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Is It Wrong To Be Angry With God?

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Loss of a life, loss of a job and loss of a home. All these losses and more in our lives may cause us to be angry. Angry at the circumstances, angry at the consequences and even angry at God. But should we ever focus our anger at God for the seemingly devastating and hurtful things that happen in our lives?

As a grief and end-of-life counselor, I have sat with more than one person who has expressed being angry at God. I myself, even though difficult to admit, have been angry with God over circumstances in my life. And that is what has led me to investigate this issue through the lens of the Bible in the search for the truth.

In my search, I stumbled across another interesting question. Why do we not direct our anger at Satan, who is, after all, the proverbial fly in our ointment, the tempter and bringer of chaos (Job 1:7, Job 2:7, Matt. 16:23, Luke 22:3, 2 Cor. 11:4)? Why is it that we choose to lash out at our Sovereign Lord, who protects us, provides for us and has given us the opportunity for eternal life (John 3:16-17)?

The conclusion to my research and these questions lies in our obedience (1 Peter 1:14). God has never promised us problem-free days void of stress and complications. To the contrary, the Bible warns us that while in this world, we will have trouble (John 16:33) and that the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). It even says that we will face trials of many kinds (James 1:2). In the book of Job, we read that God allows us to be tried and tempted to a point — a point which He controls to build our perseverance, strength, faith and trust (Rom. 5).

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A woman asked me recently: “Why does He (God) allow small children to be abused”? My initial answer was an honest, “I don’t know.” I continued my answer by sharing with her what I understood about God’s character: that He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, loving, merciful, king and forgiving. Then I posed a point of thought. Knowing all these things about the character of God, I shifted focus to the character of man and the role of man, our role in the lives of one another.

Is It Wrong To Be Angry With God?

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What if God had called someone to intercede on this child’s behalf and they remained silent? What if God was calling to the abuser to stop and they chose to ignore His voice? Should our anger remain with God or should our anger lie with the persons who are not heeding the calling of God in their lives?

Songwriter Matthew West stated this concept beautifully in his song “Do Something”:

“…people living in poverty, children sold into slavery, the thought disgusted me. So, I shook my fist at heaven, ‘God, why don’t you do something?’ He said, ‘I did. I created you’. If not us, then who?”

The most common question I am asked by families with a loved one on hospice services is “why does he/she have to suffer?” Again, my initial honest answer is “I don’t know” followed by what I do know about our God: He is sovereign, He has a plan, we don’t see it all, and this is only a piece of the plan.” And again, it comes down to our obedience. How will we choose to respond to the tragedy?

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Will we continue to trust in Him and not lean on our own understanding of the situation at hand (Prov. 3:5-6), or will we give into the temptation to become angry and bitter at God before we see the totality of the events unfolded (Acts 8:23)? Will we be patient with God (Col. 3:12)? Will we pray for revelation and understanding (Luke 18:1)? Or, will we wallow in our anger and let the devil get a foothold of our hearts (Eph. 4:27)?

Being angry and expressing anger to God is common and will probably be something that we will continue to experience at different points in our lives. The real question is what will you do with your anger and will you seek the truth in your anger or will you let your anger develop into sin in your life (Eph. 4:26)? Practicing surrender to God’s truth is not easy, especially in times of tragedy and grief. It takes obedience, willingness and a change of heart.

In these times of anger, I encourage you to seek out God’s Word. Read and pray about your particular situation and ask for God’s help. The Bible is not a fairytale book where every story has a happy ending. The Bible is full of real life tragedy and loss and of how people dealt with their circumstances.

Express your feelings to God in prayer; however, be reminded that there is always hope (Rom. 12:12). Satan would like nothing more than to use the situation in your life to erode your confidence and faith. God would like nothing more than to use the situation to strengthen and encourage your faith.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

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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).

Does Bible Allow Concealed Carry? John Piper Says ‘No,’ Gets Pushback

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Does Bible Allow Concealed Carry? John Piper Says 'No,' Gets Pushback

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Popular author and pastor John Piper has sparked an online and social media firestorm by arguing the Bible does not permit the concealed carry of guns by Christians – and he’s receiving plenty of pushback from friends and those who normally agree with him on other issues.

The chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary and former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Piper said he was led to address the issue after Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., during a convocation, encouraged students to arm themselves in light of terrorist threats against the United States.

“Falwell and I exchanged several emails, and he was gracious enough to talk to me on the phone so I could get as much clarity as possible,” Piper wrote on his website, DesiringGod.org. “I want it to be clear that our disagreement is between Christian brothers who are able to express appreciation for each other’s ministries person to person.”

Piper then added, “Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, ‘I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me’? My answer is, No.”

Piper’s essay has nine major points and is more than 3,700 words long, and begins by asserting that it is the government’s responsibility alone to avenge evil.

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“The apostle Paul called Christians not to avenge ourselves, but to leave it to the wrath of God, and instead to return good for evil,” Piper wrote. “And then he said that God gave the sword (the gun) into the hand of governmental rulers to express that wrath in the pursuit of justice in this world.”

He added:

For example, any claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, “[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.

Piper also argued that the Bible promises suffering for Christians, and that concealed carry conflicts with this notion.

“The apostle Peter teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation,” he wrote. “…Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: ‘Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.’”

Further, Piper wrote, Jesus “promised that violent hostility will come; and the whole tenor of his counsel was how to handle it with suffering and testimony, not with armed defense.”

Does Bible Allow Concealed Carry? John Piper Says 'No,' Gets PushbackDuring a convocation in early December, Falwell said he believed Jesus would allow concealed carry. He added that the mass shooting in California had spurred his comments.

“I just can’t help but think if … some of those 14 killed and 17 injured, if just one or two or three or four of those victims had carried permits and guns, maybe there only would have been three or four deaths,” Falwell said, according to Liberty University News Service. “I don’t know who in this country could say that it was not a good thing if 10 lives were spared. It just boggles my mind that anybody would be against what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:36: He told them if they had to sell their coat to buy a sword to do it because He knew danger was coming, and He wanted them to defend themselves.

“So with those comments made, I just want to say as a Christian university community, we must trust God and pray for His protection on this campus, but we must also look out for each other and report suspicious activity and be alert. We just need to be supportive of those who choose to carry concealed permits and be supportive of those who don’t.”

One popular Christian blogger, Wade Burleson, wrote in a reply on his blog that he carries a concealed weapon. Burleson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma.

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Burleson also quoted Romans 13:4, which references government bearing “the sword.” The Bible may not require the carrying of guns but it does allow it, Burleson wrote.

He then quoted the U.S. Constitution:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

“The United States is not an aristocracy, nor a monarchy — We the People form the government,” Burleson wrote. “Our Founding Fathers made it very clear that the People of the United States were the highest authority in the newly established country. God makes nations, but the people of this nation (the United States) are the authority behind the government.”

The language of the U.S. Constitution, coupled with the biblical text, Burleson wrote, makes the concealed carry debate in America unique.

“Contrary to almost every other nation in the world, the People of the United States of America are the highest authority and have the right and duty to abolish their government and form a new government to provide ‘new Guards for the nation’s future security and to provide for the common defense.’ I arm myself as a citizen of the United States of America. I am the government,” Burleson added. “I have often worked through my mind whether or not I would give my life for the good news and gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a question that I take seriously.”

Burleson wrote: “I’m ready to die, and will never be ashamed to die for Christ. I will not deny Him in order to live.”

“However, I live in America. And as long as our founding documents remain, and the citizens of the United States are called the highest authority in the land, then I will hold a concealed weapons permit and carry a concealed weapon,” he wrote. “I will not hesitate to use it if I’m in a mall and someone opens fire on innocent bystanders, or I’m in a movie theater and someone opens up on American moms and dads and children, or I’m in any other public forum and evil doers seek to do harm on citizens of the United States.”

Related:

What The Bible Says About Gun Rights

Is Killing In Self-Defense Biblically Justified?

What do you think? Share your views in the section below: 

Tired Of Losing Freedoms — And Looking For Another Country? Read More Here.

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.

Returning To The True Meaning Of Christmas

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Returning To The True Meaning Of Christmas

Image source: Pixabay.com

Christmas tree lots and stores open weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Then we get Black Friday, and then Cyber Monday. In the midst of it all, people get pushed and trampled for chasing deals. Then there’s the balloon yard decorations that get bigger every year. And the aisles and aisles of ornaments and decorations. But what is it all for? The celebration of Christmas?

For Christians, hopefully, the celebration of Christmas is focused on Christ — the Savior of the world who came to us in the humble beginnings of a manger filled with hay. Who grew as a boy in wisdom of both his parents and his Heavenly Father’s teachings. The Savior, who as a man, chose to bare our sins past, present and future and endure the excruciating beatings and humiliating death upon the cross.

It is so easy to get swept up into the holiday clamor, the spending, the buying, and all of the deals. But do you ever find yourself running out of ideas, running out of things to buy and give? I know that I have. In fact, for the last few years I have been finding myself losing my Christmas spirit as I walk into all the stores.

Where I have found my renewed spirit of the season is in my home, my creativity and time spent with family. And it is this that I offer to you as my first gift this season: a homemade, Christ-filled Christmas.

Returning To The True Meaning Of Christmas

Image source: Pixabay.com

Now you may be thinking, “Sure that’s okay for women, but what’s a guy to do?” Don’t worry, I’ve got everyone covered! Take a look at this list of ideas and see how you could change your shop-aholic season into a heart-aholic season of giving:

  • Return to handmade gifts! If you have a talent such as crochet, painting, drawing, woodworking or other crafty ideas, make a personalized gift for everyone on your list. Best of all, make a family night of it and spread the goodwill of doing for others, with each other.
  • Bake it up! Do you have a special holiday recipe that everyone loves? A favorite cookie or cake? Bake a special dish or dessert for those on your list. Who wouldn’t love a night with a homemade dinner on the table that someone else took the time to prepare? Think what that might mean to a hard-working single mom or dad in your family.
  • Family photos! Make a special collage for your parents, grandparents or new parents with pictures from the past and recent present! Memories are a wonderful gift to give. They are also great for college students who are away from home for the holidays.
  • Travel! Make it a special trip to see someone you haven’t seen in years! No wrapping required! What a wonderful sentiment that you would give up your local celebration to spend it with someone else in their hometown or state.
  • Charity! If you absolutely have money to spend and feel led to make those purchases, why not make donations to each person’s favorite charitable cause this holiday in their name? Just think: You’ll be saving them a Saturday spent having a garage sale with all the needless junk they didn’t need!

Above all, the old adage holds true: It’s the thought that counts. How much thought will you be putting into your gifts this Christmas? I know I’m glad that my Savior, my Lord, gave so much consideration to my ultimate gift that it is indescribable. When was the last time you received a gift that was indescribable? Jesus did that for us, by choice and obedience. What an amazing thought.

Lastly, take a moment to pull up this song on iTunes or YouTube this Christmas and consider the lyrics:

How Many Kings

By Downhere

Follow the star to a place unexpected

Would you believe after all we’ve projected,

Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

A child in a manager?

Lowly and small, the weakest of all

Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl

Just a child

Is this who we’ve waited for?

 

How many kings stepped down from their thrones?

How many lords have abandoned their homes?

How many greats have become the least for me?

And how many gods have poured out their hearts

To romance a world that is torn all apart?

And how many fathers gave up their son for me?

 

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior

All that we have, whether costly or meek

Because we believe.

Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure

And myrrh for the cross he will suffer

Do you believe?

Is this who we’ve waited for?

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

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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.

The Bible, Slavery And ‘Jubilee’ Freedom

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Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land

unto all the inhabitants thereof.

—Inscription on the Liberty Bell (1752/3)

 

This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

—Jesus of Nazareth (AD 30)

 

Jubilee Bond Servants

The Bible, Slavery And 'Jubilee' FreedomThe Mosaic Law permitted and regulated various sorts of bond service.  In previous articles (located here and here) we’ve considered penal service, indentured service and lifetime service as a home-born slave. A fourth type was wrapped up with the Jubilee laws and had a couple of forms, both of which were terminated every 50 years by the Jubilee.

Israel’s liturgical calendar was an expansion on the seventh day Sabbath.  In addition to the weekly Sabbath, Israel celebrated the new moon each month and five annual sabbatical feasts.  Three of these – the Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles — fell in the seventh month Tishri.  Beyond that, every seventh year was a Sabbath of the land, a year of release from charity loans, and a time when short-term indentured servants were set free (Lev. 25:1-7).  After seven such Sabbath years came the Jubilee, a 50th year Sabbath (vv. 8-12).

In the Jubilee the land continued to lie fallow, all agricultural lands returned to the heirs of the original owners and Hebrew bondservants who hadn’t been freed in the previous year were set free.  The Jubilee was announced in the last month of the 49th year with a trumpet blast on the Day of Atonement.  So our concern will be with the two sorts of bondservants freed by the Jubilee, but first we must better understand the Jubilee’s significance.

The Jubilee as a Type and Shadow

As an extension of the Sabbath theme under the Old Covenant, the Jubilee pointed forward to the world to come, the Kingdom of the Messiah.  It spoke of the security, liberty and peace that would characterize that coming era.  In that new world, the prophets said, “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid” (Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10).

In Isaiah’s prophecy, the Messiah speaks of His own ordination and mission in terms of the Jubilee:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD . . . (Isa. 61:1-2a).

The “acceptable year of the LORD” is the cosmic Jubilee, the final realization of all God’s promises to His people.  Notice the emphasis on liberation and particularly the words, “proclaim liberty.”  Clearly, the Jubilee was typical and prophetic and because of this … the things associated or interwoven with it must have an end … in both senses of the word.  Both a goal and a termination.

When Jesus preached His first sermon in Nazareth, He began by reading Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messianic Jubilee.  Then He sat down to teach and, with every eye fastened on Him, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).  Jesus came to free men from sin.  The liberation of bondservants at the Jubilee was a picture of this.  This is why the Jubilee began with the Day of Atonement.

The Nature of Jubilee Bond Service

To understand Jubilee bond service, it’s important to remember how the shorter “indentures” worked.  These indentures were normally the result of a man defaulting on a zero interest charity loan.  A man who defaulted on such a loan would sell himself (or be sold) into service, and the money would go to his creditor.  He would receive no wages during the time of his service.  That service could last no more than six years, and when the indentured servant was released to return to his own lands, his employer was to supply him liberally from his own flocks, threshing floor, and winepress … that is, with capital for a new beginning (Deut. 15:7-15).

dead sea scrolls -- youtubeJubilee service dealt with a more serious sort of financial misfortune.  Say a man has already mortgaged (leased) his family’s lands.  Having nothing else, he has made his own labor the surety for a commercial, interest-bearing loan.  But in the end, his business venture falls through.  He can’t repay the loan.  Probably happened a lot actually. So, at this point he must sell himself into service and pass on the price of that service to his creditor(s).

This is where the two forms of Jubilee service come in.  The debtor could either sell himself and his services to an Israelite, one of the covenant people, or to a “stranger,” a resident alien.  The Israelite was required to treat his servant with kindness and respect, but interestingly, the stranger was under no such legal restraints.  Here is most of the relevant legislation:

And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave.  As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee. . . . You shall not rule over him with rigor, but you shall fear your God (Lev. 25:39-40, 43).

Now if a sojourner or stranger close to you becomes rich, and one of your brethren who dwells by him becomes poor, and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner close to you, or to a member of the stranger’s family, after that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle’s son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself (Lev. 25:47-49).

In general then, life in an Israelite home would be easier for the indentured servant than life in the home of a resident alien.  The Israelite was required to treat his servant as hired man and “not rule over him with rigor.”  This might imply that he was to pay him wages on top of the purchase price.  In any case, he was to be generous with him.  Furthermore, the indentured servant would live and work in the context of a family that feared God.  He would not have the spiritual and psychological strain of living in a home dominated by pagan thought forms and residual idolatry.

On the other hand, the resident alien might be in a better position to buy the man’s services.  He would not have the prior obligations of making charity loans or buying short-term indentures.  And he might expect a higher return on the Jubilee servant since he could work him harder.  The implied lesson was this …  Financial responsibility and future-orientation are the best way to avoid being enslaved to pagans with all that might involve.

The Kinsman-Redeemer

It is in connection with bond service to a stranger that God introduces the figure of the kinsman-redeemer, the go’el (Lev. 25:48-49).  This man is the bondservant’s next of kin.  He has the duty to buy back his kinsman from bondage if he is able, particularly if that kinsman in bondage to a resident pagan.

The New Testament reveals Jesus Christ as our Kinsman-Redeemer (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:9).  He is our brother, the divine Son of Adam, who has paid our redemption price with His own blood (Heb. 2:10-18).

Conclusion

Jubilee bond service then, was a kind of picture of our bondage to sin.  God addressed that picture with two others … the bondservant could be freed by the coming of the Jubilee or through a price paid by the Kinsman-Redeemer.  With these pictures fulfilled in Christ, Jubilee bond service has faded from covenant life.  Christ now promises His Holy Spirit and “Freedom in His Spirit” to those who believe the Gospel, and He calls us through the Gospel to live responsible and self-disciplined lives.  The goal: He wants all of His people to act and live like free men and women.