Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Immanuel means "God with us" but what does that mean? In our biblically illiterate minds we tend to assume that the presence of God is always a pleasant experience. But this is not so.

When the promise "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" was first given, it was a message of judgment. It was a warning that Judah needed to set its house in order. Read the passage (Isaiah 14) for yourself. King Ahaz is being warned that, since he has refused to trust in God, a child will be born who will be named "God-with-us." But this child will not be evidence of blessing on Ahaz and his kingdom. No, this child will symbolize God’s judgment on Ahaz and his kingdom. The land will become desolate. The few who remain in the land will have plenty of curds and honey to eat, but only because the majority will have suffered God’s wrath for their lack of faith.

Why do we forget that at this time of year? Why do people talk so lightheartedly about God-with-us? Do you really think that the presence of God would be an entirely pleasant experience?

Yes, Jesus came to seek and save (Luke 19:10). He also came for judgment (John 9:39). His presence in our lives means salvation, but only if his presence is accepted with humility, repentance, and faith.

We ought to remember the incarnation with joy and with awe. There is more to remembering the incarnation than singing carols and picturing the manger scene. There is the matter of repentance, turning our hearts (Luke 1:17). He is called Immanuel because he is God with us. He is with us to judge, to purify, and thereby to save. He is not with us to condone our sin, but to save us from it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Worthwhile Way

There are two ways of describing Christianity to the non-Christian.

The Madison Avenue approach tries to sell Christianity as an easier, more pleasant lifestyle. "Come to Christ and have your problems solved," it says. Sometimes this is watered down a bit more and becomes, "Come to our church; you will like us."

The other approach might be called the Via Dolorosa approach. This approach reminds people that Jesus died on a cross, called upon his followers to carry a cross, and made it plain that the way he marked out was difficult (Mt 7:14).

A.W. Tozer commented, "The regenerate man often has a more difficult time of it than the unregenerate, for he is not one man but two. He feels within him a power that tends toward holiness and God, while at the same time he is still a child of Adam’s flesh and a son of the red clay. This moral dualism is to him a source of distress and struggle wholly unknown to the once-born man."

The Madison Avenue approach is not the truth, but it does contain a grain of truth. The Via Dolorosa approach is the truth, but not the whole truth.

The true way has its difficulties, but it leads to the "peace that passes understanding" (Phil 4:7). There is internal conflict whenever the demands of God are introduced into the sinful heart of man. But this conflict is the only path that leads to a lasting resolution of our problems.

Christ is the answer. He can heal us. He is the great physician. His prescriptions will always be effective, but that is not to say that they will always be pleasant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home Trained Is Best

Homegrown vegetables and homemade bread taste better. Home trained children do better.

The world says, "Get your children into preschool as soon as possible. Keep them in school as long as possible. Let the experts raise the children. Keep the children segregated in groups with only their age-mates. Minimize their interaction with the older generation."

The facts do not support the world’s view. Research indicates that early schooling is not effective in the long run. A child that learns to read at four appears to be brighter than a child that learns to read at nine; but by sixteen the difference has disappeared or even shifted in the opposite direction. Studies of the long-term effectiveness of early childhood schooling indicate a negative effect - that while children isolated from their parents at a young age may do better in first grade than those who stayed with their parents, in the long-run (at the high school and college level) they tend to do worse.

Maybe that is why God placed the responsibility for training children in the things that really matter not on government institutions but on parents, and why he stated that instruction should be from the older generation, not from peers or near peers. (Genesis 18:19; Ex 12:26-27; 13:8; Deut. 6:6-9; Psalm 78:4; 145:4; Proverbs chapters 1-5;13:1; Isaiah 38:19; Ephes. 6:4)

The government will continue to offer schools, and I suppose that most people will use them. But the children who do best will continue to be the children who are getting training at home. The church will continue to offer Sunday school classes and youth activities. But the children who do well will continue to be those who get consistent training at home. Schools and church activities can sometimes be a helpful supplement to home training, but the primary responsibility rests with parents. Parents are to be the primary educators in a child’s life. Teachers (both weekday and Sunday) are supplemental. Let us not reverse the relationship.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Count The Cost

Jesus could have used a course in salesmanship. He had a great product, but he did not know how to close a sale. Instead of urging his customers to look at the benefits of what he offered, he instructed them to consider the cost. He put it this way once, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish" (Luke 14:27-30).

In his book Basic Christianity, John Stott has made the same point in different terms. He wrote, "If, then, you suffer from moral anemia, take my advice and steer clear of Christianity. If you want a life of easygoing self-indulgence, then do not, whatever you do, become a Christian."

Stott went on to say, and I agree with him here as well, "But if you want a life of self-discovery, deeply satisfying to the nature God has given you; if you want a life of adventure in which you have the privilege of serving him and other people; if you want a life in which to express something of the overwhelming gratitude you are beginning to feel for him who died for you, then I urge you to yield your life, without reservation and without delay, to your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Yield your life to him, for "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Active Church Member

Have you ever been active in the church? That may seem a strange question to put in a church publication, but it is not really. Most people, even most church members, have never been active in the church.

My wife was talking with a friend who was, at one time, active in the church. But then this sister moved and she confessed that she has not yet become active in her new church home. She attends Bible class twice per week, and worship twice per week, but she is not active yet. She intends to get active soon.

Does it occur to you that this sister defines being active in the church a little differently than the average person? If you are like most people, you may think that just showing up at a third of the public services ought to qualify you for the term "active church member." Sorry to burst your bubble, but, according to Jesus, most people are going to be eternally lost (Matthew 7:14). That being the case, I do not recommend basing your actions on what most people think.

We can watch the World Series every year for a lifetime but we still will not qualify for a pension from the players union. Watching NFL games does not qualify us to be known as football players. In a similar vein, watching church services does not qualify us for anything.

Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. (Luke 12:43 NRSV)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gift-Giving Ideas

I do not know about you, but I find it hard to choose a gift for some people. When a gift giving occasion rolls around, there are some people I want to honor who do not really need anything that I could give them.

A couple of years ago I faced that situation with my oldest son. I could not think of anything he needed that I could buy with the money I had available.

At the same time I heard of an opportunity to give to Nigerian Christian Hospital -- to underwrite a hernia surgery. Doing this would cost about the amount I planned to spend on my son. So, for Christmas that year, Joseph received a certificate stating that someone had been blessed with a needed surgery. That was it. That was his Christmas present, and I think he enjoyed it as much as any he ever received.

Right now, I know of dozens of opportunities like that. I know of a very fine young lady in Tanzania who is trying to get an education so that she can help care for herself and her family, but she needs $50 per week ($200 per month) for rent and food while she is in school. You could tell some of those ‘hard to buy for’ friends that you provided a week or two of room and board in their name. Sponsoring a routine surgery at Nigerian Christian Hospital would cost about the same, $50. Sponsoring a student at school in Zambia is $130 per month. Sponsoring an orphaned infant in Zambia is $75 a month. If you would prefer to provide a bicycle for someone to enable them to go out and preach, $130 will provide a Zambian with a good bike and the basic tools needed to maintain it.

Many of us do not need any more neckties, handkerchiefs, or knickknacks on our bookshelves. So, if you have a few such people on your shopping list, consider giving to an organization that would do something far more worthwhile with the money. You can request a list of such organizations from the office.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

God's Will For Us

What is God’s will for us? He desires that we be saved, of course. That is taught in 1 Timothy 2:3 where we are told that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." But what does it mean to be saved?

I am sorry to have to say it, but what most Christians think of when they read those words is not what God has in mind. For most Christians, to be saved simply means that we will go to heaven, not to hell. But God’s intention is greater than this. He desires not just that we go to heaven but that we be made fit to go there. His will is not that we be saved just from the consequences of our sins, but that we be saved from our sins. As Paul tells the Thessalonians, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess 4:3).

To be sanctified is to be made holy; it is to be separated from the world in how we think, speak, and behave. We are not to practice immorality. We are not to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but are to learn to live by, and to love living by, a different standard.

I am sorry to say it, but I cannot imagine the Lord taking the average church member to heaven. It would be too cruel. Little of what they love would be there. They would have nothing to do but worship God continually, and judging by the way they try to avoid worship here on earth, I fear that eternal worship would be a very bitter experience for them.

His will for us is sanctification, for without sanctification there can be no lasting salvation. Heaven would be hell for those whose hearts have not really been transformed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

When The Lord Stays Away

So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6, ESV)

When the Lord seems to stay away, when he does not respond immediately to our pleas, we are apt to conclude that he does not love us. We are specifically told that Jesus loved Lazarus and Lazarus’ sisters (John 11:5). Yet, when they send for him, he does not come right away. Jesus, as much as he loves them, is willing to let them suffer.

The end of this illness appeared to be death, but that was a deceptive appearance. The end of this illness was the glory of God (John 11:4). As much as he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, Jesus was willing to let them suffer this loss so that something greater might happen.

The glory of God means more to Jesus than the temporal comfort of his friends. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, like all of us, were created to glorify God. If they accomplish their purpose through suffering, then Jesus is willing that they (and we) suffer.

Jesus set the example. He glorified God though suffering. He gave up more than he asks us to give up; he suffered more than we will be called upon to suffer.

When the Lord seems to stay away, when he seems to not care about our suffering, we must remember that he loved Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. He loved them, but he knew that they would accomplish their life goal through this suffering. And it may be that we will accomplish our life goal better through failure than through success, better through pain than through comfort.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21, ESV)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One Thing You Lack

Mark 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Whether the score is 35-0 or 35-34, the team that lost still lost. The deficit may have been only one point, but one point is the difference between winning and losing. At the end of the game, lacking one (point or run or wicket) is the same as lacking 100.

Spiritual realities do not exactly parallel these sporting realities. Every one of us is lacking before God. We are not lacking in just one or two ways, but in many ways. Since we are saved by grace, that does not matter; we can still be saved.

But here in Mark 10 we have Jesus telling a young man that his lack of just one thing will keep him from the spiritual peace that he seeks. To correct the one thing he lacks he does not need to acquire something, but to give something up. What he must give up is himself.

Like many of us, he defined himself largely in terms of his possessions. Perhaps he was a man "worth millions." He had to give that up.

Like nearly all of us, he wanted to be in control of his future. He wanted to decide where he would go and what he would do. But Jesus says, "You must give that up as well. You must follow me."

The one thing he lacked was total commitment to the will of God. Lacking that one thing, he could not be saved, not even by grace.

He was a fine young man. He was highly moral, highly religious, highly respected, and wealthy. But all of this could not save him. He trusted in self rather than in the Lord; and he went away sorrowfully.

We must give up on self; we must depend on Christ alone; or we too will go away sorrowfully in the end.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wind In Our Face

Samuel Rutherford is one of my favorite authors. A.W. Tozer is another. So when Tozer quotes Rutherford, it gets my attention. Tozer once quoted Rutherford's famous advice, "God hath called you to Christ's side, and the wind is now in Christ's face in this land; and seeing ye are with Him, ye cannot expect the leeside or the sunny side of the brae."

Tozer goes on from that to comment, "To accept the call of Christ changes the returning sinner indeed, but it does not change the world. The wind still blows toward hell and the man who is walking in the opposite direction will have the wind in his face. And we had better take this into account when we ponder on spiritual things. If the unsearchable riches of Christ are not worth suffering for, then we should know it now and cease to play at religion."

We have the "peace that passes understanding." But we do not have the promise of ease. Rather, if we are following a man headed to a cross, we ought to expect there to be difficulties.

"Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours." John 15:20

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I read the Bible out of different translations. As soon as I finish reading from one translation, I switch to another one and begin again. I do not use any of the one-man paraphrases (Living Bible, the Message, Phillips...). Those may have their place, but I stick to more literal translations carried out by a committee of scholars.

One reason for using different translations is that the change in wording will sometimes make me notice something that I have overlooked in previous readings. For example, the English Standard Version of Proverbs 21:17 reads, "Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich." I suppose that I have read that verse a score of times, at least, but I do not recall having a serious discussion with myself about its application to me. I have never been a wine drinker, and somehow the word "pleasure" did not challenge me. But this year I am reading from the Geneva Bible (the translation that was most popular in England before the King James). The Geneva Bible translates this verse, "He that loveth pastime, shall be a poor man; and he that loveth wine and oil, shall not be rich." I found that a little more challenging.

We do not think of ourselves as people who love pleasure, but if we allow our pastimes to become a major measure of our lives, we are doing wrong. The time, money, and effort put on pastimes in this country is incredible. The extracurricular activities have overrun the curricular activities in many schools. Sports dominate the family schedule in many households.

A pastime has its place. We need some forms of recreation for the down times between duties. But when the pastimes become the main event and work and worship must be scheduled around the sporting activities, we are headed for poverty (materially and spiritually).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Battle

Someone has defined professional football as "40,000 people who need exercise gathering to watch 22 men who need rest."

At a football game, or a baseball game for that matter, no one expects or wants anyone to climb down out of the stands and join in the game. But the church is different. Everyone is supposed to be involved.

Some of the epistles are addressed to individuals; Timothy, Titus, and Philemon are examples of this. But most of them are addressed to the whole church. Second Corinthians is addressed to the church and emphasis is placed on the fact that it is intended for all the Christians in the region (2 Cor 1:1). The instruction in this book is for all, not just the elders, deacons, and evangelists.

What are they all to be doing?

They are all to be engaged in the battle. They are told, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete" (2 Cor. 10:4-6)

Are you taking every thought captive for Christ? Are you engaged in the battle? Or are you merely watching the action and perhaps cheering occasionally?

Christianity is not a spectator sport, it is a battle. Christians are soldiers, not spectators. Watching, when we should be engaged in the battle, is unfaithfulness.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger at Job because he justified himself rather than God. Job 32:2

Job was a good man, but Job was not perfect. Job had his sin, of which he eventually repented (Job 42:6). That sin was that he "was righteous in his own eyes" and "justified himself rather than God."

Many people behave as if one religion is just as good as another. The Bible certainly does not agree. Large portions of the Bible are devoted to condemning false religions, and this would not be the case if all religions were equal.
Much religion is a form of self-justification. Many highly religious people practice their religion not because they want to honor God but because they want to seek honor for themselves. This is true of religious people in general, and it is true of many who call themselves Christians.

What is the goal of our faith? What is the purpose of our Bible study? What is the aim of our worship? Are we trying to draw near to God? Are we seeking to praise his glory? Or are we seeking to justify ourselves?

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:10-14

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bearing Fruit

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:1-2, ESV)

What does it mean to bear fruit? Many Christians mistakenly think that, to bear fruit, they must bring others to Christ. Evangelism is important. We all need to be doing what we can to bring others to Christ. But evangelism is not fruit bearing. A new Christian is a new branch on the vine, not fruit on one of the branches. We ought to bring others to Christ, but, the Lord is not going to sever us from the vine for failing to bring others to Christ.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:22-24, ESV)

Fruit is seen in our lives as our lives are transformed into the image of Christ. As the ugly works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) are replaced with the fruit of the Spirit, then we are fruitful branches. Such fruit bearing is not an optional extra for those Christians who desire it. Such fruit bearing is expected of all. Jesus is saying that those who are not producing such fruit will be pruned off of the vine. Even those who do produce such fruit will be further pruned so that they may produce more fruit.

For too long, too many Christians have sought salvation from the consequences of their sin, instead of truly seeking salvation from their sins. Too many Christians are content to be fruitless branches, church members but not really disciples.

Does that describe you? If so, do not despair. Repent, but do not despair. The Lord can transform us, if we are willing to be transformed and made fruitful. It is a painful, but glorious, process.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Third Party Apologies

At least twice in my life I have received a third party apology. I did not accept either of them. In Nigeria, a father came to plead concerning his twenty-five year old son. "Forgive the boy for my sake," he said. I could not. A school board member once asked that I forgive wrongdoing by the school superintendent. I could not.

In neither of these cases could I forgive the wrong, because in neither of these cases had the wrongdoer admitted wrong. It is impossible to forgive a wrong that has not been repented of or confessed. When we overlook an unrepentant wrong we are not forgiving the wrong, we are condoning the wrong.

Now if the boy had come with his father, admitted his wrong, and then the father had spoken, that would have been fine. If the superintendent had admitted his wrong and then the school board member had asked that the wrong be overlooked, that would have been excellent. But a third party apology is no apology at all.

A third party can mediate for us, but a third party cannot confess or repent for us, even if that third party is named Jesus. We must confess our wrongdoing or there can be no forgiveness. Jesus is eager to be our mediator, but apart from an admission of guilt on our part, not even he can serve as our mediator.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, ESV
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted
. Luke 18:13-14, ESV

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:9-10, ESV

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Embracing Our Task

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. Matthew 10:42

The service of God is not just for those with some amazing talent. Most of what needs to be done can be done by ordinary people. Too many Christians hold back and refuse to do what they could do, often because they are focused on what they cannot do. Those who cannot sing and cannot preach focus on that, instead of thinking of the many things they could do to honor the Lord.

There is more to the work than singing and preaching. Floors need to be vacuumed; grass must be cut; classes must be taught; people must be visited, invited, and encouraged. You may not be able to preach a sermon, but you could make a phone call and say, "We missed you; and you missed a wonderful time of praising God." Such a contact will often do more to encourage a weak brother or sister than would be done by another sermon.

Do not focus on what you cannot do. Instead embrace what you can do. If the Lord has given you the ability to share a cup of water, then share it.

As J.R. Baxter wrote, "There is room in the kingdom of God, my brother, for the small things that you can do: just a small, kindly deed that may cheer another is the work God has planned for you. There is room, there's a place in the kingdom of God for you; there is room, there's a place, there is work that we all can do."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No Remedy

But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy (2 Chronicles 36:16).

My father died because he had a little cancer that went unnoticed. Had it been noticed early, it would have been treatable. But it grew and spread and was not noticed until it was beyond remedy.

According to the text quoted above, the people of Israel went into exile because they were beyond remedy. They scoffed the words of the Lord until there was nothing else to do but to send them out of the promised land. If they had dealt with their sin at an earlier stage it would have been forgiven. But they allowed sin to have its way in their lives so long that they placed themselves beyond remedy.

The same can happen to you. The same can happen to me. The same can happen to people we know and love.

Do not wait to repent, you could end up beyond the hope of repentance, beyond remedy. Do not wait to speak to those you know who are drifting away from the Lord. It is possible for them to continue in sin so long that they become beyond remedy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

July 4th in England

Contrary to rumor, they did have a 4th of July in England; they just did not celebrate it. Why should they? The day is nothing special to them. We celebrate it in this country because it marks the date on which our founding fathers declared the original states an independent country. We celebrate it, but we do not expect people in other countries to celebrate it. If they were to move here and become citizens, then we might expect them to celebrate it. But the day is nothing special to a Canadian, an Englishman, or a German.

Sunday is a special day to Christians. It marks the day on which our Lord was raised from the dead, sealing his victory over sin and death. His victory is our victory, in that he suffered death on our behalf and overcame it for our blessing.

Resurrection day worship is nearly meaningless to the non-Christian. They are no more expected to celebrate it than an Englishman would be expected to celebrate July 4. It is OK to invite someone to worship with you on a Sunday (just as you might invite an Englishman to a July 4th picnic), but realize that they will attend as outsiders. The day carries no special meaning until we have been united with Christ.

This is why it is so critical to teach the gospel, to explain the meaning of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Trying to get them to celebrate with us, when they do not have anything to celebrate, just does not make sense.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life In Christ

Satan is constantly trying to place us in a false dilemma; he is constantly trying to get us to choose between two falsehoods. We debate nonsense questions like, "Must we work for our salvation, or can we be saved without repenting?" Neither of these is a biblical alternative. Salvation by works is clearly wrong (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation without repentance is just as clearly wrong (Luke 13:3).

Those who do not live the life Christ has prepared for them have not experienced the true grace of God (Eph 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14). Those who attempt to live the Christian life, thinking that by doing so they will save themselves, are equally unacquainted with the Lord (Gal 2:16).

We ought to live lives that honor our Lord (1 Thess 2:11-12; Phil 1:27; Titus 2:esp verse 10). Those who refuse to live thus are not to be acknowledged as brothers by the church (1 Cor 5). Yet we must never pretend that we are living lives that will save us. We must not boast in our own deeds but in the righteousness, sanctification, and redemption imparted to us in Christ (1 Cor 1:30-31).

We are not saved by our (imperfectly) holy lives, but by the (perfectly) holy life of our Lord. But we must seek to live out the righteousness that he imparts. The life in which his grace is working will be a life of increasing holiness. That is the life to which he has called us, and the life for which he saves us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Put It In Perspective

Whenever I feel sorry for myself, whenever I think that I have it difficult, I remember a few people that I have known. The memory puts things into perspective.

Fikile was a young widow with two children to raise. Fikile was thankful that she had good drinking water near her house. "Nearby" and "good" are relative terms, of course. The stream was just a mile from her house.

Francis Smith was one of the hardest working men I have ever known. Francis took 1 Timothy 5:8 very seriously. He provided for his two (adopted) daughters, cared for his mother, and never complained. Francis is one of only three men who I have ever seen run a wheelbarrow load of concrete up the stairs. Francis had lost his right arm in an accident while still a youth. His wife was legally blind. And I think that I have problems?

People are such complainers these days. I remember hearing of a family who complained, "We are so poor that the baby has to sleep in the box that the color television came in." That story does not even make sense to most people today. They cannot imagine life without color television.

As Robert Fulghum said, "One of life's best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you've got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When You Near The End, Sprint

When distance runners near the end of the race they sprint. So should we.

I was ordering some tracts this week to replenish the racks in the foyer. I noticed on the web-site of Haun Publishing that Sister Haun still shows up at work everyday. I do not know her exact age, but I am pretty sure she is in her late 80s. Sister Haun is not showing up for a paycheck, but because she believes that what she is doing honors the Lord.

I have said it before, I will say it again, the biggest difference between the church of today and the church of 50 to 100 years ago is not the sound systems, the buildings, the preachers or the elders (as different as some of those things are). The biggest difference is the level of involvement. It used to be expected that every member would be involved in the work -- not just coming to worship and class, but actually involved in the work. With many Christians, that is no longer the case.

Earlier today I saw a notice of a church that wanted a preacher. The church promised to be supportive of his work! What? Since when is it the preacher's work? The work is the Lord's work and everyone who truly belongs to the Lord has a share in it. A preacher should not be promised that the church will support his work, rather, the preacher should be invited to assist the congregation in carrying out their work.

Rev. 3:15-17,19 "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. ... Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Abijah, Son of Jeroboam

1 Kings 14:13 And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.

In worldly terms, Abijah is to be pitied. He died young. But in the Lord's judgment, he was the only person in his father's house who was pleasing. Others in the house of Jeroboam lived to adulthood. They fought battles. They ruled the country. They did things that would have been considered noteworthy. But only Abijah, the one who died young, pleased the Lord.

What is our standard of success? What goals are most important to us? What accomplishments please us in our relatives? In ourselves? Do we seek long life, material wealth, human notoriety, or do we seek to please the Lord?

To consider more recent examples, Idi Amin lived thirty years longer than Abraham Lincoln, almost exactly twice as long as Martin Luther King Jr. Which was the more successful life?

The true measure of a life is not a matter of days and years but of commitment to God's will.

Abijah died young, but was pleasing to the Lord. Whether we live long or die young, may it be said of us that "the Lord found something pleasing" in us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No Insignificant Sins

Arrows do not fly as far or as true as bullets. But, strange as it seems, a broadhead arrow will kill more quickly than a bullet (assuming that both hit the mark). Arsenic will kill more quickly than tobacco, Malaria more quickly than Kwashiorkor. But all are deadly. None is to be trifled with.

There are weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23), so it stands to reason that failure with regard to the weightier matters is more serious. But we must never think that any disobedience is a light matter. All sin is serious, very serious (James 2:10). We will give answer for every deed, including our idle conversation (Matt 12:36).

Some sins destroy the soul more quickly, but all are soul destroying. We should trifle with none of them.

All willful sin is, essentially, a claim on our part that we know better than God. The person who says, "I know that God said that we must not x, but I choose to do it" is being arrogant. He is claiming to be wiser than God. It matters not what the x may be. Any disobedience of God is a claim that we are wiser than God. Thus all sin is rebellion, all sin is a form of blasphemy.

The more clear the command, the more clear and soul destroying the blasphemy, but none of it is trivial. Some sins destroy more quickly, but all destroy. Even mild rebellion is rebellion; and when directed against an infinite being, rebellion is infinitely sinful.

That is why Jesus warns us, "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). There are no insignificant sins.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Thing You Lack

Rodney Rockwell worked for Lubrizol Monday through Friday. On Sundays he preached at my home congregation. One of his favorite lines was, "Some people have just enough religion to make them miserable."

Through the years I have met many who have enough Christian commitment to know that they ought to do something, but not enough to do it. They are miserable.

Jesus met one such person as well. Jesus loved the rich young ruler and because he loved him Jesus issued the challenge, "sell all that you have and give to the poor, then come follow me" (Mk 10:21). Jesus did not say this because he wanted to discourage the young man, but because he wanted to save him. Jesus wanted to save him from his miserable lukewarmness. It did not work for that young man, he went away sorrowfully (Mk 10:22). It did not work, but it was the only hope.

There is no cure for miserable religion other than wholeheartedness.

"But we never can prove the delights of his love until ALL on the altar we lay; for the favor he shows and the love he bestows are for those who will trust and obey."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Membership Agreement

I received an e-mail this week with a sample "membership agreement." It seems that many people want to call themselves Christians, and claim membership in a church, but they do not want to live as Christians and they absolutely refuse to allow the church to discipline them. In a number of cases, law suits have been brought against church leaders who have attempted to fulfill their duty to discipline the flock.

The solution that is suggested is to get every member to sign a kind of legal contract. In this membership agreement each member promises to live by the standards of Christian morality, and acknowledges that if they fail to do so they may be disciplined by the church.

We have no plans to introduce written membership agreements. If you are a member of this congregation, you made your commitment by actions rather than words. The Christian life begins with baptism, an act in which we publicly commit ourselves to end our old life, symbolically bury that old life, and rise to live a new life (Romans 6:1-14).

If that is not contract enough, why would a two-page membership agreement change anything? If people who have publicly stated their commitment to Christ's church in baptism are willing to walk away, why would signing a paper sober them? People who go on living in sin after baptism, or who just let their commitment to his church die of neglect, are publicly despising the Son of God (according to Hebrews 10:26-31). People who would do that are not going to change their behavior just because they signed a membership agreement.

The terms of Christian membership are clear -- death to the old life, unbroken commitment to the life of Christ. No legal contract could spell it out more clearly than it was spelled out in your baptism. Live up to that commitment, or bear the stigma of one who has reneged on life's most sacred commitment.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Go To The Ant"

Researchers at Georgia Tech have discovered how fire ants survive. It seems that a single fire ant is rather easily drowned, so it was kind of a wonder to understand how these ants, native to rain forests, swamps and coastal regions prone to be hit by hurricanes, have managed to survive.

They survive by sticking together. When the rain begins, the whole colony will link arms, forming a huge, living life raft. A single ant will keep its head above water for only a short time. But a raft of linked ants can float for days.

When Proverbs tells us to "go to the ant" (Pr 6:6), it is speaking primarily of considering the work ethic of the ants. But perhaps we should consider their social ethic as well. They stick together to survive. So should we.

Genesis 2:18 It is not good that the man should be alone...

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.

Acts 2:42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Monday, April 25, 2011

PC In the NBA

I did not catch the player's name or even the team, but I heard on the radio that an NBA player will be fined for making derogatory comments about the sexual orientation of another person. In other words, he used slang terminology to call someone a homosexual. That is wrong. To call someone an insulting name in anger is wrong. If the player did this, the league has a responsibility to fine him.

But I have a question. How many times per week, or even per game, do NBA players insult God? How long has it been since one of them was fined for this?

Let's face it, we live in an un-Christian, in fact an anti-Christian nation. So maybe I should expect that organizations like the NBA would fine people for insulting homosexuals but honor people who insult God.

But here is my real problem with this -- I meet many who call themselves Christians and yet say nothing and do nothing to reverse this trend. They are no longer offended at the abuse of God's name. They buy entertainment that engages in it; they allow their friends and even their children to abuse God's name without correcting them.

The NBA is hypocritical to fine people who insult homosexuals while they do nothing to stop the flood of profanity that comes out of the mouths of their players. But where do you really stand on this? Are you doing anything to cause the name of God to be honored?

"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." Exodus 20:7, ESV

Monday, April 18, 2011

Know the Dangers

A car can be a good thing. Used responsibly it helps us in innumerable ways. But used carelessly cars can, and often do, kill and cripple. The same can be said of a knife, a gun, prescription medicines, and many other things.

I just received an e-mail from a counselor that I know slightly. She says that her counseling practice has recently experienced an incredible upsurge of people facing marital problems. In nearly every case the difficulties were related in some way to use of the Internet. Some of the cases involved Internet sites that are clearly and openly sinful, but others did not. Many of these marital difficulties began with Facebook - a site that is not necessarily sinful, but which must be used responsibly.

Facebook can be a good thing. Used responsibly it may help people stay connected with people that they love. But used carelessly, Facebook can, and often does, kill and cripple relationships. Facebook, while it may keep people connected, keeps them connected on a very superficial level, which can be very harmful to long-term relationships. This is not just a preacher talking. CNN, an organization with which I very rarely agree, has recently reported twice on a significant increase in marital infidelity among those who use Facebook.

I am not saying that we should not use the Internet, Facebook, or cars or knives or even guns. All of these have legitimate uses, but all of them also have significant dangers. If used, they must be used in keeping with godly principles. If used, they must not be used in a way that encourages the wasting of time or the superficializing of our most important relationships.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Consensus Theology

I recently heard Dr. Carlus Gupton of Johnson Bible College speak. Frankly, I did not enjoy it. What he said was too hard hitting to be enjoyable.

He said one thing that really stuck with me. He described the activities of some churches as, "The sharing of ignorance with the intent of developing consensus theology." Wow, did that hit hard.

How much of what churches do could be described in such terms? How often do Sunday school classes, small group meetings, and other church activities descend into efforts to come up with something we can all agree to, but which may not, in fact, be in keeping with God's will.

We live in a world that loves consensus. We live in a world that has forgotten that it is more important to be right than to be popular. We live in a world that makes decisions on the basis of polls instead of facts. We live among churches that make decisions based on popularity rather than biblical commands or examples.

Such an approach might make a church grow, although the empirical evidence suggests that it is a failure even in this regard. But, whether it 'works' or not, it is sin. The will of God, not man, is the measure of Christianity.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:8-9 ESV

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Let's Keep Talking

Recently, a "Let's Start Talking" training session was held at our building. Three groups of college students (from Purdue University, OVU, and Northwestern Michigan College) prepared themselves for the work they will do this summer trying to bring the gospel to people in various parts of the world.

The concept of "Let's Start Talking" is simple. Lots of people around the world want to learn English. So college students spend their summer offering classes in English. They use the Gospel of Luke as a text, they read together with those wanting to learn English. In many cases the conversation goes beyond nouns and verbs. An opportunity to teach something more important than English often presents itself.

We cannot help people if we are not speaking to them. We need relationships with non-Christians if we are ever going to help them to know the Lord. But the truth is, most of us have plenty of relationships with plenty of non-Christians. We are already talking with them -- about the weather, sports, politics, work -- anything and everything except what really matters.

Let's continue talking with our neighbors, friends, coworkers and non-Christian family members. But let's not stop at trivial topics or current, transient events. Let's keep talking. If we are not afraid to express ourselves about matters of little or no importance, why should we hold back about what really matters? Let's keep talking until we have said something worth hearing.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9, ESV

Monday, March 28, 2011

Curiosity or Responsibility?

Bible study is good, but it makes a difference how and why we study. Some people study out of curiosity. They just want to know what the Bible says. They have no intention of allowing the word to reform their character. They treat the study of scripture as a game of trivia.

Instead, we should study the Bible with a sense of responsibility. We should start with the question, "What does the Bible say?" But we should not end with that question. Our end goal should be to allow the Bible to inform our actions so that our lives might give glory to God.

The curiosity angle is nothing new. The Israelites sometimes wanted to know things that were not for them to know. Moses had to tell them, "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut 29:29, ESV). The Apostles wanted to know things that were not for them to know. "So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 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 1:6-8).

We must not let our curiosity get the better of us. The end goal of Bible study is not knowledge; knowledge is only an intermediate goal. The end goal is the glorification of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). And we best glorify God when we leave the unrevealed things alone and get on with the task of obeying what has been revealed.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Occationally, I search the web for my own name. When you have a name as unusual as mine, it works. You can find out what people are saying about you. Earlier this week I tried it and I came across this article, which I had written so long ago that I had almost forgotton it. Someone in Texas thought it worth reissuing, after nearly thirty years. Maybe it will be useful to others as well.

The problem with a lack of fellowship is that we haven't the slightest idea how to solve it, many of our efforts to do so are counterproductive, and the New Testament says little, directly, about it. This seems like a bleak picture, but really, it isn't. Within the Bible's seeming lack of information is our cure.

We read nothing in Acts 2 of how their wonderful fellowship program worked simply because they didn't have one. The Jerusalem church was drawn together by a common faith, not by a comfortable building or good food. The churches that had erred in regard to fellowship were not instructed to map out a program, but to "be of the same mind in the Lord." Like-mindedness, not bodily proximity, is the first and most important step toward true fellowship.

The church today is, unfortunately, like that lonely teenager we all know. All he wants in the world is a friend. In fact, he wants a friend so badly that friendship is all he can think about. Thus, when someone talks to him about their car, he is uninterested. All he wants is a friend; he doesn't care about cars. When someone tells him about a good book, he is disappointed. He doesn't want books, he wants a friend. What this type of person needs is to forget friendship and learn to love cars, or books, or baseball, or something other than friendship. Then, and only then, will friendship happen.

The church that has a fellowship program needs to forget about fellowship. If one hundred people sit together and try to force themselves to fellowship, they will likely reap only frustration. But if the same one hundred people develop the same heart-melting love for the Lord, the same mission concern, the same thirst for righteousness, then suddenly they will each find ninety-nine friends to fellowship with.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Perhaps you have seen the billboards around town.

Harold Camping of Oakland, California is predicting that Jesus will return and bring the world as we know it to an end on May 21 of this year. Is that what Jesus taught? Is that what Christians believe?

Not as a stunt, but simply as a part of our ongoing series of lessons from the Gospel of Matthew, I will present a lesson on “The End of the Age, Matthew 24.” I am not as interested in mathematics as Mr. Camping. My lesson will be based on what Jesus said, rather than on Mr. Camping’s cyphering. You may not completely agree with my understanding (that’s OK with me). It may not answer every question that you may have. But I think you will find it interesting. If you are anywhere near Toledo, try to join us on Sunday, March 27.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Looking Ahead

In our Sunday morning series from Matthew, we will be coming to chapter 24 fairly soon (likely on March 27). Discussion of this passage always seems to interest people. Right now, with billboards going up around town predicting the end of the world in May, the interest may be even greater than normal.

There are two things you need to keep in mind as we get ready for this sermon on Matthew 24.
1. It will be longer than a normal sermon. Sorry, but I cannot do justice to this passage in 30 minutes. Be prepared to start a little early and end a little late.
2. Keep earlier lessons from Matthew in mind, especially events recorded in chapters 20-23. One of the main reasons chapter 24 is so badly misunderstood is that people ignore the context.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" Matthew 24:3, ESV

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Blessing of Snow

Snow has caused us some inconvenience and extra work recently. Too often, we focus only on this. We ought to ask ourselves, "What are some of the benefits of snow?"

Snow is often beautiful and sentimental (as Bing Crosby still reminds us), but it has other benefits as well. According to a University of Nebraska web site (and the University of Delaware agrees), snow insulates the ground and keeps it from freezing too deeply. There are also various recreations, such as skiing and sledding, that are dependent on snow.

But the greatest benefit of snow probably is its inconvenience. That is right, inconvenience is a blessing. Snow, when it comes in sufficient amounts, reminds us of our human limitations, and we need that reminder.

Jeremiah 10:23 tells us, "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Romans 5:6 also reminds us of our human limitations. "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."

We need to be aware of our limitations. We need to heed the imperative of psalm 46:10"Be still and know that I am God." But we stay so busy. What does it take to get us to be still? Sometimes it takes a snowstorm to get us to stop, and, if that is what it takes, then "Lord, bring on the snow."

"Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spiritual Voyeurism

Jamie Oliver, a British chef, has sold one million copies of his latest cookbook. It is the best selling nonfiction book in Britain in at least ten years. Yet, most observers believe, there is less cooking being done in British homes than at any point in history.

Here, as in Britain, food shows and cookbooks are popular, but cooking is not. People talk about cooking, they watch shows about cooking, they may even read books about cooking, but they do not cook. "There's never been so much interest in cooking and we've never talked so much about food," said Martin Caraher, professor in the department of food policy at City University London. "But we call it 'gastroporn'. People look at the cooks but don't necessarily put (what they learn) into practice."

Something similar may be happening in the spiritual realm as well. Fifty years ago, religious bookstores were rare. There were a number of religious programs on regular radio stations, but there were no stations devoted to religious programing. Today, every city of any size has two or three evangelical radio stations and at least a handful of religious bookstores. No longer is the spiritual diet limited to the Sunday sermons. Some people may listen to dozens of religious messages in an average week. But is it being put into practice or is this just spiritual voyeurism?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Ordinary Man

An ordinary man can do good work when conditions are right, when the weather is favorable, when there is peace in the land, when there is harmony in the home.

An extraordinary man works on, and works well, even when all seems to be against him. The skillful farmer manages a crop during drought; the master carpenter builds a lovely home of scrap; the deep thinker produces a masterpiece of logic and insight in the midst of confusion and strife.

But it takes God incarnate to make peace out of pain, to create holiness by bearing injustice, to forge salvation from sin. It takes God and a cross.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"— (Galatians 3:13, ESV)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Long Obedience

Some books have great titles. Sometimes the titles are so great that the book may seem almost anticlimactic. Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society is such a book for some people. The book is actually an exposition of the songs of ascent (Psalms 120-134), which may not be what people are expecting when they hear the title. Some people may be disappointed in the book, but that is a great title.

We are so used to getting everything fast. With our cars and airplanes, television, and microwaves we have sped up travel, entertainment and the preparation of food. Can we do the same with spirituality? Very sorry, but no.

Even with regard to the things we have sped up, we have not been as successful as we may imagine. Does anyone really believe that instant oatmeal has the same nutritional value as the oats our great-grandparents prepared? Crossing the ocean on a ship takes longer than in an airplane, but when you figure in the days lost to jet lag, how much have we really gained? Yes, we can switch on the idiot-box and be distracted immediately; but don’t you really wish that you had learned to play an instrument well enough so that you could make your own music?

Music is not learned in an instant. Chemistry is not understood overnight. English literature cannot be mastered in a semester. Nothing truly worthwhile is accomplished in an instant.

Learn any earthly subject or skill, really master it, and you will be blessed for a lifetime. Draw near to God and you will be blessed for eternity. It takes time. It take persistence. It takes "a long obedience in the same direction."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Should We Speak Falsely For God?

Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? (Job 13:7)

It happened twice in the last week. One came via e-mail, the other was contained in a slick magazine. In both cases, someone who wanted to promote faith in God repeated claims that are false. The e-mail repeated statements supposedly made by a famous media personality. The slick magazine claimed that Samuel Driver (1846-1914), Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, had made certain statements. In both cases, the claims were false. The individuals to whom the quotes were attributed never made the statements.

We do not help God by telling lies for him. It is the truth that people need (John 8:31-32). Of course those who sent the false information did not know that it was false; they really believed what they repeated. It was not intentional deception; it was just the thoughtless repeating of rumors. But are we not responsible to check out the facts before we repeat what we have heard?

Those who have the facts at their disposal are less given to repeating baseless rumors. Anyone will occasionally misspeak, but it is an epidemic of false reporting that we have going on today. People fill their conversation, their e-mail, even their magazines with hearsay. Why? Is it not because they having nothing but hearsay to repeat? Having not studied the scriptures as they ought to have, they cannot give a reasonable answer to explain their hope (1 Pet 3:15). So, in place of a reasonable, biblical explanation, they repeat false rumors.

Let’s open the book and get the facts. Then we will not be so tempted to repeat the rumors.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Praising God or Praising Ourselves?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be thought provoking. It is not intended to condemn either of the songs referred to, or the people who sing those songs. It is intended to make us think more deeply about what we sing and what our songs might imply.

Jeff Moore and Steven Curtis Chapman have written a popular worship song that proclaims, "We will use the words we know to tell You what an awesome God You are. But words are not enough to tell You of our love, so listen to our hearts."

John Newton wrote a song which states, "Weak is the effort of my heart And cold my warmest thought; But when I see Thee as Thou art, I'll praise Thee as I ought."

In both hymns the idea is expressed that our words are inadequate praise to our God. But in the older hymn the cause of this inadequacy is traced to the worshipper’s inadequately converted heart. In the modern hymn the problem is one of language -- our hearts are fine, we just do not have the right words.

Which is the truth? Are our hearts just fine? Do we purely, fully, constantly desire to praise him? Is the primary difficulty the inadequacy of language, or is the inadequacy of human language a symptom of the inadequacy of our hearts? Should we come into worship believing "I’m OK, you’re OK"? Or should we come acknowledging that "nothing good dwells within us" (Rom 7:18), that our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9)?

I sing the Moore/Chapman song when it is led, but I sing it with some concern for the mistaken estimate of ourselves that it may imply.

"...let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).