Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Fresh Start

Turning the page on the calendar does not really change a thing. In a few days we will enter a new year, but we will still be the same people. We need more than a new year to give us a fresh start in life. We need new hearts, renewed minds, refreshed spirits. These things are possible, but not on our own. Our own resolutions will not make the difference. What we need is divine intervention. It can happen. The Lord is willing. Are we?

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh
. (Ezekiel 36:26, ESV)

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon
. (Isaiah 55:1-7, ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life
. (Romans 6:4, ESV)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dilution of the Gospel

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV).

We want to be understood so we explain, illustrate, and give examples. If we still are not understood, we offer further explanation, illustration and example. At times we know that in our efforts to make things clear we are oversimplifying, that we may have gained something in clarity but lost something in accuracy. But we want to be understood, so we press on.

There is the danger that our efforts to make the gospel understandable to the worldly may sometimes end in distorting the gospel. The apostle seems to be saying, in 1 Corinthians 2, that in our natural state we find the things of God impossible to understand. He seems to be saying that it is only the person who has begun to be transformed who can understand.

This is a dilemma. People need the gospel, yet their minds are often (if not always) so marred by sin that they cannot even comprehend the message that they need. We cannot help them by changing the gospel. To do any good the gospel must remain pure and undiluted. But if they cannot understand the pure undiluted gospel, what are we to do?

Paul not only taught, he also prayed (Eph 3:14-19). I am sure that he tried to be as clear as possible, but he knew that understanding depended on more than his clarity. Their ability to comprehend the incomprehensible depended more on divine intervention than on communication techniques.

So, let us teach our friends, our neighbors (even our enemies). And let us do our very best when we teach. But let us pray as much as we teach. The message they need is a message they cannot comprehend apart from God's intervention. Apart from God's help our efforts are doomed. With his help all things are possible.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Ultimate Purpose

Peter Kreeft has a memorable passage in one of his books where Aristotle is resurrected and asks a modern college student about his ultimate goals. The student says his goal is to graduate with good grades. Aristotle asks why. The student says that he needs a good job. "Why?" So that he can make enough money. "Why?" To be able to send his own children to college so that they will get good jobs. "Why?"

The longer I live the more I am convinced that most people (even most church going people) have missed the importance of critically examining their ultimate purpose. Some have no sense of purpose at all. Even the best of us often seems to forget the question of ultimate purpose.

I am thankful for those who recognize the importance of building a good family life. That is so much better than just chasing purely selfish momentary pleasure. But, ultimately, what is the goal of family? Many, I fear, do not know.

I am thankful for those who recognize the value of the church, who know that we cannot function as well as individual Christians as we will function bound together in a body of Christ. But what, ultimately, is the goal of the church? I fear that many do not know.

This article is not going to answer the question of ultimate purpose. I am afraid that this format is not suited to addressing a question that large. Instead, I will simply leave the question with you.

Are you caught up in an endless "rat race"? Are you training your children to join the "rat race"? Are you living your life a little confused about the purpose of it all? Let me suggest that life works better when we understand its ultimate purpose. I am not going to tell you what that purpose is. But let me suggest a few helpful hints. Look up the following scriptures and ask yourself, "Am I living in keeping with the purpose outlined here?"

Isaiah 43:21; Matthew 5:16; John 17:3; Philippians 1:10-11; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 4:10-11; 1 John 1:1-3

Friday, November 28, 2014

Phil Hughes

Cricket is often compared to baseball, but it is in fact much more polite and slow paced. Cricket is played in a leisurely fashion, with pauses for lunch and tea. A full length game takes five days to complete. Rarely do cricketers dirty their uniforms. Arguing or even showing strong emotion is strictly forbidden. Serious injuries are very rare in cricket.

But still, the ball is hard, harder than a baseball. And the ball travels fast. Baseballs sometimes reach 100 miles per hour. Cricket balls have been clocked as high as 120.

Of course, cricket players take precautions. They wear pads all over. They wear helmets with face masks.

Australian cricketer Phil Hughes was wearing a helmet last week, but it seems the ball bounced just right, and he turned just right. The ball hit him in the forehead just above the mask and just below the helmet. Phil Hughes is dead. He was 25 years old.

I trust that you take precautions with your life. I trust that your car has lots of safety features and that you try to drive it carefully. I trust that you try to keep your home safe.

But still, life is uncertain. There will always be a gap between the mask and the helmet, or a safety feature that goes wrong, or some unexpected danger we did not anticipate. We should be careful, but we must also be prayerful. No matter how careful we are, life is uncertain and we must remain prepared for eternity.

O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you
. (Psalm 39:4-7, ESV)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exposing Sin To Restore Fortunes

Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading (Lamentations 2:14, ESV).

Not all prophets are equal. Some prophets tell people what needs to be heard, whether people want to hear it or not. Others tell people what the people desire to hear, whether it is true or not.

The way prophets help others to better their fortunes, according to the verse above, is to expose their sin. But, by preaching false and deceptive visions, these prophets had comforted the people instead. In doing so they led to the downfall of Jerusalem.

The preacher who preaches peace when there is no peace (Jer 6:14 & 8:11) is more enjoyable to hear, no doubt, but he is doing us no good.

The good news of the Gospel should be in every sermon. But often that good news is toward the end of the lesson, after sin has been exposed. We must remember that when the Gospel was first preached the listeners were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). If we listen to good preaching to the very end, we should walk away hopeful as well as challenged. But if we tune the preacher out because he starts off exposing sin, we will never have our fortunes restored. We will likely walk away discouraged (as well as unsaved).

The doctor who prescribes before diagnosing is a quack. The same with the preacher who fails to expose iniquity. Such doctoring, such preaching, might make us feel good, but it will do us no long-term good.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Some Are More Equal"

I do not know if Shrien Dewani is guilty of murdering his wife. But I do know that he is getting a very unusual trial.

In most trials the question of motive looms large. Judges normally allow the prosecution plenty of time to indicate their theory as to why the accused might have committed the crime. But at the trial of Mr. Dewani that is not being allowed.

According to the prosecutors, Mr. Dewani did not really want to get married because he is homosexual and did not desire a wife. Having been pressured into marriage by his family, he had his wife killed so that he could return to his homosexual behavior. In fact, the prosecutors claim, he returned to viewing homosexual pornography and visiting homosexual prostitutes within hours of his wife's death.

No one claims that this proves he killed her, it was only presented as an indication of his motive. Were the supposed motive a girlfriend, the judge would allow the evidence to go ahead. But since the supposed motive involves homosexual rather than heterosexual immorality, the judge will not allow the evidence to go forward.

Homosexuals should receive fair trials, just like everyone else. But how can it be fair for evidence of motive to be blocked?

This is a clear perversion of justice. As the pigs of Animal Farm said so long ago, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Member of the Club Or Member of the Body?

Ultimately the growth of the kingdom is God's task. But he accomplishes that task by giving each of his children talents which they are to use to his glory (Mt 25:15-30; Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:12-20). Contrary to what most believe, the work of ministry is the responsibility of the whole church. The task of the evangelists, teachers, shepherds is not to do the work but to train the members to do the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-12). This process is to go on until we all attain to spiritual maturity.

One can maintain membership in a club simply by paying dues. But one cannot maintain membership in a body on that basis. Our fingers, toes, ears, eyes all of our members must stay connected with our body, or they will soon die. In scripture, the church is never compared to a club. It is compared to a body. To maintain membership in the church, we must be involved. A disconnected church member is no more a real member of the church than an amputated limb is still part of a human body.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Cross or a Couch

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23, ESV).

Hopefully you recognize that the statement quoted above is from Jesus. There is a rumor going around that what he meant to say was, "If anyone would come after me, let him affirm himself, sit down on his couch, and I will always meet his felt needs". That rumor is false.

In those days, a cross was not a pretty little piece of jewelry. It was a symbol of disgrace, suffering, and death. Jesus is making it as clear as possible that following him will demand commitment. It will be well worth the effort, but it will not always be easy.

Many today seem to have lost sight of this prominent aspect of Jesus' teaching. Many seem to think that the Christian life should demand nothing and grant everything. People want to be considered church members without becoming committed followers of Jesus. They want a couch, not a cross.

Sorry, but I do not have the authority to rewrite what Jesus has declared. In life we recognize the truth of the saying, "no pain, no gain." In eternity we will learn the truth of the saying, "no cross, no crown." We can restate what Jesus stated, but we dare not explain it away.

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. ..... So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-27, 33, ESV).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Present Yourselves To God"

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness (Romans 6:13, ESV).

We cannot save ourselves. We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot sanctify ourselves. But what we are called upon to do is to "present ourselves", or "yield ourselves" as the KJV says, to God. He can, and will save us. He will justify, he will sanctify. He does so by various means, some of which we can see and identify, some of which are unknown to us. It is his work, not ours. But we must present ourselves to him, we must yield ourselves to his will.

If we were ill with a deadly disease, and we were informed by a reliable source that a given doctor was willing and able to cure us, we would present ourselves to him without delay. Or would we? In the gospel, just such an offer is made, but many hold back. We delay, resist, and even outright refuse God's gracious offer. We try to cure ourselves. We distrust the doctor of our souls, and let the spiritual disease run its course.

He has borne our sins on the cross. We have strayed long enough. Let us return to him, present ourselves to him, yield to him.

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25, ESV).

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Number One Cause of GBV (and a lot of other stuff)

I do not understand, and I never will. According to a news item released October 8 in Tanzania, "A new survey has established that consumption of alcohol is the cause of most acts of Gender Based Violence (GBV)." What are the odds of that study being reported in our newspapers? Will it ever be mentioned in congress?

There is an incredible and willful blindness in our country about the connection between alcohol and violence. "Guns kill", we are told. The fact that knives and even automobiles also kill when people have been drinking, is largely ignored.

Prohibiting the sale of alcohol, as was done in this country from 1920 to 1933 (and in several other countries at various times), may be mistake; but banning its promotion would not be. It would have the same effect that banning the advertising of tobacco has had. People would still drink, just as many still smoke, but we as a society would no longer be promoting the loss of self-control, and the subsequent violence, that alcohol so often brings.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Heavens Declare, But Only To Those Listening

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1, ESV)

Indeed, the heavens declare his glory, but we are just too busy to notice. How long has it been since you enjoyed looking at the stars, or examined a flower carefully, or even took the time to savor some simple, natural food?

We are too busy to notice what God has done. We spend our time with worldly, human-centered entertainment. We focus our attention on what man has made rather than on what God has created. We train our appetite to crave unnatural, overly sweet, man-made foods, instead of the fruits of the trees God has given us.

God is banished from our lives not only by overt sins, but also by our tendency to be busy with our own affairs, to live in an artificial world created by man, instead of enjoying the world as God created it. We spend too much time contemplating the wrong done in this world and not nearly enough time thinking on what is "true, honorable, just, pure, lovely ..." (Phil 4:8).

It is not a sin to be busy, but slow down enough to hear the declaration of God's glory.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Gift God Wants First

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

They were supposed to bring gifts and offerings. There were regularly scheduled sacrifices to be made. There were sin offerings. There were thank offerings. All of these were good and right under the law given through Moses.

We too should make an offering to our Lord. We should give of our means (1 Cor 16:1-3; 2 Cor 8 & 9). But most of all we should, in view of his mercy toward us, give ourselves to the Lord ( 2 Cor 8:5; Rom 12:1-).

But there is another gift that our God desired far above their offering they made at the Temple, and desires far above any gift of money or Christian service that we can offer. He wants us to be reconciled to our fellowman. Peace is not always within our reach. Some people will refuse our efforts at reconciliation. But as much as it depends on us, we should strive to be at peace with others (Rom 12:18).

Parents may need their children's or grandchildren's financial support. If they do, it should be given (1 Tim 5:3-16). But most parents would rather that their children be at peace with one another. This is a greater gift than any sum of money we could give our parents.

God does not need our financial support. We need to give, because it is good for us, but God is not in need of support (Psalm 50:9-12). What he wants far more than our gifts and offerings is that his children be at peace with one another.

So, if you know that your brother has something against you, do what you can to correct the situation. That is the gift God wants first.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Have No Excuse

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

Flip Wilson's excuse was always the same. "The devil made me do it," he would say. Flip has company. Many people excuse their sin as the inevitable result of the circumstances. There are serious problems with this excuse.

In the first place, quite often we created the circumstances we try to use as an excuse. We go where we should not be, with people we should not have made our companions, and then attempt to use the influences that we willfully placed ourselves under as an excuse for our sin. To be mitigating, the circumstance must be beyond our control. When we have created the circumstances that lead us into sin, those circumstances do not lessen our guilt. They instead make it clear that our guilt is greater.

More importantly, we have the assurance of God that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. When we give in to sin, it is a choice. It is something we choose to do, not something we were forced to do. That we are not forced to sin is seen in the fact that many have endured. We have faced no temptation that was not faced before. The fact that some have resisted proves that we too could resist, if we would.

Poverty is often used as an excuse for violence and theft. Really? Has every poor person throughout history become a thief? Of course not.

We sometimes here immorality excused as a sin that is unavoidable, at least by the youth. Really? Every human throughout history has felt the lusts of the flesh. But many millions have not succumbed.

Let's stop making excuses. Let us instead seek forgiveness and restoration. Let us seek to be free of sin, not just to dodge sin's consequences.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Preparation and Participation

During our vacation, Chery and I visited five different congregations. I always find it interesting to see what other congregations are doing.

For me, the most interesting visit was the first Wednesday night of our vacation. We met with a small congregation. There were only 16 present for the Bible study. Everyone met together (from preteens to senior citizens). Everyone participated to some extent. The class was, from my observation, a very positive experience. It seemed to me that there were two keys to the success of the class.
No one wasted time apologizing for the fact that this little congregation could not offer several different classes on Wednesday evening. They just went ahead with what they could do and encouraged everyone to take part. And most did take part. Participation was one key.

They could participate because they had come prepared to do so. Not only was it clear that several had read the lesson in advance, some of them (who had not been blessed with much formal schooling) had read the lesson and looked up the unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

The lesson booklet was good, but not outstanding. The teacher's methods were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The people came prepared and then participated. Those were the keys.

Let me suggest to you that these are normally the keys to enjoying Bible classes and worship. Those who stay up late Saturday night and arrive at class or worship tired and unprepared, have no right to complain about the class, the sermon, the singing, or anything else.

Come prepared -- well rested, well read, and in the right frame of mind. Participate -- sing out, comment if asked to do so, think over what is being said and try to apply it to your specific situation. If you do these things you will find less and less to complain of; you will find more and more that is of benefit.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Substitute For Evangelism

"The seed is the word of God" Luke 8:11 (ESV)

The word evangelism is used lots of different ways today. Most of this usage is unbiblical. If we are to claim to have restored the New Testament church, we need to learn to use the key words of the Bible the way the Bible uses them.

The word evangelism is a transliteration of euangelizesthai, which is a verb meaning "to proclaim the gospel" (the gospel being euangelion). Where no proclamation has taken place, there has been no evangelism. Where something other than the biblical gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.

Good deeds, hard work, dedication, honesty, and kindness are all good things, but they are not evangelism. These other good things may help prepare people to hear the word of salvation (Titus 2:9-10), but until that word has been spoken we have not evangelized.
A farmer needs to prepare his ground. If it is new ground he clears it of trees, rocks, and other obstructions. The ground must then be plowed and harrowed. But the job is not done until he has planted the seed. No matter how well he has plowed, the farmer has no hope of a harvest until he has planted the seed. Likewise, until the gospel word has been presented, the church has no hope of a harvest of souls.

Benevolence is benevolence. It is a good thing, but it is not evangelism. Edification is edification. It also is a good thing, but it is not evangelism. Nothing is evangelism except the proclamation of the gospel. These other good things may be important preliminaries to the proclaiming of the gospel - just as clearing and plowing and harrowing prepare for sowing the seed. But unless the word has been planted we have not evangelized.

Jesus did not just set a good example and expect people to be converted. He spoke the word. We do not set nearly as good of an example as he did, so we must not hide behind claims that we have evangelized by means of good deeds. If Jesus needed to speak the word, we need to speak the word.

There is no substitute for evangelism. Until the gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Big Is Our Bucket?

No matter how steady our hands, no matter how careful our eye, we cannot put a gallon of water in a half-gallon bucket. So, if we go to a neighbor asking for water, and take along a half-gallon bucket, we are hardly justified in complaining that the neighbor gave us only half a gallon.

Let us apply that to spiritual matters.

Why do we complain of the gifts God gives? His gifts are not limited by his willingness to give, but by our capacity to receive. I truly believe that God wants to give us far more spiritual insight and understanding, as well as far more skill in blessing others. What limits his giving is not his willingness or ability to give, but our capacity for receiving.

This thought was suggested by something that A.W. Tozer wrote. He went on to say that our spiritual capacity is not of a fixed unchangeable size. We can grow in our capacity to receive spiritual blessings from God. We will grow if we cease to resist the Spirit.

While we should not fault a man for having few skills, we should fault people (and ourselves especially) for having no more skill than we had in the past. We should be growing. We should be improving. We should be increasing our capacity.

If we are no more able to praise God, no more able to bless others, no more knowledgeable in the word of God than we were ten years ago, the fault is with us, not with God. He desires to give, but we must prepare ourselves to receive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Death of David Bosch

David Jacobus Bosch was born in 1929 at Kuruman, Cape Province, South Africa. From 1971 until his death Bosch taught missiology at the University of South Africa.

He died after a traffic accident in Pretoria in 1992. Rumor has it that the accident occurred at the boundary of two jurisdictions and that two policemen argued at length about which of them should send for an ambulance. Meanwhile, Professor Bosch died.

I have often thought the story a fine parable concerning the state of our mission efforts. While we argue petty matters, people are perishing.

I am not one of those people who imagines that doctrine does not matter. It assuredly does matter. Jesus used the word often. He insisted that our teaching (our doctrine -- the words mean the exact same thing) must be derived from God's word, not from human thinking (Mt 15:7-9; cf. 1 Tim 1:3-7).

But while this is true, it is also true that sometimes we quarrel about mere words and split hairs over petty matters (2 Tim 2:14ff). Meanwhile, millions are perishing without the gospel. In some cases, even our own children grow up not knowing the gospel because someone was too busy promoting their own views and tastes instead of sticking to the book and especially emphasizing the gospel.

I do not know if the rumor of the death of David Bosch is true or not, but I do know about the tragic result of majoring in minors. Let try to put first things first. We may fail, but let's try.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Disillusioned

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. John 2:24-25 (ESV)

We normally use the word "disillusioned" in a negative sense. As the word is commonly used it connotes cynicism and a negative view of life. But in truth, those who become disillusioned in this negative sense, those who become cynical, become so only because they had been operating under various illusions. We begin with the illusion that human nature is basically sound and when that illusion proves false we become disillusioned in the negative, cynical sense of the term. What if we did not start with the illusion?

What if, instead of starting with the illusion that people can be trusted, we, like Jesus, began with the expectation that humans are weak, fickle, untrustworthy creatures from whom we should not expect much? Jesus was never under an illusion about human nature. Therefore Jesus never became disillusioned. He never became cynical.

Perhaps if we could learn to approach life as Jesus did -- intending to serve and not expecting much in the way of thanks -- we would do better. Perhaps, strange as it sounds, those who agree with Jeremiah when he says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jer 17:9), will be less negative, cynical, and disillusioned than those who start with silly modern assumptions about everyone being basically good at heart.

I do not claim to have a recipe for shedding our illusions without becoming cynically disillusioned, but I do believe it is worth a try. More than that, it is the Christ-like approach to life.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SWAT Team, 1920s Style

These days, if someone carries a gun into a store and holds everyone hostage, the police will send out the SWAT team. It was not always so.

I remember the story of a man taking over the hardware store in Stafford, Kansas in the mid-1920s. The police did not have a SWAT team, of course, so they contacted a local man (whom we will call Mr. B) and asked if there was anything he could do. He told his son to come along (it was the son who later told me the story). Mr. B walked into the store and without a moment's hesitation walked right up to the man holding the gun and took it from him.

I would not try that now. What made it work was that everyone, including the gunman, knew the man with whom they were dealing. It is one thing to shoot a stranger. It is something else to shoot a neighbor you have known and respected all your life -- a man whose sons you know and care for. The people in a small town like Stafford in the 1920s, were held together by close relationships. We have lost that, and we cannot hire enough policemen to replace what the relationships accomplished.

By conventional logic, the next step in this article should be to urge everyone to maintain relationships so that we will all be able to help those in need. Of course we should do that, but doing so is a two-way street. Sadly, some people will not allow us to get close to them. They seem to want to keep their distance. These days, it seems that most people are adrift in an online world and have little willingness to engage people face to face. Many nominal church members rebuff friendships and then complain that the church is not friendly.

Let's try to get close to people so that we can help them. And let's be sure that we are allowing people to get close enough to help us. "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly" (Proverbs 18:24, KJV).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Garage Sales

My wife held a sale this past week week. Garage sales are always interesting. When I was a kid we never had one and we never went to one. I remember when I first heard about them. Cecil Hopper, a brother in the church, broke his hip. While he was recovering, people in the church gave him unwanted junk and he sold it. It gave him something to do as he sat around waiting for his hip to mend.

On another occasion, Rod Rockwell, our preacher at the time, was setting stuff out of his garage. He was just cleaning the garage. He had no intention of selling anything. People began to stop and bid on things he was planning to put in the garbage.

Garage sales are a lesson in values. What one person values another may despise. Human values are amazingly varied. That is why garage sales remind me of scripture.

"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isaiah 55:2, ESV).

"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV).

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20, ESV).

What do we value? Are we spending our effort seeking the seen things that will not last or the unseen things of eternity?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rid The World Of Scientists

I want to rid the world of scientists. One-hundred years ago German scientists developed mustard gas to kill their enemies. Later, scientists from the same place performed cruel experiments on people in death camps. In the 1940s scientists from the USA developed the bombs that killed more than 90,000 at Hiroshima and more than 60,000 at Nagasaki. More recently scientists developed Thalidomide, which caused thousands of children to be born with terrible birth-defects. In fact, in one way or another, scientists have been involved in every terrible thing that has happened in the world for centuries.

Is that logical? No, of course not.

There is good science as well as bad science. The fact that some scientists think wrongly and act immorally does not condemn all science or all scientists. But, since it has become so popular to lump all religion together and condemn it all, I thought that I would turn the same illogic on science for a moment.

As Christians, we do not and should not defend all religion. As Christians, we do not and should not defend everything done in the name of Christ. Many things have been done in Christ's name that are not according to his will, just as many things are done in the name of science that are not real science. Some enemies of Christ pretend to be his followers so that they can do more harm to his cause. Their real god may be their own bellies (Philippians 3:19), but they pretend faith in him to advance themselves.

That is a shame, but it will not cause a logically thinking person to reject true Christianity any more than the errors of some scientists will keep us from using helpful and legitimate technology.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Reprieve, Not Final Deliverance

I rejoice, as I am sure all faithful Christians do, that the Supreme Court has upheld the right of Christian employers to refuse to provide poison to murder innocent children. That our government would have ever attacked fundamental rights in this way beggars belief. It is good that we have received at least a little relief from this ungodly and unconstitutional violation of all that is right.

But, let's not get too excited. The decision was not as comprehensive and as clear as it should have been; and it was not unanimous. Given a few more years of voting our pocketbooks instead of our consciences and enough evil judges will be on the bench to overturn this decision. There are two things that Christians must do.

First, in casting our own votes we must always remember that the proper role of the governing authority is to carry out "God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom 13:4). It is not his job to give us a job. It is his job to execute murderers and appropriately punish other wrongdoers. If we, because of financial promises that a candidate makes, choose to vote for moral reprobates, we are guilty. The person who gives consent to others engaged in wrongdoing becomes as guilty, in fact more guilty, than the actual wrongdoer (Rom 1:32).

Second, we need to realize that, even if the evil perversion of our government continues, and someday this ruling is overturned, we will none the less still have the obligation to do what is right. If they confiscate our property, we must, like the earliest Christians (Heb 10:34) accept this and go on doing what is right.

Four good decisions have been rendered by our nation's highest court over the last two weeks. These four, however, like all earthly decisions, are incomplete victories that may not last for long. The final victory over evil is not yet. It will not be obtained by order of any earthly body. But the final victory will come. Let us wait faithfully for it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Which Am I?

What was Peter? A fisherman? An evangelist? A sinner? A saint?

In a sense, Peter was all of these. But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Peter engaged in all of these at one time or another, but none of these completely sums up his existence.

We all eat from time to time. Does eating sum up our existence? Since I eat several times each day, would it be accurate to describe me as 'an eater.' I sleep several hours every day. Could I accurately be described as a sleeper? Do eating and sleeping sum up my life?

Some of us seem to have a problem with how we view ourselves. We attend Christian worship from time to time, and so consider ourselves Christians. Does the conclusion necessarily follow? Or possibly we fail from time to time, and so consider ourselves failures. Does the conclusion follow?

We seem to miss the complexity of our own existence.

Peter did a lot of fishing, but he was more than a fisherman. He engaged in evangelism, but he was more than an evangelist. He failed occasionally, and sometimes dramatically, but his life was not a complete failure. He was also a saint, a holy one, one called by and cleansed by God. But so are we (1 Peter 2:9; 1 Cor 16:1).

Paul called himself 'chief of sinners' (1 Tim 1:16). Yet, by God's grace he was also a saint. We, by virtue of our own sins, might rightly be called sinners, but we also have been called out of our sin to honor the Lord as his holy people. Let us never forget the complexity of our nature. Our failures do not define us; nor do our successes. We are defined not by what we do but by what the Lord has done for us. We live not to justify our existence but to glorify the one who has already justified us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

None So Blind

The old saying, "There are none so blind as those who will not see" goes back at least to 1546, when it was used by John Heywood. The saying became well-known when Matthew Henry (1662-1714) used it a number of times in his widely circulated commentary on the Bible. A number of variations have developed. A later version runs, "There are none so lame as those who will not walk." A similar principle is being expressed when we say, "Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot read."

Let us apply the principle to ourselves.

I am sure that all of us feel sorry for the people in Islamic countries, who cannot get a Bible to read. I am sure we sympathized with those in the communist countries of the cold war era who could not have the scriptures. But who is more pitiful, who has the more impoverished intellect, those who cannot study the scriptures or those who will not?

The scriptures are more readily available today than at any time in history. They are more readily available in this country than anywhere in the world. An hour of work (at minimum wage) will buy a Bible. Two or three hours of work will buy a nice well-bound copy. Even those who cannot read have recordings of the scriptures available to them.

Not only the Bible itself, but Bible classes are available. We have been offering four different adult classes on Sunday and three adult classes on Wednesday (in addition to all the classes for children).

God commanded us to study his will and to teach it to our children (Dt 4:9; Eph 6:4). I understand the excuses Christians in Saudi Arabia might offer regarding this command, but we have no excuse. If we are blind it is only because we refuse to see. If our children are ignorant, it is only because we trained them to be so.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why Is There Christian Music?

It is Wednesday evening and I just checked to make sure there are plenty of hymnals in the fellowship hall. We always sing at least a song or two on Wednesdays. At Sunday assemblies we sing quite a bit, often half of the time is spent in singing. In fact, wherever Christians gather, one will often hear singing.

You may not realize it, but that is one of the objections many Muslims have to Christianity. The bands of the mega-churches are especially offensive to Muslims, but some of them object to any and all singing in worship assemblies. Muslim assemblies primarily involve three things. Prayer, preaching, and the reciting of the Quran. The reciting, and even the praying, may be done in such a singsong voice that it seems like music to us, but to a Muslim it is very different from our singing.

To Muslims (and to a few small "Christian" groups, such as the Reformed Presbyterians) hymn singing seems disrespectful. They would ask, "How dare you express yourselves to God in words of your own choosing? Chant back to God the inspired words of scripture, if you wish. But do not make up songs of your own, sing those, and call that worship."

I have to admit that these objections have some bite, at least with regard to some of the songs Christians sing. Some poorly written hymns are more self-promotion than praise of God. But there is a reason why Christians sing. We have a joyous message. The Gospel naturally inspires rejoicing; and rejoicing is naturally expressed in song.

Maybe you sing because singing is one of the "five acts of worship" and you feel that you must do it. I sing because, much to my delight and surprise, the Lord loves me and has saved me. That makes me want to sing. Seven days a week, fifty-two weeks per year, I sing out a bit of my joy to the Lord. It is not an obligation, it is more of a joyous compulsion.

(Psalm 5:11; 27:6; 63:7; 65:13 ; 67:4; 71:23; 81:1; 84:2; 92:4; 96:12; 98:8; 149:5; Isaiah 12:6; 24:14; 26:19; 35:6; 42:11; 49:13; 52:8; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13; Revelation 15:3)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Are We Guilty of Theft?

A superficial reading of the Ten Commandments does not bother many people. They ignore the fact that they take the Lord's name in vain, justifying themselves by standing with the majority. They have not killed anyone, at least with their own hands. And they certainly have never broken into a house and taken things that belong to others. So, if that were all that is covered by "thou shalt not steal" then they would be safe on that count as well. But, of course, this superficial reading is inadequate.

Jesus taught us to look deeper. Jesus taught us that attitudes can kill as well as knives, and that if we harbor hatred we are guilty (Mt 5:21ff).

Other biblical spokesmen taught us that there is more than one way to steal. To keep back wages when they ought to be paid is a form of theft (Lev 19:13; Dt 24:15; Pr 3:28). To fail to give our proper contribution to the Lord's work is "robbing God" (Malachi 3:8). Paul tells us that we must pay everyone what we owe them, even if the obligation is to show respect rather than a monetary obligation (Rom 13:6-8).

We will never be convicted in a human court for most forms of theft. But God is not like man. He looks on the heart. He sees, he knows if we are failing to pay our due to him, or to any of his children.

"You shall not steal." It is easy to comfort ourselves with thoughtless claims that we are innocent of theft. But upon closer examination a very different picture emerges.

"I am so glad that Jesus loves me." Because if he didn't, I would be in big trouble. We all would be. We have all stolen from one another and from God. We have failed to pay our obligations - both of money and of respect - in a timely manner. Let us throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus. And let's quit stealing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Showing Appreciation

As I went through school, I was blessed with many great teachers and many enjoyable classes. The best individual classes I ever took were Homiletics with Stafford North and Introduction to New Testament Exegesis with Ian Fair. Also noteworthy were Introduction to the Old Testament with John Willis, Old Testament Theology with Tom Olbricht, and Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts with Eugene Bunkowske. James Dretke's classes on Islam were very useful. Ed Mathews and Dan Hardin were great mission teachers, and I learned a lot from Carly Dodd's communication classes.

But I took more classes from Raymond Kelcy than from any other. He was my favorite teacher. I always did my best work in his classes. I would have felt that I had let him down badly if I had ever done "B" work in his classes. During my final semester I took his class on Romans. In that class I managed a perfect score over the entire course. I felt extra motivation when working with Raymond Kelcy because of a kindness he had done for me the year before before I entered Oklahoma Christian.

Raymond Kelcy had been kind to me, and I felt that in response I should do my very best for him. But, of course, his kindness to me is nothing compared to what we owe our Lord. Does our appreciation show in the way we take His lessons?

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (ESV)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Boasting In The Cross

I usually do not brag about it, but during a track meet held at Memorial Junior High (Mentor, Ohio) in 1971, I finished sixth in the hurdles. Somehow finishing sixth out of six does not seem like something to boast about. But what should one boast about?

Paul said that if he were to boast it would be to boast of the cross (Gal 6:14). In modern terms, that is like bragging of having a friend on 'death row'.

The false teachers troubling the Galatian church had been teaching that salvation is a human work, something we accomplish. That is, and always has been, a common view. But there are many things wrong with that view.

To believe that we can save ourselves suggests that our sin is not all that serious. If we are to save ourselves, we must not be dead in our sins (Eph 2:1) but merely ill. If we can save ourselves, then the penalty for sin must not really be death, as God has always said it is (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23), but something less. If we are really dead in sin, we cannot save ourselves, for the dead can do nothing for themselves. If the penalty for sin is really death, then we cannot possibly save ourselves - for we would have to die to pay our penalty.

To believe that we are saved by Jesus taking our place on the cross is to admit the seriousness of sin, to admit that there is nothing we could do to save ourselves. It is to acknowledge that our salvation is totally dependent on the willingness of the Father to accept Jesus in our stead, the willingness of Jesus to offer himself, and the willingness of the Spirit to dwell in us and apply the righteousness of Christ to us. It means that we are less than nothing and that God (Father, Son and Spirit) is everything.

Boasting in the cross turns all ordinary human values upside-down. Yet that is exactly what the early Christians did - turned the world upside-down (Acts 17:6). If we are not accused of turning the world upside-down today, maybe it is because we so often boast in self rather than in the cross of Christ.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bring the Candles!

Abraham Davenport was a lawyer and important political figure in Connecticut in the 1700s. The most famous event of his career was described by Timothy Dwight (president of Yale University) in these terms.

"The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses; the birds were silent and disappeared; and the fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council [Senate or Upper House] was under consideration. When the opinion of Col. Davenport was asked, he answered, 'I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought."

The Day of Judgment will one day appear. When it does, what will we be found doing? Yes, we live in dark days. But that is no reason for shirking our duty. Let us light candles and work on.

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! (Luke 12:37-38, ESV)

Read more about Abraham Davenport and the dark day at http://www.stamfordhistory.org/dav_abraham1.htm

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Attitude That Makes The Difference

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7, ESV)

Christians are not necessarily the strongest, the smartest, or the best-looking people in town. Christians are not necessarily the most talented people in school. In many cases those called to know the Lord may be lacking one or more of these gifts. But, if we are living as Christians ought to live, if we are working as Christians ought to work, if we are studying as Christians ought to study, we will be making the most of whatever gifts we do possess.

We have the advantage of a higher motive. Others may be working for personal advancement or for the good of humanity. But Christians are working for the glory of the Lord who both created and redeemed humanity (Col 3:17). Keeping this higher motive in mind will not make us the smartest students in the class, but it should make us the most diligent students in the class. This higher motive will not make us the most talented employees at the firm, but it should make us the most reliable employees at the firm.

Take a fool and send him to school for a long time, what do you get? In most cases you end up with an educated fool. He may know a lot more, but that only equips him to do more harm. It is not primarily more information that he needs, it is a new attitude that is needed.

What is our attitude? Do we live "in the fear of the Lord"? (Which is, of course, a very different thing from living in fear of the Lord.) Do we study, work, eat, sleep -- do we live our whole lives -- godward? Are we striving to be constantly aware of his presence? Are we striving to do everything in a manner that glorifies him (1 Cor 10:23, 31)? This is the attitude that makes the difference.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Offensive Language

"WARNING: These historical recordings may contain offensive or inappropriate language."

I found the warning cited above on the Library of Congress web site. It was attached to a recording of the hymn "We Are Going Down the Valley". The recording was made in 1909.

I think that I understand what they might be referring to as offensive or inappropriate language. Some old recording might use inappropriate terms for minorities.

That sort of thing does bother me. I have never been able to sing "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" with a clear conscience. I find Stephen Foster's reference to minorities in that song a touch offensive.

But I wonder, what would be the reaction if we asked the government to place such warnings on all modern songs with offensive lyrics? No, I do not really wonder. I know. They would refuse. They would call us narrow-minded. They would say that we were interfering in people's freedom of expression.

There is not much we need to say about such hypocrisy. Just that it is hypocrisy. If songs from 1909 can be labeled as offensive and inappropriate, then so can songs from 2014. The truth is that their concern is not to protect freedom of speech. Their goal is to protect freedom of speech for non-Christians while denying it to Christians.

If you agree with me, you may feel discouraged. I admit to getting a little discouraged sometimes too. But look at it this way. They must be scared of Christians, or they would not be treating us this way. Maybe that should encourage us.

1 John 4:4 (ESV) 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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peace or Conflict?

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:32-33 (ESV)

Which is Jesus promising here, peace or conflict? In verse 33 he seems to promise peace, but only after making it clear that his disciples will have conflict and will be scattered.

In reality Jesus is promising both conflict and peace.

"In the world you will have tribulation." There will be opposition, persecution and trouble for the believer in this world. Not only will we have the disdain of the unbeliever, but we will often fail to do our best. We will sometimes abandon our Lord and leave him alone. We will, like Peter, taste the bitter tears of knowing that we have denied our Master.

Yet, knowing that our Lord has overcome the world, we can have peace when the world troubles us. Perhaps even more importantly, knowing that the Lord has overcome sin, we can have peace even when we know that we have failed. As he forgave his first twelve followers when they left him in the garden, so he forgives us.

This is, of course, no reason to willfully abandon him. It is, rather, all the more reason to flee to him when we are troubled, whether we are troubled by the world or by our own conscience.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Seeking or Avoiding The Presence

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. Mark 5:17-18 (ESV)

How do you feel about the presence of Jesus? The people of the Gerasenes did not want to be in the presence of Jesus. They begged him to leave. The man whose demons had just been sent into the swine begged permission to remain with Jesus. Which is your attitude? Do you delight in the presence of Jesus? Or do you seek to avoid that presence as much as possible?

This is the fundamental test of our conversion. The converted person is not perfect. He still sins. Generally he still exhibits most of the flaws he had before conversion. But he longs for, seeks, and delights in the presence of Jesus. That presence often makes him feel inadequate. That presence reminds him that he is a sinner. Yet, as painful as that presence may be, the truly converted seek that presence.

The unconverted avoid the presence of Jesus. They may attend worship enough to remain respectable in the community. They may avoid open and obvious sin. But they do not seek the presence of Jesus in continual prayer, worship, Bible study, or Christian service.

It was not granted to the redeemed demoniac to remain in the physical presence of Jesus. Instead he was given a ministry among his people. He was to tell them how much the Lord had done for him (verse 19).

We are not granted the physical presence of Jesus. But we are assured that, as we carry out the commission given to us - to teach his word to others - his presence is with us (Matt 28:19-20).

Are we seeking the presence of Jesus in worship, prayer, Bible study, and service? That is the best measure of our conversion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When Pigeons Come Home To Roost

An article with this title appeared about thirty-five years ago. The author may have been Tom Olbricht. The author told of being sent to the barn to removed nests that the pigeons had built in the eaves. Rather than removing the nests, he merely threw some rocks at the pigeons. The rocks scattered the birds for a time, but of course they returned. Father investigated; and the son was punished for not doing the job right. The application was to spiritual things.

Sometimes it seems easier to teach the truth using easy, but invalid, arguments. Instead of taking the trouble to give sound biblical reasons for what we do, we are tempted to give some quick and easy explanation. The quick and easy answer may not be correct, but it satisfies for the moment.

In the pigeons example, it was a son that used a quick and easy method to the disappointment of his father. In giving invalid reasons for right behavior, it is often the parents who do disservice to their children.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting that you try to reason with a two-year-old. At that age, reasoning does not exist. Attempting it frustrates both parent and child. Simple, direct orders are normally in order from birth to age eight (speaking in round numbers). The habit of obedience should be well developed in those early years.

From the age of eight upward, we should be giving our children reasons -- sound, logical, biblical reasons. It takes time and effort. But the effort pays off.

Make no mistake, taking the time to give proper reasons will be an effort. In many cases we will have to search out those valid reasons ourselves (having long since forgotten them, or perhaps, having never been taught them).

We live in a sound-bite world. Millions are make major life decisions on the basis of sound bites. It is tempting to use this approach in teaching Christian truth. But we must not do so. Those persuaded to live the Christian life on the basis of sound bites, or other forms of invalid reasoning, will abandon the faith when the next sound bite comes along. Unless the nests are systematically removed, the pigeons will come home to roost.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dying of Thirst

"Standing Knee Deep in a River (Dying of Thirst)" is a song written by Bob McDill, Dickey Lee and Bucky Jones. It was first recorded by Kathy Mattea. The song expresses the tragedy of those who could have lots of friends, but who fail to maintain relationships and end up lonely.

The idea of standing in a river dying of thirst reminds me of the relationship many have with the church. Through the years I have known dozens of people who complained of loneliness while failing to participate in church programs that would have brought them into contact with others. I have known dozens who let their marriages go to pieces and never contacted any of the church leaders (some of whom had considerable skill in facilitating the healing of a marriage). I have known dozens of families that failed to involve their children in church sponsored activities, and then mourned when those children went astray.

Thousands are standing knee-deep in the wonderful God-ordained resource called the church, yet they die of spiritual thirst. They will not stoop to drink what has been provided. They do not know God's word as they should, yet they will not participate in a Bible class. They run off to worldly resources for counseling, join worldly clubs in search of fellowship, volunteer at worldly organizations, and never consider that they could have done many of these same things at lower cost and more effectively through the church.

One might make full use of the opportunities for service and blessing available through the church and still have trouble. I have known people who were fully engaged with the church who still had marriages or children go astray. Those cases are rare, but they do happen. But at least those people have the comfort of knowing that they did what they could.

To endure loneliness when you could be joining with brothers and sisters in service or study is inexcusable. To allow a marriage to fail when brothers and sisters are available who would be glad to help is inexcusable. To remain seriously defective in Bible knowledge while not taking full advantage of our classes and study opportunities is inexcusable. It is not too late. Don't stand there dying of thirst. Stoop and drink.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Christian Exclusiveness

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, ESV).

At the outset the church experienced two things: phenomenal growth and violent opposition. Three thousand responded to the first sermon (Acts 2:41). Before long the church had grown to five thousand (Acts 4:4). But alongside this growth there was also persecution. Somehow the message the apostles preached seemed to inspire extreme reactions. People either embraced it wholeheartedly or rejected it completely.

This dichotomy was also experienced in the recent past. Fifty years ago the message we preached was embraced by many, but despised by still more. Yes, the church was growing fast, but at the cost of being derided, belittled and despised. "They think they are the only ones going to heaven. How narrow-minded!"

We have learned to temper our message so that it will not give such offense; but oddly, doing so has not led to growth. Now we are rarely belittled, but at the cost of being little noticed.

The fundamental claim of Christ is exclusive. He is not "a way", he is "the way." "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12, ESV). Jesus did not come from heaven to earth, he was not laid in a manger, he was not nailed to a cross so that he could be one of many ways of approaching God. He accepted the cup of suffering because there was no other way to reconcile sinful humans with their creator. If there had been another way the cup of suffering would have passed from him (Mt 26:39).

If we affirm this exclusive claim we will be called narrow-minded. But if we fail to affirm it we will not make ourselves more popular; we will make ourselves irrelevant. We will not convert more with the softer, more open approach. We will convert none. For without the exclusiveness of Christianity there is no Christianity at all. Without that exclusive claim there is no offense in the gospel for there is no gospel to give either offense or salvation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Follow Your Heart?

[Thanks to Joe Slater for permission to use his article on this important subject]

It sounds so good – so right – "Follow your heart!" In everything from romance to religion, subjective feelings reign supreme. What should you do in a given situation? Modern responses seldom include objective reasoning about what is right or wrong. Instead, we hear on TV, learn from songs, and read from books, "What does your heart tell you? Look inside yourself, and you will find the right answer!"

I hate to burst anyone's balloon, but God says otherwise. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). If you are simply looking inside yourself or "listening to your heart," I guarantee you are headed for trouble. Maybe you've already arrived! "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 16:25).

The problem with the "follow your heart" advice is that it assumes something patently false! It assumes that people are basically good by nature, when, in fact, we have corrupted ourselves with sin. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Because of our sin, our hearts are incapable of guiding us safely. "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).

When the lawyer asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, the Lord did not tell him to look inside himself, or to follow whatever his heart told him was right. Rather, since they were living under the Old Covenant, Jesus asked, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" (Luke 10:26). Since we live under the New Testament, we ought to be studying and following it with all diligence.

God's inspired word, not the ever-changing subjective feelings of the corrupt human heart, will lead us safely home.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What John Doe Saw In Heaven

There are a number of books that claim to tell us what the author experienced in heaven. What is a Christian to make of these claims?

The Bible recounts several cases of people being raised from the dead. In the Old Testament, Elijah and Elisha are said to have raised someone. In the New Testament, our Lord raised the widow’s son at Nain, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus. Acts tells us that Peter raised Dorcas and that Paul raised Eutychus. Not one of these biblical returns from the dead includes an account of what was experienced when the spirit of these people was absent from this world. Not a single word of description is given by any of them.

In 2 Corinthians the Apostle mentions, but does not describe, his experience of being caught up into the “third heaven.” He tells us that it happened, but he concludes that it is not lawful for him to tell what he heard while there.

Is there a message for us in these facts? I think that there is. Our desire to “go to heaven” ought rather to be a desire to be with and to please our Lord. The sights and sounds of the world to come ought not to be a major concern.

There is a brief description in the Revelation of the New Jerusalem. That is as close as we come to a description of the afterlife of Christians. We are given no inventory of the mansions. We are not told what we will feel, hear, or experience, beyond the fact that we will stand in awe of our Lord and praise him.

I prefer the thoughts of the dying Samuel Rutherford to the claims of those who say they have been to heaven – for Rutherford’s thoughts were based on a solid knowledge of scripture and a love of his Lord that was greater than his love of the things that heaven might contain.

“The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face. I will not gaze on glory, but on my King of grace. Not at the crown he giveth, but on his pierced hand. The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Duty & Results

Grantland Rice (1880-1954) was a famous sportswriter. There are no sportswriters as famous today as Grantland Rice was in his time. Is that because Rice was a better writer than any of those writing today? Rice was a very good writer, but those who have read his work thoroughly contend that, if he were writing today he might be virtually unknown. People do not depend on the newspapers for their sports news today. A writer just as good as Grantland Rice might well be unnoticed, perhaps even unemployed, in today’s market.

If we live in a time of testing, if we live in an era when people are unreceptive to the gospel and even violently opposed to it, we must not measure ourselves against those of past generations who faced a different situation. If we make such mistaken comparisons there are two likely results, and neither of them is good.

We might start trying extreme and unscriptural methods in an effort to obtain the results that were known in the past. On the other hand, we might become discouraged and just quit trying.

J. C. Ryle wrote, “We are not to relax our exertions because we see no fruit of our toil. We are to work on steadily, keeping before us the great principle that duty is ours and results are God’s.”

The great question is not success but faithfulness. Jesus did not promise the joy of the Lord to successful servants but to faithful servants (Mt 25:21). We must keep this principle ever before us.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unhealthy Diet

According to a recent NPR story, "Food is very, very cheap in the U.S. compared to most countries. But ... you end up with people malnourished in one of the richest countries because they don't have access to fresh vegetables at a cheap enough price ...."

Now let me ask you, 'Do you believe that price is the real reason Americans do not eat vegetables?' It appears to me that the main reasons they do not eat vegetables is that they do not like them and that they find them too difficult to prepare. Folks that spend a fortune on bottled water and fancy pet food, could certainly afford vegetables if they wanted them. This "too poor to afford vegetables" claim is hollow as a fortune cookie. Americans eat an unbalanced diet because they choose to do so.

We never learned to cook; we never learned to like real food; we are in the habit of grabbing junk because it is easy, and we have become accustomed to it. Price has little, if anything, to do with it.

But this blog is not about health food, so why do I mention this? Simply because the same thing carries over into spiritual matters. We eat unhealthy food, even though there is plenty of healthy food available, simply because we have formed bad habits and are too lazy to change them. That statement is equally true whether one is considering physical or spiritual food.

The junk is so easy, the junk is so fast, and we are so used to the junk. The attitude is "Don't make me cook, don't make me think, just give me a canned meal, or a canned thoughtless sermon." That attitude is the problem. We can afford better food, But we are not willing to take the time to prepare it. Good spiritual food is available also, but too many of us are unwilling to invest the effort to receive it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

School Shootings Surprise You?

Consider these thoughts from Joe Slater.

"We have legally killed over fifty million people who were inconvenient or unwanted over the last 40 years. To the children, the unspoken message is: 'The only reason you're here is because we wanted you. We killed fifty million of your brothers and sisters, and we could have killed you just as easily, and there would have been nothing wrong with it.' Given that bankrupt philosophy, why are we surprised when some children have no respect for each other's lives?"

Given what we are teaching our children, it would be surprising if we did not have school shootings. If killing an innocent child is acceptable, then why should one refrain from killing those who are not innocent -- who are often seen as oppressive and unfair?

Of course, if we could somehow eliminate all guns from our society, that would stop the actual shooting, but it would not end the thinking that is the root cause of the violence. My father's generation had not only guns but explosives readily available throughout their childhood, yet schools were not attacked. It is the philosophy of life that has changed, not the availability of guns. Our greatest need is to replace that failed philosophy.

God hates hands that shed innocent blood (Proverbs 6:16-17). When America starts taking God's attitude toward the doctors, judges and politicians who have caused the death of the fifty million, the school shootings will soon diminish if not cease.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Self-Delusion

Proverbs 19:3 (HCSB) A man's own foolishness leads him astray, yet his heart rages against the LORD.

It is sad that so many people choose to live their lives by worldly standards, ignoring what God's word says about right and wrong; and yet they expect God to bless them. It is sad that so many today choose to live their lives by worldly standards, ignoring what God's word says; and yet they claim that God is number one in their lives. It is sad that so many today choose to live their lives by worldly standards, ignoring what God's word says; and yet they claim that they have a good personal relationship with God. This is nothing but self-delusion.

Matthew 7:21 (ESV) Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
1 Peter 3:12 (ESV) For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
1 John 2:29 (ESV) If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
1 John 3:7 (ESV) Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

We cannot live wrong and die right. We cannot live wrong and claim to love Him. If one really wants to be known as a person who loves the Lord, and who puts Him first in life -- there is no need to SAY that we do. We need to really do it. If we really put Him first, if we strive to live by His standards, it will be seen that He is first in our lives and we will not have to go around telling people that He is. But if we choose to live in a manner that He has labeled immoral, no matter how much we claim Him as Lord, it will be obvious that the claim is hollow. As Jesus himself said, "Unless you repent you will perish" (Luke 13:3).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Yankees

Robinson Cano's values are simple and clear. He wants as much money as he can get. He will play for whichever team offers him the most money. Normally the Yankees outbid others, but in Cano's case, the Mariners were the team making the highest offer. Cano's new contract is reported to be for $240 million.

That is almost all I intend to say about Robinson Cano. I prefer to talk of another Yankee, one who played the same position as Cano, but who had a very different attitude. I prefer to talk about Bobby Richardson.

Shortly after the end of the season in 1966, the New York Yankees presented a standard contract to their star second-baseman, Bobby Richardson. It was a standard contract in every respect except one. The dollar figures were blank. Bobby Richardson was invited to fill in the blanks, to set his own signing bonus and salary. It was every player's dream, a blank contract from the richest team in the land.

Thirty-one year old Bobby Richardson pushed the contract across the table and said, "The Yankees have treated me well, but I am not interested in filling in the blanks in that contract. My interest is in filling in the blanks in my life as a husband and a father. My last game was my last game."

The Yankees' negotiator stated, "We gave him a blank contract and he gave it back. Bobby never tried to convince any of us that we should believe as he did, but we all knew how he felt. After that, I knew what he was made of. ... We were running a business, and he was running his life."

I have heard that Robinson Cano wanted to be the richest player in baseball, and that he was disappointed that he was not offered as much money as Alex Rodriguez receives. Let me tell you something, Mr. Cano. Neither you nor A-Rod is the richest player in history. Bobby Richardson was far better off than either of you.