Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Tale of Two Bills

About twenty years ago I read a newspaper article with the title “A Tale of Two Bills.” It was the story of two men named “Bill” who had dinner together. Earlier that day one of the men had been convicted of a serious crime, yet he spent no time in jail. Instead, he and the other Bill enjoyed a sumptuous meal together at one of the most famous locations on earth, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, otherwise known as the White House. The convicted Bill was Bill Gates. His host was Bill Clinton.

Favoritism toward the rich is common. The proverb, “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends” (Proverbs 14:20, ESV), is as true today as it was when first penned. 

That is how it is with the world, but that is not how it is to be with who claim to be Christians. There are many reasons why we should not behave this way. I will highlight just two.

First, we believe in creation by one God. The atheist believes in the survival of the fittest. Those who have done well in life therefore may be viewed as being more fit, more worthy of surviving. Atheism is inherently anti-poor. Thankfully, some atheists, to their credit, resist the natural tendency of their own doctrine. Polytheistic religions naturally despise the poor. Other people may have been made by a different god. But for us, despising the poor should never even be an option. The poor person was made by the same God, and in the image of the same God, as we (Prov 14:31; 17:5; 22:2).

Second, we worship a poor Master. We believe that our Lord came to this earth and took on human form, and that when he did so he came as a poor person. He identified with the poor. To be unkind to the poor is, therefore, to be unkind to Him (Mt 25:40).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Goals, Golf, and God

A humorous story appeared in the high school newspaper when I was a teen. According to this “news” item, all the high school coaches went golfing together. The wrestling coach, Mr. Horn, was really excited about his score, until someone informed him that in golf the low score wins.

Coach Horn’s confusion over purpose reminds me of a football game we had at a church fellowship long ago. One of the players, named Clyde, was from rural Kentucky and had never seen a football game. Clyde did not understand the rules or how one scored. He was told to run down the field and catch the ball when it was thrown to him. He did so. But now what? When members of the other team surrounded him, Clyde threw the ball back to the quarterback.

Those two events are merely humorous. No lasting harm is done if one plays a game that is not understood. But purposeless living causes serious harm.

Do you have a purpose statement for your life? 

Without a clear statement of our purpose we are easily tossed off course. In fact we have no real course, for one cannot sail toward a goal if he has no goal.

Having a purpose statement does not solve all our problems. A good purpose statement does, however, help us keep problems in proper perspective. 

My life-purpose statement is a simple adaptation of the first response of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever (and to help others do likewise).” That is my purpose statement. I believe that has all the key elements of a good purpose statement. It is biblical, practical, and simple to remember.

If you do not have a purpose statement for your life, you are welcome to borrow mine. I did not invent it, nor did the authors of the catechism. See the following passages to understand who did - Isaiah 43:21; Matthew 5:16; Philippians 1:9-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Information or Transformation

Which do we seek, information or transformation? 

If one seeks information about healthy diet, he can read a book. If the book is well chosen, he will have all the needed information in a few hours. But if one seeks transformation, it will take more than reading a book. The person who desires to change his diet and improve his health must do more than read about good eating. To be transformed we must act.

The dietician cannot transform us. We must be involved, we must take action. Learning what will help is an important first step, but it is only the first step. We must apply the information or expect no improvement.

Many of us eat as we do out of habit. It takes time, effort and a retraining of our tastes before we experience transformation. Occasional attention to healthy eating is not enough. We must give constant daily attention to transform our eating habits.

These truths are so obvious to us when it comes to physical diet and health. Why should it be hard to understand when it comes to our spiritual life? Could it be that we are confused about the goal of worship and Bible study? Have we the mistaken impression that information is all we need?

Transformative mind-renewal is the goal (Rom 12:2). Information is needed, but we must move beyond information. We must change habits, tastes, preferences. Spiritual transformation takes effort, requires action, and demands diligence.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (James 1:22, ESV).  
For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Romans 2:13, 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” (Matthew 7:21, ESV).
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. …..  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:24, 26, ESV).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


It is not enough to say, “The Lord was my shepherd” or “The Lord will be my shepherd.” The critical question remains, “is he my shepherd today?”

It is not sufficient to say, “The Lord is Israel’s shepherd” or “The Lord shepherds the family of Jesse.” The crucial pronoun is “my.”

Too many people vainly imagine that, because they once attended Sunday school and learned the basics of the gospel and were baptized into Christ, they are therefore set for life and eternity. That is not the way it works. We must continue in the word or even the most clearly instructed of us will wander away.

Proverbs tells us, “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27, ESV).

And Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, ESV).

All too often only the second part of this statement by Jesus is quoted. But it is a conditional sentence. The end of the sentence will not be fulfilled unless the condition is met. The truth will not set us free unless we abide in his word (or continue in his teaching, as the NIV puts it).

Can we really say “The Lord is my shepherd”? Yes, he shepherds his church. But am I allowing him to shepherd me, right now, in my daily life?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Who Is Guilty?

According to a radio broadcast I heard last year, “Amazing Grace” is no longer the most popular song at funerals. The most popular funeral song is now “I Did It My Way.” 

This underlines a fact that we should have already noticed. People are not interested in being saved because they do not believe that they are lost.

As far as the world is concerned, God owes us a place in heaven. This is based on the assumption that we have not done much wrong, and what wrong we have done is usually someone else’s fault – mostly God’s fault. Yes, we have our flaws. But, we claim, those flaws are really God’s fault. He made us this way. He gave us these desires, so it must be okay to fulfill these desires.

To most people today, that seems like sound reasoning. Sadly, I even hear people in the church talk like that. Let me warn you, such reasoning will not be tolerated at the throne of judgment. 

God did not make us what we are. We, by our sin, perverted what he made us. We by our weakness in the face of our own warped desires are making ourselves worse on a daily basis.

This faulty reasoning is not new. It is as old as the human race. Adam tried to blame God. He said, “The woman that you gave me … (Gen 3:12). Cain tried to play the weakling, the victim of his circumstances. God acknowledged that Cain was being tempted, but he also stated that Cain was able to master sin, if he chose to do so. “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7, ESV).

Yes, we have desires; but no, God did not give the current form of these desires to us. We, by our sin, have warped and perverted what God has given us. Thus we are tempted. But there is still hope. We can master the situation, not by continuing to do things our way but by accepting his amazing grace and living by his power rather than our own.

We can whimper and whine and claim that we cannot help it. But it is a lie. It is self-deception. God has enabled us to overcome sin, and he demands that we do so. He is not guilty. We are.