Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful for the Family

The world today has no respect for family. Even many Christians have strayed from God’s plan. Why must we all get a degree? Why must we all earn a wage? Why is it that even Christians put more stock in where people went to school and what employment they have had, than in the job they have done raising a family?

That is not God’s way. His plan, for both men (1 Tim 3:1-5), and women (1 Tim 5:14), emphasizes family.
The world today has no respect for God’s family. The church and the family, the bedrock institutions in days gone by, are openly mocked today.

But God’s household, his family, the church, is important. The truth has been entrusted to it (1 Tim 3:15). The church is the fullness of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). It is through the church that the wisdom of God is made known (Eph 3:10). It is through the church that God is glorified and will be glorified eternally (Eph 3:20-21).

When we are in need, it is to our families that we should turn. We should turn first to our immediate family and then to our spiritual family (1 Tim 5). I have travelled to many parts of the world, and in every place I have gone I have found brothers and sisters. I have enjoyed sharing in worship and work with these brothers and sisters. From the frigid prairies of Western Canada to the mountains and deserts of southern Africa I have found family, people who honor my father, people who embrace me because they too are his children.

I am glad to be a part of God’s family. I am glad to serve with God’s family. I am thankful for God’s family!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Invictus Revised

William Ernest Henley authored the short poem “Invictus.” The last four lines are the only ones known these days.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

I first heard the lines on the old television show “Room 222.” I only watched the show a few times, and limited exposure perhaps has helped me remember what I did watch of it. During the episode that contained the poem, Mr. Kaufman, the school principal, hears complaints about the English teacher, Miss Brown, so he goes by the classroom to investigate.

She is an older teacher, one he had studied under when he was in school. When she sees him enter the room late, her mind goes back twenty years. She thinks that he is still her student. She berates him for being late again, and orders him to stand and recite Invictus.

It was an episode about the tragedy of dementia. It was also an episode about the error of Invictus. Miss Brown was not the master of her fate. She was not the captain of her soul. None of us is (Gal 2:16; Rom 14:7ff).

So I offer you my own revised version of the closing of the poem.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
Christ is the Master of my fate,
The Captain of my soul.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Made or Become?

I came across a quote the other day that looked like a misquote. Oswald Chambers quoted 1 Corinthians 9:22 from the King James Version, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” That did not sound right to me, but it is. It is not stated that way in other translations, not even in the New King James. Other translations say “I have become,” rather than “I was made.”

I looked the verse up in Greek, and read the thoughts of a number of scholars, and did not learn much from the process. Is the verb active (what Paul “became” of his own doing), or is it passive (what he was “made” to be by a power outside himself)?

Grammatically the matter cannot be settled, but I think in practical terms we know the answer.

We become what God wants us to be only by his power, but only as we submit ourselves to him. He does not work with the proud, but only with those who submit to him (James 4:6ff). We become capable of submitting to others and leading them to salvation only as we allow ourselves to be his instruments. We do not have that ability within ourselves, but we do have that ability made available to us by his grace. We “become” what we need to be only as he “makes” us what we need to be.

Until we recognize that we cannot “become all things to all” except by his power remaking us, we will not become capable instruments for saving others. Trying to remake ourselves is a pointless undertaking. Expecting God to remake us without our willing submission and active participation is equally foolish.

The Propinquity Effect

Research has shown that the more we interact with people, the more likely we are to become friends with them, be influenced by them, and become like them. It is not so much that “birds of a feather flock together” as “birds who just happen to be near each other grow similar feathers.” This is called the propinquity effect.

“Why might this research be important to us?” Well, aside from the fact that it confirms what we should already know from the Bible (1 Cor 15:33; Prov 13:20), it also tells us something about what will happen if we allow our children to grow up spending most of their time with non-Christians.

The propinquity effect is especially strong in youth. Since we no longer have arranged marriages, there is a very strong possibility that young men and young women will be attracted to one another simply because they find themselves thrown together often. I have known a number of young couples who did not have shared values or interests and yet decided to get married. Marriage is still expected of people at a certain age range. If, when they reach that age, there is no one around who shares their values and interests, they will often convince themselves that they are “in love” with someone who happens to be at hand – no matter the unsuitability of the mismatch. A few marriages like this work out, but most are disastrous.

Of course, we cannot guarantee that Christian camps or Christian schools, or Christian singles get-togethers will solve these problems. Perhaps it would be wise to talk with our youth about the propinquity effect. That will not solve the problem either, but at least it will give our youth a better chance.

Then again, maybe we should consider the possibility that we have all come under the propinquity effect. Is the church drifting from its moral and spiritual standards simply because we “flock together” so much with the world?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Spiritual Metacognition

“Metacognition” is a fairly new term used to describe thinking about the process of thinking. The best students are those who use metacognition. They not only study well, but they try to view themselves in the process of studying so that they can evaluate and improve their approach to study. They don’t just study algebra or zoology; they think about how they study algebra or zoology.

Surely this concept has application to worship and Christian service?

The most faithful Christians not only worship and serve, they also think about how they worship and serve. They strive to do so better. The concept seems to be similar to Paul’s statement in Philippians 3.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus
. (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)

A dandelion from the hand of a three-year-old delights a parent or grandparent. The same gift from an adult is not so delightful.

Are we growing in our Christian service? Do our lives honor the Lord more now than when we began? Do we honor him more than we did five years ago? If we are not growing, if there is no sign of improvement, if our service has remained the same, then in reality we are regressing. To still be bringing him the gifts of our spiritual childhood when we ought to be spiritually maturing is really to dishonor the Lord.

Let us apply some metacognition to our spiritual lives. Let us not only worship and serve, let us seek to improve our worship and service.

Friday, October 6, 2017

July 1999

I was standing atop the high-wall (an artificial cliff created by strip-mining). I was staring off in the distance, trying to prepare myself. The Hospice nurse said that Dad would be gone soon, and that Mom was not far behind. I was due back in Africa in ten days.

A cousin, driving by in his pickup, stopped to talk. He expressed sorrow for the coming loss. I managed to express to him that, despite outward appearances, my parents were in better shape than he.

I doubt that it registered. Although his parents were both Christians, and had attended worship pretty regularly, he had never learned the gospel. His conception of Christianity was somewhere between vague and radically mistaken – likely closer to radically mistaken. I am not sorry that I spoke, but I doubt it did any good.

Children absorb that to which they are constantly exposed. An hour per week of worship does not make a lasting impression on them. Even three hours per week does not make much of an impression. The world speaks to them constantly. The voice they hear most often is the voice they learn to heed.

Bring your children to class as well as to worship. Speak of Christ at home as well. Focus your own life on the gospel if you intend for it to make an eternal difference for your children.

My words meant nothing to that cousin. He did not have the background to understand. I fear that this is the case with many children today, even children of Christian parents.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fake News Regarding Faith

I have heard it said that Christians are just as likely to be divorced as non-Christians. Often the statement is made by preachers, usually in the midst of an exhortation to be more diligent in the practice of our faith. But it seems that this so-called statistic is not even close to accurate.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains that of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend worship 60% have been divorced. But of those who attend church regularly only 38% have been divorced. Admittedly, 38% is still not good. But the gap is significant. [Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites ...and Other Lies You've Been Told, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010), p. 133.]

Those who attend worship regularly are much less likely to be divorced than those who consider themselves Christians but do not attend regularly. I wonder what the figure would be if we checked those who both attend worship regularly and who worship at home? What of those who attend worship regularly, worship at home and who are involved in some form of Christian service?

Don’t be fooled by fake news. A mere verbal faith does not make a difference in divorce statistics, but a living and active faith makes a significant difference.

Let’s try that last statement with a slight change.

Don’t be fooled by fake news. A mere verbal faith does not make a difference in one’s salvation, but a living and active faith makes a significant difference.

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, ESV).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Extremism and the Gospel

I do not like extremism. I am not one of those fans who insists on watching every game. Nor do I paint my face or wear funny clothes to show my loyalty. I have my preferred brands, but I acknowledge that other manufacturers have good products. I like pork better than chicken, but I have no objection if you prefer chicken to pork.

But, on the other hand, I cannot understand a half-hearted approach to serious matters.

Justice is not served when criminals are sentenced to less than they took. A theft of $100 is not justly punished with a fine of $99. The entire amount should be repaid, and a sum adequate to cover all costs should be added. That is not extreme; it is simple logic.

If we really believe that God the Son surrendered the glories of heaven for a life of poverty and a painful death, it will make a very notable difference in our lives. If there is not a notable difference in our lives, evidently we do not really believe.

To insist that everyone should have our same brand preferences or that everyone make our same food choices is extreme. To recognize that everyone ought to know, and love, and serve Christ is not extreme. Either the gospel is true, in which case everyone needs to hear it and respond to it, or it is false. On this issue, there is no middle ground. We need to agree with the Apostle Paul when he said to Agrippa, “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am” (Acts 26:29, ESV).

We used to hear it asked, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Surely anyone who really believes the gospel will be leaving enough evidence for a speedy verdict. The world will surely call such a person an extremist, a madman (Acts 26:24). So it was for the early disciples, and so it should be for us.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Obeying the Gospel

I remember when it was popular to say, “The gospel is the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-4). Good news is just believed; it cannot be obeyed. We should not speak of obeying the gospel.”

The rather obvious problem with such thinking is that the Bible itself speaks of obeying the gospel (1 Thess 1:8).

We obey the good news when we reenact the death, burial, and resurrection in baptism (Rom 6:3-4). But surely that is not all. We must not stop at a ceremonial reenactment. The last phrase of that passage indicates that we are to rise to “walk in newness of life”.

What will be characteristic of a gospel shaped life?

The gospel did not begin at Calvary, at Jerusalem, at Nazareth, or even at Bethlehem. The gospel began in eternity, in the decision of God to become man. Jesus, in giving up what was rightfully his, chose to bless others. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). To live a gospel shaped life, we also must find ways to serve others. Out of our confession of the gospel will flow gifts to others (2 Cor 9:13-14).

What is flowing from our lives? Are we obeying the gospel?

Obeying the gospel is not seen primarily in the “bad” things we avoid (although there are plenty of bad things we should avoid). Obeying the gospel is patterning our lives after the example of Jesus; it is a matter of actively seeking a life of service to others (especially of spiritual service that will make a difference for eternity).

Let us all ask ourselves, “Am I obeying the gospel?”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Spiritual Fog

“Spiritually, we are all good at producing fogs.” – Oswald Chambers

Whatever one may think of Oswald Chambers, he certainly had a picturesque way of describing spiritual realities. Chambers lived much of his life in England, in an era when nearly everything was coal powered and the natural fogginess of the British climate was supplemented by human produced smog. Chambers’ writings are nearly all aimed at those who claimed to be Christians, but who often clouded the spiritual realities rather than clarifying them.

Undoubtedly, there are mysteries involved in the faith; there are scriptures that are difficult to understand. The Bible admits this (2 Peter 3:15-16). But much of it is quite clear. The fundamentals of the faith are simple enough for us to understand. His word is not too high for us (Dt 30:11-12; Rom 10:6-8). Much of the spiritual fog that exists for us exists because we have created it.

We do not want to obey, so we pretend that we do not understand. Sometimes we pretend so well and for so long that we start to believe our own pretending. Honesty in confessing our sins and facing our responsibilities is what it takes to clear this fog.

Sometimes we simply do not think about the things that matter often enough. No subject can be mastered in an hour or two per week. Yet this is all most people devote to understanding God. A regular habit of Bible study is needed to clear this kind of fog.

The Lord is not unclear, he is light (Jn 8:12). The fog that we perceive is fog we have created because deep down we fear to know him as he wishes to be known. Let’s be honest. Let’s be diligent. Let’s stop producing fog.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Neglected Means of Protection

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you
(Psalm 5:11, ESV).

In Hebrew poetry, the second line of a verse normally restates or expands on what was said in the first line. In the verse cited above, to “rejoice” and to “sing for joy” are different ways of expressing the same idea. This thought is expanded on when the writer adds a third line, “and spread your protection over them.” He then restates it yet again in the fourth line.

Let us focus for a moment on that third line. How do we spread the protection of God over ourselves? There are a number of sound biblical answers to this question. We might seek to spread his protection over us in prayer (Mt 6:13). We might seek his protection by means of memorizing his word (Ps 119:11). We certainly should seek his protection by means of close association with his people (Eccl 4:9-12). This psalm seems to suggest that we do so by means of rejoicing, singing, exulting.

The person who rejoices in what God has done thereby continues to protect himself in the Lord. In acknowledging the Lord’s past deeds, we admit our neediness. In admitting our neediness, we avoid the temptation to trust in ourselves. Not trusting in ourselves, we cling more closely to him, and in this we are protected from future danger.

Sing! Sing in the shower. Sing in the car. Sing at home with your family. Sing mentally even when you cannot sing aloud. Let us sing for joy at what the Lord has done for us, and thus spread his protection over us for the days ahead.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

People Need People

According to a recent headline, “Loneliness is deadlier than obesity.” I did not take time to read the full story. I did not feel a need for the details of the research. God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

We need each other. It is not that we need to always be in a crowd. That can be the loneliest place of all. But we do need genuine human friendship. Unfortunately, so many people today have lost touch with that need. Watching television is about as close as they come to human interaction. Many are waiting at home, hoping that the phone will ring, that someone will come to the door, or that the mail carrier will bring a letter.

If you are one of those people,
• Reach out to someone. Think of others who might also be lonely. Give them a call, write them a note, or (if you are able to) get together with them for a cup of coffee or a walk in the park.
• Engage in some useful activity. We need WBS teachers. We need more people in our Bible classes. There are small tasks that need to be done around the building. Doing these would bring you together with others. For example, as I am writing this, two brothers are working on the floor of the fellowship hall. They are enjoying some fellowship in useful labor (which is always the best kind of fellowship).
• Do not think too narrowly. A person does not have to be your same age to benefit from your company. There is great value in cross-generational contact.

The church’s primary task is to glorify God, but we do that best when we do that together. Thus, while seeking to honor him, we help each other with our loneliness.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Commandment Is Not Hard

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.” (Deuteronomy 30:11, ESV)

We often find the ways of God difficult, and Jesus even tells us that it will be so (Matthew 7:14). But the ways of God are not inherently difficult. God did not design them to be difficult. We find them difficult because of our nature. The commandments themselves are not hard. They are hard because we have placed ourselves in difficult circumstances. We make it hard for ourselves (Proverbs 13:15).

When we first begin to walk with God, the way seems difficult, the commandments seem hard. But if we are faithful to his commands, we find that they are not a burden (1 John 5:3). “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18, ESV).

The Lord’s commandment is not inherently difficult. We make it difficult by our attitude.

The choice is ours. We can willingly submit ourselves to the Lord, in which case we will generally find the way growing easier and the commands lighter as we go along. Or we may attempt to grudgingly follow Jesus, in which case the way will always seem hard and the commandments will always be a burden.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Roselyse Is Back Where She Belongs

After two weeks of agony for all of us, Roselyse is back where she belongs. The picture I have seen shows a little girl mighty glad to be back with her daddy.

Thank you for your prayers. Please continue them as we try to heal from this terrible ordeal.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It Will Surely Come

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Habakkuk 2:3 (ESV)

Our society encourages us to hurry. We eat fast food. We expect next day delivery, seven days a week. Speed and quantity are honored above craftsmanship and quality.

Many Christians are caught up in the rat race. Contemplation, meditation, patience, are becoming obsolete words.

Moses wanted to deliver Israel from the Egyptians. God planned to do that, and he planned to use Moses in doing so. But another 40 years would pass before the journey began, and then 40 more before it ended. The Lord’s plans are not hurried, and that often makes us impatient. The question, “How long?” occurs frequently in the Bible, 25 times just in the Psalms.

Thousands of years passed between the sin in Eden and the sacrifice at Calvary. It was not that God needed all that time to develop a plan for redeeming sinners. The plan existed before the need for the plan was evident. God knew what he would do before the world existed (Eph 1:4). He was awaiting the fullness of time (Eph 1:10).

Jesus wants his people to get out of the crowd from time to time for spiritual refreshment (Mk 6:31). He wants them to wait patiently while his plans come to fruition (Rev 6:10-11). We will not always find it easy, but if we wait for him we will find his blessing. It will surely come.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Christian Does Not Live There

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8-9, ESV).

I have visited London several times, but I have never lived there. Normally, when I pass through London, it is only for a day or two. I am always on my way somewhere else when I stop in London.

Christians sin. That is a fact that we must not deny. John himself says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9, ESV).

Christians sin, but if a person who claims to be a Christian makes a habit of sin, continues to sin, lives in sin, that person has denied Christ and proven that their claim is false. Such a person has shown that, far from being a child of God, he is the offspring of Satan (1 John 3:4-10).

I have never lived in London, although I have passed through there. Christians will occasionally sin, but they do not live in sin. The blood of Jesus will cleanse us of our occasional sins (1 Jn 1:9), but if we give ourselves over to sin, if we quit fighting it, if we live in it, we show that we do not really belong to Christ.

Where are we living? What is the pattern of our lives? If the pattern is a pursuit of righteousness, although sin does creep in, that is to be expected. But if the pattern is of repeated wallowing in sin (2 Peter 2:20-22), our true genealogy is not of God but of the devil.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Imperfect Is Better Than Non-Existent

According to an old story, someone approached the well-known preacher, Alexander Whyte, and told Whyte that he did not like Whyte’s methods of visitation. Whyte confessed that he too was dissatisfied with many of his visits. He then asked, “Tell me how you conduct your visits.” The complainer had to admit that he did not do any visitation. Whyte replied, “I do not like the way I visit; but I like the way I visit better than the way you do not visit.”

Something similar might be said about our Bible studies. I confess that I am not always satisfied with our Bible classes, either the ones we hold at the building or the ones held in homes. Sometimes those of us who teach are not as well prepared as might have been wished. Sometimes we wander from the subject and comments are made that are a bit astray. But I am convinced that imperfect participation is better than the most perfect non-participation.

I have eaten many meals that were very good, but I do not know that I have ever eaten a perfect meal. I am not even sure what a “perfect meal” would be. On a number of occasions I have eaten some very imperfect meals. But as my daddy always said, “Half a loaf is better than none.” Had I turned up my nose at every imperfect meal through the years, I would not be alive today (physically or spiritually).

Don’t be a critic who complains about classes, worship, or visitation efforts. Of course, those who visit and encourage others do not always handle it perfectly. Of course, those who teach do not always teach perfectly. Nor do those who cook do so perfectly. But I am still going to show up at the table come dinner time, and I expect you will too. Try showing up to visit someone, even as imperfect as your visit is sure to be. Try showing up to Bible class, as imperfect as that class is sure to be. Imperfect is better than non-existent every time.

Which Scriptures?

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11, ESV)

The Jews of Berea were examining the scriptures. Which scriptures were the Bereans examining? They were not studying Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; those had not yet been written. They could not have been studying Acts; it was not written either. So, what were they examining? Clearly they were checking what we call the Old Testament (Genesis through Malachi).

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus(2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV)

What scriptures did Timothy learn from childhood? It cannot have been the New Testament scriptures. Many of them had not been written even when Timothy reached adulthood, and none had been written when he was a child. Clearly it was Genesis through Malachi that his mother and grandmother taught him.

Many people study parts of the Bible and do not find that it makes them “wise unto salvation.” Many people study the Bible and do not find that it makes them “complete and ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Why? Because they do not study the whole Bible. They skip through the Bible studying only the parts they like, and find that they have not accomplished much.
Get to know the whole Bible. Then and only then will you know what it might accomplish in your life.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

When Is a Foot No Longer a Foot

Epictetus said, “A foot is no longer a foot if it is detached from the body, so you are no longer a man if you are separated from other men.” (Discourses of Epictetus, book 2, chapter 7). He may have been overstating his case a bit, but he has a point.

For all practical purposes, a foot is no longer a foot while separated from the body. As soon as a foot is separated from the body, the body loses all benefit from that foot. The body is crippled. Even if, in theory, we want to say that Epictetus is wrong, and it still is a foot, it cannot function as a foot. So, in functional terms, it is not a foot.

I suspect you know where this is going, so I will not belabor the matter.

As a foot separated from the body is (functionally speaking) no longer a foot, so the Christian separated from the body of Christ is (functionally speaking) no longer a Christian. Just as our physical body derives no benefit from a foot that has been separated from the body, so the body of Christ derives no benefit from those members who no longer take part in the life of the body. (See Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 1:23)

Even if you are just a toe in the body of Christ, you make a difference, and your absence makes a difference. Do your part, whatever that part may be.

Satan wants you to believe that you can remain separated from the body of Christ and still remain a Christian. Satan is a liar.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Cornelius Van Til

I have a special place in my heart for Cornelius Van Til. I never met the man. I never sat in his classes. I have not read many of his books (and the ones I did read I found difficult). And, to top it all off, if I ever had known him, I am sure we would have had significant doctrinal differences.

So why do I have a soft spot for Cornelius Van Til?

I graduated from Oklahoma Christian in August of 1978, and began working with the church in Kent, Ohio. By November of 1980, the inadequacy of my preparation for the ministry had become evident. Besides that, the church in Kent was headed for financial trouble, and I needed to move on. So I began to inquire at various schools. I cannot recall why I wrote to Westminster Theological Seminary. It did not make sense. I was not in agreement with many of their theological positions. I knew no one in Philadelphia; and I had no way to cover room and board for my family. But for some now forgotten reason, I wrote to that school.

I received from Westminster, as from all the other schools, an application packet and a sales pitch from the admissions staff. But I also received something else from Westminster. I received a personal hand-written note from Cornelius Van Til. I am sure that many others who applied to Westminster at that time received a similar note. It would be silly to imagine otherwise. But still, I appreciated it. An eighty-five-year-old professor, known around the world, had taken a few minutes to pen a note to me. It was not a long letter, just a simple note. But I saved that note for many years.

When was the last time you wrote someone a note of encouragement? Postage is higher than it used to be, but it is still a bargain. For less than a dollar, you could brighten someone's life today; you could share a word of encouragement that might make a difference for years to come. Don't think about it. Do it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


How long will a congregation last without a preacher? How long will a congregation continue gathering without a place to meet?

In 1810 a church in Creich, Scotland was assigned a preacher. In those days, the government in Scotland decided who would preach in the church. This particular church did not approve of the minister assigned to them, they did not believe that he taught proper biblical doctrine. So they began to assemble outdoors, leaving the preacher to address an empty building. It may have been fairly pleasant in the summer, at least on sunny days. But what about when it rained? What about in the winter?

They kept up their outdoor meetings for two years, until they could afford to build a place of worship. The church elders took turns doing the teaching for more than thirty years. It was not until 1843 that they were finally able to bring in a trained minister to aid them in the work. When they invited the new minister to join them in the work, 280 members signed the invitation.

If we had lived in Scotland in 1810, what would we have done? Would our commitment to the Lord have been firm enough to keep us functioning as a church under such conditions?

The next time we are tempted to think that the church asks too much, the next time we are tempted to neglect the assembling of the believers, we need to think of these people. Someday those people will stand with us before the throne of God. In that moment of judgment will we be tempted to offer the excuses that we offer now?

Our Task

I have often felt that I was born at the wrong time and place.

I have wished that I could be like Peter at Pentecost and preach a sermon to which thousands would respond. But if I were like Peter, I would carry with me the memory of having denied my Lord, and of having engaged in a terrible display of racial prejudice at Antioch.

I have wished that I could be like Paul and write wonderful documents that would be treasured through the centuries. But if I were like Paul, that would mean carrying with me the memory of having caused others to suffer and die for their faith in Christ. It would involve facing beating, imprisonment and other abuses.

Maybe I should just be satisfied to be me. Maybe I should just serve the Lord in the here and now, in the quiet ways he has assigned to me, in this generation. As the song says,

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Or as the Lord told Baruch,

… do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go. ( Jeremiah 45:5, ESV)

Or as Paul told the Colossians,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV)

He Didn’t Skip, Neither Should We

What if the Gospel According to Matthew had ended at chapter 17? What if Mark and Luke had ended at chapter 9? What if Jesus had ascended from the mount of transfiguration? He came from heaven and returned. What if he had returned a little early? What if Jesus had skipped the agony of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross?

We would still have the Sermon on the Mount and accounts of various miracles. We would still have the confession of Jesus as the Christ, and his promise to build a church. We would have a lot of interesting teaching, but we would not have the gospel.

The Sermon on the Mount is not gospel; it is law. It shows us what we should be. It reminds us of what we are not.

The miracles are not the gospel. It is good to know that he healed others, but that does not heal us as we need to be healed.

Jesus was the greatest teacher; but it is not as a great teacher that he saves. Jesus was the perfect healer. His cures were instantaneous and complete; but it is not as healer of illnesses that he saves. He came to give his life a ransom for our sins (Matthew 20:28). Without the death, burial and resurrection, we would be dead in our sins (1 Cor 15:17).

It is not Jesus the carpenter that saves. It is not Jesus the teacher that saves. It is Jesus Christ crucified that the apostles proclaimed (1 Cor 2:2), for it is only in the death, burial and resurrection that our ransom is paid. Jesus did not skip the death, the burial, the resurrection. If he had, he would not be the Savior and we would not be saved. Nor can we skip the death to sin and the resurrection to the new life (Rom 6:1-14). If we attempt to do so, we are not Christians and he is not our Savior.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Blessed in the Midst of a Perishing People

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18, ESV)

The best translation of Proverbs 29:18 is a debatable matter. Recently, the King James of this verse has been so misunderstood and misapplied that an alternative has been sought.

The KJV reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish….” This is not a bad translation, but it has been badly misapplied. Many preachers have used this translation to support the idea that we must develop a “vision” of what we want to do. That is not the intent of the verse. The focus of the verse is not human plans but divine instruction, as the (frequently ignored) second half of the verse indicates.

Those who heed the prophetic vision and who keep the “law” (the Torah, the instruction) will be blessed. No promise is implied in this verse for those who dream up a vision of their own. The blessing is for those who follow the divine vision.

It may be significant that the first half of the verse speaks in the plural, “people”, but the second half focuses on the individual, “he”. Even if the people cast off restraint and perish, an individual who chooses to resist the trend and remain faithful will be blessed. Even if the nation as a whole, or the church as a whole, ignores the divinely given vision and fails to keep the God-given instruction, the individual who clings to it will be blessed.

We live in an era in which various human visions are being exalted above the divinely revealed instruction. Restraint is being cast off, and people are perishing. But he who keeps to the Divine vision will be blessed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Contemplation or Meditation

Contemplate or meditate, call it what you choose, but do it.

A recent article on the BBC’s business page stated that “the thought of quiet contemplation … is, in today’s world, ridiculous.” People have no desire to contemplate the meaning of life. They want to be entertained. The writer went on to state that our desire to be constantly entertained is killing our creativity and our ability to live meaningful lives.

The presence of constant entertainment fuels the need for constant entertainment. Because entertainment is so available, we live meaningless lives; and because we have lived meaningless lives, we fear to think. We fear to face our emptiness. Instead, we seek more entertainment to keep us from thinking about the pointless nature of our existence. It is a downward spiral.

That the average person’s life is lived this way should not surprise us. But how can Christians live this way? The biblical term is “meditation” rather than “contemplation”, but the task is expected of us, whichever term is used. We are to meditate on God’s word (Jos 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:15). We are to meditate on God’s actions (Psalm 119:27; 143:5; 145:5) and on his promises (Psalm 119:148).

If we are too busy to think, we are too busy.

If we have so much ready entertainment that we rarely meditate, we have too much entertainment.

If we know so little of God’s word, deeds, and promises that we find little material for meditation, then we need to reorder our priorities, learn more of him, and apply our minds to the task of meditation on his words, deeds, and promises. Failure to do so will deaden our spirits and increase our emptiness. Doing so will boost our creativity and energize our spirits.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Does It Make Sense?

Joe does not believe in holding elections, but instead advocates rule by a hereditary king. Does it make sense for Joe to claim that he is a democrat? Sally advocates war as a means of both settling international differences and as an effective means of limiting population growth. Is she also right to claim that she is a pacifist?

In most areas of life we recognize that if a person denies the fundamental claims associated with a given name, that person no right to the name they are claiming. But when it comes to the faith, this reasonable assumption is contradicted. According to some people, we should accept anyone and everyone who claims to be a Christian, even if a person denies the fundamental teachings of Christianity. According to these same people, we should accept anyone who went to school and received a degree in science as a scientist, even if he spins theories that demonstrate a clear rejection of the scientific method.

Sorry to be non-PC, but I believe in calling things, and people, what they are. Those who deny the fundamental teachings of Christianity (things like the deity of Christ and his resurrection) are not Christians. Those who spin theories unsupported by actual scientific evidence are not scientists.

As long as these people do not claim to be Christians (in the one case) or scientists (in the other) I do not have a big problem with them. But when someone wants to have it both ways, when someone claims to be a Christian while denying fundamental Christian teachings, or someone wants respect as a scientist while demanding adherence to theories that cannot be proven, it is time to break out different labels. Such people are imposters. They are liars. These are not labels that should be used lightly, but are words that must be used when they clearly apply.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Why Wait?

Why do we wait for God to open the way before us? He has shown us that he opens the way for his people only as they are willing to step out in faith.

He told the Israelites to "go and stand in the river." But when they did so he stopped the flow of the river so that they were standing on a dry riverbed instead of in a river (Jos 3). Jesus told the man with the withered hand, "Stretch out your hand." He did so and it was completely healed (Mk 3:5). We are told "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Eph 5:14).

Of course, we do not have the power to raise ourselves from the dead. Of course, we know that the Lord must empower us to obey this command - but he has empowered us, that is just the point. He has enabled us to step down into the water, to stretch out our hands, to wake up, even to rise from the dead. When we do what he has enabled us to do, then we will see a fuller revealing of his blessing in our lives. But if we sit and wait to see his salvation fully revealed, we will never see it. He expects us to take action. He expects us to step out in faith. He expects us to do what he has enabled us to do. He will not enable us for more until we put to use the power he has already given us.

Is there not something that we could be doing for the Lord this week? Let us do the small thing that he has given us the opportunity to do and next week, very likely, he will give us a greater opportunity to serve. But if we refuse the small task at hand, greater opportunities are unlikely to come our way.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning used to be a standard event in most homes. About the same time we took the storm windows down (remember those?), we would clean the house from top to bottom and get rid of some of the less-than-useful stuff that had accumulated. Spring cleaning was always hard work, but when it was over we had a sense of satisfaction. It was easier to get things done, and to feel good about ourselves, once the dust settled.

Is it perhaps about time for some spring cleaning in our lives? Are there some habits, perhaps some time-wasting activities, which we ought to banish from our lives? Is it time to open the windows of our minds and let more of the fresh air of God’s love into our lives?

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20-21, ESV)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:7-8, ESV)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14, ESV)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Propaganda or Good News

When the actor in the commercial tells us that the new Whizzbang mowers are 85% more efficient than any previous mower, that claim is likely to be taken as propaganda. When the neighbor tells us that he bought one of the new Whizzbang mowers and that that it works far better than any mower he used before, that is good news.

Sometimes we wonder why people are not interested in the gospel. Sometimes we wonder why so few receive it as good news. There are many reasons, but one reason is the source of the information.

When the preacher proclaims the gospel, his words are taken as propaganda by many listeners. Those who resist the message of Christ tend to assume that the preacher is just saying what he gets paid to say. But when ordinary Christians tell what a difference Christ has made in their lives, that sounds more like good news.

The ordinary Christian may not speak as well as the preacher. The ordinary Christian may not know as much Bible as the preacher. But the ordinary Christian is more likely to get a fair hearing for the gospel than the preacher. Coming from the mouth of a neighbor, a friend, a relative, the message is more likely to be received as good news – especially if a positive difference has been observed in the life of the person speaking.

As the song says, “If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, and say ‘He died for all.’” In doing so, you will likely be a more effective evangelist than I would be. What does your neighbor think of the gospel? Does he receive it as propaganda or as good news? The answer depends to a large extent on where he hears the gospel. If he hears it from you, there is a much better chance that it will be heard as good news.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Which Direction Are We Headed?

I have a blood test about this time every year. I will not bore you with the details, but I will say that the results this year looked good. It is not that everything was ideal. One item definitely was not. But the encouraging part was that the figures were better than they had been a year ago, and far better than they had been two years ago. Physically, I seem to be headed in the right direction.

How is it with us spiritually?

It is easy to tell ourselves, “I still worship. I still pray. I still obey.” But how do things look if we ask different questions. “What is my direction? Am I praying more or less than in the past? Is my worship more or less fervent? Is my obedience more ready or more hesitant?”

As a truck speeds down the road it is not the person in the middle of the road that is in the greatest danger. Provided that he keeps walking, the person in the road when the truck first appears should be on the opposite sidewalk before the truck arrives. The person in greatest danger is the person headed toward the road, the one who, if he continues, will reach the road just as the truck reaches the point where he is crossing.

Too many of us take comfort that we are not in the devil’s clutches. We fail to realize that, while we are not yet firmly in his grip, it may be the direction we are headed.

Which way are we headed? Is our home more or less of a place of worship? Is our life more or less devoted to the Lord?

Physically, it is difficult to maintain a static level of health. We are normally either getting better or slipping back. Spiritually, change is the only constant. We are always either drawing nearer to God or drifting from him. Which is it? Which direction are we headed?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Who Paid Up?

At an international conference a year ago, countries from around the world promised to give aid to the refugees from Syria. Unfortunately for the refugees, there is no nutritional value in a promise, nor will a promise put a roof over your head. Thus many refugees are still hungry and homeless.

Several countries (US, UK, Canada, Germany and even Estonia) met and even exceeded their promises. But there were several defaulters, and some of them were huge. Saudi Arabia pledged $200 million but backed that down to $27.9 million. China promised $35 million, but paid only $3 million.

But let’s not be too quick to criticize. Let us first ask, “How are we doing on our pledge to Christ?”

In coming to Christ we pledged to love him more than our earthly families (Lk 14:26). Are we putting his spiritual family ahead of our earthly family, or does his family take second place?

In baptism we promised that we were dying to the old life (Rom 6:1-4). Are we living the new life or the old?

We claim to be a people called together for the purpose of proclaiming his excellencies (1 Pet 2:9). Are we fulfilling that purpose?

In calling ourselves Christians we claim to be following in his steps (1 Pet 2:21). Would an impartial observer notice any resemblance?

It is easy to condemn the Saudis and the Chinese for not keeping their commitment. It is a different matter to look at our own lives to see how our actions look in light of our claims.

Are we living up to our commitment?

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Golden Key

In his delightful little fantasy, The Golden Key, George MacDonald recorded this incident. “Then the Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave, raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great hole that went plumb-down.
‘That is the way,’ he said.
‘But there are no stairs.’
‘You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.’”

MacDonald is figuratively expressing what Jesus said more plainly, “… any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:33). It is the same message that he gave to the ruler who asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22, ESV). The thing he lacked was an absolute surrender to the Lord.

In MacDonald’s tale, the little girl stared at the old man for an entire minute (she thought). It was in reality an entire year. Then she cast herself down.

Some of us have been staring at the Lord a long time, shocked by his demand for complete surrender. He is patient; but there is no other way. We all need the lesson learned by Saul of Tarsus.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The "Johnson Amendment"

People use words rather loosely. Recently there has been fresh discussion of the, so-called, “Johnson Amendment.” Using the term “amendment” confuses people. We normally use that term of constitutional amendments. The “Johnson Amendment” amended only the tax code, not the constitution. It was, and is, a completely unconstitutional action with no validity either constitutionally or spiritually.

I believe that the main purpose of the “Johnson Amendment” was to silence churches that were beginning to speak out against racial prejudice. Lyndon Johnson was, in the 1950s, a recognized leader among the southern congressmen who supported segregation and opposed attempts to pass a civil rights bill. He would change his tune later, but the “Johnson Amendment” was one of a series of actions he took to prevent equality among the races. Some brave churches ignored it then, and all churches should ignore it today.

The church has not only a right but a responsibility to speak against institutionalized sin. That includes institutionalized racism and it includes the shedding of innocent blood by means of abortion. We try to steer clear of trouble with the “Johnson Amendment” by not using the names of individual politicians who are guilty of supporting racism and the shedding of innocent blood. But we should not be afraid to say that those who vote for such scum are unlikely to be found on the Savior’s right hand in judgment.

I did not vote for Donald Trump (or for Hillary Clinton). I consider President Trump to be wrong about many things, but he is right about the “Johnson Amendment.” It is unjust, unconstitutional, and it should be removed from the tax code. But whether it is removed or not, the church should still make it clear that voting for race baiters and abortion mongers is sin.

A vote is a way of giving consent, and those who give their consent to sin are as guilty as the ones who actually commit the sinful act. That is not my personal claim; it is the plain statement of scripture. “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32, ESV).

Do not give approval to sin. Never cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate, or for any candidate who would institute legal protection for sin. Often that may mean registering a protest vote (voting for neither of the major parties). But when the final judgment comes, you will be glad you took that stand.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Indwelling Spirit

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV)

It comes as a shock to many Christians to learn that, in the above quoted verse, it is the church, not the individual Christian that is being called the temple of God’s Spirit. There is a sense in which individuals are called the temple of the Spirit. That is taught elsewhere (1 Cor 6:19, for example). But we make a terrible mistake when we emphasize the indwelling of the Spirit in individuals over that of his indwelling the church.

The Spirit first came to the church when they were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1ff). The Spirit’s gifts were granted to Timothy through the laying on of an apostle’s hands (2 Tim 1:6), and this was done in company with the church elders (1 Tim 4:14). The Christians at Corinth received the Spirit in their baptism (1 Cor 12:13), something that one does together with others. Even Jesus received the Spirit as he was in company with other believers, and was carrying out the will of the Father in baptism (Mt 3:13-17).

Why should we think that it will be any different for us? Why do so many Christians seem to think that the Spirit of God will come to dwell in them individually, apart from our joint participation in study, worship, and work?
I believe that Andrew Murray was correct when he wrote,

“…the disciples received the Spirit not singly, but when they were with one accord in one place. Band thyself with God’s children around thee to work for souls; the Spirit is the power from on high to fit for that work; the promise will be fulfilled to the believing , willing servants, who want Him not for their enjoyment, but for that work.”

Friday, January 20, 2017

At This Difficult Time

At this difficult time in our nation’s history, I would ask that every Christian remember certain fundamental biblical principles.

1. No matter who is president, Jesus is still king. I know that the Bible never puts it that way, but the principle is there. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Earthly leaders think that they are accomplishing their own will, but in the end the Lord will use them to accomplish his will (Isa 10:5-12).

2. We should be praying for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-4). We have had some really terrible leaders in recent years, but perhaps few worse than Nero, for whom Timothy was being told to pray.

3. We should not gossip against our leaders (or anyone). I doubt the truthfulness of some of the things we have been told about our leaders (including both the outgoing president and the incoming one). Even though I may disagree with many of the policies of the incoming president, and almost all of the policies of the outgoing president, I still should not gossip against them. We cannot place full trust in our news sources. They like to stir controversy, and are not above stretching the truth to do so. Please do not repeat as fact claims that may not be factual. It would be better to not repeat such claims at all.

4. The government is NOT the most important institution. God authorized three fundamental institutions. Placed in chronological order they are the home, the government, and the church. Of the three, the government is of least importance. It is also the one we can do the least to correct and improve. Why not spend more of our time where we can have greater hope of having a positive and lasting effect? Let’s work on our home and on our church to bring improvement where it will count most, and where the improvement will be of eternal consequence.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Spirit Made Me Do It

People used to justify their disobedience of God with the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” The more recent excuse has been, “The spirit led me.” Countless times I have heard people justify disobeying God’s word with this excuse. It is a lie.

Now I do not mean to deny that a spirit may have led them to disobey God, but it was not God’s Holy Spirit who so led them. The Holy Spirit gave us the scriptures (2 Peter 1:21). God does not change (James 1:17). His Spirit is not going to contradict in person what he told us in his book. But there are other spirits at work in the world besides the Holy Spirit. That is why we must “test the spirits to see if they are of God” (1 John 4:1).

God gives his Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32). Those who are not obeying are not being led by his Spirit. They are perhaps being led by the spirit of the age, or the spirit of darkness, or the spirit of their own evil passions. But they are not being led by the Holy Spirit.

Do not be deceived. The Holy Spirit will not lead you to do what he has forbidden in the scriptures. If a spirit seems to be so leading you, it is a false spirit, a demonic spirit.

And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32, ESV).

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7, ESV).

“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, ESV).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Day's March Nearer Home

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2-4 (ESV).

I do not recall ever seeing my father cry, but he did admit to having cried once. He said that when the transport carrying him (and hundreds of others) to Korea passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, “There was not a dry eye on the ship.”

How different the reaction when making their return journey. On the last day of their sea journey they anchored a mile off the coast of Washington. The ship’s captain posted Marines all around the railing to keep the young men from trying to swim that last mile, they were so eager to get home.

James Montgomery penned a hymn containing the words,
Here in the body pent,
Absent from him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.

I am a day older today than I was yesterday, a year older than I was last year. Is that the right way for us to look at life? Should we not rather say, “Tonight I pitch my moving tent a day’s march nearer home”?

Whether we like it or not, it is true -- we are a day nearer the end of this life than we were yesterday. But are we a day nearer to something we dread, or a day nearer home? Are we journeying home, or drifting toward an eternal precipice?