Friday, December 14, 2018

When in Doubt

Once I entered the work force full-time, I quickly realized that my schooling had disprepared me for one problem that I have faced nearly every day. I had been sent to school at the age of five. I was in school every year except one until I was 21. The one year I did not go to school I did factory work. So, for 16 of my first 21 years, a bell had ruled my life. A bell told me when to work, when to eat, when to play, and when to go home.

Then I moved into a line of work in which I had to choose what to do and when to do it. Sometimes I have struggled to choose between good and evil; but mostly it is a choice between good and good. Every day I face decisions about how to use my time, and often I am not sure what will be the best use of that time. If you identify with that dilemma, read on.

When in doubt – pray. We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17), so it can never be a mistake to pray. Whatever else we may be doing, it will be done better if done prayerfully. Even if we make a mistake and take up a task that was not the most important or timely task, we will still do better at it and honor God more with it, if we commit our actions to him in prayer.

When in doubt – serve
. Choose a task that will bless someone else and do it (Mt 20:25-28). Do it with all of your might (Eccl 9:10). Any work of service performed with energy and enthusiasm is better than sitting around stewing over what to do.

When in doubt – worship. To glorify the Lord is our purpose in life. This is what we were created to do and what we were recreated to do (Isa 43:21; Mt 5:16; 1 Pet 4:10ff). A few minutes of worship may often clear the mind and help us make a firm decision. Even if it does not make things clear, it will have been time well spent.

Good stewardship of our time involves thinking and planning. But sometimes, no matter how hard we think, there may be doubt as to what is truly the best use of our time. Do not prolong those moments of doubt. Get busy with prayer, service, or worship and you cannot go wrong.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Trouble With My Picky Nail

The nail on my left pinky finger had a talk with me the other day. He said, “I really like being a part of your body; but I do not like being attached to any particular part of the body. I think that I should be able to wander around freely. I know that I cannot go just anywhere and everywhere; but I would like to be on the right hand some weeks, and maybe be on the thumb sometimes instead of always on a finger. Sometimes I might even like to try being on a toe occasionally.”

I tried to explain to the little nail that it was not a question of what he wants, but a question of what the body needs. My body needs each of its parts to stay in their place and to faithfully do their task. While it might be more fun for parts of the body to jump around from place to place and from role to role, that is not what will be good for the body. I need him right there on my left pinky. If I cannot count on him in that role, that nail is of very little use to the body as a whole.

I had a talk with a Christian the other day. He said that he does not like committing to one congregation. He does not like being in submission to a given eldership. He sees himself as a member of the body of Christ in a general sense, not as connected to a particular part of the body.

Do you have any idea what I should say to him?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

Friday, November 30, 2018

We Are Not Sinners

In those days and in that time, declares the LORD, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant” (Jeremiah 50:20, ESV).

All my life I have heard people say, and I have said myself, “We are all sinners.” In one sense the statement is true to the point of being a truism. But in another very important sense it is quite false.

After spending 49 chapters rebuking the sin of his nation, Jeremiah says that there shall be no iniquity or sin found in Israel or sin in Judah. Huh? How so? “For I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.”

Someday the redeemed will stand before God and be found not guilty. God will find no sin in his remnant. It is not that you or I or any of us are perfect; it is not that we will be (of ourselves) sinless. But no sin will be found, because God’s pardon, enabled by Christ’s sacrifice, will have been granted.

In one sense, yes, we are sinners. In another sense we are sinless, no sin is found in us.

Sometimes I fear that we use the “of course we are all sinners” line as an excuse, so that we do not have to try. Let us say instead, “We are sinless, perfect in God’s sight, due to the pardon granted in Christ. Let us do our best to maintain this incredible status he has granted us.”

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14, ESV).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Always Moving Forward

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24, ESV).

In his book, Ministering Like the Master, and on the basis of the above quoted passage, Stuart Olyott concludes, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43). Later he expands on this saying, “To the Son of God there is something worse than rape in the street, there is something more wicked than violent sodomy. It is the sin of listening to his word and remaining unchanged” (45).

Someday the world will be judged and the men of Sodom will be condemned for their disgusting sin. The people of Capernaum will also be condemned, and their condemnation will be more severe. Regular church attenders will be there that day as well, and what will they hear?

As Olyott later comments, “Who, who, are the worst sinners of all? They are the men, women, young people and children who regularly hear the Bible preached, but who remain unrepentant. Week after week, week after week, Christ is proclaimed to them from the Scriptures. But they choose not to change. They are, quite simply, unmoved. They remain as they are; and this is the way they want to be. There is no greater sin in all the universe than this one” (50).

As shocking as Stuart Olyott’s words may seem, they are firmly grounded in that above quoted statement of Jesus; and they are confirmed in other statements, such as this one,
And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48, ESV).

Those of us who hear the gospel week after week should not be sitting still; we must be moving forward. Let it be said once again, “There is no greater sin than simply staying as you are” (43).

Friday, October 5, 2018

"Repent and Believe the Gospel"

It is popular to say that Christians should live by moral standards, but that we have no right to call others to moral living. There is sliver of truth in this position, but also a thick slab of falsehood.

Some of the finer details of biblical morality are just for believers. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples, not to the world at large (Mt 5:1-2). The prophets did not quote the Mosaic Law to foreign nations. The Law of Moses was for God’s chosen people, not for others.

Both Jesus and the prophets condemned sin in the nations. The prophet Amos is a good example of this. He condemned all of the nations that surrounded Israel. What he condemned them for was not for violations of the Mosaic Law, but for violations of more basic moral principles that any ought to be able to see. He quoted the Law only to Judah and Israel. But he condemned the sins of the nations as well. Certain moral principles are so basic, so much a part of nature, that no one has any excuse to ignore them.

A basic principle like the sanctity of human life is demanded of all people in all nations at all times. This principle is enshrined in the covenant with Noah as well as in all the other biblical covenants. It applies to all nations, not just to Israel. It applies to all people, not just Christians.

While Christians should not seek needless conflict with the world, we have no choice but to speak out on certain fundamental moral principles. As A. B. Bruce put it long ago, “If an ordinary prophet could not shirk the duty of censure, still less could the Christ. He must come with the fan of moral criticism in his hand, separating wheat from chaff.” (The Kingdom of God, p 188)
And what the Christ must do, his disciples must follow him in doing.

Some would ask, “Why can’t we always give positive messages? Why must we condemn sin?” As disciples of Jesus, as his spokesmen to the 21st century, we offer the good news of the gospel. But our version of the gospel must begin as his began, with a demand for repentance (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15). If the demand for repentance is not prominent in our message, then we are not proclaiming his message; we are not really his disciples.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Mission of Jesus

More than forty years ago, the late Howard Belben published one of the clearest, simplest and most powerful books about Jesus. The Mission of Jesus met a need that no other book that I know of meets. Unfortunately the book went out of print and was not available for many years. We are publishing this new edition so that a new generation can benefit from the insights Howard Belben first presented back in 1970.

Beyond the changing of the Bible translation from the New English Bible to the New International Version and the shortening of sentences, the only other change I have intentionally introduced is the removal of references to British culture that would be unfamiliar to many non-British readers. I have not intentionally introduced thoughts that were not present in the original. This is still substantially Howard Belben’s book, not mine. But it is, more importantly, a book about the mission of Jesus and how we can be involved in carrying that mission forward in our lives.

Special thanks are due to the heirs of Howard Belben for allowing this revision of The Mission of Jesus.
The Mission of Jesus is currently available on Amazon for $5.75 (paperback). The Kindle edition is just $2.99.

A Counterfeit Kingdom

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28, ESV)

In 1889 the Scottish scholar A. B. Bruce published a book concerning the kingdom of God. It is not a book that I can unreservedly recommend. But the following comments certainly drive home the same point that Jesus was making in Matthew 20.

"A kingdom of God so conceived of as to give rise to ambitious passions is not such in reality, but a kingdom of this world. The utmost devotion to such a counterfeit does not amount to compliance with the demand, 'Seek first the kingdom.'.... The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love from which selfishness in every form is excluded;.... Hence it follows that there may be much religious activity, making a great display of zeal and gaining golden opinions, which has no relation to the kingdom of God, except it be one of antagonism, .... The struggle for religious name and church place and power may be more respectable than the struggle for physical livelihood, but it is not less, but rather more, ungodly" (A. B. Bruce, The Kingdom of God, p. 92).

Let us seek God’s kingdom first and foremost in our lives (Mt 6:33). But let us be sure that the kingdom we are seeking is indeed the kingdom of God, and not some mythical kingdom of our own imagination.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Like a Lion

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV).

Whether hunting zebra, wildebeest, or giraffe, lion do not attack the whole herd. If an individual is straying from the herd, that is the one the lion is most likely to attack. If no animals are straying, the lion will often try to break up the herd before actually attacking an individual animal.

This is exactly how Satan operates. He picks off those who are at the edge, those not deeply involved; or he seeks to divide the church in some way so that he can more readily attack the weak individual member.

No wonder we are told, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV).

I have known dozens of people who have fallen away from the church. Almost 100% of those who fell away were marginal members. Most attended Sunday morning only; and they were not really active in the work. I only recall one truly active member who fell away. As it turned out, he had been hiding secret sin in his life for years before his seemingly sudden downfall. Emotionally isolated from his fellow believers, quietly weakened by sin, his final destruction seemed sudden, but it had been a case of steady work by the great deceiver.

If you are currently living as a lone ranger Christian, find a Tonto, find a godly companion to help you in your Christian walk. If you notice other Christians who seem isolated and alone, invite them into the safety of the spiritual sheep-fold.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Trivia, but not Trivial

Here are a couple of trivia questions for you. How many times did Babe Ruth win the American League Most Valuable Player award? How many times did Red Grange win the NFL Most Valuable Player award?

Interestingly, they are tied. The answer, in both cases, is zero. Neither of them was ever named most valuable player. There was no such award in the NFL until 1957, long after Red Grange had retired. There was no such award in baseball until 1931, near the end of Babe Ruth’s career.

In recent years, it seems, our sports have been dominated by individual statistics and individual achievement awards. It has not always been this way. There was a time when the team was considered more important than the individual. As someone has said, “the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back.” When it comes to the Yankees, about the only thing I like about the team is their decision that the players’ names will not appear on the jerseys, only the team logo.

Are we infected with the modern worship of individual accomplishment, or do we realize that the individual is to show more concern for others than for himself? Are we infected with worldly self-centeredness, or do we realize that the Lord’s glory ought to be our goal? Would we rather that the church succeeds even if we are unnoticed or do we insist that we be catered to, whether it is good for the church or not?

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10, ESV).

Friday, August 17, 2018

A God of Order

“For God is not a God of confusion …” (1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV).

In his book, How Sermons Work, David Murray has written, “God is a God of order. He did not create everything all at once, but in sequence. He grouped things in classes and created like things on the same days. He revealed Himself in stages and brought all things to readiness before He gave the crowning piece of His revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ. Full of ardor, God is also full of order in what He does.”

Mr. Murray wrote those words in a book on preaching. Evidently he has known a few preachers who were not very orderly in their manner of presentation. One who preaches or teaches, and does not take the time to set his material forth in an orderly fashion, is dishonoring the God he claims to serve. Even if every item of teaching is true, jumbling the material together in a disorderly fashion is untrue to the nature of our Lord. But is this not also true of every Christian?

We should all be learning to conduct our lives in an orderly manner. In order for us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12) our lives must be marked by orderliness. This would be especially true of our worship (1 Cor 14:40), as the passage in 1 Corinthians indicates; but orderliness is a habit of life. If we allow ourselves to be disorderly in how we keep our homes or how we conduct ourselves at work, it will be difficult to be orderly in how we conduct the work of the church.

The human body is put together in an orderly manner, with the various parts carrying out the functions for which they are suited. The church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 5:23), and it is to conduct itself in an orderly fashion (Col 2:5; Titus 1:5).

Thankfully, we will not all die as martyrs for the Lord. We will not all serve as missionaries, or as preachers, or as teachers. But we all have the opportunity to help in honoring the Lord. When we neglect orderliness in life and especially in the work of the church, we are dishonoring the Lord. By working to become self-disciplined, orderly citizens, workers, parents, and church members we are honoring God.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Wrong Question

A recent headline asked, “Does the death penalty deter rape?” I doubt that anyone knows the answer. I will go even further and say that I have no interest in knowing the answer to the question. I have no interest in knowing, because it is the wrong question. The right question will always be, “Is the death penalty just for this crime?” To ask instead, “Will the death penalty deter this crime?” is to imply that we should do what works, and that the question of justice is secondary – if indeed it is to be considered at all.

That is a horrible attitude. I am sure that the death penalty, if it were carried out with regard to jaywalking, would be incredibly effective. But that does not make it just. When will we learn that a justice system is supposed to be about justice, not about what works?

Please, be alert. There are a lot of people asking the wrong questions on a lot of subjects. Don’t answer wrong questions; instead point people to the right questions.

Capital punishment is not a pragmatic, “what will work,” question. It is a justice question. In cases where it is just, capital punishment should be carried out, whether it deters or not. In cases where it is unjust, it should not be carried out, whether it would deter or not.

Gender is not a personal choice question (“Tom wants to be Tina, so he ought to be allowed to be”). Gender is a matter of fact, not of choice. Tom is what he is whether he likes it or not. That he might prefer to be something else (perhaps a dog, a cat or an amoeba) is irrelevant. He is what he is, and those who really care about him will help him come to grips with reality. Some people wish that 2 plus 2 could equal 5, but wishes are irrelevant when dealing with matters of fact.

Worship is a matter of honoring God, not a matter of pleasing ourselves. Perhaps Bill, Sue, and Jim decided that they all think that they would enjoy worship more if we included a gold calf, or some other impressive idol. Perhaps they have even taken a survey and found that 99.9% of the unchurched agree with them. All of that is irrelevant. Worship is supposed to honor God, not to please us. It must be done according to God’s instructions. If we really love God, we will learn to adjust our preferences to his commands. If we instead insist on modifying his standards to suit our preferences, we are worshipping ourselves, not God.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Member of the Body or Customer of the Church

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5, ESV).

The Bible says that the church is the body of Christ, and that each Christian is a member of that body (1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:24). But in our overly commercialized society, people have come to think of the church not as the body of Christ but as a business that is trying to attract customers. There is a huge difference between these two concepts.

When I go to the hardware store, I am a customer. I take what I want (after paying for it, of course); I leave all that I do not want. I have never gone to any kind of store and taken even half of what they had on offer. Normally I choose a few items and leave all the rest. The store owner has no problem with this. That is the nature of our relationship. He is a merchant; I am a customer. The customer is the one in charge of this relationship. The merchant responds to the customer’s desires (or the merchant will soon be out of business).

But that is not the nature of our relationship with Christ. He is the head; we are parts of his body. We respond to him, we do our job as he directs, or we are not acting as part of his body and may well be removed from it.

Years ago I had a tooth that was no longer serving its purpose. I could not chew on the right side of my mouth because this tooth had become infected and was giving me pain. I paid to have it repaired more than once, but it only became worse. Eventually, I had it removed. I really had no choice. If I had not removed it, my whole body would have suffered.

Are we trying to be Christ’s customers instead of members of his body? Are we trying to get him to do what we want, instead of obeying what he commands? A part of the body that does not fulfill its proper function, and which causes distress to the rest of the body is amputated. A branch that is dead is pruned from the tree so that the tree can bear fruit. What will happen to church members who act like church customers? I have no opinion on the subject. I do not need to have an opinion; Jesus has already answered the question.

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Our Duty Toward Sinners

If a person has committed a murder, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant murderer. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant murderer. If a person has been a thief, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant thief. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant thief. If a person has been a child abuser, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the repentant child abuser. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13); but the church would forgive the repentant child abuser.

Of course the church would insist that the murderer kill no more, that the thief steal no more, and the church would take firm steps to protect children from the child abuser. This does not mean that we hate the murderer, the thief or even the child abuser. On the contrary, love corrects the erring. Those who would let others go on in their sin are the ones who show that deep down they hate the sinner. The Lord says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev 3:19). If we are too lazy to rebuke wrongdoing, we are not loving people, we are lazy people.

If a person has engaged in sexual immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual, but is sincerely repentant, it is not the church’s place to punish the one who has repented of his immorality. The governing authority has a duty in that direction (Rom 13). We know that the government will not, in this case, do their duty; but we must still do ours. The church will forgive the one who has repented of his immorality. But the church will not allow a person to continue in unrepentant sexual sin and remain a member of the church.

The church must not allow people to go on in their sin, whether that sin is murder, stealing, child abuse, or sexual sin. To do so would demonstrate negligence of duty. The loving thing to do is to correct the sinner. No form of sin should be given a pass on this correction - especially not sins that do so much harm to others and sins that the Lord has labeled as deserving of death. Our duty is to forgive the repentant, and to show the unrepentant the error of their ways.

“…whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Coping with the Climate

For me ideal weather is warm days with coolness and soft rainfall at night. Even if it gets hot during the day, if it is cool at night the heat does not bother me. But heat really gets to me if it is unrelenting. Heat all day and all night wears me down.

We live in a spiritual climate that seeks to wear us down. Good is called evil; and evil is called good (cf. Isa 5:20). The world demands that we not only tolerate wrongdoing, now it is demanded that we rejoice and celebrate some of the most sickening and perverse of evil deeds. Those who watch television tell me that every show and every news broadcast is designed to get us to accept evil as normal, and to reject righteous living as impractical.

This climate is wearing us down. I am beginning to hear church members downplay, if not openly deny, the fundamentals of Christian morality. We may intend to cling to the truth - but if we constantly listen to error - sooner or later we will be worn down and will embrace falsehood.

Air conditioning allows most of us to escape from the heat for at least a few hours of the day or night. That enables us to be productive, even in the “dog days” of summer. But how are we to cope with the spiritual climate? All day long the truth is called false, and falsehood is exalted as admirable. How are we to cope with that?

We must arrange our days to allow a bit of spiritual refreshment each day. We must arrange our weeks to allow a day (not an hour, but a day) of spiritual refreshment each week. We must arrange our lives to allow a longer period (a week or even two) of spiritual refreshment each year.

With regard to daily refreshment, we have (or should have) Bibles and hymnals in our homes. We might also have some good devotional reading material, some recorded hymns, and other aids to spiritual refreshment. We ought to use these at least once per day. With regard to a weekly day of spiritual refreshment, the Lord has indicated the day and the church has provided the means by appointing an hour of classes and two hours of worship on that day. With regard to yearly refreshment, there are several Christian camps, retreats and lectureships available; or one could arrange to stay in a house at the end of a dirt road (with no radio or television) to pray and read uplifting literature for a week.

Whatever the exact details, we must have a plan for spiritual renewal. Satan undoubtedly has a plan for our spiritual destruction. If we do not take action to counteract him, he will defeat us.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Nothing Has Changed

Lawrence Rast is President of Concordia Theological Seminary. In a recent alumni newsletter, he reflected on the 172 year history of that institution. He wrote,

“In the intervening 172 years, the world has seen war and peace, famine and plenty, disease and medicinal advances. Yet in all this historical change, theologically nothing has changed. Our Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).”

While we would disagree rather sharply with Dr. Rast on many points, he is certainly right on this. Our Lord, and therefore our message, is changeless. Jesus is still “the way, the truth, the life” (Jn 14:6). There is still “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We must reject any other gospel than the one then proclaimed, for any other message is a false gospel and not really good news (Gal 1:6-9).

There are many things in life that are both/and rather than either/or propositions. One can like green and also like blue. One can enjoy both baseball and football. We should eat vegetables, grains, and meats (all within moderation, of course).

But there are a few things that are either/or propositions. There are some questions in life where trying to take the both/and approach is illogical in the extreme. There are some matters in life where moderation is worse than foolhardy. If a gun is pointed at your head, don’t pull the trigger – not even moderately. In fact, get your finger off of the trigger and out of the trigger guard.

Jesus went to the cross because there was no other way for us to be saved (Mt 26:39). That being true, legalism cannot be true, secularism cannot be true, Islam cannot be true. Either Jesus is the only way or he is nothing at all. Those who know his word know that he is something, in fact, that he is everything.

A lot has changed in the last 172 years; but, spiritually speaking “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9). We are still great sinners; but we have a greater savior. Let us cling to him.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Do It Now

Near the beginning of World War Two, C.S. Lewis gave this advice.

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favourable conditions never come.” (C.S. Lewis, Learning in War-Time)

What Lewis said about learning can also be said of Christian service. Many people claim that they want to serve the Lord; they claim that they will serve the Lord when an opportune time comes. Satan sees to it that the opportune time never comes.

If you want to have fewer interruptions in your life, then I suggest that you serve the Lord even in the midst of interruptions. Those who allow interruptions and distractions to keep them from the work will find that distractions and interruptions are constantly coming up. But if Satan sees that we serve on through the distractions, then he has less of a motive for distracting us. He will not stop his evil work, of course, but he will at least be forced to change tactics.

If we wait for a better time to become a Christian or to become a more active Christian, that better time will never come. As Paul tells the Corinthians, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2, ESV).

Take hold of each day. Redeem the time (Eph 5:15-16). Do not wait for an opportunity to do some great deed, do the small deeds that are possible today.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I Know He Can

Watty Piper’s children’s classic, The Little Engine That Could, has delighted children of all ages since it was published in 1930. Like most things written for children, this peon in praise of self-confidence is an oversimplification. Thinking we can does not prove we can, or should, attempt a task; but thinking we cannot is certain defeat.

From a Christian point of view, the danger of self-confidence is as great as the danger of self-doubt. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12), is important advice.

The Bible does not give encouragement to self-confidence; but it does call on us to be confident. We cannot save ourselves by our own deeds (Gal 2:16), but we can be saved when we submit to what has been done for us in Christ (Eph 2:1-8). We cannot defeat Satan alone (Jude 9), but he can be defeated and made to flee (James 4:7).

Right now, it appears to me, Satan is having his way with most of the world and even with many Christians.

On the one hand, they trust themselves too much when it comes to resisting temptation. They put themselves in harm’s way rather than avoiding temptation. People also trust to their resources and works for salvation, instead of throwing themselves on the mercy in Christ.

On the other hand, when it comes to worship and evangelism, we are far too quick to say, “I cannot do that.” We hear the excuses all of the time. “I cannot preach.” “I cannot tell others about the Lord.” “I cannot sing.” “I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.” It is clearly self-defeating.

Of course, we cannot. The first time I tried to lead a song, I did a terrible job. The first time I tried to preach, I fainted. The second time I tried to preach, I fainted. Had I quit then I could have gone through life saying (with more justification than most), “I cannot.”

But God can (Lk 1:37). He can work in us and through us to accomplish his will (1 Jn 4:4). Stop saying, “I cannot.” I am not suggesting that we take up the little engine’s refrain, but I am suggesting that we learn to rely on the Lord’s power to do the Lord’s work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Best Ways to Learn and Remember

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV)….

It has often been said that the teacher learns more than the student. Put another way, the best way to learn something, or remember something, is to teach it to others. Deuteronomy 4:9 seems to support that theory. The people of Israel are to make known the deeds of the Lord to their children. In the act of teaching these things to their children, they themselves will be constantly reminded. The one who teaches others is far less likely to forget than the one who keeps his knowledge to himself.

The other reliable way for remembering is to put our knowledge to use. The person who uses his mechanical, mathematical, or biblical knowledge on a daily basis is unlikely to forget that knowledge. The person who merely tucks knowledge away in a corner of the brain is, on the other hand, likely to find that knowledge difficult to locate. Again, this is confirmed in scripture.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9, ESV). There is no promise of God’s presence to those who merely hear and see, but to those who also “practice.”

If you are one of those people who feels that not much of what has been heard has been retained, maybe it is time to try a more active approach. Instead of merely listening, put what you hear into practice. Instead of merely learning, teach someone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cross-Generational Communication

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 6:6-12, ESV)

Two-hundred years ago families did everything together. All the generations worked together on the farm, ate their meals together, spent their evenings together, worshipped together. Having no television, radio, Internet, or cell-phones, they talked to each other all day long.

One-hundred years ago, change had begun. Many of the fathers had taken jobs in factories, so there was not as much opportunity to work together. But families still had their meals together and spent the evening talking over the day. They still worshipped together as a family.

Today, it is not uncommon for the generations to go days, even weeks, without doing anything together. Many aspects of life are easier today than in the past; but it may be more difficult to obey the biblical injunctions regarding parenting. Farm life gave us unlimited opportunities to communicate across the generations. Modern life seems designed to destroy all such communication. But please notice this.

God did not say, “Teach my ways to your children if it is convenient for you to do so.” Convenient or not, it is our duty. We are to be “diligent” in teaching the children.

The church tries to help with this. We offer Bible classes for all ages. We have children’s Bible hour activities during the sermon that develop an idea related to the sermon on a level the toddlers can understand. But unless the parents bring the children to class consistently (and prepared), and discuss what was learned, the classes do not accomplish much. Unless the parents discuss the craft from the children’s Bible hour with the children, the point of the craft may often be missed.

Talk with your kids (and grand-kids). Set an example of interest in God’s word. It is your duty. If you do it faithfully you will also find it to be your joy.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Original or Innovation?

“I do not like National League Baseball,” my friend said. “Who do they think they are changing the rules of the game and making the pitchers bat?”

I thought he was joking; but he was serious. Born near an American League city, shortly after the American League had changed the rules of baseball and stopped requiring the pitchers to bat, he grew up thinking that an innovation was the original and that the original must be an innovation.

The same is true in regard to the church. A church that sticks to what the Bible says will be viewed, by most people, as an odd bunch who have really changed things. Having grown up with religious doctrines and practices that cannot be found in scripture, they think of these innovations as the original. When they meet Christians not practicing what they have always known, they think of these people as innovators. They treat the innovation as the original and the original as an innovation.

Baseball is a human invention, and if humans choose to change the rules they may do so. I prefer the original rules, but the new rules are not sinful. Christianity is from God, and, according to Jesus, any human changing its teachings will be rejected.

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

Is what you believe and practice the true, original Christianity, or a human innovation? You need to find out. It will make an eternal difference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Facebook, Twitter & Other Stuff (that I do not use)

I have never had a Facebook or a Twitter account. I do not have a phone capable of sending a text message. I have observed others doing these things and decided that they are not for me. But the fact that I do not use them does not mean that I condemn you for using them. I hope that you will use good judgment in making use of these technologies. I trust that you will use them “in the name of the Lord” as a Christian should do everything (Col 3:17).

What does it mean to use Facebook, Twitter, and similar apps in the name of the Lord and to his glory?

First, it means not posting anything by means of such media that you would not present in person. Foul language and immodest attire should be no more acceptable for a Christian online than they are in real life. Repeating gossip is no more acceptable online than it is in person. If you do not know it to be fact, do not repeat it. If a fact will hurt rather than help, do not send it on to hurt others.

Second, use your electronic accounts to point people to the Lord. Post things on Facebook, Tweet things, send a text that will encourage spiritual examination and might even prompt someone to join with the Lord’s people in worship.

Some weeks ago a member posted some very uplifting comments about our Sunday morning worship on Facebook. Frankly, I think that should be happening most weeks. If a song touched your heart, if the sermon spoke to your needs (or to your temptations), why not Tweet it or text it to someone who should have been here? Why not mention it on Facebook?

If we are going to use these media, we ought to use them to the Lord’s glory (Col 3:17). Do your posts, tweets, and texts glorify him?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Humble Yourself

“The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.”
I found that in an article on management by Oleg Vishnepolsky. The article was titled, “Humble yourself, or life will do it for you.” There were several such gems in the article. He cited a Brown University study as showing that the “Number 1 reason why smart managers fail is arrogance.” He said that a Duke University study found that humble managers get superior results. And he quoted Peter Drucker as saying, "Never promote people into leadership positions who believe they can do no wrong."

I trust that we already knew all of this. After all, the book we read and strive to obey contains many similar statements.

“You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down” (2 Samuel 22:28). “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down” (Psalm 18:27). “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9. “The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:6). “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34). “… this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6). “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10, all from the ESV).

I have no idea how to pronounce “Oleg Vishnepolsky,” so I think we should learn humility because the Bible says so. It is easier to pronounce, as well as being a greater authority on the subject.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Committed Legalist

I grew up a committed legalist. Many who would make the same confession would then go on to blame their parents or the church of their childhood; but I do not see it that way.

Perhaps some of the early teaching I received contributed to the problem, but the problem was (and is) mostly internal. Legalism in one form or another is not second nature to fallen humans; it is first nature. It is deeply rooted in the way we think.

We want to justify ourselves. We want to save ourselves. As soon as we hear Paul saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” we want to start qualifying and watering down his statement. We fail to see that, in attempting to justify ourselves, we are robbing God of his rightful glory (see Romans 9:3-10:4), and saying that Christ died for no reason (Gal 2:21).

Do you ever wonder, “Am I a legalist?” If you do ask yourself that question, there is a chance that you are not a legalist. But, if you are real sure that you are not a legalist, then I would say it is nearly dead certain that you are. The litmus test for legalism, like so many things in Christianity, is counter-intuitive. The way up is down. The first is last; the last is first. A dying Savior gives us life. Those who think they see are blind; while those who know their own blindness have begun to see (Jn 9:40f). The person who recognizes his own tendency to self-justification has begun the cure. The person who does not recognize it in himself has not even begun to be cured.

Do not ask a drunk to explain drunkenness. He can’t. You have to be sober to understand drunkenness, wide awake to understand sleep, saved by grace to see the danger of legalism.

I hope that we are awake to our own legalism so that we can see its danger, flee from it, and cling to Christ.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Common Sense Religion

“Common sense? …, ma'am, sense is the most uncommon thing in the world.” --Christopher Morley--

Mr. Morley was right. Much of what passes for common sense is nonsense. People believe things that an investigation would disclose as a fraud. But they are following the crowd, not investigating.

People commonly believe historical falsehoods. Many people believe that the United States constitution speaks of “the separation of church and state.” In fact, no such language appears anywhere in the constitution or any of the amendments. Far from forbidding churches to criticize the government, the constitution actually guarantees churches that right, using language even stronger than that used to protect newspapers from government interference.

People commonly believe scientific falsehoods. Almost anyone will tell you that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius). That is true if you are at sea level, but try it at Denver and you will get a different result (about 202 I believe).

People commonly believe spiritual falsehoods. Satan has filled the world with religious ideas that are false, and many people (including many church-goers) have accepted these common ideas as the truth.

Do not get your faith from the television. Do not get the content of your religion from what everyone believes. Check it out. Go to the source. Get the facts. It is the scriptures that are able to make us “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ” (2 Tim 3:15). Let us make sure that what we believe can really be found there.

“Common sense” religion, believed by most people, will lead to the wide gate at which many will enter. And that is not a good gate to pass through according to Jesus (see Mt 7:13-27).

Rejoice in the Lord Always

The end of Habakkuk is perhaps the most challenging passage in all of scripture. I am not referring to the textual difficulties concerning the passage. I am not referring to translation difficulties; there are none that I know of in the passage. I am not referring to difficulties understanding what he is saying. It is all too clear what he is saying; but we find it difficult to say it with him.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:1-19, ESV)

Are we ready to say that? There were no supermarkets in 600 BC. If the crops failed the people went hungry. Would we serve God under the circumstances described here? Are we so committed that we will rejoice in the Lord no matter the circumstance?
Obviously, for most, the answer is “no.” Those who have little desire to praise him while living in comfort and plenty, would not take joy in him while suffering.

Where did we get the idea that the Christian life is supposed to be easy? Where did we get the idea that the followers of God will always get what they want? Did Abraham, Joseph, Moses, or Jeremiah always get what they wanted? Did Christ? (Mt 26:39)
We serve a crucified savior. How dare we expect that our path should always be easy?

I do not claim to know that I will always rejoice in the LORD and take joy in God. I do not know what I would do in a case such as Habakkuk describes. But I pray for strength to do better than I am doing, to be more of what I should be, to trust in God, even when everything seems to be going wrong.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Three Index Cards

Batsell Barrett Baxter was a busy man. He was a fulltime college professor who also preached two sermons each week at a local church. He also spoke once per week on national television. I once heard him give this advice on how to get more done.

Brother Baxter said that at the beginning of each week he made three lists (on three index cards). The first card listed things he considered his most urgent tasks for that week. The second card contained things that were important, but not urgent (they needed to be done, but not necessarily that week). The third listed things he would like to do, but which were not all that important. He carried these cards with him all week.

Whenever he had a spare moment, he would pull out the first card – the one that listed matters that were both important and urgent. If possible, he worked on one of those items. He reached for the second card only if he had either completed everything on the first card, or if a situation had arisen where he sincerely could not work on the items on the first card. He went to the third card only if the first two had been completed, or had turned out to be impossible at this time.

That sounds like an effective system, and it certainly worked for Brother Baxter. But, in case you do not like it, let me suggest another way of handling your time.

Do not make lists; just do whatever comes into your mind at the moment. If you get bored or lonely, turn on the television. If you have a spare moment that is not long enough for watching television, play a computer game or search the web a little. I am sure that you can stay busy this way, just as busy as Batsell Barrett Baxter. Of course busy is not the same as productive, but let’s not split hairs.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Perspective on the Times

Garrison Keillor used to joke about a radio show called “Lutheran Whispers.” This mythical show was sponsored by Kierkegaard Hardware and hosted by Thorny Thornburg. Mr. Thornburg was always depressed. He questioned why he had been born Scandinavian (“the food is bad, the weather is terrible, the theology is enough to break a man’s heart”).

I thought of “Lutheran Whispers” this morning. Yesterday I had read a headline in the Christian Chronicle that seemed designed to depress, and it had been effective. I started to question why I had to live at this discouraging time in history.

My morning reading today was the book of Lamentations -- five chapters of lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. It is amazing how a little reflection on biblical history can change our perspective. The year 2018 may not be the greatest year to be alive, but it sure beats 586 BC in Judah!

We may feel like saying, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (Lam 3:1). And that is all right, provided that we go on to remember, ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lam 3:22-26, ESV)

It is a difficult time in history. Perhaps it is our duty, and privilege, to make a small but positive difference at this time. Perhaps, like most of the prophets, we will find that our efforts will seem to have failed. But, if we are faithful, at least God’s word will have been proclaimed, even if people fail to respond (Ezek 2:5).

The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The tide is constantly changing. Whichever way the tide of popular public opinion turns, let us be faithful (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Cor 4:2).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

An Aid Worth Owning

The production of Bible study aids is big business. Millions are spent each year on commentaries, class books, study Bibles and computer programs designed to help us understand the Bible. Some of these can be of help, but they can also be dangerous.

Recently one form of Bible study aid has made its appearance that, I hope, no one will find objectionable. It is, pure and simple, the Bible itself – without note, comment or even chapter and verse markings.

Most of us are aware of the fact that the practice of dividing the Bible into chapters and verses did not arise until more than one-thousand years after the apostolic age. But what we may not realize is how much those chapter and verse divisions could be detracting from our Bible reading.

As originally written the thought in a given book of the Bible flowed continuously from beginning to end. As printed in most of our Bibles today, that thought is broken up into small pieces. The way most Bibles are printed unconsciously discourages us from reading large sections. Instead, the appearance of the text on the printed page tends to atomize the thought into disjointed pieces.

Several publishers now offer Bibles (generally called “reader’s Bibles”) that do away with the atomizing verse markings. These Bibles may not be handy for use in a class, but they might do something interesting to your personal Bible reading. You might find yourself reading more scripture, and enjoying it more, with one of these Bibles.