Blog and Daily Prayers

God, the World, and the Unborn

Ever since the draft opinion was leaked from the Supreme Court concerning the possible overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 there have been riots and protests as people “demand my rights” and others are seeking to protect the rights of the unborn children.  Do the rights of our Constitution extend to all people?  When do we “count them as people”?  What does God reveal to us about babies still in the womb?   Does He count them as people?

Psalms 139 reveals to us a God who is intimately involved with our lives, even knowing our thoughts.  Nothing we say, do, or think, is hidden from His sight.  Verses 13-16 of this Psalm show us that God is the one who “knits us together”in the wombs of our mothers.  It is God who makes all of the delicate parts of our bodies.  We are known before we are born, for God creates and designs each one of us just as He wants us to be.

The prophet Jeremiah was told,  “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. ..” – Jeremiah 1:5a NLT.

In Luke 1:39-45, after the virgin Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah she went to visit her close relative Elizabeth, who was old and thought to be past the years of having children. Through God’s intervention she was pregnant with John the Baptist, who heard Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth and leap with joy within his mother’s womb.  The baby in the womb heard the sound of Mary’s voice. 

Just because these little human beings can’t speak up for themselves, does not make them less human.  They are a gift from God to us a reward from Him as it says in Psalms 127:3.

Next is the often unspoken regret felt by mothers who’ve had an abortion or been forced into it.  My wife and I found a letter from a teenage mother to her unborn child that was aborted.  It is a sad letter of regret to her aborted child.  It says,

“Dear Baby,” … 

“Hey sweetie, I’m writing this as a very big apology – Hopefully when the day comes for me to pass on God will forgive and I can deliver this to you.  I am very, extremely sorry for not giving you a chance to be a person of this big world.  It’s hard but if you make the right choices you’ll make it.”

“Hopefully you’ll get another chance if it’s possible.  I love you.  And I ‘m pretty sure your daddy loves you, too.  Even if he doesn’t show much.  He can really be a great person.  You would have liked him.”

“You must be most beautiful up there.  My baby!  I’m truly sorry.  I wish I could take it back.  It would have been wonderful to have a little boy or girl like you in my life.  I really get upset when I think about what a horrible thing I did.  But I’m trying to change my ways so one day I might see you in Heaven.  Just apologizing and saying I love you.”

            Your loving mom,

“I’ll never say Goodbye because hopefully I’ll see you someday.”

That is the text of a letter written years ago and found where this young woman had lived.  Why does our society insist on putting young people through this kind of suffering by high pressuring them into aborting their unborn children?  Have we become like ancient Israel that the prophet Isaiah spoke about in Isaiah 59:12-15?  It says,

“For our sins are piled up before God
    and testify against us.
    Yes, we know what sinners we are.
13 We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.
    We have turned our backs on our God.
We know how unfair and oppressive we have been,
    carefully planning our deceitful lies.
14 Our courts oppose the righteous,
    and justice is nowhere to be found.
Truth stumbles in the streets,
    and honesty has been outlawed.
15 Yes, truth is gone,
    and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.”

Has our society denied that we are created by a holy and all powerful God?  A God who knows everything and knows what He is doing?  Do we really think that by yelling and protesting in the street we will be able to stop the justice of God when He comes to visit us?

I pray we will come to our senses as a nation and realize that every person, born or unborn has a right to live, to grow, and to prosper.  May God forgive the sins of our past as a nation and grant us mercy, for who can endure His wrath?

All Scriptures are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Power of Words, Part 2

A message based on Proverbs 12:17-19.

17 An honest witness tells the truth;
    a false witness tells lies.

18 Some people make cutting remarks,
    but the words of the wise bring healing.

19 Truthful words stand the test of time,
    but lies are soon exposed.
– New Living Translation.

Proverbs 12:13-19 gives us 7 things we need to know about the power of words.  In Part 1, published about two weeks ago I talked about how the Bible shows us four distinct powers that words have in our lives as taught us in vv. 13-16.

1. Words can trap us, but if we are godly we will escape being trapped by our words.

2. Wise words combined with hard work brings many benefits and good rewards.

3.  Fools are wise in their own eyes, but the wise listen to others.

4.  Wise words give us a proper response when we are attacked.

Today we will look at three more things about the Bible’s wisdom for using words.

5.  Our Witness

17 An honest witness tells the truth;
    a false witness tells lies.

It is through words that we are honest witnesses of what Christ has done and is doing in our lives.  Jesus said just before His ascension into heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Our witness validates the Good News that we preach and teach from the Bible is real and does work.  God’s Word reveals our sin and how we experience forgiveness and salvation to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, when we call people to repent from sin and be saved, we are sharing what Christ has done for us.  We are sharing our experience with Christ.

How can people know unless we share it in words they can understand?  There is a false idea that is widely popular in some circles is the statement, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words if necessary.”  The statement has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  The problem is that St. Francis never said that, nor did any of his disciples.1  It is utter nonsense to think that we can share the Gospel without words.  Jesus used words and words are how we share ideas and express ourselves.  Schools use words to teach what they think is right, we do to.

Another way we witness is to share what God is calling us to do and then live into it.  I am convinced that every person has a calling in life, not just those called to ministry.  When you find that calling from God and live into it, God greatly blesses you, you have joy in it, and seek to do it well as unto Christ and not just the people you work for.

6.  Power to Tear Down or Build Up

18 Some people make cutting remarks,
    but the words of the wise bring healing.

One of the problems with social media is the hateful and cutting words people use stirring up anger, hurt, fights, even riots.  Politicians often use cutting words to attack their opponents.  As Christians we should use our words for grace, reconciliation, and healing.

James 3:1-6 compares the tongue with the rudder on a ship or a spark that can set a forest on fire.  The ship’s rudder is small compared to the size of the ship, but its function is very important in that with skillful use it can guide the ship safely around danger and safely into port.  So, it is with wise words they can turn the ship of our lives in most any direction.  The words we listen to can lead us to eternal life or to eternal destruction.  Words are very powerful.

Comparing words to fire James wrote: “But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.” – James 3:5b-6 NLT.  James focused on the great destructive power our words can bring.  Consider the following examples:

  • Words – inspired people to riot and invade the U. S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
  • Words – inspired Russia to invade Ukraine causing a tremendous amount of death and destruction.
  • Words – inspired people to mount protests against some of the judges on the Supreme Court.

But words can also be used to inspire.  Such as when:

  • A coach encourages an athlete to do their best.
  • A teacher inspires a student to excellence.
  • A righteous person inspires people to do what is right, good, and fair.
  • When a Christian encourages another to trust God with their whole life and surrender to Christ.

The truth is that “words are like fire that can be used for good or evil.”2 

7.  Truth remains, lies perish.

19 Truthful words stand the test of time,
    but lies are soon exposed.

The beautiful thing about the truth is that it does not change.  A liar has to keep changing his or her story when new facts come to light.  The Bible is a truth that doesn’t change.  I like a statement I heard where the pastor of a church had everyone the congregation hold up their Bibles and say, “This is my Bible.  I am what it says I am.  I can do what it says I can do.”

Some people have tried to change or delete the words of the Bible, but Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.”  – Matthew 24:35 NLT

Proverbs 30:5-6 says, “Every word of God proves true.  He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.  Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.”

One reason we have so much trouble in our world today is that people are building their lives, reputations, and actions on lies.  Putin believes the lie that Russia should own Ukraine.  He promoted the lie that Ukraine was ruled by Nazis.  As a result of his lies tens of thousands of people have died needlessly.   But how many people in our own country have built their lives on the lies of this world thinking they can be their own gods and make up their own morals?

The problem with manmade morals is they can easily shift from one generation to the next and society can shift like snow drifts or sand dunes in the wind.  Depending on which way the winds come from will determine the shape and size of the drifts.

In the book Live Not by Lies author Rod Dreher talks about the lies that are popular in our society and how they are leading us to a soft totalitarian society and world where a few individuals control the lives of all of us.  Very easily what is soft can be replaced by what is harsh, and it will be.

Another version of this problem was so well expressed in the 1990s.  The idea was floated that “absolute truth did not exist and all truth was relative.”  That is a lie that has brought a lot of chaos, immorality, and death to those who build their lives on that idea.

As Christians we must stand on and proclaim God’s Word as the eternal truth that does not change.  Those who believe our message will experience salvation and eternal joy in Christ.  If you haven’t experienced that for yourself, I invite you to do so now.  Christ is the best truth you can build your life on.

Unless otherwise noted:  Scriptures are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

1 FactChecker: Misquoting Francis of Assisi, July 10, 2012, by Glenn Stanton.  Found at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-misquoting-francis-of-assisi/

2 Quoted from Rev. Shane Bishop from his blog “Why Words Matter.”

My Lament

“Lament” means to ‘mourn aloud’, to express sorrow, mourning or regret.1  It is something we all go through but can never fully put to words.  Who can fully put into words the feelings they have when they lose a son or a daughter?  Mourning and sorrow are not new to me as they are part of our human condition.  But the idea of intentionally expressing that sorrow in the form of a lament was something new to me.  It was not part of the culture in which I was raised.  Men aren’t supposed to cry.  When my best friend was killed in a hunting accident, I fought hard not to cry, because you were expected to be strong, and “men don’t cry”.  Such an erroneous notion along with many others are often ingrained in us from the world in which we live.  Thankfully, when I came to Christ He changed a lot of that, and I did cry at the depth of my sin and the greatness of God’s mercy that washed my sins away when I stepped forward to receive Christ as my Lord and Savior.

But still the concept of lament was not something we really thought much about.  It was something somewhat foreign to my thinking, yet I discovered that deep within my soul I do lament.  This is often for situations and circumstances which are beyond my control. Though I did not label it as “lament”, the reality of it is there and has been there most of my life.  Two authors helped me in recognizing these feelings within myself.  The first is Lo Alaman and his book We Sang a Dirge2 who writes from the perspective of a black Christian man growing up in America.  The second is a book by Tara Beth Leach called Radiant Church: Restoring the Credibility of Our Witness.3   Tara Beth served as the senior pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena, California and currently serves as a pastor at Christ Church in Oak Brook, Illinois.  She expresses mourning at what much of the church has become but is excited to push for all it could be in Christ as a radiant church shining brightly for Christ. 

The book of Lamentations by Jeremiah the prophet lamented the destruction of Jerusalem because of her sins, the streets were deserted and empty and much of the city was destroyed as God used the armies of Babylonia to punish them for their sins.

All of these things came together for me one morning when I woke up from a dream.  In the dream a bear had broken into our house and was upstairs.  None of us knew how to get it out.4  Later I began to think about the things I feel in lament, in mourning.  As I said mourning is not new to me, as I’ve lost many friends and loved ones over the years, but intentionally expressing it was somewhat foreign to me. 

Another book that triggered my feelings of lament was reading in Horrible Histories USA5 by British author Terry Deary and illustrations by Martin Brown.  This book, though written with some humor, exposes from the time of Christopher Columbus to modern times revealing the atrocities that have occurred on American soil.  The authors expose this same kind of history for mankind around the world dating back to early civilizations.  Much of our history has been largely sanitized for modern readers.  Terry and those who helped him research these books go back to ancient times and civilizations up to modern times exposing the dark side of human history.  It should make us mourn.  You can easily obtain the series by searching for them online.

How should we as Christians express lament?  What does mourning look like for those of us who are devoted to Christ?  What things do I lament?

I mourn for a world that talks of peace,

            Yet makes more powerful and deadlier weapons of war.

I mourn for the people of Ukraine,

            And the senseless loss of lives and property that they’ve experienced.

I mourn over nations that say they want peace,

            Yet they will not seek the Prince of Peace.

I mourn for nations that have turned away from God,

            And use His symbols and words to defy Him.

I mourn for nations that invited the judgment of God upon themselves,

            Not caring what the consequences might be.

I mourn for cities, where bullets fly and people die,

            And no one seems to have the power to change it.

I mourn for the unnecessary loss of human life

            As millions are destroyed before they are born.

I mourn for the nation that adopts a culture of death,

            Rather than promoting a culture of life.

I mourn for the spiritually lost,

            Those who will die without Christ.

I mourn for those who turn the love of Christ,

            Into a license for sin and rebellion against God.

I mourn when our people suffer fires, floods, pandemics, and war,

            And yet refuse to seek God and deny others the ability to do so.

I mourn for churches that have lost their zeal for Christ,

            When so many need the message of Christ today.

I mourn for the bear of sin that is in the house of humanity,

            But I rejoice that the Lord Jesus Christ will remove the bear when He comes again.

While I lament these things, with Jeremiah I will say,

“The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.”
– Lamentations 3:25-26 NLT.

1 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

2 Available through Seedbed.com bookstore.

3Available through her website at https://tarabethleach.com/.

4 Dream occurred the morning of May 3rd, 2022.

5 Horrible Histories USA by Terry Deary and Illustrated by Martin Brown.  Available through www.horrible-histories.co.uk.  ISBN: 978-1-407111-85-8.

Quoted Scriptures are from: Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Mother’s Words

Thoughts on Proverbs 31:1-9 for Mother’s Day.

This being Mother’s Day, I chose the lesser known part of Proverbs 31, verses 1-9.  There have been 100s if not 1,000s of sermons on the Godly Wife in Proverbs 31:10-31.  Yet for some reason God placed the advice of Lemuel’s mother just before this great and popular passage of Scripture. 

Little is known about King Lemuel or his mother as this is the only place in the Bible where they are mentioned.  In times past, scholars thought it might be referring to King Solomon or a king from a neighboring country. Most scholars today have rejected the idea that this refers to Solomon but the advice echoes the things Solomon taught.  Either way God placed this passage in front of us for our good and the advice found in it applies to all of us.

Lemuel was a king and most likely would have descended from royal parents.  His mother gave him these words.  The name Lemuel means, “Devoted to God.”  (Notes in the Life Application Study Bible, ISBN 978-1-4143-0720-6.)

As Christians we are to be totally devoted to God through Jesus Christ so we too should take these words to heart.  Words of a godly mother to her godly children.  What does this woman of God want us to know?

1.  Moral Purity

The first advice is for moral purity.  She advised her son, do not waste your strength on women, on those who ruin kings. (Proverbs 31:3 NLT). The passage was written in ancient times when it was common for kings to have a large number  of wives.  It really carries a dual meaning which we can apply to our lives today.  Note the words, “do not waste your strength on women, on those who ruin kings.”  The word woman is in the plural.  These marriages were arranged between kings to form an alliance, a treaty, and a family relationship between them and their countries.  The thought was that it would be harder to go to war against a nation where your daughter was married to the king or the king’s son as now there was a family connection. 

The Amplified Bible translates this verse with notes saying: “Do not give your [generative] strength to women [neither foreign wives in marriages of alliances, nor concubines],
Nor your ways to that which destroys kings.”
– Prov. 31:3 AMP.  Remember Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, many were foreign women who worshipped other gods and they led Solomon’s heart away from his pure devotion to God.  If we are to be truly devoted to God our partner in marriage, be it a husband or a wife, should also be completely devoted to God.

The other application of this advice from Lemuel’s mother is for him not to engage in sexual sin.  Not to waste your strength on women who are immoral. This echoes  Proverbs 7 where Solomon wrote extensively on the dangers of being involved with immoral women.  He concluded with these words in v. 27, “Her house is the road to the grave.  Her bedroom is the den of death.”  Today we would give the same advice to our daughters not to be involved with immoral men, especially when looking for a life partner and mate.

God designed marriage between a man and a woman to be the closest most intimate relationship possible between two people.  How can two people honestly be “one” which we become in God’s sight in marriage if one is devoted to God and the other is not?  For this reason, God commanded the ancient Jews not to marry outside of the faith.  St. Paul encouraged us as Christians with the same advice.  That advice applies to us today as well.

2.  Sobriety vv. 4-7.

The second thing Lemuel’s mother emphasizes is for him to keep away from being addicted to alcohol.  To keep sober.  If we are completely devoted to God we do not want to let alcohol or drugs control our lives. She said,  It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink, they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed.

Again, Solomon wrote these cautions for us:

Prov. 20:1, “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.” 

If you’ve ever been around intoxicated people very much, they say and do some very foolish things.  Often their words and actions will get them into unnecessary fights with others.

Prov. 21:17, “Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich.”

God is the one who provides all things for our enjoyment.  Jesus said not to worry about such things as He would provide what we need.  Our goal is to be fully devoted (Lemuel) to Him.  The promise of Psalms 37:3-4 is,

“Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires.”

Prov. 23:29-35, cautions us, “Who has anguish? Who has sorrow?
    Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining?
    Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
30 It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns,
    trying out new drinks.”

Wine was a common drink of the time as it still is today for many parts of the world.  Yet God gives the warning against too much of it because it can rob us of our sobriety as can many other substances and drugs people use today.

3. To Work for the Good of Others  vv. 8-9

After giving two warnings, those of us who are devoted to God “Lemuel” are told to work for the good of others, especially of the poor, the weak, and those who cannot take care of themselves.  As a king, Lemuel was empowered to see that the poor and the weak had provisions, and fair treatment in the legal system.  Each one of us has the power to do something good for someone who cannot help themselves.  Jesus expects this from us for He said, in Matthew 25:34-40 that the way we treat others is the way we are treating Him.

Micah 6:8 tells us that God expects us to do what is right, to love mercy, and to be humble in our walk with God. 

Isaiah 58:6-7 God teaches us,

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”

These are all things we can work towards for the people in our world.  When we do, God gives us this promise from v. 8, “Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.

Being one who is fully devoted to God means we will avoid all forms of sexual immorality; we will avoid all forms of drunkenness or lack of self-control caused by intoxication.  Instead, we will work to make life easier and better for those whose life is difficult and hard.

1 The International Bible Commentary, edited by F. F. Bruce.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures used are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Dangerous vs. Good Doctrines

A doctrine is a teaching.  Doctrines can be good or bad, some are downright dangerous and deceptive.  Last week I talked about the difference between Christianity and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).  What makes MTD particularly dangerous is that it appears so reasonable: it acknowledges God (Deism), has morals (Moralistic), and it promotes human well-being (Therapeutic).  The problem is that the morals are created by man and they can change as people can change their minds.  So, what might be considered good, right, and fair in one generation, might be considered evil by the next generation.  The morals given to us by God are eternal and never change, for God is eternal and He does not change.  What was true, is still true, and will always be true.  A second problem with MTD is that God exists for the well-being of mankind, but again it is people who decide what “well-being” means.  Finally, Deism, the belief that God exists but that He lets the Universe run by itself.  The illustration from the 18th century was that God created the Universe, wound it up like a clock and lets it run down. Deistic theology is downright depressing.  It means there is no ultimate hope for Creation and it will come to extinction someday when the clock runs down.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many false doctrines and ideas that have been proposed and that people believe and live by around the world.  But when these false ideas infect the Church it brings disastrous results.  It is as St. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:9, “This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!” – NLT.

One idea in the church that is extremely dangerous is what I call Dynamic Scriptural Interpretation.  This was actually suggested as a better way to understand Scripture.  Dynamic means, “marked by usually continuous and productive activity or change” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. 

There would be little problem with this idea if it made us more productive in our walk with Christ.  We should be continuously growing in our relationship to Christ and exploring the new avenues of service He has set before us.  This part we would call life in the Spirit and we see examples of it throughout the book of Acts.  Such as in Acts 10 where Peter was led by the Spirit to preach the Gospel in the home of a Gentile.  We see it in Acts 13 where the Spirit of God appointed Barnabas and Saul to what would become Paul’s (a.k.a. Saul) first missionary journey.  But these activities are not interpretations of Scripture, rather they are applications of the Bible’s teachings.  

Interpretation of any document is for the purpose of making it clear in our minds so we can understand it better.  When it comes to Biblical interpretation our purpose is not to change the teachings of the Word of God, but to help us understand them so we can apply them to our daily lives.  Unfortunately, the dynamic view of interpreting Scripture has often been used to completely reverse the clear teaching of the Bible.  This is nothing new as the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees all did the same thing in the first century.  If they had correctly interpreted the Scriptures they would have recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah promised since ancient times.  In Mark 7:9 Jesus said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.” Sadly, some theologians, scholars, and church leaders do the same things today.  They practice very skillful methods of “scholarly” interpretation that are often based in a basic unbelief in the very Scriptures they are trying to interpret.

Please understand, this is not being anti-intellectual, as there are many godly scholars that base their interpretation of the Scriptures on belief in the Scriptures, that they are trustworthy.

More important than exploring the ways in which false teaching leads people away from God is to recognize the fruit of such teaching and being able to identify it.  Jesus said we can identify false prophets and teachers by their fruit in Matthew 7:15-20.

The fruit of falsely interpreting the Scripture is often a denial of the basic teachings of Scripture.  False doctrines: deny the deity of Christ, deny the miracles of Christ, deny the resurrection of Christ, and they often deny or change the morals taught in the Bible.  This kind of teaching leads people to have no real faith at all in God.  As Jesus told the religious leaders who were opposing Him, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” – Matthew 23:15 NLT.

Believing the correct teaching of the Scripture leads us to believing in: the deity of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and mankind’s future resurrection from the dead, and the judgment to follow.  The correct teaching of the Gospel never causes us to adopt or approve of practices that conflict with the morals taught to us in the Bible.  Rather the correct teaching of the Bible will awaken people to new life in Christ marked by repentance from sin and to holy, righteous, and joyful living in the Spirit of God.

The Apostle Jude was most graphic in warning us about bad doctrine when he wrote: “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:3-4 NLT.

Watch your doctrines carefully, and carefully consider what you are listening to.  Don’t let anyone lead you astray with dangerous and deadly doctrines, rather keep to what is true and God’s Word is true.

The Power of Words, Part 1

From Proverbs 12:13-16 we see the power of words. This the first in my Sunday morning series on the use of our words. I was inspired in this direction from a fellow blogger whom I greatly love and respect when he wrote, “Why Words Matter.”

Words have power!  Power to heal, power to hurt.  Power to give life, power to kill.  Power to create and power to destroy.  Through words people can express love and good intentions towards others.  Through words people can express hate and evil intentions towards others. 

1.  People can be trapped by words.

V. 13 says, “The wicked are trapped by their own words, but the godly escape such trouble.”

Jesus often trapped the Pharisees in their hypocrisy using their own words.  In Mark 7 v. 6 He called them hypocrites and then explained why.  He said,  “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother, and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death. 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you. 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

We see this today.  Politicians make promises they cannot keep, then their words are used against them by their opponents.  (This happens for both Democrats and Republicans.)  Rather than making rash promises, they should tell us what they hope to accomplish and work towards.

This same kind of thing goes on today in churches and in society: people hide behind manmade rules to avoid obedience to the clear commands of God. Such people get trapped by the words they speak.

Jesus said, “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.  The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” – Matthew 12:36-37 NLT.  Our words can determine our eternal destiny.

The godly escape such trouble because we try to follow the example of Jesus speaking words that are true and that lead to life.  Sometimes those are words that confront others.  Sometimes they are words that comfort others.  We need the help of the Holy Spirit to give us the right words in every situation.

2. The Benefits of Wise Words

Vv. 14, Wise words bring many benefits,
    and hard work brings rewards.

When we want to know how to do something or how to do it better, we seek out the wisdom of others and try to put into practice. 

We send our young people off to college to give them wisdom, words of wisdom, in their future fields of work.  Those words can grant them success and prosperity.  Many professionals have to take updated training, to make themselves better communicators in their jobs.  These are the profitability and benefits of wise words.

I often attend the Global Leadership Summit as part of my continuing education as it really provides practical inspiration and help.  The Unstuck Podcast designed for ministers and church leaders is another resource I use.  These are designed to make me a better pastor, for you and for Christ.

3.  Words of Advice

15 Fools think their own way is right,
    but the wise listen to others.

We’ve all known foolish people. They are wise in their own eyes and there is no point in trying to convince them they might be wrong.  Unfortunately, too many people are wise in their own eyes, and will not listen to others.  They and their families often suffer for it.

Some of the people we listen to are:

  • Our parents – the very first people we know and learn from.
  • Financial advisors in handling our money. 
  • Our doctors to keep us healthy.
  • Lawyers when we need legal help.
  • Tax advisors.
  • Advisors on retirement.
  • In the church, God has given us pastors, evangelists, and teachers to guide us on the road to heaven.

These are all people given by God to us to help us in daily living.

4.  Wise words provide us a proper response.

16 A fool is quick-tempered,
    but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

Proverbs 15:1 gives us this direction, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  This is not a case of backing down in the face of aggression, rather it is knowing how to give a proper response when attacked or insulted. Our best example is Jesus.  He never backed away from His mission to bring us salvation. He had opposition, some of it severe.  Often He  answered them with questions they could not or would not answer.  At other times He confronted them directly about their unbelief.

Part of answering wisely and staying calm is keeping our eyes on Jesus and God’s mission for us.  We trust Him to give us the right words at the right time.  As Jesus said, ”So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!” – Luke 21:14-15 NLT.

Application for us.

We must never underestimate the power of our words.  As Christians we should seek in our daily life to use words that are true, honest, and beneficial to others.  To make peace where possible.  We should also share our wisdom with one another, but not waste time with those who don’t want to listen.

We also need to ask God for wise words so that we can give a response when people ask about our faith in Christ, so they also may come to know Christ.  We will cover more of this passage in two weeks as next week is Mother’s Day and we will learn from a mother’s advice to her son.

Scriptures from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Christianity vs. MTD

Christianity has faced many challenges over the years.  Yet, all of those challenges find a single thread that is common to all of them.  The common thread is: Compromise.  It is a compromise with the values and morals of the surrounding culture.  We see Jesus addressing these things in His messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.  Several of the churches had fallen into one compromise or another often without being aware of it.  Two of the churches had remained pure, but perhaps were discouraged.  Jesus addressed each church individually according to their needs.

The compromises that were involved in the first century were with pagan morality and thought.  The same thing is happening in our world today.  Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:15 to beware of false prophets, saying they can be “disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.”  In Matthew 24:11 when discussing the time before His return, Jesus said that many false prophets would appear and deceive many people.  Later in that same discussion He said, “false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 25 See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.”

Recently I learned of some new religious thinking that is currently sweeping across much of the world.  It is called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  I’ll call it MTD for short.  It is a phrase created by two sociologists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005 to describe a decadent form of Christianity that has arisen in America.1   As I had never heard this term before I looked it up and found that Wikipedia gives the same description that the sociologists observed.

Smith and his team observed five basic beliefs when they did the study for the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   They are: 

            1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”            

            2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

            3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

            4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

            5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”2

As Jesus said we must watch out for false prophets.  False prophets teach false doctrine and MTD is false doctrine.  While not an organized religion of its own, it is a teaching that appears good on the outside, but in reality is like a ravenous wolf seeking to devour one’s soul.

The first point of MTD is in line with Christian thinking and theology.  Indeed, God is the creator of all things not only of our world, but of all that is, i.e., the universe. 

The second point begins a diversion from Christianity.  While God does want people to be good, nice, and fair, He also has told us specific behaviors we are not to do and that we are expected to do towards one another.  The problem with belief #2 in MTD is who defines what is “good, nice, and fair”?  That question could be answered in a myriad of ways for those whose religion goes no further than MTD.  For Christians, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, set the standards of human morality and behavior.

Point 3 of MTD is completely self-centered whereas Christianity is completely Christ-centered.  Our goal is to trust and please Christ in all things and in return Jesus gives us a joy that is not dependent upon the things of this world.  God does give us joy in life.  In the beginning He created and placed us in Paradise.  We were the ones that strayed.  God is calling us back to Himself in Christ Jesus so that we may experience joy in His presence.

Point 4 of MTD is directly opposite of Christian teaching.  God is so involved with our lives each hair on our head is numbered (Matthew 10:30) and Psalms 139 describes how God is intimately involved with our lives from birth to death.  Even our innermost thoughts are open to Him.  He created us in His image and He longs to be involved with us as His children and image-bearers.  He does give us a great amount of freedom in life, but He is very interested in what we are doing.  He knows every one of us by name.

Point 5 of MTD conflicts with the teachings of Jesus who said He was and is the only way to the Father and to eternal life.  (John 3:16-21 and 14:6).  Jesus also specified that we must do God’s will in order to enter heaven (Matthew 7:21) and His will is that we believe in His Son Jesus Christ as He said in John 6:40, “For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”

MTD is a false religious philosophy.  It calls Christians to compromise and water down the teachings of Jesus to match the ideas of the world.  Jesus rebuked five of seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 for their compromises.  We must not compromise either.  We must remain truly Christian then we will be building our lives on the rock of Jesus Christ that will stand forever.  (Matthew 7:24-27).

1 P. 12, Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher, ISBN 978-0-593-08739-8

2 Commentary written by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. titled: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism—the New American Religion.  Available at: https://albertmohler.com/2005/04/11/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion-2

Scriptures are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Road to the Resurrection: Follow Jesus

We are on the Road to the Resurrection: that final day when the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raised, and if we are alive our bodies will be transformed into bodies that can no longer age, get sick, be injured, or die, they are eternal.  This is the promise from God found in passages like: Job 19:26, Daniel 12:1-4, Matthew 13:43, John 5:24-29, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and other Scriptures.  This is the great hope of Christianity.  Jesus died on the cross to make this possible so that we may enjoy eternal life and joy in His presence.

Jesus is the first to rise from the dead for eternity.  Other’s have been raised to life from the dead, but they later died because it was not the time for the general resurrection. Jesus lives forever.

To better understand what Jesus did in John 21 go back in time about 3 years to Luke 5. Jesus was preaching by the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  He noticed two empty boats on the water’s edge.  One of them belonged to Simon Peter.  He stepped into the boat and asked Simon to push out a little from the shore and He taught the people from the boat.  After He finished teaching He told Simon, “Now got out to where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”  – Luke 5:4 NLT.  Simon objected they had fished all night and caught nothing.  But when they did as Jesus asked, they caught so many fish the boats began to sink and they had to get help from their partners.  Fortunately, there was another empty boat available.  Jesus told them to follow Him and they would become fishers of men.  They left everything and followed Him.

Now, come back to John 21, Jesus had died and been raised from the dead.  He has appeared to them twice before.  This third time He appeared on shore in the early morning and called out to them, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”  They respond with a “No.”  Then He said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!”  (John 21:4-6). They couldn’t haul the net in because there were so many fish in it.  They recognized that it was Jesus standing on the shore.  Peter got excited to see Him again and jumped into the water and headed for shore.  Jesus very calmly invites them to bring some of the fish and have some breakfast with Him. 

Jesus repeated the same miracle of a large catch of fish that He did when He first called them to follow Him.  Now He is about to give them a new assignment.  His main conversation is with Peter.  Peter had denied the Lord three times. Now, three times Jesus askes him, “Do you love me?”  It was done in three slightly different ways.

  1. Do you “agapao” love me more than these others do? (From the alternate translation.)  Another way it could be read is “Do you love me, more than you love these others?”
  2. Do you “agapao” love me?
  3. Do you “phileo” love me?

According to the Wesley One Volume Commentary, ”agapao” and “phileo” were used interchangeably in the Gospels to describe the love between God the Father and God the Son.  Maybe we can think of it as completing the picture of love.  Each time Jesus prefaced the question with “Simon son of John” making it specific to him.  And each time Peter answered that he loved “phileo” Him.  But the third time, Peter was hurt and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”  Perhaps Peter needed these questions from Jesus to reaffirm in his own mind that he indeed loved Jesus.

Jesus gave Peter three commands along with each answer he gave.  1) Feed my lambs. 2) Take care of my sheep.  3) Feed my sheep. These were commands for Peter’s future ministry. It was the same command Peter would pass on to the elders of the church who would follow him.  He wrote in 1 Peter 5:1-4, And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. …. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.”  This is the command of Jesus passed down to every pastor, elder, and official of the church since Jesus spoke it to Peter after breakfast that morning long ago.

Then Jesus told Him, “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.”  John explains that Jesus was letter Peter know what kind of death he would experience to glorify God.

When Peter asked him what kind of death John would have, Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” 

On the day of Pentecost, which we will celebrate June 5th, Peter and the other disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the crowds gathered and 3,000 were added to the church that day.  Peter emerged as the rock on which Jesus is building His church and has been ever since.

We are all traveling on the road to the Great Resurrection Day.  We don’t know when that day will come.  It may be today, it may be 100s of years from now.  But if we want the resurrection to eternal life and joy, we must follow Jesus wherever He leads us.

Jesus was going to ascend back into heaven, but He left us here on the earth with the purpose to share the Good News of Salvation in His Name.

Where He sends, we will go.

What He calls us to do, we will do.

We do these things in the name of Jesus, so that He will get the glory. 

We do it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Each pastor, each church, and each Christian is unique.  We have unique gifts, abilities, and situations we face.  But it is Jesus who calls us, it is Jesus who equips us, and Jesus who gives us the ability to minister His grace to others.

If we are tempted to ask like Peter did, “What about him, Lord?”  We might be tempted to ask, “What about that church, Lord?  Shouldn’t we be like them?”  Jesus might answer us the same way, “What difference does that make to you?  You follow me?” 

Scriptures are used from the New Living Translation.

The Road to the Great Resurrection

We often describe life as a journey.  But the question is: Where is this journey going?  When we plan for vacations and trips we often have a destination in mind. The Bible tells us where the Journey of Life is heading.  We are all heading to the Great Day of Resurrection and Reckoning.  Jesus traveled this road ahead of us to blaze the trail, through death and back to life.  This is a road we must travel, we have no choice, but through Jesus we have a choice of the kind of resurrection we will share.

Jesus said in John 5:28-29, “Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.”  When Jesus said “all,” it includes the righteous and the unrighteous.  Abraham, Gideon, Deborah, Ruth, King David, King Solomon, Job, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and others will be raised to everlasting life and joy for they placed their faith in Christ to save them.  Others we will see named among the wicked will be raised to face eternal condemnation.  The Greek word used in this passage means a judicial sentence, award, or sentence.  Jesus is telling us that we have the choice as to what our destination will be in the resurrection.  He is the door to eternal life to be restored back into God’s Kingdom, God’s home.

We see a lot of wickedness in our world and so often powerful people seem to get away with their evil.  As Christians the things we see and hear break our hearts and weigh heavy on our souls, because there is so much evil and injustice in our world today.  People who do not know God seek to get revenge and even as Christians we may often want vengeance to fall upon the wicked.  But God teaches us that vengeance belongs to Him and He will pay people back for the evil they have done (Romans 12:19-20).  Jesus also taught us not to take revenge and to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:38-48).  This does not mean God is unconcerned about justice in this life as Romans 13:1-7 teaches us that God has instituted governments, along with various forms of law enforcement and justice systems with the purpose of preventing, catching, and punishing those who do evil.  God is a God of order and not confusion.  If everyone took personal vengeance there would be chaos and a total breakdown of civilization. 

Jesus also assured us of this final day of reckoning in Matthew 25:31-46, it is fact, a warning, and a promise.  It is a fact that it will happen at the appointed time.  It is a warning for people to repent of their sins and do what is right in God’s sight.  It is a promise for those people who have repented of their sins, trusted, and obeyed Jesus that we will have a great reward.  Jesus explained the character for righteousness that we care for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned.  In almost every nation around the world there is ample opportunity to minister in these ways.

The journey of life laid out in the Bible takes us through this life, through death, to resurrection from the dead, and to stand before Christ.  The Good News is summed up in what Jesus said in John 5:24, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”  Note the underlined words: 1) we possess eternal life now; 2) we do not fear the judgment because we will never be condemned for our sins; and 3) in this present life we have crossed from death to life.  Point three might be a little hard to comprehend.  The Apostle Paul explains this further in Romans 6.  When we were in our sins we were dead to God, when we come into Christ, we are forgiven, made clean from our unrighteousness, and made alive to God.  We are told in Romans 6:11, “So you should consider yourselves dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6 explains that we’ve been set free from the power of sin and made alive to God so that now we do the things that please God leading us to holiness and eternal life.  This new birth into righteousness and to having the desire to please God is a free gift from Jesus Christ that begins the moment we place our faith and trust in Him.  We are set free from the wages of sin, which is death.  (Romans 6:21-23).

All Scriptures quoted from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Road to the Resurrection: Victory

Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter) we, who are Christians, celebrate the Victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over the power of the grave.  People without faith in Christ cannot share in this victory.  Many people around the world believe in a resurrection from the dead and a final judgment after that.  This is a common belief among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.  But as Christians we have the proof that grave is NOT our final destiny.  As Colossians 1:18 says,

“Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.[
f]
    So he is first in everything.”

An alternate translation for v. 18 says Jesus is, “the firstborn to rise from the dead.”

If He is the first, that means there are many more to come.  Consider these other promises Jesus made for those who put their faith in Him from John 5:24-25 and 28-29, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

                25 “And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. …  28 Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29 and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.”  Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, proves His power to deliver on this promise.  He also tells us how to have eternal life and joy in Him as v. 24 contained three promises conditioned by two things.  First, listen to His message, which is more than just hearing it, it is believing it and obeying it.  Second, we believe in God who sent Him.  In Biblical thought, belief in God carries the idea of obeying God.

The three things we are promised are:

  1. We have eternal life.
  2. We will never be condemned for our sins.
  3. We have already passed from death to life.

Those three promises are huge for us and the resurrection of Christ from the dead assures us that we are secure in Him if we keep our faith in Him.

The early disciples where surprised by the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead. Jesus had told them many times that He would suffer and die, and then rise from the dead, but it was too much for them to understand.  Before we get critical of them, wouldn’t we have been the same way?

When the women went to the tomb to finish the Jewish burial customs for Jesus they thought someone had moved the body and they went immediately and reported it to the disciples.  Peter and John ran to the tomb and looked in and it was empty.  John arrived first, Peter went it first, when John went in he believed.  But they still didn’t fully understand what had happened.

After they left, Mary Magdalene stayed near the garden tomb, where she would have the first encounter with the resurrected Christ.  The angels prepared her for this meeting by asking, “Dear woman, why are you crying?” – John 20:13.  Then Jesus came, she thought He was the gardener and didn’t recognize Him. She doesn’t expect Him to be alive. 

If we were in Mary’s place, would we expect to see Jesus alive?  No!  We wouldn’t.  Mary was one of the witnesses to Christ’s death on the cross and it was brutal.  Only two people were ever recorded to not have died: Enoch and Elijah, everyone else has died and stayed that way. But here stands Jesus, fully alive, right in front of her.  He asks her, “Dear woman, why are you crying?  Who are you looking for?” – John 20:15.

Thinking He is the gardener she said, “Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”  – John 20:15.  When Jesus called her name, she recognized that voice!  It was Jesus speaking to her.  As Jesus said in John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep, and they know me.  … v. 16 … They will listen to my voice.”

Mary’s Lord was alive and standing right in front of her!  She was excited and cried out, “Teacher” and began to cling to Him. She can’t contain her excitement!  Her Lord is alive!  He is alive with power, never to die again!  He told her not to cling to Him because He still had to ascend to the Father.

Note He said, “to the Father” (that is the literal translation of the Greek).  God is the source and provider for everyone and everything, He is the Father and King of all Creation.  He created us, to be His children, He is our Daddy, (“daddy” is the literal translation of “Abba”).  We left the Father’s house and Jesus came to bring us back home to the Father.  And through Christ’s death and resurrection the door has been opened for all people to come back into the Father’s house.  God will not force them, but the door is open because of Christ. This is the Good News we preach and why Paul could write in Colossians 1:19-20, “For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Today, and every Sunday, we along with Christians around the world, celebrate the victory of Christ over death and all the power of the devil.  As Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

Christ has set us free from the power of sin and death, in this present life Jesus said we have crossed over from death to life!  This is the joy we celebrate now, until the final day of resurrection.  In that day, the trumpet shall sound and the Lord descend, the dead in Christ will be raised, and we will join them in the air to be with the Lord forever!

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.