Category Archives: Biblical Truth

Breaking the Code v. 4

Often we invite people to church and want and expect that they’ll feel comfortable in this place where we go to worship as a body of believers.

I’ll never forget my friend Joe (not his name) who was having trouble in his home and Image result for worshipgenuinely looking for answers. So I invited him to come to church with us and he agreed that maybe he’d find something there that would comfort and calm his storm. We walked in together and found a seat. Everything was good. Then the music started and everyone stood up. One song after another and by the middle of the third song, Joe’s eyes were as big as a full moon and it was obvious that he had no idea what was going on. I had not done a good job of preparing Joe for what was going to happen. Joe gave it one more chance, but could not absorb a service clearly aimed at mature believers. To this day I pray that God will have used that experience for good in Joe’s journey.

We Christians have this thing we do that is called worship. But what is worship? The first usage of this term is found in Genesis 22 where Abraham took his son Isaac up to the mountain to worship. The word means to prostrate one’s self before a divine being, or in Abraham’s case, to submit himself to the will of God. Other implications include to give reverence to, to pay honor to, to bow down humbly. From these various phrases, we come to understand that when we worship, we are bowing our hearts to God’s holiness and majesty. From this, we see the attitude with which we gather together each week for worship.

Worship is more than just the musical portion of the service, yet we have “worship leaders/pastors” who lead only in the music intended for us to sing praises to the Lord our God. I have concerns about this being another area where our terminology is being holy-hijacked by a group of well-meaning people. The worship portion of the service has come to mean the singing of songs of praises to God. The Lord gave us His hymnal in the book of Psalms to show that He wanted us to sing to Him. He tells us to “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all the earth.” (Psalm 100:1) Many of the songs we sing today contain key phrases from these ancient Psalms.

In many churches, we continue our worship by remembering the work of Christ through His death and resurrection, in the act of communion. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 tells us, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Some churches celebrate communion every week, some monthly, and some quarterly. But nearly all Christian churches celebrate communion as a part of their worship.

Bringing our tithes and offerings is another part of our declaring His provision and goodness by returning a portion of the blessings He has given to us. Malachi 3:8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. And in 1 Corinthians 16:2 we read, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” We make a statement of honor and reverence when we return to Him a portion of what He has provided for us.

Listening to the teaching of His word, the Bible is another part of our act of worship. Something that those who love God want to hear is what He has to say to us as recorded by those He chose to receive His words through His Spirit breathing out what they should write. 2 Timothy 3:16 assures us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Listening to the teaching of Scripture bends our heart and will to His commands and instruction.

The worship service was somewhat described in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapter 3 verse 16 he writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It is interesting to note that at the top of the list is the teaching of the word.

When you come to your next worship service keep in mind the many ways that we humble ourselves in reverence to our God. We submit to His word, we remember the work that Christ completed on the cross, we bring our tithes and offerings and we sing praises (most of us make a joyful noise) to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. (Psalm 95:6) If God is who we claim He is, He deserves our true worship, adoration, and obedience.

There are as many different styles of worship as there are churches. Find a church where the music connects your heart to God and the teaching stays true to the meaning of the Scriptures and focuses on pointing you to Jesus as the author and finisher of your faith.

Blessings!

Subtle Influences

C.S. Lewis wrote in the Screwtape Letters, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Letter XII

Most of us have heard the term “slippery slope.” We hear it and, in today’s world, we Image result for discerningallow ourselves to become distracted because we know whatever follows is someone’s projection of imminent disaster at some future point in time. There are voices from all aspects of the political and sociological spectrum forecasting the demise of society as we know it resulting from an initial tiny step being approved today by some arm of our government. The fact that God is in control gives us great comfort, but we must also deal with the reality that He gives us great latitude in determining our own, and society’s, pace of ethical and moral decline. Refusal to acknowledge the broader and long term implications in favor of a short-term pain point or vocal minority viewpoint, has, over the years, led us to depart from God’s perspective in making our decisions.

Because of many of these decisions, the new reality of our world is that we live in a very different world than the one in which many of us grew up. Just yesterday, I was talking with family members about how life was when our daughters were growing up. And, yet, we wonder how we have arrived at the place in our world in which we now live. Why do we feel so much more insecure? We have just purchased cameras for the security of our home? Why are we becoming increasingly concerned about the worldview of our society? Our institutions of higher learning were once paragons of free speech and places where various worldviews could be openly discussed. Today, public speech on our campuses is limited to those who agree only with a narrow band of worldviews. Opinions arising from other worldviews are not given a voice.

During the days of the Revolutionary War, battles took place in an open field with opposing forces marching toward each other. Everyone knew who and where the enemy was. The Vietnam War was notable for the guerilla warfare that made the enemy less visibly identifiable. The enemy was not always uniformed military. During this war, the enemy took on the appearance of common citizens. More recently, wars are being waged against invisible networks of people inspired by ideologies that are spread transparently across the internet.

I was reading a pre-release copy of a book by Dr. Jeff Myers, “The Secret Battle of Ideas About God.” In his book, Dr. Myers compares the ideological battles of today to that of fighting a virus. Rather than debating specific ideologies, i.e., Islam, Mormonism, post-Christian society, et al, Christians today, must focus on being grounded in a system of truth against which to test all the random values and ideas that are surfaced by today’s various communications media.  These inputs can come in the form of commercials, news analysis, headlines, social media, and pronouncements made by high profile personalities. These are just a few. At least part of the danger lies in repeated intake of messages. Being constantly barraged with bad thinking based on invalid worldviews does have an effect.

These messages seep into the church. Our Christian friends repeat things they have heard, a pastor says something that sounds right but doesn’t really align with Scripture, a Bible Study leader offers an opinion that is counter to Scriptural truth, a church leans on its own tradition rather than what the Bible says, and down the road we go. Just because something goes viral in social media, doesn’t make it the truth. The slippery slope has begun. I was reading an interview with a former pastor who has been given a credible voice because he wrote a book containing a restatement of an old line of thinking that suggests all will go to heaven because God loves everyone. This interview focused on this man’s perspective on Scripture. He indeed has taken the next steps in the slippery slope created by his new truth system. His view of the Bible is that it is a collection of ideas that have been put together by several human writers, that lead us to think divine thoughts. Rubbish!

This is how we stray from the truth. When we declare that truth, as handed down by God Himself, is simply a collection of human ideas that leads us to think of God, we have no truth at all. We’ve begun to slide down the slippery slope. The virus gains a foothold into our immune systems. How can we reverse the slide or stop the viral infection? Is there an antidote?

Scripture attests to itself that “all scripture is God-breathed.” The Bible is a trustworthy foundation for our worldview. The antidote is to become familiar with its words and its teachings. If its teachings come from God, then nothing can overrule it. The Psalmist wrote, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

We need to store God’s words in our hearts so that we can fight off the infection of false teaching by recognizing it when it comes to our ears. False teachers will infiltrate even the most Christian environments. After listening to the Apostle Paul, the Bereans would go home and search the scriptures to see if what he said was true. We need to do the same so that we are able to fight off infectious viruses that make us spiritually sick.

Perhaps it is time for a good helping of spiritual food that will help us ward off viruses. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” A good place to start.

Be well, friends.

Breaking the Code v. 3

What is grace? We have churches named Grace this and Grace that, yet many of the people inside have no idea what the name of the church refers to.

Image result for GraceA majority of the apostolic letters open with the words grace and peace to you and that greeting is ascribed to Jesus Christ our Lord. First, what is an apostolic letter and then, what is the meaning of the greeting?

An apostolic letter is a letter written by one of the Apostles (Paul, John, Peter, James, Jude) to the churches. These are letters that provided guidance to the churches that were formed as a result of the spread of the gospel through various means. Paul took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles as far as his travels would carry him on three different missionary journeys. Over the course of time, the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to these new believers. Their teachings have become part of our Scriptures or the collection of books we call the Bible.

Regarding the greeting, going back to the original Greek language the word we interpret as grace is “chairo.” In a spiritual context, it means the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life of the recipient. The Greek language often expresses concepts rather than narrowly defined terms. With chairo we have implications of acceptance, benefit, favor, gift, grace, and joy.

Some have explained the “grace” of God by calling it unmerited favor. It was our ancestors who sinned in the Garden of Eden. But this didn’t catch God by surprise because He already had a plan. That plan was through His grace to provide a way for us to be in eternal relationship with Him. It is because of His grace that we are saved when we place our faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He did not have to do this, but by His benevolence (grace), He has extended to us the offer of salvation.

The popular song “Amazing Grace” really has it right when it says, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” This song, that once was a hymn sung only in churches, is known by the masses as a beautiful tune that can be sung with passion and great artistry. Yet the true meaning of the first few words is completely lost on most who would never otherwise refer to themselves as wretches. We are indeed unworthy of God’s grace.

In considering the grace of God and what it affords us, one can’t help but be amazed and broken of all our pride. If we are honest with ourselves, this grace is truly nothing we have deserved. In his letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote that while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). It is God’s favor made available to us for the simple act of placing all our faith, our confidence, our hopes for eternal life in the work of Jesus Christ. It is available to every human on this earth, regardless of their current belief system. That, in itself, is pretty amazing. That is not the way people would think without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Understanding the grace of God will bring us the peace of God, because by His grace we have confidence that God has a plan for us and this world (Jeremiah 29:11), a hope and confidence in our life beyond death’s door into eternal life with Him. That should give us a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Two key passages on grace could be Ephesians 2:8-9 and Jude 4

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designate for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, grace is an extension of God’s love for us, not conditioned on our good deeds or behavior. But that gift must not be distorted to claim freedom to indulge in perverted lifestyles that deny the teachings of Jesus. To claim this grace, we need only to place our faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope.

God’s grace is a significant topic, one one which stirred the reformation some 500 years ago. Much more could be said, but just a few nuggets for thought.

Breaking the Code v. 2

One of the things in the church that is not well understood by many people is baptism. Baptism is one of those acts that was modeled by Christ and commanded by Scripture.
Related imageAfter Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came down initially to the disciples and then to the church, the disciples were out preaching with Peter leading the way. All those in Jerusalem were hearing these men preach in their own language. In Acts 2:38, Peter preaching to thousands of people who were in awe that everyone was hearing in their own language when he said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” He pled with them “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Baptism was modeled by Christ who was baptized by John the Baptist, as he began His ministry. It was important for Christ to be baptized. Luke recorded the event this way, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was about 30 years old at that time. (Luke 3:21 ff)

In Acts 19:4 ff Paul was talking to some men in Ephesus. Luke writes, “And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

So, baptism is an outward demonstration of heart level repentance and identification with Christ. Even though Christ had nothing of which to repent, nor could baptism make Him any less sinful (He was without sin), He felt it was important to model the step for all of us. When speaking of baptism we talk of following Christ in baptism. In the process of inviting Christ into our hearts, we must, by definition, repent and turn from our former way of life and thinking. New believers have a desire to follow Christ and baptism is one of those outward statements true followers want to make to the world around them.

From the earliest days of the church, baptism has been a demonstration of a new life and an ordinance, like communion, that believers participate in to identify with their Lord and Savior. The acts of baptism and partaking of communion have no redemptive or cleansing power, but rather are outward demonstrations of what God has done in the heart. Remember, man looks on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Is baptism required for salvation?

A key scene in Scriptures (Luke 23:30-41) gives us great insight into this question. Christ was hanging on the cross and the thieves on either side engaged Jesus in conversation. One hurled insults at Jesus and chided Him, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” The other admonished the first saying, “Don’t you fear God? … We are punished justly … this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Here we have the moment of truth for Christ’s presence here on earth. It is the ultimate act of sacrifice for which He came to earth. One man being crucified for his crimes recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah. Jesus, seeing the man’s heart, hears his confession and tells him that on that very day, they would be reunited in paradise (heaven). This man had no opportunity for baptism and Jesus, seeing his heart, welcomes him into the kingdom.  The Holy Spirit has seen to it that this crucial and sensitive moment, is recorded for us as an affirmation of John 3:16 which tells us that whoever believes in the Son of God, will be saved.

Baptism is taught in Scripture, yet it is practiced in many different ways. Some practice infant baptism, some sprinkle, and some immerse. The question becomes whether there is a right way and a wrong way.

Immersion is symbolic of being buried with Christ and raised again to walk as a new creation. While the Scriptures imply that people are being baptized in deep enough water to accommodate immersion, there is no specific teaching that immersion was the only method or the only acceptable method. Many churches that do not have baptistries sprinkle those desiring baptism. Here we must trust the Scriptures again and know that the Lord knows the heart of men, just as Christ knew the heart of the thief on the cross and affirmed they would see one another that same day in heaven.

Yes, churches will have Scripture to support their approach, but the one thing that remains is that baptism is universally seen as an affirmation of one’s faith. Some in the evangelical community baptize infants as identification with parents who are believers, much like circumcision was an identification for Israelite infants. Circumcision did not guarantee the child’s affinity to the faith. It was an identity with God’s chosen people. Since Christ’s atoning sacrifice, the law (circumcision) was replaced with grace (baptism) in its outward manifestation.

Baptism continues from the days of John the Baptist to represent repentance and forsaking our former ways of life. It has always represented a decision that could only be made by a person of sufficient age to consciously decide to follow Jesus.

This matter is treated much more extensively by theologians, but for our purposes here, we simply need to understand the teachings of Scripture.

Breaking the Code v. 1

In the community of Christ followers, there is a language that can be confusing and for Image result for Christianthe most part misunderstood. Just as there is a culture in any organization, there are acronyms, phrases, and words for which insiders can have differing definitions and leave outsiders bewildered, to say the least. To further the confusion, Christianity has conceded labels that are core to defining who we are to those who have distorted the truth and the heart of Christ.

I have friends who are apologists and who would write lengthy papers on defining some of these words and phrases. Still, I think there is value to putting a stake in the ground for our purposes and our discussions. These definitions are not intended to be all-encompassing but rather, what I hope will be, a biblical place to begin our thinking on such matters.

Let’s start with the word Christian. The word Christian was first recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles chapter 26 verse 28 when King Agrippa tells Paul that he is almost persuaded to become a Christian. The term Christian was used to describe people who were committed to following Christ in the days of the early church. Included with this label was the concept of those who adhered to the teachings of the Scriptures and accepting Christ as part of the triune God. Jesus claimed to be God. He said I and the Father are one. Either He was who He said He was or He was a liar and not God. So the word Christian in its original context defined a devoted Christ follower.

In Romans 12:9-21 Paul challenges the Roman church to Christian lifestyle and virtues. The ESV Bible titles this section, “Marks of the True Christian.”

Today we ascribe the label of Christian to anyone who is not Jewish or atheist. If you are not opposed to the idea of God you have earned the label of Christian. Adherence to the teachings of the Bible is no longer a part of the definition. Jude wrote in his letter addressed to those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ these words, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The world is influencing the church through various means, without us even noticing, to redefine and pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ. In so doing, they have redefined, in the public square, the real meaning of Christianity. Many churches that once held to a biblical standard, have abandoned the truths of Scripture, for the logic of the “intellectual elites.” Indeed, the Scriptures are no longer held to be God’s words for mankind. This gives the world credibility as they continue to further pervert and erode the gospel and grace of God.

We have now chosen to call ourselves “Christ followers.” But make no mistake about it, I still identify with the Christians spoken of by the New Testament writers. One final word on this topic …

Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” As Christians who love and follow Jesus, we need to know and keep His commands rather than distorting and perverting those commands to meet our own desires.

You Won’t Want to Miss This Concert!

Did you know how loved you are by God? Do you understand how much he delights in his people? God wants his people to rejoice and be glad. There is a joy and satisfaction that Image result for god rejoices over uscomes from the peace that passes all understanding. There is a calm that he gives his people in the face of trial and trouble. Those things will certainly come our way, but if we give all our worries and anxieties to him he will lead us beside the still waters and will restore our souls.

Why does he do this? The Bible tells us he does this because he cares for us. Can you recall the last time he restored your soul? Do you know where to go to have your soul restored and refreshed? You can find safety and solace in the words of Scripture. These words contain his promises and tell the story of how much he loves us. These words, which are actually God’s words, talk of joy in the midst of trials. They tell us that he cares for us like a Shepherd cares for his flock, by protecting, leading and guiding.

Pastor Tony Evans tweeted today, “Peace doesn’t mean that you will not have problems. Peace means that your problems will not have you.” God delights in his people and wants them to place all their concerns at his feet and let him work them out. He may work them out by giving you the wisdom you need to navigate a choppy relationship, or he may change the other person’s heart. When we let him work things out we need to remember that his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than ours.

Knowing full well that this world is filled with sin and bad things are going to happen, he wants us to have joy that is unspeakable, or difficult to describe. He delights in his people. He is waiting to help us be his hands and feet here on this earth. He wants us to do good and to feel the inner joy that only he can provide.

I was reading the words of our God as he gave them to the prophet Zephaniah. Here is just a taste of what God gave Zephaniah, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17)

God is telling us not to fear. We should give all our fears to him. The picture he gives us is not to let our hands hang limp and helpless as we often feel like doing when we are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do in our current situation. If he is with us there is nothing to fear! He is might to save. There is song written by Hillsong that we have often sung in church that our Savior can move the mountains, and he is mighty to save. He will quiet us with his love. Do you remember being quieted by the love and protection of your mother or father? God’s love is so much greater and stronger and more consoling than any of us have ever felt from a family member or friend here on earth. Let your soul be quieted.

This next part is so awesome that I am not going to miss it! To have God so pleased with his people that he will rejoice over us with singing! Think about it! If you list all the best singers you could possibly name, then remember that our God made each of them and gave them their talents. Now think about this God, our God, the Creator, so happy with his people that he is going to sing over us!

I have friends out tonight at a private concert of a world renown singer. I gave one of my friends my ticket to the concert. But, tonight’s concert won’t be able to hold a candle to us hearing our God singing over us. There are no tickets for that concert. Everyone who has placed their faith in Jesus will hear this concert! No good deeds to be done. The price has already been paid. Place your faith in Jesus and come to the concert! It will be the best thing you’ve ever heard!

In times that are filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt, we need to be strong and courageous as God told Joshua over and over again, because the Lord our God is with us and is so delighted with us that it makes him sing. He will quiet us with his love. It is going to be a concert that you won’t want to miss!

Scarecrow in a Melon Patch

Where is our confidence? Where is our trust? Jesus said, do not worry about tomorrow because each day has enough trouble of its own. He told us not to worry about what we Image result for scarecrowwould wear or what we would eat. Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field that are beautiful to watch and to look at. We are more valuable to God than all the other parts of creation. Don’t get all hung up over something that will impress others. Who are you living for and what will all these things do for you? They won’t bring you happiness!

Many of us in the Baby Boomer generation are spending a lot of time engaging people who will help us plan to make sure our finances will last as long as we do. Many have accumulated collectibles, homes, toys, etc. that are the result of planning and playing out our personal passions. The proverb says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22) And another, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (21:5) We need to know that God applauds planning.

Yet, in recent years, many have become uncertain about their security or the future of those things we’ve collected being placed in the hands of their beneficiaries. We must however keep all these things in proper perspective. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk..Do not fear them, they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” (Jer 10:5)

Our stuff is just stuff. All our collectibles may be good hobbies which keep us active and capture our interest, but the things and money that are the results of our diligent planning are just things. They are inanimate and exist in our lives much like a scarecrow which serves only to scare off the birds that would otherwise eat the fruit of the garden. The scarecrow can’t hear you. In fact if you talked to it, some might begin to wonder about you and your ‘friends’.

Jesus also said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 19:23) That is because these things begin to own us. We allow them to become part of who we are and a path for acceptance among people. The only path for acceptance we should be pursuing is to be accepted into the kingdom of heaven by God. Another proverb on planning tells us that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose prevails.”

Let’s not let the scarecrows run our lives. Enjoy the fruit of your diligent planning. Know that the Lord has honored your diligence for a purpose. Consider what he wants you to do with your resources to further his purposes. When we commit our lives to God, that includes our assets and resources. Let’s give it all to him and let God direct our paths.

Lots more to say on this subject, but for now, be wary of the scarecrows in your melon patch.