Dr. Dan Corse - Rolla, Missouri 

Looking Unto Jesus Ministries 

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  1. GETTING AND STAYING RID OF BAGGAGE FROM OUR PAST
  2. DON'T LEAVE BABIES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
  3. WISE AS SERPENTS, HARMLESS AS DOVES
  4. ISN'T IT TIME TO BE ABOUT WHAT REALLY MATTERS?
  5. MOVING BEYOND PATTY-CAKE CHRISTIANITY
  6. BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIANS: IT IS TIME TO BUCK UP! IT IS TIME TO STAND UP! IT IS TIME           TO 
SPEAK UP!

  7. THROWING AWAY THE RENTER'S AGREEMENT DOES NOT RELIEVE US OF ACCOUNTABILITY
  8. STUMBLING BLOCKS TO GROWTH
  9. REMEMBERING THE PERSON OF CHRIST
10. NEEDED, THE PRESENCE OF GOD
11. UNTO US A LIBERATOR IS BORN, CHRIST OUR LORD!
12. MYTH: THE NEW TESTAMENT ADVOCATES FOR GOVERNMENT ENFORCED WEALTH

      REDISTRIBUTION
13. MOTIVATION: THE LOVE THAT COMPELS
14. GULLIBILITY LEADS TO ABUSE
15. MYTH: WHEN WE ARE SAVED OUR SINNING NO LONGER MATTERS
16. SPEAKING, TEACHING, AND ADMONISHING THROUGH SONGS
17. THE POWER THAT LED TO A CHRISTMAS TRUCE
18. THE THREADED NEEDLE LIFE
19. RECOGNIZING AND DEALING WITH SPIRITUAL ABUSE
20. MINISTERS: DEALING WITH UNSCRIPTURAL VIEWS AND TEACHINGS
21. UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONVICTION AND CONDEMNATION
22. DIVIDED WE FALL: COMMENTING TO CHRISTIANS RELATED TO THE RACIAL TENSIONS  

      CONFRONTING US
23. EIGHT RULES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION 
24. THE FIVE-FOLD MINISTRY

25. THE HOLY SPIRIT, MAGNIFICENTLY BETTER THAN POPEYE'S SPINACH, AND REAL!

26. DEALING WITH LGBT ISSUES

27. LET US BE BOLD IN SPEAKING AND DOING WHAT CHRIST TELLS US TO SPEAK AND DO!

28. WHAT IS TRUTH? JIHAD AND THE RECENT ORLANDO TRAGEDY

29. "SAFE ZONES" AREN'T REALLY SAFE

30. NO NEWS IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD NEWS!

31. LET US THROW OFF THE OBJECTIONS OF THE RELIGIOUS PLURALISTS!

32. WE ALL NEED TO HEAR THE TRUTH!

33. KEEP PUSHING ON!

34. NOW IS THE TIME TO STAND!

35. CHRISTIANS, LET’S NOT BE DECEIVED, CONFLICT IS PART OF OUR WALK OF FAITH!

36. PRAYER MODELS: EPHESIANS 1:15-20

37. PRAYER MODELS: EPHESIANS 3:14-19

38. BIBLICAL HOPE OR HYPE?

39. WE ARE OF CHRIST!

40. PREPARED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK

41. WE WILL BE KNOWN BY OUR GOOD FRUIT

42. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 1

43. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 2

44. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 3

45. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 4

46. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 5

47. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 6

48. LIVING GODLY IN AN UNGODLY WORLD

49. THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM!

50. BEWARE OF THORNS!

51. THE MYTH OF NEUTRALITY

52. GIVE NO PLACE TO THE DEVIL; DON'T COMPROMISE!

53. THE ENEMY WITHIN: TROJAN TACTICS

1. GETTING AND STAYING RID OF BAGGAGE FROM OUR PAST

Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJ) – 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended, but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Sitting alone in the dark room, Bob contemplated his life. His mindset as dark as the room he sat in, Bob found himself spiraling into discouragement, despondency and depression. As his thoughts stumbled amidst many unhappy memories, peace and joy fled from his countenance. He mumbled hopelessly to himself, “What’s the use? What’s the use?”

 

Perhaps most if not all of us have found ourselves at some time or other in Bob’s position. Faced with trials and tribulations, sometimes the result of our own decisions, at other times the result of the decisions of others, we find ourselves tempted to embrace the ugly D’s of Discouragement, Despondency and Depression. Embrace them but for a moment and our outlooks become clouded with doubts, worries and fears. Embrace them too long and our lives seem useless, pointless and without hope.

 

During such times we may even question God’s love for us. Writing of the tragic loss of life via the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, Gordon Lightfoot queried, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” As Lightfoot noted, tragic times can make us wonder where God’s love has gone. Though God’s love, being unconditional, is never withdrawn from us, we can forget that fact when we allow our minds to fixate on dark, depressing and discouraging thoughts.

 

Faced with such times, we need a new beginning. We need a fresh start. We need to experience a new day. To experience that new beginning we need a place to deposit the baggage of our past that we might continue life’s journey unfettered, freely allowing God’s plans for our lives to take ascendency. The place to deposit such baggage is upon God. We do so by acting upon the words of 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJ), “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” Casting speaks of throwing or placing our cares on God, of giving them to Him. The cares or baggage we are to cast upon Him exist as past failures, rejections, distractions, anxieties, worries, fears, burdens, etc.

 

Having cast our baggage upon God, we should leave it there. Like Paul spoke of doing with things from his past, we want to forget them. Such forgetting speaks of no longer caring for and focusing upon those past mistakes, rejections, distractions, worries, fears and burdens. God does not want us habitually focusing upon and fretting over such things. He wants us to give them over to Him, to forget them, to allow them to travel to the oblivion provided for them by His grace, by His great love for us. He does not want them to remain as weights in our lives.

 

Remembering that Hebrews 12:2 informs us that weights and sin ensnare or hinder us, we do not want to hang onto weights or sin. If we have any unconfessed sin, we need to confess it to Him that it no longer ensnares or hinders us. Experiencing a new beginning is not about hanging onto the baggage of our past, whether that baggage exists as unhappy memories, regrets, fears, worries, anxieties or unconfessed sin. And, rather than tossing the baggage upon God and then unwisely taking it back, we need to leave it with Him and forget it there, allowing Him to place it in oblivion.

 

Furthermore, we need to “gird up the loins” of our minds or to take control over what we think about or upon, calmly placing our hope upon His grace, grace that empowers us for the journey ahead. A map to guide our thoughts on that journey is provided by Philippians 4:8 (NKJ), “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate upon these things.”

 

Finally, let us always remember the purpose of new beginnings. Having cast our baggage upon God and forgetting what is behind, that purpose is to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, NKJ). Doing so speaks of unfettered fellowship with Him, of consistent and healthy growth in grace. Doing so speaks of knowing the peace that He desires we experience in our walks with Him. Doing so speaks of joyfully living in a manner void of pointlessly carrying the baggage of our past.

 

2. DON'T LEAVE BABIES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!

Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJ) – 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…


Ephesians 4:11-15 (NKJ) – 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ…


Standing at a busy intersection in a somewhat rural area, I turned to see a baby in a stroller hurdling down the middle of the road. Looking in all directions, I did not see a parent or adult caregiver seeking to reunite with this helpless child. That being so, I quickly collected the child and pulled the stroller to the side of the road, out of harm's way. Soon, the child's mother appeared and joyfully embraced her child. I lovingly reminded her of the danger of babies left unattended in such places and she departed with child.


Moments later, another baby in a stroller came rolling down the middle of the road. Again, this child was alone with no parent or adult caregiver in sight. Again, I collected the helpless child, and pulled the stroller to the side of the road, out of harm's way. Again, a parent appeared and joyfully reunited with child. Again, I lovingly reminded the parent of the danger of babies left unattended in such places and she departed with child.


Then this whole scene repeated itself a third time.


Then I awoke, realizing I had been dreaming. Puzzled by the dream, I prayerfully contemplated its meaning. Moments later I heard a voice authoritatively state, "Don't leave babies in the middle of the road!" Hearing that, it became clear to me. God was reminding me that seasoned Christians and those called to the ministry have a responsibility to protect baby Christians from the dangers about them.


What dangers? In the dream the danger existed from the bustling traffic at a busy intersection. What did the busy intersection represent? The intersection represented that place where baby Christians may encounter false teachings and ideologies (“every wind of doctrine”) that, if embraced, will continuously toss them about, never allowing them to solidify their understanding of the foundation that is their saving relationship with Jesus Christ or to build upon it in a manner indicative of the healthy growth in grace that produces spiritual maturity.


1 Corinthians 3:11 (NKJ) clearly states, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Yet, those espousing false teachings and ideologies often seek to erode or transform that truth. They do so by craftily adding something to the foundation. That something exists in many forms. Some seek to make the foundation a mixture of faith in Christ and keeping the law, much like the heresy that Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians. 


Others make the foundation a blend of faith in Christ and man-made rules and traditions. Whatever arguments that false teachers advocate in seeking to convert baby Christians to their spiritually destructive ideologies related to the elementary teaching that Christ alone is our foundation, as mentors we have a responsibility to protect them by lovingly telling them the truth that Christ alone is our foundation.


And our responsibility does not end there. There are many other teachings that baby Christians need to receive, only some of which for the sake of brevity will we mention here. Babies need elementary instruction related to faith (Heb. 11), baptisms (in water, into the body of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit), the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Heb. 6:1-2). They also need training related to the biblical concept of covenant (Gen. 17:7; Mark 14:24), including instruction on the ordinance of communion (1 Cor. 11:23-26), and the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) or what most call the Trinity (Rom. 1:20; Col. 2:9). Their education should also focus upon the Holy Spirit related to the power He gives us for service (Acts 1:8), His gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-11) and the necessity of learning to follow His guidance (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:14). They also need to understand about sin, what it is, how we are tempted to sin, how to overcome temptations, the dangers of yielding to them and how to obtain God’s forgiveness when we do yield to them (James 1:12-15; Gal. 6:7-8; 1 Cor. 10:13; Acts 1:9). Prayer also is an integral part of a successful Christian life and teaching on it should be included (1 Thess. 5:17; Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Understanding about love (1 Cor. 13:4-8), grace (John 1:17; Tit. 2:11-12) and hope (1 Cor. 13:13; Heb. 11:1) from a biblical perspective is also a necessity.


Tragically, many baby Christians have not received an appropriate breadth of biblical instruction or have received it in a haphazard way. Thus, they have been prey for our spiritual enemies and those who embrace and espouse dangerous teachings and ideologies. As seasoned Christians and ministers we have a responsibility to do all we can to insure this does not happen. Converting the lost via the gospel is an essential first step, but it is only the first step. Once they have embraced the salvation available to all via the gospel or faith in Christ they need available to them the resources to become healthy disciples or followers of Christ. They need to experience wholesome growth in grace (2 Pet. 3:18) and to experience their continual transformation into His image, from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). If the resources to insure they do so are not made available to them they are left as babies in the middle of the road, where they are highly vulnerable to our spiritual enemies and religious charlatans, a prospect we as seasoned Christians and ministers should never find acceptable.

3. WISE AS SERPENTS, HARMLESS AS DOVES

Matthew 10:16 (NKJ) – Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.


Jesus made it clear to His followers that He was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves. “Wolves” Jesus “applied figuratively to cruel, rapacious, destructive men.” As there were such men (and women) in Jesus’ day, so are there now. Some are representatives of violent religious activities (i.e. those participating in Islamic jihad). Some seek to manipulate and control us for ungodly reasons and by ungodly methods. Still others present themselves as Christians but instead are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15), evidenced by the fact that their words, beliefs and actions are contrary to the ways of Christ as recorded in the Bible.


However, Jesus did more than merely inform us that we were being sent forth among cruel, predatory, destructive men and women. He added that in our going forth we are to “be wise as serpents.” Wise speaks of one who is “intelligent, wise, prudent” and “mindful” of his or her “interests.” Among “the ancients the serpent was an emblem of cunning and wisdom.” Thus, what Jesus was telling His followers then, as well as today, is: “You are going forth as sheep among cruel, predacious and destructive men and women. Therefore, be intelligent and wise, correctly mindful of your and My interests. Be shrewd.”


In addition to being “wise as serpents” Jesus also told us to be “harmless as doves.” Harmless speaks of those who are not evil, are “free from guile” and “innocent.” Doves Jesus noted due to their “’proverbial harmlessness.” Thus, Jesus, after exhorting us to be intelligent, wise, mindful of our interests and shrewd, additionally informed us in doing so we are to be honest, truthful and free from evil, never those who seek to do harm to others.


Having considered Matthew 10:16, how should we apply the insight Jesus gave us in that verse? Obviously, as was true 2000 years ago, our walks with Christ upon this planet will encounter varying levels of difficulty. Some will quickly embrace the message of the gospel (the good news of salvation via faith in Christ), others will in time embrace it and some will never embrace it. That being so, we will consistently encounter men and women who to varying degrees consciously or unconsciously oppose the cause of Christ. However, that should not prevent us from seeking to lovingly be the light and salt that Jesus told us to be in this world (Matt. 5:13-15).


Nor should we allow the opposition we face to give us cause to compromise the cause of Christ. Becoming the “all things to all men” that Paul spoke about related to saving some was never about compromising to the point of sinning that he might win some (1 Cor. 9:22). It was about suppressing personal traits and practices, non-sin issues, in order to remove obstacles to others embracing the gospel. It was part of the being “wise as serpents” that Jesus encouraged us to be.


Embracing such wisdom, nor do we want to yield to those who embrace false narratives. Among them is religious pluralism, which views all religions as equally valid. Jesus said in John 10:9 that He was the door by which entering in we are saved. In John 14:6 He stated He was the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the Father. Luke in Acts 4:12 tells us there is no other name by which we are saved than that of Jesus. Pluralists, skeptics or those embracing non-biblical views about salvation may react to us disdainfully, accuse us of arrogance or greet us with guffaws related to Jesus being the only means of salvation. Yet to shy away from proclaiming this fact is surely not to be “wise as a serpent.” Nor is it lovingly being the salt and light Jesus would have us to be.


Finally, though being wise as serpents must always be a part of our considerations, that is not the end of the matter. It would also behoove us to remember that we are to be “harmless as doves.” Harmless as doves speaks of our speaking truthfully, refraining from evil and seeking to do no harm to those we encounter. Doing harm to others includes behaving in fleshly and ungodly ways toward them (Gal. 5:19-21). It speaks of our words and deeds not reflecting the cause of Christ. It may also refer to our not sharing the truth of God’s word with others or to not sharing that truth in love (Eph. 4:15).


Definitions from Thayer’s Lexicon of the New Testament and Vine’s Expository Dictionary


4. ISN’T IT TIME TO BE ABOUT WHAT REALLY MATTERS?

Matthew 23:23-24 (NKJ) – 23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.


   Unlike many moderns would have us believe, Jesus was not a mealy-mouthed Messiah. As evidenced by the passage above, among the frequent recipients of His plain and honest talk were the scribes and the Pharisees. Having chided the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus then referred to them as blind guides, an obviously derisive assessment of their prowess as spiritual leaders. Continuing the passage, we see that He then equated them with those who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. 

   What does it mean to strain out a gnat and swallow a camel? In New Testament times wine was often left in open containers. This resulted in insects getting into the wine, necessitating it being strained, the practice of removing the insects from the wine before drinking. Thus, it was this practice to which Jesus alluded. He used it to illustrate an important point, that the scribes and Pharisees focused on trifles or insignificant things and ignored more serious matters, making them guilty of swallowing camels. Indicating that they strained out gnats and swallowed camels was a devastating assessment of their ability to prioritize spiritual matters.

   Lest we are too quick to scoff at the scribes and Pharisees, it would behoove us to ask ourselves, “Do we sometimes strain out gnats and swallow camels?” Specifically, are their areas in our lives where we fail to correctly prioritize? To use a more modern cliché, do we sometimes make mountains out of molehills and ignore the real mountains? If we are honest, I think the answer is yes.

  How so? Looking at the practice of Christianity in the 21st century, we often spend more time on the exterior trappings of Christianity than we do matters of the heart, which is tragic as matters of the heart most matter. Some of us can be found bickering over whether we should call ourselves Christians or followers of Christ, the word Christians as used in the Bible coming from the Greek christianos, which can be translated Christian or follower of Christ. Others among us contend over terms, among them Old School and New School, with those representing the various terms often staunchly advocating that they are the real face of Christianity. Sadly, others of us still argue over the style of music used during praise and worship services. And, amazingly to some but not all of us, there are still those of us who focus on what we wear to church more than the Christlikeness we exemplify during our time at or away from church. Moderation in dress is biblically appropriate but the choice of formality or non-formality in dress is irrelevant to Christlikeness or growth in grace.

   Why does it matter if we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels? Straining out gnats and swallowing camels means we spend too much time on molehills and too little time on mountains. It means we often neglect to appropriately focus on what really matters.

   What really matters? What really matters does not include preferred worship styles, clothing styles, whether we are Old School or New School, ever-changing fads in Christianity or whether we call ourselves Christians or followers of Christ. What really matters is bringing the lost to Christ by sharing with them the gospel, the good news or glad tidings of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. What really matters is encouraging and providing for the growth in grace of those who know Christ as Savior. What really matters is being salt and light to our culture, to those about us who walk in and are in bondage to the ways of darkness. If we are not about what really matters, then we are probably straining out gnats and swallowing camels. Knowing that, isn’t it time to be about what really matters?

5. MOVING BEYOND PATTY-CAKE CHRISTIANITY

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NKJ) – When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.


   When my son was an infant my Mother found delight by engaging in age-appropriate activities with him. One of those activities involved his toes. Grabbing first his big toe, she would say, “This little piggy went to market!” Grabbing then the next toe she would exclaim, “This little piggy stayed home!” Moving to the next toe she cried, “This little piggy had roast beef!” On she went to the next toe and with an increasingly joyous tone almost shouted, “This little piggy had none!” Finally, she came to the smallest toe and with a tone that announced the zenith or crescendo of this activity, she grabbed it and cried, “This little piggy had none! This little piggy cried, ‘Wee, wee, wee, I want some!’”

   Such activities provided my mother opportunities to bond with and express her love for my young son. However, as my son grew she changed the types of activities that she engaged in with him. She realized that the “Little Piggy” game, though appropriate for an infant, was not appropriate for an adolescent. That being so, she never asked my son during his teen years to take off his shoes and socks so she could play the “Little Piggy” game with him. In fact, had she done so, he with a tone of incredulity would have denied her request.

   As caring and loving parents, we, like God, desire that our children grow and mature in healthy ways. That being so, we encourage them to engage in activities and display behaviors that are age-inappropriate. We stimulate the language skills of babies by engaging in and responding to their gibberish. However, we would not advocate for that same gibberish being used by a teenager. We instead would support the teenager’s demonstration of language skills that were associated with his or her age.

   Obviously, not all children grow and develop in exactly the same way. However, when a child’s development is significantly lacking in an area child development specialists speak of there being a “developmental delay.” That means the child’s development is below what is considered “normal” for that area. Having identified the delay, the specialists then formulate a strategy for addressing the delay.

   Paul, as a loving spiritual father and Christian maturation specialist, keenly recognized the indicators of healthy Christian growth. Based on that recognition, he advocated for maturation as evidenced by Christians departing from childish or age-inappropriate behaviors. His understanding of healthy spiritual growth also equipped him to identify “developmental delays” among the Christians at Corinth. Those delays were evidenced by the presence of partisan bickering, envy, strife and divisions among the followers of Christ. Observing those behaviors, Paul, rather than referring to the Corinthians as “spiritual,” instead identified them as “carnal” or “fleshly” believers, as “babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1-4).

   As an expert on the topic of spiritual growth, Paul’s apostolic responsibility did not end with the identification of “developmental delays.” In his epistles or letters he identified delays, discussed their causes and formulated Spirit-inspired strategies for dealing with them. At Galatia, Paul identified the danger to healthy Christian growth that came from mixing law and grace. He referred to the mixing of law and grace as a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), vehemently stating of the man who preached this different gospel, “let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). He queried them, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3, NKJ). Paul understood that salvation under the New Covenant is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8), necessitating too that those seeking healthy maturation live and walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).

   Paul recognized that such maturation was not accomplished by mixing law and grace. Under the law the Jews sought salvation and righteousness via fleshly activities. Tragically, some today still seek salvation and righteousness by the law. The futility of such seeking is made apparent by Galatians 3:11 (NKJ), which reminds us that “no one is justified by the law in the sight of God,” for “‘the just shall live by faith.’” The law was a tutor or schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, “that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). “Justified” is a legal term that speaks of our being made righteous, in right standing or relationship with God, via our knowing Christ as Savior. It is in the sphere of grace, not the law, that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and experience the healthy growth that God desires for us (2 Pet. 3:18).

   As he did in Galatia, Paul in his other letters consistently exhorted and encouraged believers to put away childish or fleshly activities and to “put on the new man” (Eph. 4:24). Putting on the new man spoke of a process. This process for Christians involves maturation, one evidenced by our words and deeds progressively reflecting Christ. Unlike some would have us believe, integral to this process is God’s word, the Bible. It is in the Bible that God gave us revelations about Himself, the origins of mankind, mankind’s fall, the necessity for and promise of a Savior and the incarnation of God Himself as that Savior in Jesus Christ. Coming to know Christ as Savior, it is imperative that we then feed upon the “milk” of God’s word, by it being empowered to put away childish behaviors and progressing on to the “meat” or “solid food” of His word, that we may exhibit adult behaviors (1 Cor. 3:2, Heb. 5:12-14).

   Recognizing the integral nature of God’s word related to spiritual growth, Jesus in John 8:31-32 (NKJ) stated, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Clearly, the fact that spiritual growth is a process means that after coming to know Christ as Savior we won’t arrive at maturity overnight. However, when we for whatever reasons diminish or deny the integral role that God’s word plays in healthy spiritual growth we choose the pathway of unnecessary “developmental delays.” We elect to be those whose lives reflect a needless and significant difference in what our level of spiritual maturity could or should be and what it is. We like, the Corinthians, choose to remain “babes in Christ,” as evidenced by our childish and fleshly behaviors, behaviors like those identified in Galatians 5:19-21 (adultery, fornication, hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, etc.). When adult behaviors are called for we too often are found engaging in childish ones. Recognizing when this is so, may we submit to God and give the word of God the priority it deserves. Doing so, we will move beyond childhood games like “This Little Piggy” and “Patty-cake” to more age-appropriate Christianity.

6. BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIANS:

IT IS TIME TO BUCK UP!

IT IS TIME TO STAND UP!

IT IS TIME TO SPEAK UP!

Proverbs 29:25 (NKJ) – The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.


Isaiah 5:20 (NKJ) - Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!


When it comes to standing for the cause of Christ, too often we Christians remain silent. Instead of praying for His boldness to lovingly stand, we too often grovel mutely in the face of any number of ungodly and biblically unsupportable agendas arrayed against the cause of Christ. Why? This occurs due to a variety of reasons: Some of us do so due to a pervasive fear of man that permeates and undergirds our choice to be silent. Some of us think making a moral stand would tarnish the allure of the self-deceptive and compromising cloak of nicety we have donned in the place of much-needed boldness. Some of us have a misguided view of what God’s love is all about.


Let us begin with the fear of man, which exists as an insidious enemy to the cause of Christ. Such fear occurs in a myriad of ways. We fear rejection from others. We fear what others think and say about us. So, in the face of godless and immoral agendas, we remain silent. Why? We do not want our intelligence demeaned through condescension and denigration by those whose words seek to be barbs thrust into our hearts. They chide our taking biblical stands as irrelevant and antiquated in this modern culture, reminding us that making such a stand is beyond passé in light of mankind’s evolutionary advances in morality. However, the evidence howls that, where morality is concerned, our culture is devolving. Observing the current events unfolding before our eyes, should we continue to be fearful? Absolutely not, for fear is an enemy to the cause of Christ (2 Tim 1:7; 1 John 4:18). Knowing that, it is time to buck up and with God’s help cast it off!


And then there is that delusional thinking related to being nice that so often keeps us in check when we are tempted to speak, the one that embalms our potential fervency related to godly stands. The logic behind it goes something like this: If we are nicer to those touting ungodly and immoral agendas, they, based on our nicety, will cease from those agendas. Neville Chamberlin, England’s Prime Minister, was nice to Hitler and we see where that got the world. I am sure that the 6 million Jews and 5 million other minority members whose deaths were the direct result of Chamberlin not making a stand wish he would have. Of course, we also see many touting being pro-choice and not pro-abortion as the nice choice (so often reminding us too they would never get an abortion but do not think it is their right to tell other women not to). Wouldn’t you imagine the 50-60 million unborn children whose lives were terminated by abortion wish the pro-choice folks were less concerned about being nice and more concerned about protecting their lives?


Related to those embracing the LGBT agendas, their so often falsely labeling Christians as homophobic and hate-filled for taking biblical stands has resulted in many Christians seeking to fit into the LGBT definition of niceness by abandoning or departing from those stands. But our seeking to be nice has not stopped the LGBT folks from seeking to curb our 1st Amendment rights as Christians has it? No, they are quite content to trample upon our rights aren’t they? That being so reveals the ruse of labeling Christians as homophobes and hate-filled to accomplish the LGBT agendas doesn’t it? Tragically, we now even see many individual Christians, denominations, and organizations pandering before the LGBT agendas by rejecting, ignoring, or wrongly interpreting many passages of scripture that contradict their agendas. The time has long passed for we Christians to passively play in the cultural sands with those opposing God’s ways and seeking to diminish our effectiveness with taunts of “not nice” while our world goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket. It is time to stand up!


Last but not least, let us not forget the convoluted thinking that surrounds the use of the biblical word “love” as it applies to our remaining silent in the face of godless and immoral agendas. Those championing such agendas often seek to convince us that not supporting or standing against those agendas is unloving. Of course, that is done so we will become or remain silent. Yet, such people never want to be reminded of the words of 1 Corinthians 13:6 (NKJ), which tells us that love “does not rejoice at iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” Based on that verse, we see that it is actually unloving to not present the truth of God’s word related to any number of immoral and godless agendas, much in the same way as it is unloving to not warn a child about the danger of a hot stove or poisonous snakes. Standing back and saying nothing as our culture continues devolving morally into greater ungodliness is not loving. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Now is not the time to remain silent. Now is the time to speak up!


For Christians, bucking up, standing up, and speaking out in the face of godless and immoral agendas should never be about forays into the flesh. Such forays often smack of the hatred of others, a penchant for name-calling, and any number of other biblically unsupportable methods. No, ours is not a battle that will be won by carnal and ungodly methods (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Rather, our battle first occurs in the realm of the spirit, with us bathing the stands we will take in prayer (Eph. 6:18). Buoyed by those prayers and filled with His boldness, let us speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Let us no longer fall prey to compromise, that siren-voice, which heeded, makes our witness for Christ about as effective as a cooked spaghetti noodle being substituted for a steel girder in the construction of a skyscraper. Let us not be sidetracked by those who tout godless agendas to coax our focus off of passages of scripture that would rouse us to godly action if our focus was not so diverted. Let us not heed the ways of misplaced priorities, occurring when we love the praise of the world more than the praise of God. As Christians, the task before us is not insurmountable, yet it will only be accomplished as we rely on His power and wisdom. Bible-believing Christians: It is time for us to buck up! It is time for us to stand up! It is time for us to speak up!

7. THROWING AWAY THE RENTER'S AGREEMENT

DOES NOT RELIEVE US OF ACCOUNTABILITY!

Galatians 6:7-8 (NKJ) – 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to the flesh, will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

 

In the 20th century mankind in the West largely discarded a biblical worldview in favor of a secular one. Embracing secularism and its evil spawn, moral relativity, mankind placed himself in the position of God as the arbiter of good and evil. Viewed in light of the moral absolutes contained in the Bible, mankind’s tenure as the god of morality and ethics has been a dismal failure. To assure us of this fact, all we have to do is objectively peruse the moral climate in the West. Our culture is adrift on the deceptive see of secularism, resulting in this time where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, NKJ).

 

Yet, a question of significant import looms on the accountability horizon. Does rejecting a biblical worldview relieve us of the moral accountability related to that view? Obviously, many, most, or all of those who ignore, denigrate, or reject the validity of a biblical worldview will seek to assure us that a biblical view was never a sound perspective. That being so, they will tell us it was an antiquated view and was worthy of being discarded long ago. Of course, that perception is somewhat akin to a renter knowing the rules he or she must follow when renting a property and then discarding those rules when the owner has returned to his or her abode. Yet, when the owner returns, he or she will hold the renter accountable for any damage done to the property. The owner will not consider the renter’s assertions that he or she discarded the rules as a viable reason for the renter to forgo accountability. The owner, rightfully so, will hold the renter accountable.

 

Likewise, though Jesus in bodily form returned to heaven, He is going to return. The angel’s words in Acts 1:11 (NKJ) assure us of this fact, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into the heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” In case any of us forgot who this planet really belongs to, let us remember the words of Psalm 24:1 (NKJ), “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” Yes, the owner of the property, Jesus, is set to return, and though at that time there will be wailing, cursing and vehement attempts to escape accountability for how we behaved while He was away, those undertakings will prove futile.


Choosing to reject or discard a biblical worldview will not relieve us of accountability for our sins any more than it did those indicated in Romans 1:18-25 (NKJ):


     18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteouness of men, who suppress the truth in  

     

unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the    

     

creation of the world His invisible 

attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power

     and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because although they know God, they did not glorify 

Him as God, nor were    

     

thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they  

     

became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible god into an image made like corruptible men-and birds and four-   

     

footed creatures and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor 

     their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather

     than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.        


Clearly, those identified in Romans 1 sound alarmingly like so much of mankind today. Professing themselves to be wise, they in fact were not wise but were fools. As fools, they quit giving God the glory due Him and gave that glory to His creation. Exchanging the truth of God (a biblical worldview) for the lie (a secularist worldview), they worshiped and served the creature (mankind) rather than the Creator. Obviously, to even those with a modicum of spiritual acuity, rejecting a biblical worldview in favor of a secular one was and continues to be a foolish proposition, one which does not relieve us of accountability.


However, our rejecting a biblical worldview in favor of a secular one, which is foolish behavior, need not continue. Repentance is the first step. Repentance speaks of a change of mind followed by a change of direction or action. In the case of worldviews, repentance simply means rejecting a secular one in favor of the biblical one. Having done so, if we have not already, the next step is to embrace the gospel, the good news of salvation through faith in Christ. Jesus came, lived, died, was resurrected, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we must confess or declare Him as Lord; by doing so we will experience spiritual regeneration and entry into the marvelous realm that is salvation. Or, we can continue to do as we have in the past, rejecting the renter's agreement so to speak, our morality dictated by the whims of mankind and moral relativity. In that state we can continue to await the owner’s return, and, though we may delude ourselves otherwise, upon His return, we will find ourselves accountable to Him for our actions.

8. STUMBLING BLOCKS TO GROWTH

2 Peter 3:18 (NKJ) – but grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

Mark 9:42 (NKJ) – But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

 

Coming to know Christ as Savior is the most important step any of us will ever take (John 3:3). Doing so, we are spiritually transformed, made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Doing so, we who were “dead in trespasses and sins” are made spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1, NKJ). Doing so, we become those who will partake “of the inheritance of the saints in the light,” are “delivered from the power of darkness,” are “conveyed” into Christ’s kingdom, and who experience “redemption through His (Christ’s) blood” and “the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14, NKJ). Thinking about the magnificent benefits of that first step and what lies ahead in our walks with Christ, we should abound with rejoicing and thankfulness.

 

Yet, tragically, somewhere after that first step, too many among us find ourselves slowed down, hindered, or even sidetracked in our walks with Christ. How does this happen? It happens when we do not search the scriptures to see if what pastors, teachers, etc. are telling us is biblically so. By not doing so, we sometimes embrace unhealthy teachings that can cause us to stumble. It also happens when we focus only on some teachings or biblical topics and neglect or ignore others. By doing so, our spiritual diets sometimes lack all the ingredients necessary for healthy growth in grace, which can cause us to stumble. It happens, too, when we allow partisan thinking to dominate us. This happens when we embrace only the teachings that our particular denomination or non-denomination emphasizes and reject or ignore sound teachings stressed by other Christian organizations. Doing so can also cause us to stumble.

 

Clearly, there is wisdom in determining if what we receive from pastors, teachers, etc. is biblically accurate. We are admonished in 2 Timothy 2:15 to be “diligent, to present” ourselves “approved unto God,” workers” who need not “be ashamed, rightly dividing” or interpreting “the word of truth.” Additionally, the Bereans were noted for being more fair-minded or noble than the Thessalonians in that “they received the word with all readiness and searched the scriptures daily” to determine if the things Paul taught them were so (Acts 17:11, NKJ). Too often, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit and searching the scriptures to see if what has been said is true or a valid interpretation of scripture, we blindly embrace what we hear or read, which often occurs related to those we view as our “favorite” ministers or ministries. Doing so, we sometimes embrace biblically unsound teachings. Embracing unsound teachings, many among us to varying degrees have been hindered or caused to stumble in our walks with Christ.

 

Another challenge to spiritual health occurs when we focus exclusively on some valid teachings but exclude or place too little emphasis on other important teachings.  For example, let’s consider teaching related to our identification or being in union with Christ. What a blessing it is to know that in the mind of the Father we died with Christ, setting us free from the power of sin; were buried with Christ, assuring us that the old man, spiritually speaking, is dead; were raised with Christ, conveying to us that the same power that raised Christ from the dead now abides in us; and are now seated with Christ, revealing to us that we now partake of His authority related to sin and the attacks of our spiritual enemies.  Knowing these things, we are in so many ways empowered to successfully navigate our walks with Christ.

 

However, some focus only our identity or union with Christ and ignore or denigrate teachings on prayer related to revival, which happens when we are stirred from the doldrums of spiritual lethargy and are reinvigorated in our walks with Christ, and awakening, which occurs when the lost come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Those focusing solely on our union or identification with Christ are sometimes critical of prayer for revival and awakening, viewing it as unnecessary, adding or inferring that all we need to know is our position in Christ and proceed from that knowledge. Paul, whose epistles are the paramount of revelation on our union with Christ, did not ever criticize or negate the power of prayer. In fact, Paul consistently encourages prayer (Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1-4). Jesus, being God, was obviously in union with the godhead, yet He consistently prayed to the Father during His incarnation, instructing us to pray to the Father in His name (John 16:24).

 

Time does not allow us to fully detail the breadth of examples related to focusing on some teachings and ignoring or excluding others. Probably most or all of us have examples we could add. We might mention teachings that focus only on the Father and Jesus while ignoring or excluding the Holy Spirit, He who empowers us to grow and for service in our walks with Christ. We might also discuss those who focus only on being born again but ignore the necessity of growth in grace or maturation after being born again. We could also include those who concentrate only on prayer but neglect the necessity of knowing God’s word and being led by the Spirit, two necessary components of effective prayer. Clearly, all of the teachings mentioned thus far are valid and integral to our experiencing successful walks with Christ. However, when we focus only on some teachings but ignore other important teachings we stand in danger of that practice acting as a stumbling block to healthy growth in grace.

 

Finally, we come to partisan mentalities and behaviors that can exist as stumbling blocks to our walks with Christ. Surely, most or all of us on some level feel allegiances to denominations, non-denominations, or other Christian organizations of which we are a part. This is true for a variety of reasons, some of them valid, as when the Holy Spirit led us to be a part of that organization, and some not, as when our reasons for being members are fleshly ones. However, when our allegiances to certain groups or organizations prevent us from even considering legitimate teachings emphasized by those groups of which we are not a part, those allegiances can act as stumbling blocks to healthy growth in grace.

 

Generally speaking, groups or organizations tend to emphasize only those teachings from God’s word that support their tenets (principles and beliefs). For example, some groups rightly focus on the necessity of being born again or spiritual regeneration, yet often equate being born again as all there is to salvation. Being born again is the doorway by which we enter into that realm known as salvation. However, salvation refers to much more than being born again. The Greek words transliterated salvation, “soteria” and “soterion,” include the ideas of deliverance, preservation, healing, rescue, prosperity, forgiveness, liberation, and restoration. They also encompass the redemptive acts and processes: justification, propitiation, sanctification and glorification. So, where Christians are members of organizations that emphasize salvation only as being born again and do not consider salvation in light of its broader perspective, they can be hindered or caused to stumble in their walks with Christ as a result of that being so.

 

Potentially, such stumbling can also happen related to organizations whose tenets focus only on the Father and Jesus but not on the Holy Spirit, He who reveals to us spiritual truths from God’s word and empowers us for service in so many ways. It can also happen related to groups that focus only on our ultimate destination, an eternity spent with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and His family, but not on the authority Christ has delegated to us all as members of His body. That is not to say as Christians we are to embrace the beliefs and tenets of other organizations when those beliefs and principles are not supported by rightly interpreted scripture. Yet, neither does it mean that we should limit our Christian fellowship to only those of the same groups of which we are a part.

 

We are told in 1 Peter 5:7 (NKJ) to “be sober” and “be vigilant.” Being sober and vigilant speaks our being well-balanced and on the alert. It speaks of our searching the scriptures to see if what is said or taught is true. It speaks of our not focusing on some valuable teachings while ignoring or neglecting other important ones. It speaks of our walks with Christ not being limited to only those valuable teachings embraced by those groups of which we are a part and ignoring important teachings from other groups, solely because those teachings are from other groups. As Christians, our goal is to “fight the good fight” and “finish the race” that is our walks with Christ. To insure that we do so, it is necessary that we recognize and avoid stumbling blocks to growth.

 

9. REMEMBERING THE PERSON OF CHRIST

Christ, shortly before His crucifixion, took bread, broke it, gave it to His disciples to eat and stated, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). Then He gave them a cup to drink from and told them, “This cup is the new covenant of My blood, “This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:25).  By doing so Christ instituted the ordinance we know today as “The Lord’s Supper” or “Communion,” a practice still common to Christians throughout the world. And, when participating in Communion, we should also heed His admonition to do so “in remembrance of Me.” By speaking of remembrance Christ was not merely instructing us to memorialize this event but reminding us when participating in it to recall or recollect His very person.


Recalling the person of Christ, our minds are flooded with a myriad of thoughts, not the least of which is Christ’s example of total submission to the Father. Recalling Christ’s perfect submission, we should ask ourselves, “How submitted am I to the will of God? How submitted am I to the Lordship of Christ?” Asking ourselves such questions may not prove a comfortable proposition. Yet to ask them honestly with the intent of recognizing where we are not submitted that we might mature as Christians exists as a grand reason to do so.

 

Asking probing questions of ourselves, not in a condemning manner but as a healthy catalyst for growth, is an integral part of Christian maturation. By doing so we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us areas of potential growth. And growth speaks of being more like Christ, of being holy for He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), not in some Pharisaical manner that desires to look down its nose at those it deems less holy, which is not holiness at all, but in a manner that reveals we long to imitate Christ, to emulate Him with our words and deeds (Eph. 5:1).

 

A desire to emulate or imitate Christ with our words and deeds speaks of a desire to acknowledge His lordship, just as He acknowledged the Father’s lordship during His incarnation. And, speaking of acknowledging His lordship, we are not to do so in a manner that is all about appearance rather than substance. Speaking of His lordship for the sake of appearance alone, we are often tempted to behave like chameleons, changing colors to adapt to the prevailing winds of our culture, whatever those winds might be. Speaking of the lordship of Christ with sincerity or substance, our desire is to please Him, even if that means forgoing the accolades of the culture in which we live.


Not desiring to receive the accolades of our culture, we choose to stand for His ways even when those ways are not popular. We do not stick our fingers in the wind to decide which way it is blowing that we might go with the flow. Rather, recognizing God’s displeasure at the shedding of innocent blood (Jer. 7:6), we stand against the winds that embrace the taking innocent lives in the name of choice. We do this even when those winds howl that we do not care about “women’s rights,” when the reality is that we care about the God-given right to life of all people, regardless of age or gender.  And we stand with women, who recognizing their errant choices related to abortion, now seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, sometimes in the face of howling legalists who are more about vengeance than loving forgiveness.

 

Desiring to stand for His ways and remembering the person of Christ, we recollect His ongoing confrontations with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the biblically errant religion of the Sadducees and the politically motivated Herodians. We remember that His focus was always to do the will of the Father, whether the crowds or his followers were supportive or combative. And, so, as we recall the person of Christ, may that remembrance result in our becoming ever more like Him, loving as He did, forgiving as He did, standing boldly and unpretentiously as He did, being godly agents of change in a culture that in so many ways has succumbed to ideologies, manners of thinking and practices contradictory to His ways and will.

10. NEEDED, THE PRESENCE OF GOD

In July my wife, granddaughter and I visited Charleston, South Carolina. When there we drove by the Emanuel AME Church, the site where Dylann Roof killed 9 people on June 17, 2015. Outside the church mourners and supporters had placed so many flowers and other signs of remembrance that they spilled over into the street, requiring a lane to be cordoned off. Touched by this outpouring of sympathy and support, my thoughts then turned to the crime itself. I began to think about the horrid nature of the crime, one committed by a young man who later said everyone at the church was “so nice” that he almost did not go through with it. As a Christian, the “so nice” that Dylann alluded to is not hard to understand, as in so many Christians I have met during my almost 37 years as a Christian the presence of God accounts for that “so nice.” That “so nice” in the Charleston Christians also compelled them to later forgive Dylann for the carnage he had created in their midst.


Tragically, such carnage has become too much a fixture of this nation. Vester Lee Flanagan, professionally known as Bryce Williams, stated that the Charleston incident inspired him to kill journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward in Roanoke, Virginia on August 26, 2015. Flanagan noted that he admired Seung-Hui Cho. Cho we may recall was the perpetrator noted for killing 32 and wounding 17 on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Recently, another mass murderer, James Eagan Holmes, was sentenced to life in prison. Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012. His carnage was preceded by that of Jared Loughner, who killed 6 on January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. Faced with such carnage in this nation, politicians and others championing the need for greater gun control continue to debate with those who speak of their 2nd Amendment rights. Yet, that debate often ignores the underlying factors that lead to such heinous acts, those being the spiritual, emotional and mental makeup of the perpetrators. Thus, I will not focus on that debate.


Rather, I will continue to focus on the “so nice” that Dylann Roof said almost dissuaded him from following through with his deadly plan. As I said earlier, that “so nice,” which also compelled the members of the Emanuel AME Church to forgive Dylann, I attribute to the presence of God. Speaking of the presence of God related to this incident, there are some important factors to note. The presence of God, though almost dissuading Dylann, did not. Why is that? Clearly, by an act of his will Dylann rejected the presence or light of God that would have thwarted his diabolical plan. His decision reflects the truth of John 3:19 (NKJ), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Had Dylann consistently experienced the presence or light of God throughout his life, would this event have occurred? Based on the loving actions of the members of the Emanuel AME Church, those who celebrate and embrace the presence of God in their lives, His presence compelling them to forgive, it seems quite likely this event would never have happened. Why is that? It is true because God’s presence or light in our lives does not compel us to murder. “Murders,” Galatians 5:24 tells us, is a work of the flesh, works of the flesh being in direct opposition to the will of God, works that are not indicative of His presence or light.


Related to the murders committed by Roof, Flanagan, Cho, Holmes and Loughner, it is obvious that the presence or light of God did not orchestrate the carnage they perpetrated. When they are discussed no mention is ever made of the presence or influence of Christ in their lives. Roof is noted for his racist underpinnings. Flanagan’s actions demonstrate a desire for revenge. Cho’s interactions with the Cook Counseling Center point to a disturbed individual. Holmes has been consistently noted for his bizarre behavior. Loughner we know has wrestled with schizophrenia. Clearly, none of these perpetrators were or are noted for their Christ-like demeanor or behavior. Would that they were, for, if so, things could have been so different.


Making things different, when it comes to discussing how to end such carnage varying perspectives are always offered. Some speak of change through political agendas. Activists seek to enlist our support for their many causes. Others speak of atoning for the mistakes made by generations of the past. Yet, the changes they offer rarely if ever focus on the miraculous change which those at Emanuel AME Church, myself and a vast multitude of other Christians have experienced, that of knowing God’s presence in our lives. Knowing God’s presence affords us the opportunity to experience His regenerative and transforming power in our lives, power which empowers us to put off the ungodly ways of the flesh, surely including murder.


Recognizing the blessed potential of knowing God’s presence in our lives, a question should arise, “How is it that I can experience His presence?” Acts 3:19 (NKJ) answers that question, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”


Clearly, the first step is to repent. Repentance speaks of a change of mind accompanied by a change of direction or actions. Specifically, repentance speaks of recognizing that our lives when lived apart from God or in opposition to His ways will not bring peace or joy nor will we experience the blessedness of a life attuned to His purposes (a change of mind). That change of mind is followed by a change of direction and the actions in our lives, one where Christ’s lordship is paramount.


Repentance is then followed by conversion, a conversion marked by spiritual regeneration (being born again). That, spiritually speaking, means we have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Related to the behaviors that should exemplify our lives after conversion, Romans 12:2 (Wuest) states:


     And stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your          inner being but is patterned after this age; but change your outward expression to one that comes from within and is                            representative of your inner being, by the renewing of your mind, resulting in your putting to the test what is the will of God, the          good and well-pleasing and complete will, and having found that it meets specifications, place your approval upon it.


Renewed minds are exemplified by manners of thinking that recognize and embrace the Lordship of Jesus Christ as revealed in His word, the Bible. Renewed minds recognize that murder, racism, hatred and unforgiveness are not representative of God’s ways and, having found they do not meet God’s specifications, reject them. Renewed minds comprehend that the acceptance and legitimization of sins, whatever those sins might be, is not representative of God’s ways or His love (1 Cor. 13:6). Related to our past sins, renewed minds understand that those sins have not been merely covered, as sins were in the OT by the blood of bulls and goats, but those sins have been remitted or “blotted out” by the blood of Christ. Our sins blotted out, we will experience “times of refreshing.”


“Times of refreshing” speaks of a season of refreshing or restoration from God. Restoration means we are returned to a place of right standing or relationship with God, to one that we did not know as non-Christians. That return to a right standing and a relationship with God means we have been made righteous, not based on our past works, but based solely on the presence of God in our lives. That being so 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJ) explains, “For He made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ.” As those declared righteous, we are encouraged by God, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, NKJ). Being holy means our outward behavior should conform to and be reflective of God’s ways, remembering that we have been “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).


We who have experienced spiritual regeneration and our minds being renewed by the Holy Spirit according to the word of God do not commit the types of atrocities committed by Roof, Flanagan, Cho, Holmes and Loughner. Why is that? It is due to the fact we have experienced the presence of God in our lives. That is not to say we have arrived at perfection but it is to say that our consistently experiencing God’s presence provides us with a foundation from which such heinous acts will not be committed. It is due to the fact that times of restoration “come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).


11. UNTO US A LIBERATOR IS BORN, CHRIST OUR LORD!

1 John 3:8 (NKJ) – … For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.


The putrefying effects of sin have permeated our world since mankind’s fall in the Garden of Eden. With sin came bondage, both natural and spiritual. However, our loving God soon after the fall promised us a redeemer, one who would liberate us from the effects of that sin. Of that Liberator God said in Genesis 3:15 (NKJ), “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise His heel”


Enmity speaks of the conflict between Satan and the promised Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, between Satan and God’s people. That enmity exists to this day, but it was by the cross that our Liberator and Savior bruised the head or broke the lordship of Satan over us. We partake of and experience that liberation when we by faith embrace and grow in the salvation that Jesus by his death, burial and resurrection purchased for us all.


Salvation is multi-faceted. It conveys the ideas of “deliverance, preservation, soundness, prosperity, happiness, rescue, general well-being. The word is used both in a material, temporal sense and in a spiritual, eternal sense” (“Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible). Being multi-faceted, salvation speaks of destroying the works of the devil in our lives in a myriad of ways. Destroying the works of the devil in our lives is the mission of our Liberator, Jesus Christ. It is a mission that will continue until the words of Romans 16:20 (NKJ) ring fully true for Christians everywhere, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”


Experiencing the liberating effects of salvation during this Christmas season, may we ever be thankful for the birth of our Liberator and Savior, Jesus Christ. May we ever be mindful of the supreme sacrifice that He made upon the cross that we might experience liberation from the horrid effects of sin. May we ever be ready and willing to share the gospel with those who know not our Liberator and Savior, Jesus Christ; the gospel is the good news or glad tidings of salvation via faith in the Liberator, Jesus Christ.

12. MYTH:

      THE NEW TESTAMENT ADVOCATES FOR GOVERNMENT ENFORCED WEALTH REDISTRIBUTION

Acts 2:44-45 (NKJ) – 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,

45 and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need”


Acts 4:32 (NKJ) – Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.


Those advocating for government enforced wealth redistribution often point to these passages in the New Testament as justification for their cause. Yet, a careful and honest interpretation reveals that the passages do not support that which they falsely claim they support. How do we know that? 1. The fact that the people in the early church held material things in common was not based on the edict of a government agency or institution. 2. It was based on the free-will choice of each individual to hold those things in common. 3. Not even the apostles had the authority to tell them they must hold all things in common. This is revealed in an incident involving Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-12) selling a possession. Instead of giving the entire proceeds of the sale they chose to keep some of it back. Yet, tragically, they conspired to act as if what they were giving was the entire amount that the possession had sold for. Peter’s reaction to this incident reveals that it was Ananias and Sapphira, not the apostles or leaders, who had complete control over their giving. Peter stated related to the possession in verse 4, “While it remained was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Clearly, their punishment was not for keeping some of the money back, as it was theirs to do with as they desired. Their punishment was for conspiring to and in fact lying to the Holy Spirit, God.


Those who seek to use the New Testament to advocate for government enforced wealth redistribution may do so or not do so with pure motives. But the fact remains: The New Testament does not advocate for government enforced wealth redistribution. Surely, as Christians, neither should greed dominate our perspectives, as the New Testament also encourages us to give. Giving of our material blessings should be a part of what we do. Yet, sadly, many of those who do advocate for government enforced wealth redistribution are quite hypocritical. This is revealed by the fact that many of them, being quite wealthy themselves, do not choose to provide us with an example of wealth redistribution by sharing a large portion or all of what they possess with others. Instead they advocate for using the government to enforce the redistribution of the wealth of others. This hypocritical stance brings to mind a quote by Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”


13. MOTIVATION:

      THE LOVE THAT COMPELS

An ecstatic youth rounds the bases after hitting a home run and exclaims, “I love this game!” A well-satisfied customer looks up from his food and shares with the server, “I love this food.” The advertisement of an automobile manufacturer boldly proclaims, “You’ll love this car.” Clearly, in our culture the use of the word love encompasses a wide variety of situations and circumstances.


Surveying those numerous uses, let’s refine our focus. Let’s zoom in on one type of love, the love that compels. Contracting our focus, we come to the words of 2 Corinthians 5:14 and read, “For the love of Christ compels us…” What is love that compels? Love that compels speaks of a love that motivates us, that drives, empowers and energizes us. As Christians, that motivating force is the love of Christ working in and through us.


Considering the love of Christ as motivation, what comes to mind? The words of John 3:16 should quickly flood our considerations, “For God so loved the world that He gave…” Ah, now we recognize something else about the love that compels. It gives. Gives what? It gives what is needed to its recipient, with no thought of personal gain or repayment. In the case of the world or lost mankind, this love compelled God to send His Son, that believing on the Son the we might not perish or experience eternal destitution but instead know everlasting life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Related to our numerous uses of the word love, the love that compels should now inhabit a revered place in our vocabulary. To think about it as we would our love of a game or food or an automobile is like comparing common stones to precious jewels. And like precious jewels the love that compels is a rarity. It is tragic that is so because the love that compels, that gives to its recipient what is needed without thought of personal gain or repayment, is what this world so direly needs.


This marvelous love of Christ that compels us to reach out to the lost, the hurting and the destitute, why is it so rare? The love of Christ, unlike love that is based merely on feelings or personal reward, is always a love of choice. By choice we simply mean that as Christians we can either chose to allow it to motivate us or we can choose not to. The amount of Christ’s love that we reflect in this world is largely based on one thing, what we choose.


Saying that the love of Christ we reflect is “largely” based on one thing implies there is more to it than that. What more is there? Another factor producing this rarity of the love that compels stems from our not clearly defining love, which produces misunderstanding and diminishes our ability to clearly demonstrate it. But it is also due to the fact that the love of Christ is in so many ways foreign to us. It is the antithesis of what so often we have grown accustomed to motivating us, the flesh, that principle in us all that desires to do things our way, not God’s. That being so, related to walking in Christ’s love, we so often don’t even understand what it should look like


What should it look like? Turning to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, we find our answer. There we see that when we are compelled by the love of Christ we suffer long, are patient. We are kind, looking for ways to be constructive. We are not envious or jealous. We do not display arrogance or pride. We shun rudeness and are not self-seeking, insisting on our ways. We do not keep track of the wrongs done to us. We do not rejoice or take pleasure in wrongdoing, gloating over sin, but do rejoice when right and truth prevail. We endure the challenges that confront us without weakening; our hopes being fadeless. Such love never fails, becoming obsolete and coming to an end.


Looking at this love that should compel us, this love that always seeks the good of others, it should be clear to all of us that in many ways we fall short of allowing it to habitually do so. That should not cause us to yield to discouragement. Nor, remembering that God’s love compelled Him to send Christ to save not reject us, should it cause us to fall prey to condemnation, obsessively focusing on our forgiven sins and berating ourselves for past mistakes, missteps, etc.


God who is love (1 John 4:8) knows that as Christians we are works in progress. The same love that inspired Him to send Jesus to save us compels Him to finish the work that He began in us (Phil. 1:6). Though we do not yet fully reflect His image, as we focus upon Him and allow His Spirit to lead us we will from one degree of splendor to another more and more reflect it.


We have begun not completed our pilgrimage. The “path” of our pilgrimage is the path of the “just,” we who are made righteous, in right standing or relationship with God. Our path is “like the shining sun that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (Pro. 4:18). Understanding that our latter days are to be greater than our former days, may we rejoice, increasingly understanding how to and choosing to reflect the love that compels.

14. GULLIBILITY LEADS TO ABUSE

Matthew 7:15 (NKJV) - Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.


2 Peter 2:1 (NKJV) - But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.


Ephesians 4:11-15 (KJV) – 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ...


Abraham Lincoln stated, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Clearly, as Lincoln observed, gullibility is a challenge of varying proportions. As Christians we might hope that this was not true with the body of Christ as well, but, tragically, it is. The fact that it is true is consistently revealed by varying numbers of Christians who are easily tricked or manipulated into any number of ill-advised courses of action or unscriptural stances.


Specifically, our gullibility as Christians is often exploited on Christian television stations and in other media venues. Prophets proclaiming any number of catastrophes or happenings seek to create and fuel angst, resulting in our being susceptible to any number of schemes that often greatly benefit them and/or the venues in which they appear. Yet when their prophecies prove untrue seldom are they held accountable by the venues that promoted them. Additionally, prophets, teachers and other ministers prey upon us, especially during the pledge times of some Christian television stations, promising us wildly exaggerated or scripturally unfounded material returns on what we give. Yet when those promises prove untrue, again, seldom are those ministers held accountable, giving them free rein to continue their ungodly activities. Christian authors, especially related to the end times, sometimes seek to manipulate us with pseudo-spiritual and scripturally unwarranted views of the times, often observable related to an unscriptural syncretism of Judaism and Christianity.


Our propensity for gullibility as Christians is surely one of the reasons Jesus and others in the New Testament warned us of false teachers and false prophets, charlatans who would seek to make merchandise of the body of Christ for personal gain. And, yes, the body of Christ should hold such charlatans accountable for their self-serving ends, as what they do to the body of Christ amounts to spiritual abuse. Yet merely holding charlatans accountable is not going to end all spiritual abuse, as there will always be those who will replace those exposed and seek to make merchandise of the body of Christ. Ultimately, our greatest protection against abuse will not occur based on our desires to see reform among the abusers, though that can and has happened. Our greatest protection is to arm ourselves against abuse, which occurs when we confront and deal with our own gullibility by addressing those areas where we are vulnerable.


What must we do to address the areas where we are vulnerable? The first step is to prayerfully ask God to reveal to us those areas, not doubting that He will do so. As He reveals them to us there will be corresponding actions we must take. Like those who have been sexually abused we must learn to establish appropriate boundaries in our lives. Appropriate boundaries speak of recognizing and implementing strategies that will end our vulnerability to charlatans. What are some boundaries we may need to establish?


Developing a reliance on and understanding of how to be led by the Holy Spirit is an integral part of boundary establishment (Rom. 8:11; Gal. 5:25). Being led by the Spirit empowers us to sense when ministers are using manipulation to accomplish their ends. (Remember, God does not manipulate us; He leads us. Neither should His ministers seek to manipulate us.) Colossians 3:15 reminds us to let the peace of God rule or act as an umpire in our hearts. We will not have that inner peace when being led by charlatans into a scam. That peace serves as an umpire to tell us when the direction we are headed is out of God’s will. Recognizing we are out of His will, we must take immediate actions to correct that being so.


Also of utmost importance is learning to search the scriptures and line up everything we are told by ministers, charlatans or otherwise, with scripture (Acts 17:11). That which is not in agreement with rightly divided or interpreted scripture we must reject (2 Tim. 2:15). That which is in agreement with rightly divided or interpreted scripture we should embrace. (Comparing what we are being told with the thoughts and words of respected ministers who have established track records often proves quite helpful in doing this.)


Sometimes charlatans use obscure biblical interpretations (often of their own making). This is especially true related to the teachings of some related to current events and the end times. We do not want to allow them to manipulate us with self-serving interpretations, often based on promises of great wealth (made possible by giving to them) or spiritual elitism (embrace what I teach and you will be superior to other Christians). Such promises prey upon our personal vulnerabilities related to fear, material wealth and status. God surely is concerned about our material needs (Matt. 6:25-33) and part of the meaning of the word salvation is prosperity, but to have an inordinate focus on or love of money or status is counterproductive to healthy spiritual growth (1 Tim. 6:10).


Sadly, modern Christian culture is replete with fads and gimmicks. Some hawk prayer shawls with promises of more powerful prayers when wearing them. Powerful prayers are based on faith that is empowered by love (Gal. 5:6) operating in line with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15), not our outward adornment. The leader of a state organization of intercessors was observed promising special blessings to those who partook of wine in communion, based on the significance of the day that the wine was bottled. Jesus’ admonition to partake of the Lord’s supper (communion) did not include with it special blessings if one used in that remembrance wine bottled on certain days (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Others sometimes seek to syncretize our Christian faith with Jewish rites and rituals, in doing so creating among the body of Christ those who often elevate those rites and rituals above He who should ever be the focus of our faith, Christ. As Christians we must consistently take actions to avoid falling prey to such fads and gimmicks, or the manipulations and misuse of scripture that often accompany them. We must rid ourselves of gullibility, recognizing that gullibility leads to abuse.


Personal in what way? Many who embrace and espouse dangerous teachings and ideologies do so because their foremost desire is to control others. Others focus more on the material gain they can glean from the babies they encounter. They do so by craftiness, by subtlety and by skill in fabricating lies, lies that often seem much like the truth, but are not. By controlling and manipulating babies such people dangerously exercise lordship over them.

Contrasting appropriate and inappropriate leadership behaviors, 1 Peter 5:2-3 (NKJ) states, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Peter reminds us that ministers should serve willingly and never for dishonest gain. 1 Cor. 9:9 reminds us that we are not to muzzle the ox that reads out the grain, indicating that ministers are to receive material benefits for their work.

15. MYTH: WHEN WE ARE SAVED OUR SINNING NO LONGER MATTERS

Jesus, we may recall, came to “save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11). That which was lost was every member of mankind, all of us. That which brought about our being lost was sin (lying, cheating, stealing, hating others, sexual sins, drunkenness, etc.). In coming to save us Jesus indicated that an integral part of His mission was calling us to repentance (Mark 2:17). Personally, repentance speaks of our having a change of mind that results in our choosing a new direction or new actions. It speaks of our seeking to put away sinful behaviors and replacing them with godly ones. Thus, once we have experienced the blessedness of going from those who were lost due to our sinning to being those who are saved, only if unlearned, misguided or biblically misinformed could or would we believe that Jesus no longer cares about our sinning.


Yet, some, seeking for whatever reasons to ignore or deny the obvious fact that Jesus is concerned about our sinning, will retort, “Yes, but Jesus always associated with sinners.” Obviously, Jesus, in seeking to save the lost, had to associate with sinners, because all of us have sinned, resulting in our all being sinners. What we should glean from that is that He did not come to condemn us but came that “through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). What we should not glean from that is that Jesus does not care about our sinning, recalling that He did not condemn the woman caught engaging in the act of adultery but did instruct her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).


At this point we might ask, “If Jesus did not come to condemn or pronounce judgment upon us, how then are we condemned?” John 3:18 provides the answer, “He who believes in Him (Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed.” Clearly, we ourselves choose condemnation by electing not to believe. Knowing that, we then might ask, “What is it that we are to believe?” Romans 1:16 (NKJV) provides that answer, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” By choosing to believe the gospel we escape condemnation and experience salvation or being saved.


What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news or glad tidings of salvation and its fulfillment via our faith (believing) in Christ. That faith is based upon the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ, upon His life, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus, the Word Who was with God and was God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). He came to save that which was lost, us (Matt. 18:11). Upon the cross He became our substitutionary sacrifice, taking our punishment and becoming sin for us that we might be saved, that we who embrace Him as Savior might be made righteous, in right standing or relationship with God (2 Cor. 5:21). His death upon the cross was a triumph over our spiritual enemies (Col. 2:15). His resurrection proclaims His victory over death and the grave, a victory that will one day result in our receiving glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15). His ascension speaks of His endless life, one in which He ever lives to make intercession for we who have believed the gospel (Heb. 7:25).


By faith having embraced the gospel, does our sinning no longer matter? Clearly it does. Though it was by “grace” that we “have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8), grace is imparted to us for more than experiencing salvation. It is also imparted to us that we may mature or grow in that salvation, for 2 Peter 3:18 instructs us, “but grow in grace...” Growing or maturing in the sphere of biblical grace is never about seeking to minimize or negating the necessity of our dealing with sin in our lives. In fact, Titus 2:11-12 related to grace states, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age.” Seeking to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, living soberly, righteously and godly, not in the sweet bye and bye, but in this present age, speaks of recognizing sin and putting it away in our lives. It speaks of being skilled in God’s word and having our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:13-14) Discerning and recognizing good and evil, having been set free from the power of sin, may we choose good, by doing so honoring our Savior and serving as accurate witnesses of the power of His grace in our lives. May we never fall prey to the myth that when we are saved our sinning no longer matters.


Bible quotes from the New King James Version


16. SPEAKING, TEACHING, AND ADMONISHING THROUGH SONGS

Ephesians 5:18-19 (NKJ) – 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.


Colossians 3:16 (NKJ) – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.


Generally, when we speak of Christian songs our focus is on the role that they play in praise and worship. Yet, there are other functions that they can play, some of which are seldom if ever considered. Paul, in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, identifies some of those functions. The expanded perspective that he identified includes our using psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to speak to, teach and admonish fellow believers.


The successful use of music in this expanded manner involves more than just song selection. Though song selection is certainly part of the process, effectiveness related to this expanded role of music also requires other aspects of preparation. Paul included a couple of prerequisites necessary to that preparation. Writing to the Ephesians, he first warned against drunkenness, which he noted as dissipation, representative of incorrigibleness and a dissolute life. He then offered the correct alternative or prerequisite, that of being filled with the Spirit. Writing to those in Colosse, he identified the second prerequisite, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Ultimately, our effectiveness related to this expanded use of music is dependent upon maintaining the influence of the Holy Spirit and God’s word in our lives.


Having identified the two prerequisites, we shall now expand our consideration of them. The first prerequisite, that of being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks of our continually experiencing the Holy Spirit’s presence in a manner that assures we are consistently stimulated, empowered and controlled by Him. The second prerequisite, letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, denotes our maintaining the presence of God’s word in our lives so that it consistently influences us, providing us with godly insight, direction and wisdom.


Understanding that our preparation must include the two prerequisites and what they entail, let us now focus on song selection. For the nature of the songs that we choose is integral to our success. Appropriate song selection also requires our understanding what Paul specifically referred to when he spoke of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Psalms, whether those found in the Bible or written by more recent psalmists, are sacred songs. Hymns, regardless of when they were penned, are songs of praise to God. Spiritual songs are those that were inspired by and reflect the character of the Holy Spirit. Thus, our successfully speaking to, teaching and admonishing believers via songs requires that those we choose are sacred in nature, bring praise to God and are inspired by and reflect the character of the Holy Spirit.


Yet there is still more to consider associated with the nature of the songs we choose. The lyrics of the songs we select are also of the utmost importance. Unscriptural or unedifying lyrics, though they may captivate us emotionally, will not produce healthy spiritual growth. Related to speaking via songs, we must remember that there is death and life in the power of our tongues (Prov. 18:21). Our speaking via songs should instill spiritual life in other believers, never death. Teaching via songs requires that the songs we choose accurately unveil the truth about God, truth personified in Christ and His word, the Bible. Admonishing via songs speaks of encouraging believers to participate in a healthy walk with Christ and of warning them about dangers and distractions to such a walk. Clearly, the songs we choose to speak, teach and admonish with must contain scripturally accurate and edifying lyrics, lyrics that provide words of life, truth (related to God’s word and His nature), encouragement and appropriate warnings to believers.


Choosing to expand the manner in which we use songs may seem a formidable challenge, as we so often speak of music only in terms of praise and worship. However, the truth is that many local bodies and individuals to some degree already embrace this expanded perspective, even if they are unaware of their doing so. Meanwhile, broadening our understanding of speaking, teaching and admonishing through psalms, hymns and spiritual songs should increase the probability and success of our transitioning to an expanded view. Hopefully too it will expand the focus of those of us who tend to view music mainly as entertainment to a broader perspective, one of more fully understanding its significance in terms of bringing edification and producing healthy growth in the body of Christ.

17. THE POWER THAT LED TO A CHRISTMAS TRUCE

The hostilities that began on July 28, 1914 will not conclude until November 11, 1918. Somewhat accustomed to the horrors and tedium of war, you slosh through the muddy trench to take your watch. But something about today is different. It is December 24, 2014, Christmas Eve.


From both friendly and enemy trenches merry voices begin to call out. Then both sides start singing carols and songs, followed by requests for a cease-fire. What happens next is amazing. The enemies crawl from their trenches and congregate as friends in the no-man’s land between the opposing sides. Finally, you creep from your watch and join the men who laugh and joke and exchange presents.


Hundreds, perhaps thousands, experienced this spontaneous meeting of enemies as friends. Beginning on Christmas Eve, the “Christmas Truce of World War I,” as it is known today, extended through Christmas Day. In the midst of a war men stopped fighting and made merry. For a while enemies chose to be living examples of the proclamation of Luke 2:14 (NKJ), “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Their actions were a testament to Christmas’ power to reconcile.


What is source of Christmas’ power to reconcile? Laying aside all the bickering about the exact date of Christ’s birth and the exploitation of that birth, the power of Christmas to reconcile derives from the fact that Christmas is about the incarnation of God Himself. It is about “the Word” that “was with God,” and “Word” that “was God” becoming “flesh and” dwelling “among us” (John 1, 14, NKJ). It is all about the birth of a Savior, a Savior who was the promised Deliverer. A Deliverer from what? A Deliverer from the ravages and power of sin.


Our Savior’s birth was promised throughout the Old Testament. Numerous prophecies made about Him in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the New. Speaking to Satan in Genesis God stated, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (3:13, NKJ). God made it clear that the Savior or Messiah would be born of a woman and that He would “bruise” the head or break the lordship of Satan over mankind. The fulfillment of His birth by a woman we find in Matthew 1:20 and Galatians 4:4. Galatians 2:15 (NKJ) records His triumph over our spiritual adversaries that made possible our freedom from their lordship, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it,” the “it” of that triumph being the cross.


That He would be born of a virgin was prophesied in Isaiah. 7:14. The fulfillment of that prophecy we find in Matthew 1:22-23 and Luke 1:26-31. Related to Isaiah’s prophecy, some deny that it foretold Christ’s virgin birth based on the fact that the word translated virgin in 7:14 is ‘almah, which can mean virgin or young woman. Yet it is clear that the authors of Matthew and Luke knew that Isaiah used ‘almah as virgin, as both used the Greek word parthenos in describing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, parthenos referring to a virgin or young woman who had not engaged in sexual intercourse. Furthermore, Mary, the mother of Jesus, having been told she would bear a child, queried the angel who brought that news in Luke 1:34 (NKJ), “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” “Know” is ginosko, a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. Clearly, Isaiah knew that our Savior would be born of a virgin, as did Matthew and Luke. Most assuredly, Mary, upon hearing the news she would bear a child, questioned that happening based on the fact that she was a virgin.


Not only did Isaiah prophesy that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, he also stated that He would be the sacrifice for sin (Is. 53:5-12). Paul noted the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Romans 5:6 (NKJ), “For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Furthermore, Paul in 5:9 stated, “Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” By His blood we who embrace Christ as Savior are justified. Justified is a legal term that speaks of our reconciliation to God, of our being returned to right standing or relationship with Him. Saved is sozo, which speaks of saving one “from physical death by healing” and “from spiritual death by forgiving sin and its effects” … and “in primitive cultures is translated simply ‘to give new life’ and ‘to cause to have a new heart’” (Word Wealth from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible).


Recognizing the power of Christ’s incarnation, which made possible His later crucifixion and resurrection, it is fitting that enemies laid down their weapons and for a while experienced reconciliation during the Christmas season of 1914. Their doing so ever stands as a magnificent reminder of the power of His incarnation. Furthermore, their giving each other gifts reminds us of the greatest gift ever given to mankind. The nature of that gift we find in Isaiah 9:6 (NKJ), “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The giving of a Child speaks of Jesus’ humanity. The giving of a Son conveys His deity. Other gifts pale in comparison to the richness of the gift that was and is Christ. For no other gift provides mankind deliverance from the ravages of sin.


This Christmas season, may those of us who know Christ as Savior fully participate in remembering and acknowledging the gift that is Jesus Christ. May those of us who do not know Him as Savior come to do so that we may participate in the season with a sense of understanding and purpose. And, in addition to our giving gifts and celebrations, may we embrace and meditate upon the words that the angel proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, NKJ).

18. PURPOSE: THE THREADED NEEDLE LIFE

2 Timothy 1:9 (NKJ) – who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…


We cannot thread needles if we go about it haphazardly, allowing any number of distractions to divert us from the task at hand. When threading needles it is necessary that we focus upon the eye of the needle with singleness of purpose. Our task is to place the thread through the eye of the needle that we might use the threaded needle for its intended purpose. It matters not the quality of the needle or thread at hand, an unthreaded needle will never prove useful for the any number of purposes for which it is intended to be used.


So it is with our lives. We must not allow ourselves to be tossed to and fro by distractions. Though distractions may appear worthwhile on any number of levels, we must always remember what they are, distractions. Being distractions, regardless of how many talents and abilities we possess or how effectively we focus those talents and abilities on the distractions, they ultimately divert us from God’s intended purpose for our lives. That being so we must not allow distractions to hinder God’s purpose for our lives. Instead, we must in an undistracted manner focus our lives upon Christ and allow Him to thread our lives through the needle of His intended purpose for them. It is only by doing so that we will know the blessedness of fully using the gifts and talents He has given us, of being who we were created to be and doing what we were created to do.

19. RECOGNIZING AND DEALING WITH SPIRITUAL ABUSE

When functioning as God would have them what a blessing are pastors, teachers and other ministry gifts to the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11). Operating correctly, such gifts prepare, train and perfect us for service in God’s kingdom. For the ministry gifts He has placed in both men and women we should be ever thankful. And, where honor is due, let us never cease to give such honor to those entrusted with enhancing our growth in grace. Recognizing too, that as integral parts of God’s plan to empower the body of Christ to do the works He has created it to do, such ministers, being human, are subject to the same temptations that confront all of mankind. That being so let us insure that prayer for our spiritual leaders remains a consistent part of our walks with Christ that those leaders may walk as He would have them to walk, being led by His Spirit, not yielding to fleshly temptations to control others or to lord it over others.


Obviously, lording it over or seeking to control others is not a temptation foreign to those in leadership, as 1 Peter 5:3 (NKJ) in reminding shepherds how to function in the ministries God had given them, states, “not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” “Lord” as used in verse three carries with it the ideas of “to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Clearly, God does not grant ministry gifts to men and women in order that those so gifted then seek to operate as dictators over the believers He has entrusted to them, exercising lordship and mastery over them. In fact, when spiritual leaders exercise lordship over those entrusted to them it amounts to spiritual abuse.


Spiritual abuse occurs when organizations and/or spiritual leaders seek to control, manipulate or dominate others. It is the misuse of a position of authority or influence. Such abuse is often maintained by fear and shame, those subjected to it being labeled rebellious, disloyal and facing ostracism if they question the organization or its leader, even when doing so with godly motives and in a godly manner. Such organizations are often marked by charismatic leaders who may have started off well, but then slipped into abusive patterns fueled by arrogance and pride. Consumed by a desire to control, abusive leaders to varying degrees often take the place of Jesus in the lives of those who have been entrusted to their leadership. Spiritually abusive atmospheres are often secretive, places where a dearth of information is used to further control and enhance authority. When performance oriented, ministry opportunities, rather than viewed as opportunities to serve may exist as a means to determine one’s loyalty to the organization and/or the leader.


Given the aforementioned characteristics of spiritual abuse, it is clear that Jesus’ words in Mark 10:42-43 (NKJ) are ignored by organizations and those engaged in spiritual abuse, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet is shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.” A godly leader is a servant-leader, not a leader that seeks to dictatorially maintain power over those entrusted to him/her.


Clearly, spiritually abusive environments are to varying degrees toxic to healthy spiritual growth. Given the toxicity found in spiritually abusive environments, one might wonder why any would be drawn to them, or, having becoming a part of them, remain there? Generally speaking, spiritually abusive environments don’t present themselves as such, but instead present potential members with a misrepresentation of the true nature of the organization. Nor are potential members revealed the truth about the authoritarian leadership style practiced within the organization. Instead, they are promised much that appeals to them, a sense of belonging to a godly endeavor, others of like precious faith to fellowship with, support, etc.


If tempted to harshness when considering those of us who have fallen prey to such organizations and their leaders, let us remember that such organizations and leaders generally possess skills that are honed to manipulate not only potential members into becoming a part of such organizations but to control them once within the organization. Living in a world where we are to varying degrees damaged by the effects of sin in this world, we can as a result find ourselves subject to the strategies of those who seek to manipulate and control. Elitism too is not an uncommon tool used by those who seek to control. Being told we are a part of an elite group, one more in favor with God than other groups, especially if we spiritual babes or have experienced prior abuse and rejections, can be intoxicating, and a tool that can also be used to disarm future concerns, concerns we might have when some of the organization’s and/or leader’s abusive tendencies appear.


Related to concerns we might have when abusive tendencies appear, we would do well to remember too that manipulation can be used to turn our concerns against us, as master-manipulators are often adept at making us think our concerns are indicative of disloyalty and rebellion, thereby reflecting shortcomings in us. And, master-manipulators are quick too to point to themselves as the ones who possess the knowledge, maturity and authority necessary to address our shortcomings, thereby enhancing their ability to take the place of Jesus in our lives.


As stated earlier, let us ever be thankful for those God has gifted to function as pastors, teachers, etc. Let us pray for them, and, where honor is due them, let us give them that honor. And, where submission to godly leaders is called for in ways that are scripturally-based and supportable, let us do so. Let us remember too that leaders, like all of us, can yield to ungodly temptations. Thus, when we recognize significant spiritual abuse in the organizations of which we are a part or with the leaders of those organizations, finding ourselves in atmospheres where control and manipulation often enhanced by fear are the norm, let us not allow ourselves to continue to be subject to that abuse, enabling such behaviors by acting in ways that allow such organizations and/or leaders to dominate us in ungodly ways. Let us seek God’s leading as to what He specifically would have us to do, and, when He leads us out from under the control of such organizations and their leaders, let us not be manipulated into rejoining them. Though we may find ourselves conscious of some or most aspects of the abuse that we were subject to, it may still be that we are susceptible to some aspects of it. And, where there is no true repentance demonstrated in the lives of those who abused us, finding them unwilling to acknowledge the ungodliness of the abuse we suffered as a result of them or seeking to justify it, we surely do not want to subject ourselves to further manipulation by them. Nor is it uncommon to find abusive leaders surrounded by leadership that is complicit to the abuse, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, buffering those leaders from valid criticisms and used by those leaders to further control and manipulate, even used by them in seeking to regain control of us.


Once free, there are new considerations. Free from abuse, though not its lingering effects, we do not want to walk in unforgiveness, by doing so allowing bitterness to take root in our lives (Mark 11:25-26; Heb. 12:15). Leaving a spiritually abusive situation, we may find ourselves tempted to throw off all restraint, rejecting all aspects of spiritual authority in some church where it seems anything goes, fleshly speaking, or by forsaking church attendance altogether. Though the temptation to do so is understandable, doing so has the potential to needlessly subject us to more challenges. We may even be tempted to blame God for the abuse we suffered. Or we may find it difficult to forgive ourselves for allowing ourselves to be subject to spiritual abuse. We may also find it difficult to trust new leaders that God brings into our lives. Ultimately, healthy growth in grace, not blaming God, rebuilding trust and forgiving ourselves, is enhanced when we find healthy churches of which to be a part, ones with servant-leaders, not those prone to dictatorial styles. And, as a part of the healing process, we need to establish healthy boundaries in our lives, ones that prevent us from allowing abusive organizations and/or leaders to make inroads into our lives again.

20. MINISTERS: DEALING WITH UNSCRIPTURAL VIEWS AND TEACHINGS

Confronting Christians today are numerous unscriptural views and teachings. It is imperative that we as ministers teach Christians to Biblically recognize and reject them, as well as giving them a platform for recognizing and rejecting unscriptural views like them in the future. Some of the unscriptural views that currently confront us are:


1.Universalism (Inclusion) – the belief that all will be saved;

2. Religious Pluralism – Religious pluralism generally refers to the belief

in two or more religious worldviews as being equally valid or

acceptable. More than mere tolerance, religious pluralism accepts

multiple paths to God or gods as a possibility and is usually used in

contrast with “exclusivism,” the idea that there is only one true religion

or way to know God;

3. Moral Relativism – Moral relativism is more easily understood in

comparison to moral absolutism. Christian absolutists believe that God

is the ultimate source of our common morality, and that it is, therefore,

an unchanging as He is. Moral relativism asserts that morality is not

based on any absolute standard. Rather, ethical “truths” depend on

variables such as situation, culture, one’s feelings, etc.;

4. Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide – Essentially, a person seeking euthanasia

or assisted suicide is seeking to euthanize himself, with the aid of

another person to ensure that death is quick and painless; and

5. Privatization – Involves declaring the public arena off-limits to

religious views, a view insisting that religion and morals belong to the

private realm and must be kept out of the public realm.


Romans 12:2 (NKJ) – And do not be conformed (refers to conforming oneself to an outer fashion or outward appearance, accommodating oneself to a model or pattern – “Word Wealth”) to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will (used of that which is willed, designed or desired – “Word Wealth”) of God.


World, aion (ahee-ohn’); Strong’s #165: Trench defines as follows: “All that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world…” – Word Studies in the Greek New Testament

Currently, there are countless thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, impulses, etc. present in the world that are contrary to God’s will. Our duty as ministers is to encourage those we teach to not be conformed to ungodly ideologies and manners of thinking present in the world. We do this with the aid of the Holy Spirit by teaching the rightly divided or interpreted Word of God, which reveals the will of God.


Same Sex Marriages and Homosexuality are two other topics that are often discussed in modern culture with little or no understanding or reliance on what God’s Word says related to the topic, sadly, even among some Christians. That being so let’s now consider those topics from a Biblical perspective:


I. Is Same Sex Marriage Biblically Supportable?


  1. Genesis 2:21-24 - marriage instituted by God
  2. Matthew 19:4-6 – Jesus speaks of marriage based on Genesis
  3. Ephesians 5:22-27 – Paul speaks of marriage and the church
  4. 1 Corinthians 7 – Paul discusses principles of marriage
  5. 1 Peter 3:1-7 – Peter’s admonitions to spouses
  1. In any of these passages is marriage spoken of as between two of the same sex?
  2. Do you know of any passages in Scripture that speak of marriage as between two of the same sex?
  3. Based on what Scripture says, if there any support for marriage between two of the same sex?


II. Does the Bible View Homosexuality as Godly Behavior?


  1. Leviticus 18:22
  2. Leviticus 20:13
  3. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
  4. Romans 1:26-28
  1. What do these passages say about homosexual behavior?
  2. Do they support homosexual behavior as godly?


III. Does the Presence of Love in a Relationship Assure it is a Godly One?


  1. 1 Kings 11:1-4
  2. Hebrews 13:4
  1. Solomon loved the wives that God told him not to marry. Did the fact he loved them justify his disobeying God’s will?
  2. It is possible that two people involved in an adulterous or homosexual relationship could love each other, is it not? If so, based on what God’s Word says, would the presence of love justify the practice of either?


IV. Do Christians Have to Yield to Temptations?


  1. James 1:16
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13
  3. Romans 6:11-12; 8:1-2
  1. Do Christians have to yield to temptations, including sexual ones?


V. Once a Homosexual, Always One?


  1. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  2. Ephesians 4:24
  3. Romans 12:2
  1. 1 Cor. 6:9-11 identifies the practitioners of ungodly behaviors by titles related to those behaviors. Yet having experienced becoming a new creation in Christ, verse 11 says of them “And such were some of you.” Wouldn’t this include homosexuals?
  2. Though it is surely possible that we can be tempted in areas that we sinned prior to becoming Christians, it does not mean we have to yield to those temptations. Do renewing the mind and putting on the new man play a part in our not yielding to such temptations? If so, how?


VI. Is God Just?


  1. Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2
  2. 1 John 1:9
  3. 1 Corinthians 10:13
  1. If we sin and confess that sin to God is He faithful and just to forgive us of that sin?
  2. God is just, meaning that He acts in ways that are morally upright and good. That being so, would a just God tell us as believers not to engage in sin, but deprive us of the grace to empower us not to?
  3. If we do not appropriate the grace to refrain from sinning are we not responsible for that being so?


VII. Did Jesus Say Anything About Sexual Immorality?


  1. Matthew 5:32
  2. Matthew 19:9

“Sexual immorality” as mentioned in the NKJV is from the Greek “porneia,” meaning “adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc.” – Thayer’s from the Blue Letter Bible

  1. Being that Jesus used the word “porneia” in both verses, would it not be correct to conclude that “homosexuality” is included under the auspices of what would be considered “sexual immorality”?


VIII. Sodom and Gomorrah


  1. Genesis 19:1-29
  2. Jude 1:7
  1. Some advocates of homosexuality and same sex marriage would tell us that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for breaking hospitality laws alone. Yet Jude 1:7 makes it clear such was not the case. How so?


“Just because someone is a homosexual does not mean that we cannot love him (or her) or pray for him (her). Homosexuality is a sin; and like any other sin, it needs to be dealt with in the only way possible.  It needs to be laid at the cross and forsaken.” – Christian and Apologetics Research Ministry 

21. UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONVICTION AND CONDEMNATION


Romans 6:1-2


Romans 8:2 – For the law of the Spirit of life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the law of our new being] has freed us from the law of sin and of death. - Amplified


Clearly, we are instructed in God’s Word that we are not to sin that grace might abound. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. Thus, the power of sin has been broken in our lives. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin (Rom. 6).


I. How We Sin


James 1:13-15 – 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; for God is incapable of being tempted by [what is] evil and He Himself tempts no one. 14 but every person is tempted when he is drawn away, enticed and baited by his own evil desire (lust, passions). 15 Then the evil desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully matured, brings forth death. – Amplified


II. Conviction of Sin


John 16:7-8


Convict, elegcho (e-len-kho); Strong’s #1651: to convict … by conviction to bring to the light, to expose… to find fault with, correct … to call to account, show one his fault – Thayer’s


The purpose of conviction is not to drive us away from God. Rather it is to expose our sins that we might confess them to God. Having done so, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, removing roadblocks to continual fellowship with Him.


I John 1:5-9

Fellowship, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee-ah); Strong’s #2842: association, community, communion, joint participation – Thayer’s


III. Condemnation Related to Sin


Unlike conviction, which draws us to God, condemnation pushes us away from God. Condemnation is a tool often used by our spiritual enemies. It is that voice that says things like: “You are no good.” “You will never be forgiven.” “You are not worthy enough to be called His child.” You will never be any good.” “You have made too many mistakes to be used by God.” “You cannot forgive yourself.” “They will never forgive you.” Jesus, unlike our spiritual enemies, does not desire to condemn us.


John 3:17


IV. Moving Beyond Past Sins


When we recognize unconfessed sin in our lives, we need to quickly deal with it, confessing it to God. If possible, we also need to ask those we have sinned against to forgive us. If they won’t, we do not want to get in the flesh with them. Instead, we want to pray for them and walk in love toward them. And we want to make sure we forgive ourselves.


Mark 11:25


With the challenge that is unconfessed sin in our lives dealt with, we need to put the issue behind us.

Philippians 3:12-15


Forgetting, epilanthanomai (ep-ee-lan-than-om-ahee); Strong’s #1950: to lose out of mind – Strong’s; to forget…in the sense of neglecting, no longer caring forThayer’s


“To Ponder”

1. Why are we not to sin that grace may abound?


2. How has the power of sin been broken in our lives?


3. What does conviction do?


4. What are we to do when we recognize sin in our lives?


5. What does fellowship, koinonia, mean?


6. Who uses condemnation as a tool against us? How?


7. How is forgiveness related to moving past confessed sin in our lives?

 

8. What does it mean to “forget” confessed sin in our lives?

22. DIVIDED WE FALL: 
COMMENTING TO CHRISTIANS RELATED TO THE RACIAL TENSIONS CONFRONTING US

John 17:20-21 (NKJ) – 20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, 21 that they ALL may be ONE, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be ONE in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me.


Jesus fully recognized the need for unity among believers, the need for us to be ONE. That being so He did not merely embrace such unity as a fanciful dream or wishful thinking. He did not trivialize those who embraced this view with Him as naïve or less than astute, as somehow out of touch with the way things really are. He did what we Christians should be doing at a time when voices seek to divide us along racial lines. He took the matter to God in prayer. And, in addition to prayer, His life fully demonstrated His desire to do the will of the Father, as should ours. Clearly the will of the Father is not that Christianity reveals itself as a manner divided along racial lines. How shallow it is when our walks even hint that such is the case. Are we not told in Galatians 3:28 that we Christians, regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status, are ONE in Christ Jesus?


Though in practice the goal of being ONE has never been fully realized that should not provide the impetus to further divide the body of Christ along racial lines (which has long been done). The fact that the goal or being ONE has not been realized and the obvious benefits associated with the goal, along with the fact it is the desire or our Savior, should compel us to habitually move toward it. And, lest we consider only our human frailties in attempting such a goal, let us never forget that the Holy Spirit has been given to us that we may have power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), being ONE an obvious asset to that declaration.


Let us remember too that the Holy Spirit has poured out the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5), our faith Galatians 5:6 reveals being empowered by such love. And, related to love, it is no small thing that Jesus in John 13:35 (NKJ) declared, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” God’s love in us does not value people in terms of race nor does it rejoice at the iniquity of devaluing people based on race. Nor does His love in us respond to racism with further racism.


Accused of casting our demons by the power of Beelzebub, Jesus responded in Matthew 12:25 (NKJ), “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” So is it with the power of our witnesses. If we allow ourselves to be drawn into battles along racial lines, dredging up atrocities from the past, ignoring Christ’s call to forgive that we may be forgiven (Mark 11:25), so shall the power of our witnesses as Christians be brought to desolation.


Forgiving the wrongs we experienced from others, including those along the lines of race, does not legitimize those wrongs. Nor does it mean we are to condemn activities that address such wrongs in a GODLY manner. It does however mean we will not allow ourselves to be divided by the recounting of them or an ungodly focus upon them.


There will always be those among us who seek to divide us as Christians, to separate us. Yet, as Christians, we must not allow ourselves to fall prey to strategies that seek to divide us, no matter how noble they sound or how emotionally or intellectually compelling they are. We must instead focus upon Christ, our Savior, and be about the works He created us to do (Eph. 2:10), one of those works being the goal of not merely contemplating about being ONE, but actually being it. And, related to being ONE, let us put on love, which binds us together (Col. 3:14).

23. EIGHT RULES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

1) The rule of DEFINITION: What does the word mean? Any study of Scripture must begin with a study of words. Define your terms and then keep to the terms defined. The interpreter should conscientiously abide by the plain meaning of the words. This quite often may require using a Hebrew/English or Greek/English lexicon in order to make sure that the sense of the English translation is understood. A couple of good examples of this are the Greek words "allos" and "heteros". Both are usually translated as "another" in English - yet "allos" literally means "another of the same type" and "heteros" means "another of a different type."


2) The rule of USAGE: It must be remembered that the Old Testament was written originally by, to and for Jews. The words and idioms must have been intelligible to them - just as the words of Christ when talking to them must have been. The majority of the New Testament likewise was written in a milieu of Greco-Roman (and to a lesser extent Jewish) culture and it is important to not impose our modern usage into our interpretation. It is not worth much to interpret a great many phrases and histories if one's interpretations are shaded by pre-conceived notions and cultural biases, thereby rendering an inaccurate and ineffectual lesson.


3) The rule of CONTEXT: The meaning must be gathered from the context. Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. Many passages will not be understood at all, or understood incorrectly, without the help afforded by the context. A good example of this is the Mormon practice of using 1 Cor. 8:5b: "...for there be gods many and lords many..." as a "proof text" of their doctrine of polytheism. However, a simple reading of the whole verse in the context of the whole chapter (e.g. where Paul calls these gods "so-called"), plainly demonstrates that Paul is not teaching polytheism.


4) The rule of HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: The interpreter must have some awareness of the life and society of the times in which the Scripture was written. The spiritual principle will be timeless but often can't be properly appreciated without some knowledge of the background. If the interpreter can have in his mind what the writer had in his mind when he wrote - without adding any excess baggage from the interpreter's own culture or society - then the true thought of the Scripture can be captured resulting in an accurate interpretation. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present."


5) The rule of LOGIC: Interpretation is merely logical reasoning. When interpreting Scripture, the use of reason is everywhere to be assumed. Does the interpretation make sense? The Bible was given to us in the form of human language and therefore appeals to human reason - it invites investigation. It is to be interpreted as we would any other volume: applying the laws of language and grammatical analysis. As Bernard Ramm said:

"What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence... interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic...may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence." (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1956)


6) The rule of PRECEDENT: We must not violate the known usage of a word and invent another for which there is no precedent. Just as a judge's chief occupation is the study of previous cases, so must the interpreter use precedents in order to determine whether they really support an alleged doctrine. Consider the Bereans in Acts 17:10-12 who were called "noble" because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what Paul taught them was true.


7) The rule of UNITY: The parts of Scripture being interpreted must be construed with reference to the significance of the whole. An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. An excellent example of this is the doctrine of the Trinity. No single passage teaches it, but it is consistent with the teaching of the whole of Scripture (e.g. the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are referred to individually as God; yet the Scriptures elsewhere teach there is only one God).


8) The rule of INFERENCE: An inference is a fact reasonably implied from another fact. It is a logical consequence. It derives a conclusion from a given fact or premise. It is the deduction of one proposition from another proposition. Such inferential facts or propositions are sufficiently binding when their truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. Competent evidence means such evidence as the nature of the thing to be proved admits. Satisfactory evidence means that amount of proof which would ordinarily satisfy an unprejudiced mind beyond a reasonable doubt. Jesus used this rule when he proved the resurrection of the dead to the unbelieving Sadducees in Matt. 22:23-33.


  • An “Apologetics Index” Research Resource edit text

24. THE FIVE-FOLD MINISTRY

Ephesians 4:9-12 (NKJ) – 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping (kartartismos, Strong’s #2677: A making fit, preparing, training, perfecting, making fully qualified for service. In classical language, the word is used for setting a bone during surgery. The Great Physician is now making all the necessary adjustments so the church will not be “out of joint.” – “Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible)  of the saints for the work (ergon, Strong’s #2041; an act, deed, thing done – Thayer’s) of the ministry (serving, ministering), for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect (teleios, Strong’s #5046; When applied to persons, it signifies consummate soundness, and  includes the idea of being whole. More particularly, when applied to believers, it denotes maturity – “Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things unto Him who is the head – Christ.  


I. Apostles


Apostles, apostolos (ap-os-tol-oss); Strong’s #652: A special messenger, a delegate, one commissioned for a particular task or role, one who is sent forth with a message. In the NT the word denotes both the original twelve disciples and prominent leaders outside the Twelve. Marvin Vincent records three features of an apostle: 1) one who has had a visible encounter with the resurrected Christ; 2) one who plants churches; 3) one who functions in the ministry with signs, wonders, and miracles. – “Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible


… According to Paul, apostles surpassed as well the various orders of Christian teachers…, as also the rest of those on whom the special gifts …. of the Holy Spirit had been bestowed, by receiving a richer and more copious conferment of the Spirit; in the broader sense the name is transferred to other eminent Christian teachers; as Barnabas, Acts 14:14, and perhaps Timothy and Silvanus, 1 Th. 2:7…, cf. too Rev. 18:20. – Thayer’s


II. Prophets


 Luke 11:49 (NKJ) – Therefore the wisdom of God also said, “I will send prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,”


 Prophet, prophetes (prof-ay-tace); Strong’s #4396: From pro, “forth,” and phemi, “to speak.” A prophet, therefore, is primarily one who speaks forth a divine message that can at times include foretelling future events. Among the Greeks, the prophet was the interpreter of the divine will, and this idea is dominant in biblical usage. Prophets are therefore specially endowed with insights into the counsels of the Lord and serve as His spokesman. Prophecy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12), which the NT encourages believers to exercise, although at a level different from those with the prophetic office (Eph. 4:11). – “Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible


 … In the N.T. … one who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence his organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, esp. future events, and in particular such as related to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation…  – Thayer’s


In the O.T. and N.T. we see both men and women called to the office. Notable women mentioned in the O.T. were Deborah, also a Judge (Jdg. 4:4); Huldah (2 Ch. 34:22); Isaiah’s wife (Is. 8:3); Miriam, Moses’ sister (Ex. 15:20); and Noadiah (Neh. 6:14). In the N.T. another woman added to the list by name is Anna (Luke 2:36). In the N.T. we also see several men mentioned as prophets, Judas, Silas and Agabus (Acts 15:32; Acts 11:28; 21:10).


III. Evangelists


Evangelists, euaggelistes (yu-an-ge-les-tas) or evangelion; Strong’s #2099: a bringer of good tidings, an evangelist (Vulg, evangelista). This name is given in the N.T. to those heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles. – Thayer’s


In Acts 21:8 Philip is mentioned as an Evangelist. Timothy is told in 2 Timothy 4:5 to do the work of an Evangelist.


Gospel, euaggelion (yu-an-ge-le-on) or evangelion; Strong’s #2098: Compare “evangel,” “evangelize,” “evangelistic.” In ancient Greece evangelion designated the reward given for bringing good news. Later it came to mean the good news itself. In the N.T. the word includes both the promise of salvation and its fulfillment by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Evangelion also designates the written narratives of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. – “Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible


 … the glad tidings of salvation through Christ; the proclamation of the grace of God manifested and pledged in Christ; the gospel – Thayer’s


Evangelize, euaggelizo (yu-an-ge-le-zo) or evangelizo; Strong’s #2907: to bring good news, to announce glad tidings…to proclaim glad tidings; spec.


IV. Pastors

 

Pastor, poimen (poi-man); a herdsman, exp. a shepherd; … metaph. the presiding officer, manager, of any assembly: so of Christ the Head of the church – Thayer’s

 

Shepherds are those who lead, guide, feed and protect the sheep entrusted to them. They have compassion for the sheep.

 

Matthew 9:36 – But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered like sheep having no shepherd.

 

1 Peter 5:2-4 (NKJ) – 2 Shepherd (poimano, Strong’s # 4165; to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep;… to furnish pasturage or food; to nourish – Thayer’s) the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, 3 not as being lords (katakyrieou, Strong’s #2634; to bring under one’s power, to subject to one’s self, to subdue, master:…to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over – Thayer’s) over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

 

John 10:11-15 tells us much about a godly Shepherd.

 

V. Teachers

 

Teacher, didaskalos; Strong’s #1320:an instructor, a teacher; in the N.T. one who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man; … one who is fitted to teach,…used of those who in religious assemblies of Christians undertook the work of teaching with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. – Thayer’s

 

The gift of teaching, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 (teachers are also mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:28 and Rom. 12:7), is not based merely on natural abilities and talents that lend to teaching, though those with the gift may possess them too, but is a supernatural gift given by Christ. It is a gift empowering those having it to receive and impart supernatural insight related to God’s Word.

 

1 Corinthians 2:12–3:1, 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, Acts 18:24-26 and many other passages give much insight related to the function of and blessings related to those God gifts to teach.

 

The main goal of teachers should be to edify or build up the body of Christ, not create divisions, understanding though that some due to hardness of heart, unbelief or other factors will not receive what is said.

25. THE HOLY SPIRIT, MAGNIFCENTLY BETTER THAN POPEYE'S SPINACH, AND REAL!

Acts 1:8 (NKJ) – But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.


Created by Elzie Crisler Segar and first appearing in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre, “Popeye the Sailor Man” was a beloved cartoon figure for many baby boomers, those of us born between 1946 and 1964. As baby boomers, many among us can still vividly remember the ongoing battles between the bearded, hulking Bluto and the scrappy little seaman, Popeye. Yet, even in the midst of what appeared to be defeat for our ole pal Popeye, we knew that such would not be the case, as our squinty-eyed hero would pop open a can of spinach, consume the green elixir and gain superhuman strength, defeating the menacing Bluto and continuing to reign supreme in the heart of his gangly, uncoordinated gal, Olive Oyl.

 

Ah, who among us, when watching any number of superheroes on television during our formative years (and don’t forget “Wonder Bread,” as it made our bodies strong in not one, not two, but twelve ways), did not imagine him or herself battling the evils in this world? And, surely, doing so in victorious fashion! Like Popeye, we surveyed the approaching challenges on the horizon and sought the spinach that would propel us once again to victory, that victory gaining us entry to the heroes’ circle, where we would receive the thunderous applause of our adoring and appreciative, imaginary fans. But then we grew up. We discovered that superheroes, rather than being real, were the phantasms of writers. Knowing that and realizing our human strength was under-matched for the size of many of the challenges facing us, we often wrung our hands and cowered before life’s ever-changing horizon.

 

But, somewhere along the way, many of us discovered the superhero that is the not the product of a writer’s imagination, God. Sadly, some too among us rejected as make believe this superhero we know as God. And some have not yet heard about Him, which is part of our epic adventure as Christians, telling others about Christ. Yet, for those of us who heard the gospel, the good news of salvation by faith in Christ, and embraced it, experiencing the spiritually regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, we ascertained that not all superheroes are imaginary. We will not be persuaded by the efforts of atheists and sceptics to dissuade us from our faith in God, for we are not living in the realm of make believe, but in the realm where His Spirit “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16, NKJ). We are living in the realm where faith, not some ethereal fantasy but a principle divinely implanted in us by God, infuses us with confidence, trust, and assurance in Him and all that He says.


Ah, but like Paul Harvey stories from the past, you know, the ones where we heard the rest of the story, so there is more to this story of our being in Christ, of being by virtue of hearing the gospel and spiritual regeneration members of the body of Christ, the Church. The rest of the story, as it pertains to our narrative, is beyond the allure of fairy tales, legends, and make believe superheroes. The rest of the story is based on Jesus’ prayer in John 14:16 (NKJ), “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.”


And here’s some more good news. His prayer was answered! When? Almost two-thousand years ago. Where? In Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost. Magnificently, while 120 followers of Christ were praying and worshiping God when:


     “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then  

     there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and 

     began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4, NKJ).    

 

One can imagine eternal shouts of “Yee-haw!” in the heavenly places with the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit’s filling or baptism, Christians now have the wherewithal to enter the realm of superheroes, and, not merely survive, but flourish. Why? Because, baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit, as Christians we are endowed with supernatural strength, power, and ability to be witnesses. Where? Wherever He sends us. To do what? To share the good news of salvation through faith in Christ, to lay hands on the sick and see them recover, to cast out demons, to speak with new tongues, and to operate in the gifts of the Spirit (Mark 16:15-18; 1 Cor. 12:4-11).

 

Knowing this, it is time to discard any mulligrubs remaining from when we discovered that our cartoon superheroes were not real. And, if we have not yet been baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit, it is time to do so. God assures us in Luke 11:9-13 that He wants us to receive gift of the Holy Spirit. All we must do is in faith ask. Doing so, He will give the Holy Spirit to us in a manner not experienced when we were born again and sealed with the Spirit. Our spirits will be immersed in and filled with the Holy Spirit and from our lips will come a heavenly language, not one we learned in a classroom or by cultural assimilation, but one given to us by God, one we may use in prayer and praise, one the bible refers to in Acts 2:4 as “other tongues.” Filled with His Spirit, may He then whisk us away to new adventures. Experiencing those adventures, perhaps our thoughts may on occasion return to Popeye and our childhood days. Doing so, we may rightly exclaim, “The Holy Spirit is magnificently better than Popeye’s spinach, and real!”

26. FOR CHRISTIANS:

WHAT ABOUT GENDER ISSUES?

SAME SEX MARRIAGE?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THOSE TOPICS?

WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

Matthew 19:4-5 (NKJ) - 4 And He (Jesus) answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them in the beginning made them 'male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"


WHAT TWO THINGS CAN BE NOTED FROM THIS PASSAGE?


1. God establishes us as male and female. Science supports this, as, genetically, we are either male (XY) or female (XX).


2. Marriage, from the biblical perspective, is between two of the opposite sex, a man and a woman, never two of the same sex.


WHAT SHOULD WE AS CHRISTIANS REMEMBER WHEN FOCUSING UPON THESE ISSUES?


1. Those wrestling with gender identity issues are facing emotional/spiritual challenges and should not be enabled by our taking actions which encourage them to embrace lifestyles contrary to who they are genetically. However, we should encourage them to get help from those possessing expertise in both the emotional and spiritual arenas related to the issues confronting them.


2. Encouraging those wrestling with gender identity issues to use restrooms not corresponding to their genetic gender, take hormones, or undergo surgery as the means to deal with the issues confronting them may be an understandable emotional response, but it is not a healthy one, as doing so will not change who they are genetically, will not bring about healthy resolution to the identity issues they are dealing with, and serves as enabling.


3. Though the Supreme Court by its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage in our nation, the Bible consistently and only speaks of marriage as being between a man and woman. In Genesis 2 when marriage is introduced, when Jesus expounds on the topic in the gospels, when Paul spoke of it in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5, and when Peter dealt with the topic in 1 Peter 3, marriage is clearly and only between a man and a woman. That being so, as Christians we should not be conformed to the world's ideologies, manners of thinking, and attitudes (Rom. 12:2) related to marriage when they are contrary to God's word.


4. Though our elected (presidents, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, etc.) and appointed officials (i.e. Supreme Court Justices) may seek to engage in un-scriptural behaviors or enact un-scriptural laws related to LGBT issues, our duty as Christians is to freely and lovingly speak out against such behaviors and laws. Related to how we vote, we should not vote for those who engage in such behaviors, enact such laws, or who will nominate Supreme Court Justices who will support un-scriptural rulings like Obergefell v. Hodges.


HOW SHOULD WE INTERACT WITH THOSE WRESTLING WITH THESE ISSUES?


1. We should be led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14) and speak the truth (John 17:17) in love (Eph. 4:15) related to these matters.

 

2. We should always seek to act with sensitivity to those dealing with LGBT issues, never approaching or responding to them in fleshly manners (name-calling, hatred, etc.), but should do so with a desire to see them find godly and biblical resolution to those issues.


3. We should understand that those wrestling with LGBT issues, even if they are unaware of it, are dealing with emotional and spiritual issues. Understanding that, we must walk in the authority God has given us (Luke 10:19) and be engaged in all manner or types of prayer for them and ourselves as we prepare to interact with them (Eph. 6:18).


4. We should recognize that those seeking to or engaging in LGBT behaviors may on the surface or in reality not be willing to find godly resolution to those issues. That being so, we must be patient and humble in our interactions with them, remembering that it is God, not us, who grants them repentance (2 Tim. 2:24-26).


5. We should understand that those who enable and encourage others to engage in un-scriptural responses to these issues will often respond to those of us who stand on God's word related to these matters with name-calling, hatred, and/or condescension. We should never respond in like manner but should remember and act upon Jesus' words in Luke 6:27-28: "But I say to you who hear, 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.'"

27. LET US BE BOLD IN SPEAKING AND DOING WHAT CHRIST TELLS US TO SPEAK AND DO!

Acts 4:31 (NKJ) – And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

 

What a marvelous story of God’s healing power we find in Acts 3:1-10. On the way to the temple for prayer, Peter and John encountered a lame man begging alms. However, Peter knew God had something much better than alms for the lame man that day. “Fixing his eyes” on the lame man,” with John, Peter said, ‘Look at us.’ So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ And he took him by his right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength” (Acts 3:4-7, NKJ).

 

It was at the gate of the temple named Beautiful that this healing took place. The gate Beautiful is surely an apropos site for this healing, as surely it was a beautiful event in the life of the lame man. So beautiful was this event to the lame man that those present observed him after it occurred “walking, leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8, NKJ). Thinking about it, we can surely understand why this man reacted to this beautiful event in such a way. Lame from birth, he was for the first time able to walk and leap about. And we might also think that all present or hearing of this event would praise God for its happening as well. If so thinking, we would be wrong, for the religious leaders did not react positively to it at all.

 

Instead of rejoicing over the healing, the Sanhedrin reacted angrily to it and the fact that Peter and John were teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus. Aware that a healing had indeed occurred (Acts 4:15-16), the Sanhedrin “commanded” Peter and John “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18, NKJ). Peter wisely responded, saying to the Sanhedrin, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20, NKJ). Who had the disciples seen and heard? They had seen and heard Jesus. Even the Sanhedrin was aware of this, for in Acts 4:13-14 (NKJ) we read, “Now when they (the Sanhedrin) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.”  

 

As was true with Peter and John in Acts 3-4, we Christians today via His word and through our fellowship with Christ made possible by the Holy Spirit have been taught by Him. He has admonished us that we to be salt and light to the those about us. We read in Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJ):

 

     You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown

     out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Not do they light a 

     lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before 

     men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

However, as was true with the Sanhedrin, so it is today that many do not rejoice when we seek to do the works that God has created us to do and act as salt and light by standing for biblical morality, ideologies, or godly behaviors. Many try to convince us that we must privatize our faith, insisting that we should hide our lights under a basket by only practicing and speaking of matters related to Christianity in private. They often do so by berating us under the auspices of an historically inaccurate view of the First Amendment, perhaps unaware or willfully choosing to ignore that the First Amendment was not written to deprive Christians of religious freedoms. In fact, until Everson v. the Board of Education in 1947 and later Supreme Court rulings changed how the First Amendment was viewed, the separation of church of state view given by Jefferson to the Connecticut Baptists was used to protect the religious freedoms of Christians.

 

Responding to a letter from the Danbury Baptists in which they voiced their concerns about the state (government) depriving them of religious freedoms, Jefferson assured them that a wall separated the government from being able to infringe upon the rights of Christians. And that was the view that held full sway in our courts until 1947. Furthermore, we need to always remember that the First Amendment was not written to curtail the religious freedoms of Christians, but to keep the government from establishing state-run churches. Nor was it written to keep Christians from operating as salt and light upon our governments or within our culture.  

 

Those insisting that we not act as salt and light upon our governments and within our culture willfully or blindly oppose the cause of Christ. Sadly, those doing so even includes some leaders, family members, and, tragically, some fellow Christians. That being so, our choice is to follow the admonitions of Christ related to our being salt and light or the demands of those who insist that we do otherwise. Like Peter and John did when faced with the demands of the Sanhedrin related to not speaking, teaching, preaching in the name of Christ after the healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful, we too must choose to follow God and not men. And, in doing so, we must remember to pray for boldness, not only for ourselves, but for our fellow Christians. Let us do so as the disciples did after the Sanhedrin forbade them to speak, teach, and preach in the name of Jesus. They prayed, and after they “had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, NKJ). Doing so, let us also remember that to speak the word of God with boldness means that we will use “unreserved utterance… frankness, candor,” and “cheerful courage,” which is “the opposite of cowardice, timidity, or fear” (“Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible).

28. WHAT IS TRUTH?

JIHAD AND THE RECENT ORLANDO TRAGEDY

John 18:38 (NKJ) – Pilate said unto him, “What is truth?”


Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman procurator in Judaea, asked this question of Jesus while interrogating Him in his residence, the Praetorium. Clearly, Pilate, in asking this question, revealed that he had no idea that the incarnation of truth, Jesus Christ, was standing right before him. And, as his dealings with Jesus also indicate, Pilate’s sense of justice evaporated when it conflicted with his own agenda or self-interests. Thus, though Pilate found no wrong in Jesus, he acquiesced to the demands of the Jewish leaders for Christ’s crucifixion when denying those demands might create political challenges to Pilate’s standing with the Roman government. Ultimately, Pilate was like many spiritually blind and misguided individuals in our culture today, who are void of knowledge of the truth related to Jesus Christ, that He is the only way for salvation, but are willing to use events to further their own agendas, even when doing so relegates truth and justice to oblivion.


How so? Let us consider the “how so” by focusing upon the recent events in Orlando. As is fresh in our memories, Omar Mateen entered a gay nightclub and mercilessly killed 49 people, injuring many others. As facts about the event surfaced, it became clear that we were dealing with yet another example of a Muslim propagating Islamic terrorism or Jihad. We clearly know this based upon Mateen’s own words, words he spoke in Arabic during the attack indicating that what he did he did in the name of Allah, pledging his allegiance to Isis and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a nutshell, those are the facts about the case that quickly emerged.

However, as was true with Pilate related to Jesus’ innocence not serving Pilate’s self-interest, so, the emerging facts about the Orlando shooting did not serve the agenda of those wanting to squelch or suppress the truth about Islamic terrorism or Jihad or further other agendas. Many in the media and political arenas quickly sought to focus on other factors, factors not at the causal core of this event, which was Jihad-driven Islam. Some sought to focus on the need for more gun restrictions. Others focused on homophobia, a word consistently misused to vilify Christians who do not support many aspects of the LGBTQ agenda, not based upon fear or hatred of those engaged in LGBTQ behaviors, but doing so because scripture does not support those behaviors. Sadly, many even sought to further marginalize and demonize Christians who do not support the LGBTQ agenda based on biblical reasons by blaming them for this event. Others blamed members of the Republican party or the Republican party in general. By ignoring or denying the underlying cause of this event, Jihad-driven Islam, both the media and politicians did a disservice to the American public.


What is Jihad-driven Islam? Within the Islamic faith, Jihad, literally, refers to a struggle or effort. This struggle encompasses three areas: 1. The spiritual struggle within oneself against sin. 2. The struggle to build a Muslim society. 3. The Holy war or struggle against unbelievers (non-Muslims), using force when necessary. Those wanting to deny or minimalize the existence of the third type of Jihad (Holy War) often focus only on the first and sometimes second definitions. Those among us who deny or choose to ignore the horrific examples of the third type of Jihad-driven Islam, that against non-Muslims, even involving extreme acts of violence, often do so based on their being deceived. Or their acknowledging its existence does not fit with their agendas. Lest we too be duped into minimizing or ignoring its effects, we need to remember that Islamic writings often refer to Jihad as a militaristic struggle against non-Muslims or infidels. However, for those who don’t want to focus on or admit to the existence of Jihad, the Holy War, they instead often focus on causal factors other than Jihad-driven Islam when acts of violence attributable to it arise.


Having discussed how some misuse or misinterpret the facts surrounding events like those in Orlando, now let us turn to another factor that bears consideration in this discussion, spiritual blindness. Reading 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJ), we see that the natural or spiritually unregenerate man does not “receive” or “know” or discern spiritual matters. Why is that? It is true because such matters must be spiritually discerned. Those who have not experienced spiritual regeneration, or what Jesus referred to as being born again, literally, born from above (John 3:3), do not have the propensity to comprehend spiritual matters. Like Pilate, who had no understanding of truth when the embodiment of it stood right before him in the form of Jesus Christ, the spiritually unregenerate are not cognizant of the truth related to spiritual matters.


What is the truth related to the spiritual matters surrounding Jihad-driven Islam? Paul, speaking in Ephesians 6:12 (NKJ), reminds us that ultimately we are not wrestling against “flesh and blood” when it comes to the battles we face, but against spiritual entities arrayed against the cause of Christ. The battles that those entities wage against us occur in a variety of ways. Often, such battles occur in the ideological or philosophical realm, with ungodly ideologies or beliefs seeking to gain ascendency over the ways and teachings of Christ. In the case of Jihad-driven Islam, those entities use ideologies in stark contrast to the teachings of Christ and propagated by Muhammad, teachings which are used to encourage and justify war against non-Muslims or infidels.


Ultimately, as Christians we must recognize, even in the face of pluralists who would have us falsely believe that all religions are equally valid and viable pathways to God, that Christianity and Islam, spiritually speaking, are incongruent. Christianity via the Bible teaches us that Christ is the Word who was “with God” and “was God” and “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14; NKJ). Christ reminds us that He is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJ). He also reminds us that He is the door by which entering in we will be saved (John 10:10). Islam, though they believe Christ to be a prophet, do not believe He was God manifested in the flesh. It is a works-based religion that teaches us we will be saved by our good deeds, thereby denying the need for faith in the substitutionary work of Christ outlined in the gospel, the good news of salvation by faith in Christ (Rom. 1:16). In fact, Islam does not teach that Christ was crucified, a necessary and integral part of His substitutionary work in that He became sin for us, paying the price for our sins. Muslims are taught that Allah provided a substitute for Jesus upon the cross who seemed to be Jesus but was not Him. Therefore, Muslims are left to work their way to heaven, some even believing that a suicidal death in the name of Allah and Jihad-driven Islam will gain them immediate access to heaven and the gift of 72 virgins.


Considering further the incongruent nature of Christianity and Islam, we find that Christ never counselled His disciples to use violence to spread the faith. In the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20, NKJ), He admonished us as followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you…” Nothing in the teachings of Christ suggests that we are to use war or violence to spread the faith. Obviously, some in the past have errantly done so in Christ’s name, but their actions were not based faithfully on His teachings. And, considering Christianity currently in America, there are no examples of Christians using beheadings, bombings, mass murders, etc. to spread the faith. Christ taught us to love our neighbors and enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). Likewise, He never taught us to seek to justify actions that the Bible identifies as sinful, whether our own or those of others, as many LGBTQ and pro-abortion activists suggest we should do. However, not supporting sinful behaviors should never include perpetrating violence against individuals engaged in those behaviors as we seek to spread the gospel. As for engaging as participants in wars between nations, that is a separate issue, one we do not have space to adequately cover here. Yet, as Rob Wallace and Lauren Effron noted in their article for ABC News (“Does the Koran Advocate Violence?), dated October 1, 2010, of the more than 6000 verses in the Koran, “109 call for war against enemies of the faith” (http://abcnews.go.com/2020/viol). That being so, clearly, unlike many who seek to deny or minimalize the Holy War aspect of Jihad, the Koran does indeed allow and call for such war.


Concluding our discussion, what can we as Christians glean from incidents like those in Orlando, ones in which those like Pilate, who are spiritually blind and seek to promote self-serving agendas, do so with verbal or written attacks not based on the facts? First, we must always remember that our battles, ultimately, are not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual entities arrayed against us. Such battles generally involve those who are spiritually blind, either non-Christians who are in such a state because they have not experienced spiritual regeneration through Christ or Christians who are blind due to any number of factors (sin, lack of knowledge, immaturity, etc.). All manner or types of prayer– petition, intercession, tongues, agreement, etc.–are our most potent weapon as we engage in such battles. Those prayers must include our utilizing against our spiritual enemies the authority that Christ received from the Father and delegates to His body, the Church (Matt. 28:18). They should also focus upon those who are operating from spiritual blindness, as only God is able to open their eyes that they may come to “repentance” and “know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, NKJ).


Secondly, we must remember that we are to make disciples of all nations, which includes those of all religions, not excluding those who are Jihad-driven Muslims. Making disciples involves sharing the truth with all men, the truth that sets men free, the truth that is God’s word, and the truth that is Jesus, the only way of salvation, the only way to the Father. Making disciples of non-Christians, whether Jihad-driven Muslims, atheists, skeptics, agnostics, or those of other religions, is not about warring in the flesh. Based upon a spiritual platform of prayer, it is about sharing with them the gospel and then acquainting them with the truth that sets men free (John 8:31-31), the truth that is God’s word (John 17:17). We must be led by the Holy Spirit that He may work in and through us to open the eyes of the spiritually blind that they may understand and discern the truth.


Last, we must remember, as Jesus did on the cross, that those who engage in embrace and espouse ungodly agendas, whether it be Jihad-driven Islam, the non-biblical agenda of the LGBTQ and pro-abortion communities, or some other unscriptural ideology, spiritually speaking, “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, NKJ). That being so, we must not take their attacks personally. We must forgive them for their ungodly persecution, whatever form such persecution takes. It does not mean that we are to seek out such persecution. Nor does it mean we should not seek to avoid or legally squelch such persecution when possible. In making disciples of all nations, we are sent forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” which does not mean we are to do so in some empty-headed manner, but to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16, NKJ). Going forth in such a manner and led by the Holy Spirit, let us ever be ready to accurately and effectively answer those who, like Pilate, query, “What is truth?”

29. "SAFE ZONES" AREN'T REALLY SAFE

2 Timothy 3:16-4:4 (NKJ) – 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside do fables.


Recently, the University of Chicago has been the focal point of much of the media. Why? This focus has resulted from the University of Chicago’s refusal to create “Safe Zones” for its students. In case we are unaware or forgot, Safe Zones are the creations of some college and university campuses. They are places where the students may go and confront no beliefs or ideologies with which they may be uncomfortable or find contrary to those that they embrace. Critics of the Zones have noted that they are indicative of political correctness run amuck and assert that they stifle opportunities for intellectual growth, comfortable or not, that can occur when students encounter a wide variety of views, not just those they currently hold.


Looking at modern Christianity, we see that the body of Christ, the Church, has its own version of Safe Zones. How so? Safe Zones in the body of Christ occur when we Christians, rather than embracing all of God’s word, including that which challenges us to examine our behaviors and beliefs, resulting in our putting away ungodly behaviors and unscriptural beliefs, instead focus only on teachings that satisfy our “itching ears.” By doing so, we stifle many opportunities for healthy growth in grace and prevent Christ from developing us as He desires.


Due to the fact that they prohibit healthy spiritual growth and development, such Safe Zones are not really safe. They only create the illusion of safety by shielding us from that which we do not want to hear, forestalling us from experiencing the healthy chastening that comes when we avail ourselves to all of God’s word, not just the parts that are more to our personal liking. By utilizing such Zones we treat ourselves as illegitimate children (Heb. 12:8) and preclude ourselves from experiencing “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” produced when we yield to all of God’s word and are “trained by it” (Heb. 12:11, NKJ).


At this point, some of us may be looking for escape routes, ways we can legitimately avoid encounters with that in Scripture which requires us to examine ourselves, regardless of whether it is comfortable or not. Doing so, some of us may even tout the unscriptural view that Jesus would never require us to depart from our Zones, as He is all about “grace.” Yes, Jesus is about grace, but Scripture describes that grace much differently than some of us seem to view it: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12, NKJ). God’s grace, obviously, it not about remaining spiritually stagnant in Safe Zones that are more to our fleshly liking. God’s grace is about healthy growth (2 Pet. 3:18). 


Some of us who tout the “grace is never uncomfortable” perspective apparently have forgotten or are unaware of Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2:1-3:22. In those letters, Christ, rather than encouraging the churches to abide in Safe Zones, free from that which may be uncomfortable, provided wise and healthy counsel for needed change. For example, He commended the church in Sardis for those who had kept the faith, but noted that it was a dead church. Jesus counseled them to repent (a change of mind followed by a change of actions and/or direction) and strengthen the good things that remained. If they did so, He gave them the promise that the faithful would be honored and clothed in white (robes of righteousness). To none of the seven churches did He say or imply that growth in grace is always comfortable, so make sure you stay in your Safe Zones.


Looking at the body of Christ throughout the world, it is apparent that many of us have allowed the siren voices to keep us in Safe Zones. If we remain in those Zones, we shall never experience the growth in grace that Christ so desires for us. There, we will never accomplish the breadth of the good works that God created us to do (Eph. 2:10). There, we will never fully experience the food that Jesus spoke about which is to do the will of the Father (John 4:34).


As to whether or not we will remain in our Safe Zones, let us consider the words of 2 Timothy 2:16-21 (NKJ), verse 20 reminding us that “in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.” Unlike some would have us believe, it is not God who dictates whether we are vessels of honor or dishonor. That is determined by our own choices, as verse 21 states, “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” The cleansing spoken of is that of removing ourselves from iniquity or sin (verse 19), a cleansing based on the choices that each of us, not God, makes. That choice is before us. May we make the right choice, remembering that the Safe Zones we so often cling to, eternally speaking, are not really safe, for ourselves or the lost we avoid while there.

30. NO NEWS IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD NEWS!

Most or all of us have probably heard the old cliché, “No news is good news!” However, we would be wise to remember that such is not always the case. For example, Romans 1:16 (NKJ) tells us that “the gospel of Christ… is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” If we do not hear the gospel of Christ, we will not know that which is the power of God to salvation. Jesus told us in John 14:6 (NKJ), “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” If we do not hear about Jesus, then we will not know the only way to the Father. So, obviously, no news is not always good news!


One of the topics upon which little news is heard today is the subject of hell. That being so has in many ways led to Christians who, unsurprisingly, know very little about the topic. Additionally, due to that being so, some, tragically, have fallen prey to the gospel of inclusion, also known as universalism, the view that all people will eventually be saved, and annihilationism, the view that unbelievers, rather than suffering eternal punishment, will be extinguished after death. Before focusing specifically on the topic of hell, let us consider why, scripturally, universalism and annihilationism are errant teachings.


Universalism or the gospel of inclusion teaches: 1. That all shall enjoy eternal life with God void of the necessity of repentance; 2. That salvation is unconditional and does not require faith in Christ; 3. That all are destined for an eternity with God, whether they know it or not (including atheists and agnostics); and 4. That our spending an eternity with God is not connected to religious affiliation (i.e. all Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, and Taoists shall be saved, even though so many of their teachings are in direct contradiction to scripture, and, as far as that goes, the teachings of other religions).


Related to the first assertion, that repentance is not necessary for salvation, we would do well to ask why, if repentance is not necessary, is the New Testament full of calls to repent and believe (believe being the action of faith)? Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 7:10 (KJV) states, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of…” Secondly, if salvation does not require faith, then why does Romans 1:16 tell us that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who BELIEVES, understanding that believing is the action of faith? Thirdly, if we are headed to an eternity with God without even knowing it, then why does God spend so much time in the Bible exhorting us to make the right choices (i.e. choose life), choices based upon our having free wills? Fourthly, many verses in the Bible make it clear that salvation is exclusive, (i.e. John 14:6 tells us Jesus is the only way; Acts 4:12 tells us there is salvation by no other name than that of Jesus; John 10:9 tells us Jesus is the door by which entering in we are saved; and 1 John 5:11-12 makes it clear that those who have Jesus have eternal life, but those who do not have Jesus do not have eternal life).


Moving to annihilationism, we can perhaps understand why the idea that none will experience eternal punishment is attractive. However, the question is not about what is attractive, but what is scripturally accurate. Obviously, those who assert that God would not send anyone to hell based on His being a loving God fail to remember or ignore the fact that it was His love which motivated Him to send to earth Jesus that we might be saved (John 3:16) and not experience eternal punishment. Our salvation has been purchased by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, meaning that none of us need ever experience the torment of hell. As we previously stated, the gospel or good news of salvation is the power of God unto salvation for all who BELIEVE. Tragically, if we choose to reject the gospel, it is not a matter of God not loving us, but a matter of our rejecting the only path to salvation afforded us, which is by faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, those who embrace annihilationism fail to fully understand the consequences of sin, the justice of God, and the nature of hell (which speaks of eternal punishment based on eternal judgment, Hebrews 6:2, not punishment of a temporary nature).


Let us now move to the topic of hell. The first mention of hell in the New Testament comes from Jesus in Matthew 5:22 (KJV), “but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” From His statement, two things can be gleaned: 1. There is a hell. 2. Hell is a place of fire. Hell is the place of everlasting punishment or torment for those who died without knowing Christ as Savior, who are also known as the lost or unrighteous (Matt.25:46; Luke 16:23). Matthew 23:33 speaks of this everlasting, not temporal, punishment as the damnation or condemnation of hell. It is a place of despair and anguish (Matt. 25:30), marked by weeping (Matt. 8:12), wailing (Matt. 13:42), and the gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:50). Based on Psalms 88:3-5 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9, we see that hell is a place void of God’s presence.


Continuing, let us consider the creation and final destination of hell. Originally, hell was created for the devil (also known as Satan or Lucifer) and his (fallen) angels (Matt. 25:41). However, in Isaiah 5:14 we see that hell (Hebrew Sheol) has enlarged itself. Scholars believe this to be a reference to hell also becoming the eternal accommodation of lost mankind (due to mankind’s fall), this increase in size a purpose for which it was not originally intended. Revelation 20:13-15 (NKJ) speaks of the Great White Throne Judgment of Christ, focusing on the final destination of unbelievers (i.e. the lost or the unrighteous), death, and hell. We read, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” So, the final destination of unbelievers, including death and hell, will be the lake of fire. This second death is not a temporary death, but one of an eternal nature.


After considering the topics of universalism and annihilationism, we then looked at the topic of hell, one that we noted earlier is often ignored in Christian circles or teachings today. Ultimately, that practice has and continues to lead to the presence of errant teachings related to life after death (i.e. universalism and annihilationism). Unlike some would argue, God’s love does not negate the possibility of hell, as scripture assures us that it continues to function as the abode of unbelievers. However, none alive upon this planet need ever experience the torment of hell as God’s love motivated Him to send to earth Jesus that we all may know His salvation. That salvation, scripture teaches us, is available to all who, having heard the gospel, by faith embrace Jesus Christ as Savior based on His life, death, burial, and resurrection. Knowing this, let us never be among those who don’t focus on the entire breadth of biblical topics, including topics like eternal judgment, hell, and the gospel, remembering that no news is not always good news.


If you have never embraced Christ as Savior or unsure if you have, you are invited to pray the following prayer:


Father, I recognize that I am a sinner and repent of my sins. I believe in my heart that Jesus is Your Son and that He is also God. I believe that He came to earth, lived, died upon a cross, and was resurrected that I might know salvation. At this moment I confess or declare Him to be my Lord. In Jesus name I pray, amen.


Welcome to the family of God! You have just done what the Bible teaches is required to gain access to the salvation Christ purchased for us. Feel free to contact me via the internet if you have questions about what you have just done. If you don’t have a Bible, please do what is necessary to obtain one. Find a Bible-believing church to become a part of, not a mosque, synagogue, church that teaches universalism or annihilationism, or one that believes God was once a man who was promoted to godhood due to His good works. May your walk with Christ be one that is marked by healthy growth in grace, ever maturing in His ways.

31. LET US THROW OFF THE OBJECTIONS OF THE RELIGIOUS PLURALISTS

Sin is that which is contrary to God’s will. 1 John 3:4 (NKJ) informs us that sin is lawlessness. Joshua 1:18 (NKJ) reminds us that sin is rebellion against God. Tragically, Romans 3:23 (NKJ) reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Note that the verse did not say a few or some or most, but “all have sinned.” That being so, all were and are in need of a Savior, as sin separates us from God. Due to sin, God instituted the Old Testament system of sacrifices, which allowed for the atonement or covering of sin by the blood of animals. As the blood of animals only covered sin but did not remit or remove it, mankind still stood in need of a Savior who would deal permanently with the issue of sin.


Based on God’s love for mankind (John 3:16) and its need for a Savior, God foretold in the Old Testament of the Messiah’s coming in many passages. Let us look at but a few examples: In Genesis 3:3 God spoke of the coming Savior or Messiah as the “Seed” of the woman who would bruise the head or break the lordship of the serpent over mankind. Isaiah 7:14 declared that He would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel, which, interpreted, means “God with us.” Isaiah 53:12 announced that He would be crucified with criminals. Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 49:15 prophesied of His resurrection. And, finally, Isaiah 53:5-12 foretold that He would be the sacrifice for sin, which accounts for John the Baptist’s greeting to Him in John 1:29 (NKJ), “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”


With the coming of Jesus (from the Hebrew Yeshua, meaning “He shall save”) the Christ (from the Hebrew Mashiyach, meaning “Messiah” or “God’s Anointed One”), Old Testament prophesies about Him found their fulfillment. Most importantly related to the issue of sin, the incarnation of the Christ revealed God’s permanent solution to the challenges associated with it. Related to those challenges, 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJ) declares, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Based on this verse, it is clear that Jesus was “made sin” or the permanent “sacrifice for sin.” As a result, those who are “in Him” or “in Christ” as a result of embracing the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and becoming new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), are made the righteousness of God. As the righteousness of God, they are no longer separated from God by sin, but have been placed in “right standing” or “right relationship” with Him.


However, when considering 2 Corinthians 5:21’s promise to those in Christ being made the righteousness of God, it should also be noted that the promise does not apply to those who are not “in Him.” Thus, from a biblical perspective, those who are not in Christ but members of other religions (i.e. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or New Age), have not been placed in right standing or relationship with God. Clearly, the exclusivity of only those in Christ being made righteous angers and infuriates the religious pluralists among us. That is so due to the fact that religious pluralists, in addition to believing that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid and acceptable, also entertain the possibility that there are multiple paths to God or gods.


As is the case with so many of mankind’s ideologies that are the antithesis of what the Bible teaches as truth, the issue for religious pluralists is not about what is biblically true but rather about being inclusive. Looking but for a moment at the assertions of the various religions, we can see the error in trying to synthesize religions under the banner of inclusivism, as their foundational views about God are contradictory: Hindus assert that there are multitudes of gods and goddesses. Buddhists declare there is no deity. Many New Age followers believe they are God. Muslims believe there is but one God, Allah. Christians, based on the Bible, embrace the view that there is one God, revealed in three persons, the Father, the Son (the Word who was God and was with God and became flesh as the Promised Messiah, John 1:1, 14, 29), and the Holy Spirit. From a spiritual and biblical perspective, embracing religious inclusiveness is both a foolhardy and dangerous proposition for Christians, as the Bible is quite exclusive about Christ being not only the cure for sin, but salvation being only available through having a personal relationship with and knowing Him as Savior.


Related to sin, only Christianity dealt squarely with that pervasive issue. We noted that being so by Christ being made sin for us so that all who are “in Him” may be made righteous, in right standing or relationship with God. Knowing that as Christians, let us not engage in what are often futile diatribes with religious pluralists related to the exclusivity of being in Christ as the only means of mankind’s dealing with the sin problem. Rather, let us merely stick to what the Bible says about the matter, Christians are “the righteousness of God in Him (Christ).” No one is made the righteousness of God “in Muhammad” or “in Buddha” or “in a pantheon of gods and goddesses” or “in ourselves.”


And, rather than bickering with the pluralists about the potentiality of there being numerous pathways to God (or, as some believe, gods), again let us stick to what the Bible says about the matter: Jesus said in John 10:9 (NKJ), “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me he will be saved…” Jesus said in John 14:6 (NKJ), I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Luke, speaking of Jesus in Acts 4:12 (NKJ), unequivocally stated, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven give among men by which we must be saved.” John broadened the discussion by stating in 1 John 5:11-12 (NKJ), “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” The exclusivity of the preceding verses delivers a fatal blow to the argument for inclusiveness demanded by religious pluralists. In recourse, they will attempt to have us ignore or minimize the importance of the Bible, substitute for or replace truths from the Bible with the manmade ideologies that they embrace, and often behave in a condescending and derisive manner toward us. Our stance must be like that of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJ), “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that I have committed to Him…”


What have we committed to Him? As Christians, our lives should be committed to Him. As a result, unlike the Muslim, who hopes but does not know if he or she will be saved, we are assured of His salvation, as His “Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16, NKJ). In Christ, we have God’s peace, as John 14:27 (NKJ) and our own experience ensure us, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Sadly, even some Christians, by allowing themselves to be influenced by the unscriptural rhetoric of religious pluralists, do not fully experience God’s peace. Furthermore, we are to let that peace “rule” or act as an umpire in our “hearts” (Col. 3:15). Knowing these verses and experiencing the truths that they focus upon, our walks with Christ are not about a hope that is merely wishful thinking but about hope that is based solidly on God’s promises found in the Bible. Finally, though not based on what we see (2 Cor. 5:7), we should experience faith as the “divinely implanted principle of inward confidence, assurance, trust, and reliance in God and all that He says” (“Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible), not as the groundless feeling that many who lack spiritual understanding seek to convince us it is.


Knowing these things, let us continue to embrace the truths of the Bible, not the false assertions of religious pluralists who squawk at the exclusivity of those truths. God did not seek mankind’s opinion as to whether or not Christ fully dealt with the sin problem by His becoming sin for us. Neither did He create a committee as to whether or not Jesus is the only means of salvation. Those things He revealed to us in His word as facts. It is our choice to embrace them as such to our great gain or to reject them to our great peril. Finally, God, unlike the religious pluralists would have us believe, did not state that all religions are of equal value, stating in Exodus 20:3 (NKJ), “You shall have no other gods before me” and adding in 23:13, “be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.” Related to this matter, the heartbreaking result of ignoring God’s counsel is evident, “You have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more” (Judges 10:13, NKJ). We live in a culture bound in so many ways by sin, that being so often enabled and facilitated by the misguided and spiritually blind counsel of religious pluralists. The time has come, if we have not before, to fully throw off their objections to the exclusiveness of freedom from sin via salvation through Christ. Like the Bible, let our message of salvation be based only on that which Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me” (John14:6, NKJ).

32. WE ALL NEED TO HEAR THE TRUTH!

John 18:37-38 (NKJ) – 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then? Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a King. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”


I. M. Confused, known for having less than discriminating taste buds, began experiencing severe pains in his abdominal and chest area. Concerned and unwisely choosing not to tell his wife about the pains, he visited his family practitioner, Dr. I. B. Guessing, to determine their cause. After I. M. described his symptoms, Dr. Guessing decided to perform a battery of tests. Having reluctantly succumbed to the tests (his aversion to them largely based on the fact that they were of considerable cost or what insurance folks refer to as “out of pocket expenses), I. M. left the doctor’s office, planning to return in a week to discover the test results.


So, I. M. Confused, still unaware of the cause of his pains, drove home. Though I. M. knew that scripture warned against the futility of worrying, he succumbed to the temptation to do so and was observed to be in a severe state of anxiety upon arriving home. There greeted by his wife, Inot Confused, who from the onset of their conversation appeared rather mysteriously sheepish, I. M. melted into his favorite recliner and began preparing her for what he concluded might be his imminent departure from this world. I. M., who, based upon the inaccuracies of his conclusions related to his pains viewed this oratory exercise as his “swan song,” found himself more and more irritated by his wife’s attempts to interrupt his deeply depressing pontificating.


Finally, she would be contained no more. Solidly taking the reins of the conversation, she emphatically stated, “I know the truth about what is wrong with you!” Though I. M. generally had great respect for his wife’s input, he did not envision her a medical expert. This view was further enhanced by some of the questionable “health tips” to which she sometimes adhered and encouraged him to follow. Thus, it was with a great deal of incredulity that he queried, “What is the truth?”


At first haltingly, but then more direct as she continued, Inot shared with I. M. the story of how she had read of a new “health tip” in one of those tabloids found in the checkout aisles of many grocery stores. This supposed medical breakthrough for improved health and greater longevity called for the use of “miracle spices” to be used as food additives in all meals. Understandably to those familiar with such shams often perpetrated upon the unsuspecting public, the spices were available only (at no small cost) through the sellers whose contact information was included in the article. Thus, unknown to I. M. in no small part due to his less than stellar taste buds, he had for over a week been ingesting large quantities of the “miracle spices” prior to the onset of his painful symptoms. Inot, coming to the conclusion of her oratory in the self-deprecating manner that was but one of the many reasons that endeared her to I. M., exclaimed, “That is the truth!”


It was a “miracle spice” and pain free I. M. who grudgingly drove to the office of Dr. Guessing to retrieve the results of his tests. Dr. Guessing greeted I. M. in his usual and thorough professional manner and began sharing with I. M. the results. Eventually, I. M. could be contained no more. Laughing as he interrupted Dr. Guessing, he blurted out, “I know the truth!” Dr. Guessing, a bit consternated by the interruption of his medical diatribe, countered, “And what is the truth?” Rehearsing for this moment while driving to Dr. Guessing’s office, I. M. blurted out with all the drama of an aspiring Hamlet, “Severe indigestion caused by prolonged ingestion of an irritating substance!”


Somewhat taken aback by I. M.’s acuity related to this matter, Dr. Guessing responded, “Yes, that is correct, but now did you know that to be the case?” Hurried for time, I. M. responded, “I could tell you the long version, but I have to get back to work. But, the short version is this. You would know if you knew my wife.” So it was an amused yet somewhat irritated due to those “out of pocket expenses” I. M. who drove back to work that day.


Like I. M. Confused prior to his wife’s revelation to him, our lives are often filled with a great deal of unnecessary pain. However, that pain, rather than being attributable to “miracle spices,” is the result of sin, our choosing to engage in behaviors that are contrary to God’s will as revealed in His inspired word, the Bible. Our responses to the truth about this pain are varied. Some of us look for answers, as I. M. did by visiting his family doctor. Others deny the pain, though such denial does not end the pain nor does it protect us from its unwanted effects. Still others self-medicate the pain via any number of methods (i.e. altering one’s reality via alcohol and other drugs, the acquisition of great wealth apart from God, illicit sexual activities, etc.). Rather than effecting a real cure, such self-medication, as it involves further sinful choices, only exacerbates the pain. Whatever methods we use to deal with the pain caused in our lives by sin, unless they are based on biblical truth, they will be no more effective than Inot’s “miracle spices” were in bringing about improved health and longevity. In fact, like Inot’s spices, their effects will be the opposite of those desired.


Pilate, as the Roman procurator in Judaea, was a man of considerable influence. Yet, he obviously did not recognize the truth Jesus personified, as evidenced by his asking, “What is truth?” Many about us are like Pilate. They have no understanding of truth as it pertains to sin and its effectual cure. That being so, we, like Inot, must always be prepared to speak the truth. The truth is this, “There is only one cure for sin.” That cure is a healthy and ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior. It is that relationship alone (not denial, self-medication, or some other method) which will empower us to effectively deal with the pain caused by sin and, furthermore, sin itself. It is through that relationship alone that we are enabled to survey the effects of sin in our lives, and, having done so, effectively deal with them.


The response of others to the truth that a healthy and ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ alone is the answer to the pain and effects of sin will vary widely. Some, tragically, when presented with this truth, will reject it as being so, as I. M. initially thought about doing when Inot shared with him the truth about the cause of his pains. Others, perhaps not initially convinced that sin is the cause of their pain or that Jesus is the cure, may receive this truth as seed which will sprout and eventually find growth in them that will produce understanding. Others still will readily receive and embrace this truth. Yet, our decision to share the truth with others about the necessity of a healthy and ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior should never be based on our anticipation of others’ reaction to it. Like I. M. Confused related to his pain, if we are to see effectual change in our lives, we all need to hear the truth, regardless of how we may react to it.

33. KEEP PUSHING ON!

Ephesians 2:10 (NKJ) – For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.


Galatians 6:9 (NKJ) – And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.


As Christians, each of us was created to do good works. Good works produce benefits in the lives of others and are evidenced in a myriad of ways: teaching God’s word; participating in missionary work; helping the poor and needy; participating in children’s and youth ministry; encouraging and bringing healing to the brokenhearted; pastoral work; leading praise/worship; volunteering; mentoring other believers; ministering to shut-ins and the elderly; etc. Doing good works is the food that we partake of which Jesus said was “to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34, NKJ). Doing good works feeds us by fulfilling us and giving our lives purpose, as they are what we were created to do. That being so is why those who do not engage in good works live unfulfilled lives.


Though engaging in good works fulfills us, we can sometimes find ourselves tempted to “grow weary” while doing them. The temptation to “grow weary” occurs due to a variety of factors. One of the biggest factors can be associated with the persecutions and resistance we suffer due to the attacks of those, both spiritual and human, who oppose the message of Christ. Yet, whatever the cause of such temptations, we must not allow ourselves to “weary while doing good.” 


The temptation to “weary while doing good” is exacerbated when we are exhausted, with our courage depleted, and, as a result, are in danger of fainting. The propensity to faint is also heightened when we, rather than keeping our focus upon Christ and experiencing His sufficient and renewing grace, allow ourselves to be drained of vitality by distractions or sin. That being so is why Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJ) admonishes us to “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”


Throwing off the distractions that are weights or sin in our lives and focusing with undivided attention upon Jesus, we must run the race before us with endurance. Endurance speaks of steadfastness and constancy. It is the characteristic we demonstrate when we will not be sidetracked or averted from our God-given purpose, that of doing the good works He has created us to do, regardless of the trials and sufferings we are facing. Free from distractions and having eyes only for Jesus, we will consistently experience His sustaining grace to run the race with endurance and successfully resist temptations to “weary.”


Successfully resisting temptations to “weary,” what should we expect? We should expect to reap in due season. Reaping speaks of harvests. Harvests speak of the desired and godly results of the seeds we have sewn through our good works. Though our primary interest should never exist solely in terms of personal gain, it is noteworthy to remember that 1 Corinthians 3:14 (NKJ) reminds us we will “receive a reward” for our good works. Reaping in “due season” speaks of God’s timing. God, related to timing, is never early or late. Knowing that, let us never fall prey to questions about timing, by doing so taking our focus off of Christ and finding ourselves yielding to the temptation to “weary.” If we have done so, let us quickly ask Him for forgiveness and place our undivided focus back upon Him. Empowered by His Spirit and His word, let us “press toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14, NKJ). Or, as the old rock ballad encouraged us, “Keep pushing on!”

34. NOW IS THE TIME TO STAND!

Purveyors of inaccurate labels! Such is an apt descriptor of how non-Christians sometimes appear in their interactions with Christians. Perhaps no better example of this being the case exists in how non-Christians often describe Christians as caricatures. How so? Caricatures, by their very nature, misrepresent the objects they are describing. Related to Christians, the caricatures that can govern non-Christian thought often appear as such distorted versions of reality that they, if one but will objectively scratch beyond the surface of the caricature to truth, are ludicrous.


Let us consider some examples of non-Christian caricaturists placing Christians in a ludicrous and non-existent reality: Christians who do not embrace evolution as a supportable and viable theory that explains our existence (as is also true with many scientists) are often described as blithering and uneducated dunderheads. Christians, who, based on what scripture teaches, don’t embrace lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender behaviors as acceptable, alternative lifestyles, though they love the people who engage in such lifestyles, are viewed as hate-filled homophobes and often described as if they were horror-film villains (visions of Lon Chaney Jr. in the ancient “Wolfman” films seem apropos). Christians who don’t support abortion based on their viewing it as depriving the unborn of their God-given right to life are often described as appalling women-haters. (Hmm, aren’t about half of those aborted in the United States females?)


Recognizing that Christians are sometimes described in caricaturist terms by non-Christians, an appropriate response by we Christians is, “Why?” Generally, when our reality as Christians is considered in light of caricatures by non-Christians we are viewed, in both subtle and coarse ways, as of little or no intellectual or cultural value. Being viewed thus makes us prime candidates for marginalization and persecution. In turn, when socially excluded or marginalized, we become prime candidates for discrimination and further persecution.


Of course, when non-Christians discriminate against Christians in our culture it is often not viewed as discrimination. That is often so because, in many ways, the interactions of non-Christians with Christians are colored by the effects of caricaturists. As a result, as stated earlier, we are often seen as of little or no intellectual or cultural value. Non-Christians can easily dismiss assertions of discrimination when made by those who are viewed of little or no intellectual or cultural value. That being the case, some non-Christians even go so far as to demand that we privatize our faith, demanding that we express our faith only in private, not in the public setting. (Hmm, whatever happened to our First Amendment right to freely exercise our faith?)


Finding ourselves the victims of the persecution of caricaturists, even marginalized, and more and more discriminated against in our culture for our faith, we Christians are being presented with choices that at other times in our nation would have seemed unfathomable. Will we let the false descriptors of some non-Christian caricaturists continue to define who we are? Will we willingly allow ourselves, due to those false descriptors, to be marginalized and even discriminated against? Will we scurry like the rats that some non-Christians view us to be out of the public limelight, there moaning and complaining about the woes of a privatized faith and yearning for the good old days of Christianity? Or, will we look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and stand?


Obviously, we must make the choice to stand. When faced with persecution for being salt and light in this world, we should recognize that it is due to our doing something right and not something wrong. Thus, we should respond like the disciples in Acts 5:41 (NKJ), who rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Secondly, we should pray as the disciples did when faced with persecution, “Now Lord… grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30, NKJ). Finally, we should expect our loving God to answer our prayer as He did theirs, “And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, NKJ). Such boldness speaks of a “divine enablement that comes to ordinary and unprofessional people exhibiting spiritual power and authority” (“Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible). Empowered with such boldness, now is the time to stand!

35. CHRISTIANS, LET'S NOT BE DECEIVED; CONFLICT IS A PART OF OUR WALK OF FAITH!

Many or perhaps even most or all of us embrace misperceptions about Christianity. Some of us cling to the false narrative that Christianity, if lived as God would have us to, is conflict free. Such is surely not the case. To expose the error underlying this belief all that is necessary for us to do is consider the life of Jesus the Christ, the biblical example that we Christians are to follow. Christ committed no sin, yet His life continually involved conflict. Perusing the gospels, we find Him continually under attack by the religious leaders (the Herodians, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the scribes). Furthermore, lest we deceive ourselves into thinking that somehow we are immune from such attacks, let us remember Paul’s Spirit-inspired words in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

Conflict has and always will be part of the Christian life. That being so, it is also important to recognize what it does and does not entail. In our western culture, unlike we often see in the Middle East and elsewhere, conflict does not usually involve physical violence, though that is not to say that it never occurs. Nor is that to say that will always be true. Thankfully, for the most part, it does not now usually occur on a physical level.

If not physical, how then does conflict usually occur? Conflict generally occurs in two ways. First, it happens when opposing worldviews collide. As Christians, our worldview, how we interpret, interact with, and define the world about us should be integrally involved with and based on teachings found in the Bible and espoused by our faith. Thus, when our Christian worldview encounters non-Christian worldviews there will be a conflict of beliefs and ideas. For example, the Bible clearly states that salvation and possessing eternal life is only possible by knowing Jesus as Savior (John 10:9; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 5:11-12). Non-Christian worldviews such as religious pluralism teach that all religions are valid pathways to God. Obviously, from a biblical or Christian point of view, both outlooks cannot be true. So, when we Christians encounter non-Christians it is understandable that conflict will occur. Christ’s words in Matthew 10:6 (NKJ) stand as appropriate counsel at such times, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Walking in such wisdom, we desire only the best for non-Christians. We do not view them as enemies, undesirables, and unworthy of knowing the truth about salvation, which is only through knowing Jesus as Savior. Yet, neither should we compromise or capitulate to ideals and beliefs found in the world that are contradictory to those found in the Bible.

If we are not novices, spiritually immature Christians, and our Christian worldview is well-developed, based on our following healthy patterns of discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20), we will probably not be severely tempted to compromise or capitulate to opposing worldviews when we encounter them. That is one of many reasons for local bodies of believers (churches) to develop healthy and effective discipleship programs. Such programs produce in us sound and effectual platforms from which to interact with the world as those imploring the lost “on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20, NKJ). Being reconciled to God is but one of the many wonderful benefits of salvation.

Returning to the topic of conflict, let us consider a second way that it occurs, on a spiritual level. Ephesians 6:12 (NKJ) informs us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” For those of us with even a scant understanding of scripture, it is obvious that there exists beyond the realm of what we can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel a spiritual dimension. In that dimension exist both good (God and His angels) and evil (Satan and the demonic hosts who do his bidding) beings. God and His angels work on our behalf. The essence of the second type of conflict is found in that Satan and his hosts operate in opposition to God, and that we, as members of the body of Christ, the church, in seeking to walk as He would have us to, become direct participants in that ongoing struggle.

Engaging in spiritual conflict, we are not to embrace physical or carnal methods. Arrayed in His armor (Eph. 6:13-17) and finding our strength in God (Eph. 6:10), we are to stand against the wiles or strategies of the devil (Eph. 6:11). Ephesians 6:18 (NKJ) directs us to powerful, spiritual weaponry, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” The phrase “all prayer” speaks of various types of prayer: petition, intercession, agreement, tongues, thanksgiving, etc. Not being bound to a single type of prayer as we are led by the Holy Spirit, we allow God to orchestrate effectual prayer strategies in and through us in our conflicts with Satan and his hosts.

Having considered the topic of conflict, we readily perceive that it is an ongoing part of our walks with Christ. Furthermore, it generally occurs in two ways, as a clash of worldviews and on a spiritual level. Related to clashing worldviews, it is imperative that we Christians do not compromise in the face of or capitulate to unbiblical worldviews. Not compromising or capitulating is an essential part of our fulfilling Christ’s admonition to be salt and light in the world about us. Focusing on conflict from a spiritual perspective, we must remember that our strength, protection, and effectiveness is found in God, the armor that He provides us, and the awesome weapon that exists as various types of prayer. Finally, we must always remember the truth revealed by 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJ), “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” One of our spiritual adversaries most effective tools is deception. That being so, let us never find ourselves lulled into spiritual naivete. Nor let us deceive ourselves. Conflict is a part of our walk of faith.

36. PRAYER MODELS: EPHESIANS 1:15-20

Prayer should always be an integral part of our walks of faith (Luke 21:36; 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). That being so, it is imperative that we Christians learn to pray effectively. Desiring to pray more effectually, the disciples petitioned Jesus in Luke 11:1 (NKJ), “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” Christ responded with what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “The Model Prayer,” the Bible’s most famous archetypal invocation (Luke 11:2-4). Additionally, in John 17, Jesus gave us an exemplary illustration of “Intercessory” prayer: praying first for Himself (verses 1-5); then for His disciples (verses 6-19); and, finally, for all believers (verses 20-26).

 

For those of us desiring to further our prayer expertise, as was and is true when we focus upon Jesus’ “Model” and “Intercessory” illustrations, studying the entreaties of Paul is a great place to continue. In this series, we shall focus on the Spirit-led representations of Paul in Ephesians 1 and 3, Philippians 1, and Colossians 1. Examining them, may our common goal be to use them as patterns to enhance our own prayer lives, related to both our personal petitions and in beseeching God for others.

 

Let us begin with the prayer found in Ephesians 1:15-20 (NKJ). Paul, having noted the faith and love of the Ephesian Christians in verse 15, turns his attention to petitioning God on their behalf in verse 16. In verse 17, he asks that He would give them “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,” or, as the Amplified Translation states, “that He may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation [of insight into the mysteries and secrets] in the [deep and intimate knowledge of Him].” Verse 18 continues with the object of Paul’s request, “the eyes of” their “understanding being enlightened” or that they experience God flooding them with divine revelation.  

 

And what is the desired first result of their being flooded with light or divine revelation? That they “know what is the hope of His calling.” Hope, in the New Testament, always refers to an expectation of good, not in the sense of wishful thinking, but based on the reality of God’s promises. Related to our being called to salvation, we should possess a confident expectation of the blessedness that it brings, both in this world and the next. Connected with this world, salvation (soteria or soterion) entails a vast array of blessings (i.e. deliverance, preservation, soundness, healing, safety, well-being, etc.). Pertinent to the next world, salvation includes an eternity spent in God’s presence and the magnificence associated with that being so, namely, a future void of trials and tribulations where we experience the rewards of our earthly toils.  

 

Expanding our discussion of callings, it is important to remember that, from a biblical perspective, they also speak of divinely implanted urges toward a specific way of life, career, or vocation. And, though all Christians have callings, not all of us yield to those divinely-implanted unctions. That is a significant reason why some of us never experience real satisfaction in our lives, as, rather than following God’s will for us, we instead embark on journeys not of His making. As Ephesians 2:10 (NKJ) reminds us, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Not walking in the “good works” that He intended for us results, among other things, in our being unfulfilled and disgruntled. On the other hand, walking in those works, we should experience the food that is doing God’s will (John 4:32-34) and recall that our doing so will result in our receiving everlasting rewards (1 Corinthians 3:14).

 

Having considered the first reason why Paul prayed that the Ephesians be filled with revelation, let us now move to the second. That cause was that they would know “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (verse 18). “Riches” speaks of the fullness and abundance which abound from God toward believers. “Glory” conveys the idea of splendor or majesty. “Inheritance” points both to the state of blessedness experienced by believers as citizens of His kingdom and to the fact that the denizens themselves are part of that legacy. Yes, we too are His inheritance. To summarize, Paul prayed that through the illumination of God’s Spirit the Ephesians would comprehend the fullness or abundance represented by the splendor or majesty of the blessed state of believers, the believers themselves also representative of that inheritance.  

 

Finally, we turn to Paul’s third Spirit-inspired motive, that the believers in Ephesus would know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (verses 19-20). Ultimately, what Paul requested is that they would come to know the resurrection power of God, as it is that power which raised Christ from the dead and now resides in us. Why is it critical that both they and we perceive and are acquainted with His resurrection power residing in us? Doing so empowers us to not walk as mere men, but to recognize that we are bigger on the inside than we appear to be on the outside. How is that so? It is so because “The Greater One,” Jesus Christ, dwells in us, and, resident in Him, is His resurrection power (1 John 4:4).

 

Resurrection power exists as the very force that, in the face of the hosts of spiritual adversaries arrayed against Christ, raised Him from the dead. Considering the challenges that we face in our day to day lives, we should quickly deduce that those challenges are no match for He Who dwells within us, nor for the resurrection power inherent in Him. It is when we know this power in an experiential manner that we will walk not as mere men, but as the “sons of God” that creation eagerly awaits (Rom. 8:19, NKJ). It is when we know and walk in this power that we will no longer cower in the face of trials and tribulations, but instead attack them as David did Goliath, recognizing that we do so “in the name of Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 17:45, NKJ). “Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,” clothed in the “whole armor of God,” and having done all that the situations we encounter require, we will “stand against the wiles of” our spiritual adversaries and “withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:10-11, 13, NKJ).  

 

Concluding, it is imperative that we remember what and why Paul prayed for those in Ephesians 1:15-20. It is also essential that we use the knowledge gleaned from this example for the enhancement of our prayers for self and others. Using this Spirit-inspired prayer as our guide, we too can and should pray that God would grant to us all “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” that we, filled with His revelation, may know what is “the hope of His calling,” “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,” and “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Armed with this knowledge, our prayer lives will, undoubtedly, experience greater effectiveness.

37. PRAYER MODELS: EPHESIANS 3:14-19

For those of us desiring to further our prayer expertise, studying the “Model” prayers of Jesus (“The Lord’s Prayer,” Luke 11:2-4; “The Intercessory Prayer,” John 17:1-26) is a tremendous place to start. And, the “Model” entreaties of Paul are a great place to continue. In this series, we are focusing on the Spirit-led representations of Paul in Ephesians 1 and 3, Philippians 1, and Colossians 1. Examining them, may our common goal be to use them as patterns to enhance our prayer lives, related to both our personal petitions and in beseeching God for others.

 

In our last study, we perused Paul’s inspired prayer in Ephesians 1:15-20. Continuing our study of the Pauline “Model” prayers, we shall next examine that found in Ephesians 3:14-19. Let us begin our study with the reasons or motives for this prayer. In verses 14-15, we read, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…” The initial reason for which Paul bows his knees is likely the fact that both Jews and Gentiles have been made one in the body of Christ, the Church, as he noted and discussed in verses 1-7. However, verse 16 points to the more specific motive for his prayer, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…” Paul purposely petitioned God, that out of the richness or wealth of His resources, He would grant the Ephesians that they would experience a mighty increase or reinforcement of His strength in the inner man.

 

Verse 17 reveals the distinct purpose of this inner strengthening, that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”  Christ’s dwelling in their “hearts through faith” speaks of a maturing of their relationship with Christ, one where they moved beyond the initial stages of knowing Christ as Savior to a communion or fellowship marked by greater maturity. Such maturation would reveal a greater dependence on and yielding to God. It is a dwelling accomplished in and through the realm of faith, faith that is divinely implanted and marked by trust, confidence, and reliance on God. Finally, Christ’s strengthening and dwelling in them would result in their “being rooted and grounded in love,” which speaks of their foundational strength finding its roots in love.

 

Such a foundation or inner condition would equip them to more fully comprehend and know His love. This fact is indicated by Paul’s words in verses 18-19, that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ…” Such comprehension or knowing takes place relative to the vastness of God’s love, indicated by the words, “width and length and depth and height.” Additionally, it should move beyond the realm of mere human understanding, indicated by the phraseology in verse 19, “which passes knowledge. Such knowing is more than conceptional. It is also experiential, which brings us to the final aspiration of Paul’s prayer. That aspiration is that they may “be filled with all the fullness of God,” which should be the desired condition of all Christians.

 

Having investigated the “Model” prayer found in Ephesians 3:14-19, we now possess within our prayer arsenal yet another weapon. As Paul prayed for Christians in his era, we too must pray for believers in ours. Not forgetting to include ourselves in these petitions, we must pray that our fellow Christians are “strengthened by might though His Spirit in the inner man.” Why? “That Christ may dwell in” their “hearts through faith.” For what cause? “That,” we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” To what outcome? “That” we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” 

 

Being “filled with all the fullness of God” should exist as a priority for Christians of all eras. Why? Filled with God’s fullness, we will be empowered to fully answer Christ’s admonition that we be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-16). Filled with God’s fullness, we too will be among those equipped to bless the world by turning it “upside down,” as the early Church did (Acts 17:6). Filled with God’s fullness, we will do the “good works” that He has called us to do (Eph. 2:10). Finally, being filled with God’s fullness qualifies us to do business (occupy) till He comes (Luke 19:13).              

38. BIBLICAL HOPE OR HYPE?

Hope is an oft-used word. Due to that, it is imperative that we, as Christians, discern when it is used in a biblical context and when it is not. Biblically, hope is not wishful thinking based on unreliable or unrealistic promises, which is more indicative of the deliberations often associated with the word “hype.” Biblical hope is a confident expectation based on the sure foundation of God’s promises, promises found and chronicled in God’s revelation to mankind, the Bible.

 

What does the Bible tell us related to that hope? When we encounter challenges, it is essential to know the promise of Psalm 31:24 (NKJ), “be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Romans 5:5 (NKJ) guarantees, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Jeremiah 17:7 (NKJ) affirms, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord.” Ephesians 2:12 (NKJ) assures us that those without Christ have “no hope” and are “without God in the world.” Colossians 1:23 (NKJ) pledges that “Christ” in us is the “hope of glory.” Clearly, biblical hope is not about wishful or fanciful thinking based on unreliable or unrealistic promises, but is based on the myriad of assurances found in the Bible.

 

What should we know about the promises upon which hype is based? Hype is generally associated with exaggerated or false claims, deception, and deliberate attempts to mislead. It occurs when politicians, leaders, or others, rather than presenting an accurate view of reality, seek to spin it in a manner that places them, their accomplishments or lack thereof, or their (often unscriptural) ideologies in a positive light. Where biblical hope exists as a confident expectation established on the sure foundations of God’s word, hype, due to its presenting an inaccurate view of reality, is unstable footing. Basing our expectations on the underpinnings of hype, we place them on precarious ground.               

 

Jesus, in both Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:46-49, identified the bedrock upon which our lives, and, in turn hope, should be based. That understructure is the “sayings” or word of God. Tragically, rather than following Jesus’ admonition, we as Christians too often allow unreliable and unrealistic promises, unscriptural ideologies, or hype to provide that support. By doing so we forgo wisdom and place our lives in needless danger. Left unrectified, we may experience the same conclusion of those that Jesus described in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, who experienced the unnecessary destruction that occurs when our lives are not built upon the word of God.     

 

Desiring to avoid unnecessary destruction and experience success in our walks with Christ, it is critical that we recognize the difference between biblical hope and hype. Biblical hope is founded on the promises found in God’s word and is sound footing. Hype is based on extravagant or dishonest claims, misinformation, and calculated attempts to mislead. Hype is unstable and dangerous underpinning. Understanding the difference between biblical hope and hype, we are empowered to avoid needless destruction and to build our lives on the firm foundation that is God’s word. 

39. WE ARE OF CHRIST!

Prior to and even more so after the most recent elections, political narratives have become more fever-pitched. In some venues, hate-filled, caustic, and crass words appear more the norm than the exception. Those who profess to be Christians are observed supporting viewpoints all over the political and philosophical landscape. Too often, they do so in a flesh-driven rather than Spirit-led manner, as evidenced by their carnal cries: “I am of this party!” “Only intelligent (educated) people are members of my party!” “No Christian would be a member of that party!” “Your supporting that party assures me that you are not a Christian!”

 

Such bickering hearkens to the carnal divisiveness that Paul observed in Corinth, where Christians proclaimed, “‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos’” (1 Cor. 3:4, NKJ). Amidst the current, political turmoil, it is imperative that we Christians do not allow our actions to be governed by purely, partisan reasons. As Christians, we must always remember that our primary allegiance is not to a political party, but to Christ. That being so, our foremost declaration should always be, “I am of Christ!” not “I am of this party (Paul)!” or “I am of that party (Apollos)!”  

 

As those of Christ, our behavior, when discussing or engaging in political and philosophical issues, must reflect His lordship. That will only occur: 1. When we do so in a manner that does not diminish our being the salt and light that Jesus instructed us to be (Matt. 5:13-16). 2. When we promote and adhere to a worldview that is based on scripture, not political or philosophical ideologies contrary to scripture (Rom. 12:2).

 

Looking at Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJ), Jesus reminds us that we are the salt and light. As salt, we should flavor this world in godly ways and act to prevent further corruption, corruption which is the result of sin. However, if we lose our flavor, we will not prevent corruption. When such becomes the case, Jesus revealed, “we are good for nothing but to be thrown out.” Furthermore, He reminds us that lamps are not to be hidden, but placed in plain view. If, when discussing political and philosophical issues, we give our human nature the ascendency, hating and reviling others, not governed by the Holy Spirit and God’s word, we lose our flavor and hide our lights. Knowing that, we must not allow ourselves to speak and behave in ways that diminish our effectiveness for the kingdom of God.

 

Our effectiveness for Christ is also hindered or fully thwarted when we embrace and espouse ideologies not based on or supported by scripture. As Romans 12:2 (NKJ) admonishes us, we are “not to be conformed to” or patterned after “this world,” world there consisting of ideologies and manners of thinking contrary to scripture. As Christians, we should never embrace or advocate for political or philosophical perspectives that are the antithesis of scripture. Following are examples of unscriptural views we should not uphold:

 

-          Religious pluralists and some politicians assert that religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable (i.e. Christianity and    Islam). However, John 10:9, John 14:6, Acts 4:12, and 1 John 5:11-12 assure us such is not the case, decisively declaring that salvation is only through Christ, the “Word” who “was with God” and “was God” and “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14, NKJ). Furthermore, Muslims do not believe that Jesus (Muslims call Him Isa) is God or God’s Son or that He died on the cross, rendering null His sacrificial and atoning death. 1 John 2:23 (NKJ) provides us insight related to such views, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.”

 

-          Others would have us believe that God does not oppose abortion. Such is not the case, as there are a plethora of verses clearly delineating how God values the unborn and His involvement with them (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15; Ps. 139:13, 16; Job 10:8-12; Is. 44:2; Ps. 127:3; etc.). Furthermore, in the case of men fighting and accidentally hurting a woman with child, thus causing the child’s premature delivery, Exodus 21:22 (NKJ) states that those who shall “hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.” Verse 23 adds, “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life.” Harm following signifies the death of the child. Obviously, if God called for the punishment of men for accidentally causing the premature birth or death of an unborn child, He does not support the deliberate termination of their lives by abortion.  

 

-          Some persuasions would also have us believe that greed or the love of money is an acceptable attribute. Yet, much scripture points to the ungodly nature of both (1 Cor. 6:10; Prov. 15:27; Tit. 1:7; 1 Tim. 6:10).

 

-          Still others would have us believe that same-sex marriage is a biblically admissible alternative. However, scripture never speaks of marriage as between two of the same sex, not when the institution of marriage was introduced (Genesis 2:23-25), not when Jesus expounded on marriage in the gospels (Mat. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8), not when Peter spoke on the topic (1 Pet. 3:1-12), or when Paul elaborated on the matter (Eph. 5:22-31).

 

-          Perspectives that encourage us to ignore laws that are not contrary to scripture (i.e. destroying private and public property when protesting) promote anarchy or lawlessness. Scripture reveals that contempt for and violation of law promotes iniquity and is unrighteous behavior (1 Jo. 3:4; Rom. 6:19; Mat. 7:23; Mat. 23:28; Tit. 2:14).  

 

-          Some tell us the fact that early Christians held things in common (Acts 2:44) supports the idea of mandatory, wealth redistribution. However, the early Christians were not forced to hold things in common; they chose to do so. That fact was clearly revealed by Peter’s words to Ananias when he and his wife conspired to lie to the Holy Spirit related to the proceeds of a piece of property. Peter, rather than telling Ananias that he was required or mandated to share the money with the other Christians, stated, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:3-4, NKJ).   

 

When we embrace viewpoints contrary to His word, we damage our witnesses. By sullying our Christian worldview with perspectives contrary to scripture, we place “friendship with the world” above the Lordship of Christ, and, in practice, make ourselves an “enemy of God” (James 4:4, NKJ). Thus, it is imperative that we not conform to and defend political or philosophical ideologies contrary to scripture. 

 

As those “of Christ,” our witnesses should never consist of flesh-driven and partisan tirades or conforming to ideologies and viewpoints contrary to scripture. We have a responsibility to act as salt and light and pattern our thinking after accurately employed scripture. Likewise, carnality or partisanship should not control our prayer lives. We must heed Paul’s exhortation related to prayer, “first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:1-2, NKJ). Why? We are of Christ and always need to remember, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:3, NKJ).  

40. PREPARED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK

“There are many different languages in the world, and every language has meaning.” - 1 Corinthians 14:10 (NLT)

 

There is a great diversity of languages. Some languages we associate with nations (i.e. Spanish, French, and Portuguese). Others we identify with subsets of cultures (i.e. the language of business). Still others we connect with ideologies (i.e. secularism, progressivism, and conservatism).

 

When it comes to ideological languages, we generally consider them from the perspective of a worldview. A worldview is the “big picture” of how we comprehend reality. It is the basis by which we interpret and interact with the world. As Christians, our worldview must be based on God’s word, the Bible. Where secularists are indifferent to, reject, or exclude religion and religious considerations, such should never be the case with we Christians, as God’s word reveals that we are to be followers or emulators of Him (Eph. 5:1). Additionally, the Bible never differentiates between a “religious” and “secular” life but advocates that the Christian life is the only life there is.

 

Focusing upon the topic of life, it is imperative that we recognize that it is only by spiritual regeneration, being born again, or, literally, born from above, that we come to possess the life of Christ or what the Bible refers to as “eternal life” (1 John 5:11-12). Eternal life, being far more than merely about duration, is “the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical,” which belongs to God and is imparted to us upon being born again (Thayer’s). As those who heard and embraced the gospel, the good news or glad tidings of salvation by faith in Christ, we are in current possession of His life. That life now resides in and animates us.     

 

Understanding that God’s revelations regarding how to receive “eternal life” and in what manner we are to live once we have received it are found in the Bible, it is imperative that scripture is the lens by which we evaluate and consider the world about us. As those who have been made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and received His absolute fullness of life, the Bible provides us with the template for interpreting and living in this world. To allow worldviews and ideologies contrary to the Bible to be the measure by which we define reality and act is to ignore the admonition of Romans 12:2 (Wuest), “And stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within you and is not representative of what you are in your inner being but is patterned after this age.”

 

Clearly, if we do not currently possess His life, our first act should be to embrace by faith Christ as Savior, that we may possess it. However, acquiring His life does not turn us into automatons void of free wills. It is by a choice of will that we evaluate the world about us from the perspective of a Christian or biblical worldview and live as He would have us to live.

 

2 Timothy 2:19-21 (NKJ) reminds us that this choice is ours:

 

“Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself form the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

 

The Holy Spirit made it clear. Our being vessels for honor and dishonor is not about God by a force of will compelling us to be one or the other. It is about what we choose. If we choose the pathway of repentance, cleansing ourselves from iniquity (sin), and living in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview, we will find ourselves vessels for honor and prepared for every good work. If we choose to follow ungodly ideologies and live in a manner contrary to a biblical worldview, we will experience dishonor, though those embracing and espousing ungodly ideologies and worldviews will surely seek to convince us otherwise.

 

As noted earlier, languages have meaning, including ideological communications. That being so, it is essential that we Christians, those who possess and are animated by the life of God resident within us, evaluate those languages from the perspective of a Christian or biblical worldview. What is consistent with God’s word we should embrace, and, what is not, we must reject. Doing so, we choose to be vessels “for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” Doing so, we reveal that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, NKJ).

41. WE WILL BE KNOWN BY OUR GOOD FRUIT

Reading the gospels, it is obvious that Jesus had detractors. Among them were the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, chief priests, and Herodians. Did Jesus sin in a manner that warranted their continual hostility? No, He lived a sinless life. Thus, they had no valid reason for their hatred of Him. However, their intense disdain for Him and desire to destroy Him are evident throughout scripture.

 

Why? The detractors of Jesus, rather than being lovers of God, as they consistently claimed, were, in fact, enemies of God. Though they made elaborate claims otherwise, they did not even know God. Nor was their spiritual lineage of God. Jesus was fully cognizant of this fact, as He stated to a group of His antagonists in John 8:44 (NKJ), “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do.” His words were contrary to the pictures painted of Jesus by some in our modern era, that of a mealy-mouthed Messiah whose talks were always coated with sugar, seemingly exhibiting the advice given by Mary Poppins, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” No, the words were caustic to the ears of those who heard them, as Jesus intended. The words clearly identified the fact that not all who claim to love and know God do.

 

As was true when Jesus walked the earth, so is it true today. Many who claim to know and love God support ideologies and actions that identify they neither know nor love God (i.e. unscriptural behaviors related to sex and marriage, taking the innocent lives of the unborn, lawlessness, etc.). Such people are among those Jesus identified in Luke 13:26-27 (NKJ), who stated, “We ate and drank in Your presence.” To which Jesus responded, “I tell you I do not know you…Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.”

 

Point out the fact that some, who assert they love and know God, by their actions, reveal quite the opposite, and you will often be met with jeers that Jesus told us not to judge. In Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJ) He stated, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back.” Yes, Jesus cautioned about judging, as we will be judged by the same criterion we use to judge. However, to insist that Jesus forbids us criticizing wrongdoing, which was never the case, is to miss the message of this passage. What He forbids is the spirit of faultfinding that overlooks our own faults and shortcomings while acting as judge and jury related to those of others. Those who insist that we not identify sin or unscriptural ideologies and behaviors because it is judging have by their own conclusion established that they indeed are guilty of engaging in judging in arriving at that verdict. Too often, their insistence to not judge is more about leaving sin, ungodly ideologies and behaviors unexposed than it is about desiring to please God.  

 

Surely, we do not want to encourage a spirit of faultfinding. Neither do we want to ignore our own shortcomings while obsessing over those of others. The fact that this is true is shown by Jesus’ continuance on the topic in Matthew 7:3-5 (NKJ):

 

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the

plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove

the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye” Hypocrite! First

remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove

the speck from your brother’s eye.”

 

Clearly, Jesus admonished us to first deal with our own faults, “planks,” before dealing with those of others, “specks.” However, it would be amiss if argued that Jesus would never have us deal with the sins of others, as, having removed the planks from our eyes, He noted that we “will see more clearly to remove the speck from” our “brother’s eye.” Removing specks, just as in removing planks, requires judgments.

 

Furthermore, Jesus stated in Matthew 12:33 (NKJ), that “a tree is known by its fruit.” Earlier He noted, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Mat. 7:17-18, NKJ). Determining the nature of fruit requires forming an opinion or conclusion, which is judging. Not forming opinions or conclusions as to the goodness of badness or something based on scripture does not denote spirituality, but quite the opposite, as Hebrews 5:14 (NKJ), “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”

 

Like Jesus, we too shall experience the hatred of those who may claim to love and know God but whose fruit reveals otherwise. Related to this, Jesus stated in John 15:18-19 (NKJ), “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet, because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Those who hate us we are not to likewise hate. Rather, Jesus admonished us, “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Mat. 5:44-45). Following His admonition, we reveal that we know and love Him. Doing so, we will “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom” we “may shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Doing so, we will be known by our good fruit.

42. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 1

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. Let us begin with the Presbyterian form.   

 

Presbyterian Church Government

Presbyterian comes from the Greek presbyteros (pres-bü'-te-ros). Presbyteros is translated elder, which identifies who has the authority under this form of government. Under it, a church is ruled and served by a plurality of elders (a Session), of which the pastor is one. Elders are responsible for overseeing all aspects of church life. This form of government.is found in the following churches: the Presbyterian Church, the Pentecostal Holiness, the Puritan Evangelical Church of America, and some non-denominational churches.

 

Is there biblical support for this structure of government? Those embracing this form of government point to passages like Titus 1:5 (NKJ), “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things which are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you.” Obviously, elders, picked by men, were a significant part of the organizational structure of the Early Church. However, it should also be noted that though all pastors (shepherds) are elders, not all elders are pastors. Ultimately, the pastoral calling or gifting is not one conferred upon others by men, but by God, as Ephesians 4:11 (NKJ) assures us, “And He (Christ) Himself gave some to be…pastors…”

 

What is a strength of the Presbyterian form of government? It endorses the wisdom found in Proverbs 11:14 (NKJ), “But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” What is its fundamental weakness? It does not fully acknowledge or grant appropriate authority to the pastoral gift, one given not by men, but by God. 

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.       

43. DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT REALLY MATTER? - PART 2

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. In Part 1, we considered the Presbyterian form of government. In Part 2, we will look at the Congregational structure.   

Congregational Church Government

Becoming vogue during the early development of the United States, the Congregational form of government confers authority to the local body. This authority is demonstrated in that many, most, or even all the decisions made in the church are arrived at by a congregational vote. Churches that follow this form of government are: Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, Congregationalists, and Southern Baptists.

 

Is there biblical support for this form of government? Voting is associated with democracies and democratic republics. However, as the church is a spiritual institution, not a natural one, voting on spiritual matters is not scripturally supported. The church at Jerusalem, when confronted with the issue of circumcision and keeping the law related to Gentile believers, did not call the whole church together for a vote (Acts 15:1-29). Rather, “the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter” (15:6, NKJ). After much discussion, James (history tells us he was the pastor at Jerusalem) offered his insight (verses 13-20), which was pleasing to the apostles and elders.  

 

What is the strength of the Congregational form of government? It can be used to avoid abuses of authority by pastors. What is its glaring weakness? It is not supported by scripture and allows those who should not be part of the decision-making process, for a variety of reasons (i.e. lack of spiritual maturity), to be part of it.  

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.      

44 - DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 3

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. In Part 1, we considered the Presbyterian form of government. In Part 2, we focused on the Congregational structure. In Part 3, we will look at the Episcopalian pattern.   

 

Episcopalian Church Government

The Episcopalian form of government is found in the following churches: Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Churches of God, and Anglican. Episcopalian comes from the Greek episkopē (e-pē-sko-pā'), which is translated bishop and means overseer. Under this form of government bishops have authority, with pastors being under them.

 

In the Roman Catholic church the highest-ranking bishop is the pope. Under him are cardinals, under cardinals are archbishops, under archbishops are bishops, under bishops are local bishops, and under local bishops are priests (pastors). 

 

Is there biblical support for this form of government? Though Roman Catholics will point to the Petrine Theory as support for papal supremacy in Rome and the hierarchy associated with it, a careful study of the rock that Jesus said He would build His church was not Peter, but the revelation that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat. 16:16, NKJ). Furthermore, in the early days of Christianity, there were three prominent churches: Jerusalem, Rome, and Antioch. The superiority of Rome came later, when Constantine designated Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, which Roman Catholics see as laying the foundation for the papacy, but non-Catholics often view as an event that turned the Church into an institution and led it away from the simplicity of the gospel.  

 

As can easily be seen, this form of government places God-gifted pastors under the control of those who themselves chose to ascend to the position of bishop. Tragically, that has often led to the plans of God as manifested through Spirit-led and gifted pastors being thwarted by men in authority over them. Under this form of government, it is quite likely that the God-given counsel of James (the pastor in Jerusalem) would have squelched by a bishop. Looking at the biblical narrative of the counsel’s meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-26), there is no mention of bishops being there. Furthermore, there is no evidence in scripture of bishops exercising authority over apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11).   

 

What is a strength of the Episcopalian form of government? It provides organizational structure, which is a hedge against anarchy and provides for continuity of teaching (doctrine). What are its glaring weaknesses? Providing for continuity of teaching is a boon if what is taught is biblically accurate, but it produces universally blinding error if false. The Episcopalian form of government, with authority vested in bishops, is not supported by scripture.   

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.      

45 - DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 4

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. In Part 1, we considered the Presbyterian form of government; in Part 2, we focused on the Congregational structure; in Part 3, we looked at the Episcopalian pattern. In Part 4, we shall examine Independent Church Government.    

Independent Church Government

With Independent Church Government, the pastor serves as the head of the organization. Advisory and supportive roles exist in a variety of forms: elders, staffs (including executive, assistant, and associate pastors), boards, and deacons. This form of government is used by many independent churches who may or may not join with other independent bodies in organizations for fellowship, accountability, and activities beneficial to the body of Christ at large (missions, conferences, etc.).

 

Is there scriptural and/or historical support for this form of government? As noted in Part 2, James, history tells us, was the pastor at Jerusalem. His leadership role in demonstrated in Acts 15:1-26. It also appears that Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19) exercised authority over the church that met in his home (some believe that he served as co-pastor with his wife). It is likewise possible that Justus was the pastor of the church at Corinth, which met in his home (Acts 18:7). Historically, Timothy fulfilled the pastoral role in Ephesus. However, nowhere in scripture do we see examples of the pastor under the authority of elders, bishops, or congregations in scripture.

 

What are the strengths of the Independent Church Government? It allows God-called and gifted pastors to fulfill their role in local bodies, as it is a scripturally supportable form of government. Implemented correctly, it does not allow non-gifted individuals or persons not chosen by God in leadership roles to usurp the role of the pastor in the local church. It acts as a hedge against anarchy, providing a local organizational structure that is biblically supportable.

 

What are its weaknesses? In some Independent Churches pastors have unlimited authority, which is unwise. There needs to be checks and balances in place that protect the Church from pastoral abuse, which is often seen when shepherds who seek to lord it over the flock and perhaps behave as dictators (1 Pet. 5:2-4). Checks and balances can be provided by elder or advisory boards that consist of those who are mature in the Word, in faith, and in love. They should not seek to squelch the move of God’s Spirit in the church or usurp the pastor’s authority. However, if the pastor clearly departs from biblically sound doctrine or practices, they should have the authority to intervene to protect the flock from grievous error. Another weakness associated with this form of government occurs when local churches do not join with other bodies for fellowship, accountability, and activities beneficial to the body of Christ as large (missions, conferences, etc.). Planning for and engaging in practices that alleviate the chances of this happening are imperative.

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.      

 

46 - DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER - PART 5

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. In Part 1, we considered the Presbyterian form of government; in Part 2, we focused on the Congregational structure; in Part 3, we looked at the Episcopalian pattern; in Part 4, we examined Independent Church Government. In Part 5, we will delve into Apostle-led churches.  

 

Apostle-Led Churches

As the name indicates, churches that engage in this form of government divest authority in one who is viewed as an apostle. The apostle possesses the ultimate decision-making authority for the local body. This form of government has not met with widespread acceptance, for a variety of legitimate reasons.

 

Is there scriptural and/or historical support for this form of government? Peter was granted apostolic authority to work effectively with the circumcised or Jews; Paul was granted apostolic authority to work effectively with the uncircumcised or Gentiles (Gal. 2:8). As scripture reveals, that is not to say that Paul never ministered to Jews or that Peter never ministered to Gentiles. However, there is no scriptural evidence of Peter exercising apostolic authority over the churches that Paul founded or that Paul exercised apostolic authority over the church in Jerusalem. Nor is there incontrovertible scriptural evidence that every church had at its helm an apostle to whom all other ministers answered.

 

What is the potential strength of an Apostle-led church? Apostles (those whose legitimacy is marked by the signs of an apostle, 2 Cor. 12:12) are those of great spiritual maturity. The fact that they are highly seasoned and greatly gifted should stand as a boon for a local body. Furthermore, the biblical examples of apostles indicate that, though highly gifted, they were believers of great love and humility.

 

What are the potential weaknesses of this form of government? Too many in the body of Christ have no real understanding of what constitutes an apostle or of the varying types found in scripture. They view all apostles as of the same rank, which is not true. Some were “Apostles of the Lamb,” which included only the disciples picked by Jesus during His earthly ministry who accompanied Him wherever He went. Some were inspired to write scripture (Peter and Paul), while others were not (Philip and Bartholomew). Barnabas is rarely if ever spoken of as an apostle, but Acts 14:14 indicates that he was. Finally, many Christians believe there are no longer any apostles (or prophets), which leads to more confusion. Though there are no scriptures that conclusively point to the fact that these two offices were removed by God from the church, many vehemently assert that such is the case, viewing as heresy teachings that assert, based on scripture, such is not the case.

 

Compounding these issues is the fact that many who have called themselves “Apostles,” due their ungodly behaviors and attitudes, have brought much disrepute to the office. Tragically, too many ministers are more enamored with titles than they are with the preparation and gifting by God necessary to legitimately wear those titles. This is especially true with the title, “Apostle.” Too many choose to do so without legitimacy, and they often seek to do so for selfish reasons (control, material and/or other types of benefits, etc.). Additionally, the scriptural evidence to suggest that every church was subject first to an apostle is inclusive. James, the pastor at Jerusalem, did not appear to view Peter as the possessor of indisputable authority over him when the council met in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-29).

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.      

 47 - DOES CHURCH GOVERNMENT MATTER? - PART 6

Though church government may not appear an interesting or compelling topic to some in Christendom, ignoring or never focusing on it is unwise and dangerous. Why? The type of church government we follow dictates who has authority and makes decisions that can affect our spiritual lives, in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, focusing upon the topic from a scriptural perspective empowers us to determine the biblical foundation, or lack thereof, for the various patterns of church government and the vitality and deficiencies of each.

 

Generally, there are four significant types of church government found in the body of Christ: Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Independent. More recently, and to a much lesser extent, there has been an onset of “Apostle-Led” and “Messianic” churches. In this series, we shall briefly consider the scriptural support, or lack thereof, for each system of government and its strengths and weaknesses. In Part 1, we considered the Presbyterian form of government; in Part 2, we focused on the Congregational structure; in Part 3, we looked at the Episcopalian pattern; in Part 4, we examined Independent Church Government; in Part 5, we delved into Apostle-led churches. In Part 6, we shall investigate Rabbi-Led churches.  

 

Rabbi-Led Churches

Rabbi was and is a title used by the Jews to address their teachers and to honor them. The disciples addressed Jesus by it, “And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away” (Mark 11:21, NKJ). It was not ever a title in the New Testament church that meant apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor. 

 

Related to today’s use of the title, let’s look at Messianic Judaism. This Hebrew Christianity originated when Jews embraced Jesus in the New Testament as the Messiah and formed their own congregations. Messianic Jews retain many or most of the Jewish Old Testament practices (i.e. Saturday Sabbath, circumcision, kosher laws, holy days, and rabbis).

 

Though the council at Jerusalem determined that Gentile believers did not need to be circumcised or keep the law to be saved (Acts 15:1-29), that has not prevented some Messianics from ignoring those recommendations and instructing Gentile believers that they must adhere to any number of the Jewish practices in the Old Testament. Many of those same people view or have elevated the title “Rabbi” to one above all others used in Christendom, resulting in the advent of Rabbi-led congregations or churches.

Spiritually speaking, it is the gifting, not the title, that God gives to individuals that determines their role in the body of Christ. Additionally, the title “Rabbi,” though a term of great respect, does not insure that the one bearing that title is gifted to walk in the authority of a pastor. And, if a Rabbi in a Messianic congregation is gifted by God as a pastor, the use of “Rabbi” does not equate to that one being more spiritually astute or wise than gentiles also gifted as pastors.

 

Tragically, in some Christian venues there has been an onslaught of those imposing Jewish practices upon the body of Christ. Furthermore, that imposition has often been accompanied with much condescension by those imposing them (i.e. those who do this are more spiritual, are better Christians, are wiser, love God more, etc.). That is not to say that our comprehension of the Jewish roots of Christianity cannot be a boon to our understanding. Nor does it mean we should endeavor to understand those roots.

 

However, Christianity was never to be about our mixing law and grace (Gal. 3:24-25). Nor is the body of Christ to be viewed as Jewish or Gentile. In Christ, the wall that separated Jew and Gentile, has been “broken down,” so as “to create in Himself one new man” (Eph. 2:14, 15, NKJ). Galatians 3:28 (NKJ), speaking of our spiritual position in Christ, adds, “There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That being true, there is no validity in Christians of Gentile backgrounds seeking to live as Jews under the law. Nor is there a necessity to keep Sabbaths or festivals (feast days), as Colossians 2:16 (NKJ) admonishes us, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths.” Knowing these things as believers of Gentile backgrounds, let us walk in humility toward Messianics who seek to impose Jewish Old Testament practices upon us. However, may we walk in wisdom related to the freedom we have in Christ, standing “fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free,” not being “entangled again in the yoke of bondage,” whether that bondage be the ways of the flesh or the law (Gal. 5:1, NKJ).

 

Obviously, the brevity with which we focused on this and will spotlight each pattern of government indicates that our goal is not to say all that there is to say about each structure. Rather, our objective is to stimulate thinking among Christians about each form and introduce those unfamiliar with the models to them. Hopefully, by doing so, we will spark further interest in the topic and encourage additional study, which, in turn, will result in our embracing those aspects of church government most clearly supported by scripture.        

48 - LIVING GODLY IN AN UNGODLY WORLD

Some, mistakenly, live under the delusion that all one must do is become a Christian, and, voila, they will never again face any challenges to godly living. Certainly, becoming a Christian by embracing the gospel, the good news of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:17), and experiencing spiritual regeneration, what He referred to as being “born again,” or, literally, being born from above, is the necessary first step we must all take (John 3:7, NKJ). Without becoming spiritually new creations “according to God, in true righteousness and holiness,” none of us will ever be able to live virtuous lives in this sin-filled world (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24, NKJ). However, let us always remember that being born again is not all that is necessary. Successful Christian living also requires: the empowerment or baptism of the Holy Spirit, the renewal of our minds, and consistent growth in grace.

 

Let us begin by focusing upon the empowerment or baptism with the Holy Spirit, which the disciples experienced in Acts 2:1-4. Jesus, prior to His ascension, instructed His disciples, “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with the water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now’” (Acts 1:4-5, NKJ). Jesus had previously spoken of this Promise in John 1:16 (NKJ), “And I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” The word “another” is significant, as it is a transliteration of the Greek word, “allos,” which means “another of the same kind.” Jesus promised that this Helper, which we know as the Holy Spirit, in terms of His essence, would be another of the same kind as Him. Also significant is the fact that the Holy Spirit was and is omnipresent, unlike Jesus, who due to incarnation in the flesh, faced physical limitations. Finally, it is imperative that we remember the primary reason for Jesus sending us the Holy Spirit, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8, NKJ). The baptism with the Holy Spirit is given to empower us. With what? With power or ability to be successful, righteous witnesses, as citizens of heaven overcoming the challenges of an ungodly world.

 

Having briefly focused on the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment or baptism, let us now turn to the renewal of our minds as an integral aspect of living righteously in an unrighteous world. Romans 12:2 (NKJ) instructs us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” World (aion) refers to the ungodly philosophies, ideologies, and manners of thinking that we constantly encounter during our tarriance upon this planet. Our loving Father does not want us conformed to or patterned after those views, for He knows that, in doing so, our ability to sojourn here as fruitful Christian witnesses will be to varying degrees hindered or, worse still, fully thwarted. Rather, by the renewal of our minds, which is a work of the Holy Spirit and God’s word bringing our thought processes in line with His perspectives, we will be able to discern His “good and acceptable and perfect will.” Perceiving His will, we, who are empowered by His Spirit, will see and know clearly know how to walk. Walking in His will, we will find ourselves among those who are successfully commissioned to godly living, even in the face of much ungodliness.   

 

Finally, we come to consistent growth in grace as an essential aspect of an effective Christian witness. Peter warned of our falling from “steadfastness” and “being led away with the error of the wicked” (2 Pet. 3:17, NKJ). In the next verse, he counseled us how to remain resolute and avoid missteps, “but grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Hebrews 5:13-14 (NKJ), contrasts those who partake of the milk of the word, babes, and mature Christians, who ingest “solid food” or the meat of the word, stating, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age (mature), that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Based on these and other verses of scripture, it is evident that, if we are desire to reflect a consistently flourishing Christian testimony, spiritual maturation is a must. Our growth in grace invests us with fidelity and the ability to avert miscues by discerning between good and evil. Discriminating between good and evil, “we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth” (Eph. 4:14, NLT). Embracing the truth, we will radiate godliness, even when surrounded by immorality.

 

As stated earlier, embracing Christianity is the mandatory first step for those of us who desire to live virtuously, even when encompassed about by wickedness. Yet, it should never be our only undertaking. We should also experience the empowerment or baptism of His Spirit, the renewing of our minds, and habitually engage in spiritual growth. Doing these things, after our conversion to Christianity, will invest us with the propensity to resonate virtue, even when the environment about us emanates unrighteousness. Doing these things will capacitate us to live godly lives in an ungodly world.      

 

49. THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM!

Philippians 3:8-10 (NKJ) – Yet, indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…

 

Prior to his Damascus road experience (Acts 9:1-6), Saul (Paul) was a respected Pharisee, noted for his persecution of Christians. Yet, resulting from that event, His entire perception of spiritual reality changed. Rather than any longer viewing the proponents of Christianity as misguided and, therefore, the opponents of truth, he recognized that the Christ they worshiped was indeed the Promised Messiah. He realized that it had been he, not they, who was deceived. So assured was he of this fact that he referred to the accolades, benchmarks, and practices of his former life as rubbish or dung, as worth less than nothing. However, that is not how he viewed the new life that he encountered on the road to Damascus. With his eyes fixed upon Jesus, the cry of his heart, from that day forward, was “that I may know Him.”   

 

“That I may know Him,” what exactly did Paul mean by this? Know, as Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit used it, referred to an apprehension that involves a relationship between a person and the object known, in this case the object being Jesus Christ. That hunger to know Christ stemmed not from some carnal or selfish desire, but sprang forth from Paul’s new-found relationship to and with Him. Such hunger should be the hallmark of all Christians, not just a select few like Paul or the early followers of Jesus. The fact that it is not does not indicate that God is a respecter of persons, for the Bible assures us that such is not the case (Acts 10:34). Clearly then, when we Christians do not possess a consuming hunger to know Him, the cause for that being so rests with us and not with God.

 

Understanding the source of the challenge, what more need we know? We must understand, specifically, its nature. In the parable of the sower, as recorded in Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, and Luke 8:11-15, Christ delineated numerous threats to our spiritual growth or hunger. Specifically, they are: a lack of understanding God’s word; taking offense in response to tribulation or persecution; focusing upon the cares of this world; the deceitfulness of riches; the desire for worldly pleasures; and the lust for things other than God. Looking at this list, there is denominator common to them all.

 

What is that common denominator? It is this, which each of them there involves our taking the focus off God and placing it upon something else. Knowing this, it is no small wonder that Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJ) instructs us, “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” How is it that we do not understand God’s word? We do not keep our focus on the Holy Spirit sufficiently to allow Him to give us revelation about it. How is it that we take offense at persecution and persecution? Rather than keeping the focus upon God, we fixate our gaze on the offense and/or the offender, depriving ourselves of the grace to deal with those issues as we should. What about the cares of the world? Though 1 Peter 5:7 encourages us to cast our cares (worries, fears, anxieties) upon Him, tragically, we often choose not to. Doing so, we allow our focus upon cares to deprive us of spiritual growth and curtail our hunger for God. What about riches? Though riches are not a curse to spiritual growth and hunger, the love of them is. Related to this fact, 1 Timothy 6:9-10 (NKJ) reminds us, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Finally, we come to the lust or desire for things other than God. Focusing upon and desiring them, our spiritual health can do nothing but suffer and our spiritual hunger wane. Having briefly looked at this list and generally recognizing our propensity to be found guilty of some or all of them, what do we do? Knowing this, we may feel like exclaiming with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24 (NKJ), “Oh wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this?”

 

Thankfully, God, rather than looking at us as wretched beings, views us through the lens of our union with Jesus Christ. Looking at us through the meniscus of grace, He regards us as His children (Rom. 8:16); “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6); spiritually new beings, “created according to God in true righteousness and holiness” (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24); and in right standing or relationship with Him, as “we are the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). That is not to say that He is oblivious to our sinning (Gal. 6:7-8). However, it does mean that when we recognize we are guilty of allowing weights or sins to ensnare us, finding our spiritual growth hindered and our hunger for Him diminished, we need to repent (a change of mind followed by a change of actions or direction) and confess our sins to Him that we might be cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Doing so, we put the focus squarely back upon Christ, “the author and finisher” or creator and refiner of our faith.

 

The nature of that focus is identified by using the word “looking” in Hebrews 1:2. Looking (aphorao) is not about a casual glance at or an occasional recognition of Christ. It speaks of our doing so with “undivided attention, looking away from all distractions in order to fix one’s gaze on one object…having eyes for no one but Jesus” (“Word Wealth” from the New Spirit Filled Life Bible). Finally, having laid aside all weights and sins, fixing our focus upon Jesus, we will not fall prey to those challenges that can hinder our spiritual growth and diminish our spiritual hunger. Rather, we will find ourselves upon the magnificent journey that Paul found himself after the Damascus road experience. Buoyed by that being so, the cry of our hearts will be, “That we may know Him!”   

50. BEWARE OF THORNS!

Mark 4:17-18 (NKJ) – Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

 

The parable of the sower, as recorded in Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, and Luke 8:11-15, richly details hindrances to spiritual growth. Looking at Mark’s account, Jesus, in verse 15, commented about those who have the word of God immediately stolen from them, thus negating its potentially blessed effects. Matthew’s account (13:19) made it clear that the condition for this happening is the hearer’s lack of understanding the word sown. Continuing, Mark, in verses 16-17, identified those of no soil, who receive the word, but, in response to tribulations and persecutions, are offended for its sake. The result of their stumbling is that the word sown produces no lasting effect. Finally, we come to the subject of this study, the word sown among thorns.

 

Thorns, unlike our lack of understanding of or being offended for the word’s sake, do not completely negate the word’s fruition in our lives. Rather what thorns, to varying degrees do, is curb, hamper, or impede its progress. Thorny ground is marked by our focus being drawn away from the implanted word of God to other things. Specifically, Mark identifies three focus-grabbing characteristics of thorny ground: it is a place where cares (anxieties, fears, and worries) draw our attention from the word; it is a location where the deceitfulness of riches vies for our spiritual considerations; and it is a locale where the desires for other things thwart our spiritual progress.

 

Recognizing the detrimental nature of things that can curb, hamper, or impede our spiritual progress, the counsel of 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJ) is pertinent, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Obviously, all things that can remove our focus off the word and God are not directly related to the involvement of our spiritual enemies. However, it can be reasonably stated that they are all things that enhance the ungodly plans and purposes of those assailants. That understood, it is imperative that we maintain self-control, watchfulness, and remain on the alert related to those conditions that characterize thorny ground. 

 

Cognizant of our need to remain consistently temperate and cautious, let us return to nature of the thorny ground. Thorny ground, as we have stated, is a locale where our spiritual headway is hindered. Two of the characteristics Mark noted with specificity, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. However, the third category, the desire for other things, is a catch-all phrase indicative of issues not covered by the first two. Its lack of exactitude affords us liberty in contemplating the conditions included therein. Within the parameters of that liberty and recognizing the brevity allowed us, let us consider issues included under the phrase, “the desire for other things.” Specifically, we shall do so related to issues relevant to today’s culture. Living in a media-soaked society, we are continually bombarded with messages that are crafted to grab our attention. Understanding that, we must not do what Romans 12:2 warns against, conform ourselves to the biblically unsupportable ideologies, manners of thinking, and philosophies of those messages. Instead we, while relying on the aid of the Holy Spirit, must always filter those messages through the lens of God’s word. Doing so, we can discern those messages that are intended to provoke in us a desire for other things, things which, if entertained, will inhibit our spiritual progress.

 

It also curtails our spiritual growth when we embrace attitudes and views that are political in nature but scripturally unsupportable. Doing so, we have succumbed to thorny-ground thinking, a place where the desires for other things can thwart our spiritual development. Explicitly related to the political arena, it is common to see the disingenuous nature of some politicians who chide us as Christians for standing on matters from a scriptural perspective when that perspective does not enhance their agendas. Yet, that does not prevent them from seeking to inaccurately employ the Bible to support other aspects of their plans. A specific example comes to mind: A well-known politician consistently rebukes we Christians for embracing pro-life positions and traditional marriage, issues both strongly supported by scripture. However, she recently sought to influence us away from supporting our nation removing itself from the Paris Climate Accord for biblical reasons, doing so without producing a single shred of scriptural evidence. Furthermore, the ludicrous nature of this blatant attempt at manipulation is further revealed by her habitual attempts to separate church and state in a historically non-supportable manner, but not in the case of climate control, as doing so in this instance would not serve her agenda. Allowing ourselves to be manipulated into embracing unscriptural views by political leaders of varying parties often occurs due to the desire for other things.   

 

In conclusion, it is imperative to note that what is most important related to our discussion of thorny-field characteristics is that we continually remain cognizant of their nature and on the alert for their entrance into our lives. We do this by continually keeping our focus upon God and filtering voices, matters, and agendas that vie for our consideration through the lens of scripture, rejecting those that are without biblical support and embracing those that are. Doing so, we will not fall prey to thorny-field experiences. Doing so, we embrace and espouse the vigilance and wisdom exhibited by those entering a rose garden who respect the words of the sign, “Beware of thorns!” 

51. THE MYTH OF NEUTRALITY

Matthew 12:30 (NKJ) – He that is not with me is against me…

2 Corinthians 2:11 (NKJ) – Lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Driving about, it is not unusual to occasionally see a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Coexist.” Originally designed by Piotr Mlodozeniec, the “c” is formed by the crescent moon, which represents Islam. The “x” is portrayed by Judaism’s Star of David. The “t” is depicted by the cross of Christianity. Later versions illustrate the “o” with the peace symbol or the pagan/Wiccan pentacle. For the letter “e,” a male/female symbol or scientific equation is used. For the “i,” a pagan/Wiccan symbol is employed. For the “s,’ a Chinese yin-yang symbol is substituted. Such automobile placards may captivate the agendas of those who are unaware of the often, contradictory nature of the ideological tenets espoused by the belief systems the symbols represent. Or they may appeal to religious pluralists, those who believe all religions are equally valid pathways to God. However, from a biblical perspective, in terms of the soundness of the messages they seek to affirm, they are nothing more than attempts to legitimize that which should not be, unscriptural ideologies, and demote that which should never be, a Christian worldview.

  

Furthermore, forays into religious syncretism, attempts to synthesize ideologically contradictory religions, do not rely on the standard of scripture but the whims of mankind. That being so, though those attempting to do so may cloak themselves under the guise of noble causes, the final product is not biblically accurate or supportable. Instead, they exist as devices to draw men away from the truth of God’s word, just as Satan sought to do with Eve in Eden (Gen. 3:1). Let us always remember: Jesus did not say in John 14:6, “I am one of many pathways to the Father.” Neither did Luke in Acts 4:12 add, “Jesus is one of many names by which we may be saved.” Nor did John offer in 1 John 5:11-12, “Jesus is one of many ways to possess eternal life.” No, Jesus, Luke, and John all made it clear. There is no neutral ground. Salvation and the possession of eternal life are only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

From a biblical context, suppositions that contradict the truth of God’s word, no matter how eloquently they appeal to our intellects or emotions, are never noble propositions. They are the ideological tools of our enemies. Related to such devices, it is imperative that we Christians recognize and remember that we are in a war. Though all of us, consciously or unconsciously, are affected by this war, ultimately, it is not a contest with flesh and blood but with spiritual entities (Eph. 6:12). In this war, devices are the strategies, designs, methods, traps, wiles, and plans used by our enemies to hinder, subvert, repress, suppress, repel, subdue, and vanquish the will of God on this planet. As tools of war, though our spiritual enemies would have us believe otherwise, it is critical that we understand they are never indicative of neutrality. Additionally, those who participate in or are complicit to the use of such devices, deliberately or unintentionally, are not arbiters of neutrality. Jesus made it clear. If we are not for Him, then we are against Him. There is no neutral ground.  

As Christians, to call for neutrality or noninterference, related to the devices arrayed against us, reflects naivete or ignorance associated with the goal of our spiritual enemies, which is their overall victory against us. Furthermore, to ignore or not stand against ungodly shifts in our culture (i.e. evolution, lawlessness, abortion, LGBTQ issues, etc.), we must choose to act on the opinions of men rather than the word of God. Unlike some proponents of sitting out the battles would have us believe, neither is it loving, for 1 Corinthians 13:6 (NKJ) assures us that love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” John 17:17 (NKJ) reminds us that God’s “word is truth.” His word admonishes us to not conform to the views of the world (Rom. 12:2), which would include calls for inactivity. By choosing to embrace inertia, we appear oblivious to Christ’s admonition that we are to be salt and light to our culture (Matt. 5:13-16). Doing so, we are incognizant of Christ’s counsel to “occupy” until His return (Luke 19:13, KJV). That being so, we must not fall prey to calls for idleness in the name of neutrality or misguided love, for Christ’s body, the Church, exists as a force that, having done all, is to stand against the onslaught of evil (Eph. 6:10-13). As Christ called the Church to fellowship or joint participation with Him, our inactivity, rather than promoting His cause, enables the strategies of those arrayed against it.

Finally, neither do appeals to unscriptural perspectives about God’s sovereignty justify inaccurate views about neutrality or sanction idleness. Declaring that God is in control never relieves us of the responsibility to pray with all manner or types of prayer (Eph. 6:18); to engage in spiritual battles, utilizing the divine weapons He has given us (2 Cor. 10:3-5); to walk in the authority that He delegates to us (James 4:7; Luke 10:19); or to be strong in the power of His might, fully clothed in the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18). We are in a war. The fact that is so does not warrant our engaging in the spiritual battles associated with that war in an unbalanced manner, perceiving opposition where it does not exist. Nor does it give us license to unlovingly attack deceived people who participate in the strategies arrayed against us. Yet, neither should we ever yield to the myth of neutrality, by doing so deluding ourselves into a state of deceptive disinterest related to those opposing us, spiritual or otherwise.

52. GIVE NO PLACE TO THE DEVIL; DON'T COMPROMISE!

Like it or not, yes, Christians, we are in a war. The battle lines of this war were drawn long ago and have been apparent throughout the ages. Even now, though spiritual battles rage outside the realm of our natural vision, the indicators of those battles are clearly visible.

 

They exist in the form of competing perspectives. Ideologically, the cause of Christ is represented by a biblical or Christian worldview, which is established on the infallible word of God. Basing our worldview on the word of God means it is the foundation for everything we do and say and how we perceive and interact with the world about us. Opposing our biblical worldview are a host of other credos: 1. Religious Pluralism, the assumption that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid and acceptable; 2. Moral Relativism, which tells us that virtues are not synonymous with those found in the Bible, but relative to different people and settings (situational ethics); 3. Naturalism, a belief system that asserts we are the product of random acts of nature (evolution) and have no real purpose; and, 4. Pragmatic Ethics (closely aligned with Moral Relativity), which asserts that mankind is responsible for determining the best ethical system, to name a few.  

 

Cognizant of the ideological tempest about us, we Christians are faced with determining how to respond. Do we strive, as scripture instructs us, to live by God’s word within the culture? Do we choose to separate ourselves from society? Or do we compromise, seeking to maintain one foot in the kingdom of God and the other in the realm of the world? Clearly, our effectiveness as purveyors of a biblical worldview is only maintained if we choose to live by His word within the culture (James 1:23-25). The answer is not to separate ourselves from society, as void of the influence of Christian light and salt (Mat. 5:13-16), the lost are deprived of opportunities to hear and act upon the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and the culture will more quickly putrefy. Nor is the correct choice to compromise, as Jesus clearly warned us that a kingdom or house warring against itself cannot stand (Mat.12:25-26; Mk. 3:24-26). Yet, despite Jesus’ alert, why do we Christians so often choose to compromise?

 

We compromise for a variety of reasons. We do so to satisfy ungodly desires, yearnings contrary to the will of God which we all have (1 Cor. 10:13; James 1:14). We do so because we are afraid, of rejection, of not fitting in, of being viewed as weird or strange, or of other real or imagined outcomes. This fear does not come from God (2 Tim. 1:7). And, as scripture informs us, timidity, cowardice, or fearfulness related to man act as a trap or stumbling block in our lives, that which prevents us from doing all God would have us to do or receiving all that He would have us to receive (Prov. 29:25). We also make concessions because we are ignorant of God’s word and are deceived about the horrific results of sin (Hos. 4:6; Gal. 6:7-8). Finally, we make unscriptural accommodations in a misguided attempt to be relevant.  (James 4:4; Rom. 12:2). Obsessing about relevance, we can fall prey to: 1. Merely seeking influence for the sake of influence; 2. Forgetting that every aspect of our lives should be subject to Christ; and 3. Letting those other than the Holy Spirit determine our focus.  

 

Though we all encounter temptations to compromise, it is never the wise or godly choice. Unscriptural capitulation to sinful temptations, fears, pressures, and imagined outcomes dilutes the power of our testimony. An example of this being so is demonstrated when avowed atheists, like Richard Dawkins, chide believers for embracing evolution, done by adding to what the word of God says about creation in Genesis 1. Such castigation reveals their understanding that such views contradict or do not fit with many of the foundational views of Christianity related to: original sin, death resulting from sin, or mankind’s need of a Savior. Furthermore, sellouts to unscriptural views, result in the power of God’s word being diminished or made of no effect, as Jesus indicated the traditions of men were wont to do (Mat. 15:6; Mark 7:13). Like sin, compromise always promises that which it can never deliver and takes us places that we, ultimately, should never go.

 

Related to the ideological battles about us, compromise, identified by our yielding to mankind’s ideas rather than those presented in the word of God, results in our sending unclear or mixed messages within our spheres of influence.1 Corinthians 14:8 (NKJ) reminds us, For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” Knowing that and remembering that the outcomes of such battles are not merely temporal but also eternal, we should never send confusing, watered down, or ambiguous messages. Our walks with Christ should not be tainted by the uncertainty produced by such messages or their corresponding actions. Finding ourselves guilty of such things, we should confess them to Him as the sin they are and allow Him to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Having done so, then let us rely on His power and the leading of the Holy Spirit to prevent us from repeating such errors (Eph. 6:10; Rom. 8:14). Doing so, we will not “give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:27, NKJ).  

53. THE ENEMY WITHIN: TROJAN TACTICS

John 8:44 (NKJ) – You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

 

2 Corinthians 11:13-14 (NKJ) – For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 

 

Since its origin, deceit and deception have been staple tactics of war. A case in point is the tale of the Trojan Horse. After the Greeks sieged Troy for 10 years, resulting in no victory, they decided to seek success through subterfuge. Pretending to sail back to Greece, they left outside Troy a huge wooden horse, which the Trojans determined to make a victory trophy. So, they pulled the horse into the city. Little did they know that inside the horse was a select group of Greek warriors. While the city slept, the warriors slipped from the trophy and opened the gates of the city, allowing the Greeks, who had sailed back to Troy under cover of darkness, to sack the city and gain victory in the war.   

 

As was true with the Greeks and the city of Troy, so is it so often true with those who oppose the cause of Christ. Deceit and deception are primary tools. However, their ploys, instead of using a wooden horse to conceal the ruse, use words, that, in turn, create unscriptural ideologies. This should not surprise us, as we recall that it was Satan who initiated his deception of Eve in Genesis 3:1 (NKJ) with the words, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” Clearly, Satan, the father of lies, and his allies understand the power of subtle words. That being so, as Christians, we should maintain vigilance related to the meaning and use of words. For words are the stuff ideologies are made of, whether the views are biblically supportable or diametrically opposed to scripture.

 

Views opposed to scripture are often shrouded with misleading words, those outlooks often claiming biblical support for them but offering none, or, at best, only doing so in an inaccurate manner. A case in point would be the words of a politician who habitually supports unrestricted abortion and LGBTQ issues, clearly biblically unsupportable propositions. Yet, she also argued against changes in health care under the guise of a biblical worldview, though she offered not a shred of scriptural backing. Obviously, like Satan, she was trying to appear as an angel of light to accomplish her personal agendas, which, based on her history, are ungodly ones. So, what are the dangers of embracing disingenuous words that oppose scripture? They form within us platforms that act as a Trojan Horse in our walks with Christ. That being so, they take on the nature of a fifth column, that which undermines our testimonies and effectiveness for the cause of Christ.

 

Let us now consider another case in point, this one hypothetical but fully plausible. John was born again 5 years ago. Generally, his spiritual growth had been both healthy and beneficial to the purposes of Christ. Recently, he became attracted to Rita and has been spending much time with her, resulting in many emotional attachments being made (1 Cor. 15:33). The thought of her ever rejecting him is very undesirable to John. In their discussions about social issues, it became very clear to him that Rita is very pro-abortion. Fearing potential rejection, John adopted the deceptive view that Rita encouraged him to take, which is, it is not loving or appropriate for a man to have input into what women do with their bodies or the unborn within them. (Anti-life individuals and groups generally prefer to call the unborn unviable fetuses to support their agendas, which itself is a deceptive tactic used to dehumanize the unborn, though, at conception, they are fully genetically human.)  So, now, John, when confronted with the topic of abortion, remains silent, not being the salt and light on the issue God desires of him. Never mind that scripture never instructs us to correct an undesired situation, an unwanted pregnancy, with a sinful one, abortion, or that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Pro. 6:16-17). Deceptive words related to abortion within John have created a Trojan Horse ideology that undermines the effectiveness of his walk with Christ.

 

With our last example, we considered the topic of abortion. However, the danger of deceptive words becoming a Trojan Horse exists with numerous topics (i.e. law, morality, leadership, wealth redistribution, how we view God’s word, etc.) The salient point is: any time we embrace deceptive and unscriptural words about an issue, it will result in the creation or further development of an ideological framework within us based on unbiblical assumptions. The presence of such structures can and do act as subversive devices in our walks with Christ.  

 

Finally, we must recognize that deceit and deception are the fundamental tools of those who oppose the cause of Christ, whether speaking of people or spiritual entities. To not do so leaves us vulnerable, as was Eve, when, rather than dealing in an appropriate manner with the serpent’s suggestions about God’s word, she engaged in dialogue about those words. God’s word provides us with the ideological underpinnings of the biblical worldview, that we, as Christians, must possess. To not acquire or relinquish those underpinnings, in the face of deceitful and deceptive words and the ideas they express, is to allow the creation of an enemy within. It is to yield to Trojan tactics.