top of page

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 Though God’s love, being unconditional, is never withdrawn from us, we can forget that fact when we allow our minds to fixate on dark, depressing and discouraging thoughts.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.

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
  • In any of these passages is marriage spoken of as between two of the same sex?
  • Do you know of any passages in Scripture that speak of marriage as between two of the same sex?
  • 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
  • What do these passages say about homosexual behavior?
  • 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