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When I was watching the gentlemen’s final at Wimbledon—yes, I watched the whole thing—I saw, as everyone did, a logo for a company named Slazenger on the wall behind the players. Above the name was what looked like the image of a jaguar. I thought, “Perhaps Slazenger is the parent company of Jaguar.”

Wrong. Sports clothing and equipment.

Wrong again on the jaguar image. It’s a panther.

Wrong conception of a company based upon a name and its logo.

It was a pretty classy logo, I thought. I wondered, “What would happen if God were to put His name on the court walls at Wimbledon? What logo would He use?” My next thought was that it would be weird. It wouldn’t work.  And what on earth would you use as a logo? How would one sufficiently, properly, advertise God at a sporting event, so He could be promoted, as Slazenger was?

It can’t be done. What’s more, He has already done a masterful job of letting everyone know who He is, and it’s a lot more than a name and an image. His glory has been pouring forth every day, all over the world, all over the universe, since the beginning. All humanity needs to do is look around. Look up. With our brains engaged, look at any natural thing.

Brains engaged. I know, I know. I’m asking a lot.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1–4a).1

As cool as the Slazenger logo is, it is a piece of dust compared to the depiction that the Lord God Almighty has given us that we can see every day, every night, everywhere. It is a depiction of a God that is so mighty, so powerful, so glorious, that we are unable to conceive of the power it would take to create everything from—nothing. We should be awed by it. So, Paul wrote, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).

Nevertheless, we continue to hear a common criticism about God. “Why doesn’t He reveal who He is? When I die, I’m going to ask Him why He hid from me.” Paul wrote, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). He also states that people “suppress the truth” in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Don’t believe it? If you’re a science teacher or professor, try to publish a book about creationism and keep your job.

But back to the GOAT.

After the match, the commentators discussed which of the Big Three—Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic—was the GOAT: The Greatest Of All Time. So, let’s ask this question: Among all the forces in nature, which would be The Greatest Of All Time? What are the candidates? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Volcanoes? Tornadoes? Nuclear forces? It’s difficult to argue that any of them is greater than the One who created all these powers and the physics that make them function. What about all the so-called gods revered by humankind? The spirit of the earth? Some kind of pervasive life-energy that exists in nature, in trees and turtledoves? No, the truth is, no candidates even exist, except in our imaginations. The one true God proved His lordship over everything, not only in His creation but in His resurrection. Why? Because what Jesus said about Himself—that He was God incarnate—was proved true when He rose from the dead as He said He would.

The GOAT? All the “promotion” was done long ago in mind-blowing beauty and glory. There is no confusion about who it is based upon a wrong understanding of the depiction of Him. There are no other candidates. There is no competition and never has been.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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“Every act of sin has in it a hatred for God.” This is what my wife, Laurie, said at our little church gathering at McDonald’s Sunday morning. She was quoting Matthew Henry. I was stunned a little. It seemed to ring true, but we cannot just accept what a commentator says without finding biblical proof. Once we discussed it for a few minutes, we found that it is true. We knew for certain that sin is rebelling against God and His good and just law. We knew for certain that when we sin, we are telling Him that we do not want to obey His law. This led us to consider this passage:

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6–11).1

There is a lot here; too much to address in this post. But one thing we noticed was that those who don’t “obey the truth,” instead “obey unrighteousness.” That’s uncomfortable. I want to reject the notion that I’m obeying something that is so against God. But there it is, right in our faces in Romans 2.

When I sin, I am telling God that I don’t want to be a righteous man. I am rejecting the right standing He has given me, the right to be related to Him as a son, a saint, a forgiven and holy one, whose sin has been washed away in Jesus’ blood. I am rejecting all of that—the amazing gifts He has freely given me in His mercy. That word “rejecting” reminds me of Isaiah’s heartbreaking prophecy: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

So, I am enrolled in that deplorable company. As uncomfortable as it is, I hate God when I obey unrighteousness. I have hated Him without cause (John 15:24–25).

Oh, Lord God our Father. I don’t want to despise and reject You. I don’t want to be in that company, a company of fools and devils. Father, forgive me for hating You, for joining hands with your enemies. I truly am a fool.

Oh, Father. Lord Jesus. Thank you for your mercy. Thank You for this verse from Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

And this gracious word from Paul in his letter to Timothy:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24–26).

Lord, thank You for being merciful to me, a sinner.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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In the coming months, Laurie and I will be traveling to a foreign country to teach a group of pastors. One of the topics that will be addressed is leadership. I will tell these dedicated men that they should be very wary of—and even reject—many things that pastors and leaders from the West have taught them.

Please allow me to explain.

To allay any fears the reader may have, what I won’t be doing is criticizing the brothers who have traveled to this country with their digital folders overflowing with what is called “leadership principles.” These are men with hearts for the Lord and are endeavoring to instruct others what they think is good and helpful. Unfortunately—sadly—many of the “leadership principles” that they have taught contain little about biblical leadership. If moral teaching is involved concerning what a leader is, well, then, yes—they have done what is good and true. However, when we come to such topics as 14 Traits of Effective Church Leadership or 20 Characteristics of a Successful Leader,” we have strayed off the mark. What mark is that?

The biblical mark.

Before we proceed, I call your attention to the words “effective” and “successful” in the titles above. What is meant by these two words? Both spin within the galaxy of numerical church growth. Biblically, “successfully” and “effectively” growing and bearing fruit have nothing whatsoever with numerical growth informed by leadership principles. Growth, as Paul told us in 1 Corinthians, comes from God alone. Many of us live in an evangelical world where churches are just not up to snuff if they aren’t growing. The meme: A healthy church is a growing church. Thus, pastors are shepherds no longer. They are corporate leaders who run organizations which must “succeed” and be “effective” according to measures of the world, not of the Bible.

If you are skeptical about my claims, I invite you to peruse the New Testament to discover what biblical leadership is. What did these people do as leaders? How did they lead? And if you want to get down to the core of leadership, consider Jesus, our example. Was He a leader? How did He lead? Would He be a leader today?

In light of that inquiry, let’s look at one of Jesus’ commandments concerning leadership. When James and John approached Jesus and wanted to sit next to Him, ruling in His glory, Jesus replied:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42–45).1

This event is included in all three gospels. Luke added the characteristic of becoming “as the youngest” to be leader: “But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

It is right and proper, don’t you think, that we as Christians should ask the following questions?: “Do I as a pastor or a person in a position of authority, lead like a slave?  Like the youngest among us?” If not, why not?”

Secondly, “Do I lead like the Gentiles, exercising authority over others?” “Why?”

These are questions we as a group of pastors will be considering. They are very poor and perhaps have not been infected with church “success” and “leadership effectiveness” but rather have managed to emphasize fruitfulness and discipleship. We will look at Jesus, our example of leadership, who said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That “for even” indicates that if even Immanuel, God Almighty in the flesh, led like this, serving to the point of the sacrifice of His life, not as one exercising authority over others, it is obvious that we should, too.

You are invited to check out my book, Leadership on the Brink: The Church’s Confrontation with God’s Word, in which the topic of biblical leadership is addressed in depth.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

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I suppose my readership would increase if I wrote about Donald Trump. Or politics. Who is right; who is wrong. Who is to blame for whatever “breaking news” drives across the media’s headlights.

I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to do this:

I love this nation, but I, like all Christians, must face the biblical truth that the United States is, like other countries, one that the Lord has raised up and can cast down for His own purposes. For now, despite past sins and the troubles of the hour, we have been raised up. However, anyone paying attention will know that we as a people are on a road to moral destruction.

Donald Trump has nothing to do with this. Neither he, the legislative branch, nor the judicial branch can control it; neither can they stop it. It is the direction that an increasing majority of our population has embraced. For a time, cultural Judeo-Christianity kept the decline mostly in check. However, much has changed over the last fifty years or so. For example, the sin of “free sex” has been heartily welcomed by an overwhelming majority of our citizens. It is common to see movies where a man and a woman who fall in love—or really, just meet in a grocery aisle—proceed to have intimate relations, if not within a few minutes, at least that very night. Such encounters are shown in varying degrees of intimacy, the least offensive ones only revealing the couple awakening the next morning in bed together. This attitude toward sexual immorality is called “sexual liberation.” A woman commenting on the film A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike, who portrayed the life of deceased journalist Marie Colvin, remarked that Ms. Colvin “took men wherever she found them.” That’s an elitist and euphemistic way of describing a woman who had multiple sexual partners indiscriminately. Such films rarely mention the possibility of venereal disease from such encounters. The CDC reports that all STDs have increased since 2013: chlamydia, 22%, gonorrhea, 67%, primary and secondary syphilis, 76%, and congenital syphilis, 154%.1 But who cares? “Free” sex is mandatory. Today, men and women are ridiculed for remaining chaste until marriage. Almost nowhere in this culture will people utter a word that such actions are sins against the Lord God Almighty. If sexual morality were spoken of this way, it would be in connection with some strange Christian cult that keeps women in bondage.

This sexual immorality is also common in the Church. Christians have caved to the “sexually free” culture. When I was the marriage and family pastor for two large churches, many couples wanting to get married would not forgo the pleasures of living together before marriage and thus had to be turned away. The biblical proof texts for the sin of sexual immorality—once called fornication—are many, but here’s one from Jesus: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). 2

Although “sexual liberation” has become the dominant reality for over fifty years, it was not always so, although sexual immorality and adultery have been simmering under the culture’s surface since the beginnings of the American experience. Read a biography about Benjamin Franklin, for example.

In addition, homosexuality has become an accepted behavior in the United States, but is clearly an abominable sin against God:

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26–27).

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9b-10).

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22).

However, it has become a shameless act that Christians are to celebrate, not oppose. To oppose it identifies a person as a homophobe. Interesting choice of words, isn’t it? Such people are afraid, apparently, of homosexuality. However, that is not how the word is applied. To be a homophobe is to be a bigot, comparable to being a racist. “Why aren’t you happy that people are just loving each other? Why are you so full of hate?” I often wonder what an interview with the men in Sodom and Gomorrah who were demanding entrance to Lot’s home would look like.

I could go on at length about the immoral condition of the United States. (You may have noticed I didn’t address abortion, as I have in the past.) It is sad to me. Mind-bendingly perplexing. Tragic.

I pray for this nation often, as Christians have since its inception. However, if we think the United States is not hurtling toward increasing God-mocking lawlessness, our heads are in the sand. My Charismatic and Pentecostal friends tell me they have heard prophecies about a great revival coming. I sincerely hope those prophecies are right, although the words from the Lord I hear are the opposite:

Judgment is coming. However, the Lord is merciful and long-suffering. Lord, be merciful to us. Forgive us for our sins, which must surely mount up to heaven.

 

1https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/default.htm

2All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What happens when you become a Christian?

When the Father draws you to Jesus; when you find Him irresistible, real, and true, you believe. You believe He is the answer. The truth. How that happens; the road on which that wondrous event is different for everyone. At the moment He becomes your Savior, the Spirit begins His work in you, and true works from God are set in place, even though you may not be aware of them at the time.

For example, you become a son of God. I don’t use the words “child of God” here because that expression, in the United States at least, has become a description of any person to which we please to attach that phrase. More importantly, I use the word “son” instead of the words “sons and daughters,” because in Scripture being a son entails inheritance. Thus, your gender means nothing regarding the inheritance you have received and will receive. Sonship obviously entails a relationship. So, as a son, you now have a relationship with the Lord God Almighty. I want us to pause here, because this astounding reality is easy to pass over. Let’s put it this way: You have a relationship with the Creator of everything. You are a son of the Creator who spoke all the matter and energy, and whatever else there is that exists, in the blink of an eye. This “becoming a son” is all His work. You cannot become a son of God by some effort on your own. Think about it for a moment. Where you sit now, try to come up with a plan that would enable you to become a son of the Creator of the cosmos. The first step is…

Now, this sonship necessitates the creation of a new person. That is one reason why Jesus said we must be born again (John 3:3). Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).1 Sonship. New creation.

Back for a moment to the inheritance you have received and will receive: You are an heir of the Creator of the universe through no effort of your own:

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3b–5).

So, again, try to imagine the steps you would take to receive an inheritance from God Almighty that is eternal in the heavens. Step one….

However, we have neglected to address what many of my readers will proclaim is the starting point of all that is Christian: The mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God that is imperative for you to become all that has been discussed above. It is absolutely true that Christians must turn from their wicked ways and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. However, I didn’t begin this article there because not all conversions in the New Testament do. The steps evangelicals lay out in order are first hearing the good news, realizing one’s sin, repenting, and believing in Jesus as Savior. But we don’t see that strict order with Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the official whose son was healed, the Philippian jailer, or Cornelius and his household. It was not true for me. Regardless of the order, you must realize you are a sinner and on the wrong road in order to become a Christian. You must be washed in His blood and cleansed from sin. You are a gross person and have committed unholy acts against God and others. Sexual sins. Lying. Theft. Greed. Pride and arrogance. Horrible thoughts and/or words about people. You have disobeyed Him, rebelled against Him, and mocked Him. You don’t think of yourself this way, of course, but you will come to know it. You are unrighteous in the sight of God. However, when you believe that Jesus offered Himself in sacrifice for you, taking the punishment you rightly deserve, your sin and the accompanying shame will be taken away. You now become a righteous person. You are a holy one. A saint. You are as holy as God Himself is holy. However, as wonderful as that status is, your path to becoming holy in word and deed will take the rest of your life—your old nature doesn’t disappear. Nevertheless, again, let us pause for a moment. Like your sonship and inheritance, there is absolutely nothing you can do to cause yourself to be as righteous as God Almighty. So, pause a moment and think, “How would I go about becoming as holy as God?” Step one…

Thanks be to God for the gifts of sonship, new creation, and righteousness, freely given.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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This article concerns eternity.

Saints reigning in the heavenly kingdom.

And humility.

At the end of the Book of Revelation, we see a partial view of heaven’s eternal reality. The sun and moon no longer exist. Jesus has made all things new. “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).1 We read this and think, “Hmm. Wow,” but give it very little further thought. I understand why, because comparatively little is written in Scripture about saints reigning. None of the New Testament writers spend much time teaching about Christians ruling in the God’s kingdom. But it shows up once is a while, and since it is one of the rare statements about the state of saints in eternity, it is a worthwhile topic to consider, since our lives here are as temporary as one beat of a humingbird’s wing and our lives in eternity are, well, eternal.

Other passages come quickly to mind concerning our participation as rulers in God’s kingdom, and some are clearer than others. For instance, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The problem we face with this sentence, however, is not its clarity. It’s that it is so well known that we pass over it. It’s a beautiful sentence placed on coffee mugs and adorned with flowers. Christians should be meek. It’s a good thing, apparently, somehow. Let’s move on. However, within both passages above rests an interesting, seemingly contradictory, conundrum. How can one be meek and reign someday with Jesus? How can one be meek and be a king? The answer lies within the question. One will be given the earth and rulership because he or she is meek.

Clear as mud?

So, what does it mean to be meek as a Christian? That one must be soft-spoken and non-confrontational? Not necessarily. Sometimes strongly raising one’s voice for a righteous reason is necessary, such as confronting misleading error, injustice, or disastrous sin. But meekness means, at its center, that one has surrendered—in faith—to the One who is Master, Lord, and King.

However, the Lord adds to meekness another vital trait in His kingdom mix: Endurance. We must not isolate endurance from humility, because humility is required for one to persevere. Perseverance requires bowing the knee to a sovereign God who is the great driver of your history as well as that of the world. He is sovereign. You are not. He is in control of circumstances and situations. You are not. You must yield to that truth, that reality. Here is an interesting scripture to contemplate regarding the need for perseverance to enter the Kingdom:

In Acts 14:21–22, Luke wrote: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Continuing faithfully in tribulation requires humbling oneself to the will of God, regardless of how distressing conditions are.

Thus, those who are meek, who bow to God’s sovereignty, will live in an eternal kingdom where this will be one of their tasks: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3a).

Who will inherit the earth? Who will reign with Jesus?

The meek. The one who humbly concedes control to the only one who is in control. That is how we learn to reign like kings.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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Judas, one of the disciples of Jesus, is universally condemned as a traitor. The gospel writers made this clear. Jesus allowed this betrayal, even encouraged it. But what was going on in Judas’ heart and head during the Lord’s ministry?

Some background.

“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor. And they scolded her’” (Mark 14:3–5).1 Jesus defended this woman, saying she had anointed Him for his burial.

Here’s what happened next:

“Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Mark 14:10–11).

What was it about the woman’s act that pushed Judas over the edge to betrayal? When Mary, Lazarus’ sister, anointed the feet of Jesus with “expensive ointment,” Judas protested: “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:4–6). Judas was a thief; but more than a thief. He was a self-centered disciple of Jesus.

Let’s look at a little more background to help us understand the realities that may have begun to affect Judas’ thinking.

The disciples rarely understood what Jesus taught. The references are many, but here is one of the more humorous ones: “Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?’” (Mark 8:14–17). Perhaps Judas wondered if he was joined to a man who spoke in terms none of the disciples could understand and asked, “Is this really a good idea? No one even understands what this man says.”

Rancor existed within the disciples about human hierarchy and greatness (Luke 9:46-48). They were also motivated by self-interest. James and John’s mother even tried to put pressure on Jesus, telling Him that He should, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Mathew 20:21b). “If James and John are attempting to raise themselves, I should, too,” he may have thought.

Peter, not to be outranked, once felt he had the right to rebuke Jesus (Matthew 16:21-23).

So, prior to his betrayal, Judas had some strange things going on in his heart. He was teetering on the outer edge of the circle of power, as he perceived it. Peter, James, and John were the clear insiders.

He was “on the outs.”

He was not only on a path of self-interest; he was on a path of exclusion from all he had given his life to. When Jesus told His disciples that Mary had anointed Him for the day of His burial, it became clear to Judas that this errant so-called Messiah really was going to go die. He realized he needed an escape plan. Perhaps he thought, “How can I gain from my years in this ministry? Since it seems inevitable that the end of this ministry is nigh, I could come out of this mess with something for myself instead of nothing; a nice sum of money while ingratiating myself with the religious powers, who will be deeply appreciative. Nothing positive lies ahead for me among this group. I’m low on the list. Time to move on and up.” Into this self-centered milieu came his adversary as well as Jesus’: Satan. “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them” (Luke 22:3–4).

Judas’ mindset made him vulnerable to Satan, who took advantage of him to meet his own self-centered end—the destruction of the Messiah.

What in the world was Judas thinking? He was thinking of the world, of earthly things, not heavenly. When Judas made his betraying choice, he discounted all that was eternal for his own earthly gain, at the cost of his soul. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25–26a).

The time is coming when Christians will be faced with their “Judas choice.” Jesus’ ministry, His Church, will appear to fail, and we will be tempted to look out for our own self-interests. And although we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), we hold that victorious place “through him who loved us,” not in an earthly sense. One day, we will be conquered (Revelation 13:5–7). At that time, we will be tempted to make self-centered, earthly choices and ignore the reality of eternity, when Jesus will indeed make us more than conquerors through Him.

Lord, help us remember the eternal tragedy of Judas’ betrayal.

 

1Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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My, oh my, love is difficult. I don’t mean to say that it is difficult for the Lord. He’s God, after all, and is the perfect personification of love. Although nothing is too hard for Him, His love for us did require the humiliation and offering of Himself in painful punishment and sacrifice. We will not understand the fullness of that sacrifice until eternity.

But loving you, Christian brothers and sisters, is challenging. Sometimes your quirks and idiosyncrasies are annoying. Sometimes you are offensive. Sometimes you say and do things that are so at variance to what I believe that I don’t know how to respond. Sometimes, well, I just don’t like you very much.

Of course, you feel exactly the same about me.

This is why the Bible so frequently talks about Christians loving one another.

It’s tough.

Jesus knew that loving others would be demanding. In the well-known passage about not self-righteously judging others and not treating them like pigs, the very next thing Jesus told us is that we would need to ask for help to do just that:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–11). 1

I understand that most of the time, this passage is not taught as an antidote for our incapacity to love adequately, but we really should read it in context. Here is the verse immediately following Jesus’ admonition to ask for help to love others. It’s called the Golden Rule:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” His thought flow in verse 12 is still addressing love for others.

Then, following, another warning about how arduous this is:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Boom. Five truths about what love demands right in a row. Don’t judge people self-righteously and do understand that you’re a sinner, too. Ask for help to do this. Treat people the way you want to be treated. It’s going to be difficult, and few will be able.

If you would like to continue reading this chapter in context, you will find that the next passage refers to knowing how to tell false prophets from true: their fruit. Think that fruit would include love? Of course. Inwardly, false prophets are “ravening wolves.” Does that sound like love to you?

All the disciples who wrote in Scripture addressed the topic of Christians loving Christians. John, in his first letter, wrote words that challenge our Christian walk to the core:

“By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14).

So, if you don’t love your brother, you’re not of God, don’t know God, and abiding in death.

All love, sooner or later, will require sacrifice.

I recommend we follow Jesus’ admonition to plead for help in loving others. That’s what I do.

A lot.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

giphy

We hear it every time. After a monstrous shooting event in the United States, the pundits question why, and the experts attempt explanations. Why did the shooter want to kill his fellow classmates? What motivated him? Was he an outcast? Was he bullied? Why did the shooter want to kill the people in the church/mosque/dance hall? Did he hate gays? Did he hate Muslims? Did he hate Christians? What were his politics? Was it a mental health issue?

Something must be done, we are told. We must have new legislation about mental health. We need more rules. Offering thoughts and prayers means nothing, some are now saying. On this point, I agree. Sending “thoughts and prayers” statements are strange. “We send our thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families.” How does one do that? Aren’t prayers supposed to be directed to God?

I think both the Christian reader and I understand the why of all these discussions. Lost, in-the-dark people without God are trying to discover practical solutions to stop people from killing people. They have hope, it seems, that murderous evil can be stifled or eradicated by something humans do. They think the answers can be found in legislation, psychology, or both. This is understandable, of course. What other options do they have? But they have not found an answer. Mass shootings continue. The experts have no solutions because they are looking in every direction except the one that is necessary.

For decades, Christians have been shouting that the degradation of the United States’ culture has occurred because God has been taken out of schools and the government. “What do you expect to happen when you kick God out?” (As if God could be “kicked out” of anywhere.) I don’t agree with them and have not, for these several decades. Praying in school or at government events means very little if people don’t even know the One they are praying to. For unbelievers, such prayers are meaningless—just a cultural tradition. Such traditions have a certain power, but not a very strong one, as we have seen. The Christian culture of the United States is fast disappearing. This has been a good thing, I thought, because people would then see the difference between Christian tradition and the reality of a relationship with God. Realizing that insufficiency, they would turn to Him.

I have been wrong. They have not seen that obvious truth.

It is at this point, however, that I would like to bring up a question, and I am not the first to do so. Sixty years ago, give or take, no one even thought about taking a gun to school and killing classmates or to a dance venue and slaughtering people. I can testify with certainty that such a thought never crossed my mind, and it was never part of the conversations with my friends. Those older than I say the same of their generation.

So, what has changed? Is it because we don’t let kids read Bibles in the classroom any more or pray publicly at some government meetings? Does that make sense to you? Seriously. What has changed in sixty years?

Here is my answer, and I find no joy in offering it: The one who restrains is being taken out of the way, and no amount of jawing about how to stop mass killings or passing legislation is going to stop it.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:7–8). 1

Let me be quick to add that I have no idea what this taking “out of the way” will look like as it unfolds in its fullness, and I will not offer even the hint of a timetable. In the New Testament, lawlessness has the same meaning as sinfulness. And although this article has focused on the change in lawless violence in the U.S., I could just as easily have focused on the deterioration of other moral laws. Murdering millions of babies. The proliferation of “free” sex and sex outside of marriage. Gender confusion or identity or whatever one chooses to call it. However, most of those in our now-secularized culture do not consider these activities lawless; no, to the contrary, they are needed. How many times have I shaken my head and said, “This is so bizarre. I just can’t comprehend it. Are people really, truly crazy now?”

God is withdrawing His hand of restraint from the United States. People act the way they do in our day because what restrained them before does not restrain them now. Individuals are being given over to their true, sinful nature without inhibition—which is what they have wanted. What lies ahead—inevitably—is the revealing of the man of lawlessness, the man of sin. Very few will be distressed by this. No, he will be welcomed. People will rejoice.

He will fit right in.

Christians, pray that the Lord will have mercy upon the United States of America

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

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In this week’s article, I would like to lay out before the Christian reader a way of thinking about Jesus that has benefited me greatly. It is biblical, easy to do, and requires just a little practice. Contemporary usage might call this a “life hack,” but that rendering of a wondrous truth about Jesus seems misleading and ignoble to me. So, here is my biblical suggestion. When you read or think about Jesus, simply add this fact: He is not only Savior, Redeemer, and Lord, He is the Creator of the universe. The physics of it. The energy of it. The gravity and mass of it. Electromagnetism. Time. All the bosons and leptons. All the quarks: up, down, charm, strange, and the rest. The dark energy and dark matter that no one seems to know anything about. He created everything; simply everything that exists. A very clear passage from Scripture lays out why we can think in this way:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15–17).1

Here are some examples.

When you consider the Nativity account, think, “That was the Creator of the universe embodied in a helpless baby.”

When you read about Jesus being baptized by John Baptist, bear this in mind: “The Creator of everything humbled Himself in order to be baptized that day by a person He had created.”

When you read that Jesus healed people, think, “The One who holds everything together in the universe by His power healed that person.”

When you read about how Jesus fed the four and five thousand, add this: “The One who created all that exists in less than one second, fed those people.”

To pause a moment, we could include this verse, as well:

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3).

When you read that Jesus healed the blind and the deaf, think, “The One who made all things, things that we still cannot comprehend, restored the eyes and ears of those unfortunate people by His compassion and unfathomable power.”

When you read the account of how He changed water into wine, reflect on this: “Yes. That would have been very easy for Him to do. He created water. He created grapes. He created the process of fermentation.”

Finally, let’s look at this passage from Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1–3a).

When you read about when He walked on the sea and stilled the storm, think, “Of course. He’s the One who created the world. He was exhibiting His incomprehensible power over its material substance. And He was restraining Himself.” Yes. Restraining. Remember, He emptied Himself and did not think that equality with God was something He should grasp (Philippians 2:5–7).

So, when you read that Pilate’s soldiers flogged and then crucified Him, take this truth into account: “The Lord God Almighty, the King and Creator of  and who upholds the universe by the word of His power was being mocked, whipped, and killed by the men whom He created.”

All hail the power, love, and wonder of Jesus’ name. Let angels and saints prostrate fall. Let every kindred, every tribe on this celestial ball to Him all majesty ascribe. He is crowned Lord of all.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

 

 

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