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I grew up with Pentecostals. I value highly my upbringing there. I would encourage non-Pentecostals to tread lightly in their criticisms and be certain they are biblical. Many of these brothers and sisters have had supernatural experiences that cannot be denied. Are you going to be the one who maintains they were false? Be careful. You may number yourselves with those who went after Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other prophets who had dynamic spiritual experiences. Let’s not forget Paul, Peter, Stephen, and Phillip. I myself cannot deny having experienced supernatural, biblically true gifts and experiences throughout my Christian life. They were and are real; I am thankful to the Lord for them. Nevertheless, I understand a lot of wackiness has gone on since the renewal of the early 20th Century, and a lot of wackiness persists. Pentecostals are the wild riders of the Christian world. They need to exercise care in what they accept as biblical manifestations of the Spirit.

In addition, Charismatics and Pentecostals should stop playing loosey-goosey with the truths of Scripture. It undermines their credibility and does not give glory to God, who is the Truth. I want to discuss one of the errors many of my brothers and sisters believe. It boils down to one truth written by Isaiah in the well-known, Messianic fifty-third chapter. This is the portion in view:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).1

The funny business with this beautiful passage about Jesus the Messiah originates from the King James Version of the Bible, in which the word “wounds” was translated “stripes.” A well-known song from the days of the Charismatic renewal used the words “wounds,” as well. It became embedded in our minds. Word of faith folks did and still do “claim” this half-verse when they seek healing for themselves or others. It became a traditional belief, and traditional beliefs are hard to shake. But be shaken they must, when held in the light of biblical truth.

The Enhanced Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon offers this concerning the word “stripes” or “wounds”: “Seven occurrences; AV translates as “stripe” three times, “hurt” once, “wounds” once, “blueness” once, and “bruise” once. 1 bruise, stripe, wound, blow.” 2 So, why do modern translators change the translation of the word from “stripes” to “wounds”? The answer can be found in this critical and necessary truth about biblical interpretation: The Bible interprets itself. In other words, if you want to know more about a certain truth, you look in other places in Scripture that will enlighten it to you. That is not always possible, but it works more often than not, especially for essential truths. Thus, we look for other passages where the quote, “By His stripes (or wounds) we are healed.” This is an easy one. It appears only one time in the New Testament, in the second chapter of First Peter. Let’s look at the passage in which it occurs a few verses at a time. We’ll start with verses 20b–23.

“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

What is the topic thus far? Suffering and enduring for doing good, as Jesus did, without committing sin by reviling “in return” or threatening.

Now to the first part of verse 24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

The topic remains the same, but it has been enlarged. The good that Jesus suffered for was bearing our sins in His body on the tree, so we “might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

Then comes the statement under question, in the second part of verse 24–25: “By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

The topic remains the same. Jesus has suffered for our salvation. He has borne our sins in His body that we might live to righteousness. We have been “healed” because or “for”—important word here—we were “straying like sheep” but have returned to Jesus, our Shepherd.

Do you see an inkling of anything concerning the healing of our bodies here? No. The topic is the good thing Jesus did by suffering and dying for us and returning us to Him. Peter was not only quoting a truth from of Isaiah 53:5 but possibly thinking of Isaiah 6:10, where being healed also refers to salvation:

“Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Now, does this mean that healing is not available today? Absolutely not. However, it does mean that Pentecostals and Charismatics, if they want to maintain their integrity before the Lord and His Church, must be honest and deal with the truths of revealed Scripture. Jesus heals. However, we should not and cannot use Isaiah 53:5 to proclaim it. It will never benefit believers to proclaim a truth without adequate proof. It only puts our integrity and knowledge of Scripture into question.

 

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

2Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

 

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At a recent Young Leaders Conference, Cory Booker, a United States senator running for the office of the president, said this:

“And I believe, as Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all things, all things, but y’all, I got to call it out. It says I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me. Now, Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the sidelines. Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the couch. This is not a spectator sport. Martin Luther King said it best when his era, in his moral moment, he said: We have to repent in our days and age, not just for the vitriolic words and violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people.

“And so I want to call the faith community together. Because faith without works is:

Audience: “Dead.”

Booker: “Faith without works is:

Audience: “Dead.”1

I am writing about this, not because I want to slam a political figure’s ignorance of the truth of Scripture, but to bring the attention of Christians to the misuse of it. Christians have mishandled this passage in much the same way as this senator did. Contemporary Christianity is rife with this kind of error. It is easy to identify. All that needs to be done is to read the passage in context. So, let’s do that.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).2

Paul is not writing that he can do “all things,” so we can fill in the blank to include all activities on the earth according to our arrogant and selfish minds. It is obvious after a few seconds of thought that I cannot do “all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I can’t run 100 meters in less than nine seconds, and neither can you. I can’t become a state-licensed cardiac surgeon in two years, and neither can you. The list of things I cannot do is very long, so I won’t continue. “Christ does not strengthen you to sit on the sidelines,” Senator Booker said. To him, this passage from God’s Word simply means, “Since we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, if we get off the couch, we can win this election.” All of this, of course, has nothing to do with Jesus and very little with the Bible. The candidate is misusing Scripture to place guilt on his audience and motivate them to help his campaign.

So, what does Christ strengthen us to do according to Philippians 4? Christ strengthens us to be content in all situations, whether rich or poor, hungry or satisfied. Paul says he can suffer all these things with contentment because Jesus strengthens him.

The second misuse of Scripture is when Senator Booker told his audience that if they have faith, they will get up and get going to help him because faith without works is dead. Essentially, he said, “If you have faith, you gotta get up and get active. Otherwise your faith is dead.”

But, shouldn’t we ask, “Faith in what”?

Faith must have an object. What is the object here? I’m not sure. Faith in the senator’s cause, his election, I suppose. The senator is endeavoring to mask his pitch with religious language to reach a religious crowd. What he said makes no biblical sense at all.

We are to have faith in the Lord God who created all things, not in political leaders, or “princes”:

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3–4).

Christian, go look up the things people quote from Scripture. Ask, “Does the Bible really say that?” Then you will not be led away from the true truth of God’s Word by others, whether they be politicians or preachers.

 

1 https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/cnsnewscom-staff/cory-booker-i-can-do-all-things-through-christ-who-strengtheneth-me

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

 

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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

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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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In last week’s article, we looked at Jesus’ command not to call anyone father or teacher. The reason, Jesus said, was because we have a Father who provides all that we need both physically and spiritually and have Christ, the Suffering Servant, for our teacher. If we give place to men and women to take on these roles, we end up exalting them, in a measure, to the place of God. We should look to no man or woman for our sufficiency in anything as if we needed their knowledge and vitality for our spiritual lives. Men and women who get exalted to such places, Jesus said, do things to be seen by others and love the best seats in meeting places. From such high places, they are under pressure to maintain them. If you are in a fellowship with leaders who behave this way, Jesus has told you to do as they say but not as they do.

This week, we are going to study the implications of a very difficult word from Jesus. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).1 Jesus reiterates this harsh reality at least two other times. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18–19). “And I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

Oh, how I like to be liked and have friends. I am not fond of this truth. But I cannot deny Jesus’ words. I cannot deny His truth.

It isn’t wrong to have friends, but how can we do that and yet be hated by the world? What do we do with this tendency to want “all people to speak well” of us?

I think the answer begins with understanding what true friendship—the truest and most steadfast friendship—is: the friendship which Jesus offers. Jesus made this challenging statement in John: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). It is challenging because friends do not place this stipulation on each other, that one must do what the other commands if they are to remain friends. If you read this blog regularly, you may know what I will write next. Being a friend of Jesus is manifestly different than being a friend to a college buddy. The truth is that we do not know how to be friends with the Creator of the universe. He must teach us how. If we keep His commands, we will learn to be His friends.

Friends with the One who created the universe. Sounds like an amazing, eternal friendship, doesn’t it?

We could begin to solve the conundrum of how to have earthly friends yet realize that many will hate us with this:

Have friends but do not compromise Jesus’ commands.

To have all people speak well of us can only happen if we compromise God’s truth and thus deny friendship with Jesus. Christians are to learn how to have friends yet not sin like this. Let me launch out by confessing that this unenviable trait of compromise seems to run strongly in me. I think it has kept me from saying strong words about God at times. I say, “I think,” because often I honestly don’t know if it is me compromising or following the Holy Spirit’s leading to keep my mouth shut. It has been a lifelong discernment issue. I like interesting conversations and knowing about people’s lives and would rather those conversations continue. I do not think this is wrong. Nevertheless, I also must confess that I am repulsed by the reality that I could be hated but drawn to the idea that people would speak well of me. And that’s where the sinful fault lies. Right there. My need to be liked may prevent me from obeying Jesus’ commands and even cause me to deny Him. I realize how far I am from accepting this you-will-be-hated truth and being a faithful friend of Jesus. If this is you too, I know the Lord is full of grace and merciful and will love me and you as we endeavor to do this. Let’s pray for each other.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com.

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A few times in my life—not many—I have felt a bit envious when a Christian told me that a particular believer is his or her spiritual son or daughter. I thought that would be such a fulfilling relationship to have. Envy is a sin, but my sin meter was less finely tuned in those days; and somehow it seemed like a good envy to have. The problem with my desire to have a spiritual son was that it placed me in direct conflict with how Jesus thinks about such relationships.

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:6–12).

Jesus’ command about fathers is succinct, and the reason given is simple: You have one Father. He’s in heaven, by the way, which means He is sovereign over all things, can do all things, and is supremely adequate for all your needs, both physical and spiritual. People are never to be considered replacements for that sufficiency. So, we should tell those who are looking for a spiritual father to read this passage in Matthew and think on it.

Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t call our biological fathers, father. What Jesus is commanding relates to a spiritual and religious hierarchy that requires a person to regard it as a necessity for spiritual life. And when Paul told the Corinthians that he was their spiritual father, he was not advocating to be the all-sufficient source of their spiritual lives. He said this because he was the first man to bring them into the truth of the gospel and they should therefore imitate him (1 Corinthians 4:15–16). He had made it clear earlier in that letter how he was their servant and “nothing.”

Secondly, I will admit that I have been gratified through the years when people have told me that I’m a good teacher. I doubt my first thought was, “All good things you have heard from me came from Him.” Is there a desire in me to be the necessary truth-teller to my listeners? Well, everybody needs to be needed. Sinful again. Jesus commands here that we are not to call anyone teacher. Why? Because “you are all brothers,” and Christ Himself is our teacher. He is our essential truth-teller. No one else is. If we pause a bit to think about why Jesus used “Christ” here, I think we will understand that He is referring to Isaiah 53, where Christ is the Suffering Servant. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). The greatest among them, Jesus taught, is their suffering servant, not their “father” or “teacher.” Jesus is telling us that no one is to be exalted or lifted up over another. He knew the dangers of that exaltation well, since He knew the nature of mankind and its leaders, the kings of Israel and Judah, and those He addressed in the verses that precede His commands about fathers and teachers:

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others (Matthew 23:2–7).

The issues Jesus addresses here concerning the scribes and Pharisees help us understand His prohibitions about calling others fathers and teachers. Those prohibitions have to do with how the elevation to those positions put leaders in danger of falling into hypocrisy and pride. Power and status are heady intoxicants. All Christian pastors, leaders, and mentors should take heed and consider themselves vulnerable to such dangers. Are they called great teachers? Do they like to sit in the places of honor? Do they promote the ministries of their churches so they will “be seen by others”?

To the Christian reader, I repeat Jesus’ admonition. Do not call any man your spiritual father or teacher. You are all brothers. And if leaders and pastors promote their ministries, do what Jesus commands. Do what they tell you but do not do the works they do.

 

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 last week’s blog, we looked at the truth that the Lord was more interested in Paul’s spiritual condition than his physical discomfort. In order to subdue Paul’s conceit, He allowed his “thorn in the flesh” to remain. God’s grace was sufficient for Paul’s life. That understanding of His grace was all Paul needed to proceed with his life and continue to engage in his battle with self-boasting.

This week, we are going to look at another time when Jesus purposefully allowed His disciples to be uncomfortable.

A little background.

Jesus had just finished feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus had just shown again His power over material substance in order to care for those in need. Here’s what happened next:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:22–33).1

Jesus “made” the disciples get into a boat and go to the other side of the lake and then proceeded to climb a mountain and pray. He knew that the disciples would encounter a storm, so it is evident that He waited for this to happen. Why?

After a time—we don’t know how long—Jesus came down the mountain and walked to His disciples on the sea who had been struggling for some time in those troubled waters. When they thought He was a ghost, Jesus assured them that it was He and that they shouldn’t be afraid. Peter, for reasons unknown, (Perhaps to prove beyond doubt that this maybe-ghost was really who He said He was?), said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus replied. But something hindered Peter from completing his walk on the water to Jesus, and that something was a hard, frightening dose of reality. The wind was strong against Him. He cried out for rescue, and Jesus grabbed him out of the water, and they walked together back to the boat. Jesus then asked a question which Peter did not answer, and which you and I perhaps may not have answered as well: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” As soon as they got into the boat, the wind ceased. This is a perfect jewel on top of this story, an event that Jesus clearly caused to teach Peter and us a lesson.

But what lesson?

Jesus had just evidenced His power over the material stuff of the earth by feeding five thousand people with a few fish and loaves of bread. He showed that power here again when the wind ceased. He had done this before in Matthew 8:23-27. Is it a stretch to think that Jesus expected Peter, who had just seen those power-over-nature events, as well as others, to continue to believe that He had all of this under control? So, the question, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt” is, obviously, superbly legitimate. (As if Jesus would ever ask a question that was not.)

Jesus set all this up to teach Peter and us a lesson. A lesson not only about His absolute control over all things earthly and material—He created it all, by the way, so it makes sense He could control it—but also to show us our faith problem. I have no doubt whatsoever, if I was on top of the water in the middle of a storm with Jesus next to me, that if a strong wind blew against me, I would be frightened. I would doubt. Thus, my answer to Jesus’ question, “Why did you doubt?” is, “The circumstances overwhelmed me, overwhelmed whatever faith was in operation at that time. I was scared to death.”

Jesus purposed to make Peter and the other disciples uncomfortable to show them and us how puny our faith can be. How much in need of His help we are, and how He will help us, in spite of our lack of faith. How much we, like Peter, need to cry out for assistance when circumstances batter us like an overwhelming wind storm. Will He make us uncomfortable to do that? It appears to be the case, and we should rejoice. It’s a good thing to see how limited we are, and how unlimited God is, don’t you think? The disciples, after the wind ceased said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Amen.

 

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

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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