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Perhaps you are like me. I have toddled along for decades believing biblical claims without asking an important question: “Why isn’t the teacher quoting that verse in its context?” In fact, just last week, I fell for it again. I quoted one myself. But that verse remained rummaging around in my brain for a few days, so I actually looked it up, wonder of wonders. The verse in question is this: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).1 Our teachers have used this verse to address a litany of human fears. There is a large list of things of which to be afraid, as you might imagine. Thus, if you are a Christian and a fellow believer heard you say, “I’m afraid,” you probably know which verse would be quoted. It may have happened to you. We evangelicals like to have quick answers and solutions, even ones that are colored by a vague accusation. “You’re being influenced by a bad spirit!”

Let’s begin our investigation of the context in which this verse was written.

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 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 granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:5–10). 2

When Paul is reminding Timothy of his sincere faith and then encourages him to “kindle afresh the gift of God,” what is Paul doing? He is encouraging Timothy to re-invigorate the gift of God by prayer and biblical thinking, to “step up his game,” so to speak. Timothy has become shy concerning the things pertaining to salvation and our Savior, Jesus. To encourage him to do this, Paul recounts the wonderful things that God has done. Paul tells Timothy that the Spirit that is in him, the Holy Spirit, is not a spirit of timidity. It’s the opposite. It is the Spirit of power, love, and discipline.

Now, concerning the misuse of verse seven. You probably noticed immediately that the word “fear” is not present. The word “fear” is used by the KJV and the ESV, two prominent translations, and one of these is used most often by teachers who want to tell us that we should not be afraid of anything because that is “the spirit of fear.”

However, the word “timidity” is used in the NIV and the NASB. Let’s look at the reason for the difference. The most common word for “fear” in the New Testament is the Greek word “phobos,” from which we get the English word “phobia.” Its meaning in the New Testament is “terror.” We are to fear God. We are not to fear men or anything else because God is our refuge and deliverer. However, the word for “fear” in verse seven is not “phobia.” It is “deilia,” which means timidity, faintheartedness, or cowardice. This is the only place in the New Testament in which that word appears. It seems clear that Paul is referring to Timothy’s timid reluctance to proclaim the truth about Jesus. Is fear involved in his timidity? Yes. Fear of man, repercussions, or punishment for sharing the gospel. But it is misleading to use this verse to teach that being afraid of anything is because that’s the “spirit of fear.” This verse has nothing whatsoever to do with a multitude of fears we experience in our lives.

So, we Christians must not do what I did a few days ago and now must rectify. We must check out the context of out-of-context verses we are taught. Otherwise, we are believing a lie and are being misled. This is dangerous because the words of Scripture can be manipulated to prove just about anything. We must know the truth of Scripture.

1The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.    

2All other Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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Would Jesus hit you with a stick? To find the answer, we will need to look at the Twenty-Third Psalm, just this one verse:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). 1

So, a question: Why is the Lord’s rod and staff comforting? Don’t shepherds use rods to hit animals, sometimes even their sheep? Isn’t He the God who loves us? To find the answer, here is the word I invite the reader to ponder with me in the context of this psalm:

Governance.

This is Merriam-Webster’s definition: “The act or process of governing or overseeing the control and direction of something.” In the case before us, the shepherd governs—controls and directs—his sheep by the enforcement of a set of laws. What laws do these animals need? They are few and simple. Sheep must obey their shepherd. They must follow him and not go after an errant sheep that has wandered away and into potential danger. They must follow the shepherd to find fresh, green pasture. If they remain too long in one place, the herd will eventually destroy the grass in a field because their sharp hooves cut into the plants’ roots. The shepherd uses a rod and a staff to direct his sheep in the way they should go. In all cases, the shepherd is governing and imposing His will to enforce his laws. These laws are for the good of the sheep, to ensure their safety and thriving. That includes using the rod as a weapon to defend against predators that want to kill those in the shepherd’s care.

As with those sheep, so with Christians. Our shepherd governs us so we will keep His laws. What kinds of laws do we need? They are few and simple. Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. We must remain in Him. We must follow and obey Him. We must not wander away from Him, following an errant believer and thus into danger. We must follow when He calls us out of a dying place in which we have lived too long, threatening our spiritual lives.

We, of course, are smarter than sheep. At least, we think we are. However, we are often quite unwise. We do all manner of things that lead to death. We do not follow Jesus. Sometimes we do not obey Him and His laws and wander away, right into the mouth of danger. We will live in the same place too long, thinking we can continue in the same perishing place. Death is not only the end of our lives on earth. It is all around us, in our godless cultures and sometimes in our religious ones. The Lord, who loves and cares for us, will use His rod and staff to help us. He will use His rod to direct us back to His care and hook us with His staff to turn us around. He does this through the power of the Holy Spirit, who will convict us of our sin and tell us the right way to go. However, the imposition of the Shepherd’s governance extends outside the herd, as well. He will use His rod to defend us from threats to our spiritual lives.

So, why does the Shepherd govern us with a rod and staff? For our good. That’s why those implements, though the use of them may make our lives uncomfortable and challenging, are ultimately comforting. The governance of the Shepherd will keep us from evil and death, and we need not fear either of them.

So, would Jesus hit us with a stick? Yes. He will do that to keep us from walking into danger and death. We will thank Him for that when it’s all said and done. So, we do thank You, Jesus, for being our good and loving Shepherd and doing what needs to be done to cause us to walk in Your life.

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

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Following Jesus is quite simple.

Following Jesus is quite difficult.

At first, these two truths seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. To help us understand walking with Jesus a little better, let’s take an example from the natural world.

Going to Lima, Peru, is quite simple.

Going to Lima, Peru, is quite difficult—when you discover it is necessary for you to walk there.

Imagine this. On your way to the Lima, your equipment malfunctions and supplies run out. Your legs grow tired and your feet sore. You become very hungry. You try everything you know to make that journey work, and it all fails. You become disappointed and discouraged. Somewhere along the journey, the government of Lima finds you and brings you safely into its environs. You are alive and safe. When you walk through the streets, people are cheering and celebrating. You ask, “Why are you celebrating? I didn’t do what was needed to get here.”

The crowd responds, “We’re not celebrating you. We knew you were struggling and couldn’t get here on your own. We’re celebrating the city that brought you here.”

Like going to Lima, the idea of following Jesus is quite simple.

Like going to Lima, following Him is quite difficult when we discover what is required.

As we walk with Him, somewhere in our journey, things don’t go so well. We encounter great difficulties. We find it impossible to obey Jesus’ commands even to our own satisfaction, especially when it comes to loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. We know we are to love our enemies. This idea seems simple until some people verbally abuse us, insult us, or even condemn us. We are to forgive them. Christians, as it turns out, are sometimes the hardest to love. Our glorious early Christian wonder evaporates, and we realize that the simple idea of following Jesus is extraordinarily difficult to do. We may become disappointed and discouraged.

Then, we come across one of the most famous and wondrous passages in all of Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13. We read it saying, “Amen. Amen.” Then we stop and we ask ourselves how we stack up to love’s very first characteristic: It is patient. Well, am I patient? I don’t know about you, fellow Christian, but my patience is sometimes horrifyingly brief. I think about God’s patience. How patient He is with me. How patient He is with everyone. How He is still being patient.

How I probably would have nuked the planet thousands of years ago.

So, I repent. Ask for forgiveness and continue on.

But, of course, that lovely thirteenth chapter doesn’t end there. Love doesn’t insist on its own way. Do I ever do that? “You cut me off in traffic! Who do you think you are?”

Next, I read that love is not irritable.

Hmm. Take a go at me when I’ve had a miserable night of sleeplessness.

Or when someone cuts me off in traffic.

How about “Love hopes all things? Yes, I hope that the earth swallows that driver up, but, um, I’m pretty sure that’s not what that sentence means in this chapter about love.

William Hendriksen wrote in his commentary on Philippians: “Fully developed love never travels alone. It is always accompanied by all the virtues.”

Yes. All of them. That’s the complete, beautiful picture.

So absent in me, so much of the time.I

However, there is good news here.

In our difficult journey with Jesus on earth, we are traveling to our ultimate destination, the heavenly kingdom. Many things go wrong. We continually fail to obey God’s commands. We are disappointed in ourselves. Somewhere in that journey, Jesus grabs us and takes us to our destination, and we end up walking the streets in a city whose builder was God (Hebrews 11:8-10). People cheer and celebrate. We might ask—although I doubt it— “Why are you cheering and celebrating? I failed all the way through my journey.”

The crowd will respond, “We’re not celebrating you. We’re celebrating the one who brought you here.”

“I tried to do the best I could.”

“Yes, but you really had nothing whatsoever to do with getting here.”

Christians will never perfect their walk with Jesus and obey His commands. But we will arrive and discover, despite our best efforts, despite our successes as well as our failures, there is really only one who brought us to our destination.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

For many years, I have found it difficult to deal with the decline and degradation of the United States, but that struggle has ramped up considerably with the probable election of a man, a woman, and a party that support many anti-Christian beliefs, supreme among them the murder of helpless infants. For that reason, I voted for a man whom many consider an arrogant and egotistical bully. I acknowledge these traits, but because he is pro-life and pro-Christian, it is easily worth the trade-off. I sincerely hoped he would be re-elected, and it appears to very possible that he will not. Nevertheless, I must believe these truths:

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9).1

“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).

And this from the prophet Isaiah: “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).

I noticed that a few verses later how much Isaiah needed God’s help to obey this command because the Lord added, “And the people will oppress one another, every one his fellow and every one his neighbor; the youth will be insolent to the elder, and the despised to the honorable” (Isaiah 3:5).

This is what Isaiah and God’s people were to face.

This is what we are facing. It is disturbing to experience such a fall. Yet, to the Lord, all countries, including the United States, are as insignificant as a drop from a bucket.

“Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:15,17).

So, I see how different His view of the United States is from mine.

I must not put my trust in a “prince,” which at this time is the still-in-office president of the United States. I confess that I had hoped that we would have been able in this election to “tap the brakes” in the Great American Decline. It is still possible, I suppose, but hope in that temporary stoppage is waning. We do not deserve a slowdown in our lawless decline. We have sinned against God, and we are experiencing and will continue to experience His judgment. Sadly, if the Democrat party has their way, more heinous sins will become lawful. Stunningly it seems, this is what the majority of Americans have voted for.

We have sown the wind, and we will reap the whirlwind.

So, how should I respond?

What shall I do with this verse? “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them” (Proverbs 28:4).

What does that striving look like?

I do not yet know, but surely it starts with me praying for help and mercy.

Lord, help us take refuge in You and You alone. Help us put our trust in You and not in any man. You are the sovereign Lord over all nations—the sovereign Lord of the universe. You know all things. You can do all things. Please defeat evil. Please be merciful.

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

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What a strange world we now live in. We are called upon to stay apart which will someday, somehow, bring us all together. I don’t know how this actually works, but I think those who say it mean that if we all keep from killing each other by social distancing and wearing masks, eventually, we will be able to be together again and live in—what—peaceful harmony?

I realize COVID-19 can be deadly for folks of my age. I don’t want to kill anyone, so I wear a mask when necessary and try to social distance, although having coffee with a friend across a small table makes that impossible. But like you, I try. However, I don’t think the promise of bringing us together again after COVID-19 goes away will ever come to pass. You may smile at me as we pass on a sidewalk, but as soon as you find out about what I believe, you may turn away from me in disgust. Or yell at me. Or attack me. If I had the temerity to post online that I reject many “woke” beliefs, it’s possible I would experience a deluge of hate. Well, maybe not a deluge. I am not famous, so almost no one knows about my beliefs. However, I have seen enough vitriol spewed toward those who are well known to make that easy conclusion. What surprises Christians is that universally accepted biblical Christian beliefs about family, adultery, promiscuity, homosexuality, transsexuality (which few even thought seriously about until recently except as an aberration), and even the equality of races have flipped in just a few years and are met with ridicule, hatred, and even violence.

However, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus prophesied about this two thousand years ago.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9–13).1

Lawlessness, Jesus said, will be increased. This is not only rioting, looting, and burning. It is about the above list of sins and the rejection and hatred of Christian morality. By “lawlessness” Jesus meant a departure from the laws of God.

But why is it true that the increase of lawlessness causes the love of many to grow cold?

That’s a great question, and I think many Christians are experiencing the answer within themselves. There’s a lot of hatred to go around for anyone who wants to jump in, and I can feel it impinging upon my soul. It is a life-decaying danger. We must resist this hatred and obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbor. It is bizarre that we must be encouraged not to hate our neighbors.

However, like I said, it’s a strange world we now live in.

Hatred is present and available because it is a sign of the last days, as Jesus said. The entire 24th chapter of Matthew is about the signs of His return. Love growing cold is only one of these signs. However, as Jesus said, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24:32–33).

The love-growing-cold leaves are budding out.

I encourage my brothers and sisters not to yield to the hatred that is wrapping round us like a lethal fog. We must reject “worldly passions” as Paul wrote to Titus and live “upright and godly lives.” Jesus is our peace. He is our hope. We have no other, and we wait for that blessed hope from heaven. Remain steadfast. Ask the Lord for help. This kind of love does not come naturally.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).

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

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In my early Christian years, a song was popular among those with whom I fellowshipped: The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. It was a simple chorus and easy to remember. The other day when I happened to see the verse from Scripture on which the song was based, my mind immediately flew to the words. In those early, simple days, I had never bothered to think deeply about their meaning or read them in context. However, times have changed, as have I. So, I quickly asked myself, “What does it mean that the joy of the Lord is my strength?”

I didn’t have a ready answer.

So, I went to the passage in Nehemiah to find understanding. First, let’s look at the context. The walls of Jerusalem had been built. God’s people were returning to the land of promise. They gathered together, and Nehemiah, Ezra, and others read the Law to them and helped them understand it. Then, “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:9).1

It seems clear to me that the Holy Spirit was at work here, making the truths of God’s law real to the hearts of God’s people. They were realizing how utterly far they had fallen and disobeyed the Lord’s commands. Godly grief is good. It produces repentance. It is satisfying and glorious while at the same time bringing shame. That’s an odd mix, but it is true. Following close after shame is the realization of grace-filled forgiveness, mercy, and love from God Himself, truths which surely evoke the most wonderful emotional experiences imaginable.

When we read further in Nehemiah, we will find that their repentance was not completed then. However, on this marvelous day when the Holy Spirit was strongly making the beauty of God’s Law real, there was to be joy. Nehemiah said, “‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved’” (Nehemiah 8:10–11).

So, why was the joy of the Lord their strength?

The word for strength here is מָעוֹז, or maoz. Its galaxy of meanings include mountain, stronghold, a place of refuge, a fortress, a means of safety, and protection.

The joy of Yahweh Himself was their place of refuge. They were joyful because they were safe in Him, protected from His wrath, which they knew they deserved—they had heard and been convicted by His Law. To their relief, His righteous judgment was not going to come upon them. Think of it. Not one blemish. Spotless. Clean. Washed. “Clean before the Lord I stand, and in me, not one blemish does He see,” the artist Honeytree sang many years ago. That brings joy. And since joy is a fruit of His Spirit, the Lord God Almighty is present wherever His joy is and wherever He is, there is strength. The Lord brought them His joy, imparted by the Holy Spirit, and they were now strong, forgiven; able to move forward in their lives with Him, free from guilt and shame. They could stop grieving over their terrible sinfulness. They could take that truth which had been made real to them that day and move on in the joyous truth that they were immaculately clean.

If you have sinned, you can repent. Forgiveness, mercy, and great love will overflow your soul. Your guilt and shame are taken away, regardless of how heinous your sin. You are clean. The joy of the Lord, after that flooding deluge, will be your strength.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25).

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

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Probably too often, we say, “We are living in interesting days.” It sounds a little vanilla, a bit like a surrender to the—what shall we call it—chaos.

But they are interesting, aren’t they?

When I look at news on the internet, I learn about occurrences that I never would have known a few years ago. Technology is great. We all use it, need it, and love it—mostly. But the flood of information that is now available has not been helpful to us. Too often, it leaves us angry, hateful, fearful, and even depressed. 

When the Lord told Daniel about the time of the end, He added, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4).1

Christians have been seeing this increase in knowledge for decades. But none of those who spoke forty years ago could have possibly imagined the amount of input to which we have access today. I can’t help but wonder if this is flood of information is one of the things Jesus had in mind to when He said, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:12–14).

All of this lawlessness. We don’t seem able to process it without our love growing cold.

We know more about lawlessness in our nation and in the world than any generation that has ever existed on earth. People a hundred years ago did not have instant access to the malapropos thoughts of hundreds of individuals who lived even fifty miles away, much less thousands of miles away like we do today on social media platforms. They wouldn’t have known about the arrests of criminals in other cities, unless they were spectacular events, nor would they have seen photos or videos of them just moments after they happened. I don’t think we humans are capable of handling so much information and remain mentally, spiritually, and psychologically healthy. I’m not sure the mind of mankind is equipped to process the information available today without suffering a deleterious effect on his or her life. How long can a person walk around angry, afraid, and full of hate and remain stable?

Yet, we feel compelled to know as much as possible about a great many things so we can be “informed.”

So, here’s a thought. Although we are informed about a great deal of things, the Lord God Almighty knows…everything. He has perfect knowledge. There is nothing He does not know. Nothing. Our intelligence compared to His is—what shall we say? Miniscule. And yet, he is able to “handle” all of it. Not only does He know every fact about every person and every situation on earth and in the universe, He knows every fact about every person and every situation on earth and in the universe in the future.

Mind boggled yet? I am.

So, let’s pause for a moment and bring all the crescendo of negative noise going on in our brains down to one placid place: God. And His peace. Most of the time in the New Testament, peace is used in reference to our relationship to Him. So what? This has very practical implications for us. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

This is where peace is.

After Peter had written about what would happen in the last days, he penned, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).

Hmm. “Be diligent to be found in Him without spot or blemish and at peace.”

Yes. Remember what Jesus said in the teaching about the last days we looked at earlier in Matthew, He said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

No matter how much we know—and lots of it is distressing and negative—there is only one thing that is vital: Our place and peace with the Lord God Almighty.

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

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Got enemies? Anybody out there in your country whom you despise?

I get it. We are being tempted to hate. It is like a virus these days. Yet, Christians know that they are called upon, not to hate, but to love their enemies. Let me be quick to add that we are addressing the enemies of Christians, not necessarily enemies politically. Our job as Christians is to speak God’s truth in love to those who oppose our faith in Jesus. There is political truth and there is Christian truth—they may not be identical. If Christian enemies and political enemies conjoin, our charge to tell God’s truth does not change. I am not saying that Christians should not speak political truths. After all, one of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot (Mark 3:18).

Here is Jesus’ difficult command:  

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43–45).1

What does that look like? For some answers, the best place to look is at Jesus Himself and find how He loved His enemies.

It may be startling to discover that for Jesus, loving His enemies did not mean that He avoided offending them or hurting their feelings. Once He called them hypocrites six times within the space of a few minutes (Matthew 23:13, 15, 23, 25, and 27). He told them they did not know God and were liars. “But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word” (John 8:55). He said they were the offspring of the devil and did his will. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44a). He called them snakes and destined to hell, to their faces. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33). After Jesus had finished a diatribe against the Pharisees, a lawyer told Him that He had insulted them, too. Jesus did not back off. “One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And he said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers’” (Luke 11:45–46).

Jesus did not apologize for insulting the lawyer. He doubled down.  

So, a question. How could Jesus be loving His enemies if He was insulting them?

The truth must be answered with the truth. We know for certain that Jesus was loving the Pharisees and lawyers when He blasted them, because God is love. Thus, our only answer is that loving these men meant confronting and insulting them to bring them to truth. Jesus was more concerned about them believing in Him than He was their hurt feelings.

Here is another New Testament example. The coup de grace of Stephen’s amazing message before the Sanhedrin detailing Israel’s continuing rebellion against God despite His gracious care, was,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51–53).

Their response? “Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54).

God’s response? “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

Clearly, the Lord was pleased. As the old preachers used to say, “Jesus gave Stephen a standing ovation.”

So, another question: How do we work out these challenging, loving encounters in our lives?

With great care.

With great difficulty.

With great love.

How do we speak the truth in love without insulting our enemies? That may not be possible. However, we must be sure that if we are angry, that we sin not. We must be certain our anger is righteous and does not originate in our old nature.

Lord, please help us in our weakness. We know we should not hate, but it is tempting to do so. Please place your love for our enemies in our hearts. Please give us wisdom, tempered with compassion and forgiveness as we enter some very strange days.

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

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I want to begin this Memorial Day post by honoring those who sacrificed their lives to keep this country free and thanking their families. May the Lord bless and comfort you.

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What does every person on earth possess that God does not?

A great many things. And a host of them are sinful. Premier among them, if that may be said, is pride.

But God? God is not proud at all.

Think with me for a moment. If any being had a right to boast about what he had accomplished, God would be that being. How is this for starters? He created everything that exists, including you. He gives life to all living things. He created a universe and world where everything works together in an orderly way. (Some quantum mechanics physicists may disagree!) He knows everything. There is nothing He cannot do. Finally, He, the Creator, sacrificed Himself for everyone’s sins and, if they believe, will save them from eternal death. Is He proud of what He has done? No. He is humble and lowly in heart.

In contrast, we, who are incomprehensibly weak in comparison to Him, have no problem whatsoever crowing about the relatively diminutive things we accomplish. This creates a rather large problem. The Lord hates pride.

Why does He hate it? He hates it because it is destructive to us. Pride is detrimental because it keeps Christians from living in the liberating, faith-thriving truth that God is the king, the ruler, and the one who controls everything—and we are not. Living as a Christian with God as king is a blessing for us. In His great love, He knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Pride, instead, leads us into the damaging error that we think we know what we need and when we need it, and thus will endeavor with all our strength to work our will to stay in control. We become frustrated. Angry. Even faithless. In truth, Christians are strengthened in faith and edified when they glorify the Lord. The Holy Spirit gives witness in our hearts that this is right and true. We find ourselves in agreement with God when we glorify Him.

In addition, pride is unlike God because it is unloving. It drives us to think we are superior to others, and we are happy to demonstrate it. We are intelligent and quite able, aren’t we? We’re probably smarter than most, aren’t we? “I can conquer this, and I will prove it to you. I can do this. I can make this happen.” Christians have mimicked the world in this, misusing scriptural truths. For example, we love to quote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).1 But think about this. Can you really do all things through Jesus? No, you can’t. It is an empty, unscriptural boast. This verse is ripped out of context from a passage where Paul wrote that whether he was experiencing difficulty or abundance, he had learned to be content.

Another verse Christians shout is, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23b). This is direct quote from Jesus. But we need to ask, “Believes in what? Believes that something I want to happen will happen?” This is off target. We need to couple Mark 9:23 with Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). It is true that God can do anything. Is He able to heal your sickened body? Of course. All things are possible for Him. We should believe that truth. Will He heal your sickened body? Perhaps not. Just because you believe all things are possible for the Lord and that He can do anything doesn’t mean He will.

Another slogan we like to say is, “We can change the world.” This is direct rip-off from the American culture. It is a vague, mindless statement. Can you “change the world”? Well, you can go outside and prune a tree and “change the world.” But believer, you cannot change anything at all of eternal value in this world. Only God can do that.

We must understand these things because here is what is to come:

“The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory, to dishonor all the honored of the earth. (Isaiah 23:9).

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

This is a judgment that we bring upon ourselves. At a certain time, which only He knows, He will say, “I have shown you the truth. Yet you continued to boast in yourself, your knowledge, and your deeds. I have opposed you. Yet you would not hear and obey. You will be humbled. You will be dishonored.”

Father, help us to humble ourselves before You. Rebuke and restrain us when we boast in ourselves. Teach us the way of humility.

 

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

Gif courtesy Bing images.

nachos-eating

I don’t know when it changed. Sometime, a few years ago, people, including Christians, began replacing exclamations like “Wow!,” “Oh my goodness!,” and other printable and unprintable expressions with “Oh my God!” This has not been a helpful change in American Christendom. It saddens and troubles me to hear it said, but it has pulled the drapes back on our religious superficiality. It exposes the reality that many Christians in the United States do not take the idea and the name of the Lord God Almighty seriously. So, to challenge us to deepen our thinking about the Creator and Savior, I am going to admonish Christians to stop using this expression and explain why.

This is the Lord’s third commandment to His people: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).1

Perhaps the way the New Century Version translates it will bring it a little closer to home: “You must not use the name of the LORD your God thoughtlessly; the LORD will punish anyone who misuses his name.”2

There’s a little more fear in that rendering, isn’t there?

Now, I know that some readers may balk at this. They will claim that we are not to be subject to fear. Respect God, yes. But fear Him? Not so much. However, it is difficult to ignore truths like these:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4–5).

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10).

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).

Both love and fear are characteristics in the lives of those who desire to know God. It is up to believers to find the balance between loving God and fearing Him, but both attributes must be present in a vibrant and genuine Christian life.

Perhaps it appears that I am advocating behavioral legalism when I encourage the cessation of a behavior. Not so. I reject Christian perfectionism and legalism. But I do not reject God’s laws. No, I love God’s laws. They reveal His heart and character. However, His laws are obeyed from the inside out, not from the outside only. We obey because we love Him. This is critical. If love for our God is not our motivation, we become loveless, unmerciful, death-dealing legalists.

God, whose name we toss around so thoughtlessly, created everything that exists. He created the one who takes His name in vain. He is aware of such a person’s heartbeat, each thought, each breath. He knows that obedience to His laws brings life and that disobedience to them, sin, brings spiritual death in some manner or another. He commands us because He loves us. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). He said this because we do not know how to be His friend. He must tell us.

This same God loves the one who carelessly blurts out His name. He offered Himself in sacrifice for the one who, unthinking, uses His name to express his or her happiness about a plate of nachos. To echo James, “My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).

Let us repent and ask for forgiveness. Let’s think about our Savior and Creator when we speak His name and ask for His help to do so. Let us do all things to please Him.

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10).

 

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

2The Everyday Bible: New Century Version. (2005). (Ex 20:7). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Gif courtesy Bing images.

 

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