Category Archives: Matt’s Moment

Does God Exist and is He Knowable? (Let’s Do Some Apologetics!)

I’m convinced that we, as Christians, have fallen down on the job of learning about our God and the universe he created.  Many of us use the argument that we just don’t have time to put into that type of learning.  Of course, I’d disagree.  The question isn’t a matter of time, but one of priority.  In the book “Passionate Conviction: Modern Discourses on Christian Apologetics”, J.P. Moreland writes in an article that Christians should be learning everything they can about God and the universe, especially in the area of their vocation.  I agree.  And, I believe it is vastly important that a Christian start by understanding how to talk about God and his existence.

One of the challenges facing Christians today is how to talk about God and his existence.  Christians often find themselves facing adherents to atheism (the belief that there is no God) and agnosticism (the belief that God is unknowable).  With both, they may be unwilling to engage the Bible as evidence of God’s existence and consider a personal testimony to be a personal experience that is unrelated to them.  So, is it possible for a Christian (who believes that there is a God and that He is knowable) to present the existence of God intelligently to an atheist or an agnostic?  Absolutely.  There are a lot of ways to argue the existence of God. Following is one such argument.  It is an argument founded in an understanding of Romans 1:18-20.  Romans 1:18-20 declares that God has given man enough revelation in nature to discover two things about him: his divine nature and his eternal power.

If you’re speaking to a person who initially refuses to engage the scripture or your personal testimony, then a different approach must be taken.  The following is an argument that starts with the universe or any part thereof and argues to the existence of God.  It’s important to note that this argument brings us only to the point that we can discuss two things about God.  This argument only addresses God’s eternal independent existence and his unchanging nature.  You may find that, after you argue this point, an atheist or an agnostic will be willing to admit the existence of a greater being, but may not yet be ready to believe that this being is the God found in the Bible.  So, you still have both apologetic and evangelistic work to do after this point.  But, at least you have a starting point!

Samuel Clark’s cosmological argument for the existence of God:

 1. Something has always existed.

2. If something has always existed, then there has either always existed one unchangeable, and independent being or there has been an endless succession of changeable and dependent beings

3. Either there has always existed one unchangeable and independent being or there has been an endless succession of changeable and dependent beings.

4. An endless series of dependent and changeable beings is caused by something external to itself or it is self-sufficient (carries the cause of itself within itself)

5. If an endless series of dependent and changeable beings is self-sufficient, then one being (thing) within the series must be self-existent.

6. Every being within an endless series of dependent and changeable beings depends on another being within the series for its existence.

7. An endless series of dependent and changeable beings cannot be self-existent.

8. An endless series of dependent and changeable beings must be caused by something external to itself.

9. The external reason for an endless series of dependent and changeable beings must be either a dependent being or a self-existent being.

10. The external reason for an endless series of dependent and changeable beings cannot be a dependent being.

11. The external reason for an endless series of dependent beings must be a self-existent being.

12. If an endless series of dependent beings exists, then a self-existent being must exist.

13. This self-existent being must have existed from eternity and be unchangeable and independent.

In every day terms:

1. Something has always existed.

2. If something has existed, then it’s either one infinite, independent, and unchangeable being or it’s a infinite series of dependent beings.

3. So, either a self-existent and unchangeable being has existed or there is a endless series of dependent and changeable beings.

4. If it’s a endless series of dependent beings, then it either was created by something else or it created itself

5. If the endless series of dependent beings created itself, then one of the beings within the series must have been self-existent so that it could start the series.

6. By definition, every being in an endless series of dependent beings depends on another in the series for its existence.

7. So an endless series of dependent and changeable beings can’t have created itself.

8. If that’s the case, then the series must have been caused by something outside of itself.

9. The external source of the series must either be a self-existent being or an endless series of beings.

10. We’ve already shown that it couldn’t be an endless series (because then this series would be a part of that series).

11. So, the cause for an endless series of beings must be a self-existent being.

12. If an endless series of beings exists, then a self-existent being exists.

13. If a self-existent being exists, that being must be eternally independent and unchangeable.

How does that work out?  Since humans are a part of the universe, let’s use humans as an example.  We are an endless series of humans from the day of creation.  So, either we created ourselves or we were created by something outside of ourselves.  If we created ourselves, then one human in the series had to have existed by itself so that it could create the series.  Every human (dependent being) is dependent on another human in the series for his or her existence.  Since we are dependent on other humans for our existence, there couldn’t have been one who started the human race.  So, we must have had an outside cause.  That cause itself must either be a self-existent and eternal being or another endless series of dependent beings.  Now, this is where evolutionists and others will often put in different theories of creations ranging from the primordial soup to alien intelligence planting life here on earth.  However, each of those series of creation is, in itself, a series of dependent events or beings leading to the endless series of human life.  So, tracing it back, human life would be a smaller part of a larger series of dependent beings.  So, since it can’t be an endless series of beings, then it must be one self-existent being that caused humans.  If an endless series of beings exists (humans), then a self-existent being exists.  We exist, so that being must exist.  And, if that being exists, then he must be eternal, independent, and unchangeable.

In an argument like this, we can see that God exists and that he is knowable, even if all we can know about him (if we never move beyond this argument) is that he has existed eternally and independently without change and we can also see that, if dependent things exist, then they are dependent on him for their existence.

Getting the head and the heart together

When learning how to share the gospel, I remember being taught to ask people to “give their heart to Jesus.” In college, my professor Dr. Henry Krabbendam once said, “Don’t tell people to give their heart to Jesus! It’s diseased and dead. Instead, tell them to ask Jesus to give them his heart! It is holy, perfect, wonderful, and full of life.”

I’ve also heard people say, “They missed knowing Jesus by 18 inches.” What they mean is that a person knew about Jesus, but didn’t know Jesus. It is true that a person must know Jesus personally. Being a follower of Jesus is both a head thing and a heart thing.

Why is the head important?

What we know (or think we know) informs our heart what to feel and believe. Scripture teaches the importance of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. For example, we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7) and wise men store up knowledge (Prov. 10:14). We are told to acquire wisdom and understanding (Prov. 4:5) and to ask for it if we lack it (James 1:5). And, we are told to incline our hearts to understanding (Prov. 2:2). It is through understanding of the scripture that we begin to gain wisdom and through the gaining of wisdom that we truly begin to fear the Lord and start to come to know about him. And, it is in that knowledge about him that we find the desire either to know him personally or to reject him. That is when the heart comes into play.

Why is the heart important?

Scripture talks a lot about the heart. The heart, in our culture, is the seat of our emotional being. Of course, I’m not talking about our physical heart. As Mark Lowry points out, have you ever thought about how weird it is to say to a person, “I love you with all of my heart?” What you’re saying in a physical sense is, “I love you…with all of my blood pumping muscle.” The Hebrews considered the bowels to be the heart of the emotions. Lowry says, “When they said, “I love you. They said, ‘Oh baby, you make my liver quiver.’”

When we talk about the heart, we’re talking about something else. The heart, as our emotional seat, functions in three ways. It determines how we think, how we feel, and what we will. For example, if we are passion in how we feel about something, it is something that we think about often. We spend much time researching it and considering it. When it comes time to act on our passion, our will to act on it is determined by how our heart feels about it. If we love it, we fight for it. If we hate it, we fight against it.

Our heart also determines both the moral and social dimensions of our lives. The way we think, feel, and our will has a direct impact on what we believe morally and how we interact socially. If we believe, for example, that there is a God who is ultimately good and that he embodies the absolute truth, then we will live in a way that acknowledges what he declares to be morally good and we will treat others in the way that he treats us. If we believe that there is no God and that truth is relative each to his or her own, then we may live morally ambiguous lives and our social conduct is determined more by how each of us feels than a set standard for what is right and wrong.

We are created in the image of God. Whether we believe in him or not, that image exists within us. How that image plays out is determined by what we think, feel, and will. It is impacted by our moral and social understanding. That image within us is a creative image and it is what drives us. It is the impetus for our actions and speech. We can be creatively good or creatively evil. In my private prayers, I’ve often prayed, “Lead me away from temptation, because I can certainly find enough left on my own.” That image of God in us leads us to want to create, to do, to be, and to say. And, the heart determines what those creations, actions, being, and sayings will be.

HEART -> THINK, WILL, FEEL -> MORAL & SOCIAL UNDERSTANDING -> CREATIVE DRIVE -> ACTIONS & SPEECH

So, God aims for the heart. In 1 Sam 16:7, we are told that God doesn’t look to our appearance, but to our heart. Psalms tells us that God knows the secrets of the heart (44:21), creates a clean heart in us (51:10), that we are to approach him with a broken and contrite heart (51:17). The heart without God, we are told in Jeremiah 17:9-10 is, “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” and that God “searches the heart and examines the mind.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart” (Matt 5:8) and Paul teaches, “With the heart a man believes and is justified” (Rom 10:10). In Philippians 4:7, Paul warns us to guard our hearts and minds and the writer of Hebrews says, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

God wants us to know about him and to know him. He gives us his scripture and teaching so that we can know about him and he aims his message at our heart so that we will desire a relationship with him. If we are to be good witnesses for him, then we must know about him and we must know him. We must be driven by a passion for him that is deeper than that for anything else in our lives. It should be the basis for what we think, feel, and will. It must be the foundation for our moral and social interaction. We should be driven to speak and act in a way that shows our faith and belief in Jesus! So, be careful in how you think and guard your heart; so protected then make sure you act and speak in a way that brings honor and glory to our Father!

We must shine!

It may seem to you that our country is coming apart at the seams. Violence has been on the rise. Bigotry is once again raising its ugly head. Our police, those men and women who stand in the gap for us, are coming under fire both literally and in the media. The leadership in our country is severely divided. Our economy has muddled along without any real growth as the industry in our country continues to suffer. There seems to be no hope, right? Wrong.

While all of these things are serious, there is nothing new. In Ecclesiastes 1, Solomon speaks of how things come and go, but nothing is new. Even with all of the seasons of change, there really is nothing new that we face. Sometimes it helps to step back and look at the long history of God’s creation. Since Adam and Eve fell in the garden, humanity has been at odds with God. Because of our separation from God and our focus on self, we have also been at odds with each other. As soon as Adam and Eve’s first two children reached maturity, strife, greed, jealousy, and anger raised their head. Hatred, conceived in the heart of Cain gave birth to murder. Adam and Eve knew the grief of losing a child, Cain knew the shame, horror, and guilt of an act that could never be fixed.

Since that time, humanity has striven against itself. Governments have risen and fallen. Wars were fought. Economies grew and economies imploded. Bigotry has raged against people because of their religion, the color of their skin, the place of their birth, their education level, their economic position, their ideology, and gender. What we are facing today is the same old thing coming back again and again. Sin, humanity’s desire to serve self rather than God, is the root of the problem. As long as there is sin, there will be strife. So, what is our response? How should we live in times like these?

First, we need to repent. Repentance is an admission of our guilt and a turning back to God. Wait a minute, you might say. I’m not the one causing these problems. I didn’t shoot police officers.  I’m not bigoted. I just want to be able to raise my family, go to work, and live my life in peace. Why do I need to repent? I can answer that! It’s biblical.

During the Babylonian captivity, Daniel was studying God’s word. To be specific, he was studying Jeremiah’s prophecies. He realized that the time of the Babylonian captivity was coming to an end and he turns to God to pray for himself and Israel. His prayer is one of repentance. This godly man approaches God and begins, “…confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill…” (Daniel 9:20). His prayer is so serious that he, “…turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Starting in verse 4, Daniel prays and confesses. He acknowledges that God is righteous while he and his people are covered in shame. He admits that his people and the leadership of his country turned away from God and his laws. He remembers the way that God delivered his people. Then, in verses 18-19, he says, “…We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” Like Daniel, as Christians, we need to acknowledge our own personal sin as well as our sin as a people and nation.

Second, we need to unify. The call of the book of Philippians is one of unity. While reminding us of the humility of Christ in which he gave his life for us, Paul calls us to “…work out our faith with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation…” (Phil 2:12-15). The world may be filled with strife, anger, distrust, gossip, and discord, but the church should not be. We’re different. We have experienced the salvation that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit lives within us, he changes us, and he makes it possible for us to be obedient to him. The salvation that Jesus secured for us and the change he works in us is so amazing that our response should be living faith with fear and trembling? Why? Because we are so awed at what our God has done. Our awe of him and our desire to be like him should drive us to live and serve together in a way that pleases him! Remember, there is one thing that unites us all. Paul says in Galatians 3:26-28, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” What does that mean for us today? In Christ, there is no division based on nationality, occupation, gender, or skin color. In Christ, all believers stand united!

The people of our world live in darkness. It is darkness so severe that nothing of the world can penetrate it. It leaves people helpless, hopeless, and lost.  John tells us that in Jesus is the life and that life is the light of men.  He is the light that shines in the darkness. Paul tells us that living in Jesus makes us, “shine like the stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16). So, we need to shine. More than ever, we need to shine.

The light we reflect is beautiful, brilliant, and attractive. We reflect it, not just by being followers of Jesus, but by sharing God’s word. It is both a part of us and an action taken by us. Notice that Paul does not stop at saying that we are to shine like the stars in the universe. He says that we are to shine like the stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life!

If we are to shine, then we must engage. Our churches and our people need to leave their sanctuaries and hit the streets. We need to make friends with people who are not like us, to build relationships with people who do not know, and to share our lives, our faith, and God’s Word with others. We need to be a presence at rallies and events, in our neighborhoods, in our schools and jobs, and in our homes. We need to stand united, not for or against political parties, but as members of a kingdom that transcends any of our earthly governments. And, we need to do so humbly and repentantly so that people see and experience the grace and mercy of our God.

This is our calling. This is the command that Jesus has given us. This is our response to the troubles of these time!

Who can save the U.S.?

As the United States draws closer to the 2016 presidential election, there is a frenzy developing on social media, talk radio shows, and news media. Frustration, fear, anger, and desperation are the common theme of the day. Each of the candidates left standing are polarizing forces. People argue over them, hate them, love them, and are vocal in their support or vehement in their rejection of them. The situation is so volatile that there have been riots, physical assaults, verbal assaults, vandalism, and protests. The common theme is “If _____ gets elected, our country is doomed. Only _____ can save our country.”

I  understand the feeling. There are times when I look at the decline of our nation and mourn. There are candidates that I believe would harm our country if elected. There are candidates that I think could help our country. Like many, I am passionate about my political beliefs. Like many, I’ve wondered which candidate, if any, can actually do something to help our country.

Debt, sexual orientation, gender roles, increasing divorce rate, businesses leaving the country, jobs being outsourced, economic decline, real estate market stagnation, terrorism, increasing violence, increasing racial tensions, loss of confidence in leadership of the nation, immigration reform, challenges in the education system, and an increasingly offensive and litigious society are all symptoms of a much larger problem. And, it’s a problem from which none of the candidates can save us.

The question that many ask is, “Who can save our country?” It’s a question I’ve seen online, heard on the radio, and seen debated on news channels. It’s even a question I’ve heard in the church.

Israel was in a similar situation. They were located in an ideal location and were a fertile land. In its prime, it was a wealthy nation. In the days of the prophets, they had lost some of their power and influence. Corrupt leadership had led to a split in the nation. The nations surrounding them had lost respect for Israel. They were identified as a nation who followed Yahweh and yet, for the most part, ignored his guidance and teaching. Those who taught God’s Word were ridiculed. They experienced violence, tension, corruption, sexual depravity, and idolatry.

When the leaders of Israel and Judah found themselves in trouble, their first reaction was similar to our own. Israel looked everywhere expect to God for salvation.  For example, when Damascus and Ephraim were aligning against Judah, Ahaz started looking for help. Isaiah was sent to assure him that they would not succeed in their attack against Judah if Ahaz would place his faith in God. Instead, Ahaz chose to turn to Assyria for help. 2 Chronicles 28 tells the story. In it, we learn that because Ahaz turned away from the Lord and turned to Assyria, Judah came under the thumb of Assyria.

Hosea speaks about the faithlessness of Israel. Over and over, Israel pursued the things that it should not. It created idols, chased after the other nations and their ideals, sought other gods, and were sexually immoral. In fact, in Hosea, God gives the example of his marriage to Israel as one of marriage to a prostitute who continually returns to her practice.

Revelation reveals that this rebellious and self-seeking attitude continues today and into the future. In fact, Revelation 9 shows that even when the horror of the sixth trumpet is blown, people still refused to surrender to Christ. Revelation 9:20-21 says, “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries , their sexual immorality nor of their thefts.

When Israel and Judah’s leaders looked at the problems of their day, they examined the symptoms without looking at the root of their problems. That is why God sent the prophets. In the same way today, we want our elected representatives to address the symptoms of a much deeper problem. It is a problem that only one person can fix and that is Jesus Christ.

The problem facing the United States isn’t one that a politician can fix. It is a problem of apostasy. Just as the Israelites abandoned their faith in God and chased after false gods and all that those gods allowed, so too has our nation chased after false gods and false ideas. Our nation has abandoned God. And, as long as we walk away from him, the symptoms of that apostasy will continue to mount.

What is the answer? In Hosea 14, God says, “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down  his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in his shade; they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine— Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?  I will answer him and care for him.I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.” Who is wise? Let them realize these things.  Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

The answer for us today is the same as it was for Israel and Judah in the past. If we truly want to address the source of the problems facing our nation, then we must first return as a nation to Jesus. It requires a surrender in the hearts of the men and women of our nation as well as the leadership of our country. Our voices must be heard, not in a hateful cry against non-believers who don’t live like believers, but rather in a call to faith, a sharing of Christ, and a reaching to those who are lost. While politicians may address some of the symptoms, only Jesus can save our nation from the true problem behind the symptoms of a society going bad.

We should be well versed in what is happening politically. We should vote, we should take part in the process of selecting and electing representatives and in communicating with those representatives how they should represent us. But, most of all, we should be actively praying, sharing, reaching, and teaching the truth of the gospel. It is only in a turning of our hearts back to Christ that our nation can be saved.

It’s Ok To Be Religious

A friend of mine recently shared an article on Facebook. The article gave reasons why the author hated religion. The author of the article was a Christian, so it wasn’t an argument against Christianity. Rather, it was an argument against religion that chokes out faith. I’ve heard these statements many times over the years. In fact, I can remember saying, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian.”

I understand the heart behind the statement, but I find the statement itself at fault. The believer who says this is usually reacting to the world’s understanding of what religion is. To the world, religion, and especially organized religion or church, is just a list of rules that you have to keep or things you have to do in order to be a good person and get to go to heaven or paradise and receive whatever reward is coming to you. That’s why there are so many memes out on the internet about how a person can be a good person without ever going to a church. I read one recently that said, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, you lack empathy, not religion.” If we allow the world’s definition of religion, then we are constantly on the defensive or may even find ourselves embarrassed to admit that we are a Christian.

Christians who make the statement that they’re not religious are usually trying to say that they’re not legalistic. The bible speaks clearly in both the Old Testament and the New Testament about how a believer is supposed to live. There are clearly things that believers should do and things that they should avoid. That is not legalism. Legalism is when the rules become the object of our zeal and worship rather than the God who authored those rules.

Christians, can we say that we’re religious without being embarrassed or afraid that we’ll offend someone? Yes! We can!  Jesus challenged the prevailing thought on religion by describing what a life defined by religion really is. Instead of telling people that they had to eat certain foods, worship on certain days, wear clothing that looked a certain way and was made from a certain material, Jesus defined true religion by the outward living of the inward change that takes place in a man or woman who truly believes. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus was born Jewish. He went to temple. He honored the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus lived the rules laid out in scripture. But, he didn’t do them out of worship for the rules. He lived the rules to the glory of his father.

So, what does religion look like in the Bible? James tells us, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)” Paul tells us, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21) In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught a sermon that would forever change the world. In it, he shows what a life changed by grace received through faith in Him looks like. This is true religion.

So, let’s not think about religion or being religious as the world does. It is not a set of rules that teach a moral standard or make a person good. It is not a set of rules that you follow to earn your way to heaven or into God’s good graces. Instead, it is a lifestyle marked by faith and lived in thankfulness to the God whose grace saved us while we were yet sinners, set us free from slavery to sin, and gives us new life, new hope, and a new record.

Let us love

As February comes upon us, we are reminded that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It’s a time when we’re supposed to be focus on love. For stores, it’s the time when we focus on buying something for that special someone we love. I remember as a kid getting the packs of Valentine’s Day cards and picking which ones were going to go to which friends at school. It was always fun. Some people treasure Valentine’s Day and for others it is a painful reminder of love lost or love ones lost.

As we approach this holiday, I encourage you to think on what it means to love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 teaches us about love. This isn’t something that we do once or twice a year, but should be the mark of our daily lives. On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he shared a meal with his friends. He took this final time before the coming trial to share some important lessons with them. As he tells them of what is about to happen, he gives them this command for when he is gone from them. He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus’ love for his friends and followers was profound. It was different than any they’d experienced and they’d find out in just a few hours’ time just how deep that love is.

I encourage you in this. If you have a brother or a sister who has hurt your feelings, made you angry, or you just plain don’t like, make sure that you show them love. There are those who look in and want to see that we’re different. They want to see that what we believe really does make a change in us. They want to see Jesus Christ acting in the lives of his believers. So, what does this type of love look like?

We are to be patient with one another. Even when the well of patience seems to run dry, the Holy Spirit makes living water well up within us. That living water helps grow us so we produce the Fruit of the Spirit part of which is patience.

We are to be kind. Kindness and gentleness go hand in hand. We are often taught to treat others as we want to be treated. We want to be respected. We want to be understood. And, when we do something wrong, we want to be forgiven. Kindness enables us to do that. Kindness is love in action.

We are to avoid pride in all of its forms. Envy, boasting, dishonoring others so that we appear better or to try to get revenge for a hurt, all of these focus us inward rather than outward. How can we truly show love to others if we are focused only on ourselves? Jesus did not seek his own glory, but rather the glory of his father. So we should also see God’s glory rather than our own.

We should avoid showing love with the purpose of receiving love or thanks in return. Love is a gift and it is an act. It is not something done to receive payment whether through money, deeds, or gratitude. It is done because through loving others, we glorify God and reflect the love he gives us.

We should avoid being easily angered and we should not keep a record of wrongs done to us. Anger is a valid emotion, although it can be a dangerous one. That’s why we’re told to not let the sun go down on our anger. Anger nursed and nourished leads to a vast range of sins. We should be careful of those things which anger us. We should make sure that, if we do become angry, it is for a just reason. When anger arises, we should start moving toward forgiveness. Most of all, we should allow patience, kindness, and gentleness temper our anger. Anger should be slow coming and quick leaving. And, we should not keep a record of the wrongs done us. When God forgives us, he removes our sin from us permanently. He does not keep a record of it. When we keep that list of wrongs others have done, we are dishonoring our master who forgave us our own debt. It is much like the story of the servant who was forgiven a debt and immediately went out and demanded others to pay theirs. He had learned nothing of the love and forgiveness offered by the master. Let us show our understanding of that love!

We should rejoice with the truth and never delight in evil. The truth protects us, it leads us to righteousness, and away from evil. As we mature in Christ, we should be moving away from the things that dishonor him and toward those things that are revealed as good and righteous in him.

And, we should remember that in our love, we are to protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Love, when built in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, never fails!

So, as our country celebrates a day of love, let us shine the example of lives of love. Let us love one another as Christ loved us and let us show that love to a world that is desperately in need of love.

Speaking Graciously with a Dash of Salt

In his book Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley says, “I think it would be wise to extend Paul’s advice (1. Cor 5:12-13; Col. 4:5-6) to our preaching. When addressing unbelievers, it should be all grace with just a pinch of salt. To do that, we must distinguish between what the biblical authors expected of believers and what is expected of nonbelievers. In short, give non-Christians an out…My experience is that when you give non-Christians an out, they respond by leaning in. Especially if you invite them rather than expect them. There’s a big difference between being expected to do something and being invited to try something…So I always invite our non-believing friends to try living like Christians, to apply the principles we’ve discussed, to adopt the new way of thinking that the Scriptures present. And I usually give them a time frame. A week or a day…When people are convinced you want something FOR them rather than something FROM them, they are less likely to be offended when you challenge them…Learn to create space in your preaching for those who are unsure, skeptical, disbelieving. Give them an out. But then offer an invitation.”

I think the message can and should be applied to all believers. Most people who aren’t Christians don’t spend a lot of time hanging out with pastors and when they do, they get kind of nervous. They tend to be on their best behavior, even though we’re just normal guys. The Christians with whom most believers have relationships are everyone else in the church. And, I think we need to be careful what message we’re sending to them! We want nonbelievers to feel like it’s alright to ask us questions, to come to our church, and to be curious and skeptical about the contents of scripture. We want them to understand that they’re not held to a standard that they can’t meet. Even for us, it would be impossible without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we only receive him when we surrender to Christ! Nonbelievers see most of us in our daily lives away from the church. They see us behind the wheel, at the grocery store, movie theater, park, and work. They see us in our neighborhoods. And, they see us on social media.

We need to be careful that we don’t judge nonbelievers for not acting like Christians. There’s a good reason for that. They’re not Christians! A lot of times, I’ll see Christians post things on social media that are direct attacks against nonbelievers for acting like nonbelievers. I’ve listened to conversations in a coffee shop along the same lines. I may even be guilty of having those conversations or making those posts! It is healthy and good to have conversations about our faith, about what is written in scripture, and what is going on in the world. And, while we’re having those conversations, we must remember that our enemy is not the nonbeliever (or, for that matter, other believers). Our enemy is the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). So we should encourage nonbelievers to engage with God’s Word and with us. We should welcome their skepticism. As Andy Stanley says, “Inviting unchurched people to take small steps is inviting them to take first steps.” And, as we’re doing that, let’s remember that they’re listening to what we say and watching what we do. Let’s make sure that, when we address what’s going on in the world or even in our own lives, that we do it in a way that stands firm against Satan while remaining soft toward them. Let’s make it easy for them to see, hear, and understand God’s message!

Faith First

While listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg, I was struck by a comment that he made. He said, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” History is marked by men and women who have tried to reach God through outward activities rather than an inward commitment.

Martin Luther is a famous example. In his attempts to come close to God, he joined a monastery, willingly suffered many physical penances, constantly went to confession and often struggled with guilt in between times of confession, studied, prayed, and did everything he was advised to do in order to be close to God. When that didn’t work, he pursued mysticism, the idea that if he just loved God and loved Him as a father, he would draw closer to God. But, he had a strained relationship with His earthly father and found that he couldn’t relate to God in that way without feeling hostility and hatred. He was even made a pastor and professor in Wittenberg in the hopes that he would find peace. All of the outward experiences and activities he tried to force on himself only led him to realize how far away from God he was.

The change, for Martin Luther, came when he was teaching the book of Romans. As aware of his struggles to know God as he was, he was shocked when he realized that the righteousness of God and faith in God were both gifts imparted to us by God (Romans 1:17). No matter how hard he worked at being righteous and faithful, he couldn’t truly be righteous and faithful without accepting those gifts from God. God gives that gift based on His own righteousness and to His glory. When we realize that God’s gift comes first, that he reaches to us first, it changes things. It humbles us to realize that the gift He gives us has been totally paid for by His Son. No activity we do can earn it. We come as beggars and we receive the King.

In his letter, James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). Understand this, brothers and sisters, James is not telling us to work our way to faith. God graciously and abundantly gives us faith. We surrender in that faith and live in that faith. That gift of faith comes first and with that gift comes the declaration of our righteousness. It is an inward change, it is new life, it is a new heart, and a new record. From that faith, eternal life flows. It is only when faith comes first that the outward works follow. It is then, and only then, do the religious activities matter. Alistair is right, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” Our cleansing comes through the grace of God extended in the saving work of His Son. It comes through our surrender and acceptance of the faith that He offers and the righteousness that He imparts to us. And, finally, our activities flow from that cleansed heart and life!

A Day of Rest

The last few weeks were hectic for Molly and me. We’re still in the process of unpacking and we still have so much to get done. Add on top of that two little girls who weren’t feeling well and you can imagine the days we were having. Mowing the lawn, wiping noses, unpacking, running wires, doing laundry, doing dishes, wiping noses, snuggling little girls, vacuuming, wiping noses, cleaning, cooking meals, and wiping noses, our days were full.

It had been a very busy week at work for me and a very busy week for Molly. When my weekend rolled around, I desperately needed a day just to rest. And, that made me think about the Sabbath Day. You know, the day of rest that God prescribes for His people. Yes, it’s a commandment, but it’s also a prescription. On Saturday evening, as I lay in bed, I shared my thoughts on it and she said, “Well, that certainly wasn’t today!” She was right. We had worked through our day of rest.

In scripture, God tells us that we need a day of rest. In Exodus 20:8-11 God says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

While in Jesus, we have been set free from the law and come under the new law of grace, Jesus still calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. He often shocked the pharisees of his day by healing on the Sabbath. But every time he did something on the Sabbath, he was freeing a person. When he healed, it was a removal of pain that allowed rest. When he allowed his people who were following him to glean the grain, he was allowing them to have time with him to continue learning and growing.

That’s what the Sabbath is about. It’s a day of rest when we lay aside our worries, fears, struggles, and work. It’s a day when we take a deep breath and just focus on relaxing and having time with God. Both elements are necessary for the day of rest. So, what does this look like for us?

Resting

In the days of the Old Testament, you were not supposed to do any work. Sure, there were some things that were unavoidable, like changing your baby’s diapers or feeding your baby, but otherwise you weren’t to do work. Even when it came to preparing meals, you were supposed to prepare enough the day before the Sabbath that you would not have to cook on the day of the Sabbath. When it came to traveling, you weren’t to go far, because it was to be a day of rest, not a day of work through travel. It was, in essence, to be a day of peace.

Peace. The Oxford Dictionary defines peace as, “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility” and Webster adds, “freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions.” Peace is something for which we all long. After a long week of work, we need to have peace. We need a time when we do not worry, do not have stress, and do not work. Without this peace, we do not rest. Without rest, we begin to grow spiritually, mentally, and physically fatigued and, if we go long periods without rest, we can even grow weak and ill in all three areas. And, I’m not talking about sleep here, although a nap is definitely a bonus. While we do rest a bit while we sleep, we need time while awake to rest as well.

I believe we should still take the time to rest. We need a day when we can just rest and not have to focus on work. This is a time when we don’t mow the lawn, don’t go grocery shopping, or try to fit in those errands we didn’t get to during the rest of the week. Those things will be waiting after our day of rest. And, we need to make sure that while we are resting, we’re not worrying about what we need to do tomorrow! We shouldn’t be fretting over what we could be doing today. That is robbing our rest. Instead, we need to learn how to be still. God knows we need it and he told us to take it. So…REST!

Worship

Not only is this a day of rest, it’s a day when we have time to think about our God, to set Him aside as holy in our lives. It is a time to think, pray, and read His Word. It’s a time to discuss it with our family or just meditate on it in our hearts. In this time of stillness, we can listen to that small quiet voice with which the Holy Spirit speaks to our souls. On this day, I dare you to leave your TV off, get rid of the noisy distractions with which we surround ourselves, and just listen for Him to speak. This is a great day to sing your praises, think about what you’re learning in His Word, and seek Him in the solitude of your heart. Pick up your bible and read a bit.

By taking the day of rest that God has prescribed for us, we are worshiping Him! We’re being obedient to Him. And, what’s more, as we find rest, as he lightens our burdens, as he sets us free from the cares of the day, we find ourselves rejuvenated! He refills our tanks. He restores our joy. The day of the Sabbath teaches us how to let go of everything that is work and a burden and let Him have control! By taking this day of rest, we are acknowledging that God is indeed in control. We are worshiping Him by giving Him control over all of those things that may not have been finished during the week. We are worshiping Him by acknowledging that all of those worries we have can be handled by Him without our oversight! And, don’t forget to thank Him as He lifts those burdens.

I encourage you to take the time to rest. Set aside a day each week. It is a sacrifice of your time. It means that you may not get everything done in a week that you’d hoped to accomplish. You have to set aside your worries and let God take care of them. You may have to do a little bit more the day before your day of rest so that you can truly rest when your day arrives, but do it. I assure you, our God is the God of peace. He can and will restore you as you rest in Him!

The good new days

We often look back in our past and think about the glory days. You know, the good old days. Those days gone by when we were younger, stronger, had our greatest victories, and our deepest friendships. They were the carefree days. The days when we had little responsibility and a lot of fun. They’re the days that put a smile on our face and bring a sense of melancholy to our hearts.

Sit with a person and ask them about their glory days and their faces will soften, their eyes light up, and they’ll speaks of loves long past, sports they mastered, bands in which they played, and moments of fun spent with family and friends. As an alumnus of Fishburne Military School, I can tell you that every Alumni Weekend the guys get together, share drinks, food, and memories of their favorite teachers, craziest adventures and misadventures, and all the things that tie us together as men who’ve passed through the arch.

The good old days. Yep. They were good.  And bad. They were the times that defined our lives and made us who we are. It’s good to look back to days gone by and remember the things that have happened, but we shouldn’t dwell in those days. When we dwell in the past, we miss what’s happening now and aren’t prepared for what may happen in the future. When we’re stuck in the glory days of the past, we miss the glorious days of the present.

There is certainly a precedent in the bible to look to the past, but it’s always as an encouragement to build into the future. God often reminds his people of the victories he won for them in the past. He points his people back to times when they needed deliverance and he was there, times when he promised and upheld his promises to his people, times when he took them to better places, and stood between them and danger. But, whenever he pointed to the past, he was also pointing to the present. It was always an encouragement to step out on faith knowing that he ALWAYS keeps his promises and is ALWAYS with his people.

So, today, I encourage you to walk in God’s promises. Dig into his word, look at the promises he’s given to you, his son or daughter. Today is the day the Lord has made, let’s rejoice and be glad in it. These are the good new days. Our lives are still being defined, we are still being made into new men and new women in the image of God. Let’s serve our God and reach into our community with joy!