Wednesday, November 27, 2019


On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus was traveling between Galilee and Samaria when he passed through a village with ten lepers. They begged Jesus to have pity on them, so Jesus sent them to the priests, and on their way they were healed. Out of the ten, only one took the time to go back to thank Jesus (Luke 17).
Most of us might be disgusted with the nine others who wouldn’t even say thanks, but we should first ask ourselves whether we are ever like that. If our doctor told us that we were going blind and there was no cure, we would be devastated. And yet how many of us take time to thank God for our eyesight? How about our hearing, our homes, our families, our friends, our jobs, our car, our health or any one of a thousand other things we take for granted?
Gratitude is a big deal with God. Giving thanks is mentioned about 50 times in the New Testament alone.  In fact, Paul says in Romans 1 that failure to give thanks is one of the reasons for God’s judgment on unbelievers. This Thanksgiving, take some time to reflect on all the blessings God has given you—especially things that you usually take for granted—and thank God for them!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Women Preachers

At a recent conference, John MacArthur said, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher – period, paragraph, end of discussion.” On the contrary, those who believe women can be preachers could make the following case:

First, it is usually agreed that the primary role of a prophet is not to foretell the future, but to proclaim or preach the Word of God. In fact, a prophet, almost by definition, is a preacher of God’s Word. Take John the Baptist, for example. Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets and yet his ministry was one of preaching, not foretelling the future.  That being the case, it is important to note that Deborah was a prophet of God (Judges 4-5) as were four daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21).

Another female prophet is found in Second Kings 22 (and 2 Chronicles 34). After years of idolatry and neglect of the Temple, King Josiah began to reform Israel and restore the Temple. In the process, the workmen found a lost book of the Law—most likely the book of Deuteronomy which contains curses for not following the Law. This was deeply concerning since Israel had departed from the Lord for so long. So Josiah, one of the godliest kings in Israel’s history, sent the High Priest and others—not to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Habakkuk or Ezekiel, but to Huldah, a female prophet! God spoke to her and she proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the king.

Second, in Acts 2 Peter preaches to a large crowd and quotes from Joel 2 saying that the time will come when God will pour out his Spirit on all people and “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” And then, as if to make the point even more clear, Peter, still quoting Joel, says, “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” Peter says that this prophecy was coming true in his own time, on the Day of Pentecost! The implication was that some women of God would prophesy (or preach) throughout the church age.

Third, numerous women had important roles in first century ministry. In Acts 18, Aquila and his wife Priscilla together instructed the biblical preacher, Apollos, more fully in the Gospel. This doesn’t say Priscilla was preaching, but she was certainly involved in teaching this prominent preacher.  Luke gives no indication that Priscilla was doing anything wrong and Paul apparently didn’t mind since he seems to tell both Timothy and the Roman church to welcome both Aquilla and his wife Priscilla (2 Timothy 4:19, Romans 16:3).

In Romans 16, Paul tells the Roman church to “Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those whom who work hard in the Lord.” These women were working hard in some kind of ministry. Paul also tells the Roman church to greet Junia who he says was “outstanding among the apostles.” This can either mean this woman was of such high reputation that even Jesus’ Apostles recognized her ministry, or that she was an “apostle” in the sense of one “sent out” to do ministry, in which case Paul recognizes her for her outstanding work.

Finally, in Romans 16:1 Paul tells the Roman church, “I commend you to our sister Phoebe, a deacon on the Church in Cenchrea.” When Paul says she was the “deacon” in the Church of Cenchrea, this is the same Greek word that the King James Version translated as “minister” when referring to Paul (Col. 1:23, 25; Eph. 3:7), Timothy (1 Timothy 3:2 ), Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21), and  Epaphras (Col. 1:7). Many scholars think it was pure male bias that led the King James translators to translate this word as “minister” when referring to men, but “servant” when referring to a woman (Phoebe).

If this is all we had, we would have to conclude that women are to preach, teach and minister God’s word right along with men. The problem is that there are, two places in the New Testament in which Paul tells women to keep silent in the church. One of them is 1 Timothy 2:12 which says, “
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. The other one is First Corinthians 14:34 which says, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

Many pastors in churches that I grew up in would simply emphasize what Paul says about women keeping silent in church and ignore everything else the Bible says. This is simply poor theology. Whatever we conclude on this issue, we must consider the whole Word of God and be consistent.

So those who think women should be allowed to preach in church would argue that both 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 seem to be in the context of women usurping authority that does not belong to them.  For example, in the broader context of First Corinthians 11, Paul seems to be saying that in that culture, it was a sign of rebellion for a woman to pray or prophecy with her head uncovered—implying that it was acceptable for a woman to pray and prophecy in a worship service as long as she was submissive to authority as symbolized (in that culture) by having her head covered.

Some scholars would point out that First Corinthians was written to a church in Corinth and First Timothy was written to Timothy who was in Ephesus. Both of these cities had huge pagan temples in which women priests were accustomed to leading men in worship-orgies. Some scholars, therefore, speculate that when these women got saved, they joined churches and began taking over and usurping authority—because that is what they had been accustomed to do. That became a problem for churches in Ephesus and Corinth—which is why Paul only tells women to be quite and not to usurp authority in those two letters. In this view, Paul was addressing a specific problem in two specific churches—not telling Christians at all times and in all cultures and under all conditions, that women should always be silent in the worship services.

Some scholars would also point out that these passages seem to be cultural (in other words, intended to address a specific cultural issue in a specific place and time)—not something that would be valid in all times and all cultures. So for example, the verses right before First Corinthians 14:34 prohibit women from wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. Earlier in First Corinthians, Paul insisted the women must wear head coverings in church. Most churches I grew up in prohibited women preachers but did not require women to wear headgear and did not prohibit them from wearing gold, pearls or expensive clothes. This seems a bit inconsistent.

My personal position is this: Whatever we conclude about this issue, we cannot just pick two passages (1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2;12) and ignore everything else the Bible has to say about this topic. We should also be consistent. For example, if we are to take the passage about women keeping silent in church very literally, then at our church we would need to insist that women no longer participate in singing or making prayer requests during the worship service.

It seems to me that God has put women (like Deborah and Phoebe) in leadership positions and has even made some women prophets—which almost by definition, involves preaching. On the other hand, although there were female prophets in the Old Testament, God, for whatever reason, limited the priesthood to men. In the New Testament, although Jesus had a remarkably positive view of women for his time, he chose only men for his inner circle of twelve disciples who would initially lead the church. And when Paul was giving qualifications for church leadership, he implied that the elders would be men. I am, therefore, not convinced that women should be senior pastors, but I don’t judge women who believe they are called to senior pastoral ministry. In that case I think Romans 14:1-13 may apply.

But I do not believe the Bible prohibits women from speaking or teaching in church (even from the pulpit) under the authority of church leadership. It is interesting that even such a staunch fundamentalist as Jerry Falwell allowed a woman (Joni Erickson Tada) to speak from his pulpit.

This is an issue on which godly Christian scholars disagree. You may disagree with the case for women preachers summarized above, but John MacArthur—whom I greatly respect—is clearly wrong when he says, “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher…”.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thoughts on Baptism

           When Jesus was probably in his late 20’s, he went to see John the Baptist who was baptizing people in the Jordan River. John was conducting a “baptism of repentance”, calling on people to turn from their sins and follow God with all their hearts. John clearly expected that their repentance or “change of heart” would result in changed lives, for example, he specifically mentions sharing their clothing and food with those in need.
          Jewish leaders responded to John with suspicion. His ministry wasn’t approved by the religious leaders. Who did he think he was anyway?! And what did he think he was doing? It’s not that baptism itself was new. Archaeologists have uncovered large public baptismal pools around Jerusalem dating from Jesus’s time. They were kind of like swimming pools, only with steps extending the whole length of the pool on each side. People would step down into the pool and ceremonially purify themselves in the water before going up to the Temple to offer sacrifices.
So Jewish leaders knew about baptisms, but John’s baptism different from the Jewish baptisms of his time. First, the Jewish baptisms were repeated every time someone went to offer sacrifices. John’s baptism was a one-time event. Second, John did the baptizing. For Temple purification, the people baptized themselves. Finally, and most importantly, Jewish baptisms were largely ceremonial or ritual. John required repentance or heart change to be eligible for his baptism.
Although the Jewish religious leaders were suspicious of John and his baptizing ministry, Jesus responded to John’s call to be baptized—and theologians ever since have wondered why Jesus who, “Knew no sin” would get baptized. The best answer is that Jesus was publicly identifying himself in solidarity with sinful human beings for whom he would one day die.
By the way, we Baptists assume—I think rightly—that John baptized by immersion or dunking under the water. Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John says that John the Baptist was baptizing by the village of Aenon because there was, quote, “plenty of water” there. If John was just sprinkling or pouring water on people any small pool or container of water would do and there would be no need for a river with plenty of water.
According to John chapters 3 and 4, Jesus and his disciples continued this practice of baptizing people—though Jesus himself didn’t actually do the baptizing.
          After Jesus’ resurrection he met with his disciples and according to Matthew 28 he gave them this command: Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. It is important to emphasize that in Jesus’ command to make disciples, the very first step was to get them baptized. Baptism was the first step of discipleship. Baptism was the first step of obedience to Jesus, the initial expression of genuine faith.
At the end of Mark’s Gospel, in chapter 16—a passage that is disputed though I think it may be genuine—Jesus adds, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Jesus just takes it for granted that those who genuinely believe will be baptized. Repentance and baptism go together like salt and pepper, fish and chips, or needle and thread. In fact, repentance without baptism may call into question the seriousness of the repentance.
Notice that Jesus says that those who do not believe will be condemned, but he doesn’t say that you will be condemned if you are not baptized. That is because baptism by itself does not save anyone. For example, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” even though the thief couldn’t possibly be baptized—he was being crucified! People sometimes face situations that make baptism impossible. Baptism does not save anyone.
In fact, if we think baptism is something we must do or have done to us in order to be saved, it becomes a “work of righteousness,” and in Titus 3 Paul specifically teaches that we are not saved by works of righteousness that we have done. So baptism does not save us. Baptism is just the initial expression of genuine faith.
          Fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter, preached to a very large and potentially hostile crowd and according to Acts 2:38 he concluded saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” For Peter, as for John the Baptist and Jesus, repentance and baptism go together hand-in-glove. Genuine repentance involves a change of heart which includes a desire to turn from the idols we put before God and turn to Jesus Christ with our whole heart.
Baptism by immersion symbolizes this. Going down into the water symbolizes our old self-centered life being dead and buried. Coming up out of the water symbolizes our new life of devotion to Christ. In fact, that is precisely the comparison Paul makes in Romans 6:4 where he says,  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Baptism symbolizes death to our old self-centered life, and resurrection to a new Jesus-centered life.
          Later on, when Philip preached the gospel in Acts chapter 8, both the men and women who believed, got baptized. Also in Acts 8 when the Ethiopian Eunuch believed, he immediately got baptized. In Acts chapter 9, when Saul, also known as Paul, believed, he got baptized. In Acts chapter 10 when Cornelius and his household believed, they all got baptized. In Acts 16 when Paul preached the Gospel in Philippi, Lydia and her whole household believed and got baptized. In Acts 18 while ministering in Corinth, the Synagogue leader Crispus and his whole household believed and were all baptized, along with many other Corinthians.
          In Acts 19 Paul was ministering in Ephesus when he came across a group of people who were disciples of John the Baptist and had received John’s baptism. When they heard about and believed in Jesus, they got baptized again.
          Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Genuine faith in Jesus was always followed by baptism! The idea of an unbaptized Christian would have been unthinkable to the apostles and early church.
          Near the end of the book of Acts, Paul is arrested and allowed to give his defense. He gives his testimony and presents the Gospel. He doesn’t close with an altar call. He says, “And now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”  Notice that it is actually the calling on the name of the Lord in faith that washes away your sins. Baptism just symbolizes that washing away of sins. But for Paul, the very first response to the Gospel—if you truly believed—was to be baptized!
          And that has generally been accepted in Christians churches of all denominations for 2,000 years until modern Evangelicals somehow got the notion that baptism was an option extra that you could take or leave. In fact, even churches that believe in infant baptism, baptize adults who have never been baptized as infants.
          So that raises the question about infant baptism. Why was it that for about 1500 years, until Anabaptists came along, that virtually all churches baptized infants?
One argument for infant baptism is that several times the book of Acts mentions entire households being baptized. Surly some of those households had infants who were baptized.
Baptists would point out, however, that in Acts 18 when it talks about the baptism of Crispus, it says that he and his entire household believed in the Lord.” This wasn’t about infants being baptized since infants don’t have the capacity to believe. When Acts talks about entire households being baptized, it could be that Luke just takes it for granted that we are only discussing those old enough to believe. The fact is that we just don’t know if there were any infants in those particular households. So this is not a very strong argument for infant baptism.
A much stronger argument for infant baptism is in Colossians 2 when Paul compares baptism to circumcision. Colossians 2:11-13 says, 11 In him that is, in Christ, you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. In other words, Paul is not talking about a literal circumcision but a metaphorical circumcision. Paul goes on to explain what he means: Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ. Circumcised by Christ? What does that mean? Paul explains, you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
In this passage, Paul likens baptism to circumcision—Since babies were circumcised, why shouldn’t babies be baptized?
          Now to be honest, this is a pretty strong argument for infant baptism. So why don’t Baptists baptize infants? Don’t we believe the Bible? Baptists would argue that the point of Paul’s comparison is that both baptism and circumcision symbolize the putting off of the body of sin. That’s precisely what Paul says in Colossians 2:11 when he writes, Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ. Just as the physical flesh was cut off in circumcision, metaphorically, you are cutting or renouncing your sinful flesh, or old way of life, when you get baptized. Baptists would insist that this is the point of the comparison—not the age of the one being baptized. To focus on the age issue, misses the point.
          So how were we “circumcised by Christ?” Paul explains in Colossians 2:12, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith. So baptism symbolizes being raised with Christ which happens, Paul says, through your faith. Infants don’t have faith in Jesus, which leads Baptists to believe that Paul was not advocating the baptism of infants in Colossians 2 or anywhere else. That wasn’t the point of his comparison.
But there have been many brilliant and godly Christians down through the centuries who sincerely believed that infant baptism is scriptural. In fact, there are many believers today who do not want to be baptized as adults because they honestly believe that their own infant baptism was biblical. They think that to get re-baptized would be to renounce their first baptism—and I respect their views on this.
My personal perspective, however, is that to be re-baptized as an adult is no more a disrespect of your infant baptism than a reaffirmation of marriage vows disrespects your first marriage vows. I myself was baptized as an infant in a Lutheran Church but was re-baptized as an adult.
          Anyway, in just a few minutes, I’m going to baptize ***, and I’m going to ask him five questions which I think summarize what saving faith and baptism are all about.
          My first question will be Do you confess you have sinned against God in thoughts, words and actions; and that apart from Jesus Christ you would stand guilty before God?
In First John the apostle tells us that If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves… In Romans 3:10 the apostle Paul says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” A few verses later Paul adds that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Paul goes on to say in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death.
If you don’t believe that you have sinned against a holy God and that apart from Jesus Christ you would stand guilty before God then according to the Bible, unless you repent, you will not be saved from the wrath of God at the final judgment and should not be baptized.
          My second question will be: Do you believe that in Jesus Christ, God became human, died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for your sin, and physically rose again from the dead?
Many volumes have been written about this one, but suffice it to say that if Jesus is not who the Bible says he is—that is the Son of God who died for us and rose again—you have little reason to believe Jesus could save you from anything! You might just as well be believing in Aristotle or Oprah for your salvation—and you should not be baptized.
          My third question will be, Do you believe that Jesus Christ is your only hope of being saved from the wrath of God at the final judgment?
Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me. According to Acts chapter 4, Peter spoke to the ruling leaders of Israel about Jesus saying, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Both Jesus and Peter are insisting that Jesus is the only way to be saved. If you are trusting anything other than Jesus for your salvation, the Bible teaches that you will stand condemned before a holy God at the final judgment—and you should not be baptized.
          My fourth question will be, Do you repent of your sinfulness and testify that you love and are deeply committed to Jesus Christ as your Lord and King?
Saving faith is not just believing facts about Jesus. Even the demons believe those facts! Saving faith is not just trusting that God will save us. Many who are trusting that God will save them will hear Jesus say, “depart from me you workers of lawlessness, I never knew you.”
The great reformer, John Calvin, speaks of saving faith as the “disposition” or attitude of your heart. This is an attitude of sorrow for sins and a desire to change, coupled with a heart of loving devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ above all else. Jesus talked about loving him even more than we love our own life. Paul said that if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus, let them be accursed. If you are not lovingly dedicated to Jesus, you do not have saving faith and should not be baptized.
My last question will be Is it your sincere desire to live your life in a manner pleasing to the Lord?
Paul urges the Colossians to live their lives “in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col.1:10). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he taught them how they “ought to walk and to please God (1 Thess.4:1). Genuine saving faith involves a heart attitude of love for Jesus that makes us want to please him. No one does that perfectly, of course. But if someone has no desire to please Jesus, it is strong evidence that they do not have genuine saving faith and should not be baptized.
I would say that genuine faith is like our marriage vows in which we pledge to love, honor and obey our Lord Jesus Christ—and baptism is like the wedding ring symbolizing the union.
If you claim Jesus Christ as your savior but have never been baptized at any time,  you really need to be baptized. Baptism is not just an optional extra.
And if you don’t know Christ as your savior and Lord you should not put that off. You never know when this day might be your last.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ideas matter

Dr. Everett Piper was the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University until his retirement in May 2019. He became irate one day when one of their students complained about a chapel service. Dr. Piper writes:

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.
I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”
Dr. Piper went on to write a book entitled Not a Day Care in which he wrote, "Ideas matter. It matters when we teach young men to view young women as nothing but objects of recreation and young women to accept this insult. It matters when we teach our children a career is more important than morality. It matters when we teach students there is no God--and treat them as if they are gods" (Dr. Everett Piper in "Not a Day Care. Regnery, 2017).

Praise God for Dr. Piper! May his tribe increase. Unfortunately, many Christian Universities today are run by administrators and faculty who are “cultural Christians,” that is, they seem to be much more concerned about staying in step with modern culture than they are with standing up for biblical values.

Thursday, May 16, 2019


I recently finished reading a book, written by a pastor entitled, “Didn’t see it coming; Overcoming the 7 greatest challenges that no one expects and everyone experiences.” 

Frankly, I didn’t find it all that helpful—except for one part which was truly insightful. The author writes:

Self-aware people understand not only what their own emotions and actions are, but also how their emotions and actions affect others…the key problem I had is that I didn’t realize what it was like to be on the other side of me…Think about it. How many times have you had a bad day only to not know why you’re having a bad day? And then how many times has your mysteriously bad day had a negative impact on your spouse, your kids, and your coworkers? Far too often, right? Me too…Self-aware people refuse to let a bad day on the inside spill out to other on the outside. And even when they do allow this to happen, they realize they’re hurting others and apologize or take other steps to mitigate the damage” (199).

I’d like to dismiss this as just so much psychobabble (probably because it is way too convicting)! But the reality is that it is not so much psychobabble as it is just one aspect of Jesus’ “Golden Rule” of doing unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A foundation for living

This is a sermon I preached to graduating seniors in their last chapel at Crown College in 2019:

A few weeks ago I was in a Walmart that I had never been to before. I was in the back of the store and suddenly had an urgent need to use the restroom. I was deep in thought about something as I rushed to the front of the store and entered the restroom. It was one of those big ones without doors where you just kind of wind around the corners to get in. Anyway, I looked around and thought, “Well this is weird, there are no urinals in this rest…Oh NO!”

I wasn’t paying attention and entered the lady’s room by mistake. I guess I could have just self-identified as a woman but the beard and bald head may have been problematic.

You have all grown up in a world that is radically different from the one I grew up in. When I was in college everyone agreed that there were only two genders and it mattered which restroom you used. There was no controversy about this. You’re growing up in a world in which many people think there are more than 50 genders, and some people think everyone should just be able to use the restroom of their choice!

A few years before I went to college, a book was published called, Situation Ethics which said that ethics was all relative. It created a huge controversy because even most non-Christians back then believed that ethics and truth were not all relative.

In your world, it is almost taken for granted that ethics and truth are social constructs and that no one has the right to judge someone else’s truth.

When I grew up, Billy Graham would stand up before thousands of people and thunder, “the Bible says” and even most non-Christians would pay attention because most of them had respect for the Bible.

Today, many people are offended by what the Bible says. In fact, we now have to be very careful about what we say, because someone may be offended by a “micro-aggression.”

In other words, the relatively solid foundation that stood under the world of my generation, has been replaced in your generation by a foundation of culturally-constructed shifting sand.

In Matthew 7 Jesus says…  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Building our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings, helps to sustain us in the storms of life.

For example, John absolutely idolized his wife. He built his whole life around her. So John was devastated when she left him for someone else. He felt like his whole world had collapsed! He had trouble sleeping and could no longer cope at work. He increasingly turned to alcohol and drugs to deaden the pain and his life spiraled out of control. He eventually lost his job and ended up on the street. His wife had been like his god, and when she left, his life was destroyed like a house built on sand.

Jesus says that if we build our lives on his teachings, it is like building on solid rock. So what are those teachings? Later in the same Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself gives a summary: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I think Jesus is just re-stating the first of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In America our gods tend to be the intangible things we build our lives on. For some that may be career or financial success. For some it may be sex or entertainment. It might be marriage and family. It might be personal appearance or sports.

Whatever it is, Jesus would say that if you build your foundation on any of these things, you are building on sand. Your idols are going to disappoint you. They are going to let you down—and when they do, the aftermath may even destroy you.

You’ve probably heard stories of the Great Depression and how some millionaires supposedly jumped to their death out of tall buildings when they heard all their money was gone! I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a good illustration of a life that comes crashing down when someone makes success their god.

Long before Jesus’ time the writer of Ecclesiastes sought meaning in life by pursuing success: luxury, entertainment, power and sex. He ultimately discovered that it was all emptiness; and he finally concluded, “Love God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

If you want to build your life and career on a solid foundation, you will love God—Father, Son and Spirit—literally more than you love anything else in the whole world. In fact, in Matthew 10 Jesus taught that we should love him more than we love our own father or mother, or son or daughter—or even our own life!

Some of you may be thinking, “Love Jesus even more than my own family? Seriously? That’s getting kind of fanatical, isn’t it?”

There was once a well-known seminary professor named Howard Hendricks who spoke to a group of guys about this passage. He said, husbands, you will never love your wife as Christ loved the church until Jesus is the absolute lord of your life.

You see, paradoxically, when you love Jesus more than anything else, that doesn’t mean you love others less—Your love for Jesus actually enables you to love them more, because it enables you to love them unconditionally regardless of circumstances.

In Nigeria right now there is a young girl, about your age, named Leah Sharibu who—in the midst of terrible circumstances—loves Jesus even more than she loves her own life. She was one of a bunch of girls kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group over a year ago. Since then, some of the girls have died in captivity but over a hundred girls have been released. The terrorists, however, kept Leah specifically because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ. All she has to do to go home is to deny Jesus, but she loves Jesus even more than she loves her own life.

Not many of us will probably ever be called upon to give up our life for Jesus. So for us, what does it mean to love God with all our heart? Well, it’s not just warm, fuzzy emotional feelings or mountain top spiritual experiences. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasizes about a half dozen times that if you truly love him, you will keep his commandments. In other words, if you love Jesus you will love your neighbor as yourself, striving to live a life that is honest and moral, loving and forgiving, kind and compassionate. You will treat others the way you would like to be treated. Not in order to be saved, of course. But because you are saved. Because you love Jesus.

This doesn’t mean we will always obey Jesus’ teachings perfectly, of course. No one does. But the more we ignore Jesus’ teachings, the more we are building our lives on a foundation of sand.

Unfortunately, I fear that the “god” many people love, is an idol. A fiction. Some people seem to worship a god of health, wealth and prosperity—like a cosmic vending machine or Santa Claus who exists only to meet their every need and rescue them from trouble.

They arrive at this god by cherry-picking Bible verses out of context and ignoring the many passages which declare that “in this world you will have trouble,” as Jesus says in John 16. Then when the storms of life hit and the bottom falls out, they find their ”prosperity god” was an illusion and their faith may be destroyed like house built on sand.

Some people seem to have re-imagined God as some kind of an all-tolerant, all-accepting god of niceness who would never judge anyone about anything, because he understands the desires of my heart. They come to this conclusion by cherry-picking verses about God’s love and compassion—and they ignore the uncomfortable passages which talk about the wrath of a holy God who calls people to repentance!

We don’t talk much about the wrath of God anymore because that’s one of the topics we tend to ignore in our cherry-picking. After all, talk about God’s holiness and wrath—and our need to repent, might offend people and provoke their wrath.

Unfortunately, many people in our churches seem to think their job as a Christian is to be liked by everyone, so they do everything they can to avoid the world’s wrath. As a result, they build their lives on the shifting sands of contemporary culture—and then diligently search the Scriptures, cherry-picking passages out of context, to support what the culture teaches. James says that anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!

Let me close with three quick challenges:

First, don’t cherry-pick the Bible. Continue your study of the Bible and learn it well enough to know the whole council of God—and then, if you truly love God, strive to put it into practice.

Second, have the guts to judge modern culture in light of the Bible—rather than re-interpreting the Bible in light of modern culture. And by the way, I am not suggesting that the cultural foundation when I was your age was biblical. It was based to a large extent on the idolatry of materialism and financial success. All cultures need to be critiqued by the Bible.

Finally, build your life on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings. If you build your life and career on the shifting sands of cultural or political correctness, the house you build will ultimately fall like a house built on sand. But if you will build your life on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings—loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and loving your neighbor as yourself—Jesus, in John 10:10, promises you an abundant life!

That does NOT mean a life of comfort; or “health, wealth and prosperity”—but it does mean a life that is fulfilling and well-worth living—one that can withstand the storms of life, because it’s built on a solid foundation. 

Father I pray for our seniors. I pray that they would love you with every fiber of their being. And I pray you would give them the knowledge, wisdom and courage to build their life and career on the solid foundation of your Word.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Nigeria and the New Zealand shooting

I must admit, it infuriates me!

Since February, “As many as 280 people were killed inChristian communities” by militant Muslims in Nigeria. In fact, over 1,800 Christians were murdered in Nigeria in 2018 and more than 5,000 have been slaughtered since 2015. Some are calling it genocide. According to the Christian Post, “there is a deliberate deception taking place that seeks to portray Fulani attackers simply as ‘herdsman,’ and the conflict as strictly a clash between farmers cattle herders. The truth is…that radical Islamists have taken over the Fulani, spreading jihad by deliberately slaughtering Christians andburning their churches.”

So 49 Muslims are tragically murdered in New Zealand and the story makes international news for days. Thousands of Christians are being slaughtered by radical Islamists in Nigeria and there is barely a peep by the news media. Why is that?

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria as well as the friends and families of the New Zealand shooting victims.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Abortion and Infanticide

I just read an article from the February 7 edition of the National Review entitled, “Infanticide and the Left” by Ramesh Ponnuru. The author made the following observation: “An individual infant who was born very prematurely is less developed (often substantially so) than a fetus at term, but it is the former who has legal protection. The distinction turns entirely on location: Inside the womb the developing human organism is a fetus, and outside it is an infant.”

In other words, laws that prohibit late term abortion do so supposedly because the unborn baby is much more developed in the third trimester than in the first trimester. The problem comes, however, when a baby is aborted, let’s say after 25 weeks—and survives. Once the baby is born his or her life is then protected by law.  So the life, for example, of a 30 week old unborn baby could be terminated in the womb and many states would consider that legal, but terminating the life of a 25 week old prematurely born baby would be considered murder.

Clearly it is not the developmental status of the baby that is the real issue, but simply the location of the baby—inside the womb or outside the womb. This is about as logical as saying that if someone kills their spouse outside their home it is murder but if they kill their spouse inside their home is it OK! Recognizing the absurdity of this position, some Democrats are now basically arguing that location doesn’t matter, saying that it should be legal to kill babies (or allow them to die unattended) outside the womb as well!

Even if these new advocates of infanticide succeed, it would not solve their logical dilemmas. Take, for example, two pregnant neighbors. One goes into labor prematurely and delivers the baby at 30 weeks. Only then does she discover that her baby has some kind of deformity, but if the mother were to terminate the baby, it would be considered murder.

Her neighbor, on the other hand, discovers that her baby also has a deformity and decides to abort the baby at 30 weeks. The baby survives the abortion. If infanticide advocates have their way, she would be free to have the baby terminated. Two babies. Both born at 30 weeks. The first is protected by law as a human being. The second is apparently not considered human and allowed to be terminated. So whether the baby was considered to be human and has human rights would depend entirely on whether the child was wanted!

Clearly this contradiction could not stand for long so the next step would be to allow infanticide in all cases. And if our society is going to allow infanticide, how much time should the parents be given to make that decision? Hours? Days? Years? Or should that decision also be left between a mother and her doctor?

Perhaps we’re making a mountain out of a mole hill since this affects only a very tiny number of abortions—or so they say. According to the article, “one abortion-industry official admitted that he had “lied through [his] teeth on national television” about this. There may be as many as “12,000 abortions after week 20” every year—more than the number of people murdered with guns each year.

I agree that location shouldn’t matter. Generally speaking, deliberately killing an innocent human being should be considered murder. It is a scientific fact that unborn babies, or as the Left likes to call them, “products of conception” are human and they are certainly innocent. The infant’s location, or whether he or she is wanted, should not be allowed to take away their constitutionally guaranteed human “right to life.”

Monday, February 11, 2019

Evangelism and post-modernism

I’ve read hundreds of pages on post-modernism but I must admit that I’m still having trouble grasping it (It’s kind of like trying to grasp Jell-O)!

As I understand it, according to post-modernism there are no absolute rights or wrongs. You have your views and I have mine, and we should all respect each other’s views. To say your view is wrong is no more valid than saying your preference for the color blue is wrong.

It is this kind of thinking that led almost half of post-modern “Christians” to respond to a recent survey saying that evangelism is wrong. They don’t want to impose their views on anyone else because all views are valid (But how can evangelism be “wrong” if all views are valid?).

So if post-moderns really believe we shouldn’t judge other people’s views, why do so many post-moderns seem to have an almost irrational hatred for Donald Trump? Under post-modern thinking, don’t his views deserve to be respected or at least tolerated like anyone else’s? This is not political statement about Donald Trump—My only point is that many post-modernists seem to only want tolerance for views which are not objectionable to them! It seems to me that this inconsistency significantly undermines post-modernism.

Contrary to post-modernism, Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were very clear in affirming that there is truth and there is error. To cite just one of many examples, Paul did not tell the people of Lystra that he respected their religion and just wanted to share his views too. Referring to their religious idols, Paul said the people of Lystra should “turn from these worthless things to the living God” (Acts 14:15). Paul was convinced of the truth of his position and the error of theirs.

Proclamation of the truth of the Gospel is what the Great Commission is all about. For professing "Christians" to say that evangelism is wrong is an indication that they have been blinded by their post-modern culture.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Muhammad and the Unbelievers

On numerous occasions I’ve said that I love Muslims (the people)—but I hate Islam (the religion)! Some of my reasons for hating this religious ideology are summarized quite well in the book, Muhammad and the Unbelievers; a Political Life by Bill Warner. This short book (only 167 pages) provides a fascinating and readable story of Muhammad’s life. It summarizes the very earliest biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq and weaves into the biography parts of the Muhammad’s teachings from the Koran and other early respected Islamic sources (I’ve read Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad--over 700 pages-- and the Koran so I know that Warner’s summary is accurate).

The advantage of this book over some modern biographies of Muhammad is that this book has not been filtered through the lenses of Muslim apologetics or modern Western political correctness. The story comes directly from Islam’s earliest and most sacred sources. Almost every paragraph in the book has been documented from those sources

The picture that emerges is that Muhammad was a man who was kind, hospitable, generous, loving, patient and forgiving—toward Muslims who submitted completely and unquestioningly to his rule.
Toward “Kafirs” (unbelievers), on the other hand, he was mercilessly vicious and cruel. He would threaten, intimidate, deceive, rob, rape, enslave, torture, execute and slaughter Kafirs by the hundreds! On one occasion, he sat all day long watching literally hundreds of Jews being beheaded at his command. Then he ordered their wives and children into slavery.

Muhammad ordered the executions of people for no other reason than the fact that those people had criticized Muhammad or had changed their minds and turned away from his religion. He “captured slaves, sold slaves, bought slaves, freed slaves, tortured slaves, had sex with slaves, gave slaves as gifts of pleasure, received slaves as gifts, and sued slaves for work” (164).

He allowed the black slave of his wife Aisha to be tortured in order to determine whether Aisha was faithful to him or not—and only after the torture revealed that Aisha was faithful did Muhammad receive a revelation exonerating her of any wrongdoing!

These stories do not come from “Islamophobic right wing extremists” but from Islam’s earliest and most sacred sources. These are the stories and teachings that Muhammad encouraged his followers to emulate—and which faithful Muslims in power have emulated for roughly 1,400 yeas!

As a Christian, I love Muslims—but I hate Islam!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Servant Leadership

I recently finished reading a book called “Servant Leadership in Action” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018) written by over three dozen contributors including leaders in business, education, ministry, military and other walks of life. The one common thread throughout the book was that servant leadership is not about the “boss” controlling everything or telling everyone else what to do. Servant leaders empower others to take ownership of their area of responsibility and to “run with it.” Of course leadership always involves vision, guidance, and some boundaries, but in a servant leadership model, people are not just cogs in a machine.

The idea of servant leadership comes from the Bible. For example, in John 13 where Jesus takes on a servant’s roll and washes the feet of his disciples. Or in Philippians 2:7 where Paul speaks of Jesus “taking on the very nature of a servant….” In First Corinthians 12:12-31 Paul also gives a great model of servant leadership when he discusses the church as the body of Christ in which each person has different gifts, talents and abilities, but all work together and everyone is important.

As a pastor, I have never seen my role analogous to that of a CEO. I see myself more like the conductor of an orchestra (Ironic, since the only instrument I play is a radio). We have many talented and godly people at our church and it is exciting to watch God work through them!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Lady Gaga's "Christianity"

According to an article in CBN News,[1] Lady Gaga recently interrupted one of her concerts to launch a strong public attack against Vice President Pence as being the worst example of Christianity (as if Gaga is a better example)! Lady Gaga reportedly said, “I am a Christian woman and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice and everybody is welcome.”
Anyone who has ever heard Lady Gaga’s music knows—well, let’s just say she didn’t get those lyrics from the Bible! Gaga is promoting an alternative form of “Christianity.” Forget the idea of an all-powerful and all-knowing God. The “Christianity” of Lady Gaga and other modern leftists is about an all-welcoming, all-tolerant deity characterized by absolute niceness. This god would never judge anyone, anywhere, anytime about anything. This is a very popular god who allows people to unrepentantly wallow in virtually any kind of sin without shame, regret, or confession.
What Gaga is promoting is really nothing new. Two thousand years ago the book of Jude issued a blistering attack against such a view of “Christianity.” And back in the 1930’s H.Richard Niebuhr wrote that theological liberals of his time proclaimed how “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[2]
So while Gaga’s “Christianity” is nothing new, it is certainly not biblical, and her god is a figment of her own imagination. But it is a god in whom an increasing number of people seem to believe.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Praying for Cancer Patients

Right now we have several people on our church cancer prayer list so I decided to read a book called “Loving your Friend Through Cancer” by Marissa Henley. In this book, the author provides an excellent list of things to pray for—though I found it interesting that she does not say to pray for healing. It is OK to pray for healing too!  

It's a very good book. I highly recommend it.  Here is my summary of her list (Since the author always uses “she” or “her” I will too but these obviously apply to men as well). 
  • Pray that she will feel closer to the Lord (Ps 62:1-2; 63:5-8; Isa 41:10)
  • Pray for wisdom for family and friends to know how to support and encourage her (James 1:5)
  • Pray for relief from her feelings of isolation (Josh 1:9; Ps 42; 56:8; Heb 13:5)
  • Pray for wisdom in medical decisions (Ps 112:7-8)
  • Pray that God will sustain and even strengthen her marriage through it all (Eph 5:22-23)
  • Pray that she would put her trust in the Lord and not in any particular outcome (Isa 43; Jer 31:3; Rom 8:38-39)
  • Pray that she would feel free to ask for help and support when she needs it (Phil 4:19)
  • Pray that she would not be anxious for the future but would feel joy and peace as she grieves the loss of her health (Lam 3:21-24; Rom 15:13; Phil 4:6-8)
  • Pray that she will be transformed and sanctified for God’s glory through suffering (Rom 8:28-29; 12:1-2)
  • Pray that God will prepare her to comfort others with the comfort she is now receiving (2 Cor 1:3-4).