Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Tag: God

God and the Unexpected

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God has a way of keeping us guessing.  He’s not very predictable. Throughout the Bible and throughout our lives, God works in ways that transcend social customs and human rationality, thus earning the epithet: “He moves in mysterious ways.”

Beginning in Genesis this notion is already evident.  Who does God choose to be the parents of a great nation? Not the young, fertile, newlyweds; but the old man and his barren wife.  Abram and Sarai strive to bring (or even manipulate) God’s plan into reality by introducing Hagar into the situation. This only complicates matters.

Consider also God’s choice of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim.  What do these men all have in common?  They are all younger siblings.  While ancient society would select the firstborn to be the true heir, God often chooses the unexpected.

This idea is central to our understanding of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God as a whole.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The child. The servant of all (Mark 9:35-37). Who is the blessed? The poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the hated (Luke 6:20-23). Who is the true King and Messiah of the whole world? The man crucified by the Romans between two criminals.  To many, this idea is foolishness or a stumbling block, but to those who trust and follow God, it is the very demonstration of His power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

So here is a helpful tip that we can all stand to benefit from: spend less time trying to figure God out and spend more time simply following Him. Don’t try to predict His path or run ahead of Him, just follow and see where you end up.

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The Truth about LUST

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The word “Lust” is used numerous times in the New Testament.  It is basically a word that means a strong desire or craving.  It is similar to the word “covetousness” in the 10 commandments.  And it is extremely dangerous.  Lust created Gollum.  Sure, you can lust for good things (Luke 22:15; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:17), but in Scripture, overwhelmingly the word for “lust” is used in a negative way.  It is either a sin (Matthew 5:28), or it leads to sin (James 1:15).  Whether it is lust for money, possessions, another person’s life, or another person’s wife, lust has the potential to kill you.  So, before giving in, remember the truth about LUST.

Lie:  Lust lies to you.  Lust promises far more than it can deliver.  Lust told Adam and Eve that they will “not” surely die when they ate the fruit.  Lust told them that it will make them wise like God.  It told them that the beautiful garden and provision from God was not enough.  And it tells us the same things.  Lust tells us we don’t have enough to be content, we need more.  It tells us our house is not big enough, our spouse is not good enough, and our car is not fast enough.  It tells us the lie that satisfaction and “the good life” is always just out of arms reach.  We always need a little bit more money, sex, entertainment, and stuff to reach it.

Unsatisfying:  Lust is unsatisfying.  You might enjoy the momentary pleasure of that video on the internet, that evening with a woman that you’re not married to, or that recent impulse purchase at Sam’s Club.  But soon enough, buyer’s remorse begins to arise.  Guilt and regret spread throughout your soul.  You do not see yourself as the person you want to be.  You return to the empty, shallowness that you tried to fill with some forbidden fruit.  And your lust returns stronger than ever.  You begin chasing the high that you so desperately long for, only to be disappointed every time.  It steals your satisfaction (and gratitude) with what you already have, and replaces it with an unsatisfied craving for more.

Selfish:  Lust is not about satisfying or helping others.  People usually don’t sit at home and crave mowing a widow’s lawn, or helping their spouse clean the bedroom.  Lust is all about us.  Jesus said that lusting after a woman is the same as committing adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28).  This is the ultimate way to devalue a person.  A Princeton psychologist conducted an interesting study that showed men view scantily clad women as objects rather than humans.  When you are in lust mode, you are not seeing a human being with goals, purpose, and intrinsic worth.  You are seeing a means to satisfy your craving.  You are seeing a tool that you can use to accomplish a task.  A selfish, demeaning task.

Terrible:  Lust does terrible things to you and others.  How many people have been raped, killed, dehumanized, insulted, cheated, abandoned, impoverished, evicted, fired, and used because of lust?  Lust devalues others and leaves you feeling empty, regretful, and dissatisfied.  It harms your heart (Matthew 5:28), and it leads to your death (James 1:14-15).  Over time it robs you of your humanity and decency.  It is a terrible plague that is destroying the entire world (1 John 2:15-17).

The next time you begin to feel strong sinful cravings arising in your body and mind, change your environment.  Fill that craving with something else.  Give a friend a phone call, go for a run, stand outside, build a chair, read your Bible, do gymnastics, go to the store, put an ax through your computer, pray, give thanks for the blessings you already have, do something!  Find hobbies, find help, and strive for satisfaction and contentment.  Leave lust behind, because the truth is, lust is a terrible, selfish, unsatisfying, lie.

If You Want To Be Taken Seriously About Homosexuality…

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Christians talk a lot about same sex marriage.  As such an important discussion in our culture and in the church; Christians should be engaged in it.  Especially today and for the next few weeks, there is going to be a lot of heated debate.  There is a lot of anger and heartbreak surfacing right now.  There are a lot of important things that Christians need to be saying, and will be saying. But there is a difference between saying true things, and being taken seriously while you do it.  Before writing all over Facebook about this issue, make sure you provide some incentive for others to take you seriously.

Get the log out of your own eye.  Now, I believe that Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” is one of the most over quoted and misused passages in Scripture.  But I think there is some pretty good application when it comes to the way many conservatives address homosexuality.

If you are not willing to follow the Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, you don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to addressing homosexuality.  If you are having sex outside of marriage, even heterosexually, you better focus on your own purity before anyone else’s.  It makes me cringe when I read about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “Biblical definition of marriage” from someone who is, through divorce and remarriage, fornication, or adultery, rejecting the Biblical definition of marriage.  Hypocrisy kills your credibility and influence.

Don’t make this your only sermon.  This seems to be the primary hobby-horse of many.  If we cannot get through a sermon, blog, conversation, or tweet, without harping on this one sin, we eventually begin to lose some credibility.  Our motives look artificial.  It looks like you sincerely care about degrading one group of people rather than sincerely care about souls.

So ask yourself the question, who are you attempting to help by this?  Is it a soul, person, or community you care about?  Or is it some political ideology?  Or are you just angry and want to be heard?  That’s understandable, but not always helpful.  There are plenty of sins in the world to rebuke and plenty of groups to chastise.  There is also much encouragement to be given in a world as lost as ours.  The Bible covers a whole host of topics, not just modern political issues.

Have some compassion.  Please try not to demonize people with whom you disagree; especially not people that we are supposed to love and try to save.  I know of no conversation where this is helpful.  Think about what you are asking another human being to do.  You are asking them to deny their feelings.  You are asking them to deny a critical part of who they are.  You are asking them to deny any foreseeable future happiness in marriage or family.  You are asking for radical self-denial.  This is not wrong; Jesus demands radical self-denial.  He requires us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  But let us never lose compassion or respect for those who sacrifice much for the cause of Christ.

I have had heart wrenching Bible studies with heterosexuals who have come to realize that because of their divorce, they have no right to be married again (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  I hate these discussions.  They hurt me and they hurt others.  But sometimes Jesus asks us to do extremely difficult things for the kingdom (Matthew 19:10-12).  So teach the truth, but teach with compassion and remember you are talking to a fellow human being, not the incarnation of evil.

Make a better stand.  This is not an argument that will be won with anecdotes, insults, or slurs.  To those who make their stand against homosexuals by withholding tips, refusing to hire, bullying, insulting, or persecuting; shame on you.  Not allowing them in church buildings, making rules that we will allow funerals for anyone except homosexuals, and general cruelty, will not only hurt us, but will give ammunition to everyone else.  Even if they are your enemies, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Persecuting them does not help anyone or anything.  It makes them the victims, and us the aggressors.  It makes us look prejudiced and ignorant.  And it certainly doesn’t make us look like Jesus.  While He never approved of sin, you will be hard pressed to find Him advocate cruelty or mistreatment of the sinner.  Let persecution be our burden and no one else’s.

Be honest about your worldview.  If we are honest, our primary stand against homosexuality derives from Scripture.  Sure, we have some social studies and historical arguments that we put forward.  Plus there are some blindingly obvious inconsistencies in the arguments of those in favor of same-sex marriage.  But really, if the Bible was in favor of same-sex marriage, we probably wouldn’t stand so firm against it.

The difficulty is that Biblical arguments are not going to work well at changing American laws.  A politician who argues all his positions Sola Scriptura will not be taken seriously.  But remember, our primary concern is not modern American law.  God’s kingdom is infinitely more important than the temporal American kingdom.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in this country.  Well, that is wrong and unscriptural.  Just as wrong as any homosexual practice.  Whether it is legal or not, whether “married” or not, the Bible condemns the sin.  The world will do what the world will do.  American law is not our priority; the gospel of Jesus Christ is our priority.  Regardless of what laws our country passes, we can still practice Christianity and Biblical morality (even if under persecution).

Christianity did not originate as a world power, but as a persecuted religion.  Yet it managed to change the world.  The divine mandates of Christianity were not given to govern countries but to govern lives.  Rome did not follow Christian morality and neither does America.  But our responsibility does not change.  If every law is against you, do not fear as long as God is with you.  We change lives, countries, and the world by living and teaching Jesus.  It’s not hopeless, and we don’t need government approval of our message.  We need conviction, zeal, perspective, sincerity, patience, faith, hope, and love.

What to Expect as a Christian

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Being a Christian is not all daisies and cupcakes.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always friendly.  What should you expect as a Christian in this world?

Persecution from the World:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Persecution is a fundamental part of Christianity.  There are Christians in various parts of the world who are suffering intense persecution now, even to the point of losing possessions, freedom, and life.  This history of persecution can be traced back to the beginning of the church.  Early Christians were both persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire.  Many of the great Christians you read about in Scripture were executed for Christ.

While many modern Christians face very light persecution, and sadly many try to overplay or invent persecution stories, actual persecution really does exist here and now.  It is nearly impossible to have a discussion about any relevant moral issue once somebody finds out you are a Christian.  Your motives are attacked, you are insulted, and productive communication ceases.  Christians are often judged as being judgmental, called ignorant by the ignorant, and hated for being hateful. The hypocrisy of those who call us hypocritical is blindingly obvious.  Yet, this is one of the many ways we carry our cross while following Jesus.

Animosity from Family:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me…” (Matthew 10:35-37).

Now, there are some, myself included, who have been greatly blessed as to have the majority of their physical family also be in their spiritual family.  What this means is that their family rejoices with them in their conversion to Christ. This is not always the case, however.

If you turn your life to Christ, be prepared for your family to resent you for it.  To see you as “holier than thou,” “pious,” or “judgmental.”  They might think you are throwing your life away.  They might see you as drifting farther from the family, joining a cult, or losing your mind.  This is often the initial reaction, sometimes it remains, sometimes it does not.  But this can be an extremely heavy cross to bear.

Frustration from Brethren:

“So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).

One of the saddest truths about Christianity is that many of our biggest critics are other Christians.  Brethren divide over the most pointless and derivative minutiae one can possibly imagine. Hateful words are spoken about those who preach “grace” and about those who preach “obedience.”  Lines of fellowship are drawn over semantics, schools, political parties, evangelistic methods, and church budgets.  Commands for unity, patience, and tolerance are neglected in favor of “that time Paul rebuked someone by name,” while some brethren will condemn anyone who rebukes anyone for any reason.  And as a result, brethren drift farther and farther from each other, and the teachings of Jesus.  Even Christians will not always act like Christians.  This cross will break your heart when if you try to carry it.

It to be Completely Worth it:

“the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

There is no better life in this whole world than that of a faithful Christian.  If you really let the teachings of Christ radically change your life, you will become a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, and person.  It’s impossible not to.

The best people I have ever met are faithful, loving Christians.  They don’t get a lot of publicity. The headliner is when Christians fail, the pastor has an affair, or the church sign says something hateful.  But behind the terrible news stories, inflammatory rhetoric, and bitter vitriol are people.  Godly, real, imperfect, generous, loving, forgiving people.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I love our fellowship.  The relationships formed by the blood of Jesus far supersede any persecution from the world, criticisms from family, or immaturity from brothers in Christ. There is no comparison.

The spiritual bond of the church makes everything else worth it, but fellowship with the Lord Himself is my greatest joy.  In this relationship I have grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.  I have a mighty Friend who no enemy can overcome.  I am granted freedom from my past, unfathomable joy in the present, and access to God for eternity.  That is what you can expect as a Christian.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:17

Snapchat and Grace

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Snapchat: Used and Abused

Ah, good ol’ Snapchat.  The cause of a tremendous amount of problems in the world.  Yet, still an app that I play with probably way more than any adult should.  To any who might not know, Snapchat is an app that allows you to take and send pictures to your friends.  Those pictures can be set to exist from 1-10 seconds before they vanish forever.  (At least that’s the idea, there have been hackers able to recover some of these pics and there is always the option to screenshot).

Normally when taking a picture, you worry about getting the right angle, making sure every hair is in place, and your eyes are big and beautiful.  But when you know the picture you are sending won’t exist forever, you’re a little less anal about how you look.  Your friend can see that bad angle or goofy face, if only for a few seconds.  However, if that picture were plastered all across Times Square for years to come, you’d probably be more concerned about those crossed eyes and double, triple, quadruple chins.

Sadly, what has often happened is people have taken advantage of the disappearing picture.  Instead of having more confidence and less vanity about every detail, they send pictures that no one should see.  Immodest, seductive, and naked photos have spread across Snapchat like wild fire.  After all, if the picture is gone, so are the consequences.

Abuse of Grace

This is not only a problem with snapchat, but this mindset permeates in many other areas of life.  Remarkably, it even spreads to the topic of God’s grace.  God’s grace is a marvelous gift.  It takes the ugly parts of our life and erases them before God.  Our sins, like our double chins, are vanished forever!  This should give us tremendous confidence before God.  But as always, there are those who seek to abuse the grace of God.

Paul warned against this attitude when he wrote, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!” (Romans 6:1, 2).  There are those that think that since they have God’s grace, avoiding sin is less important.  Some will even sin more simply because they “trust” in God’s grace.  Talk about missing the point!

Afraid of Grace:

Not only has God’s grace been abused by those who use it as an excuse to sin more or be less careful with God’s word, but this has had terrible effects on the way others view grace.  The flip side of abusing grace is being afraid of it.  “If I tell someone that they remain saved and forgiven in spite of their sins and failures, it will just encourage them to sin more.  Ergo, I need to make sure they know that they can lose God’s grace, and that grace has conditions and limits!”

Divided by Grace:

All of the sudden, you have some brethren who abuse grace and use it as an excuse to engage in unbiblical ideas and practices.  Then you have other brethren who neglect to teach about grace, or at least put it so far out of reach that you feel you must be perfect to attain it.  Both of these attitudes are egregious.  Grace, what should have been considered among the greatest blessings God has given mankind, has been abused, belittled, and used as a source of division.  And Satan giggles to himself.

What to do with Grace:

Snapchat can be a lot of fun.  You can take goofy, funny pictures.  You can use your finger to draw on those pictures.  I have drawn myself as Aladdin, Iron Man, Captain America, Darkwing Duck, a gangster, a hipster, and a man with thick hair.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused.  Grace is incredible.  To know that every flaw, failure, and defect in my life has vanished before God is cause for great joy.  The confidence that in spite of myself, I stand assured of my salvation is what gives me the strength to continue in this Christian life.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be abused.

Don’t see grace as ticket to sin without consequences.  Don’t think that grace in any way is opposed strict adherence and obedience to God’s will.  If you love God, why would you?

Don’t be so afraid of people misusing grace that you hide it under a bushel.  Don’t fear that a grace centered theology will cause more harm than good.  If you believe God, why would you?

Allow grace to give you confidence.  To help you through times of struggle and doubt.  To encourage you when you fail.  To humble you when you’re proud.  To change your life from top to bottom.  To give you reason to love and obey.  To give you reason to worship and praise.  Grace be with you all!

Why I Love The Bible

Why I Love the Bible

One Wednesday evening after speaking in a Summer Series in Durant, OK I was approached by a college student. He had sat in the auditorium while I presented a sermon on the topic of “God’s Holy Book.” After I had finished preaching and the service had ended, he eagerly walked to where I was standing and told me he needed to talk to me about something very important. I had never met this man before and thoughts started racing through my head about what was on his mind. My hope was that his heart had been pricked and he desired to become a Christian. I soon realized that his intentions were entirely different.

He began to unload on how much he despised the Bible, citing it as the reason for all the evil in the world. He had been spending time on atheistic websites that had filled his mind with a tremendous amount of animosity. He had printed off a list of 101 Bible Contradictions which we began going through together. I spoke with him for several hours that evening. The discussion did not result in his conversation to Christ but we both enjoyed it and we left on good terms. I emailed him later, but to no avail.

The conversation that we had got me thinking a lot. I thought about the importance of being prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us. I also thought about God’s providence as my study for the sermon on “God’s Holy Book” prepared me for that interaction. (It also did not hurt that early that day I had finished reading the Warren-Flew debate and was rarin’ to go). However, the feeling that struck me the most was one of great pity. In no way was my pity derived from a feeling of superiority or pride, but from a feeling that where I had experienced great love this man had experienced great anger and animosity. That the book I had grown to love and appreciate from a young age could result in so much hate and anger in another was something I found profoundly depressing. I pitied him for how much he was missing.

I love the Scriptures. I enjoy studying the Bible. I am in full-time pulpit ministry, not because I love performing funerals and weddings. It’s not because I love visiting hospitals and I certainly don’t love wearing suits in the 100 degree heat. I am in ministry because I love the Word of God and the impact it can make in someone’s life. This is not to say that visitation and the honor of performing funerals/weddings are not important (I’m still doubting the importance of me being in a suit in the summer), but these things are not what I love about ministry. I love the Bible.

  1.  I love the Bible because it is the foundation of so many of my best relationships. My relationship with my parents, best friends and spouse are all rooted in our mutual appreciation for Scripture. When I spend time with my parents the Bible is not only what guides our relationship, but it is also the main topic of many of our discussions. Most of my best friends are full time ministers, and all of my best friends are people whose lives have been shaped and molded by Scripture. My beautiful wife means the world to me. I can talk to her about anything. But our relationship is founded upon our common love for the Word of God. It is His Word that unites us and gives us a shared worldview. I could not imagine the turmoil each of these relationships would suffer if God were removed from the foundation.
  2. I love the Bible because I love the people in the Bible. From childhood many of my greatest heroes were men whose lives have been recorded in the Sacred Writings. Daniel, whose faith and dedication to God was so great that the threat of death would not hinder his prayer life. Jacob, who repeatedly overcame seemingly insurmountable hardships without losing faith. Paul, who radically changed his life when confronted with his error, and faithfully served Christ through times of persecution and hatred from every direction. I love to read the accounts of these men. I love to read about Esther, Noah, Peter, Samson, Amos, David, John, etc. Men and women who at times seemed so human while other times their faith soared high above expectation. Men and women who rose above conflict to do what was right. I love to read about these people.
  3. I love the Bible because it changes lives. The Bible has changed my life. I have seen the incredible power of God’s Word in action through the lives of sinners brought to Christ. I have personally experienced positive changes in my life as I have sought to conform to His will. I love teaching the Bible and seeing it “click” in people’s minds. I love to learn the Bible, and I love to help others learn the Bible. When people learn the Bible, they are learning truths that transcend this earth. The Bible does not change lives because it is so well written. The Bible does not change lives because it is so culturally influential. The Bible does not change lives because a preacher might be a great speaker. The Bible changes lives because it comes from God. That thought always blows my mind. The book that I am holding in my hand actually came from the mind of God. When reading Scripture, we are reading insights from the Mind that created and sustains the universe, the God of Israel. This almighty God has spoken. It is an indescribable honor to be able to listen. When we do listen, the Bible changes lives.

I suppose there is a lot more that could be said. For 3,400 years, since the Bible first began to be written and preserved, people have been talking about it. That is not going to stop either. It will continue to strengthen relationships. The lives of the heroes in Scripture will continue to inspire. God will continue to speak His message to generations as long as this earth exists. That excites me! “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass, the grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). I love this book and will study and preach it as long as I am able.

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