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  2. Album dedicated to Your Orthodox Church in US, which is a building used for Your Christian Orthodox religious activities, particularly for Orthodox worship services.
  3. Album dedicated to Presbyterian Church Pastors, which are the Ministers called to a particular congregation. Ministers are the primary preachers and teachers, celebrants of sacraments.
  4. Album dedicated to Your Methodist Church, which is a building used for Your Christian Methodist religious activities, particularly for Methodist worship services.
  5. Album dedicated to the sacrament of baptism within the Baptist Church, did by complete immersion.
  6. Album dedicated to the believers and faithfuls of the Evangelical Church. Photos on sacrament feasts, on the manifestations of their faith and on their ministers of worship and leaders.
  7. Album dedicated to the Priestesses of the Anglican Church, an element that distinguishes them from the Catholic Church where the presence of priestesses is not allowed, being the priesthood reserved for male men.
  8. Distribution of the Sacrament of the Communion to the Faithful of the Catholic Religion.
  9. Children don’t need to learn selfishness. Unlike swimming or tying shoes, self-centeredness comes naturally. Self-focus is in our DNA. The boiling pot of a sinful heart releases the vapor of selfishness that animates us every hour of our lives. But our attention to and ambition for ourselves is dangerous: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:16) If we take the Bible seriously, this is a four-alarm warning. Disorder and every vile practice! How should we, as Christians, fight against selfishness? Selflessness Is Not the Answer We might advocate for selflessness. On the surface, this seems right; instead of thinking so much about myself, I’ll try to think about myself less. But this approach still puts the self  in the spotlight on stage. We still focus on how frequently or deeply we think of ourselves. Not only is this unhealthy it’s also not what the Bible advocates. The Answer is Love The greatest commandments, according to Jesus, offer a summary of the law as well as a foundation for all Christian ethics. And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40) As we devote ourselves to loving God and loving our neighbors, we will inevitably turn our attention away from ourselves. This call to love is fundamental, demanding, and only possible for those who have been born again by the Spirit of God. Paul Guides Us Because of our self-centered instincts, we must follow the path away from selfishness all of our days. Paul gives us some guidance along this path in Philippians 2:1–11. He commands us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (v. 3), and the larger context offers positive pointers. Be of one mind Paul emphasizes the unity of the church body: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). With the effort it takes to be “in full accord” and “of one mind” with our brothers and sisters, we will necessarily focus on others. Count others more significant At the end of verse 3, Paul writes that we must “in humility count others more significant than [ourselves].” We’re quite talented at asserting our own significance, but we’re not as good at highlighting others. Your brothers and sisters in Christ have great value and significance because they are both created in the image of God and adopted as his precious children. Thanking God for the blessings and contributions of others is a good way to highlight their significance. Look to the interests of others Paul isn’t finished pointing us toward others. He wants us to be invested in their interests: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4) What do your brothers and sisters value? Where are they hurting? What do they need? How can you attend to their wounds or encourage them? Consider Christ This is Paul’s all-in play. In verses 5–11, he highlights Jesus’s humility and sacrifice. Paul’s goal is to show us Jesus not only as an example but also as the crucified servant who is now resurrected, exalted, and worthy of worldwide worship: Jesus did not cling to his own status, glory, or importance (2:6). Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant (2:7). And, Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross (2:8). God has highly exalted Jesus (2:9). At the name of Jesus every knee in all creation will bow and every tongue will confess his lordship, all to God’s glory (2:10-11). Because God has brought us to himself, and because he is our sovereign, loving father, we can trust him to care for us. We don’t need to devote all of our attention to ourselves. Following the example and command of Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, we can now seek the good of others. Two Practical Suggestions In Philippians 2, Paul helps us consider what it means to love our God and love our neighbor. To obey faithfully, we must enter the practical realm. Worship with your local church.  Yes, the church is messy. It’s often hard. But the local church is the expression of Christ’s body on earth. If you haven’t yet found and joined a local church, I urge you to prayerfully seek out a Bible-based community in your area. Then, worship God with these people! You will likely have different musical preferences than some and different theological positions than others, but the weekly gathering of the saints is a unique opportunity to love God and love others. Serve with your local church.  Nothing binds Christians together as quickly or as deeply as shared ministry. And I guarantee your church has ministry needs! Consider helping with the Bible study in the local nursing home, driving an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, or pitching in to prepare the coffee at church on Sunday morning. A Lifelong Path In our flesh, we love to sit in the dark, thinking of and serving only ourselves. And since the sinful flesh will not be completely eliminated on this side of heaven, our fight against selfishness is a war, not a battle. But God gives grace! Those who are in Christ are beloved by God. His great commandments are not only good for the world but also good for us. They are part of his plan to bring us into the light and make us conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). unlockingthebible.org
  10. In a previous article, I analyzed the assault our children, and all of us, are facing in this world. I listed the three brands of deception which Satan uses to keep people from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ: Vanity, flattery, and blasphemy. What hope is there for our children and grandchildren growing up in this world, where they are swimming in this sea of vanity, flattery, and blasphemy? After reading Psalm 12, you can see why David is praying and why we need to do the same. So, I want to offer a strategy for prayer and for action rooted in three truths about God. 1. God listens We need to pray for our children. We need to do this in the family, we need to do this as a church. Psalm 12 is a model for us to follow. When we do, we should lay out before the Lord the pressure that they face. God listens to you when you pray for your children. So pray for them, and keep praying for them. Don’t stop, don’t get discouraged, and don’t give up. Ask some friends to commit to praying for your children with you and join them in praying for theirs. If you don’t have children of your own find a way to connect with some younger people and pray for them. 2. God speaks The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6) God’s Word is pure. He says things that you may not want to hear, and things that are hard to hear. But these are not to harm you, they are to heal you. God’s Word will bring conviction to your soul, an awareness of your own need, but it is pure, and it will always do you good. Satan does everything in his power to keep you from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. But light is greater than darkness. “The entrance of God’s Word gives light” (Psalm 119:130)! How does a person come to the knowledge of the truth where Satan darkens minds and hearts through his vanity, flattery, and blasphemy? God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6) That’s how a person is converted. The entrance of God’s Word gives light. God says, “My Word will not return to me empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.” Parents, grandparents, bring the Word of God to your children. Do it in the home. Let’s keep doing it do it together in the church. Our children are living in a world saturated with dark lies. But light is greater than darkness. When the light shines, the darkness cannot overcome it. Let’s not lose our confidence in the Word of God. This is living seed, and through this seed God brings new birth: “The words of the Lord are pure words… You, O Lord, will keep them” (Psalm 12:7). 3. God saves Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone. (Psalm 12:1) You will guard us from this generation forever. (Psalm 12:7) Here’s how you can pray for your son, daughter, or grandchild who doesn’t have godly friends, who doesn’t have the benefit of a faithful ministry of the Word: “I’m not depending on their friends. I’m depending on you. Lord, I’m asking you to intervene. Save!” Psalm 12 is one of only a few psalms that includes an answer. The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers (people talking to God), but in this psalm God speaks to us, and he answers while David is still praying! “I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” (Psalm 12:5) That’s your hope. That’s my hope. You can trust God to speak. You can ask God to save. That’s how you pray when you fear for your children. God gave to Karen and I the gift of two sons. We are so grateful that they love Christ and have married women who love Christ too. Now that we have two granddaughters, one on each side of the family, we are very aware that they are growing up in a world very different from the one we knew in our childhood. They are growing up in a culture where there is no longer a Christian consensus that is as widespread as in the past. But I want more for them than to go along with a Christian consensus. Here is what I am praying for them: I want them to be saved, to know Christ, and I to love God. I want the flame of the Holy Spirit to be lit within their heart. I want God to lay hold of them. In such a way that they will be wholly different than the world in which they live. A Vision for the Next Generation I pray we will increasingly see such radical and wonderful salvation in the generation that lies ahead. As people pray not only cultivation of a consensus, but for the radical salvation for people like Saul of Tarsus. Remember, he said: “I was a blasphemer and a violent man. But I was shown mercy.” And his whole life was transformed. And instead of drifting along in the comfort of belonging to the majority, he lived for the glory of Christ and for an eternal reward. Is that you? unlockingthebible.org
  11. If you go to a cross country meet, you’ll see parents at different points on the trail, cheering their kids on towards the finish line. I never ran cross country, but my sisters tell me it’s an important part of a runner’s mental game. Without support at those mile markers, runners can begin to feel weak, discouraged, and defeated. I imagine this is sort of what it feels like to be a Christian with unbelieving parents. You’re running the race God has put before you with endurance, but every once in a while you take your eyes off of Jesus to look for your mom and dad cheering you on in the stands, and they’re not there. It must be difficult running this race of faith without the support of your parents and frightening to think that you may not see them at the finish line. I don’t know your exact pain, but I have experienced weak knees in my own race towards Heaven. I’ve also experienced the goodness of a friend jogging up beside me and helping me through some of my toughest laps. I hope that I can be that friend for you today by offering you a few sips of cold water as you run your race without the spiritual support of your earthly parents. God Loves You God loves you, dear one. He loves you so much that he sent his own son to die for you so that you might spend eternity with him (John 3:16). Your parents’ love may fall short at times, but his never will. The love of God is not manipulative or conditional, shallow or unpredictable. It’s lavish and free, constant and deep, and it’s yours through Christ (1 John 4:10, Ephesians 3:18). You are both a beneficiary and a steward of God’s love. 1 John 4:9 says that “we love because he first loved us.” When your unbelieving parents are hard to love, remember this verse. God does not call you to muster up love for them from within yourself but to draw from the well of his love instead. Called to Honor In our culture, we’re accustomed to people earning honor. To make the honor roll, you have to get good grades. To earn a promotion, you have to do good work. But in God’s kingdom, honor isn’t tied to achievement. God calls us to honor everyone, and he specifically commands us to honor our parents, not because they’re deserving or godly, but because honoring them brings honor to God (Ephesians 6:2). To honor our parents means to give them weight in our hearts and lives. What does honoring unbelieving parents look like? In many ways, it probably looks similar to honoring believing parents: making room for them in the midst of busy schedules, asking for their advice when it’s appropriate, serving them, or caring for them in their old age. Pray for Your Parents Another way to honor unbelieving parents is to pray for them. The Bible says that the “prayers of a righteous person have power” (James 5:16). What better way to wield that power than to pray for your parents’ salvation? Children (typically) know their parents pretty well. Use that to your advantage as you pray. Be bold and specific with your prayers, relying on God’s word to help you focus on his will rather than your own. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14) Share the Gospel As you pray for your parents, ask God for opportunities to share the gospel with them as well. This can be a daunting task for grown children, so ask God for wisdom to know when to speak and for the courage to follow through when you feel the Spirit’s prompting. Be eager to share the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection should the opportunity arise. In the meantime, shower your parents with the love of Christ and pray without ceasing for their salvation. Release Unrealistic Expectations I once heard a Christian radio host say that we can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers. That stuck with me. It’s unfair to expect unregenerate people to think, talk, and act like people who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? In fact, it’s an impossible task without Christ’s intervention. Release your parents (and yourself!) from the yolk of unrealistic expectations. Instead, ask God to help you see them as he sees them—as sinners in need of a savior (Ephesians 2:1-3). Cling to Christ Jesus told us that following him comes at a cost—sometimes it means leaving the comfort of family for the sake of the gospel. If this describes your situation, be encouraged. Jesus also said: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30) He has given you a new family in his church and eternal life with him. Christ is no consolation prize, friend. He is the prize. Cling to him. Eyes on the Prize Christian Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Liddell once said, “Each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run…and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”1 The good news for your parents is that the race hasn’t ended yet. There’s still time for them to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15). There’s still hope for a comeback! As you run your own race, do not give up hope. Look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Listen for the great cloud of witnesses cheering you on (Hebrews 12:1). Then run with endurance—praying that one day soon your mom and dad will place their trust in Christ, sprint toward the finish line, and stand on the podium next to you as “God gives out the medals.” unlockingthebible.org
  12. I am a prideful person, but by God’s grace my repentance grows deeper each day. Even though this sin repulses me, I return to it. I’ve found that condescension and haughtiness are appealing at first but they leave a terrible aftertaste. When I return to pride, I’m always left wondering: How did I end up here? Why did I eat the fruit of pride yet again? I want to explore why pride can feel so powerful. It plays these 5 games on us, and it is a master at them. Be careful to avoid its tricks, because joining in will come at a great cost. 5 Games Pride Plays on You 1. Pride promises you what you want at the cost of what you need. For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord. In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (Psalm 10:4) What do I want? More twitter follows. A couple of book deals. The admiration and respect of everyone I meet. Is that too much to ask for? Pride says, “That’s not too much at all. In fact, you deserve those things. You are entitled to them.” A person who has great want is a willing victim of their own pride. But note, if you take the hand of pride, you leave God’s hand behind. The prideful doesn’t think, “I don’t follow God” but thinks, “There is no God.” For the existence of God necessitates that we are secondary to him—but pride says you’re second to no one. 2. Pride offers a shortcut to knowledge at the cost of true wisdom. I, wisdom, dwell with prudence… [I hate] pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech. (Proverbs 8:13) Pride offers a shortcut to knowledge because it suggests you already have it! Wisdom, however, dwells with prudence. That means true wisdom comes from a spirt caution that makes sure it doesn’t stray from God’s word. In other words, it takes time and work. It takes an acknowledgment that you are not wise immediately. But what dwells with pride? Wisdom gives and receives counsel with Prudence, but whom does Pride interact with? Perhaps Folly, who says, “There is no truth. Everything is equal so go with your gut!” Perhaps Recklessness, who says, “There’s no time to waste! Act now!” Or maybe even Perversion, who asks, “Have you considered the benefits of evil? There is much gain to be found there.” Proverbs 21:4 calls a proud heart “the lamp of the wicked.” How does a prideful person find their way? By the light of their own pride, which is not light at all but darkness. 3. Pride makes you feel better at the cost of your relationships. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (Romans 12:15-17) Many things can happen in our lives to upset us. Someone gets something instead of us, someone disappoints us, or maybe someone harms us. For these moments, Jesus set the ultimate example of grace and selflessness and calls us to imitate his humility. However, pride offers us a different way to react. When your friend gets the thing you have been wanting, pride will bolster you up through hate. When someone you know has been brought low, pride will protect you as you distance yourself from them. And, when someone commits evil against you, pride encourages you, saying you have all the right in the world to do the same to them. 4. Pride promises money and power at the cost of your soul. As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17) The verse above from Timothy tells us what we all know about riches—they are uncertain. They rise and fall. And, when we die we cannot hold them. But herein lies the interconnectedness of pride’s schemes: The prideful person doesn’t care that they can’t hold their money after death because they only care about this life. They’ve already said, “There is no God” (Psalm 10:4). Money is never enough, though, and men quickly seek power. Taking the hand of pride makes you first a materialist and then a blasphemer. Consider this striking sentence from the last book of the Bible: And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. (Revelation 13:5) The beast must have thought he had great power. He was blaspheming God, and God did not stop him. In the beast’s mind, he may have even thought that God could not stop him. He was drunk with power, but we can see his folly. The power he thought he had over God was actually “given” and “allowed” by God. This is a warning to all who eat the fruit of pride. You will love your power, it will make you foolish, and it will lead you to blaspheme God. 5. Pride gives instant gratification at the cost of eternal joy. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:16-17) I have said that pride promises what you want—to feel better through self-worth, money, and power—and the most alluring part of pride is that it offers all this right now. There is an urgency, a time-boundness, to pride. This urgency is set up to lure you away from “the will of God.” When the devil offered to give Jesus all the authority of “the kingdoms of the world…and their glory” (Luke 4:5-6), it was a now-or-never kind of deal. The devil said all he had to do was bow down to him, and then it would all be Jesus’s. Just like that! The devil is the supreme tempter. He knows exactly how to get to people. He knows here in Luke 4 that he is telling the prophesied Messiah that he could obtain all the power in the world without having to go through all the pain and misery of the crucifixion. But Jesus, who was the incarnate Word, is too strong for that. He said in response to the devil: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” Our Lord and Savior is stronger than sin, and if we are in him then so are we. He spoke directly to the face of pride and said, “You shall worship the Lord your God” so we can do the same when it tempts us. Jesus Offers Something Greater Reader, what do you find in pride’s empty promises that you cannot find in Jesus? Jesus offers greater, and more life-giving, things to you. Jesus gives you what you need, grants true wisdom, soothes your soul while redeeming your relationships, brings us to the rich generosity of the Father, and holds out in his hand eternal joy. Will you lay hold of that joy? I pray that you will. unlockingthebible.org
  13. I live in a small rural community where people often burn brush, trash, and other debris that they do not want to take the time to dispose of. It is common in the summer and fall to drive past houses where dark clouds of smoke are billowing from the back yard. At first it looks like a 911 situation, but eventually, you learn that it is a controlled burn. Most of the time the fire is tended and controlled in a way that it cannot spread to the rest of the yard or the corn fields. However, from time to time they can get out of hand, and it only takes a little amber that gets out of control that can cause the fire to spread and do a lot of damage. The Tongue Can Be Just Like a Fire “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6) James warns us that the tongue is a part of the body that can be just like a fire: when controlled it serves a great and wonderful purpose, but when it is out of control it only takes a little bit to do a great deal of damage. He points out that it can corrupt a whole person and ruin his whole life. It is amazing that something as simple as words can make such an impact. But we know that God ordained words to be powerful. In Genesis 1 we see that He created the whole universe by speaking it into existence. Jesus, all throughout the Gospels, healed people by simply speaking healing into their body. In Luke 8:22-25, Jesus calms the storm by simply telling it to be still. We know that words have power, so how do we as the children of God tame our tongue? 1. Be intentional When you start a fire to burn trash, you have to be very intentional. You must use the right amount of trash to burn, you must tend to it, burn in a controlled vessel, and above all keep your eye on it. When we think of our speech we should be the same way. The words we speak should be intentional and God-honoring. To understand the warning James gives in this verse about the power words have we need to be conscious of not only what we say, but also what we allow our minds to dwell on and the manner in which we say what we say. James uses two analogies in verses 3-5 in chapter 3. First, he uses the analogy that the tongue is like a bit that goes into the mouth of a horse, and then the analogy of a rudder that steers the ship. Both cases, the bit and the rudder, imply intentional control. We should pray for the Lord’s guidance and wisdom that our words would be intentional and life-giving. 2. Listen to sound teaching At the beginning of the chapter, James opens by saying not many of us should be teachers. Preachers and teachers in the church were and still are highly revered, and it can be tempting for many to want to be in the spotlight and have the prestige. He warns however that there is great responsibility with teaching because words are powerful and they have great influence in the minds of listeners. He goes on to say that people who teach will be judged more strictly and held to a higher standard. That being said, we know that there are many false teachers in the world today. Be careful that the teaching that you take in whether by sermon or book is Gospel-centered. Do not assume that just because a preacher or author is teaching something a little off that it is of little consequence. If it is contrary to the Gospel, that’s a big deal. Remember, that a half-truth though it may sound mostly good, is still a lie. 3. Feed Yourself with the Word The only way to be able to be intentional and life-giving with your words, as well as to be able to identify good teaching, is to feed your self with the Word daily. God gave us His word not only so that we could know Him and His wonderful plan of salvation, but also so that we would know how to live godly lives. Instruction for Godly speech is found in countless places in the Bible, and the only way to make those truths a real and working part of your life is to preach them to yourself as often as you can. Taming the tongue is not something we will ever master in fact, James says in verse 8 no man can tame the tongue! But Christ commands us to tame it as much as we can, and that by His help our words can be life-giving and a reflection of His grace in our lives. What are some areas in your life where your speech could use some taming? unlockingthebible.org
  14. You will guard us from this generation forever. (Psalm 12:8) Psalm 12 is a generational psalm. The focus of this prayer is a concern over what the future holds for our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren. Notice how it begins: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of men” (Psalm 12:1). The godly have gone. The faithful have vanished! We want our children to be surrounded by godly examples, and models of faithfulness but, David says, “That’s hard to find today!” Evil was being called “good” and good was being called “evil” by the culture. Everything seemed upside down. What hope is there for our children when this is the world in which they are growing up? This psalm speaks powerfully to our situation today. God has given us a prayer in the Bible for times when we fear for our children. What does the future hold for them? In response to this, I want to first offer an analysis of the assault that our children are facing. And second, a strategy for prayer and for action. Analysis of the Assault Our Children are Facing The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Notice what we are being told here: There is a particular work of Satan, referred to as “the god of this world” in the verse, to bring blindness to human minds. Satan is always doing this, and the reason he’s doing it is that the good news of the glory of Christ is like a bright light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12) and Satan has to pull every trick in the book to keep people from seeing his glory. How does he do this? Jesus says, “Satan is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). All lies ultimately have their origin in him. Lies are his strategy for blinding the minds of each generation to the glory of Christ. The lies take different forms in each generation, but the overarching strategies have been essentially the same since the Garden of Eden. Psalm 12 points to three brands of deception, all of which Satan uses to keep people from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. The three varieties of deception are: Vanity, flattery, and blasphemy. Three Brands of Deception 1. Vanity Everyone utters lies to his neighbor. (Psalm 12:2) Several commentators point out that the word translated “lies” here literally means “emptiness.” David has a particular type of deception in view: “Everyone utters emptiness to his neighbor.” There could hardly be a more powerful description of our culture today. There’s great deal of conversation right now about the whole business of spying—the NSA (National Security Agency) listening to phone calls with a view to enhancing security, etc. I enjoyed a satirical piece from a journalist in London who said that the person she felt sorry for is the poor guy at the NSA who has to sift through endless emails, voicemails, tweets, texts and Facebook™ posts, the vast majority of which are of absolutely no consequence whatsoever! Those who are young are growing up, and we are living, in a world of trivia where “everyone utters emptiness to his neighbor.” It’s a world dominated by the next game, the most recent reality show, or the most shocking sound bite. We’re all talking about nothing. The effect of all this is that serious conversation feels really odd. Someone says, “What do you believe about God?” and everyone feels that this kind of talk is too heavy. Satan’s “vanity brand” aims to keep you from ever thinking seriously about life. It is possible to go through high school, college, career and retirement, without ever seriously asking: Who am I? Why am I here? What is life for? And what lies beyond? Satan is in the business of blinding people’s minds so they “cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” It is possible to go to church, hang out with your friends, and never think seriously about the meaning of life. Vanity is one of Satan’s primary strategies for accomplishing this. 2. Flattery With flattering lips and a double heart they speak. Psalm 12:2 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips… Psalm 12:3 Flattery always becomes the spoken language in a culture where people give themselves to vanity. It’s saying only what other people want to hear and hearing only what you want other people to say. Flattery is Satan’s second brand of deception. If you only hear what you want other people to say, then you end up not being able to see the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This desire for flattery runs deep. Isaiah describes God’s people as: “Children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord, who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things… Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.’” (Isaiah 30:9-11) We just want to be affirmed, so don’t tell us about the Holy One of Israel, because we know that we aren’t holy. That will make us uncomfortable. Our children are growing up in a world where even in church, many hear smooth things, and not much about the Holy One of Israel. Jesus said the work of the Holy Spirit begins with convincing of sin and righteousness and judgment. There won’t be much of that going on in flattering ministries that stroke your ego by saying smooth things. That kind of ministry only leads to a generation of kids who grow up in church and yet cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ! Our Lord spoke about this in John 5:44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” 3. Blasphemy Those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” (Psalm 12:4) This third brand of lying shows itself in defiance. The person who has bought this clenches his or her fist and says, “It’s my life. I am the captain of this ship. No one rules this life but me! I will find my own way. I will be my own lord and savior, my own master, my own guide.” The word to describe that is blasphemy. I looked it up in the dictionary: The act of insulting or showing contempt… for God. The act of claiming the attributes of deity. It’s putting yourself in the place of God. And this brand of deception goes back to the Garden of Eden when Satan said to Eve, “You shall be like God.” Vanity, flattery, and blasphemy are Satan’s three primary strategies. That’s the world our children are growing up in. That’s the world we grew up in. But God is in control. He listens, He speaks, and He saves. unlockingthebible.org
  15. 1. We don't let the Bible speak for itself. It is a common mistake to ask the wrong questions when reading the Bible. Rather than asking "Who am I?" and "What should I do?," Jen Wilkin, author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, suggests asking "Who is God?" and "What has he done?" The Bible is a book that boldly and clearly reveals who God is on every page. In Genesis, it does this by placing God as the subject of the creation narrative. In Exodus, it places him in comparison to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. In the Psalms, David extols the Lord’s power and majesty. The prophets proclaim his wrath and justice. The Gospels and Epistles unfold his character in the person and work of Christ. The book of Revelation displays his dominion over all things. From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about God. The Bible certainly has something to say about who we are and what we should do, but it is important to remember that it is much less a book about us and much more a book about him. 2. We allow our hearts to guide our study. We often turn to Scripture for help or hope when we are feeling discouraged or seeking peace. Because of this, we can tend to approach the Bible primarily as a way to feel better. Wilkin says: Interestingly, the same verse that commands us to love God with all of our hearts also commands us to love him with all of our minds. Our minds are the seat of our intellects. Attaching our intellect to our faith does not come naturally to most of us. We live in a time when faith and reason are spoken of as polar opposites. At times, the church has even embraced this kind of language. For some of us, the strength of our faith is gauged by how close we feel to God at any given moment—by how a sermon made us feel, by how a worship chorus made us feel, by how our quiet time made us feel. Love for God can, in fact, stem from knowing God. When we engage our minds, our hearts can follow suit as we come to a deeper appreciation of God as revealed in Scripture. Wilkin goes on, "We must love God with our minds, allowing our intellect to inform our emotions, rather than the other way around." 3. We skip over large swaths of God's Word. The gospel is good news, but not every page of the Bible is intended to make us feel good about ourselves. Quite to the contrary, Scripture often points out our depravity and unfaithfulness. However, it also reminds of our faithful God. When we pick and choose verses from Scripture aimed merely at lifting our spirits when we're feeling down, we run the risk of reducing the Bible to a self-help manual. Wilkin says, "Yes, there is comfort to be found in the pages of Scripture, but context is what makes that comfort lasting and real." Reading this way, Wilkin says: guarantees that huge sections of our Bibles will remain unread because they fail to deliver an immediate dose of emotional satisfaction. We are not very likely to read Leviticus or Lamentations if we subscribe to this approach. A well-rounded approach to Bible study challenges us to navigate all areas of the Bible, even those that make us uncomfortable or that are difficult to understand. 4. We confuse reading books about the Bible with studying the actual Bible. Extrabiblical resources can be of great help when seeking to understand the Bible and the Christian life, but they are never meant to replace God's Word itself. Wilkin says: If I prefer reading what others have written about the Bible to reading the Bible itself, I am probably reading what someone says about what someone says about what the Bible says. As with topical studies, books about the Bible can be helpful, but they are not foundational. The more time we spend in the primary source (the Bible), the more we'll know and understand it. Other people's thoughts about the Bible are meant to supplement our own, personal engagement with Scripture. 5. We fail to see the big story of Scripture. Although the Bible was penned by many different authors and falls into many different genres, we believe that is is all inspired and therefore equally God's Word. This means that when we read a specific section of the Bible without paying due attention to the whole, we're likely to miss what Wilkin calls the "continuous and stunning landscape" of Scripture. She says: Without the bigger picture, we can gain only a partial appreciation of what any individual snapshot is trying to tell us. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. Its topography speaks of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in every vista. The topography of the Big Story is populated with different genres of writing—Historical Narrative, Poetry, Wisdom Literature, Law, Prophecy, Parables, Epistles—all conspiring to expand our understanding of the reign and rule of God in different ways. Understanding what scholars refer to as the metanarrative of Scripture—the grand, overarching story—helps us piece together what may otherwise seem like disparate stories, teachings, and themes. Knowing the main story of redemption helps us understand all of the individual stories scattered throughout Scripture. Wilkin says: Our disconnect from the metanarrative of the Bible can render us much like a gardener who fails to recognize colored leaves as a sign of autumn rather than a sign of disease. When we are fuzzy about the Big Story, we may have difficulty finding continuity between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. We may have trouble relating to the Old Testament at all. We may misinterpret the purpose or emphasis of a smaller story because we have considered it apart from its relationship to the Big Story. We need to hold the metanarrative in our minds as we read each page of the Bible, remembering that just like in our lives, sometimes we may not understand what God is doing in the short-term, but we can trust him in the bigger picture. crossway.org
  16. Discerning the Good from the Bad In our consumer society, where prevailing wisdom says we should be loyal to products or brands only insofar as our needs and tastes are satisfied, it can be easy for churchgoers to have a very low threshold for leaving a church. The preaching loses some luster. The children’s ministry isn’t as fun as it could be. The worship leader’s hairstyle becomes bothersome. There are lots of bad reasons for leaving a church. But what are some legitimate reasons for leaving a church? Here are seven: 1. The church abandons orthodoxy. If your church begins to fudge on matters of orthodoxy, placing cultural relevance or social gospel initiatives above sound doctrine and biblical authority, look for another church. Sometimes a church outright embraces heresy and it is loud and clear, but more often the march away from orthodoxy is a slow and hard-to-discern series of small compromises. If you see your church headed in that direction and your alarm bells go unheeded, get out sooner rather than later. 2. The church becomes more about politics than Jesus. If you’re in a church that succumbs to the broader culture's current “politics is everything” orientation, placing political activism above Jesus worship and gospel proclamation, you should look for another church. A church that is more interested in advancing a political party’s agenda than in advancing God’s mission is not a church where you should stay. 3. Transformation is absent. Churches are not meant to be inert institutions where nothing and no one is ever changed. On the contrary, a church should be a living, growing organism where the Holy Spirit is sanctifying believers, changing lives, and transforming communities. If your church never sees people being saved or baptized, if church members never grow, and if nothing in the surrounding city is changing for the better because of the church, it might be time to find a new church. 4. You live too far away. Perhaps you’ve moved a bit farther away from your church and the distance begins to pose challenges to your connection there. You find yourself going to fewer church events and meeting fewer people in your neighborhood who know about your church. When it comes to church, proximity is important. If there is no overlap between the people you worship alongside and the people who live in your neighborhood or city, it might be a good reason to find another church. 5. You have no opportunity to serve. Every church member should be serving in their church in some capacity, whether it be welcoming guests at the door, taking up the offering, teaching Sunday School classes, or helping out in some other way. If you are in a church where there are literally no opportunities to serve (and this would be a very rare church indeed!), it might be a good reason to find a church where you can serve. 6. You cannot submit to the leaders. If you find yourself unable to defer to the authority of your church's appointed leaders, and you’ve tried but can't seem to resolve your issues with the leadership, it might be time to look for another church. Churchgoers who are chronically subverting leaders, or at loggerheads with them on everything from music style to preaching topics, are not happy or helpful churchgoers. 7. The church is homogenous and insular. This is a common problem, because humans are naturally prone to group together in like-minded communities that will naturally start to look inward and exist for themselves more than anything. But this is not healthy for a church. If everyone in your church looks the same (same life stage, same socioeconomic status, same culture, same ethnicity, etc.) and if your church feels more like a country club community than an outward-minded community on mission, look for another church. crossway.org
  17. Are Demons in the World Today? Why do demons sometimes receive so much attention from the media? Are the reports biblically correct, or are they just the musings of uninformed people who see a demon behind every bush and under every rock? Has demon activity accelerated in the world? How can one know which concepts are biblically accurate and which are not? This subject deserves a full-length book, but it will only be summarized here. Consider several preliminary, general observations: We affirm the historical reality of Satan and demons, both in the past and in the present, as verified by the Bible. We affirm that the Bible admonishes Christians to expect Satan and demons to operate now much as they did in both Old Testament and New Testament times (1 Pet. 5:6–11). We affirm that the Bible teaches that, in living out the Christian life, one will experience real spiritual battle with Satan and his army of demons. We affirm that Scripture alone, independent of personal experience or clinical data, will truthfully determine the reality of demonic experiences and provide an understanding of encounters with Satan and demons. We affirm that instructions in the New Testament Epistles on how to conduct spiritual warfare were not limited to the first century (Eph. 6:10–20). In Scripture, Satan and demons prominently involved themselves with spiritual darkness (Eph. 6:12), deception (2 Cor. 11:13–15), and death (John 8:44). They thrive in these kinds of environments. The United States has rapidly accelerated toward these conditions over the last decades, as witnessed by increases in false religion and idolatry, sexual immorality and perversions, drug use, occultic activity, interest in Satanism, godlessness, shamelessness over sin, lawlessness, devaluation of human life, and societal attempts to suppress biblical truth. Demons’ Power Demons possess the great power of angels (Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24), greater than humans but far less than their Creator. They have the power to carry out the following actions: Indwell humans and animals (Mark 5:1–16) Physically afflict people (Mark 9:17, 22) Terrorize humans (1 Sam. 16:14–15; 18:10; 19:9; Acts 19:13–16; 2 Cor. 12:7) Initiate false worship (1 Cor. 10:20–21) Promote false doctrines (1 Tim. 4:1) Perform false signs and wonders (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 16:13–14) Deceive prophets (1 Kings 22:19–23) Encourage idolatry (Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37) Engineer death (Judg. 9:23, 56–57) Demons work from a powerful heavenly hierarchy to execute their evil deeds. Words such as “angels,” “authorities,” “cosmic powers,” “dominions,” “powers,” “rulers,” and “thrones” can be used to describe the hierarchies of either holy or evil angels. In context, Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12; and Colossians 2:15 most likely refer to various ranks or levels among the evil angels, that is, the demon hierarchy. In context, Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16; and 1 Peter 3:22 most likely refer to various ranks or levels in the holy angel hierarchy. Scripture never elaborates on the specifics of these hierarchies to explain their order or function. Since Satan imitates and falsifies God’s character and kingdom characteristics, it is most likely that there is both an authoritative functional hierarchy for holy angels who worship God and a parallel counterfeit hierarchy for evil angels who give their allegiance to Satan. The Ultimate Victory of the Lord However strong demons might be, they also have serious weaknesses and vulnerabilities: They unwittingly serve God’s purposes (Judg. 9:23). They were terrified of Christ and the gospel (Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; James 2:19). They obeyed Christ (Matt. 8:32). They obeyed the Twelve (Matt. 10:1–8) and the Seventy-Two (Luke 10:17–20). They cannot separate believers in Christ from the love of God (Rom. 8:38). They can be restrained by the Holy Spirit (2 Thess. 2:6; 1 John 4:4). They have been judged already by God (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) and will be again in the future (Rev. 20:10). crossway.org
  18. 1. Christian ethics teaches us how to live. Christian ethics asks what the whole Bible teaches us about which acts, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God’s approval and which ones do not. This means that Christian ethics teaches us how to live. It is important to study Christian ethics so that we can better know God’s will, and so that each day we can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Col. 1:10). 2. The ultimate basis for Christian ethics is the moral character of God. God delights in his own moral character, which is supremely good, unchanging, and eternal. His moral standards for human beings flow from his moral character, and therefore they apply to all people in all cultures for all of history (although the Bible also contains many temporary commands intended only for specific people at a specific time). God is love, so he commands us to love (1 John 4:19). He is holy, and he commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15). He is merciful, and he commands us to be merciful (Luke 6:36). He is truthful, and he commands us not to bear false witness (Titus 1:2; Exodus 20:16). God’s moral character and the historical fact that he has given us moral commands provide the basis for a Christian answer to the question of how we can move from “is” statements to “ought” statements in ethics. 3. Christian ethics is based on the Bible. One of the purposes of the Bible is to teach us how to live a life that is pleasing to God (Col. 1:9–10; 1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:17). Because it is the Word of God, the Bible is a higher authority in ethics than tradition, reason, experience, expected results, or subjective perceptions of guidance. While these other factors can never override the teaching of Scripture, they can still be helpful for us in making a wise decision. 4. Christian ethics is essential to the proclamation of the gospel. Some Christian speakers today downplay or omit any call for unbelievers to repent of their sins, but evangelism in the New Testament clearly included a call to repentance. Just before he returned to heaven, Jesus told his disciples “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). Similarly, Paul proclaimed the need for repentance to pagan Greek philosophers in Athens, warning them that the final judgment was coming: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31; see also Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; Hebrews 6:1). “Repentance” in the New Testament is not merely a “change of mind” but includes both sorrow for one’s sins and a sincere inward resolve to turn away from sin and to turn to Christ in faith (Hebrews 6:1; Acts 16:31). But how can unbelievers repent of their sins if they do not even know what God’s moral standards are? I do not believe that widespread revival will come to any nation apart from widespread, heartfelt repentance for sin. Therefore gospel proclamation today must include an element of teaching about God’s moral standards, which means teaching about Christian ethics. 5. Christian ethics teaches us how to live for the glory of God. The goal of ethics is to lead a life that glorifies God (“do all to the glory of God,” 1 Cor. 10:31). Such a life will have (1) a character that glorifies God (a Christ-like character), (2) results that glorify God (a life that bears abundant fruit for God’s kingdom), and (3) behavior that glorifies God (a life of obedience to God, lived in personal relationship with God). Although we are justified by faith in Christ alone and not by works, extensive New Testament teachings about living the Christian life show that our day-by-day obedience as justified Christians is an important part of the Christian life. Understanding obedience correctly requires that we avoid the opposite errors of legalism and antinomianism. 6. Obeying God brings numerous blessings to our daily lives. The New Testament teaches at least seventeen specific kinds of blessings that come to us in connection with living in obedience to God’s commands in Scripture. These blessings include the joy of deeper fellowship with God (John 15:10); the joy of pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Colossians 1:10); the joy of becoming a vessel for “honorable use” by God (2 Timothy 2:20-21); the joy of being an effective witness to unbelievers (1 Peter 2:12; 3:1); the joy of increased answers to our prayers (1 Peter 3:10-12; James 5:16; 1 John 3:21-22); the joy of closer fellowship with other Christians (1 John 1:7); the joy of a clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:5, 19); and several other blessings. God intended that obedience to him would not be burdensome (1 John 5:3) but would bring us great joy. For this reason, when Christians are not “conformed to this world” we discover that following the will of God is a path of life that is for us “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). 7. Willful sin brings several harmful consequences to our daily lives. It is not too popular to talk about sin today, but it is a huge topic in the Bible. Searching for the English word “sin” (and other words with the same root such as “sins” or “sinner”) shows that it occurs 440 times in the New Testament alone. And my copy of the Bible in the English Standard Version (ESV) has 235 pages in the New Testament. This means that the topic of sin is mentioned in one way or another, on average, nearly two times per page through the entire New Testament. We would neglect such an important topic at our peril. The New Testament mentions several harmful consequences that come from willful sin in the life of a Christian. These consequences include a disruption of our daily fellowship with God (Ephesians 4:30; 1 John 3:21), the awareness of God’s fatherly displeasure and the possible experience of his fatherly discipline (1 Cor. 11:30; Hebrews 12:5-11; see also Ephesians 4:30; Revelation 3:19), and a loss of fruitfulness in our ministries and in our Christian lives (John 15:4-5). Christians should pray daily for forgiveness of sins (Matthew 6:12; 1 John 1:9), not to gain justification again and again, but to restore our personal fellowship with God that has been hindered by sin. 8. Christian ethics teaches us to consider four dimensions of any action, and nine possible sources of information. Christian ethics is not concerned only with our right and wrong actions. We are complex people, and life itself is complex. Therefore, in studying Christian ethics, God wants us to consider not only (1) the action itself but also (2) a person’s attitudes about the action, (3) the person’s motives for doing the action, and (4) the results of the action. In seeking to know God’s will, sometimes we must make a decision instantly, with no time to ponder the situation (see the story of Joseph in Genesis 39:12). But at other times, we are able to ponder a decision at some length. When we have more time to ponder a decision, we can consider as many as nine possible sources of information and guidance: (1) the Bible, (2) knowledge of the facts of the situation, (3) knowledge of ourselves, (4) advice from others, (5) changed circumstances, (6) our consciences, (7) our hearts, (8) our human spirits, and (9) guidance from the Holy Spirit. We need wisdom from God in order to evaluate these factors rightly in making a decision. 9. We should never think that God wants us to choose a “lesser sin.” Although several evangelical ethics books claim that, from time to time, we face situations of “impossible moral conflict” where all our choices are sinful and we must simply choose to commit the “lesser sin,” this idea is not taught in Scripture. It is contradicted both by the life of Christ, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and by the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says that God will always provide a “way of escape.” The “impossible moral conflict” view easily becomes a slippery slope that in actual practice encourages Christians to sin more and more. 10. Using the Old Testament for ethical guidance requires an understanding of the history of redemption. Many Christians have read the Old Testament and wondered how we should understand the detailed laws that God gave to the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses. This requires an understanding of the “history of redemption”—the overall progress of the main storyline of the Bible. The Mosaic covenant, which began at Exodus 20, was terminated when Christ died. Christians are no longer directly subject to the laws of the Mosaic covenant but now live instead under the provisions of the new covenant. However, the Old Testament is still a valuable source of ethical wisdom when understood in accordance with the ways in which the New Testament authors use the Old Testament for ethical teaching, and in light of the changes brought about by the new covenant. The New Testament authors explicitly reaffirm all of the moral standards found in the Ten Commandments, except they do not reaffirm observance of the Sabbath as a requirement for new covenant Christians. Understanding the progressive development of the Bible from the old covenant (under Moses) to the new covenant (inaugurated by Christ) is especially important when thinking about the Bible’s teaching regarding civil government today. It is important to remember that God’s wise laws about crimes and punishments that he gave to the civil government of Israel as a nation then are in many ways different from God’s wise purposes for the civil governments of secular nations now. crossway.org
  19. Silence Equals Support? In a 2012 article for Slate online, Will Oremus asked a provocative question: Was Jesus a homophobe?1 The article was occasioned by a story about a gay teenager in Ohio who was suing his high school after school officials prohibited him from wearing a T-shirt that said, “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe.” Oremus was less concerned about the legal issues of the story than he was about the accuracy of the statement on the shirt. Oremus suggests that Jesus’s views on homosexuality were more inclusive than Paul’s. He writes, While it’s reasonable to assume that Jesus and his fellow Jews in first-century Palestine would have disapproved of gay sex, there is no record of his ever having mentioned homosexuality, let alone expressed particular revulsion about it. . . . Never in the Bible does Jesus himself offer an explicit prohibition of homosexuality. Oremus seems to suggest that since Jesus never explicitly mentioned homosexuality, he must not have been very concerned about it. There are at least two reasons that we should be skeptical of this view. Two Problems First, there are many ethical issues about which Jesus made no explicit statement. That observation hardly means that his moral vision has no relevance to those issues. Jesus never said anything explicit about abortion, same-sex marriage, or child molestation. But it would be an incredible claim to conclude from that fact that Jesus’s teaching is irrelevant to our ethical assessment of those issues. Second, Jesus did speak explicitly about sexual immorality in general and the nature of marriage. He denounced the former (e.g., Matt. 5:28; 15:19) and defined the latter according to Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5 AT; par. Mark 10:7–8). Jesus affirmed the covenanted union of one man and one woman as the only normative expression of human sexuality. It is incredible to suggest that these words from Jesus have no bearing on the question of homosexuality. They surely do. Jesus vs. Paul So Oremus has misconstrued the relevance of Jesus’s teaching to the homosexual question. Nevertheless, he goes on to contrast Jesus’s attitude with that of the apostle Paul. He writes: Even if Jesus viewed homosexuality as a sin, he had a penchant for reaching out to sinners rather than shunning them. . . . Not all of Jesus’ followers took such a tender view, however. In Romans 1, Paul denounced gay sex as unnatural—an egregious example of pagan decadence—and said it would bring the wrath of God. Here is another iteration of the hermeneutical cage match that is so popular today—the view that Jesus and Paul are fundamentally at odds over a variety of ethical issues. On the one side is Jesus: peace-loving, enemy-forgiving, egalitarian, and inclusive with regard to homosexuals. On the other side is Paul: war-loving, death penalty–supporting, patriarchal, and exclusionary with regard to homosexuals. Whereas Jesus was all love and tolerance, Paul was about “wrath” and intolerance. And so the slogan from the T-shirt appears to be vindicated. Despite the hang-ups of people like Paul, Jesus was not a homophobe. A False Fight Those who stage hermeneutical cage matches between Paul and Jesus are staging a contest that neither Jesus nor Paul would ever have tolerated. The approach tends to undermine the New Testament’s claim to be a normative basis for ethics by making the black letters subservient to the red letters. At the end of the day, this argument is not about the color of letters but about the nature of Scripture. Those who wish to establish biblical authority over the long haul will avoid the cage-match approach. And those who truly wish to be red-letter Christians will heed the words of Paul and the other apostolic authors of Scripture as the very words of Christ. crossway.org
  20. 1. Our evangelistic efforts must stem from a biblical understanding of evangelism. There are so many ways to go wrong in evangelism—impulses of fear on the one side, vain ambition on the other—that if we do not nail down a truly biblical understanding, we will quickly veer off course. So we start by understanding that biblical evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade. 2. Evangelism is often the label given to things that are not evangelism. Is sharing your testimony evangelism? Is defending the Christian faith evangelism? How about doing good deeds for the oppressed? Certainly those are good things that serve and support evangelism. But they are not evangelism itself. We must not confuse the gospel with the fruit of the gospel. 3. Evangelism entails teaching the gospel first and foremost. God teaches us the gospel through his Word; we can't just "figure it out" on our own. So it stands to reason that we must speak and teach the gospel to others: the truth about who God is, why we're in the mess we're in, what Jesus came to do, and how we are to respond to him. It’s no wonder that Paul often described his evangelistic ministry as a teaching ministry. 4. Evangelism aims to persuade. We want to see people move from darkness to light. Having that aim helps us know what things to talk about and what things to lay aside. Evangelism isn't just data transfer; we must listen to people, hear their objections, and model gentleness because we know that souls are at stake. And we know what it means to truly convert: a true Christian has put his complete faith and trust in Jesus, so much so that he has repented of a lifestyle of unbelief and sin. Understanding this guards us from false conversions, which are the assisted suicide of the church. 5. Evangelism flourishes in a culture of evangelism. Much instruction is given about personal evangelism. And that’s right and good since we're each called to testify to our own personal encounter with Jesus. But when people are pulling together to share the gospel, when there is less emphasis on getting “a decision,” when the people of God are pitching in to teach the gospel together, a culture forms that leads us to ask "Are we all helping our non-Christian friends understand the gospel?" rather than "Who has led the most people to Jesus?" 6. Evangelistic programs will kill evangelism. We need to replace evangelistic programs with a culture of evangelism. Programs are to evangelism what sugar is to nutrition: a strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism. So, we should feel a healthy unease with regard to evangelistic programs. We must use them strategically and in moderation, if at all. 7. Evangelism is designed for the church and the church is designed for evangelism. A healthy church with a culture of evangelism is the key to great evangelism. Jesus did not forget the gospel when he built his church; in fact, a healthy church is meant to display the gospel. Think of the ways that the gathered church displays the gospel: we sing the gospel, we see the gospel in the sacraments, and we hear the gospel when we preach and pray. A healthy culture of evangelism does not aim at remaking the church for the sake of evangelism. Instead, we must highlight the way God designed the church to display and proclaim the gospel simply by being the church. 8. Evangelism is undergirded by love and unity. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). In that same discourse, he prayed that his disciples would be unified “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus says the love we have for one another in the church is evidence that we are truly converted. And when we are unified in the church, we show the world that Jesus is the Son of God. Love confirms our discipleship, and unity confirms Christ’s deity. What a powerful witness! 9. A culture of evangelism is strengthened by right practices and right attitudes. We need to make sure that we see evangelism as a spiritual discipline. Just as we pray for our non-Christian friends, we must be intentional about sharing our faith with them. Furthermore, we must never assume the gospel in conversations with non-Christians lest we lose it. We need to view the gospel as the center of how we align our lives to God as well as come to God in salvation. 10. Evangelism must be modeled. One of the greatest needs in our churches today is for church leaders to boldly model what it means to be an ambassador of the gospel. Pastors and elders must lead the way in sharing their faith, teaching others how to be ambassadors for Christ, and calling their congregations to do the same. crossway.org
  21. 1. Sex is God's good creation. God in his great wisdom, for his glory and our good, has chosen to place us in a world where sex is a significant part of the human experience. The issue of sex is important and unavoidable because God, in wisdom and love, chose it to be. Because sex is the creation of God’s hand and exists under the control of his sovereignty, we should approach it with reverence and awe, not with embarrassment and timidity. Sex came from him, belongs to him, and continues to exist through him—to him be the glory. 2. Sex can be dangerous. Sadly, today sex—a beautiful creation of God—functions in the surrounding culture like a spiritual solvent eating away at the very fabric of the human community. It has perverse power to master your heart and, in so doing, determine the direction of your life. It gives the buzz that you’re in control while, at the very same time, becoming the master that progressively chains you to its control. It offers you an inner sense of well-being while having no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart. It seduces you with the prospect of contentment-producing pleasure but leaves you empty and craving more. Sex holds out the possibility that you will finally be satisfied but instead causes you to envy whoever has more and better than you do. It sells you the lie that physical pleasure is the pathway to spiritual peace. Sex is the work of the Creator’s hands but tends to promise you what only the Creator can deliver. It is beautiful in itself but has become distorted and dangerous by means of the fall. 3. Suffering will impact your sexuality. If suffering is every person’s experience, then you should expect suffering to impact your sexuality. You will suffer the reality that right here, right now, sex doesn’t function the way that God intended. You will face the redefinition, distortion, and misuse of sex. You suffer the temptation to take your sexual life outside of God’s clear boundaries. You will suffer being blindsided by sexual temptation at the mall, on your computer, when watching Netflix, or, sadly, even when you’re doing a Google search on your phone. You will suffer women exposing their bodies in public or men treating women like they’re little more than physical toys for their pleasure. You will suffer the hardship of trying to protect your children from all the sexual danger out there, while you work to keep your own heart pure. Because you know of all the seductive temptations, you will suffer issues of trust with those you love. Some of us will suffer sexual abuse, and others of us will suffer the exhaustion that comes from trying to keep our hearts pure. You will suffer misunderstanding and mockery as you try to stay inside God’s boundaries in a culture that laughs at the thought of sexual boundaries. Paul assumes that we will suffer, and if he’s right (and he is), that suffering will include our sexuality. 4. Sex cannot satisfy your heart. Sex is powerfully pleasurable, but it cannot satisfy your heart. The touch of another person stimulates your body and your heart, but it never leaves you fulfilled. Sex connects you in powerful and dramatic ways to another person, but it has no ability whatsoever to make you a better person. Whether we know it or not, every human being lives in search of a savior. We are all propelled by a quest for identity, inner peace, and some kind of meaning and purpose. And we all look for it somewhere. Here’s the bottom line: looking to creation to get what only the Creator can give you always results in addiction of some kind. The thing you hoped would serve you pulls you into its service. What seemed like freedom ends up being bondage. The thing is not the problem; what you’ve asked of it is. 5. God is at the center of your sexual world. Our problem with sex doesn’t begin with lust, with bad choices, or with sexual misbehavior. Our problem with sex begins when we forget that God must be at the center of this part of our lives as he must be with any other. When you have no greater motivation in sex than your own satisfaction, you are already in sexual trouble, even if you don’t know it yet. How have you tended to put yourself in the center of your world of sexuality? Whether or not you functionally recognize it, at the epicenter of your sexual world exists a God of awesome power, glory, and grace. Sex in its rightful place in your heart and life always begins by recognizing that he is at the center. 6. Sex is deeply spiritual. Sex is not an a-religious thing. Sex is deeply spiritual. Your relationship to your own sexuality and the sexuality of others always reveals your heart. Your sexual life is always an expression of what you truly worship. Sex is deeply religious. In sex you are either self-consciously submitting to God or setting yourself up as God. In other words, sex is never simply a horizontal thing. Sex always connects you to the God who created your body, gave you eyes to see and a heart that desires, and tells you how you are to steward this aspect of your personhood. 7. Sexual sin starts with your heart. Here’s where the words of Christ drive us: our struggle with sexual sin is not first a struggle with the environment in which we live or with the people that we live near. Our struggle with sexual sin reveals the dark and needy condition of our hearts. We are our biggest problem. When it comes to sexual sin, the greatest sexual danger to any human being anywhere lives inside him, not outside. Isolation, changes of location and relationship, and management of behavior never work because they don’t target the place where the problem exists—the heart. 8. Pleasure is God-glorifying. God’s creative intention was to bring glory to himself by the pleasures he created. Each pleasurable thing was perfectly created and designed to reflect and point to the greater glory of the One who created it. These things were designed to be pleasure inducing but also for a deeply spiritual purpose. They were meant to remind you of him. They were meant to amaze you not just with their existence but with the wisdom, power, and glory of the One who made them. They were put on earth to be one of God’s means of getting your attention and capturing your heart. The pleasure of sex is meant to remind me of the glory of my intimate union with Christ, which only grace could produce. 9. The pleasure of sex is no substitute for God's grace. It’s right to celebrate the goodness of God in giving you sweet pleasures to enjoy, and you should never feel guilty enjoying them as long as you do it within his boundaries and for his glory. It’s wonderful to celebrate the tasty pleasures of food, the stunning beauty of a fine piece of art, the sweet intimacy of sex, or the sound drama of a well-written piece of music. But as you’re celebrating pleasure, don’t forget to celebrate grace. God’s grace has the power to protect you from asking of pleasure what you should not ask. God’s grace gives you the power to say no to the seductive call of pleasure when it is vital to say no. God’s grace offers you forgiveness when you have failed to do both these things. And God’s grace ushers you into the presence of the One who alone can give you the lasting satisfaction and joy that your heart seeks. So as you’re celebrating the physical pleasures of the created world, take time to celebrate the eternal pleasures of redemption. 10. Sex is intended to point us to God himself. Since God created both you and sex, it is impossible to properly understand sex and participate in it appropriately if you are practically ignoring God and his existence. By means of creation you are his, and your sex life is his. Sex that recognizes God’s existence becomes the beautiful, intimate, relational act of worship that it was intended to be. In the midst of all its physical delights, it does not forget God. It remembers that everything enlivened and enjoyed in sex belongs to him. It rests in his control and celebrates his care in the midst of the most intimate of human connections. crossway.org
  22. Trust Issues Here’s what happens in times of suffering. When the thing you have been trusting (whether you knew it or not) is laid to waste, you don’t suffer just the loss of that thing; you also suffer the loss of the identity and security that it provided. This may not make sense to you if right now you are going through something that you wouldn’t have planned for yourself, but the weakness that is now a part of my regular life has been a huge instrument of God’s grace (see 2 Cor. 12:9.) It has done two things for me. First, it has exposed an idol of self I did not know was there. Pride in my physical heath and my ability to produce made me take credit for what I couldn’t have produced on my own. God created and controls my physical body, and God has given me the gifts that I employ every day. Physical health and productivity should produce deeper gratitude and worship, not self-reliance and pride in productivity. I am thankful for what my weakness has exposed and for being freed by grace from having to prove any longer that I am what I think I am. But there’s a second thing that has been wonderful to understand. Perhaps we curse physical weakness because we are uncomfortable with placing our trust in God. Let me explain. Weakness simply demonstrates what has been true all along: we are completely dependent on God for life and breath and everything else. Weakness was not the end for me, but a new beginning, because weakness provides the context in which true strength is found. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he’ll boast in his weakness. It sounds weird and crazy when you first read it, but it’s not. He has come to know that God’s “power is made perfect” in his weakness. You see, weakness is not what you and I should be afraid of. We should fear our delusion of strength. Strong people tend not to reach out for help, because they think they don’t need it. When you have been proven weak, you tap into the endless resources of divine power that are yours in Christ. In my weakness I have known strength that I never knew before. When We Feel Entitled One thing that shaped the way I suffered physically was unrealistic expectations. Suffering shouldn’t surprise us, but it almost always does, and it surely surprised me. I did go into my sickness with my theology in the right place. I did believe that I lived in a groaning world crying out for redemption, but it was battling with something else inside me. There was this expectation that I would always be as I had been, that is, that I would always be strong and healthy. There was little room in my life, family, and ministry plans for weakness within or trouble without. In fact, there was no room for any disruption at all. So much of the way I thought about myself and planned was based on the unrealistic expectation that I would continue to escape the regular disruption of one’s life and plans that happens in a world that doesn’t operate as God designed it to operate. I wasn’t singled out; God hadn’t forgotten me or turned his back. I wasn’t being punished for my choices, and I wasn’t receiving the expected consequences for poor decisions. My story is about the regular things that happen to us all because we live in a world that has been dramatically damaged by sin. In this world sickness and disease live, and our bodies break down or don’t function properly. In this world pain, sometimes chronic and sometimes acute, assaults us and makes life nearly unlivable. We live in a broken world where people die, food decays, wars rage, governments are corrupt, people take what isn’t theirs and inflict violence on one another, spouses act hatefully toward each another, children are abused instead of protected, people slowly die of starvation or die suddenly from disease, sexual and gender confusion lives, drugs addict and destroy, gossip destroys reputations, lust and greed control hearts, bitterness grows like a cancer, and the list could go on and on. You Will Have Trouble The Bible doesn’t pull any punches. At every turn, it informs and warns us about the nature of the world, which is the address where we all live. Whether it’s a dramatic narrative of life, or a doctrine that informs, or a wisdom principle about how to live well, Scripture works to prepare us, not so we would live in fear, but so we will be ready for the things we will all face. God gives us everything we need so that we will live with realistic expectations and so that moments of difficulty will not be full of shock, fear, and panic, but experienced with faith, calm, and confident choices. Although I had right theology in place, somehow, at street level, my expectations were unrealistic, and unrealistic expectations always make suffering harder. My point is that I am a living example of the truth that you and I never suffer just the thing that we’re suffering, but we also suffer the way that we’re suffering it. Each of us brings to our suffering things that shape the way that we suffer. We all suffer, but we don’t suffer the same way, because our suffering is shaped by what we carry into the difficulties that come our way. What Will Shape Your Suffering? Here’s what is so important to understand: your suffering is more powerfully shaped by what’s in your heart than by what’s in your body or in the world around you. Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. My suffering was real, the dysfunction in my body was real, the damage to my kidneys is real, the pain I went through was horribly real, and the weakness that is now my normal life is real. But the way that I experienced all those harsh realities was shaped by the thoughts, desires, dreams, expectations, cravings, fears, and assumptions of my heart. The same is true for you. Your responses to the situations in your life, whether physical, relational, or circumstantial, are always more determined by what is inside you (your heart) than by the things you are facing. This is why people have dramatically different responses to the same situations of difficulty. This is why the writer of Proverbs says: Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov. 4:23) Like a stream, your attitudes, choices, reactions, decisions, and responses to whatever you are facing flow out of your heart. The heart is the center of your personhood. The heart is your causal core, as dry soil soaks in the liquid of a stream. Suffering draws out the true thoughts, attitudes, assumptions, and desires of your heart. It really is true that we never come empty-handed to any experience. And we surely always drag something into the suffering that enters our door. What about you? What are you carrying around that has the power to cause you to trouble your own trouble? What has the power to allow you to forget that no matter what painful thing you’re enduring, as God’s child it’s impossible for you to endure it all by yourself? The One who created this world and rules it with wisdom, righteousness, and love is in you, with you, and for you, and nothing has the power to separate you from his love. crossway.org
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