Tag Archives: sin

Our Words Mean Things

What do your fingers and your tongue have in common?

Rush Limbaugh once said, “words mean things” and he’s right. Hurtful and harmful words are hard to take back, and even if acknowledged and forgiven, the damage can linger for a long, long time.

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James3:9-12 NIV

People can have a mean streak. We say and do some rather shocking things with the intention of hurting one another. We sometimes justify it, “I sure put him in his place” or “that was great, she had that coming.” Or, perhaps worse, we’re just cruel for cruel’s sake.

Observing our current leading candidates for president, I am quite disturbed by what I hear: name-calling, misrepresentations, overstatements, and even some outright non-truths. I watch the so-called “news” channels and see panelists interrupting one another and talking over each other as each believes his or her message is the only message of value. Rather than reporting the news, these channels spin a yarn in support of whatever political agenda each has chosen to support. Is any of this really helpful in forwarding our nation? Will any of this make us safer or stronger? Will any of it position us as a force for good in the world?

Sadly, many of us are taking note and following their lead. As I page through Facebook and Twitter there is much vitriol to be seen, much of it posted by Christians like me. As James writes in the passage above, this cannot be. As believers, we are to share the Gospel with this lost and fallen world. Our lives are our chief witness; everything we do and say points to something. If we sing praises in church and later speak evil of others, we cannot be an effective witness. We can’t.

Indeed, in this era of modern technology and social media our fingers are an extension of the tongue. Think about it. How many times over the last week have you lashed out on social media against a person, a cause, a disagreement or something else? I’ve been making a conscious effort in this aspect of my over the past few months. A salt spring cannot produce fresh water. With vitriol we do more harm than good and our credibility as a witness for Christ is tarnished; Something for each of us to consider as we engage our world today and every day.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Complacency: A Death Trap

Complacency. A business that grows complacent loses customers. A husband who grows complacent loses his wife. A nation that grows complacent will not survive.
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Amos 6:1 NIV

As I read about Israel’s history in the Old Testament I am often amazed at the parallels I see between ancient Israel and modern America. In this chapter of Amos, the prophet describes a people who are celebrating their self-reliance and wallowing in their wealth. They perceive no need for God as they lead their increasingly decadent lives at the expense of the poorest among them. Amos goes on to describe the dire circumstances that such an existence will yield.
 
We study history for a reason. We are to learn from it and seek to avoid the mistakes that those who have gone before us have made. Amos could be describing the United States of America in 2016. While it is not a pretty picture, it is not too late to wake up. My prayer each morning is that God would lead our nation and those who seek to lead it to a realization of its sin and bring us to a place of confession, repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We must rise up from our place of complacent pride and seek the face of our loving God.
 
Soli Deo Gloria!

Equipped to Witness

Quite some time ago, my employer at the time conducted an investigation that involved me and several other employees. Outside attorneys were brought in, and we were called before them multiple times. The process was a tough ordeal, but through it all, I had no sense of worry; no sense of fear. One morning, as the interviews were approaching their  conclusion, a non-believing coworker came into my office and closed the door. He told me that he was impressed that I had maintained such a calm demeanor through the investigative process while others were short-tempered, lashing out at coworkers and visibly concerned. He asked me what it was that enabled me to maintain my calm. I told him that I trusted God for the outcome, and that I prayed every morning that He would see me through. My faith in Jesus Christ would not allow me to despair. He simply said, “oh” and left my office. We didn’t speak of it again.

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Acts 1:8 NIV

We Christians are commanded to share the Gospel with the world around us. This can seem quite daunting, and even rather intimidating. The world has thrown up barriers to witness in the very places we spend most of our time: our schools and our workplaces. But one thing the world cannot do is forbid us from leading godly lives that catch the world’s attention. Our actions and behaviors are, themselves, witnesses to something, and I pray each morning that every aspect of my life will point straight to Christ. I don’t always get it right, but my hope and prayer is that the Lord will open doors for me to share the Gospel with somebody who hasn’t heard it, or has heard it and rejected it just as He did with this coworker. And when God opens that door, we need not fear for Jesus promised in this passage that the Holy Spirit Himself will equip us to respond.

As we seek and await opportunities to witness, what should we be doing in preparation? Awhile back, Pastor Keith Sanders of First Baptist Church in Keller, Texas shared three ways to witness that I have sought to put into practice:

  1. Seek to become an expert witness by reading and studying God’s Word.
  2. Seek to become a character witness in the way I live my daily life.
  3. Seek to be an eyewitness by sharing what I have seen and heard.

As promised, the Holy Spirit will equip us to do these things if we simply make ourselves available and ask Him to do so. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that this is unequivocally true.

We are in the process of relocating to Houston, Texas. We plan to join Grace Presbyterian Church, whose mission statement is “Making disciples by encouraging people to make Jesus visible in their daily lives.” You see, this is where the rubber meets the road. Our daily lives are where witness happens. This past Sunday, each of us were given a tag to place on our key chain reminding us that “We are Here” and this is where we are to start living to make Jesus visible. “Here” is wherever we happen to find ourselves at any given time.

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“You Are Here”gpch.org

I intend to honor God by seeking to follow Jesus’ commandment to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and I am thankful that the Holy Spirit has used faithful pastors like Keith Sanders, Trey Hill and others to equip me to do so. He also equips me through my morning reading and study time. I am convinced that, by living my daily life in a manner pleasing to God, people will notice and some will ask what it is that I’ve “got”. God will give me the opportunities to speak and the words to say. I just have to be available and ready.

What about you? Are you prepared? Are you available? Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38) Friends, we live in the harvest field. It’s time to get to work.

Soli Deo Gloria!

God’s Promise in the Last Days

As we observe the goings-on in today’s world it is easy to become dismayed. The Bible is full of information on what the last days will look like, and many believe they are upon us. The Bible also tells us that they will come like a thief in the night, implying that people will be asleep, unprepared, or otherwise distracted from what is truly important. For those people, the last days will bring eternal disaster.

Sounds rather dreadful, doesn’t it? Don’t lose heart. Among all of the writings on the last days and the fate that awaits us sinners is this promise that pervades Scripture – the promise of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a promise of God-pleasing righteousness imputed on us through the sacrifice Jesus made in our behalf on the cross. It means that the dreadful eternity that awaits is not the eternity we who are in Christ will face. Our eternity in Christ will be anything but dreadful; it will be amazing. We will be in the awesome presence of God Himself. That promise is real; that promise is available. Do you believe that? Have you come to faith in Christ? Have you claimed the promise for yourself? I hope so. If not, I’d be honored to discuss it with you.

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Joel 2:30-32 NIV

Godless Chatter – Who, Me??

A kind person blocked me on Facebook a few months ago in response to my sharing some memes that were aggressively critical of President Obama. That got my attention. After a thorough review of my posts I realized she had a point, and since then I’ve made an effort to temper my Facebook posts to avoid mean-spirited political jabber. Instead, I try to focus more on encouragement, the Lord, and the good things of life. Each morning I scroll through my posts from the day before, pleased to some extent with the progress I see but sometimes reminded of how easy it is to be sucked into the pit that Paul calls “godless chatter”. I still post politically from time to time, as it’s important to be engaged, but hopefully with factual and thought-provoking content.

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2 Timothy 2:14-16 NIV


We Christians must be wary of being drawn in to “godless chatter”, but with the immediacy of social media, it can be easy to fall into that trap. Note Paul’s warning here: those who indulge in such chatter will become more and more ungodly. As I scroll through Facebook and Twitter I can see that. We Christians must strive to be salt and light in all aspects of our lives. We are to be Christ’s workers in the harvest field, speaking and living a life that points straight towards our Savior. When we indulge in the “godless chatter” Paul speaks of here, our witness is tarnished and we become ineffective.

Christian friends, let us seek to honor God in all that we do – and in all that we post.

It’s Not About Me… John 3:22-30

Several of the churches in my area send postcards by mail advertising the latest sermon series or newly launched program. I’m always curious when the pastor’s picture is featured prominently on the card, sometimes to the point of dominating the message. What is church all about, really, and who takes center stage?

(John the Baptist’s words): “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:29-30 ESV

After Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, Scripture tells us that He and His disciples went into the countryside. People came to Him, and He baptized them. Some of John the Baptist’s disciples asked John about this, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:26) It’s a perfectly understandable concern, really. John the Baptist had drawn crowds for quite some time, baptizing many for repentance from sin as he announced the presence of Jesus the Messiah. Now Jesus’ time had come; His public ministry was well underway. And, with that, John the Baptist had fulfilled his purpose. It was time to step aside.

How easy it would have been for John to let ego cloud his judgment. Had he shown bitterness, resentment, or envy at the fact that people were flocking to Jesus instead of to John, I suspect that many would have understood those feelings. Instead, John took his rightful place.

Egoism is a prevalent trait in our sinful world. As defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, egoism is a condition in which a person’s motives are driven by their own self-interest, sometimes with an overt display of self-importance. We see this all the time, don’t we? Be careful here. While we may be tempted to think that politicians, athletes, entertainers, or successful business executives have cornered the market on egoism, the reality is this: Even “regular” people like you and me can be overcome by an air of egoism manifested in feelings of entitlement, self-centeredness, or perhaps through overtly seeking attention for ourselves. We have many avenues through which we feed our egos – ever hear of Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter…? Yes, I am as guilty as anybody when it comes to putting myself out there in social media and taking pleasure as the “follows”, “likes”, and “retweets” come. Don’t misunderstand me; I think social media is great. I get news and information via social media. I stay connected with friends through social media. I also take hiatus from social media from time to time when I start to feel like it is dominating how I spend my time.

What is really important? What is it that should supersede everything else? John the Baptist knew that it was Christ.

So, back to the postcards. Since egoism is such an easy trap to fall into, I suspect that many preachers and teachers are sorely tempted, and even give in to the temptation once in awhile. While some postcards prominently featuring the smiling face of the church’s pastor raise the question, I know not to judge a book by its cover. But I wonder what those preachers talk about in their sermons. Do they present the Gospel? Is their message focused on Christ and the fact that He suffered and died to save us from the eternal damnation we all deserve because of our sin? Or do they feed egos by telling their flocks that God wants them to be happy; He wants them to be rich. Is the message they deliver each week about Him? Or is it about the people and their quest for happiness and self-esteem? Do they take the stage accompanied by pounding music and raucous applause or do they quietly, humbly, and contemplatively step to their position to deliver the Word?

What about the music and those who deliver it? Are they more concerned about their appearance and what the congregation thinks of their presentation? As they lead worship, do they move or dress to draw attention to themselves, or are they entirely focused on leading the congregation in worshipping the Lord? In my church, the congregation commonly applauds after the choir or soloist sings and after various ensembles offer their music. To be honest, as a musician I’m a bit uncomfortable with the applause, and I constantly remind myself, “this isn’t about me.”

God called John the Baptist to a very specific ministry. John was to announce to the world that the Messiah had come:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” finally they said, “Who are you?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:19-27 ESV

My role as a Christian is to announce Jesus to the world as He commanded in The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). It is not to draw attention to myself in doing so. Yes, I want to sing well as a member of the choir and when I assist in leading worship. When I play bells, I want to hit the correct notes at the correct time at the proper volume. I want to do those things to give glory to my God and my Lord. I confess that I am sometimes tempted to relish in the applause when it comes; God forgive me. As a Christian, I must also lift my pastor and all who preach the Word in prayer, that they would honor God in presenting His Word and that they would present His Word faithfully, truthfully, and forthrightly.

John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming to the world, just as he was called to do. And, as Christians, we are called to do the same. It’s not about us; it’s about Him.

Ponder This: What is my attitude towards God? What is my attitude in worship, especially when I play a leadership role in the service?

My Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You and You alone are worthy of glory, honor, praise and worship. Even so, I confess that I sometimes forget that, as I focus on myself and what others think about me. I confess that I sometimes give in to the temptation to bask in the positive feedback others give me to the point at which it overshadows You. Forgive me, renew me, and continue to lead me on the path of sanctification. Help me use the gifts and talents you have so graciously given me to Your glory. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Sources:

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Scripture text from BibleStudyTools.com

The Prosperity Gospel: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Modern day Christendom is under invasion by a false teaching. The teaching is very attractive to a society whose members want to call the shots, desiring to accumulate for themselves increasing wealth and material possessions; a society in which the primary focus is achieving happiness in this life.

“You have a Bible right when you plant a seed to expect the God of the universe to give you a harvest; to give you a debt-free home, debt-free cars, jobs; to give you financial interest, to make you a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” ~ Televangelist Todd Coontz as featured on bennyhinn.org.

Known commonly as the “Prosperity Gospel”, this teaching and those who promote it are deceiving Christians all over the world into believing that God exists to meet our physical and emotional needs and wants in this temporal life, most notably physical healing and the accumulation of wealth. They attempt to support their doctrine with Scripture, albeit via significantly errant interpretations of several key passages of Scripture.

Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary David W. Jones wrote a piece entitled 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel for The Gospel Coalition. Jones states that the prosperity gospel has its doctrinal roots in God’s covenant with Abraham discussed in the book of Genesis.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to Jones, Prosperity Gospel teachers misinterpret God’s covenant with Abraham to be about blessing him and his descendants with material wealth; that God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendants was simply that they would be rich! Both Orthodox Christianity and Prosperity Gospel proponents teach that all believers are children of God’s covenant with Abraham; thus, we all participate in the blessings that God promised in this covenant. Prosperity Gospel proponents err in their understanding of what construes a “blessing” in this context. This blessing is not about material wealth or personal happiness. The blessing is about our perfect rescue from the eternal consequence of sin; sin that each one of us commits daily. Sadly, teachers of the Prosperity Gospel have reduced God’s covenantal promise to nothing more than a large bank account. As a wise man once said, “you can’t take it with you.”

The Prosperity Gospel is a completely backwards understanding of God’s relationship with His creation. The “name it and claim it” ideal in Prosperity Gospel teaching says that one must have faith in order to receive the blessings of God – material wealth, physical health, and other temporal gifts. With enough faith, all one must do is “claim” or “expect” the blessings he desires and God will provide them. If the blessings don’t follow the claim, then the faith of the believer is said to be deficient – sort of like trying to buy a can of soda from a soda machine using a counterfeit coin. Since the coin is counterfeit, the machine won’t dispense the drink. Does that sound like the God of Scripture to you? God is not our cosmic granter of wishes. We exist to give praise, honor, and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Prosperity Gospel preachers tend to be very skilled in presenting their message. They speak with authority and charisma, often accompanied by colorful light displays, booming sound systems and emotional music. Todd Coontz, in preaching the message quoted earlier to a roomful of screaming admirers, was accompanied by organ music under full vibrato, as if that somehow validates his message. The package is quite attractive and the message is compelling on its surface; thus these teachers draw huge crowds. Jesus warned us about such teachers:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15 ESV

Is calling Prosperity Gospel teachers “false prophets” and “ravenous wolves” a bit harsh? I don’t think so. In preparing this piece, I visited the websites of several known Prosperity Gospel teachers, including Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen and others. Each website I visited offers a link to the teacher’s statement of faith. In a quick read, everything they say in their statement of faith appears copasetic with an orthodox teaching, but digging a bit deeper reveals the falsehood of their gospel. Benny Hinn’s statement of faith, for example, includes this statement,

“…all believers are entitled to, and should ardently expect, and earnestly seek, the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (bold text added for emphasis)

Sound good? Sure, it does! We Americans are some of the most “entitled” people in the world! No wonder people are flocking to this message in droves! Tie this statement of Hinn’s to his featuring Todd Coontz screaming “You have a Bible right…” on his home page and you have the Prosperity Gospel in a nutshell.

I have been burdened for the Christian Church in America for quite some time. As I read and learn more about the Prosperity Gospel, my burden is increased. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:3-10 ESV

Many good and decent people have been drawn into the falsehood of the Prosperity Gospel. My heart breaks for them, for the true promise of God – the promise that our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross and that we believers will spend eternity in His presence – is not the focal teaching in Prosperity Gospel churches today.

What is your church teaching you? Is it teaching you that God wants you to be rich, and that your faith entitles you to wealth? Is it teaching you that lack of wealth and lack of good health are the result of a deficiency of your faith? As Coontz stated in the quote above, is your church teaching that you can be “…a millionaire for the sake of the Gospel?” Friend, if your church is teaching these things, please hear me loudly and clearly: That is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ! If this is the teaching of your church, run through the nearest exit and never look back.

Here is the true Gospel: God created man in His image. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and has pervaded our existence ever since. Sin separates us from God, and because God is holy, righteous and just, He must punish all who are guilty of breaking His laws. But God is also loving, kind and merciful. Because He loves us so much, He sent His Son to die as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins. Only through faith in Jesus are we washed clean from the guilt of our sins, and only through Him are we given the hope of eternal life in God’s holy presence.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

Jesus sacrificed Himself for you and for me, not so we can build wealth and gain earthly health, but so we can be saved for all eternity. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If this is the teaching of your church, you’re in the right place.

Ponder This: Which is truly the greater blessing: Health and wealth in this temporal life or life eternal in the presence our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your name is to be magnified through all the earth. Forgive our sins and grant us saving faith in the redemptive sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ. Open our eyes and our ears to Your Word. I pray for all who sit at the feet of those who preach a deceiving message. Give each of us discernment to recognize false teachings and lead those false teachers to true repentance. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Sources:

The Gospel Coalition

Got Questions.org

BibleStudyTools.com

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