Can Someone Lose His Salvation?


Many Christians may not be aware that there are Bible scholars who disagree concerning the question: Can someone lose his salvation? This is a practical matter for me because I have family members who certainly look, by their choices, as if they have walked away from the Lord, even though they made a profession of faith at some point in their lives.

Some passages in the Bible make it seem abundantly clear that no, a Christian doesn’t need to fear losing his position in Christ. Verses like 1 Corinthians 1:21–22: “He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.” And Ephesians 1:13b: “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Or how about Ephesians 4:30? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Of course there are other passages such as Romans 8 that tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God, and passages in Deuteronomy that say God is with us, that He will not leave us or forsake us. The Psalmist says God’s compassion for us is like that of a father. And of course there is the example of the Prodigal Son who simply stopped acting like a son until he came to his senses and returned to his father’s house. He was looking for servant status but instead received from his father the treatment of a son, as if he had never left.

So it’s settled, right? Christians can’t lose their salvation.

Except, what about the parable of the sower. Jesus’s explanation in Luke 8 of one kind of experience with the seed, the word of God, is this: “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” So receiving the word is not the same as becoming a Christian?

Or how about Hebrews 6 and 10? From the latter, vv 26–27: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

From the former, vv 4–6:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

That description certainly sounds like a Christian to me. In addition, there are any number of atheists who will tell you, they once were Christians, but then they “realized” it was all myth.

So which is it? I have to admit, I kind of waver. I’ve thought at one point that God seals us but doesn’t imprison us, so if anyone wants to leave Him, they can, though nothing outside them will snatch them from His hand.

That sounds reasonable.

But of late I’ve found more and more verses that indicate that a Christian is really known to be a Christian because he perseveres. The idea is continuing in the faith.

Colossians 1:23a is an example: “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” Or how about Hebrews 3:6: “Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”

Hold fast, endure.

One commentary said there’s a difference between falling, like Peter did when he denied Christ, and falling away like Judas did when he betrayed him.

Another thought from a commentary concerns the Hebrews 6 passage that basically says, if you leave the faith, you can’t come back. Or does it. In truth, the idea may be that if you enter into sin and continue in your sin, you can’t repent and stay as you are. The Prodigal Son couldn’t repent and not return home, for instance. He had to leave the life that repudiated his relationship with his father.

So, can someone lose their salvation? Only God knows. Were those who knew the truth, who believed for a time, ever Christians? They certainly didn’t persevere, unless they come back home as the Prodigal did. Can we know what’s in a person’s future? Of course not.

What we can know is if we are remaining faithful until the end.

What we can do is pray for those who have turned their back on Christ.

I mean, He Himself asked the Father to forgive the very ones who crucified Him, so clearly He holds no grudges. And who knows which of the people we pray for will come out of the pig sty and come home?

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Published in: on July 31, 2018 at 5:23 pm  Comments Off on Can Someone Lose His Salvation?  
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Redeeming Work


Sunday’s sermon from Proverbs was about work, which our pastor defined as more than what we do to earn money. Basically he said it is whatever we do that is productive, meaning that it accomplishes something. So taking out the trash is productive, and therefore it is work. And so on.

First, Pastor pointed out that God gave Adam work to do before the fall. So work is not a result of sin! It’s actually God’s plan for us and something that we will do in our lives with Him in the future.

What we are faced with today, however, is that work is hard. And that is a result of the fall. Pastor didn’t say this, but I’m pretty sure this is why we try to avoid work.

Of course, we’re pretty good with work that give us joy—golfers like to golf, those who love to tinker with old cars have no problem working on an engine for hours, shoppers can spend just as long looking for that perfect bargain, and so on.

We also have a tolerance level for the work that will benefit us in some way—painting the house to enhance its value, putting in new roses, mowing the lawn.

Even more, we work out and we diet if we think it will do us good—maybe so we can fit into that dress for our friend’s wedding or so that we won’t be embarrassed when we go to the beach. Or so we can avoid the disease our parents died of, so we can live to see our kids get married and have kids.

We’ll work, too, in order to provide for those we care about—private school, a college fund, life insurance, daily food and a roof over our heads.

But because work is hard and we don’t always get to do what we enjoy, we so often look forward to the weekend when we don’t have to do the any work except that which we choose to do. Too often conflicts between husband and wife lie within that have to space of.

Pastor pointed out that a good number of verses in Proverbs address the matter of work, the necessity of work, but he chose as his text 16:3—

Commit your works to the LORD
And your plans will be established.

The idea he stressed is that we can intentionally do our work as to the Lord. By way of cross reference he cited Colossians 3:22—“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

Then there is Eph. 6:7 that says, “Render service as to the Lord and not to men.” Or how about 1 Cor. 15:58—“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Another from the Old Testament. The context is what a prophet told a king of Israel who was restoring worship to the Lord: “But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work” (2 Chron. 15:7)

So there’s a choice we have. We can do our work to get paid—not a wrong motive, surely. We can do our work because it needs to be done: the groceries have to get bought and put away, for instance. Again nothing wrong with doing what needs to be done.

But we can also do our work to be people pleasers. We can work to win the award, get the bonus or the promotion. We can complete our tasks on time for the approval of our boss, we can strive to excel at our job so people will tell us what good workers we are or how much they appreciate our attention to detail.

We humans love that kind of encouragement, and honestly, we don’t give it to each other often enough. But if we are working for those things? It those are our motives?

I think we’re missing what Proverbs 16:3 is saying.

Generally we have a goal in sight, and we work toward attaining it. This short proverb says, if we commit our work, whatever that might be, to God, He will make sure it meets the goal. His goal. What He wants to accomplish in and through us.

I think this concept goes hand in hand with Matthew 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing] will be added to you.”

I know we tend to be skeptical about this. But how many times does God have to say it in His word. Seek His kingdom, His righteousness; render service to the Lord; abound in the work of the Lord; commit your work to the Lord; don’t lose courage for there is reward for your work.

In other words, we don’t have to worry about someone else moving ahead of us in the promotion line or winning the contract we had also sought. All we need to worry about is committing our work to the Lord. He’s got the results in His hands.

Published in: on July 30, 2018 at 5:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Poor Church That Is Rich


In Revelation Jesus delivered messages to the angels of seven first century churches. He generally began by confronting them regarding some problem area. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He precedes to reverse the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich.

This could possibly be a comparative statement similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates we would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual condition of the church versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who are in Haiti or Indonesia or Sudan don’t have a lot of the world’s goods.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church in Smyrna was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them. So like our experience today.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have two promises for that faithfulness: 1) the crown of life; and 2) if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know that we who are in Christ will be like Him. So, are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ, already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in July, 2014.

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
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Loving God Means What Exactly?


IconsMore than once I’ve heard or read people saying they love God but want nothing to do with religion. I can’t help wonder what those who hold this position mean when they say they love God.

Is loving God some kind of emotion we generate toward an icon, an idea, or even toward a person? I guess that question puts the focus on the main thing: what do people removing themselves from the constraints of organized religion mean when they say “God”?

I wonder if there is anything close to a consensus. I mean, without organized religion—people coming together in agreement—can’t “God” mean whatever a person wants? So God could be an impersonal force, like fate or destiny. Or God could be the Perfect or Enlightenment to which we all can strive. God could be nature or the universal good or a great pool of consciousness or a spark within each person or … well, you get the idea.

It seems to me, no one can love God unless they know Him. By definition, God is set apart as Other. So how can we know what is transcendent?

Sea_Goddess_of_MercyThe monotheist understands God to be supreme, the ruler, even the creator. Those of a pantheistic mind set see god in all things and all in god. In between are those who believe as the Greeks did or the Hindus do, that there are many gods, each needing to be kept happy in his or her own way.

With all these ideas floating about, how does someone come to an understanding of God?

One common approach I’ve heard is to say, To me, God is …

That approach strikes me as odd. We wouldn’t do that with any other person we know, and we criticize others if we think they are inventing things about someone else. In fact we even have slander and libel laws to punish people who make up harmful stuff about other individuals.

People do repeat false statements about celebrities and politicians, and we wrangle about lines like President Obama is a Muslim or Donald Trump is an idiot. Whether or not the public realizes it, they don’t arrive at these false ideas on their own. They’ve been fed those lines by a propagandist who wishes to influence public thought.

So too with God. Average people did not independently arrive at views such as, To me God is loving and would never care about a person’s sexual orientation; or, To me God is a cosmic force that put the world in motion; or, To me God is a divine spark in each of us. They’ve been fed these lines by an individual who “takes his stand on visions he has seen”—meaning, a spirit has put it in his head—or who is “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (quotes from Col 2:18).

God, being God, can’t be known unless He discloses Himself. In virtually all the definitions of God, he is understood to exist “apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford American Dictionary). How, then, could people subject to those limitations study, grasp, comprehend, or know One who is outside the confines of our experiences and abilities? The only way to know God is if God would choose to disclose Himself to us.

And He has done precisely that.

So when it comes to loving God, the first and foremost definition of love, as I see it, is recognizing God to be who He says He is.

The online site LinkedIn allows individuals to endorse others with a click of the button. From time to time I get endorsed by people in subjects which don’t reflect what I do or who I am. I appreciate the fact that the endorser was thinking of me, but I also know the person doesn’t really know me or they wouldn’t have back-slapped me in an area in which I have no expertise.

God, of course, has unlimited expertise, but people who don’t know Him put limits on Him, essentially denying who He is. They’ll say He’s loving but not a just judge; He’s powerful but not powerful enough to create the world with a word; He’s good but not so good that the hard things could actually be part of His plan.

How can we get past our limitations? Only by accepting God’s revelation. He, like any artist, poured His heart, His personality, into what He made. So we can look around us at the world—the parts that Humankind hasn’t tainted—and draw conclusions about God. He’s beautiful. He’s interested in the smallest details. He’s cosmic. He’s orderly. He’s nurturing. And so many others.

In addition, He’s disclosed Himself directly to people and has had them pass on His messages to the rest of us. Ultimately He put on skin and became one of us to show us His heart.

Because God made it possible, we can know Him. To love Him means we accept Him for who He’s told us He is.

Loving God also means agreeing with Him. Disagreeing with God is just another way of not recognizing Him to be who He says He is. How could He truly be transcendent and wrong? or just and wrong? or good and wrong?

In short, anyone who loves God will want to do as He says. This, I believe, is a response of the will and not one of the emotions. The funny thing is, where the will goes, the emotions are sure to follow.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in August 2013.

Published in: on July 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Comments Off on Loving God Means What Exactly?  
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Royal Family Kids


Not so long ago all the buzz was about the new royal born into the British ruling family. But there’s a different Royal Family, and there are some needy kids being ministered to in a special way this week.

I’m referring to a Christian ministry that’s been in existence since 1985 called Royal Family Kids. This non-profit aims to provide camping, clubs, and mentoring for foster kids aged 7 to 12, while at the same time raising the awareness of the “faith community,” really the Royal Family, God’s family better know as the Church, to the needs of abused children.

The founders, Wayne and Diane Tesch, emphasize working with local churches. Their hope is for people to

* Encourage their church to launch a Royal Family KIDS Camp
* Volunteer at their local camp
* Become a faithful supporter
* Pray for the work and the volunteers of Royal Family KIDS Camp

My church has been a supporter of Royal Family Kids for over a decade, and we are currently holding our camp. The congregation was invited to take the name of a camper and pray faithfully for that child. It’s a great way for all of us to be involved, and I believe the most important way we can support the ministry.

Frankly, the numbers about abused kids in the US are staggering. According to the RFK web site, “Annually, 3.6 million cases of child abuse, neglect or abandonment are reported in America.”

Ironically, one of the early justifications for abortion was to eliminate unwanted children, and by extension, abused, neglected, and abandoned children. How’s that strategy working out for us!

Instead, what we’ve ended up with is a devaluation of human life which leads to parents mistreating the very people they are responsible to protect and nurture.

Not that child abuse didn’t exist before abortion, but clearly terminating life is not connected in a positive way to terminating abuse.

The thing is, God can heal and help even when a child suffers at the hands of the adults in his life. For instance I wrote about apologist and author Josh McDowell who opened up some time ago in his book Undaunted about the abuse he experienced in his childhood.

More recently the movie I Can Only Imagine portrayed the real life abuse singer-songwriter Bart Millard experienced.

Seeing the way in which God has used Josh McDowell and Bart Millard, how He has turned the ashes of their crushed lives into flourishing, fruitful newness makes me realize that this same transformation is possible for all the Royal Family Kids we’re praying for.

So if you think of it, join with me this week in praying for my two guys, Bryan and Yan. May God do amazing things in the lives of children others have looked past or hurt or deserted.

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up. (Psalm 27:10)

For more information about Royal Family Kids camp, check out the movie trailer created for the movie inspired by RFK camp which was made a few years ago.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here five years ago.

Published in: on July 25, 2018 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on Royal Family Kids  
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Proverbs 31 Isn’t Just For Women


Great sermon at my church Sunday. We’re doing a series on Living Proverbially, which means, in accordance with what the book of Proverbs teaches. I like the way our pastor and the others who have preached have dealt with the topics. Above all, they have not come across legalistically. They also have not approached Proverbs presumptively, meaning they do not teach that God MUST do X if we but do Y.

This last Sunday, my pastor, Darin McWatters, began by reading chapter 31, which is often considered the description of what a wife is supposed to be like—hence, the idea that the chapter is just for women.

But Pastor Darin pointed out that the chapter is instruction a King Lemuel received from his mom concerning what he should look for in a wife—instruction that he passed on to his son. In truth, the admonition is directed to men about women.

I couldn’t help but think of an article I saw on the internet recently stating that men preferred women who were debt free and did not have tattoos. Well, there you have it, I thought during Sunday’s sermon, those men are looking for the wrong thing. And the women are enabling it! Oh, the article author seemed to be saying, men want this wrong, skewed thing, and that inconsequential thing, so by all means, girls, be sure you give the guys those things! Above all else!

King Lemuel was stepping in and correcting his son, telling him he had to get his eyes off the wrong (or foolish) and the inconsequential.

This attitude of pleasing men by being debt and tattoo free, makes me think of the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. They demanded certain external things too. They weren’t interested in who had a heart for God, who was loving His neighbor, and certainly they were not concerned about who had repented of their sins and received forgiveness.

Guys who are only looking at a statement of debt and what tattoos are showing, are just like those Pharisees.

But what guys are supposed to be looking for are the qualities that all of Proverbs has already featured. In other words, the very things that the first 30 chapters have addressed as part of Solomon’s advice to his son. They can be categorized in three general statements: recognizing one another’s intrinsic value, serving each other sacrificially, expressing our love for one another.

Pastor Darin did an amazing job of showing parallels from chapter 31 with other verses in Proverbs, each falling into one of these three areas.

As he spoke, another thought came to my mind—something I learned years and years ago from a pastor addressing what the Apostle Paul said was his idea and not from Christ. These verses were still in the Bible, still inspired by God, still given to him by the Holy Spirit. And, all Scripture, not some, is profitable to the believer. It will teach us or reprove us or correct us or train us. God will use it in our lives.

So too with Proverbs 31. What if it actually were written just to women? Men could still learn from it, should still learn from it. It’s in the Bible so it falls into the category of all Scripture—inspired, profitable.

But clearly it’s not a “to women” passage: “The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him” (Pro. 31:1).

I like what Pastor Darin did next. He said the passage could be viewed sort of like the satellite image someone can see using Google maps. First you can zoom in and see your house, then take it out to see your block, your city, your state. So, too with this passage. The close up view shows us ourselves, but then we see ourselves in relationship with our family, our church, and the ultimate, as part of the Church, with Christ.

After all, we are His bride, He the bridegroom. We are to speak highly of Him, serve Him sacrificially, express our love to Him. In other words, God’s principles work on every level! They aren’t just good ideas or helpful in marriage. They are truths that should infuse our lives and affect every level of relationship we have.

God Speaks However He Wants


I’m privileged to be involved in the book launch for the third edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by the late Nabeel Qureshi, who had been a member of Ravi Zacharias’s RZIM apologetics team.

I suspect it isn’t the usual practice to do a full-out book launch for a third edition, expanded though it may be, as this one is. But Nabeel died of cancer not long ago, and he can’t do any of the promotion an author might naturally shoulder for a new edition of his work.

The fact is, this autobiographical account of how Nabeel became a Christian, is important. More people need to discover this book. Consequently, I’m happy to help get the word out.

I read the first edition a number of years ago based on the recommendation of our church librarian. Boy, was she right! Nabeel faced difficult questions and a near impossible decision. He didn’t shy away from revealing what he went through.

But back in February 2014, before I’d even read the book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus inspired me to write a blog post about the way God speaks to people. In honor of Nabeel, I’d like to share it again, with a few necessary revisions. BTW, the third edition is available for pre-order now. It will come out August 21.

– – – – –

One more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter—a Muslim came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers—even some pastors who have studied Scripture—you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is humans preaching God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

Yet some people believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased. How do they resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea? Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date—until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus has just such a story. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses—as Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or do we believe it because people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to in place of God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.

Not The Verse We Think It Is


Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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Let There Be Light


In this case, “let there be light” does not refer to part of God’s act of creation. Rather, as part of my church’s Scripture reading program, we have been going through the book of Exodus, including all the instructions about putting the tabernacle together.

The cool thing about writing these short devotionals or meditations is that they require me to think more about the passage than I most likely would have otherwise. I mean, putting the tabernacle together is not the most action packed, gripping section of Scripture. This is the passage I was assigned for July:

Then he made the lampstand of pure gold. He made the lampstand of hammered work, its base and its shaft; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers were of one piece with it. There were six branches going out of its sides; three branches of the lampstand from the one side of it and three branches of the lampstand from the other side of it; three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in one branch, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a bulb and a flower in the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. In the lampstand there were four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers; and a bulb was under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. Their bulbs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was a single hammered work of pure gold. He made its seven lamps with its snuffers and its trays of pure gold. He made it and all its utensils from a talent of pure gold. Exodus 37:17-24)

My thoughts:

For the longest time I’ve struggled matching pictures of the Menorah with this description of it here in Exodus. I mean there are two branches and then three cups, but four bulbs and flowers and then six branches, only to conclude with seven lamps. Usually when I finish this section, I feel quite befuddled, and I’m glad that someone with a bit more visual acumen than I, has been able to translate these words into an actual object.

Of course Moses had the heavenly pattern, so he knew before he gave the artist the description, what the holy light was to look like.

Now I have the internet, so at long last I think I understand how all the parts fit. More importantly, I see this: perpetual light. Many parts fashioned as one lamp. Function and artistry in combination. Another of God’s “perfect sevens.”

All of these are important, but I am drawn to the fact that God wanted the things of worship to be beautiful. Yes, they all had a purpose, an important function. And yet they were all created in beauty. Beneath each lamp was not a block or a slab. Rather the casing was a bulb and a flower.

In the same way, I believe God wants the writing or editing I do to fulfill a purpose, and He wants me to do it in a way that displays His glory. It’s not enough for me to meet a deadline if I grumble the whole time. The beauty is as important as the function.

Published in: on July 18, 2018 at 5:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise


A number of years ago a pastor, Mike Erre, spoke at my church from Ephesians, explaining that the book can be divided into two sections—the indicative that makes statements about who the Christian is and how we relate to God, and the imperative that gives us commands to do to live up to our identity.

In the section that enumerates the believer’s standing as a child of God, there is only one command: remember. I think that’s cool! First, before all else, we need to be grounded in who God is and who we are as a result of our relationship with Him.

The book pivots in chapter four when Paul shifts to the imperatives. This, by the way, is a common pattern in the Pauline epistles.

In verse one of this section Paul says

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called

So here’s where the commands start. But it’s easy for us to get off on the wrong foot. We can take this idea of walking in a manner worthy of the calling as our marching orders to pay God back for the kindness of salvation. He gave so much to us, so now we owe Him.

No. Christ’s “death on our behalf was a gift, not a deal.”

Love that!

The pastor illustrated the point then, with the analogy of a man becoming a husband. At a wedding, as soon as the minister pronounces the couple, husband and wife, the man doesn’t start doing husbandly things in order to become a husband. He already is a husband. From that point on, he’s trying to live up to the role he already has.

Same with becoming a father. When his baby is born, he is a father. His doing his fatherly duties is not his attempt to earn his place as his child’s father. That is his already. Instead, he wants to learn to do fathering the right way.

So too with the believer. We are in Christ, part of the body of Christ, and with that position come many awesome advantages. Then Paul says, we are to walk worthy of the calling. We are to learn how to live the role, “child of God.”

One last thing. The command in Exodus 20:7 about not taking the name of the Lord in vain, connotes in the original text the idea of carrying His name. I found that to be interesting because the Jews literally did wear the Scriptures. But for us, the idea is that we bear the name of Christ, and we are not to do that in a worthless way.

I thought of several things, one being those people who will say to Christ, Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name and healed in your name, but He’ll say, depart, I never knew you. Those, I would think, are people who have Christ’s name on their lips but their hearts are far from Him.

But I also thought of how I live my life covering up my identity. I used to refer to my teen years as ones in which I lived as an undercover Christian. The pastor said that living worthy of our calling means we give up the privilege of being anonymous.

When I first started teaching, it was disconcerting when I was out and about with my friends and ran into some of my students or their parents. I’d flash back to what I was doing right before I realized they saw me. Had I done anything stupid or un-teacherly? Had I lost respect because I was clowning around or grousing at some store clerk?

In essence, I was living anonymously, not as a teacher who should set an example for her students, until I realized I’d been recognized.

As a Christian, if I’m walking worthy of my calling, I won’t take time out to live anonymously. I’ll happily bear the mark of Christ, carry His name with me wherever I go.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in June, 2012.

Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm  Comments Off on Deal Or No Deal — A Reprise  
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