The Difference God’s Word Makes


Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash

People talk about prayer changing things. It does, but so does God’s word. I’m referring to the Bible. I don’t remember my whole line of reasoning, but this morning I considered writing my pastor a short email. I’m sure he’s glad that I’m opting for this post instead (although there’s no guarantee that that email won’t still happen).

Honestly, the idea popped into my mind because I was praying for him and then thanking God that we have a pastor who faithfully teaches through the Bible. We are presently working our way through the gospel of John in the New Testament, and I really appreciate the teaching. We’ve discussed some great truth, not the least of which was the fifth “I AM” statement Jesus made, which we saw this week: “I AM the resurrection and the life.”

Anyway, back to what I thought to say to my pastor. First I did want to tell him how great it is to hear God’s world explained so faithfully and clearly week after week. Being on the internet has taught me that lots of Christians don’t have that wonderful advantage. Yet here I am in the great blue leftist state whose government likely hates everything I believe, and yet I have the privilege of sitting under such godly teaching. Lots of other Californians do, too. How this has happened, I don’t know, but we are blessed by some great preachers who speak the truth in love: Dr. David Jeremiah, Greg Laurie, Philip De Courcy, John MacArthur, to name just a few.

But I’m off track again. What I thought to say to my pastor, who does have a name—Darin McWatters—is that when he finishes with John, I’d like him to preach through one of the minor prophets. I’m currently reading through Hosea, so that’s the one I thought I’d suggest. I’ve heard more than once a preacher on the radio make a joke about the congregation needing to dust off the part of the Old Testament that contains the books of prophecy, or of people not knowing where they are.

I think, really? That’s kind of an insult—basically saying, the people in your church don’t read the Bible. But then I thought, maybe they don’t.

Off my mind wandered. There’s a guy in the atheist/theist Facebook group that calls himself a Christian, but he does so in spite of the fact that he doesn’t believe the Bible. He “self-identifies” as a Christian because of the “loving community” he’s a part of. I can’t help but puzzle over this. Are these people loving because they are Christians and Theist Guy has simply felt at home with them because they are showing the love of Christ? Or are they in some pseudo-Christian group that doesn’t really even try to embrace Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, but like a good country club, enjoys each other’s company?

And what makes the difference? What makes the difference between this guy and me?

Then it hit me, as clearly as if God had answered my question Himself. Well, I think He did through the Holy Spirit. The difference is the very Bible I was holding at the time. I actually read the Bible, believe it, and want to obey what I learn from it. Not every professing Christian does. And if those pastors who joke about their congregants having to dust off the books of prophecy are right, not every actual Christian reads it either.

No wonder there are Christians who go to church and sleep with their boyfriend or cheat on their homework or lie to their boss or hold grudges.

In some ways the Old Testament is hard because the grace of God is maybe a little harder to find. It’s there in every warning the prophets gave to the people of Israel and Judah, in every miraculous rescue God engineered, in every judge or king He sent to get His people out from under bondage. But in between there’s a lot of disobedience and suffering because of the hole they dug for themselves. The prophets are more of the same, on steroids.

But I kind of think we in our comfy western culture need to hear this same warning. After all, God told us that “all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness” so not just John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 or 1 John 1:9 are helpful verses. The whole Bible is helpful. More than helpful. It’s what we need.

The Timothy passage I’m referring to goes on to say that Scripture will make us “adequate for every good work.” In other words, the Bible changes us. It opens our eyes to the truth. It shows us how we should live and how we can live as we should. It shows us God and His Son, even in a book like Esther that doesn’t actually name Him.

We see Him in the sufferings of Job, in the disobedience of Jonah, in the faithfulness of Jeremiah and Hosea, in the visions of Ezekiel and of Daniel. God and His Son are both the subject and the object of the Bible. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings,” Paul said. That’s really what the Bible reveals about God: how we can know Him. How we can know His plan. How we can know His power and purpose.

Oh, yes. The Bible is an agent of change. Those who let the Bible fill their lives, will never be the same. They will understand, as Job did, that the words of God’s mouth are to be treasured “more than my necessary food.”

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Published in: on May 20, 2019 at 5:22 pm  Comments (7)  
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Idol Worship


As I read from the Old Testament prophets, one topic is repeated over and over, no matter which people group is the subject of the prophetic message or what era the prophets wrote. Over and over, from Isaiah to Jeremiah to Hosea to Amos and all the others, the topic of idol worship comes up.

None of them makes light of the subject. In fact, idol worship is most often named as the cause for coming judgment regardless of the nation. Sure, prophecies also pronounced judgment for things like violence against God’s people and taking His name in vain, for profaning His temple and living in immorality.

But by far the most repeated affront to God seems to be the worship of false gods.

Isaiah makes repeated statements that these gods that the various nations worshiped were no gods at all. Here’s perhaps the most scathing:

He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (44:14b-17)

Today we read this kind of passage and think, Well, duh! How could they not figure out that if they made the thing, of course it was no god.

I suspect the people of that day knew the piece of wood wasn’t a god, but they perhaps thought what they had created represented the god of their choice.

In our sophisticated society today there aren’t as many visible idols as there likely were in the prophets’ day. But we still have idols. Take freedom for example, or as I recently learned from Abdu Murray in his book Saving Truth, the correct term is autonomy. But even the good kind of freedom can become an idol in our hearts.

My point here is not to thresh out the idols we are currently holding. Rather, what I learn from the Old Testament prophets is how seriously God takes idol worship. Today I think we are more or less OK with idol worship. I mean, yes, we should give God our undivided love, but, you know, there’s a football game on. Or we’re just so busy we don’t have time for, you know, reading the Bible or praying every day! Because work is so important or my schedule is so important or working out is so important or watching my shows is so important.

Funny how we as Christians can become quite clear about how heinous sins are that we don’t commit. But when it comes to worshiping our pleasure, our wealth, our power, our use of time, our family, our country, our, our, our . . . well, idol worship isn’t really number one on our list of sins to avoid.

But I don’t think God has removed it from His list. I think it’s still the heinous act that He coupled over and over with forsaking Him.

The thing is, the people of Judah didn’t see themselves as forsaking God. They did worship Yahweh. They just added the gods they brought from Egypt, too. Later it was the gods of the Canaanites they included with their Redeemer.

Yet He had said, No other gods. None.

He took their partial obedience as disobedience, their dabbling with foreign women as the precursor to following foreign deities (an illustration of the power of women, but that’s another story).

He even referred to Himself as jealous. Here’s one example, but there are others:

—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— (Exodus 34:14)

Some have likened this jealousy to that of a husband who wants to protect his wife from lecherous predators who want to hit on her. Perhaps. Certainly it’s clear that God wants His people to be His and not ones who scatter their favors hither and yon.

Hosea uses the strong example of adultery and prostitution in regard to those who look to other gods beside the LORD.

Clearly God does not consider idolatry as some sort of lesser sin. How could He? Jesus repeated in the Gospels that the number one commandment above all else is to love God.

I suspect that since we have done way with little wooden statues that we bow before, we think our form of idolatry is not like theirs and therefore not as bad. Or perhaps we think, as Christians, forgive and justified by faith, we don’t have to pay attention to sins of the heart because they’re forgiven.

But like Paul asks in Romans, just because we are covered by grace, does that mean we are to continue living in sin? May it never be, he says. May it never be!

Published in: on April 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Gentle Answer


I’m not a gentle person. I’m aggressive. As a young person I was an athlete. I guess I still think of myself as an athlete. I played on a co-ed volleyball team for as long as I could. And I coached nearly all of my years while I was a teacher.

When you have to make fast decisions and quick corrections, gentleness doesn’t always get served.

On top of that, I grew up with an older brother and an older sister, so I guess I was always trying to prove myself, trying to hold my own. At any rate, either one of them can tell you that gentle is not part of my natural make up.

And yet Scripture says a soft [or gentle] answer turns away wrath.

That verse used to trouble me. What does a person do who is not gentle? What if it’s my wrath that needs to be turned away?

My usual response to anger was anger, and I was good at it. I could raise my voice with the best of them.

But God works even when we don’t realize He is. He makes changes when we aren’t looking.

So today, when a poor girl at the atheist/theist FB group page called me an idiot and later an a$$, I knew I had a choice. I could react from the me that is quick to correct or I could respond in a gentle way that she might hear.

I say she was a “poor girl” because she was so angry. I don’t know her story. I don’t know if she is young or old. I just know she was seething with anger . . . at God. And anyone who believes in and trusts Him was apparently a target as well.

Of course I have no idea if a soft answer will turn away her anger from me, because I am not going to stop speaking the truth about God. But I think there’s a great need in this woman’s life to do so in love, not throwing anger of like kind back at her.

She actually didn’t answer my last comment to her, but I suspect when she does, it will be more of the same—no real content and more name calling.

That’s OK. After all, she isn’t mad at me. She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that once upon a time I would have aimed to eviscerate her with words. She can’t see that the Holy Spirit has done something in my heart that fills me with sorrow that she hates the very Person who can best comfort and care for her.

I just read today a verse in Hosea that speaks to this very point:

It is your destruction, O Israel,
That you are against Me, against your help. (13:9)

I like the way the New International Version translates it:

“You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.”

That statement was true about ancient Israel, but it’s also true about a contemporary atheist or Christian or whoever rages against God. He’s the very Person who can and who wants to help.

I think of how children sometimes rage against their parents, when, in fact, the parents are the ones who want what’s best for the children and know a lot more what that looks like than they do. In fact I just read a piece for a contest that involved a child responding to a parent in anger though the parent intended to do what was best. No matter the setting, it’s a familiar scene.

That’s a picture of what we so often do in our relationship with God. And I am including Christians, because the accepted idea by so many is, it’s OK to let God have our anger, with both barrels, right between the eyes. After all, the reasoning goes, He’s big enough; He can take it.

Sure He can. But are we able to deal with our circumstances without the comfort, the help He wants to give us if we weren’t so foolish to push Him away by hurling our anger at Him? I remember a woman who’s son was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer and responded with anger toward the very God she could pray to for healing, who she had prayed to and who had answered when the doctor first discovered the boy’s cancer. Why would you do that, I wanted to say to her.

But back to the point of this post.

Does a gentle answer take away the anger? Maybe not right away, but it’s a step in that direction. It’s a safe bet that anger answering anger is not going to make a difference. But a gentle answer—that’s not expected and it just might arrest the anger enough for the person to actually hear.

The cool thing about my interaction with the person on FB, the gentle answer is clearly not from me. So she’s hearing from God from the Holy Spirit who is changing the way I normally respond. Because “gentle answer” is so not me.

Published in: on April 25, 2018 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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Is God Listening?


A week from today, May 5, is designated as the US National Day of Prayer. I suspect there will be any number of events on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.

It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.

Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.

He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.

When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)

The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.

And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)

“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:

Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)

Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.

Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)

I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.

So, was He listening to their prayers?

As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:

They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.

I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)

This post, minus the opening edit, appeared here in May 2012.

Published in: on April 28, 2016 at 6:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Is God Listening?


Yesterday was the US National Day of Prayer. I didn’t hear much about it … didn’t write about it myself, but I suspect there were events that took place on the local level throughout the country. Prayer breakfasts, perhaps, with the mayor and the city council. Or gatherings of businessmen, led by a prominent pastor.

It sounds so good, like the Senate chaplain opening in prayer or the prayer in schools we wish we could enjoy.

Except … I wonder. Does God hear the prayers of those who don’t believe in Him? When President after President, for example, ends a speech, “God bless America,” does He hear and answer, even when the President invoking His name doesn’t know Him?

These thoughts came to mind when I was reading Hosea. During a relatively peaceful time in Judah’s history, Hosea, prompted by God’s Spirit, prophesied of God’s coming judgment against them and against Israel.

He said their sin had affected their relationship with God.

When I would heal Israel,
The iniquity of Ephraim is uncovered…
And they do not consider in their hearts
That I remember all their wickedness.

Woe to them, for they have strayed from Me! Destruction is theirs, for they have rebelled against Me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against Me. (Hosea 7:1-2, 13)

The key verse is the next one, I think. Apparently when trouble would come, then the people turned to God, but it wasn’t Him they wanted. It was the stuff He could provide.

And they do not cry to Me from their heart
When they wail on their beds;
For the sake of grain and new wine they assemble themselves,
They turn away from Me. (Hosea 7:14)

“Fake praying.” Saying the words, sounding religious, maybe even spiritual. But that’s not talking to God. There’s more:

Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law,
They are regarded as a strange thing.
As for My sacrificial gifts,
They sacrifice the flesh and eat it,
But the LORD has taken no delight in them.
Now He will remember their iniquity,
And punish them for their sins (Hosea 8:12-13a)

Their religious exercise didn’t bring God delight or them forgiveness. They were going through the motions, and God turned His back on them.

Indeed, I came to hate them there!
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of My house!
I will love them no more;
All their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15b)

I’m stunned by that verse. God, who loved Israel for Abraham’s sake, said He had come to hate the northern kingdom because of their sin.

So, was He listening to their prayers?

As the enemy swoops upon them like an eagle, this was what Hosea said:

They cry out to Me,
“My God, we of Israel know You!”
Israel has rejected the good;
The enemy will pursue him. (Hosea 8:2-3)

In short, God doesn’t listen to the selfish prayer or the insincere prayer, not even from the religious. Here’s the prayer He wants:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the LORD.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.” (Hosea 14:1-2)

God’s listening, yes, but He doesn’t always hear. He won’t be manipulated or used, but He gladly responds to our repentance.

I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:4)

Published in: on May 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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