Pointing Fingers

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out” Romans 7:18
One of the biggest challenges of being a Bible teacher is the tension between expressing what the Bible says about sin and recognizing my own sinful nature. How can I stand before a class or post something I’ve written that tells others “how to live” when I fail so often in my own walk? Who do I think I am?
That’s why I find great comfort in Paul’s letters. Paul addresses every kind of sin we can imagine – sexual sin, lying, stealing, hate, laziness, idolatry, marital unfaithfulness, abuse, self-centeredness, drunkenness, and yes even gluttony (Ouch!). He is very outspoken about sin and points a finger wherever he sees it. But he also points a finger back at himself. Paul frequently admits his own human failure to walk the walk of which he talks. In Romans 7, he laments this all too common push-and-pull of righteousness vs. sin. “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). “The evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (v. 19). From Paul’s words, we realize that the sinful nature we inherited from Adam constantly “wages war” against our new nature in Christ (v. 23).
So what do we – as those called to share the gospel and the truth of righteousness – do with that conflict? First, we stop focusing on ourselves. That’s a guarantee to keep failing. Instead, we follow Paul’s example and shift our focus upward. He wrapped up his lament, by recognizing his failure: “What a wretched man I am!” He admitted his need for a savior: “Who will rescue me from the body of death?” Then he rejoiced in the goodness and faithfulness of God: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24-25).
You and I are part of the fallen human race, and even though we have trusted in Christ as our Savior, we still fall to our sinful nature. Satan would have us languish there in self-hatred. But we are no longer under the sentence of condemnation (Romans 8:1). We have been rescued and redeemed. When we focus on Jesus we live more in the freedom of our new nature and less in the bondage of our sin. Yes, Beloved, you will still fail – but thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord – you don’t have to stay there!

Road Trip

See the source image

We’ve made quite a few trips in my husband’s trusty truck. Every mile was powered by the combustion engine under the hood. That engine had two jobs: to take in fuel and to put out power. My husband provided the fuel and the engine produced power which in turn powered all the other parts of the truck that enabled us to make our trip.
Paul had never seen a combustion engine at work, but he understood the principle. He told the believers in Philippi: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). Do you see the principle? What God works in – you work out. God is at work in you through His Word and His Spirit – providing power, wisdom, strength, and righteousness – your job is to take what He provides and work it out in your life. He gives you His power to overcome the devil. He gives you His wisdom to make godly decisions. He gives you His strength to endure the trials. He gives you His righteousness so you can live a holy life.
You would think we were crazy if we jumped in the truck and expected to make our trip without any fuel to power the engine. How crazy is it to try to live godly lives without the truth of the Word and the power of God’s Spirit? Beloved, God is providing the fuel of holy living – all you have to do is work out what He is pouring in. Get your motor running Beloved, it’s time to hit the road!

Last Words

See the source image

“Drive carefully.” “Have a good day.” “Call when you get there.” “I love you.” Last words. When your kids are climbing out of the car, when your wife heads off for a weekend with her friends, when your nephew leaves for college. It’s our final opportunity to connect and leave them with something important. Many times those last words express our heart more than voluminous conversations.

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about wisdom, immorality, marriage, freedom in Christ, spiritual gifts, love, and the resurrection. Out of all these very weighty topics, Paul’s final instructions to his friends were: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of good courage; be strong. Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Firm faith. Good courage. Love in all things. What powerful watchwords for Christ’s church! And we still need them today.

Corinth was a multi-cultural, polytheistic culture – they had people from many backgrounds who held to many different beliefs. It was so easy to take a little bit from each one – including Christianity – to make a self-serving religion. That sounds very much like our world today, doesn’t it? Paul reminds us to stand firm in our faith in Christ and Christ alone. But he also assures us we don’t stand on our own.  He opened this letter by telling the Corinthians, “[The Lord Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end” (1:8). Firm faith leans heavily on Christ for strength and courage.

Why do we need courage? Have you been out there lately? The powers (human and spiritual) that rule the world are trying to destroy the Christian faith. We need courage just to walk out the door. We need courage to resist the enemy. We need courage to stand for truth and righteousness. In a day and age when sin is celebrated, we need courage to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

And oh, how important love is. Jesus said love is the defining factor in the lives of His followers – “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). And love, more than any other means will draw men to Christ. In everything – our jobs, in school, in our families, in our relationships, in good times and hard times, in peace and in disagreement – let love be the rule.

If today were my last day on earth and I wanted to leave you with the most important words, I would say the same thing.  Beloved have faith, be courageous, and live in love.

The Core of Christianity

See the source image

The Christian faith has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the past two thousand years.  Some of these changes have been positive, such as the agreement of the doctrines of the faith. And some changes have caused havoc, confusion, and turmoil in the church.  All these changes have added layers to the basic truths of Christianity. So when we strip away all these added layers what is the core of the Christian faith?

 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The death of Jesus Christ, His burial, and His resurrection are the core, the root, and the foundation of the Christian faith.  Paul said that those are “of first importance.”  That does not mean that other doctrines of the faith are of lesser importance.  We must recognize the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the incarnation, and the virgin birth, but the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. These prove that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. 

Why are these so important?  Without the death of Jesus, our sin debt remains.  Without the grave, His death is a question, not a fact. Without His resurrection, we are trusting in a dead man with no power.  But He is alive and He promises us that we will have life everlasting if we believe and trust in Him. There are many facets to the Christian faith and we do well to learn about atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, and the other great truths of Christianity. They are the building blocks of our faith.  But before you start erecting the walls, Beloved, make certain you are on the rock-solid foundation of “first importance.”  All other ground is sinking sand.

Hope in Days of Evil

See the source image

Another day, another multi-victim shooting, another child abused, another murder, another robbery, beating, and theft. I remember the day when such things were shocking; now they are commonplace. I read just yesterday of a mother who killed her child and I want to ask, “Why?” But I know the answer. Because Adam and Eve ate the fruit. And their actions ushered in sin that has infected the human race at a far greater pace than COVID 19. It is part of our human make-up. It’s even part of our culture. And the Bible makes it clear that it’s only going to get worse.

Jesus said as the time for His return draws near, wickedness will increase, and “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Love – love for what is good – will die and evil and wickedness will grow at alarming rates.

Paul added, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:2-5). Can anyone doubt that we are in the last days?

Does that frighten you? It should if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ. But if you are His, if you have surrendered yourself – heart, mind, soul, and strength – to Him, the state of the world should concern you, but not scare you. It should compel you to share the gospel. It should urge you to live in holiness. It should move you to intervene for the innocent. But it shouldn’t frighten you. Because the increase of wickedness means a decrease in our wait for Christ’s return.

Jesus said when the world turns more and more to evil, and the heavens and the earth react to it (because they are also subject to the curse of sin), we need to look up. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky . . . the nations of the earth . . . will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). And every evil, wicked, sinful thing will be cast out. Yes, these are evil days, and there is likely more to come. But lift up your head, Beloved, that means the Lord is nearer now than ever before.

The Never-Get-Out-of-Debt Payment Plan

See the source image

The American economy seems to run on spending more than we earn. The average credit card debt per household in the U.S. is $5,700 – $9,333 with a total outstanding U.S. consumer debt of $4 trillion. Being in debt is one of the most discouraging struggles. I know this struggle well as we have been under the self-made burden of financial debt. The Bible has a great deal to say about financial stewardship, but even more about relational stewardship. The apostle Paul says that we should only have one debt on our balance sheet: “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Financial advisors can help you devise a plan to pay off your credit debt, but the Bible says that love for one another is a “continuing debt,” that can never be finished. It is a life-long obligation. Love is more than a “warm fuzzy feeling,” love is a choice we make every day. 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a practical example of choosing to love. You may be very familiar with it, but I want to challenge you to read this passage a little differently. Instead of the word “love,” put your own name in the verse and read it aloud:

_______________ is patient, _____________ is kind. ____________ does not envy, ______________does not boast, _______________ is not proud. ______________ is not rude, ______________ is not self-seeking, _______________ is not easily angered. ______________ keeps no record of wrongs. ______________ does not delight in evil, but ______________ rejoices with the truth. _____________ always protects, _______________ always trusts, _____________ always hopes, _______________ always perseveres (v. 4-7).

So how did you do? I don’t know about you but I started to get uncomfortable early in.

Love, as Paul outlined it in these verses, doesn’t require any money, but it is costly. It will cost you time and attention and patience and ego, but it brings amazing dividends. Every day you and I have the opportunity to share the love of God in this world. When we are patient, kind, humble, considerate, forgiving, honest, and compassionate we are making installments on our never-ending debt of love. Beloved, what would your home, workplace, church, and community look like if you followed the Bible’s payment plan?

Stars in the Night Sky

See the source image

“Therefore we do not lose heart…For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

“Light and momentary?” I want to ask Paul. “Do you have any idea what we’ve been through this week? It isn’t light! The past 18 years? That’s longer than a moment!”  But then I remember I’m yelling at Paul who endured thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, who was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, spent a night and day floating in the sea, facing constant danger, persecution, sleepless nights, without food, water, or clothing – all for the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). He may not know the specifics of my life – or yours – but the man has known suffering and hardship and pain.

My next question then is, “Why, if we are God’s children, do we have to endure so much difficulty?” Paul never stopped serving the Lord; even in prison, he shared the gospel with the guards (Philippians 1:13). I’m trying to be faithful to God’s call to study and write and teach. You’re trying to stay faithful to what God has set before you in your family, work, church, and community. Shouldn’t that get us a pass from troubles? Yet not even God’s perfectly faithful Son was exempt from suffering.

But I think I found a clue to our struggles and sufferings. So that we may “become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). When are the stars the brightest? When the night sky is at its blackest. When is God’s glory most visible? When things are at their darkest. Like now –in my family, in our nation, and in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.

Friend, believe me when I say, I understand. Just because I’m a Bible teacher doesn’t mean I am exempt from the harsh things of life. In fact, I feel like it puts me constantly in satan’s crosshairs because he would love nothing more than to beat me down until I quit. But I won’t. Paul didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Because this world needs shining stars to bring light into the darkness. The world, Beloved, needs you.

Victory Over the Enemy

See the source image

Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher in the early 6th Century. He is credited as the writer of the classic, “The Art of War,” in which he said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Paul cautioned with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

For example, I have a contentious relationship with a family member who has repeatedly been unkind toward me. My human nature wants to lash out and “put them in their place,” but Paul reminds me “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The person is not my enemy. Satan is using them against me – and they are unaware of it. But because I have the Holy Spirit in me I have discernment and can turn the fight against my true enemy. I pray for and love the person and refuse the let the devil cause division.

There’s another point to spiritual warfare. In ancient Israel, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, marched toward Jerusalem to capture the capital city. He sent a message to King Hezekiah saying, “Have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). But Hezekiah declared that “the living God will rebuke [Sennacherib] for the words the Lord your God has heard” (Isaiah 37:4). Hezekiah knew it was a lie because he knew his God.

Sun Tzu spoke wisely when he said “Know your enemy.” Paul spoke wisdom when said essentially the same thing. But more important than knowing the enemy, you and I need to know our God. If we do not know the Lord God, we will fall to the threats of the enemy every time. Know your enemy. Know yourself. Know your God. Those, Beloved, are the keys to victory.

Do As I Say – and As I Do

See the source image

When my son was about 3, he had a child-sized toy car in which he logged a thousand miles. My brother would say, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!” And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away. My brother would be in hysterics at my embarrassment.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). That’s a risky statement for most of us, but he said it with confidence because he was committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Paul poured himself into Timothy and Titus and John Mark and many others, leading by his words and his everyday example. But who influenced Paul?

Stephen was chosen as a disciple of the new Church. He was “a man full of God’s grace and power” (Acts 6:8). But a group of jealous Jewish leaders stoned him to death. He died with his eyes fixed on his Savior and his testimony on his lips (Acts 7).

A young man in the crowd was watching. “The witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul walked away with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit. Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible. Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus. The Christ-hater became a Christ-proclaimer and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful witnesses. Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion? I believe so. Saul – AKA Paul would later paraphrase Stephen’s message when he said “The Lord . . . does not live in temples built by hands” (Acts 17:24; 7:48).

In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us. That is a sobering thought. Little ones are watching us as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk, my coworkers, your neighbors, fellow shoppers, your child’s friends are all within our sphere of influence. Everything we say and do – especially in those unguarded moments – makes a deep imprint on others.

So I ask you, Beloved, are you planting Jesus-seeds in the world?

Tell Them About Jesus

See the source image

Paul covered over ten thousand miles on his missionary journeys and spoke about Jesus all along the way. One significant place Paul visited was Athens, Greece. What he discovered there could be said about almost any city in the world today.  He found much curiosity about religion, but no commitment to God. The city was full of idols and temples of worship to pagan gods. All of them. To make sure they didn’t miss any of them they had created an altar with the inscription: “To An Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). Luke said Paul was “greatly distressed” (v. 16) and rightly so because satan had established a powerful stronghold in Athens and people were being seduced away from God. Satan’s hold on the world should distress God’s people. We should love people so much that we hate everything that keeps them from God.

The church today has taken a “live and let live” attitude towards the world. “If they don’t want to believe in God, it’s their life. Let them do whatever they want.” Does that sound like the heart of a God who would send His Son to die for lost souls? Charles Spurgeon said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

Paul said, “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). The church – that’s you and me – has been called to care about the lost world. No, we can’t save them, but we can share the gospel and pray for them to be saved.

I love serving the Body of Christ but I confess I haven’t been faithful to this ambassadorship. It’s not that I don’t care, but I get caught up in my own life and my own issues, and – honest statement here – I don’t have the sense of urgency that should compel me.  I think that’s true for most of us. So I’m praying for a heart to share Christ with lost souls. Because I once was one, and somebody cared enough about me to tell me about Jesus. Beloved, let’s pass that legacy on.