Out of Love to DISCIPLINE for Holiness

We were members of a relatively small and somewhat new church of about fifty people, and served there the whole eight months we attended until we made the decision to leave. My wife and I were unofficial youth pastors to a group of young people (about twelve to fifteen in number) ranging in age from 14 to 23, with most of them being around seventeen. The Lord-guided opportunity to feed these kids the Word of God every week was something we loved, took seriously and did faithfully. On many days, I wish we could still, in good conscience, be there doing it. I knew before we began the journey with them from the Holy Spirit telling me in my spirit, that they needed a strong foundation. That’s where He took us for quite a while before moving forward. We would seek Him through prayer, listening, studying and receiving certain timely insight and revelation. Not all of these young people are born-again, to be sure, but they paid attention (most of them), seemed genuinely interested and, as time went on, asked relevant questions and we got to develop relationships with some of them, even having them over to our home on a couple of occasions.

However, there were two young men who quietly yet surreptitiously managed to distract more than one in the class, including both my wife and me. The first once or twice we overlooked it in favor of the Word and what the Spirit had to say at the moment, but then made the choice to address the matter with them both after our time together one following Sunday. One of them is the pastor’s son and the other (a couple of years younger) the son of a good, soundly-Christian couple. The boys seemed to take it well and we had hoped that our kind, yet stern approach would nip this behavior in the bud. Over the next month it happened again and we addressed it…again. A couple of weeks after that we spoke to their parents about it. It still didn’t stop. Finally, we brought it up again after church with the parents and the boys. The older one, the pastor’s son, was kind of solemn; at least for appearances’ sake. The other boy who is usually humble and polite at all other times, however, began to get visibly frustrated and angry, even though he tried to restrain it when his father spoke to him about it in our presence. After only a few minutes, though, the young man walked away– almost defiantly– out of the hallway where we were gathered and into the place where we worship. He walked straight over to the far wall and, as he walked along it, slapped and banged his hand on the wall. His mother tried to appease him and tell him to calm down, while we and some who were left in the church (including pastor, his wife, the worship leader and his family) were bewildered and caught off guard by this behavior.

As we all went instinctively towards him to find out what was wrong with the situation, our pastor put his arm around him as he stood beside him and across from us. My wife tried to explain to him why the young man was reacting this way- because of his continual behavior issues- and the pastor (who we know well and get along well with) replied, “This is church, not school. No rules, only love” or something almost verbatim. I, for the moment, was purposefully silent because I didn’t want my emotions and flesh to take over. I could feel them building. The worship leader came over attentively to try to convey love, understanding and restoration to all involved, and I appreciated his sincere and appropriate effort. At some point very shortly thereafter I heard the pastor say the words, “No discipline.” I was calmly incredulous! I reiterated in a questioning tone, “No discipline?” I spoke kindly, respectfully yet firmly to the man whose authority I was under and said, “We’re not talking about rules. We’re talking about behavior, conduct, integrity and character.” After a few more brief exchanges by others including the boys, someone prayed as we all agreed to do, and my wife and I went home.

After arriving at our house, talking and praying a good bit over the next few days, my wife didn’t want to go back. After all, she might be a little hypersensitive to the lack of respect and the unforeseen outburst since she’s a teacher by profession. She and her colleagues get this lack of respect, to one degree or another, on an unfortunately frequent basis at school. She, rightly so, expected better at church. I, on the other hand, wanted to return if only for the ministry we had been given and entrusted with, for the sake of all the other young people, and to at least share one more teaching the Father had put on my heart. And I did.

After what turned out to be my (and our) last Sunday there—the Sunday after the incident—and after continued examination of ourselves, the situation and probably not enough prayer, we decided we wouldn’t be returning. It wasn’t out of emotions, bad relations, bitterness or anything like that, though. My earnest and biblical assessment of it all forced me to ask this question: “If we are to be under this man’s authority, yet he embraces “love” and dismisses discipline, and doesn’t understand, teach or model this dual doctrine (love and discipline) as taught all throughout scripture, especially in Proverbs and in Hebrews 12 and by the Father Himself, then we can’t remain. The line of authority and headship vertically is God, over the pastor, over us, in perfect alignment. But the pastor, in passively ignoring or misappropriating the doctrine has moved himself to the left or to the right, and has created a misalignment. And so we departed. We didn’t want to but couldn’t, in good conscience, continue to be led and fed by and place ourselves under the authority of someone who didn’t believe, and so act, in accordance with a fundamentally, biblically-sound thread of doctrine and teaching, no matter how good our relationship was otherwise. It was even our friend (our pastor) who texted me, alluding to Amos 3:3 in the midst of this, although that did not play a factor in our decision. Rather, we just thought of it as him revealing his heart. There is no ill will or animosity, just an important enough difference—not of opinion—but of belief and ideology, to separate from one another. We love them and pray the Lord will take the veil off his understanding, as we all our growing and maturing until Jesus’ return.

And so, as a result, I perceived the Spirit of God leading me to take the very appropriate step to seek Him and to study further and extensively on the issues of Love and of Discipline. What follows are my results, solely from God’s Word. There was no eisegesis involved. That is when, I have learned, “a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text” in order to prove or validate their own personal beliefs, understanding or agenda. Let’s dive in! (A note: the numbers in parentheses are the Strong’s references to either the Hebrew or Greek so that we know for certain what the meanings of these words are in their original languages.)

Hebrews 12: 5-11 tells us this, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline (3809) of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved (1651) by Him. For the Lord disciplines (3811) the one He loves, and chastises (3146) every son whom He receives (3858). It is for discipline (3809) that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (5207). For what son is there whom his father does not discipline (3811)? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate (3541) children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected (1788) them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined (3811) us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines (3811) us for our good, that we may share His holiness (41). For the moment, all discipline (3809) seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Job 5: 17 “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves, therefore despise not the discipline (4148) of the Almighty.”

Psalm 94: 12-13 “Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord, and whom You teach out of Your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.”

Proverbs 3: 11-12 “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline (4148) or be weary of His reproof (8433b), for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 12: 1 “Whoever loves discipline (4148) loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof (8433b) is stupid (1198).”

*** PROVERBS 13: 24 *** “Whoever spares the rod (7626) hates (8130) his son, but he who loves (157) him is diligent to discipline him.

Proverbs 23: 13-14Do not withhold discipline (4148) from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 29: 17Discipline your son, and he will give you rest…he will give delight (4524 or 4574) to your heart.”

Proverbs 13: 1A wise son hears his father’s discipline (4148), but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (1606).

Proverbs 6: 23 “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs (8433b) of discipline (4148) are the way of life (2425b).”

2 Timothy 3: 16 “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching (1319), for reproof (1649a), for correction (1882) and for training (3809) in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

THE VERY WORDS OF JESUS CHRIST, OUR LORD…
Revelation 3: 19 “Those whom I love (5368), I reprove (1651) and discipline (3811), so be zealous and repent.”

All the relevant, pertinent and Spirit-chosen terms the Bible uses– which are forms of or related to what is known as scriptural DISCIPLINE in both the Old and New Testaments—are defined this way:

DISCIPLINE (3809), NT= to chasten or instruct
REPROVE (1651), NT= to convict, expose, fault, rebuke
ILLEGITIMATE (3541) NT= bastard, base-born (of low birth or origin), born out of lawful wedlock, shameful, not lawfully recognized (this word is not a form of discipline, BUT is important because the verse it is taken from uses it to tell us that if the Lord does not love us, He will not discipline us and we are considered as unlawful, unrecognized, lowly born children)
HOLINESS (41), NT= ultimate purpose for discipline
RIGHTEOUSNESS (1343), NT= meeting the demands of God’s law, being acceptable to God in every way, justification/ being made right with God
DISCIPLINE (4148), NT= correction, instruction
REPROOF (8433B), NT= rebuke (to scold in a sharp way), to express disapproval of, to reprimand
REPROVE (3198), NT= to disciple, to reason, to rebuke
STUPID (1198), OT= brutish (like an animal, savage), foolish, senseless, unwise, silly, ridiculous
ROD (2626), OT= staff, stick, scepter (weapon or instrument of bodily punishment) borne by someone in authority
HATES (8130), OT= to have great animosity (hostility, strong-dislike) or ill-will against a person, one who is against God, dislikes all manner of good
LOVES (157), OT= love for a son, family in particular, for discipline and knowledge
DELIGHT (4574), OT= delicacy, to take or give great pleasure in, dainty (meaning delicious and choice- of special excellence)
REPENT (3340), NT= turning from one’s sin, having/ making a change of mind, bear fruit or evidence in doing so, do it voluntarily (no coercion)

REGARDING THE LORD’S WORDS…
LOVE/ phileo (5368), NT= kiss, love, strong desire to act and express affection to, chasten
REPROVE (1651), NT= convict, expose, fault, rebuke, to express disapproval of, not to be silent
DISCIPLINE (3811), NT= chasten, scourge, to punish as to correct, to restrain or subdue
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Now I’d like to stay on the same subject, but alter our course so as to show you something that the Father–in His perfect love for us– has designed and created in order for us to not have to experience DISCIPLINE. But because none of us have followed or obeyed, the love that is expressed in discipline that is necessary for and leads to holiness is a tool He uses to communicate to us.

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Notice below that the words in capital letters are emphasized that way to show you where the words in the verses relate directly to limits and boundaries.

[Boundaries in Nature/ Creation] In Job 38: 8-11, the Lord says to him concerning nature, “or who SHUT IN THE SEA with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its GARMENTS and thick darkness its SWADDLING BAND, and prescribed LIMITS for it and set BARS AND DOORS, and said, ‘THUS FAR SHALL YOU COME AND NO FARTHER, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?’”

[Boundaries in the Spiritual Realm] John 10: 1-2 describes an enclosure like this, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the SHEEPFOLD by the DOOR but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the DOOR is the shepherd of the sheep.”

[Boundaries in the Physical Realm] Genesis 1: 9-10 tells us, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be GATHERED TOGETHER into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the waters that were GATHERED TOGETHER He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”

[Protective Boundaries] Revelation 21: 10-14 puts specific measurements and details in place to ensure our safety, “And He carried me off in the Spirit to a great high mountain, and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like almost rare jewels, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had A GREAT, HIGH WALL, WITH TWELVE GATES and at the gates TWELVE ANGELS, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the WALL of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

[Specific and Corporate Boundaries] Revelation 12: 15-17 gives these details, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. THE CITY LIES FOURSQUARE; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 STADIA. ITS LENGTH AND WIDTH AND HEIGHT ARE EQUAL. HE ALSO MEASURED ITS WALL, 144 CUBITS by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.”

[Romantic Boundaries] Song of Solomon 8: 4 warns, “Young women of Jerusalem, I charge you, DO NOT STIR UP OR AWAKEN LOVE UNTIL THE APPROPRIATE TIME.”

[Eternal Boundaries] Luke 16: 26 declares, “And besides all this, between us and you A GREAT CHASM HAS BEEN SET IN PLACE, so that THOSE WHO WANT TO GO FROM HERE TO YOU CANNOT, NOR CAN ANYONE CROSS OVER FROM THERE TO US.”

[Permanent, Relational, Heavenly Boundaries] Matthew 25: 10-12 stipulates, “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins WHO WERE READY WENT IN WITH HIM to the wedding banquet, and THE DOOR WAS SHUT.’ Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord’ they said, ‘OPEN THE DOORS FOR US!’ But He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’”

[Financial Boundaries] Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be DEVOTED TO THE ONE and DESPISE THE OTHER. You cannot serve God and money.”

In His omniscience, holiness, love, justice and authority, Almighty God knows boundaries, limits and restrictions are necessary and beneficial for a host of reasons. As listed in the previous scripture references, some are geographical, some are interpersonal, some are romantic and sexual, some are for physical protection and sovereignty, and many are spiritual. But all are necessary, good and proper. As we saw back in Genesis 3, the very first fruits of the free, human race were given limits and they, with their wayward proclivities, could not contain themselves or muster enough self-control (or trust!) to remain within their proper positions. So the need for discipline in all its forms is healthy, nurturing, loving and beneficial (profitable, valuable, advantageous, rewarding, gainful). Discipline is at its core, and should be seen as, fundamental to our well-being. The foolish despise and reject it, while the wise receive, embrace and heed it.

So since the Lord has connected discipline to limits and boundaries, what is His motive? What is the intention of the Father’s heart towards His creation, towards His children (humanity) and towards His sons and daughters (those who have been saved and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ the Messiah, those who will inherit eternal life)? It is His love! Yes, even judgment as nations encounter on earth for their sins, is a grand form of discipline and, therefore, love. Consider these words from Ezekiel 18: 29-32 which get straight to the point, “Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are My ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.’”

All forms of discipline have embedded in them the implicit aim of getting us to change course from where we are (off course and away from the Lord) to where we should be (back to the waiting, loving, forgiving, merciful arms of our heavenly Father and Creator). Almighty God will employ whatever means are requisite, whether subtle or harsh, in order to save us—in a temporal situation/ circumstance or, especially, in a manner which has eternity and the salvation of our souls in view! This is why Hebrews 12: 6 relates, in essence, that not to exercise discipline is actually unloving. In other words, if I don’t love you, I don’t care about you or what happens to you, so I’ll let you do whatever you want; it’s tantamount to apathy. Conversely, the Lord Jesus Christ will allow inconvenient, bothersome, difficult and even painful experiences to find their way into our lives in order to bring us into, or keep us within, the safe, secure and nurturing boundaries of the sheepfold. Adding an extremely personal touch and exclamation point to this lesson is His willingness and obedience to the Father’s plan of redemption through His own sacrifice for us. John 15:13 exclaims, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This, the Savior did.

Hebrews 12: 4 emphasizes, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” as Jesus Christ did for you. But what are the purposes and benefits of discipline to which we are to submit ourselves? What is the Father doing in us in order to bring about the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”?

CHASTENING = scolding sharply (Hebrews 12:6)
INSTRUCTION = teaching (Ephesians 6:4, 1 Corinthians 10:11, Proverbs 10:17)
CONVICTION = outward declaration of or inner sensitivity to sin, guilt, defilement (John 15:7-8, 1 Corinthians 5:12)
EXPOSITION = writing or speaking in a way that illuminates or explains (Ephesians 5:11-13, John 3:1-20)
REBUKING = scolding sharply, reprimanding (Proverbs 13:1)
LEARNING = acquiring of knowledge (Proverbs 1:2-5)
CORRECTION = action taken to reverse a mistake or a fault (2 Timothy 3:16)
REPRIMANDING = rebuking severely or formally (1 Timothy 5:20, Proverbs 29:15, 17:10, Matthew 16:23)
REPROOF = expressing disapproval of something said or done (Job 5:17, Proverbs 3:11-12, Revelation 3:19, 12:1)
REASONING = thinking logically, drawing conclusions, analyzing, explaining (Isaiah 1:18-20, James 3:13-18, emphasis on 17)
TRAINING = guiding the mental, spiritual, moral development of; instruction (2 Timothy 3:16)
TEACHING = holding discourse, instilling doctrine, expounding upon something, to present and explain systematically and in detail, to elucidate or clarify something (Colossians 3:16, Acts 15:1-2, Hebrews 8:10)

And what does the Word of God tell us about itself in 2 Timothy 3:16, which was referred to more than once above? “ALL SCRIPTURE is breathed out by God and is profitable for TEACHING, for REPROOF, for CORRECTION, and for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.” This seems to suggest that, in one sense, the whole of God’s Word is about love/ discipline. Unfortunately, we equate discipline with punishment or restriction and so we view it as negative. Rather, discipline is a good thing, a necessary thing and an extremely loving thing. We need to change our perspective. Casting off discipline in the names of love and grace is neither, nor is it biblical or godly.

Since delving into all of this and being taught by Holy Spirit, the Word of God gives these seemingly harsh ways of instilling discipline into a brother or sister (Christian) which are actually very apt and biblical manners exhorted by the first century church, spearheaded by Paul himself. Our culture now, even in many local church bodies, has gone soft and weak, being deceived in our minds into thinking that we need to tolerate (accept, put up with) virtually any speech or behavior, especially that which runs counter to Truth. Has the pendulum of the Lord Jesus’ ways swung to the left or to the right? No. He and His ways are perfect and complete. They do not need to change. “He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” So it is man and his thoughts and ways that have migrated from east to west and from north to south. We don’t need to walk on eggshells in fear of offending someone, especially those in the church—though we do want and need to be loving and gracious in our hearts toward others. Remember, the Father says love is the motivation for discipline, correction, teaching, rebuking, etc. and these are the tools that bring us back to Him. To not say anything is, really, to be unloving because it shows we are not doing anything to keep another from stumbling and making huge mistakes. Take into very thoughtful consideration these examples that the Apostle Paul uses to teach the church.

The Lord JESUS Himself says in Matthew 18:15-17, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” Can you imagine any church today actually obeying and employing even the first, let alone all, of these four Christ-commanded lessons? If we did, and with the right motive, our churches would be healthy and deep and strong, instead of ill and shallow and weak.

The three-time missionary Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother (Christian) if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. PURGE THE EVIL PERSON FROM AMONG YOU.” Pretty straight and to the point. He doesn’t mince words. It sounds quite unloving, though. Is the apostle being excessively harsh? No. He is writing under the direct, unfiltered influence of Holy Spirit. But we must consider the context, of course. Verses 1-2 tell us that not only were some Corinthian believers committing sexual immorality (red flag for any disciple!), but it was “of a kind that is not even tolerated among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? LET HIM WHO HAS DONE THIS BE REMOVED FROM AMONG YOU.” So you see that excessive sin is dealt with promptly and effectively. 1 Peter 1: 14-16, James 1:27 and Ephesians 5:27 all deal with the theme of holiness. We bear the name of Christ, and we are His ambassadors and priests. Such behavior is intolerable.

Our brother Paul a few verses earlier again rebukes in 1 Corinthians 5: 3-5, “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, WITH THE POWER OF THE LORD JESUS, YOU ARE TO DELIVER THIS MAN TO SATAN, FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF HIS FLESH, SO THAT HIS SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED in the day of the Lord.” Again and emphatically, discipline for the sake of redemption, restoration and regeneration. The motive is love.

Paul writes this letter to Titus (1:7-9), leaving him instructions on how to further establish the church in Crete. He issues these specific instructions. “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain. But hospitable, a lover of good, SELF-CONTROLLED, upright, HOLY, and DISCIPLINED. He must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught, SO THAT HE MAY BE ABLE TO GIVE INSTRUCTION in sound doctrine and also TO REBUKE THOSE WHO CONTRADICT IT.” The apostle is giving counsel to his younger brother in the Lord as to how to set up and properly preside over a new and budding church on the island belonging to present-day Greece. Notice the familiar attributes of being self-controlled (personal discipline), being able to give instruction (another form of discipline that we mentioned earlier) and being able to rebuke (yet another of the types of discipline we covered previously). These are all given and carried out with the love and consistency of the Father’s words and examples from Genesis 3 all the way through Revelation 3.

I want to leave you with a couple of well-chosen phrases that capture the essence of our reasons for covering this together…“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And… “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” UNTIL NEXT TIME, GOD BLESS YOU AND THANKS!

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A Fresh Perspective on Fairness

If your mother knew taking drugs was against the law and bad for her, yet decided to take them anyway (like Eve in the Garden) while she was pregnant with you, you would suffer some effects from that also, even before she gave birth to you. Genesis 2: 16-17 and 3: 1-6 parallel this scenario saying, “And the LORD God commanded the man (and the woman) saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. “He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Before you were even brought into this world, you would be suffering from the effects of her decision. It was passed on to you. Psalm 51: 5 testifies to this through King David in this way, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”

Then you, still under its power and not being able to get out from under it by yourself, pass it on to your children. The one person’s act of disobedience ruins it for all who come after. It’s a kind of inheritance, a bad one. Romans 5: 18-19 shares the truth with these words, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Now, your first reaction after hearing this scripture might be like mine once was: “That doesn’t seem fair. Why did I and everybody else receive a death sentence because of what Adam did?” That’s a natural question, I suppose. There’s a two-part answer to that.

The first part is that, as humans, we are each unique to be sure, but we share a common nature; our essence is the same at its core. By that, I mean we are sinful and finite beings. We are limited in our thinking, understanding, power and abilities. We look to please ourselves first and others second. And all that we perceive with our senses – and certainly our minds – is focused primarily on us as individuals. We are capable of more on occasion depending on our motivations, but we are self-centered creatures. And because of this shared trait, it is fair and honest to say that, if put in Adam’s or Eve’s shoes, we would do the same thing.

The second part you might find interesting. You should agree even if you have never considered this before, but we have a skewed vision of what “fair” means. Ponder this. When we have something taken away from us that was never truly ours to begin with (although we may have gotten used to having it or wrongly think that it does belong to us), we are quick to cry “foul!” Conversely, when something, especially of value, is given to us that we didn’t earn, don’t deserve but that benefits us, do we then speak up and rightly say “unfair!”? Of course not. We humans are shockingly duplicitous and naïvely blind in this regard.

An excellent, apt, practical and surprisingly relevant case-in-point is found (not surprisingly) in the Bible. Matthew chapter 20, verses 1 through 15 say, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius (a day’s wages) , he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius (a full day’s pay). Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” You, like I once did, might see this situation exactly like the all-day workers did and, again, say “that’s not fair.” Why? Because you feel they were gypped. They, in essence, reacted as though something had been taken away from them. They expected more even when they were paid what they agreed to from the very beginning. But if they had been in the place of the other men who only worked one hour and got compensated for a whole day’s work, do you think they – or YOU – would say “unfair” now? Not likely. Why? Because it benefited you! There’s that ugly, self-centeredness popping up again. If I don’t deserve it but it helps me get what I want, cool. But if I know I don’t deserve it, and I perceive it hurts me, then it’s uncool.

In light of this, we know that Jesus Christ willingly died an excruciating death on a cross. Even if you’re not a Christian, I’m almost sure you’ve heard it said- maybe even to you, personally- that “Jesus died for your sins.” Did that mean anything to you? Did you understand it? Did you care? Or did you brush it off and go on with your life?

You see, God is life and He is the Creator of all things. He alone can give life (what belongs to Him) and He alone can give that life to what He creates. He gave life to both Adam and Eve. Sin separates us from God. It puts a barrier between us (you) and Him. Why? Because Almighty God is holy, righteous, blameless, perfect and light. There is no darkness in Him at all. Everything He is and does is just and good and right. When we disobey Him, and His perfect and loving commands, we commit evil, wickedness and sin. We show by our actions that we are imperfect. Since He is pure and we are impure, the two cannot dwell together. Nothing sinful can be joined to what is Holy. The Lord God still loves His creation, but we are forced to die. Die? Why? Remember earlier I said that God is life? He is our oxygen and blood. We need Him for life every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year. He sustains us. Since He alone is life and the source of it, when we are disconnected from Him through sin, the natural (and supernatural) result of that is death, both physically and spiritually. Since we are born in sin, we begin dying the moment we are born.

Now, the Lord God is also a Judge. He makes the perfect laws that govern the universe and gives us His laws to show us the limits and boundaries we must remain within in order to be secure and provided for. When we disobey, we step outside of those protective walls and open ourselves up to judgment, to accountability. In the natural world we have laws, imperfect as some are because they are established and enforced by imperfect men, we must obey. When we choose to disobey them, we open ourselves up to judgment also. If you choose to steal from Walmart, hit someone with your car and flee the scene, sell or take illegal drugs, etc. we may get caught and go to jail; a different kind of limit and boundary that we definitely don’t want. But our own actions landed us there. Then we have a court date and the evidence against us is presented to the judge. He finds you guilty and hands down your sentence.
He doesn’t love you. God does. God is a just judge. If you die in your sins and face judgment, He will rule based on the evidence of your life actions. You are imperfect and sinful. He will have no choice but to pronounce you guilty.

However, because He does love you and with a steadfast and faithful and pure love, and because He loves mercy above justice, He devises a rescue plan. He is love. He is also just. He can’t be prejudiced and choose one over the other. That would be to deny who He is. He has to stay true to Himself. This means His plan has to include justice AND mercy. How does that happen? Can I die for the consequences of my sin and yet, somehow, still live? No. BUT, a perfect and willing sacrifice can accomplish both. Who or what is this amazing solution? God Himself in the form of Jesus Christ! Jesus willingly died for YOUR sins, my sins and the sins of the entire world. He willingly suffered and died in our place and satisfied the perfect demands of the Lord’s holy justice. But because He is also God, and because He is life, and because He is all-powerful, death had no lasting power over Him. He was resurrected and rose from the very temporary grave in glory!

Many people may understand His atoning sacrifice, even if they can’t fully appreciate it. They can know and realize that He paid the price they should have, but could never do. They are cognizant of the fact that the Savior satisfied and erased their sin debt before the Father. But what I’m convinced they aren’t aware of is His PROPITIATION. What is this term and why is it so important? To me, this is what brings me to my knees in gratitude. This is what shows me how high the stakes really are. This is what makes me tremble before His holiness. This is what helps me to realize the true depth of His love for me and the value He puts on me and that He does not take my eternal soul for granted. I certainly should not!

Propitiation is a word we should never forget or trivialize. You see, Father God is SO holy and SO pure and SO righteous that sin of any kind is an affront to Him. It is darkness, while He is light. It is wicked, while He is blameless and morally perfect. It drives an impenetrable wedge between us and Him, while He created us to have a permanent, intimate relationship with Him forever. It brings forth death, while He is the Author of life itself. Because of all this, wrath is stored up against all unrighteousness, all ungodliness and those whose lives are marked by it, the conscious choices they have made against Him and His perfect ways. That wrath, like a long-restrained volcano ready to spew its previously-dormant magma, was poured out on His perfect Son for all the past, present and future sins of all mankind! That’s what Jesus Christ agonizingly and humiliatingly, but willingly and obediently, endured while nailed to that Cross on Calvary! We don’t know and can’t comprehend this kind of love. Holy, sacrificial and perfect love. Most of those who were there to watch the spectacle, including the soldiers who inflicted the cruelty upon Him, taunted Him and mocked Him and totally misunderstood His purposeful silence and submission. They thought Him weak and a fraud saying, “You saved others, but You can’t save Yourself!” What they were clueless to was the fact that He came to the earth from Heaven in order to die. He came to save us from our sins. He came for the very purpose He was then fulfilling in their presence. God’s just and holy wrath against sin and, therefore, against us who choose it and reject Him, was poured out on His sinless and righteous self, made manifest in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Knowing this now, how in the world can we not run, sprint and race to Him to confess our wrongs- which He is already fully aware of- and ask forgiveness – that He has already provided for – and turn (repent in our minds and hearts) AWAY from our lives of sin and self-centeredness, and TO Him in gratitude and servitude to become new creations in Him? He gives us new hearts. He makes us hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He gives us peace and joy and washes us clean by the blood He shed on the Cross. It is this one thing we do while we still have breath that will determine our eternal dwelling place- in Heaven with Him or in Hell without Him. What will you choose? Now is the time, and today is the day, of salvation.

Now I’ll expound upon this a little. Yesterday when I typed this in order to later post it, I thought that was it. But, this morning at work and for a brief few minutes, the Lord brought this concept of fairness, and the disparity between His view and our view of it, to mind. The Holy Spirit focused my attention on the book of Job. Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1 describe his life this way, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters.” If we read on, especially in verses 13-19, we find out that some of his servants were killed. Before the messenger could finish telling him this, another man came and informed him more of his servants were killed along with his sheep. Before he finished relaying that message, another man gave him the overwhelming news that his camels had been struck down. And the worst news came as the previous person was still speaking, tragically reporting that all of his sons and daughters were now dead. How does Job, the man of God, respond to this despite his grief? Verses 20-21 declare, “Job arose and…fell on the ground and worshiped…and said…’The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’” Wow! What trust he had in his, and our, God! His love and devotion did not depend on what the Father did or did not do for him, but rather who the Lord God Almighty is. How did his wife take the news? Verse 9 reveals her grief, yes, but also her shallow or lack of a relationship with her Creator. She exclaims, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”

What just went through your mind and heart as you read this segmented account? Were you thinking how unfair, in your eyes, the Lord God is? Would you have reacted with harsh and hurtful words towards the one you love the most in this life, your spouse, even in the midst of their despair? If you were allowing your emotions to rob you of your knowledge and experience of God’s faithful and steadfast character, you would most probably not be alone. That is quite human and mirrors the hearts of the laborers in the vineyard we read about earlier. But let me point out something very important here. Job was not being punished by the Lord. Father God, in His own perfect assessment of Job, described him as “blameless and upright.” I mention this because I imagine you may be saying to yourself how unfair it is for God to have rewarded Job’s devotion by killing off his livestock, employees and children– ALL of them and all on the same day and at virtually the same time.

To unpack this a little bit and explain why I can say with confidence how off-kilter our perceptions on fairness can be as sinful, imperfect human beings, the Word of God provides some reasoning in verses 4- 5. “His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, JOB WOULD SEND AND CONSECRATE THEM, and he would rise early in the morning and OFFER BURNT OFFERINGS according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘IT MAY BE THAT MY CHILDREN HAVE SINNED AND CURSED GOD IN THEIR HEARTS.’ Thus JOB DID CONTINUALLY.” There’s a lot here to seriously consider. We can summarize their hearts and lifestyles by the visible fruit in their lives, and in the fruit their Father displayed on their behalf. He consecrated them. The best meaning of this verb in the original Hebrew is to purify. Purification is an act performed on something or someone who is impure and in need of cleansing. Next, it says, he made offerings for them. We know from scripture this represents a typically priestly duty done as an intercessory service for those who have sinned. Further, as any parent can readily observe their children’s behavior- whether younger or older, child or adult- they know their hearts, desires, activities and speech well enough to be concerned with and prayerful over them. Lastly, and perhaps most problematic, their father had to do this continually because this was their habitual practice. And because the Lord doesn’t change and the Word describes (and the believer can attest to) Him as being “longsuffering,” “rich in mercy” and “abundant in lovingkindness,” we have the full assurance that their consequences matched their iniquity in timeliness and degree. It is also a sobering reminder for Christians, and all of us, that the effects of the actions of those in our close proximity physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally and otherwise are not felt in a bubble. We are often affected, to varying degrees, by the decisions, words and deeds of others. Concisely, Job suffered because of his children’s transgressions. He didn’t travail unfairly as a direct ramification of his integrity and obedience, but rather as a close ripple effect of his sons’ and daughters’ waywardness. Just as a bad photocopy, a blurry scan, or an illegible fax is to the pristine original so is, or worse, our sin-stained perception of Jehovah’s flawless, excellent and absolute model of fairness.

Grace, wisdom and discernment be yours as you seek Him with all your heart.

“Go Tell it on the Mountain!”

Good morning brothers and sisters in the Lord and friends who are yet to have that saving, grace-filled relationship with our Creator! This morning while still in bed but awake, I heard plain as day in my heart, “Isaiah 44:10.” I got up immediately to see and read what the Father had to say to me. This verse asks the unrepentant and the wayward Christian, “Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?”

The Word tells us in the New Testament that in the end times (in which we now live), there will be false Christs. Idols. Things or people that take the place of the One and only Living God. Does a false Christ mean someone claiming to be the Messiah? There have been those, yes. In different countries there have actually been men saying they are Jesus Christ. Obviously, they are wrong and misleading. Notice again in the beginning of verse 10, Isaiah specifically uses the word “fashion.” Here it is a verb and it means to make, to craft, to form. As much as it refers to statues, amulets and things made of rock, wood or metal, what the Spirit is revealing to us- urgently- today is that we have the ability to fashion with our minds. What do I mean? Have you read the Bible? Do you now? If so, do you do it regularly?

If not, you have probably, to some degree, fashioned an idea or impression of God that is altogether wrong or incomplete. Having only bits of truth to work with, you fashion a version of the Lord which is a misrepresentation…to yourself and, perhaps, to others. On a more dangerous note, we choose to create, form, cast or fashion a god who we WANT to believe in or who we find more comfortable to have faith in. That is a false god and a false Christ as well. For instance, if you are attracted to someone and romantically interested in them, but don’t know them very well yet or even not at all, your desires begin to fill in the gaps. You are fashioning a lover, a “soulmate,” a future husband or wife. You are imagining an ideal according to your wishes, likes, hopes, lifestyle, etc. before even taking the the time to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them and forming a relationship of any valid or worthwhile sort. If you don’t take the time to seek Jesus Christ through His self-revealing Word, the Holy Bible, any image you have of Him is false. The fact that the Creator and God of the universe made you, knows everything about you and still, though you are estranged from Him through sin, chose to voluntarily die a horrible death for the sins you have committed, do commit and will commit so that you could KNOW Him in a way that gives you restoration and redemption, should speak volumes of His love for you.

At the same time, there is a cost associated with this relationship. He is your Lord. He is your Master. We must decrease, He must increase. In fact, we must die to ourselves. He must be preeminent in our lives. And not just one area, but all areas. After all, He is God and deserves nothing less. Heaven is His throne and the earth is but His footstool. We must not fashion a god for ourselves, whether it is a fat-bellied Buddha, a wrong belief system of merit based on good and bad works, an emergent doctrine that says that love and grace are the pillars of eternal life while leaving out the fundamental issue of sin, a worldview of atheism (the lie that there is no God to whom we must one day give an account) the worldview of agnosticism (the lie that God cannot be known for sure), nor whatever non-convicting, comfortable god we have fashioned for ourselves which profits us nothing and will ultimately cost us everything. This past week, the Father has made His will abundantly known through song, through Christmas card message, through His Word, etc. to “Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!” A mountain is a venue for making many people aware of something, not just one. That is why I am sharing this message. Out of obedience and on the eve of celebrating the Savior’s coming into the world. CHRISTmas! Please take the message to heart. Do some honest self-evaluating. Give yourself a present for Christmas. Rather, receive the one He gave you. Today is the day of salvation.

“It Doesn’t Say That”: Deductive Reasoning and the Bible

I want to share something with you that the Lord showed to me and the more He taught me, the more excited I got! I immediately knew it was meant for me to teach to our group of 14-23 year-olds we shepherd at our church. While I don’t have the use of a chalkboard to help me illustrate this as I did to them a few weeks ago, I will do my best to illustrate this awesome crash course in relevant and paramount apologetics. My earnest hope is that it will stimulate you, give you confidence and solidify your faith in the process as it did me.

Many times people will argue that something isn’t true because it isn’t explicitly stated in certain verbiage. They often do this with the Bible and use this as proof of its supposed unreliability. But this line of thinking is unsound and incorrect. In support of biblical truth, we know from other facts found throughout scripture that they are, in fact, true. Let me connect some dots for you and you will be able to do as the Word exhorts us to do, “…Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).

Have you ever heard of what is called “Deductive Reasoning?” Even if you are unfamiliar with the terminology, you do this frequently. The verb “deduce” means to arrive at an answer or conclusion by putting different pieces of information together. It is an unbiased, fair and logical process and it is used in many professions and areas of life, some more complex than others. For example, in mathematics we can say: If 3 + 1 = 4, and we know that 3 + 1 is the same as (=) 1 + 3, then we can state with confidence that 1 + 3 = 4 as well.

What is a Pronoun? It renames or takes the place of another Noun. Remember this as we will refer back to it a little later. For those of you who didn’t like English or Grammar class and were one of those who asked themselves, “When will I ever use this later in life?” Well, today you’ll find the answer, and it’s an integral part of an important lesson.

Deductive Reasoning is taking pieces of known information and fitting them together to arrive at a conclusion which is not stated obviously or not known previously, by some or many, to be true. Police do this when they are presented with pieces of evidence. As they follow where the evidence leads, they can verify some is true and keep it, while deleting what is false and, as they investigate further, pieces of evidence and testimonies from witnesses will allow them to find the ultimate truth of the matter.

As a wonderful example, Holy Spirit reminded me that the week prior we had three visiting teenagers that were related to one another and to one of the girls who regularly attends our special church that we hold upstairs. The two girls told us they and the two boys were all cousins. So, as I was preparing for our time together during the days leading up to it, I was given this practical and apt analogy. When we got together I said to the young people that if I gave Cindy, Valeria, Angel and Erwin an assignment to write a short biography about themselves and, in these papers, I read that Cindy and Valeria had each mentioned that they were related to Angel (with no mention of Erwin) and, in reading Erwin’s account, I learned that he said he was related to Angel (with no mention of the girls) I would be able to deduce from these pieces of information that Erwin, Cindy and Valeria were related also. I bet you already figured this out as well. How do we know this? Because if the girls are cousins with Angel and Erwin is cousins with Angel, we can know for certain that Erwin, Cindy and Valeria are cousins as well. Someone might doubt this because he never heard them say it, but we know from their testimonies—even what they leave out—that our reasoning is completely accurate and true. The Lord took me to school and I loved every bit of it!

Now let’s take this same approach to scripture in order to arrive at a true conclusion that we can prove from the Word at different places in the Bible. People who attempt to discredit God’s authoritative Word may say that the phrase “Jesus is God” is not in the Bible. They will assert that nowhere in the Bible is this phraseology found. And they would be correct. BUT, this thin slab of a foundation on which they hope to dismantle our faith is actually sinking sand. (Let us not forget that some people who genuinely seek proof for their fledgling faith and those who are simply seeking answers before committing their lives to Jesus Christ’s lordship are not wrong to do so, nor are we to assume their motives are wrong either. I say this because it’s so easy to get in “defense mode” rather than remain in the love we have been called to). Okay, read on and bear in mind this is a very pertinent application of Ephesians 6: 10-20.

I like to read and suggest to others that they begin to read the Word in Genesis. However, many suggest the Gospel of John. Beginning in the beginning is always better; it is where the Lord started and it introduces the reader to the sin problem which is at the core of the Gospel message. However, John is a very good place too, especially if all they have is a New Testament to read from. In verses 1-4, it packs quite an informational punch saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Question: What facts do we know or can we glean from this passage?

• The WORD was in the beginning
• The WORD was with God (in the beginning)
• The WORD was God
• All things were made through HIM
• Nothing that has been made was made without HIM
• LIFE was in HIM
• This LIFE was the light of men

Question: From these facts alone, what other unwritten, indirect facts can also be known correctly through deduction and logical, truthful reasoning (about the “word”)?

• That the “word” is masculine (The word is referred to as “him” in verse 2)
• That this same “him” made and created the world and everything in it (verse 3)
• That the “word” was/ is “life” (verse 4)
• That the “word”, this same “him,” was/ is the light of men (verse 4)

Now jump down a short way to verses 6-8 which relate, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John (the Baptist). He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through “him.” He (John) was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

Question: After reading these facts, these pieces of information, we can put them together with the other facts we have just read and can know from truthful deduction (putting pieces of information together to arrive at a conclusion), what else that is not specifically written or told here?

• Since John came to bear witness about the light (verse 7), and verse 4 says that the life was the “light” of men, then John came to bear witness about LIFE.
• Since verse 8 tells us that John is not the light, then we know that John was not LIFE either.

John 1:14 says, “And the “word” became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen HIS glory…”

John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Question: Who is speaking here, in the latter verse? JESUS.

Question: How do we know this? The beginning of verse 6 says, “JESUS said to him…”

*** Since John 14:6 says “Jesus is the LIFE”, and John 1:4 says that “in him was LIFE,” we now know that LIFE is in Jesus and the “him” referred to in verses 3-4 (2 times) also refers to Jesus.***

Verse 1 mentions: 1) The “word” was IN THE BEGINNING, 2) The “word” was WITH GOD and 3) The “word” WAS/ IS GOD.

Now to come back to what was briefly foreshadowed near the beginning– the term “Pronoun.” What is it and what does it do? It is a Noun that renames or takes the place of another noun. For example, if I write or say “Steve loves sports. HE is on the basketball, football and soccer teams.” We know that HE refers back to Steve. So, when verse 1 (John chapter 1) says “the word” three times and verse 2 (again John chapter 1) says “he,” this same “he” refers to, takes the place of and is the same as THE WORD.

Verse 4 tells us that “in HIM was life” (still referring to the “word”). John 14:6 (again) reveals that “Jesus is LIFE.”

*** Now we know that since Jesus called Himself “the LIFE” in chapter 14, verse 6 and that it points out in chapter 1, verse 4 that “in Him was LIFE,” we can easily and forthrightly conclude and deduce that this “him” is talking about Jesus. And since we know that the pronoun “him” in chapter 1, verses 3-4 and the pronoun “he” in chapter 1, verse 2 refers to the “word,” we now know assuredly that JESUS IS THE WORD. They are one and the same. JESUS = THE WORD.***

Question: Since we now know that Jesus is the Word, then when chapter 1, verse 1 says the “word” a) WAS IN THE BEGINNING, b) WAS WITH GOD and c) WAS/ IS GOD, then what can we now deduce?

• That JESUS WAS IN THE BEGINNING
• That JESUS WAS WITH GOD
• That JESUS IS GOD

So, even if someone may say that the Bible doesn’t use the specific words “Jesus is God,” in those exact terms or together in the same sentence, we know definitively that these other scriptures– these other facts–show us it can be reasoned and deduced logically and intelligently that “JESUS CHRIST IS GOD!”

I hope you have been encouraged, strengthened, emboldened and are now equipped to share your faith, what you have already believed and confessed, to any true seekers, to any doubters or skeptics, to adamant opposition and even with your children and any saints you have fellowship with. This is a blessing to me and pray it is to you!

“WHY?!”… An Answer in a Time of Unimaginable Grief

In a less-than-ideal society and in a country not their own, a husband and wife end up in the same prison. Under the beneficence of the judge, they were even allowed to serve their sentence in the same cell. Because they loved each other so much and spent all of their time together, literally, the wife became overwhelmed with grief and sorrow when the husband was paroled. She didn’t know if or when she would see him again. To go from spending every day together, then suddenly being altogether separated was almost more than she could bear. Of course, not knowing how long she would remain there added to her frustration and fueled so many unanswered questions, primarily, “WHY?!” She felt as if he had been ripped away from her without warning, stoking the fires of isolation and disconsolation.

Not many days after, while on the visitation yard, a tender-hearted corrections officer who knew of her situation and who had also noticed the change in her appearance and behavior, approached her. The officer had barely finished uttering her words of sympathy and compassion when the wife cried almost hysterically and, in her desperation and loneliness, almost appeared to choke as she gasped the words, “Why?! Why?!” Not wanting to be perceived as patronizing, the officer held the woman’s hand, listened to her as she released her emotions and feelings, and even sat with her during her only break of the day; such was her concern for this virtual widow. After several minutes, as the parolee’s wife began to gradually become somewhat composed, the officer ventured an explanation she sincerely hoped would shine a new light on the woman’s situation, offer her hope, give her a different perspective and perhaps even to project some joy into her new friend’s heart.

As the guard’s compassionate eyes met the sorrowful, but almost expectant gaze of her audience of one, she gave her thoughts and convictions voice with these words:

“I know how much he meant to you. I saw how much you loved and cared for each other. I witnessed the laughter and familiarity and support you shared. Since he has gone, I’ve also watched as you have experienced senses of loss, grief, incredulity, anger and shock these last days—and I most certainly understand that, but let me ask you this. As much as you miss him, and as much more as you love him, and even as much as you would like to be with him again, would you really rather him be back here with you in this awful place—which would certainly make YOU happy and ease YOUR pain and suffering—or can you be glad for him that the good judge showed him mercy by freeing him from this prison once and for all? This is not for you to feel guilty, but to be happy for him in his freedom as you await your reunion.”

Of course what may have seemed, at first, to be a retelling of an actual sequence of events or, perhaps, you knew from the beginning it was fictional, doesn’t matter. So many times I have heard first- or second-hand of people who have lost dear, dear loved ones. The relationships differ. Sometimes they are husband and wife (newlyweds or covenantal veterans), sometimes it is with parents and children (from infant to adult), sometimes it is mentor and student, sometimes brother and sister, sometimes best friends, sometimes comrades in arms or another close relationship. One can sense the profound anguish in the shaking of someone’s voice and the words they employ to convey the all-too-fresh memories. As a result of these situations and real people reverberating in my heart and mind for a long time, I believe with all my heart and soul this is the word and the time Almighty God has chosen and given to me and to you to offer you, the hurting, confused, lonely and the upset a heavenly perspective and to give you consolation. While it may not make sense yet or fit every circumstance, it should when the cloud of gloom begins to lift.

When you are able and by the grace of God, rather than shake your proverbial fist at the Lord God Almighty, do one of two things (and I do NOT take these words lightly, nor are they flippantly written). First, consider in your moments of lucidity whether the one you lost made choices that led him or her to their seemingly premature passings, as we all bear at least some measure of responsibility for and by our actions. And second, the Bible is purposeful to show the immeasurable compassion of the Lord Jesus Christ in these words from Hebrew 2:17-18, “Therefore He HAD to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself [as a human] has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” And secondarily, but also importantly, is the possibility of us helping others down the road as 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 shares, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

In case you do not know your Creator, the God of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ the Lord of all salvation, he has paid the price for you. He has suffered in your place. Though God’s love for His creation is immense and He has made the Way of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation possible and available, it is up to us to acknowledge our need (confess) and accept His free gift (believe and trust in His promise). All too many reject it. It is His promises that are available to those who are His sons and daughters. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 speaks hope and faith to the repentant sinner, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”

Receive your consolation and comfort now in this life, but even more so for all of eternity. And when you do, share this hope with those closest to you so that they may have this full assurance and you will know, when one of you passes, that you will surely be reunited in Heaven. May God speak to your heart, your innermost being.

Is Baptism Necessary?

I know there are many believers that will answer “yes” to this question. I also know there are many who would answer “no.” I’m sure if I asked them why, I could see possible merit in both of their explanations. I’m also sure there are scriptural references they could use (and we would hope so) to back up their assertions or convictions. But, they can’t both be right. I have recently heard on the radio and elsewhere questions about different biblical topics and, many times, what I hear in response begins with “I think that…” or “I believe that…” Though the use of these verbs doesn’t necessarily invalidate their positions, it is indicative that these answers, or even opinions, aren’t authoritative. The Word of G-d IS authoritative; what I think, believe or reason isn’t. There is weight, power, jurisdiction, sovereignty, supremacy, finality and infallibility in that true authority. So without any preconceived mindsets (and possibly even strongholds) belying our examination, let’s see what the Bible has to say about this. And let’s at least allow the Spirit of G-d to teach us, if we are willing, to put our held beliefs behind us and to accept what He speaks to us—and that includes me!

When the Lord put this on my heart and mind, the actual scripture He gave me was our Lord Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s comment in Matthew 3: 13-15, “Then Jesus came to Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.”

Now, what jumped off the page at me when I read this, that the Father was drawing my attention to were the words, “…fitting…to fulfill all righteousness.” Since I want to be and to remain unbiased and transparent, my mind substituted the word “necessary” for “fitting” which many word-for-word translations use. Fitting is used by my ESV, the NASB, the Berean Bible and others. The Greek word here is PREPO, and it means “proper or suitable.” So for me to presumptuously insert or substitute the word necessary may be incorrect. However, since the original language uses proper, suitable and right—then “must” is really a better, implied English rendering. Since it is proper and suitable and right, it doesn’t actually leave the matter to choice. As part of our natural learning process, then, it is quite apt to ask, “Why is it proper? Why is it suitable? Why did our Lord, ultimately, come to His cousin to be baptized? Why was it done “to fulfill all righteousness”? To begin with, many preachers and teachers often over-simplify the act of baptism by calling it “an outward sign or expression, and public declaration” of the cleansing that takes place in our hearts when we confess our sins and turn to the Lord (see Matthew 3: 6). While this is certainly true in a very basic sense, it doesn’t do doctrine or the new believer justice to stop there. There is actually a lot more going on here that a seeker must be aware of before giving their committedness to the Lord Jesus Christ. When we look at the book of Colossians, chapter two and verse twelve, it emphasizes, “HAVING BEEN BURIED with Him IN BAPTISM…” And Romans 6: 3-4 says, “…Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH? We were BURIED therefore with Him BY BAPTISM UNTO DEATH?” So you see that baptism, in its truest sense, involves death and burial. It is no wonder that these two acts go hand-in-hand in the natural realm since they do primarily in the spiritual realm as well. We need to take our decisions for, and our commitments and devotion to, Christ the Lord, and our choices to get baptized seriously. An important exclamation point is Luke 3: 3 punctuating that John “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE for the forgiveness of sins.” So the Word of G-d tells us that in order to become born-again, forgiven, saved and transformed believers, and submitted and obedient disciples of the Messiah, we must confess our sins (acknowledge and take ownership of them), repent of them (have a conscious, personal and intentional change of heart and mind over our lives), die to ourselves and our ways (make Him- not us- Lord and Master) and be buried (nail the coffin shut and roll the stone over the tomb of our sinful nature) in order to be alive in Him and made new (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Please let all of this scriptural gold sink in.

My eyes were further opened as the Lord Jesus began revealing to me about the exchange that takes place between Him and me (as well as Him and each of you) during all of this. And this, to me, really gets to the heart of why He said that it is a must “…to fulfill all righteousness.” And FULFILL is another key word that plays a central role here. What does “fulfill” mean in this paramount passage? This time we look to the Greek word “PLEROO” which means “to make full, complete, amply supplied.” This certainly is purposefully used to imply that to not be baptized is to somehow be less than full, less than complete, insufficiently supplied.” To me, it speaks in a parallel manner to the disciples in Luke 24: 49, “And, behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The Lord is telling His followers that everything is not yet complete. A lot of preparation and instruction have been made and given, but had they gone in knowledge only—without power—it was still lacking. And when Jesus says to John, “it is fitting [for us] to fulfill all righteousness,” He is communicating that without the baptism (their metanoia and death and burial) their salvation was not yet perfect or complete.

Now, having read that, many of you may deem it almost scandalous or heretical. You may quickly retort with a ready reference to the thief on the cross. Let me take you on a brief, but relevant, sidebar. Probably close to two years ago as I was in a close-by neighborhood handing out some door-hangers about sin and grace, I met a man who seemed to be a believer, and we got to talking. He told me that he and his wife had been leading a cell church in their home and that it had recently grown to the point that they needed to, and were, meeting elsewhere. He even graciously and unexpectedly offered me the opportunity to join him in ministry there; he and I leading the church. I prayed and sought the Lord’s guidance and agreed to at least attend a service there. After that, I had my doubts but decided to meet him a couple of more times to study the Word together. During those two meetings– and no more– we found ourselves in polite yet firm disagreement over this very issue; more specifically, over water baptism. We agreed on the need for baptism, on the need for water baptism, but disagreed on the methodology and doctrine. It was a matter of conviction and our personal understanding of the scriptures. I had told him that on one occasion in prison ministry, G-d had spoken to and moved on an inmate’s heart and that this young man had surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus. Knowing that he should be baptized but that there was no baptistry there, nor was there any possibility of being immersed as Jesus had submitted to, I secured a cup of water and prayed as I gently poured its contents over his head. My new pastor friend – rather insistently, but kindly—asked me to produce the “chapter and verse” in the Bible which would authenticate my action. (I applaud his wanting to be scripturally accurate, and I share it.) Of course, I couldn’t in the way he all but demanded; yet I did ask him in return, “Would it have been better for me not to have baptized him at all?”

In another example, I told him of a more recent time where my wife and I had traveled to a newly-congregating group of seekers and believers in a small church a couple of hours south of us. That church was planted by some friends of ours, and they had blessed us by asking us to fill in for them that evening. We were excited! On this particular occasion, after the service and as we were getting ready to leave, a young man came up to us in the hallway and wanted to surrender his life to the prompting the Holy Spirit had given him (we had little, if not nothing, to do with it). We decided and explained to him that we were totally behind him and would pray for him, with him, and guide him (with his own words and in his own understanding), but that we would like our friends to have the honor of baptizing him. My aforementioned and new friend disagreed again. I explained to him that it was nearly nine at night, dark outside and that neither we nor the young man lived close-by or were familiar with that area. His serious but insisted response was that we should have driven around until we found a pond, a lake or other aptly-sized body of water in which to baptize this new brother-in-the-Lord. While I applaud his enthusiasm and tenacity, and don’t take the circumstances lightly at all, I don’t think that was the way to go then and there.

That brings me to a point that needs to be raised and addressed. We spoke of baptism being “fitting” and that it is needed to “fulfill all righteousness.” Yet we haven’t discussed righteousness and its part in this equation. First of all, what is meant by this all-important term? This time we’ll go to the Hebrew just to balance our understanding of the Bible’s two original languages. In the Old Testament, the word righteousness– which is used by G-d when He credited it to Abraham’s amazing faith—is the word TSEDAQAH. It signifies fairness, justice, what is right, acquittal, vindication and justification. These all speak to a change in a man’s or a woman’s standing before our holy and perfect Judge and G-d. It indicates one’s guilt being taken away and that he or she is now clean and free. The death sentence our sins had incurred have been paid for, satisfied by and suffered by another. Why is baptism necessary—or, rather, a must? Because if the righteousness belonging to Jesus Christ alone is to be imputed to us (which is necessary for our entry into the eternal kingdom of G-d), we must die to ourselves. Once again, we emphasize that baptism, at its core, involves both death and burial of the individual seeking true repentance and forgiveness. Two great and compelling truths of the Christian life are Galatians 2: 20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And that verse is inextricably linked with Luke 9:23 which says, “And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself’ (die) ‘and take up his cross’ (instrument of death) ‘daily and follow Me.’” In baptism we die; to ourselves, to our former ways of thinking, speaking and living. It is not symbolic. It is a purposeful, intentional decision and act. If Jesus did not take our sin (which we give Him when we die and make Him Lord of every area of our lives), we cannot receive His righteousness, our keys into G-d’s holy dwelling place. We must die in baptism in order to receive His fulfilled righteousness. It is fitting and suitable.

Getting back to the argument about the thief on the cross. Was he baptized? Yes or No? He was not water-baptized, but let’s let Scripture talk once again. Look at the passage in question (Luke 23: 39-43), “One of the criminals who was hanged railed at Him saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ ‘But…’ (signifying a contradictory heart or attitude) ‘…the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And indeed justly…’ (acknowledging his sin) ‘…for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds’ (confession of sin). ‘But this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom’ (belief in his heart). And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” So, this man next to our Lord confessed his sin by taking responsibility for it openly and signaled his belief in Jesus’ divinity when he asked to be admitted into the kingdom of G-d. He was a sinner before he was nailed to the cross alongside Jesus. He was a forgiven man not long after. What changed? Let’s refer to the key found in the Gospel of Mark (1: 4), concerning the ministry of John the Baptist. The answer is contained here. It reveals, “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE for the forgiveness of sins.” Our baptism is one of repentance—turning away from sin and turning to G-d Almighty. That’s what the thief did! So, was he baptized with water? No, not according to the few details in Scripture. Certainly not by immersion. But was he baptized? Yes, he was. He acknowledged, confessed and took responsibility for his transgressions against the Father, and he signified his need for forgiveness by asking to be allowed entrance into the kingdom. And Jesus cleansed him and implied his salvation by telling him he would, later that same day, be with Him in Heaven. The thief repented (he had a change of heart and mind, and acted on it), a death and burial to self ensued, and he was spiritually, internally baptized. Had this taken place just a day before (his metanoia), he most certainly would have been in the Jordan with the rest, being immersed—not only in water—but in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind! So, as our Master was baptized, so must we be. He is holy. We are sinful. But He had a human side He had to contend with. Hebrews 5: 8-9 says, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect” (in the flesh) “He became the Source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” He submitted to baptism. So should we. Praise His holy name and Him for His Word!

The False Cannot Predate the True

The old riddle asks, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” This may seem irrelevant to many. After all, we don’t concern ourselves with the answer because it doesn’t have any real significance in our daily lives, we have both at our disposal, it appears childish, and there are people on both sides of the aisle. But it is actually very important for two reasons: One, because the Bible gives us a plain, clear, concise answer in its very opening book. Genesis 1: 21-23 tells us, “So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and morning, the fifth day.” This is but one example to show us that the Bible is true and that it can be trusted. And two, because it establishes an order and a subsequent, all-important precedent for truth; specifically, that given the apparent buffet or plethora of choices among many so-called “truths,” there can only be one and THAT ALL OTHER LIES, DECEPTIONS, COMPETING VIEWS AND MISREPRESENTATIONS CAN ONLY COME AFTER THE TRUTH. What does that mean? It signifies that anything false, a copy or an alternative can only come after the original and that there cannot be two or more truths; otherwise they cease to be true. For truth has the unique characteristics of being individual and quintessential. A lie must first hear the truth so that it can offer a misleading substitute which is opposed to it and become admixture (to attempt to gain authenticity).

As Christians, we know the truth because God is the Creator and Originator. He gives us His Word to openly reveal Himself and the beginnings of life and the universe to us. HE COMES FIRST. We, as Christ-followers, also know that the way to spot a lie (from the enemy of our souls or anyone else) is to know the truth. When the devil speaks words and ideas into our hearts and minds, since they are contrary to the truth (Jesus warned us correctly that Satan is the father of lies and can only speak lies), we can identify them as such and ignore them. Better yet, we can counteract them by reminding ourselves– with the power of the Helper, the Holy Spirit— of what the Scriptures say, and speak the truth instead. This has the added benefit of offensively preventing a stronghold to be erected. Since God Almighty is Truth and in Him there is no darkness at all, and He has existed from everlasting past and exists into everlasting future (the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end), He has always been and CAME FIRST. What He says and does is foundational and is established. Therefore, whatever or whoever comes after is false and a poor “copy.” A copy (facsimile, clone, imitation), as we know, is like the original, but not the same. It appears to be the original but, upon inspection and examination and testing, shows itself to be flawed. For example, we’ll use the familiar analogy of a copy machine. We lay our document on the glass, close the cover and press “start” or “copy.” When the reproduction comes out—even the first of many, or the only copy—after having been scanned, is less precise, less well-defined. Further, quite often we have all experienced that any smudges, fingerprints, dust or dirt on the seemingly clear glass, get transferred onto the “duplicate” and show up as black spots and unwanted blemishes. Once again, what comes after is always imperfect. The original—what comes first—is true. What comes after, though in similar form to the eye or ear (seeing, reading or hearing) is a copy, a fabrication, a deceit, a lie.

Having thoroughly and truthfully set forth this precept, let us apply it to our everyday lives and to what we see and face every day (whether we realize it or not). Let’s put these other ideas, notions, beliefs, religions, doctrines and sects to the hypothetical litmus test. Let’s put to rest any belief in, and allegiance to, once and for all, anyone other than the One True God, our Lord and Messiah Jesus Christ! I have said many times, written about, and testified to the fact that, in my studies concerning other beliefs, religions, world systems, etc. the one thing the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to as a common denominator is twofold: first, there is always a false prophet and second, he or she always has what they claim are “new revelations” joined with extrabiblical writings, books, sources, teachings and doctrines. So, again, we have a man—not God—and human and/or demonic words; not the Lord and not the truth.

Do you understand? I hope I am articulating this clearly. A lie cannot come first. If you are going to tell someone something you know is untrue or have convinced yourself is true (while it is not), you must first at least be familiar with it in order to change the information which the truth contains. For instance, in the Bible it tells us that Jesus rose from the dead after being buried in the tomb for three days. In Matthew 28: 11-15, it recounts that the chief priests and the elders gave money to the soldiers who were guarding our Lord’s tomb and who had witnessed His resurrection. The authorities did this to help spread and perpetuate the lie that the resurrection never took place, and to tamp down on any growing credibility in the Gospel. Atheists and other dissenters of biblical truth still use this same fabrication today as a main strategy to discredit the truth. Indeed, look at the latter part of verse 15. It testifies to this when it says and prophesies,”…And this story has been spread among the Jews” (and others) “to this day.” If the truth which was observed firsthand by the guards and verified by them to the chief priests never happened—as they attest—there would have been no need to create a ruse or rumor to contradict it. Further, if the truth of the resurrection didn’t happen first, there would’ve been no details known of the miracle. The facts of the instance or circumstance must be known in order for someone to offer up another story where their version has false “facts” which they use and incorporate to lead people astray, or to keep them from knowing the value of the truth. The devil and anyone used by him must know of the truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection (which all came first) before he or she can attempt to sway others away from eternal life and salvation.

Let’s first examine Islam and its claims. From a brief and cursory understanding, along with some research, it meets both criteria listed earlier; namely a man (false prophet) and an unbiblical source of revelation or supposed truth (the Koran, or Quran). Jesus, as God pre-incarnate, has always existed and, even when He was born of a woman and found in human form, His earthly existence predates Islam’s prophet. Muhammed lived, by one account, from 570-632 AD (six centuries AFTER Christ). They admit Jesus is a revered prophet and that He was born of the virgin Mary, but deny His divinity and His death on the Cross. If theirs is the truth, how can it make claims against what the Lord Jesus historically makes about Himself half a millennium earlier? So, since the words of their book are much different and come after the Word of the Lord, they are counterfeit. Do not trust them. The lie comes after the truth.

Next, let’s search out some basic tenets of Mormonism. Although they make the assertion they are Christian and call themselves “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” they, too, meet our two requirements for false teaching/ doctrine. The first, being the man and false prophet Joseph Smith. And the second, being their non-canonical books: the “Book of Mormon,” “Doctrine and Covenants,” the “Pearl of Great Price” as well as the claims of post-biblical (see the Book of Revelation in the Bible and what it says about anyone adding to or taking away from the words it contains) gold plates from Moroni and given to Joseph Smith. This is their version—an imitation—of the Ten Commandments written upon tablets of stone which the One True God gave to Moses. If theirs is true, they would have come first (Smith lived from 1805-1844, eighteen centuries AFTER the Lord Jesus Christ) and they would have been original, not making eerily-false and deceptively-imitative declarations regarding what appears to be a strikingly similar rendition of our own Decalogue. Again, one must have first heard and been aware of the truth to a degree or in full before being able to attempt to mimic it with a lie. If true, it would be first, original or both; not a later, comparable but false variant of it.

Though this elucidation is by no means whatsoever exhaustive, we will end our comparison (for the sake of time and space) with Buddhism, which also follows the cookie-cutter pattern consisting of Satan’s tried and untrue lure of a man (false teacher) and ungodly writings that serve to distract and ensnare. The man, Siddhartha Gautama, reportedly lived on earth from about 560-480 BC. He is credited with discovering the wrongly-named “Four Noble truths” (actually lies) and henceforth becoming the “Buddha” which, when translated, carries the deceitful meaning of “the Enlightened one.” The other qualification which earns it, along with the two we’ve mentioned and many, many others, the distinction of being a very poor and widely-distributed copy are his writings and teachings such as the “Three Jewels” (Buddha, Sangha and Dharma, if you care to look these up on your own), the previously-mentioned and inappropriately-named “Four Noble truths,” the “Eightfold Path” and the unoriginal, Mormon-like “Ten Precepts.”

You may have noticed the recognized birth and death dates of Gautama listed earlier, and that they were listed as BC (commonly known as “Before Christ”). However, we must reiterate that Jesus Christ—the True and only Messiah or “Anointed One”—is one with Almighty God (John 10: 30), has always coexisted with Him because “they” are One and He made all things (John 1: 1-4), He holds all things together (Colossians 1: 17), He is preeminent (Hebrews 1: 1-4, Colossians 1: 18), He has been given ALL authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28: 18), and is the One who “was and is and is to come (Revelation 1: 8).” He is fully God and fully man (Colossians 1: 19, 2: 9). He has no beginning and no end (Hebrews 7: 3). He is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90: 2). He made Himself known as “I AM”; not I was or I will be (Exodus 3: 14), letting us know there was never a time when He did not exist, nor will there come a time when He won’t exist. It is only our focus on His humanity and brief 33-year period on this earth which may cause us to think that He did not live before this self-proclaimed and self-appointed “buddha.”

The end of all this is that JESUS CHRIST existed first. All men (and women, like Mary Baker Eddy) who claim to be prophets, and to have had previously-unknown revelations are bad copies, clones, facsimiles and liars. And that anyone or anything that comes after the original, the One and only, serves to discredit himself or herself as being a truth-bearer since anything he does or says misaligns itself with the Word of God, the Holy Bible. The false cannot be exposed or recognized as such unless or until its assertions—which supposedly model themselves after the truth—are found in their attempted comparisons to be contrary, in part or in whole. The Lord is the Alpha. His Word and His Law are perfect. All else are forgeries.

God bless you, give you grace, and impart to you light and wisdom.

The ONLY Way: Is It Exclusive?

The Lord Jesus Christ says He is THE way and THE door and THE gate.

Many people who are still unbelievers argue that this is EXclusive; that is to say that He (or the Christian doctrine found primarily, but not solely, in Acts 4:12) is somehow partial, biased and very limiting in who can participate in this great salvation and, therefore, gain entrance into the eternal kingdom of G-d Almighty. It is believed to be narrow-minded and narrow-hearted. One might have heard it described lately as even being bigoted or hateful. Love, they say, should be INclusive.

If they are referring to Matthew 7:13-14 which says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” then this text is correct, but they are misusing it or misunderstanding it. And this is understandable since the Word tells us that such things are spiritually discerned; they are worldly-minded and must be kingdom-minded to comprehend. What the Lord Jesus is referring to is the fact that many will choose not to follow Him and, therefore, will not be saved. (How can you follow someone if you can’t hear their voice and can’t see them? Whether you speak to someone face-to-face or read through those same words expressed in a letter, book, email, text, etc. the same thoughts are being expressed and can be equally communicated and understood. So when we read the Word of G-d, the Bible, it is the same as if we are hearing His voice with our ears. The problem with those who don’t follow is that they don’t read and so don’t hear and so don’t follow.) While this truth may be unpalatable to many, it is logical and makes perfect sense. Since Jesus is G-d and left Heaven to come to earth, He alone knows the way there. He is the only One who can lead us there because He is the only One who has been there. But I don’t really believe this is where most of their hearts are. When they speak of this way calling it “narrow” and “exclusive,” what they are really meaning to express and suggest is that it is unfair. They, as all humans and from an early age, don’t want limits and boundaries of any kind (even when they are there for good), yet they still want to attain the goal or the prize of Heaven where G-d dwells. They don’t even want to believe there is a Hell.

Many are touched with prayer and compassion for the people who are living through Hurricanes Harvey and Irma’s aftermath in both Texas and Florida. When these states’ respective governors issued states of emergency and urged people to evacuate, what if there was only one road or highway out of those areas? Would people be complaining that there was only one way out- one way to safety- or would they gladly take it and be thankful it was even available? They could think it exclusive in that it is the only open and safe route and, therefore, refuse to follow it until someone made another route available. Or they could realize that even though it is the only road available to lead them to a place of well-being and protection (seemingly exclusive to them), EVERYONE is not only allowed but urged to take that way. Since that way is available and accessible (spiritually, through JESUS CHRIST) for anyone and everyone to take, it really is absolutely and totally INclusive!

The problem with these unwilling travelers isn’t that there is only one escape route. The real issue is that they are, for whatever personal reasons, unwilling to take it. They are either stubborn or foolish, or both. You do see this don’t you, even if this is your own heart and mind we’re speaking to? I recently watched a video with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron of “Living Waters Ministries.” In this clip, they share this point of view also. They speak of a hypothetical scenario where Kirk and an atheist have a conversation. The atheist doesn’t believe in G-d and asks Kirk questions that he asserts must be satisfactorily and intelligently answered in order to sway his opinion toward Christianity. In this hypothetical, but possibly very real, exchange every single one of the man’s questions and doubts have been addressed. Kirk then assumes since he rightly, logically, biblically and fully answered all of the unbeliever’s questions that the man would surrender his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So when he gladly and eagerly asks the unbeliever if he is ready to confess his sins, be forgiven, get baptized and receive eternal life, the man (in his hardness of heart and disbelief that Kirk would actually think the truth would change his mind) replies, “No.”

What is then revealed without the need for any other words is that, for this man and maybe for you—atheist, agnostic or not—the matter of belief in the Almighty and salvation was never really the issue at all. It was not an intellectual debate or persuasion that needed to take place. After all, every question to his purported doubts had been answered fully, articulately, graciously and truthfully. So, there was another barrier that really stood (and still stands) in the way all along: it was and is rebellion. The intellectual arguments and the scientific, humanistic or secular theories were (and are) just a smokescreen. How right was our Lord Jesus when He who knows men’s hearts declared in John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their deeds were evil.” And those verses are especially poignant considering just three verses earlier He proclaims, “For G-d so LOVED the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes (TRUSTS) in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For G-d did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that THE WORLD MIGHT BE SAVED THROUGH HIM.”

When you know the Truth, it really can’t get any more INclusive than this. Is He the only way? Yes. But that way is an invitation to ALL and He paid for it with His blood and on a Cross. If you are feeling conviction, that’s good. It is what leads you to repentance. If you are feeling guilty, that’s good. It is the inner acknowledgment that you have sinned and are a sinner in need of THE Savior’s forgiveness. Read Jeremiah 3: 13-15 and get on your knees and take care of business. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to be washed clean. Today is the day He, incredibly, wants to take your sin and give you His righteousness. Today is the day to take hold of the amazing promise and reality found in 2 Corinthians 5: 17 which blesses and says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION. The old has passed away; behold, the NEW has come.”

G-d bless you as you make this ultimately important decision to walk away from your life of sin and submit yourself to His Lordship and authority in and over your life with commitment and devotion. No turning back.

An Open Letter About Abortion

Since the very first time I saw a bumper sticker that read “Abuse an Animal, Go To Jail,” my head and my heart have joined together to produce a number of emotions. Many that walked arm-in-arm as a result of the misplaced devotion are incredulity, confusion, sadness, shock, misery, sympathy and compassion among others. I have nothing against animals. I love dogs. Although I am allergic to cats, I like them otherwise. But my reaction to this bumper sticker was then, and is still now, a wish to finish the thought with these words, “Kill a Baby Human With Impunity.” That is the current mindset, law and state of affairs, right?

I have not participated in any pro-life marches or protests; I do not lobby the government; I do not stand outside abortion clinics, although I do respect and agree with the people (most of them) who are involved in such a worthy cause. I say this only to let you know that it is not my area of ministry nor am I what you would consider a robust advocate. However, I need not be—simply because this is a perfectly natural position to take. How well Isaiah prophesied long ago when he said in lament, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” What he is exclaiming fits our world today in that everything is backwards, upside-down and topsy-turvy (in utter confusion and disorder). Our priorities are out of whack. And that is because we do not have the mind of G-d, nor do we seek Him or understand His ways. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Romans 3:10 states, “As it is written: none is righteous, no, not one.” The prophet Jeremiah speaks a difficult truth in 17:9 when he declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” And again in 18:12, “…We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” These words and many others are convincing testimony that, left to our own wills, choices and devices, mankind will reap the ruin that he, apart from Almighty G-d, has sown. This is one of the reasons that history is destined to repeat itself, as the saying goes, and why King Solomon bears witness in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Why are we having so much continuing debate over abortion and when life begins? Does it really matter? Whether we abort (murder) at ten weeks, twenty weeks, 3 months or 6 months is immaterial. We are either murdering or we are not. It doesn’t matter at what point of development this takes place. Psychologists document and teach us that a young person does not have a fully-developed brain until around the age of twenty-five. We don’t have a debate if they are killed at age 5, age 12, age 17 or age 24. We know that a life has been taken. It is no less wrong or horrific at either and of that developmental spectrum. The Lord does not create “blobs of tissue.” He creates life. And if we are truly concerned over whether we are aborting a 3-day-old embryo or a 32-week-old fetus, there is a simple end to the matter: Don’t do it at all. (The Bible tells us that man is the glory and the crown of His creation). And this is a perfect transition or segue into mentioning a preemptive solution that eradicates the need for the earlier “procedure” altogether. G-d has the answer, as He always does. It is called marriage and the precursor to this relationship is sexual purity.

Mark 10:7-8 alludes to the reality originally revealed in Genesis, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” So, if one denies himself or herself the carnal desire of the physical act of sexual intercourse outside of the proper boundaries of marriage between one man and one woman, then there will be no possibility at all of conception and, thus, no need for abortion. (No, a condom is not the answer and is no absolute assurance of preventing pregnancy.) In all logic and common sense, non-radical thinking will dictate to you that the following is true: No sex means no pregnancy. No pregnancy means no (need for) abortion. No abortion means life. Life is good. It is God’s design and plan and character. G-d is life, and life begets life.

By the way, by definition, to “abort” something means to halt, to stop, to end, to discontinue, to terminate, to arrest and to cancel. If, as those with a pro-abortion and pro-choice mindset will argue or try to persuade you, there is simply a “blob of tissue,” rather than a life inside the womb of the mother, then there is nothing growing or developing and, therefore, nothing to abort, to end, to stop. So, in the end, abortion is a misnomer and an irrelevant term.

G-d is pro-life. G-d created us. We don’t own ourselves and we didn’t create ourselves. Our bodies belong to Him. We don’t have the “right” to choose what we do with bodies which are not ours. There will be judgment over 55,000,000 of His creations which have been murdered. But, incredibly, there can be mercy and forgiveness. JESUS CHRIST made that possible. Jeremiah 3: 13-15.

“Was I Really Made this Way?”

I have heard and read that a common phrase, explanation and belief among the LGBTQ community of people is that “I was born this way.” This may be due to the way they have felt for as long as they can conceivably remember so, in their minds, it is not a big jump to pre-date that feeling to birth. To the natural mind, this could be a reasonable assumption and so they (maybe you) resign themselves to it and never question it again, at least not aloud. It may also be, however, a deceit that is just often propagated. I have a brother- in- the- Lord in my church who recently told my wife and me that he used to dress and act as a woman. He showed us some pictures of his former appearance that he keeps in his phone as a testimony to G-d’s transformative power in his life. Maybe I should say restorative power. I did not know him when he was in his former lifestyle, but I can tell you that he has a strong and vibrant love for the Lord and he is a powerful prayor (one who prays, has been given that gift)! He also shared with us that night after the service that he was part of a group of LGBTQ people who were open and shared with each other. He confessed that in the group of 15-20 people, all unburdened themselves by sharing the painful truth that they didn’t actually believe they were “born this way.” Rather, they had been molested, abused, raped or exposed to some other form of shame, humiliation or personal violation. Only one claimed the lie, and my guess is that he or she simply is still hurting too much to admit the truth or they don’t yet know how to deal with it any other way.

In the wonderful truth of the Word of G-d, the Bible, it says in candid honesty through 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” This list is not exhaustive, but you get the point. If he actually made you that way, then He also made the drunk that way, the idolater that way, the thief that way. NO. That’s not true. Since He loves you and created you in His image, He didn’t do so in a way that is diametrically opposed to what He cares for and what he finds to be an abomination.

To cite a few more necessary scriptures: Genesis 19:13, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9 (as mentioned above), Jude 1:7 and – a verse I was unaware of until just a few days ago that the Holy Spirit revealed to me very unexpectedly—Deuteronomy 22:5 which clearly says, “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment” (clothes), “nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination” (a thing that causes disgust or hatred) “to the Lord you God.” All sin is an enemy of G-d and keeps us separated from Him for all eternity, apart from the work of JESUS CHRIST on the Cross and our cooperation with, realization of, and trust in Ephesians 2:8-9. But since 1 Corinthians 6:18 reveals, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” And verse 13 states that “…the body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

Genesis 1:27 encourages us that Adam and Eve, out of whom our lineage comes, are spoken of this way, “So God created man in His own image” (before sin entered the world through disobedience), “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Since the Sovereign G-d is perfect and without sin, His first creation was without sin. And since the Bible is clear that all sin—including and especially being LGBTQ, for the purpose of the title of this post today—is an abomination to Him, how would we or could we biblically, logically, emotionally or otherwise conclude that we were “made this way”? We can’t. It is flawed and it is a lie.

As you saw earlier from the truncated list of sinful patterns that keep us from entering His eternal kingdom, LGBTQ is not the only one there. The Apostle Paul was mentioning these specific iniquities because he was addressing the new believers in the church at Corinth which were battling—more like giving themselves over to—things they should no longer be doing or associated with or even thinking about. The deeper issue which causes the outward manifestation of sin in an unbeliever’s life is that he or she was born with (not created with) a sinful nature or essence. As we sometimes see and need to address in churches today are instances where a “family” (man and woman and often children, too) has lived together in an unwed state, having sexual relations, and producing bastard, illegitimate children while considering and referring to one another falsely as husband and wife. Sometimes a pastor’s first instinct is to eradicate the sexual sin which is so prevalent and to counsel them and urge them to get married. It sounds good, right and proper. It is certainly a start. But it MUSTN’T end there. Why? Because though, if they agree with the man of G-d and decide to commit to truly loving, respecting, honoring, cherishing and marrying one another, they have only put an end to the fornication; the sexual immorality. What is the underlying disease that needs cleansing? The sinful nature. If I am married but am still unregenerate in my heart, still stained, still blemished, still spotted, still sinning in others ways such as stealing, murdering (including aborting), lying, cheating, gossiping, gambling, getting drunk, etc. then I am still in desperate need of salvation which I am totally unable to bring about myself.

So Almighty G-d, in His judgment of sin and love for us—unable and unwilling to give up one or the other or to settle for only one or the other—devises a wonderful and supernatural way to “kill two birds with one Stone” JESUS CHRIST! The world says, “There are many paths to G-d” and questions why the Christian echoes the truth in scripture by asking, “Why is Jesus the only way to G-d?” Firstly, because the Bible proclaims in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” And secondly, because the architect of the plan chose the instrument to carry it out, the instrument was the only One willing and obedient and capable of carrying it out, and since the instrument is G-d and dwells with G-d (John 1:1-4) and died to make reconciliation even possible and knows the way to His eternal dwelling, who else could lead us there? In John 14:3-5 the Lord Jesus and the disciple Thomas share this very relevant exchange, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I AM THE WAY, and the truth, and the life. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.’” Why again? To reiterate, because He came from Heaven (no one else has), He is the only means by which we can even go because He died for our sins and gave us His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), and because only He knows the way and can lead us back if we follow Him.

You were not created this way. You were not born this way. Something may have happened to you along the way. You, in response, made a conscious choice or even a series of them. Thanks be to Almighty G-d, you don’t have to remain in your sin. You don’t have to remain under this lifestyle. Jesus Christ has the power to redeem us all, has already done what is necessary to set us free. It is up to you to take Him up on His generous offer, turn your back on sin, ask for forgiveness, and receive freedom and eternal life. He died for you. You must lay down your life for Him.

Praying for you.