In the New Year…

The last post on this blog was in October, so if you are reading this, thanks. You’ve really hung in there.

The New Year is a great time of reflection and renewed purpose. I preached a lesson last Sunday (Dec. 30) from a book of sermons by Gus Nichols that someone gave me about 50-years ago. It was a pretty well-known acrostic of HAPPY NEW YEAR. Any advice I could give you would have to do with the “H” in “Happy.” It stands for “HOLD.”

Hold on to your faith this year because many people won’t. Unhappily, many people will quit following Jesus, turn their backs on him and walk away.

It probably won’t happen all at once. Most will have weakened faith by failing to study the Bible. The Psalmist wrote, “The entrance of your word gives light,” (Psalm 119:130 NKJV). When a person rarely or never allows the word of God to enter their minds, there is only darkness. One cannot walk in the dark without the danger of hitting something.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession,” (Hebrews 4:14 NKJV). In my opinion, the theme of the book of Hebrews is precisely this. It is mentioned three times from chapter three to chapter ten. It is central to understanding it.

One of the best pictures of weakening faith is a word picture in Hebrews 2:1. In it, we see a boat sitting at a dock, but the rope that holds it to its mooring has been untied. It begins to drift, finally leaves and disappears. When a person stops studying God’s word drifting can occur. The result, if not corrected, is spiritual weakness and ultimately the loss of faith. It is a silent and spiritually deadly process.

Let me encourage you to do two things. First, make sure this process doesn’t take root in your life. Secondly, warn others not to let it happen to them.

Thanks for reading this. Have a Happy New Year!


It never fails

Every election year, it never fails. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are so headstrong about political parties that they become willing to alienate me or anyone else in favor of their candidate. They will go so far as to actually divide the body of Christ along party lines. They post their liberal or conservative ideas on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ in an attempt to make a distinction between right (which is what they think they are) and the rest of us (who must be wrong).

Brother Cecil May in “Preacher Talk,” his publication, wrote, “In the church, the kingdom of the Prince of Peace, ‘traditionalists’ rail against ‘progressives,’ and ‘progressives’ brag they are no longer the phariseistic legalists they once were and that most members of the church now are.”

Then Bro. May wrote, “Where are the peacemakers?” Brother, have I been waiting for someone to ask THAT question!

We have brothers and sisters in Christ who are fomenting division EVERY ELECTION YEAR on the basis of Democrat/Republican, Liberal/Conservative. Are we trying to divide the body of Christ along party lines? WHY? Why isn’t unity as important to US as it was to Jesus (John 17)?

A nation of scofflaws

The stop sign pictured in this post is about 75 yards away from our house in Tennessee. Does it look bent and beaten up? That’s because it was hit repeatedly by cars. It also seems that, no matter how red the sign is or how big and white the letters are, this sign is incapable of stopping anyone.

This sign and dozens of others like it (including speed limit signs) are ignored by almost everyone every day in our nation. Let’s be clear: these signs are not suggestions. They have the force of law. Refusing to stop at the stop sign is an offense punishable by a fine.

That means very little to almost everyone who comes to that intersection. Routinely, people refuse to make a complete stop. Most people don’t even slow down. Drivers everywhere are united in their disdain for speed limits almost normally driving 10-20 miles per hour faster than posted speed laws.

No matter how much safer automobiles have become, almost as many people were killed in automobile accidents in 2016 as in 1978. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the death rate soared above 10 percent in 2015 for the first time since the mid-1940s.

We have become a nation of scofflaws. We no longer have any respect for any law from the lowly stop sign to federal felonies. Our nation has become antinomian, meaning against law.

So, if we as a matter of normal behavior refuse to obey the laws of man, how much respect have we for the laws of God? Let’s look at an example. God and the Lord Jesus both commanded, “You shall not commit adultery,” (Exodus 20:14; Matthew 19:18; Romans 13:9). According to the American Psychological Association, infidelity in the United States accounts for 20-40 percent of divorces.

How many other laws are humans violating each day? How about, “You shall not steal?” If you think that the commandment of God in Exodus 20:15 is violated often, you’re right. Theft is among the most prevalent law violations in the U.S. In 2009 there were 15.6 million property thefts.

It seems we have the same disdain for God’s laws than we have for man’s. If it seems as though humanity is sinking into a moral abyss, it’s probably because it is. And, it’s become a slippery slope.

God has many commandments, but he has insisted on only one thing: obey him. He told Israel, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess,” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).

God places before us the same choice. So, how is our nation of scofflaws doing compared to the Israel that by transgression failed to obey God and was sent into captivity? Not any better?

Sift you like wheat

In the last moments the Lord Jesus was with his apostles in the upper room, the Son of God turned to Peter and said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat,” (Luke 22:31 NKJV).

Satan wanted to put Peter to the test, or more to the point, through the strainer. Such is Satan’s desire for all who follow Jesus. Satan wants to find his way into the church Christ built and destroy it from the inside because he knows he is powerless battling from outside.

Satan also knows the easiest way inside is through men of power because they can be turned to fulfill his purpose. The priests of God, the shepherds of Israel, were the ones Satan corrupted before, during and after the days of the Divided Kingdom.

God took the shepherds to task in Ezekiel chapter 34. The shepherds preyed on the flock when they should have been feeding and caring for it (Ezekiel 34:1-10). God promised he would deliver the sheep from their evil influence and give them to the good shepherd. That was Jesus’ title in John 10:11, 14.

Satan still wants to sift the faithful. In my more than 30-years of preaching I’ve found some men who became willing servants of Satan after they were put through the sieve. One man will always live in my memory because he tried to destroy the congregation he was serving as “treasurer.”

This poor, deceived soul would not submit to the appropriately appointed elders of the congregation and used his position with the church’s money to exert his power over them. At a meeting designed to resolve the concerns, the hatred he possessed became more than evident. Satan had sifted this man like wheat, and he had become a person who hated his brothers in Christ instead of loving and obeying them (Hebrews 13:17).

I wished I could say that was the only example of that kind of behavior I’ve found, but it wasn’t. Satan has sifted more than a few of my brothers in Christ and found a weak spot he’s exploited.

The truth is, we’re all going through the sieve. None of us are immune to this test. What we can do is go through the strainer and not fall victim to Satan’s desire to make us his servants. We can come out the other side more determined to serve God and more determined to remain pure.

We must build our faith by the study of God’s word, and we must strengthen the bonds of love we share for one another as Christians. Otherwise, the sifting Satan does can weaken and overcome us.


Trial is coming

“So it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—  then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12 NKJV).

Most people know about trial. What they don’t understand is that trial often comes when we are unprepared for it.

God warned Israel that when it entered the Promised Land, they would live in houses they had never built, eat produce from fields they had never planted, and drink from wells they had never dug. Such a situation would provide rest and comfort, which is an ideal time for trial to come.

Comfort is overrated. It is a circumstance that is all-too-expected by modern-day Americans. We’ve been comfortable for more than 200 years. We’ve grown accustomed to it. In fact, it’s probably true that we wouldn’t be satisfied with any less.

Such a circumstance gives the Devil an excellent place to wreak havoc. People do not expect difficulty when they’re comfortable. Comfort’s message is there is no danger. In comfort, there is no need to be alert, no need to be forewarned. In comfort, our defenses are down. We are susceptible.

In a commentary on Deuteronomy 6:10-12, Doug McIntosh wrote, “Moses warned Israel that the leading spiritual danger they would face on entering the (Promised) Land would be forgetting the Lord. What adversity could not do, prosperity and satisfaction could (my emphasis). The most critical threats to godly living come at the moment we think we have life by the throat.”[1]

The United States certainly believes it has “life by the throat.” God’s word tells us this is the time we should expect the trial to come. Yet, this nation lives in a desperate search for pleasure. Such is a recipe for disaster.

[1]Holman Old Testament Commentary: Deuteronomy,” p. 87 Max Anders, General Editor B&H Publishing Group.

Explain what you’re doing

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never understood why it is that people waiting on the Lord’s table assume everybody knows everything they’re doing.

I’ve seen this many times: those to serve the Lord’s supper meander up to the table, stand there for about three seconds. Then one takes the bread and starts praying. After the congregation is served, another does the same thing with the fruit-of-the-vine.

But not one of them ever says why they’re serving people the bread or the grape juice. I know why they do it like that. It’s because they do the same thing every Sunday and since no one ever suffers correction for doing it like that, they all do it the same way.

The problem is, if that’s truly the reason, doing everything the same way just to get it done violates the point of worship. Worship must have devotion. The very word “worship” in the New Testament, “proskuneo,” is a word that literally means, “to kiss the hand.” It is the act of bowing in humble adoration and dedication to God.

The apostle Paul wrote, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding,” (1 Corinthians 14:15 NKJV). Prayer and singing are acts of worship; therefore worship includes understanding what you’re doing. 

So, why is it that people get up, go to the table and never explain why they’re doing what they’re doing? Because to them, it’s all about rote, mindless, expressionless work. Is that what worship is supposed to be? Of course, it isn’t. Is it right for us to offer God meaningless acts of automatic action? Of course, it isn’t.

So why are people doing it? Shouldn’t we explain what we’re doing and why? Someone might need to know!

Experience God?

There were men in the 17th and 18th Centuries who desired another way to determine what can be known. They were called “empiricists” because they taught knowledge can only be gained through sense experience.

The philosophy they espoused gained acceptance and has had a tremendous influence through the ages even up to this day. John Locke, one of the greatest empiricists, influenced Thomas Jefferson in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Locke was one of the first (if not the first) to write that the governments of men only rise to power through “the consent of the governed.”

Knowledge arrived only through sense experience is not always true. For example, how can a person multiply large numbers? Can one line up 1,000 things and multiply it by 1,000 using only sense experience? The solution to this problem will not come empirically but through reflection and reason. How can a person know the answer to 1+X=4 through sense experience? Empiricism is not the be all end all of knowledge.

Locke’s empiricism has spilled over into religion. Some people say we must “experience God.” How can that be done? Can anyone see God? Feel God? Taste, hear, or smell God? If God cannot be known through sense experience, then the idea of having an “experience” with God cannot be true. When faced with such an inconsistency, the “experience” becomes one that is better felt than told. It cannot be put into words because there are no words.

If so, then why was the Bible written using languages people wrote and spoke? Also, if God chose to reveal himself in a miraculous way to one person and not to another, then isn’t God showing respect of persons? But, the Bible teaches God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Since that is true, God is not going to reveal himself to one person and not to another.

The apostle John wrote that no man has seen God at any time. If true, then how can God be known? John said God has been made known by his son Jesus Christ who has explained him (John 1:18). The word “explained” is the word exēgeomai in the original language of the New Testament. It is defined “to bring out the meaning.” It is where we get the English word “exegete.”

If it is possible to experience God with our five senses, then why would it be necessary for his son to explain him to us? This is the problem that many religious “leaders” have. Many have claimed to talk to God, hear God, see God in some way all because they believe it is necessary for them to show they have experienced God and therefore know him so much better than anyone else, including his only son.

Instead of “experiencing God,” the gospel was given to man to read, hear, believe and obey. Such a system takes away any idea of preferential treatment. It places all of us in possession of one way to learn about God and thus obey him: his word. Jesus prayed to the father, “Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth,” (John 17:17 NKJV). All of Jesus’ followers are made holy, sanctified, by obedience to the truth of God’s word.

Under the system of obedient faith in Christ (Romans 1:5; 16:26), we are all saved by the same gospel, we are all baptized into the same body, all are cleansed by the same blood. There is no partiality. Each one of us has the choice of obeying God or refusing him. We all receive the same knowledge of God through his only begotten son who has explained him to us in the New Testament.